By Luke Gygax & Christopher Clark Gaxx Works 1e Levels 11-13
You hear tales at the inn of a vast dragon’s hoard that may no longer be guarded. A well-dressed and highly persuasive Ranger even agrees to show you the way to this vaunted treasure, and help you secure it, if she might lay claim to a single dagger from the loot. What a great opportunity! Why do you feel its too good to be true?
This 45 page adventure describes a dungeon with about thirty rooms, featuring a really dumb Mammon scheme. It’s essentially a long list of set-pieces … or what passes for set pieces in 1e. Each room is about a page or longer because Luke/Christopher and/or the editors seem to think that’s what people want. A long conversational style. I don’t want that. I just want to play D&D tonight. I’m guessing most people are in my same position.
There are a few clues that something will not be good when you pick up an adventure. I’ve talked about page count before, the ratio of the number of pages to number of encounters. Or, the fact that something is written for Mork Borg. Another clue is Names From The Olden Days. While it’s not always a given that these clues will mean a bad adventure, there are trends in that area. I try to look at everything with fresh eyes, which is one of the reasons I’m frequently disappointed.
But man, it’s hard when you come across something like this. It turns out it’s a tournament adventure, and, I make allowances for tourney adventures. To a certain extent. It’s frequent, in my experiences running at cons, at tourney adventures are dumped in a DMs lap at the last minute, making ease of use more of an issue than most. The Gygax name sells, though, as does, I assume the Clark name. This adventure is essentially a set of 1e set pieces, or what passes for a set piece in 1e. Each room a puzzle. Each room a bit overloaded with a gimmick. This is not in and of itself an issue; The Tower of Gax at GenCon is one of my favorite things to play in and they are essentially the same thing. Each room a kind of weird puzzle, of sorts. Or, maybe, rooms that look straightforward but you have to beware because something is lurking for the inattentive.
We start this adventure is a LONG piece of fiction, always a good sign tha the designers attention is in the right place instead of, say, paying attention to the experience the DM will be having running the room. There is A LOT of backstory in this. The principals all get a long couple of columns of their history. This includes, for a dragon, the line “This trauma of childhood has made her bitter and vengeful.” Well, fucking great. It’s fucking dragon. Stab stab stab. That’s the backstory you need. Even when, in this case, the dragon is LE and goes along with tha party in each room, turning invisible in most combats, hanging back and, of course, inevitably betraying the party. Gee, didn’t see that coming. The pretext is tha ta dragon has sold its soul to Mammon and is going in to the dungeon to get it back, with the parties assistance, as a poly’d elf who hires the party. But, whatever. To the adventures credit it doesn’t gimp the parties spells … or offer any advice on what to do when they cast detect alignment on the elf and see it’s LE. The betrayal is just a “i turn back in to a dragon and flee the dungeon”, so, it’s not as bad as most.
The individual set pieces in this, which essentially means every room, are good. They are interesting and varied, if a little pushing the sense of disbelief. Each room has something a little special to upset the applecart of “i stab it in a straightforward manner.” None of them feel like outright gimps, it’s more “the quicksand has a shell over the top of it that will support one persons weight so it’s not obvious.”
You’ve got to fight through a lot of read-aloud, as one would expect from designers of this generation, as well as a conversational style of presenting the rooms that one would also expect from this generation. Almost no consideration is given to actually RUNNING the adventure at the table; the core conceit of this blog. It doesn’t matter how good the adventure is, if it’s a pain to run then my eyes are gonna glaze over and I’m not going to put the fucking effort in, in 2022. I’m going to pick an adventure that is at least as good and is far FAR easier to run. I’m not reading and rereading, highlighting and taking notes for each room. Not when the fucking dedigners and editors didn’t put any effort in to make it easier to run.
It’s FULL of conversational bullshit mucking up the text. Which is great if you are only reading the adventure and no so great if you want to scan it quickly, at the table, to run it. This gem sums up a lot “In any event, the manticores take their jobs seriously, and will attack. Within their nest these manticores keep hidden several gems given to them by Mammon for outstanding work:” These words have absolutely no impact on running the adventure, and yet get the way of scanning the text following it and around it. No attempt is made at any formatting other than an occasional paragraph break. At this point I think the Mork Borg crew should exclusively be involved in idea generation and fmatting and layout and the old crew of designers should be involved in the design of the adventure encounters and making things work together. Both groups seem to have a fatal flaw in seeing the utility the other group brings.
There’s a gimp or two in this, but they are not serious. One door, in particular, stands out. You can only lockpick to get in t othe room easily/quietly. If you KNOCK it then the door opens, and then falls of its hinges making a loud sound on the floor. With no advance warning.
Which is weird because the rooms otherwise do a decent job of telegraphing whats to come, to people who are paying attention. A read-aloud, in room one, mentions a greta pile of sticks and logs in front of a door … which are actually sleeping manticores. It also mentioned a musty smell, another clue, and a sandy floor, made up of fine sand, which also gives a clue to whats to come with the quicksand. These are clues for the players to ask more questions, which is what a good read-aloud should be doing. The RA also mentioned the large clusters of tall mushrooms in the rooms, which should set off some player caution as well, telegraphing the shriekers. The PAGE of text to follow up on this RA is the issue, with no clue as to what is what is in which paragraph to come to allow the DM to quickly reference them when the players follow up. I’m not holding a page of text in my head, much less scan is quickly or pause the game for five minutes while I read and grok the room.
This does, though, reveal the set piecey nature of the 1e rooms. Obvious mushrooms to set off warning bells. Logs/sticks that are something else. And the looming threat of the quicskand for those that are paying attention. Not just a shrieker fight, or a manticore fight. This can go overboard in some rooms, with Monster Zoo 4e enocnters, where Lurkers drop down on the party in the middle of an otherwise “normal” encounter. I don’t do rando monsters working together.
The Mammon theme here isn’t the strongest, but it is well done, with things being telegraphed in most of the encounters that someone is making bargains somewhere. Combined with some bargains being offered by Mammon, in near-death cases, it comes across pretty well. I’m happy to see a devil acting like a devil, even if he’s not the star in this … or even shows up in a meaningful way.
I’m trying to be nice here. The rooms are pretty good and it’s a decent high -level adventure that doesn’t gimp you. But, the complete lackof making it easier to run, along with the length and complexity of the rooms, makes this one I would skip. Just fucking highlight a few word with bolding or something and cut the bullshit pay per word text padding and you’d have a decent 1e adventure.
But that didn’t happen.
This is $20 at DriveThru. That’s a little fucking steep. I mean, not if it were good, but for this? And the preview just shows the fiction and the NPC motivation pages. PAGES. The preview needed to show a room or two tl let the DM know if they want to fight through the text to run it.