Tomb of the Alchemist

By Michael H. Stone
Self Published
Levels 2-4

After long years lying undisturbed and forgotten, the tomb of Hashur, master alchemist of sargon, has recently been opened when an earthquake ripped apart a rock formation in the Montem Downs. When the adventuring party “The Bold Blades” went to investigate, they were wholly unprepared to face an ancient mummy infused with immense power by magical potions and poisons. Murdering the bold blades in a confused rage, Hashur awakens to find the ancient kingdom sacked and its once great cities ruined. Realizing the awakening might not come to pass for him and his wife and followers if local authorities learn of his unearthed crypt, he hatches a plan. Slaving away in his laboratory, he brews a terrible plague of undeath which he plans to unleash on the borderlands.  In mere weeks, a tide of decay and infection will sweep the borderlands clean of the contemptible servants of Law…

This twenty page adventure uses nine pages to describe an eleven room tomb with a mummy dude and his undead friends running around in it. I fucking hate it? I don’t know why though. It’s trying to do the right things? I find the text confusing, and I find the mmap confusing, and I find the text … verbose? No, not verbose. Not the way I usually use that word. It’s like one of those old B series “learning adventure”, maybe? Like, any idea has to have a paragraph on how to run it. Maybe that’s it.

Ok, so, I’m in hour two of a thirteen hour conference and I’m drinking a $45 bottle of gin that’s only 375ml. And I fucking hate gin. I don’t know. Whatever. I just know that I HATE this adventure. Unreasonably so. And, in my own defense, I hated it before I started drinking today. 

And, now, I’m pissed off from work. Grrrrrr… sorry dude. Fucking piece of shit small minded mindsets. No, I’m NOT checking with others before I work with their staff on personal growth projects. I can go to lunch with anyone I want to any time I want to. Fuck it. That’s my staff are better. 

So, you’ve got this undead mummy dude. Long dead sorcerer priest mummy alchemist guy, woken up by some recent tomb raiders and some kind of earthquake thing. Whatever. My takeaway is that alchemists are the new go to for evil bad guys. I chalk this up to an anti-science attitude prevalent in society today. Alchemists seem to be the go to baddie. Whatever. Existence precedes essence, stab whoever you want. Shit. Except there actually are gods. And there’s an god of evil. Fuck. What the fuck does THAT mean? Oh, yeah, so, there are some skeletons with mutations. Mostly save or die shit. Anytime you meet them you roll on a table to see what Save or Die abilities they have

Speaking of save or die … How about an animated statue with AC3 with a save or die ability? The various baddie mutations that amount to save or die? The save or die abilities of, seemingly, over half the creatures in the adventure? This seems a bit much for levels 2-4. In a mostly linear map. 

Let me, now, explain how D&D works. 

Blah blah blah blah Combat As Sport blah blah blah blah Combat As War. So, look, levels 2-4. That’s what the fucking cover says. How many Save or Die effects and/or creatures are ok in that environment? How many are ok in a LINEAR environment? Traditional exploratory dungeons allow for other areas to explore. You can go around shit, or go to other places. Linear/modern/lair/shit dungeons, though, rely on balancing. It’s ok to be linear because the designer has carefully crafted the place to make sure y ou don’t get fucked up. Unless they don’t. Unless you are a B/X level 2 character in a world of fucking Save or Die. 

The read-aloud overexplains. The sectary (desk) has an open written journal on it. *sigh* What about people LOOKING at the fucking desk to determine what is on it? Whatever. The entrance to the dungeon has a living statue, AC3, save or die effect. Linear entrance. Also, you need to pull its tail to make the secret door open. How the fuck does that work? I smash it to pieces and THEN I pull it tail to open the door to the dungeon?


Room seven is the main entrance. I think. I’m not actually sure if you can go in that way. It looks like room one is the entrance. Except seven says it is. The map is unclear. Is the tunnel blocked? Who knows. Who cares? The Death pit and a trapdoor in to it? I don’t even know how that works. This points to a basic, basic aspect of adventure design: you have to be able to understand what the fuck is going on. 

