Under the City

By Simon Carryer
Simon Carryer Games
"Low Levels"

Few suspect the depths of danger, depravity, and adventure that can be found Under the City. Maggot-men, sewer gators, oozefolk, basilisk cultists, street gangs, psychic toads, and more

This six page dungeon contains six levels, one per page, with about twelve rooms per page, or around seventy rooms. Essentially a collection of one page dungeons, it does a decent job in setting up interesting things going on, but, presumably due to length constraints, fails in any meaningful descriptions. Also, it’s better than most one pagers and better than most traditional adventures. So, you know, you could easily do worse than running this.

I want to believe. I want to believe in the short format adventure. In something that doesn’t overstay its welcome but manages to delver hit after hit in the encounters it presents. And thus my forays, again and again, in to that pit of despair known at DriveThru, endless searching for the treasure that I just know MUST be there. This is pretty close.

The pages are in landscape and central to each one is a little isometric drawing of the dungeon levels. This helps. A lot. You get to visualize little elevation changes and major features in rooms, like a giant demon skull. Thus the room descriptions, which we are going to be getting to in just a bit, are augmented by the visuals on the map. And, while this has always been the case in a good “top down” map, the iso maps, a decent one anyway, do a better job of displaying the levels and providing the extra Umph needed. In a one pager, anyway … cause dense exploration maps with good keys still trump everything I’ve seen so far. 

Okey doke, so, we get absolutely NO intro text to this. In fact, we get almost no explanation at all on what is going on. You have to learn through reading the text. The wanderers on level one are 1d6 dead men or 1d5 merry japers or Blind Betty. WTF?!!? Read on, in to the keys, to learn more and get the context you need to run it! Which is all “orc rebellion in G1” … and I find fine. Not everything needs to be spelled out ahead of time.; telling the “plot” through the keys is fine. It will break down eventually, but, in something like this, I’m more than happy to learn, through a key on level two, that the dead mens leader is, in fact, dead, and buried in a tomb and still provides sound advice and leadership to his (bandit) gang. And thus the keys build on each other, over time, to provide more than the sum of their parts. That’s A Good Thing(™)! 

Multiple entrances in to the dungeon, from the town above. (L1 is a sewer, and I’m gonna be fine with t since it’s the first level of something deeper) And multiple ways down, all outlined briefly. Wanderer tables for each level. Rumor tables fr each level. This all takes about one half of the first column for each level, leaving the rest of the three column text for the room keys.

So, yeah, Blind Betty. The Merry Japers. The Dead Men. This is all text fucking book ways of doing monsters. They have fucking names. THE troll, not A troll. You WANT to know more. The very names give them life and something to springboard and riff off on town and with the NPC’s. That’s the fucking way you do things! And did I mention there are cross-freferences? To the man-maggots?!

And the actual encounters tend to be fully of interesting things. Or, perhaps, situations and NPC;s. One of the rooms on the first floor reads:

7. Old Church, Lower Basement

• 1d3 Dead Men (1HD, axe 1d6)

This is the meeting room of the Dead Men, the city’s dominant criminal enterprise. Ostrato, a city official, is here negotiating a bribe. 

200gp is hidden under the table. Stairs deeper further into the dungeon.

So, name to help orient (although, this could be better, Less factual and more evocative … especially given the criticisms to come) and then a monster, with a stat. I’m fine with all this, except, perhaps, the lack of an AC. If you’ve got a special attack it’s integrated in, like: “1 Man-maggot (2HD, filthy mouth 1d4 and save or be paralysed for 1d6 rounds)” Then a little room “description” with something generally going on if there are people present. You can get a sense of the better rooms, of which they ar a pretty large percentage, from that encounter, with the city official. Something IS going on, but it’s the bare minimum. 

And this is the good and the bad of the adventure. 

There are no environmental descriptions. You will never get more than “crypt” as a description. Or “cramped tunnel” or some such. Some rooms delve a bit beeper, but, still, only in a surface manner.

“9. King Garibald’s Tomb

Niches along the east wall contain skeletons, 36 in total, each with a silver coin in its mouth. The King’s coffin sits atop an inlaid catafalque, and mosaics decorate the floor.” (ant then some more shit when you open up the coffin)

Somewhat generic descriptions. I suspect that a few more adjectives and adverbs thrown in would help quite a bit, ala, what did I just review? Vault 19? Yeah, prob. Short, but not bland.

