By Michael Grayson S Mapmaster Battlemaps 2e Level 1
And in the middle of this vast sky, there sits an impressive palace of scattered towers and keeps. They hang suspended amidst the clouds from which they rise, as though the pillowy vapors support them, sometimes separated from each other by a mile or more of distance. The architecture is varied, as if erected by different builders of different times, some of them perhaps even alien to the observer. To the east might sit some great ziggurat and to the west something more akin to a tudor castle. Pyramids, obelisks, towers and even mammoth copper domes all stand perplexingly arrayed at dizzying heights. In the darker depths an observer might catch a glimpse of some, strange non-euclidean structure for a moment before the mists swallowed it.
This 113 page dungeon is the first 100 rooms of a 1001 room dungeon. It’s essentially Dragons Lair, the adventure,maybe mashed up with Myst, with the party teleporting from one rando room to another and having a little isolated adventure piece. The encounters are interesting enough. Although the evocative nature of the rooms comes not from the text but from the rendered 3d pictures of each.
Woah, boy, where to start with this one? This is the first booklet in a series, each of the booklets describing the next 100 rooms in the Palace of 1001 Rooms. That’s a kind of mythical place. As the intro says: one of the first doors in Sigil leads to it. A place beyond the edge of the world. I saw one of the later. Looks like the latest kickstarter was for chapter 7, so, rooms 700-800 … and thus dude has delivered 800 rooms so far of his 1001. That’s a feat in and of itself! Each section looks themed, and this one, the first one, is the Gatehouse. The “end” room of each section leads to the next section, with the claim that the challenge level increases in each booklet. This, a kind of campaign.
Now, you got to hang in there with me … there is no map. Some of the room have descriptions that say that a certain tradoor or some such leads to room 6 or something like that. But that’s not why there isn’t a map. Instead, every time you use a door it leads somewhere new. You see, each room number corresponds to a page number. So, when the party goes through a door you roll and see which room they end up in. A significant number of pages is spent describing how this works and nerfing any magic spells, etc, that could let the party dig through a wall, Wizard Eye and so on, as is traditional in one of these teleport door adventures. I don’t really get why the fuck the designer did this? And I don’t buy the “magical nature of the mythic location!” nonsense. Just put in a fucking map man. This is what contributes, among other things, to the Dragon’s Lair vibe it’s got going on.
But, that’s not the major deviation from the norm with this. There is, as mentioned, one room to a page. And each room has a rendered art piece for the room, , taking up about half the page, showing it and the major features. This is where the Myst reference comes in, among other place. You get this kind of view in to the room, as the DM. The little art piece has some numbers on it and the room text has notes related to those numbers. The chamber pot and cutlery, tapestry, an unseen servant washing dishes, and hand towel. This is the feature that attracted me to review this, for you all know how I am drawn to folk trying to experiment. I really like the little art pieces as a way to visualize the room. And the little numbers, referring back to the text are interesting. Oh, yeah, and I don’t think it works well.
The renders are all samey in their art style, as one would expect, but, I think the vibe of the rooms are different. There really is something to the Less Is More style of describing rooms. Little brief and evocative vignettes let your mind fill things in, but leaves the edges fuzzy. There’s something immensely appealing about the renders, and, yet, I don’t think they work as well as just an evocative room description would.it’s too concrete. And, because it’s visual, there’s no “room”, inside your brain, to fill things in, with the result being it looks a little dull … at least as compared to THE POWER OF THE IMAGINATION! [Insert rainbow emoji)
Read aloud is a little TOO terse. “You emerge from the portal into the bottom landing of a
cool spiral staircase.” Uh, sure. “The room smells of machine oil. A series of vaulted arches run against one wall.” And that’s for a relatively complex room with pillars, arches, stairs, tradoor, weapon racks and the like. Which, I must say, I can describe from the render. But, idk. It feels disconnected from the read-aloud.
And then there’s weird randomness in the descriptions which don’t seem to make sense. I can’t figure out if I’m not getting something or if it’s dungeon dressing or just filler background. “The Builders prepared this room with a special wax and a broken clay ziggurat, which was mixed with the mortar” and “Someone has chalked an arrow on the wall pointing to the farthest portal down the wall in a vain attempt to leave a trail for others to follow later. A few feet away, the same chalk has scratched out 7 straight lines. AFAIK, nothing is done with either of these. The first is maybe just background padding? Or maybe background padding and dungeon dressing? The second is either dungeon dressing or a clue to a puzzle? But the rooms are so disjointed, (Dragon’s Lair!) that I don’t see it making sense?
And then there’s this kind of abstracted description thing it does in places. “A tribe of goblins live here.” Sure. It’s stabbing time. How many? No clue. None at ALL. A few? A bajillion? IDK. And this sort of thing is all over the place
But, the variety of room, and things to do in them, is quite nice. One room is a pillared rotunda. Archways. Gargoyles looking down, a dozen or so. A mosaic on the floor, and in the middle of it a slate pedestal with glowing runes on it reading, in Sylvan Elf “Run of Mind Shielding”. Maybe a little on the nose, but, also, a nice little puzzle and atmospheric for an IDENTIFY pedestal.
I know the renders are the gimmick here. But I can’t help thinking that a more traditional format would have suited this better. Nuke the render. Spend the render time instead on working those evocative & terse room descriptions HARD. Did things get better in the later volumes? Idk. The first one is usually either the best of the nearly the worst in a collected volume, in my experience.
This is $30 at DriveThru.No preview. Which Sucks ass. But, you can go to the website of te designer and see a preview at https://mapmasterbattlemaps.com/the-palace-of-1001-rooms-1/btxusf8mxow3qd4ekkinhzfg392282