Again, I apologize that half my gin bottle is now gone. You don’t deserve this. But … I do …

The main bad guy appears in room 2. Probably. There’s probably a let down there as you explore the rest of the tomb. Pretty Boy Lareth was, at least, in the last room. I guess I don’t know what you do after this. I mean, you stabbed the bad guy. What do you do now? I guess you wander around and stab more shit? Whatever. How about the room full of ghouls? 13 ghouls? Sure. Whatever. That will work out ok. 

Wait when was I bitching about the read-aloud over-explaining? About the urns being empty? I shall elucidate. Or go in to more detail. Or whatever. When you over explain you break one of the core mechanics of D&D, exploratory or plot based. The back and forth between player and DM is at the heart of these types of games. The DM describes something, the players investigate with actions and follow up question, the DM provides further info, and thus the circle of life continues. By over-explaining in the read-aloud you are removing the back and forth. WHy do this? Why remove what is a core foundation of all RPG’s? 

Oh, what the fuck else. Did I complain about the map? Did I complain that the room descriptions are obtuse? Did I complain that one room was 1.5 pages long? Did I complain that the rooms are OVERLY formatted (that’s twice now that I recall this problem popping up in adventures.) Everything is explained. It takes a paragraph to say what the zombie is wearing. And one to tell us about the easily spotted secret door. And one to tell us that a zombie used to be the leader of a band of adventurers. And one to tell us that the room has ten zombies in it. And then a read-aloud paragraph. And then a stat block paragraph. I don’t want to be an ass here, but, this is too much for what the room is. It’s not that the room has too many elements, but that the individual elements tend to get way too much attention. 

Ok, this is a shitty review. I apologize. I’m going to sleep it off now.

This is $4 at DriveThru. Preview is five pages. The last page gives yo ua brief sample of what to expect.

I actually had to go back and edit this review. Fucking gin.

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17 Responses to Tomb of the Alchemist

  1. Steve Black says:

    Is that being drunk in charge of a review, or did the review drive you to drink?

  2. Gopsie says:

    I also get annoyed by the laziness of people taking historical names of characters (Assur, Sargon) and using them in random ways. You presumably wouldn’t say “ the tomb of Lincoln, master alchemist of Franklin” either. Lazy is what it is.

    • PrinceofNothing says:

      It can work if it’s not a super well known name. Hitler or George Washington might be a bit too on the nose but Pharnabazus, Iskander or Arcesilaus is acceptable surely?

      • Gopsie says:

        Hm. I see your point. But while RPGs were born in the American Midwest, the idea was genius and grew to be global. And for a global audience, some of the names that may be acceptable to the context of origin might turn out awkward. And and vice versa. I once played soccer in the Peruvian rainforest against kids named Hitler and Lincoln. They had presumably been named as such because their parents knew that these were famous people. They did not apparently have a clue about the history those names carry.

        Iskander is a similar case. To you it might be excotica. To around 622 million Arabic and Turkic speakers it is “Alexander” (the Great) with all that this carries of connotations. What may not be super well known to a group in Oklahoma is not necessarily unknown to the larger world that one publishes into. So there is a difference to me in what one does at home and among friends and family, another when one takes a piece of writing to (global) publication.

        • Bryce Lynch says:

          Perfection is the enemy of good enough

        • The Middle Finger of Vecna says:

          I don’t like using common or historical names in adventures because an NPC named ‘David’ or ‘Susan’ or an official named ‘Archimedes’ or ‘El Cid’ tends to take me out of the moment. Similarly, it’s like using a name such as ‘Middletown’ as the name of a D&D village. I agree that it’s a lazy approach to naming, unless you’re creating a setting that is explicitly based on a real world culture, then it’s expected.

          If I’m visiting a real world place I might encounter David in the local Cumberland Farms but I don’t want my PC experiencing the mundanity of encountering David, the bartender of the tavern in the medieval D&D village of Middletown while on his way to bash in some orc heads. I like to think I’m playing D&D here and not adventuring in the State of Rhode Island.

          However, if we’re going to eliminate that and we’re going to eliminate historical names that sound exotic to us but might not to someone, somewhere in the world, what does that leave us with? Not everyone is creative enough to whip up lots of believable place and people names that don’t sound like shit, or sound goofy as hell.

          @ Gopsie, what’s your solution to this naming “problem”? I’m all ears.

