Underfurnace Excavation

By Jeff Simpson
Buddyscott Entertainment Group
Levels 5-7

Long before the human settlement of Knup-Tra sprang up, the miners of the Magnitogorsk clan uncovered an ancient hall deep in the Mountains of Fire. A strange being taught them secrets  that led to their downfall. Are you brave enough to plumb the depths of the Underfurnace of the Mountain King and find what caused an entire dwarven settlement to virtually disappear

This twelve page adventure features four dungeon levels and a town with about fifty rooms. It uses a minimalistic style, with a few flourishes in the rooms, ala B2. This results in easy to scan rooms, but an environment that is somewhat less evocative, and interactive, then I generally think the minimal standard of quality should be today. But, I don’t hate it. Which is a major accomplishment.

A dude, doing his own maps and art? Rock on man, that’s the spirit of D&D! As is the mixture of B/X and 1e FF/MM that the adventure uses … just like we all did in the 80’s! I had high hopes for this … and was only moderately disappointed!

I want to take a look at the town, first. There’s a little map for it, but that’s probably not relevant. What is interesting is the page of town businesses. You get a bolded first word, like Carpenter, which is followed by the business description. Of which there are like seventeen. All on, essentially, one page,. He can accomplish this because the businesses just have the interesting bits described. “Run by the bickering couple of Silksif and her husband Granmar, much of their arguing comes from the fact that they are currently broke.” Just enough personality to run the NPC’s as their own place, making them a little memorable, and, maybe, providing some fodder for the DM to riff off of if the town becomes some sort of frequent base. A few other businesses have something notable for sale or some such, like Reeve’s badge of office, worth 900gp, or the smithy that has a silver inlaid breastplate. It never goes in to those excesses that are frequently seen in adventures where the townfolk are described in minute but irrelevant detail, along with a russian novel length backstory that doesn’t matter. These descriptions are focused on gameplay. Which is exactly how it should be!

The dungeon, proper, is a four level design, about twelve or so rooms per level. As I noted, there are about sixteen rooms per page, about eight per column. This makes for room descriptions that are relatively short and therefore easy to scan. Generally, a format of this type needs a good sentence to setup the room and maybe one or two more expand on things. What we’re looking for here is a great little descriptive sentence, the centerpiece of the room. That could be read-aloudish or just plant an imagination seed in the DMs head. Following that we’re looking, I think, for a sentence or two about the room that could be DM notes. Maybe a little variation in that format, with a two sentence description and a few sentences of descriptions for more complex rooms, but that’s the general idea, I think, for an adventure format that is trying to squeeze in sixteen rooms per page. You just don’t have the real estate and have to make exquisite usage of what you do have. 

But that’s not what is going on here. Instead we’re getting a slightly expanded minimalism in the description, akin to the B2 room descriptions, or at least the VIBE of the B2 descriptions. “Kitchen All of the knives here are gone. 8 kobolds rummage through the empty barrels.” 

On the plus side the description starts with a keyword. You’re now oriented to the room. I know what a kitchen looks like and can ad-lib what’s in it. Plus, the information to come is now filtered through the framing of “Kitchen”, which does wonders for the imagination riffing on things and filling in holes. Then we get a very B2 description. A creature, doing something. Rummaging through empty barrels in this case. The famous example, from B2 I think, is orcs shooting dice. But, there’s not actually a description here. That’s not really very evocative. It’s better than just “Kitchen: 8 kobolds” but that’s not saying much in 2022. 

I’m gonna slap in three more room descriptions:

Mine The floor here is pooled with quicksilver broken up by a few loose stones. For every turn spent in this room, roll a save vs Poison; failure means the character will die in 1d6 hours. The quicksilver drips from the lips of a stone bust of an emaciated dwarf with sunken eyes. If the bust is disturbed, four half-petrified ghouls (AC4) burst from the walls and attack.

Grand Hall There is a large oaken table in this council chamber with a fossilized skeleton of a blue dragon. There are 4 pyroclastic golems here who have been instructed by the orc sham- an to draw a thaumaturgical circle to reanimate it. There is a 5% chance that they succeed just as the party enters the room. The golems under- stand Dwarven and Giant. 6 dwarf skeletons (3HD), 4 armed with longswords and 2 with crossbows, attack anyone entering this room.

Cave The corpse of a rust monster lies next to an un-rusted sword. Disturbing the rust monster or the sword activates a silent alarm that alerts the dwarven vampire in Area 3 of intruders.

Looking at these you can see the format clearly. A brief one sentence description and then a thing, along with a note that is usually mechanics related. The monster, the treasure, the trap, etc. But we also see a certain abstraction. “An alarm sounds” is not very much fun. A pile of bones, or tin cans, dropping from the cei;ling may be more. Or a pile, precariously stacked, that falls down. Some additional interactivity and a little bit more on the descriptive/interactive unified front. Note as well the weird Gand Hall, with some golems, notes about an Orc shaman, and then also some skeletons thrown in for good measure? Weird disconnect there. Every once in awhile you get a great line, like the quicksilver dripping from a dwarf emaciated face with sunken eyeballs … great descriptive text there! 

What the adventure needs is more of those descriptive keywords. Pushing things a little bit more in both descriptions and interactivity, as with the alarm. What we get, instead, is an almost minimal adventure much in the vein of the much beloved B2. But, it’s also 2022. We can do better than B2. 

And, I noite, I have not even touched on this being a level 5-7 adventure. For a level range like that I might want a few more complex situations to appear. As it stands, there are drow and a vampire that might roam around a bit, but the adventure is far more “individual stand alone” room based than I think I want at level seven. I should mention that mroe. Oh well.

At least, those, he didn’t fuck it up. And “It could be better” is a far measure better than “This makes me hate my life and wish I had never learned about D&D.” I don’t think this kind of things cuts it today. The splendor of Xyntillian was how much it packed, in interactivity and evocative descriptions, in to so little space. That’s the bar to shoot for,

This is free at DriveThru.


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10 Responses to Underfurnace Excavation

  1. 3llense'g says:

    Oh, it’s the Swords & Sewercery writer! Interesting…

  2. Stripe says:

    Bryce, this is why I read your blog. Great review. Thanks.

    Jeff, congrats on a good review. That Mine description was fantastic! Put me right there. Surprised you didn’t do a PWYW at least on it. After this review, I’d have done $1.99 *easy!*

  3. Dick says:

    “…human settlement of Knup-Tra…”

    We’ve got a witty one here. Part of the duchy of Grob-Krom, no doubt.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Can’t beat free!

  5. Q says:

    “And, I noite, I have not even touched on this being a level 5-7 adventure. For a level range like that I might want a few more complex situations to appear. As it stands, there are drow and a vampire that might roam around a bit, but the adventure is far more “individual stand alone” room based than I think I want at level seven. I should mention that mroe. Oh well”

    Yes, this is good stuff. By level 7 static adventures no longer really work. The Gygax classic monster zoo S4 only somewhat worked back in the day because all of the monsters were new and the players didn’t yet know the right tactics. Nowadays it’s a snorefest (and I’m a big classic module fan). WG4, on the other hand, will always be a classic.

  6. Jacob72 says:

    I enjoyed your write-up Bryce. The pool of mercury really is a top-notch room, though I think the save or die is a bit harsh. Seriously debilitated or turning mad as a hatter would be more flavoursome.

  7. Artem of the Floating Keep says:

    Magnitogorsk is an actual industrial city in Russia built around mining, making the name both kinda clever and REEEEE cultural appropriation 😀

  8. Anonymous says:

    Oh Gosh Bryce you are too funny lets go

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