The Halls of Cauldron Mountain

By Jeff Simpson
Buddyscott Entertainment Group
Level 3

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

Travel to an ancient volcano overrun with purple worms wher ecults to dragons and halls to Dwarven gods once stood. As you delve deeper and deeper, a passage to Cthonia, the twisting and turning maze of subterranean tunnels might even be uncovered…but first you must survive the Halls of Cauldron Mountain!

This twelve twenty page adventure features four dungeon levels and a town with about fifty a hundred 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 thirty or so rooms per level. As I noted, there are about sixteen rooms per page, about eight per column although it’s all in single column that contributes heavily to a wall of text feel. 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.” 5. “5. This open room was once a kitchen. Nothing of value remains. The cabinetry remains in a serviceable condition.” On the plus side the description DOESN’T starts with a keyword. You’re NOT now oriented to the room. I know what a kitchen looks like and can ad-lib what’s in it IF YOU ORIENT ME TO 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 NOT gonna slap in three more room descriptions, CAUSE ITS ALL THE SAME AS THE LAST REVIEW, EXCEPT WORSE.

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  3 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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25 Responses to The Halls of Cauldron Mountain

  1. Kubo says:

    Somehow I doubt this adventure was ever play tested in either version before publication. Expect a new title and a major overhaul in version 3. As for me, I’ve attempted to revise a failed adventure before to improve it after a play test, but sometimes it’s better to scrap it and take out the pieces that work for a fresh project. After an initial attempt to improve a longer AD&D dungeon failed, I was very successful this year by taking out the best stuff in the AD&D dungeon and updating it to 5E, making a shorter, better adventure. Two groups of 5E players loved the new adventure – old school encounters/feel using rules they knew. Anyone else do the same?

    • Anonymous says:

      Going from OSR to 5e should be considered a sign of extreme degeneracy of the spirit, an indication that one has abandoned standards and morals and is content to wallow through existence like a lower animal, without hope or desire for redemption.

      • Kubo says:

        LOL. You’d be taken more seriously in your statement if you were not anonymous. For all anyone knows I replied to my own post with humor. But truthfully, I agree AD&D/OSR rules are better. However, you sometimes have to bridge the gap with 5E players to get them to see the light. Old school games differ in more than just rules, but in their approach to the game. The OSR play style can be brought into a 5E game. I don’t think a lot of 5E players have played a good dungeon crawl. Their games always start as caravan guards, a trope that I can’t recall using myself in 40+ years of gaming.

      • NotAnonymous says:

        Self-evident truth is true regardless of its source.

        You can bridge the gap with B/X. Don’t give up! We believe in you!

        Caravan guards has been a trope since early 1e. There is an adventure in Dungeon #26 literally called Caravan Guards.

        • Kubo says:

          Notably the Dungeon Magazine you refer to came out in 1990 during early 2E. But wasn’t there a brief episode in the original 2 Dragonlance series modules where you are escorting a caravan of fleeing refugees or some such (and guess what, they are attacked!)? Did Dragonlance give us both railroading and caravan guards!?! 5E loves the caravan guard trope because a perfect adventuring day has exactly 6 encounters (3 easy, 2 moderate, and 1 hard difficulty). A railroad accomplishes this perfectly and is perfectly dull as well.

          I’ve also never had an adventurers guild in any campaign. It’s like the party becomes the Super Friends and goes to the Hall of Justice to get their next mission.

          • Artem of the Floating Keep says:

            I plead guilty of using the caravan guards cliché on two occasions. My extenuating circumstances are as follows:

            1) One was in a mock-Arabian Nights setting, where it made all of the sense;

            2) Both were used in the very first session of a campaign, with level 1 characters, when their relative anonymity and powerlessness explains why they would take on such a job.

            I hope I get away with stern warning…

          • Gnarley Bones says:

            X4 Master of the Desert Nomads (1983) has the party joining a caravan.

        • NotAnonymous says:

          I hear all the correct words. Yet still you cast scorn on your lineage. Will you not repent? These are your players, worthy of your campaign. Trust them with the transition from 5e to B/X. And if ye must wallow in filth, then either doth ye make thine material, or The High Moors, or anything by Joseph D Lewis, or Beings From Beyond by Ben Evans.

          Walk with Gygax my son.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I love the cover

  3. Joe Mikkelson says:

    Why is there so much strikethrough in this review? Just curious. This looks like it is entirely ignorable, like almost everything else these days… related question, why review so many poo poo garbage adventures? I’ve read 100s of your negative reviews and trust you so much that if you just said “this is bad” about one that’s enough for me. I don’t need the details anymore. I’m probably missing something so sorry if so.

  4. John Paquette says:

    I think that Bryce reviewed an earlier version, and strikethrough is used to indicate changes.

  5. BoredWithBryceBullShitReviews says:

    You suck Bryce

    • BoredWithBoredWithBryceBullShitReviews says:

      I have to say, your choice of username is unsuccessful. “Bored” is annoyingly bland for the kind of rage you’re packing — it’s on the level of a Parents Against Skateboarding On Sidewalks coalition or something.

      But then, confusingly, you throw “BullShit” in there in an attempt to it more impactful/edgy.

      The end result is a self-contradictory tone that isn’t, by the way, even remotely as catchy as you hope the alliteration will make it.

      You are, in fact, the boring one.

      You should make it BullShitBryce if you really want to not seem ridiculous.

      And maybe have a coherent thought in your posts, too. But that’s a problem I can’t solve for you.

      • BoredWithBryceBullShitReviews says:

        You suck BoredWithBoredWithBryceBullShitReviews

      • What are you all smoking? says:

        Why do people think this is a rehashed product? Have any of you actually read the modules in question? One of them is a loose sequel that tales place nearby the other and this one is completely unrelated.

        • BoredWithBoredWithBryceBullShitReviews says:

          I’m smoking BoredWithBryceBullShitReviews.

          Did you intentionally set that shot up, or…?

        • John Paquette says:

          Because of the extensive strikethrough in the review.
          Bryce seems to be implying that this module is a rehash, whether it is a redux or not.
          And with a cover like that one I’ll never read it. A blank cover would be better.

        • Kubo says:

          After being goaded into actually reading both adventures by WAYA Smoking, I confirmed that Bryce is correct – it is a rehash. I second what Paquette said as well. Although technically both are individual adventures, both are extremely alike in themes and flavor (not to mention quality). It’s like I’m reading the stuff I wrote for my home game between the age of 13 to 16 (which should not be surprising from the quality of the maps and art). Quaint and nostalgic, but it was not my best stuff. And back then I thought each adventure I wrote was unique, but looking back now, not so much.

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