Also, did I mention the interactivity/situations? Sure I did. If you retreat from an encounter with the Wax Men then the next day you get framed for murder in town … cause they look like you! Situations. Interactivity. Just like that city official. Only with about a sentence or maybe two more, each. 

This isn’t the promised land. It’s close, but not these. You’d need to add a sentence or two to each room or some such, for example, to bring it to life. How he does that, while still keeping the levels to one per page and the room count to twelve or so, I don’t know. For those of you without the sould os a dreamer, I’m sure it will be fine.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $3. 


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10 Responses to Under the City

  1. 3llense'g says:

    I wanted to check the preview, because if the pages are landscape and the text is small enough, then technically I would count them as two-page spreads. No preview yet.

  2. Dave says:

    I rate this higher than Bryce. Princess Euphemia is so solid she doesn’t need a room description, a group should get some good play out of that encounter alone. The magic dagger on level 3 is not only original, but original in a way that will lead to players scheming how to weaponize it further.

    The map is really good. My one complaint with isometrics is some designers get hung up on their stairs and corners, but when you diagram it they’ve really done a very simple map. This one though is jacquayed both horizontally and vertically, the latter to a degree I’ve only seen Dyson’s Delve accomplish. Plus he’s fit in enough visual cues I can come up with some room description of my own from the map (okay, I see Bryce noted that, but I guess I’m grading room descriptions on more of a curve than he is).

    Rumors are solid enough I’d place this before running it, and get them out beforehand. If players know enough of them going in that will add to play at several points.

    One editing issue, the map on level 4 is misnumbered. 3 appears twice, then keeps counting up. Easily fixed, and with the map icons you can see what they’re supposed to be.

    All in all though I think it’s solid, and worth recommending. Only caveat is I do have a well known tolerance of vanilla D&D when it’s well executed and I can slot it into my regular campaign. This is somewhat vanilla, but it’s very well executed.

    • Reason says:

      Maggot Men, Wax men who take your form (cool take on Dopplegangers), Tomb ghost who does cool stuff & interacts. It’s just far enough from vanilla, without going full gonzo that I find a sweet spot for me.

    • Stripe says:

      Yeah, I read the first and last levels and this thing looks absolutely amazing!

  3. ... says:

    Typical Bryce – Bitches when there is not enough information and Bitches when there is too much (in his opinion) information. How much bullshit does Bryce really have held inside himself? Time will only tell.

  4. Jacob72 says:

    Hey Bryce, why didn’t you give this ‘No Regerts”?

  5. Stripe says:

    Just went back and paid $6 this because after reading the whole thing, it’s perfect for what I want. I figured $1 a page well worth it.

    For online games, you want shorter sessions (3 hours instead of 4); you want fewer at the table (because you’re using microphones/technology); and it’s a bonus if you can run it “open table”—accepting walk-in players without no notice.

    Though I haven’t ran it yet, I’m sure this will do very well as an OSR dungeon crawl of open-table “one-shots” with a mix of new and returning players almost every session. If anyone feels like playing (maybe Monday, Tuesday, or Sunday nights Central time), hit me up on the OSR Pick-Up Games Server: https://discord.gg/PWfgBss

    This would make a really nice multi-level dungeon in the the Black Wyrm of Brandonsford (https://tenfootpole.org/ironspike/?p=7349). So, you can have the open sandbox fantasy world and a multi-level dungeon, too.

    • Reason says:

      Been idly reading through this in spare moments. But for me, it gets me thinking & it’s the kind of “stickyness”/easy to grok that I like at about the right magic level.

      Nothing is fleshed out- but a few moments scanning & attention to keywords- I get it. The things that aren’t fleshed out- say the Golden Bull (?) tavern… do I really need a tavern fleshed out? Or can I riff a tavern at this point?

      The sparse text allied with imaginative ideas reminds me a lot of Sham’s Grog n Blog’s Dismal Depths. Which I really love. But which would need about 15 mins per level for me to just side note some descriptive words for say _what_ the mosaics are of or _how_ the elaborate sarcophagus is decorated. In my mind I was already running this for a SE Asia type setting which suddenly filled in a lot of blanks for me.

      I do like this and I would run it but I can see why it’s not quite at The Best. A new creature/foes appendix would be handy.

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