Number seven(?) in an eight-part series.
This is a compilation of the best eight entries from Prince’s recent No ArtPunk contest. Basically, you had to use published monsters, magic items, etc, with one unique allowance allowed in each category. Settle in, I’m reviewing one adventure at a time. Also, I admit that an orgy of women, wine, bread, circuses, and self-absorbed loathing kept me from reading Prince’s commentary earlier. So I’m going in to this blind. Let’s see what “winning” entries look like, shall we?
Vault of the Warlord By Justin Todd 1e Levels 1-3
This twenty page adventure features a dungeon with thirty rooms as well as a nearby town and wilderness area. It’s got a Deathtrap vibe, but not an unfair one. A good example of pushing your luck, over and over again. Smart play yields rewards. It’s also a little light on the evocative text.
What a strange little adventure. Strange in a good way. It feels like one of those dungeons of old. Multiple entrances ,lots of whit to fuck with. Almost verging on a funhouse vibe, but never crossing the line in that territory. I can see analogies to Tomb of Horrors, without as much Deathtrap.
We get a small town nearby. A temple the party can take over and get worshippers, a wise woman and her witch sister. A thief to fence shit … that may screw the party over. And the local lord who “will house & feed a man, provided he submits to bathing.” Specificity. That’s what he town has. Little details like that the DM can riff off of. Just enough description to run it and riff. Which is the way I like things in town. The town provides rumors to a cursed dungeon, and off to th wilderness the party goes. To find a number of interesting encounters, from a bandit gang, to Karl the Ogre … who is a troll cursed to not harm men except in self defense. A tribe of giant beavers has build a great dam … and underneath is the dungeon. If you get them to drain the lake, or do it against their will, you will get a new dungeon enctrance. One of several scattered throughout the region, from traditional entrances to others like the beaver lake or one guarded by Karl. It all kind of works together. There’s a kind of mellow vibe to the writing, but the encounters make sense and have just enough detail to generally bring them to life, with a few exceptions.
The dungeon proper is basically a giant room with several doors off of it, and several side corridors with rooms off of them. It’s an interesting design, and reminds me a bit of Mordenkainen’s Fantastic Adventure. There are flooded areas and partially flooded areas … or maybe not depending on your beaver damn experiences …
Formatting is good and easy to use and scan. The encounters are interactive. Some sodium bricks for your flooded water journey. Or finding a coffin with a staked vampire in it … and some magical swords at his side. What to do what to do? The pushing your luck thing. You know what’s gonna happen. Nother vampire has stakes through her eyes and is weakened … a continual threat. A ceiling held up by an immovable rod. You want the rob, don’t you? Treasure can be generous … but it’s always got something going on, like the vampire, or the ceiling, or swords that are catatonic until something else happens. You’re gonna have to work for shit. It’s the Hidden Depth that is sometimes talked about … but not the depth that is esoterically twelve layers deep. It’s accessible and approachable by the party.
It is the writing that I’d like to comment most on. It’s terse. Maybe too much so. The situations are interesting, and they work together to give you a good sense of the place, but the individual encounters can lack quite a bit.
“There is an enormous set of Drums of Panic stored here.” Well, ok. Not much really interesting or evocative about that description is there? Either for the room or for the drums? Or, maybe something like “This area contain the ruined bodies of several cultists, with only tatterred robes and skeletal or desiccated remains.” That’s in a room with the title “Profane Temple.’ You need to run with that. Or “hundreds of corpses are piled & stacked here …” These are not bad words in and of themself (though I could take exception to the “this area contains …” padding) but there is just nothing more beyond that. I could use just a sentence more, on the context the object is in, and maybe a descriptive word or two more for the object itself.
Oh, and some rooms have something that could be considered either read-aloud or a DM overview. It’s cringe. “The air is stale & fetid. Too-cold water laps the knees. Death visited this place.” Uh huh. That’s a little fantasy novelist try-hard. There ARE zombies under that water, which is a classic encounter, and one of them has a jewel in its gut. Yeah for gutting monsters like I am 13YO again! So, great encounters, but the writing needs to be bumped up a notch.
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