        • squeen says:

          I’d suggest striving for a global product is actually the fallacy. You cannot escape the context of your environment, and I doubt there’s any value in trying to do so. Works of fiction have a context associated with the writer. We should also accept that fact when turning a critical eye on historical works as well.

          Sorry, I think it simpler and best if the burden is on the foreigner (or future reader) to adapt it. Perhaps something will get added in the translation.

          It’s we that must adapt to the world. Not visa versa.

          • The Middle Finger of Vecna says:

            Not mention that striving for a global product on everything you produce for commercial consumption would be very time consuming. Not saying it couldn’t be done and if that’s the desire, then go for it but I’d prefer not to gnash my teeth too much over what names sound like and how they might come across to RPG’ers that potentially could be from any country in the world. As I said above, PCs in any campaign I run will never encounter “Bob” the Blacksmith or run across a frontier family named “Cartwright.” I’m putting in more effort than that. If someone doesn’t like my names, they are free to change them to something they do like.

            A former boss of mine once used a phrase that I liked when describing the practicality/impracticality of accomplishing a task, basically was it worth it or not based on a variety of factors. She said, “I’m not sure the juice is worth the squeeze.”

            Life is full of compromises and everyone has to decide which hill(s) they are going to die on.

          • squeen says:

            Nice turn of phrase!

      • PrinceofNothing says:

        A point well made; in the OSR striving for universality is hubris at best, and denying oneself the richness of ancient history as a fuel for fantasy for fear of imaginary offense being taken is the path to certain mediocrity.

        • Gopsie says:

          I did not mean to suggest that cannibalizing names had much to do with offending anyone. It’s a game. I highly doubt anyone would be truly offended if they found the name of their city or their cousin in a RPG module.

          Rather, Mr. Middle Finger put his … finger right on the spot. To me this is all about “users not being drawn back to David in the local Cumberland Farms” – ideally irrespective of where those readers are.

          Now, are there exceptions? Yes, I would say so. If you’re creating a setting that is explicitly based on a real world culture. Again, Mr. Vecna points … his finger in the right direction.

          Yet, even in such cases I would strive to come up with altered forms in the style of e.g. Bruce Heard when he wrote his adventures on the Savage Coast for Dragon Mag. Or what Gabor Lux did so well in his Helvéczia.

          Do I realize that it is a tall order? To constantly to come up with new names? Yes, but I do think that there are great tools out there to help, from the 1978 JG “Treasury of Archaic Names” to plenty of random name generators online.

          The best names to me are those that mean nothing and still resonate and evoke mental imagery. Words like “horcrux” or “quidditch” are great examples. Rowling is a master, but we can all do it, and there are countless examples in which the way storytellers use names to add dimensions of richness to their writing. The best RPGs are full of that.

        • PrinceofNothing says:

          Point well made, yet it comes down to what should be called the M.A. Barker problem; coming up with nonsense names that have the same harmonious resonance as real life names and manage to fit into the extant english lexicon is tough, so most people attempting this technique will fail.
          Using extant but quasi-obscure historical names has the advantage that those names have already been ‘pre-loaded’ with those properties.

          So borrowing names –> beginner
          Making up not-shit names –> King

  3. Gopsie says:

    I also tend to take the easier way out when I’m at home. But if I were to publish an adventure/ module/ scenario some day, I’d like to think that I’d invest some time in getting the names right. I really think it’s an important element of dungeon design – not vital, obviously, but on par with some of the other parameters our host regularly writes about. To me names form an integral part of good fantasy writing alongside evocative writing, exciting NPCs, factions, and so on (it’s arguably part of evocative writing). And since our host tends to lament imperfection, I suggest that names could perhaps also form part of the overall consideration of quality. I not sure whether I’m overstating things, but I still think we can all produce examples where good names have provoked emotional response, driven association, etc.

    Thanks for your own blog, btw. which is bloody excellent!

  4. Ben says:

    “My takeaway is that alchemists are the new go to for evil bad guys. I chalk this up to an anti-science attitude prevalent in society today.” – that’s a funny line, right there, Bryce.

    Thank you for sacrificing your liver and sanity in the name of regular adventure reviews, no matter how non-adventure they turn out to be.

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