By Greg Christopher Chubby Funster Shadowdark Level 2
The Sunless Fane is an ancient temple of Vexitorus, the Narbonian god of the Underworld. It has been abandoned for over 400 years at this point. About three weeks ago, a band of Hobgoblins took up residence in the outer halls. They are aware of the undead and vermin deeper in the temple and avoid them whenever possible.
This eighteen page digest adventure features a dungeon with about thirty rooms. Half hobgob and half undead, it is inoffensive, if not particularly interesting. Lack of variety in interactivity and a slave to Balenciaga … err, I mean formatting, result in a humdrum product.
I was moderately optimistic upon cracking this one open. The map looked decent, with some loops and variety to it. A door in a hall opening to another hallway. A small six-entry wanderer table with some things going on in it. A nice clean format for the rooms, and they start pretty much immediately. All good signs.
“Entryway: This is the dungeon entryway. It is accessible by stairs leading up to the surface.” Oh boy … it’s gonna be one of those days. But, no! There is but a small number of rooms that repeat their purpose multiple times. Instead, though, we get a dogmatic adherence to a format. Each and every room gets a “Door, Light, Walls and Floor and Sound line, on a separate line. So, four sentences for every room. And, then, a one sentence description of the room. One sentence. Ok. Maybe two. But, all on one line. Ok, some rooms have two or three lines. But one is not uncommon. Thus Light: Total darkness Walls and Floor: Cold dusty stonework Sound: Silent. My life is enriched. Immeasurably. Is that what you wanted to do when you wrote this adventure? To list, by rote, the same conditions in most of the rooms? As if that were to asdd something to the experience of running it? I know, it’s my own fucking fault.
Sparse light from above with long shadows in corners, wet and overgrown with moss and vines and soft dripping sounds. Tada! I just rewrite the dungeon entryway, taking up WAY less page space.
Not to mention tha the slavish devotion to the format results in some weird things. Doors come first in the format, but, in one room, the door is off its hinges and light spills out of it. Wouldn’t you want to know that FIRST? Won’t you see that FIRST? Isn’t that the most important thing for the DM? And then maybe the sounds comig from the room? And then maybe the door? You put the most important thing to know first in a description.
And, let me say for the record, ANY time you are following your own formatting rules, strictly, you are failing. The format is in service to the objective. Sure, have a concept of how the format can help, but ruthlessly fuck it over in service of comprehension and usability at the table.
Interactivity is stabbing things and stumbling in to hallway traps. That’s it. No exploration at all. Or talking, for that matter. And not even a note of the monsters on the map for reaction purposes.
The designer is trying, in places, to make something worthwhile. “2d4 zombies are in this room, fighting over the head of a hobgoblin” or “There is a ghoul here that appears to be arguing with a drawing on the wall.” But, it comes across as lifeless. Better than a minimal monster listing, but not by very much.
Room 29. The Sacrificial Chamber, gets the following description: “Several yellowed skeletons are piled in at low end (animal and human).” That’s it. That’s what we get. That’s your sacrificial chamber. Also, this is the SECOND room 29 listed … I presume it is actually room 30. This is why we have editors.
Nothing to see. It’s inoffensive, mostly, but at the expense of being boring and a stab dungeon. As the name would suggest, without flavour. You can play Descent or Gloomhaven for that experience.
This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages. You get to see the map and six rooms. So, good preview.