The Scourge of Thunderhold

By Luiz Eduardo Ricon
Hexplore Publishing
Level 1?

Thunderhold: An ancient dwarven fortress built deep into a cliffside. Walls as strong as iron, stonework as intricate as a finely crafted gauntlet, a raging waterfall thundering through its main chamber. But why was it abandoned, so long ago? What are the secrets kept within its fortified structures? What treasures and perils it holds?

This 46 page adventure details a mighty dwarf fortress with three levels … and 24 rooms. It’s a basic dungeon, with basic and mundane room descriptions and poor;ly formatted to run. More churn for the ever churning march of the bad D&D adventures.

Mighty THUNDERHOLD! Gateway to the dwarf kingdoms! Deep is its chambers! Long ha sit been abandoned, before even man came to these lands! DARE TO ENTER ITS GATES AND EXPLORE ITS … uh … 24 rooms? Uh. OK. 

The designer is claminig this takes four sessions to complete. One in town. One travelling through the wilderness. One in the dungeon. And one more to defeat the LEVEL NINE DROW in the last room. A fucking level nine drow. Everything up to this point is all “a zombie” or “two skeletons” or “some giant centipedes.” And then a level nine drow, with undead minions. Uh uh. I’m all for a lack of balance in OSR games, but this is not what is meant by that statement.

Ok, so, town consists of some generic buildings and generic NPC’s. EVeryone is chipper, competent, and full of caring and compassion. IE: boring. One night a zombie shows up in the river that runs next to town. After that yo’re hired for 100gp each to go upriver to MIGHTY THUNDERHOLD and see whats up. 

This is, weirdly, the only good part of the adventure, the zombie attack. And by that I mean that there’s a little table of things that could happen to get the party involved. “Men march down the street with torches and pitchforks, heading toward the river” or “a captain of the town uard call upon men to join him on a mission.” or “the innkeeper rings the bell and yells WERE CLOSING, NOW!!” I think those all imply some things that I, as the DM, can work with. That captain is going to be pressing men in to service with a kick and a shove and a griff non sensea attitude of “you can go or i can gut you now!” The other two should be pretty easy to run as well. This is the last good thing, and the only good things, in the adventure.

Ok, wilderness time. You gotta travel through the wilderness to get to the dungeon. AT this point, major confusion ensues. Two days to reach the forest, a day to cross it if you use the road two if you do not, and then a day to get to the foot of the mountains and Thunderhold. Then, we get a long section telling us what happens if we follow the riverbanks. Or through the grain fields. What the fuck?! It makes no sense at all. But, along the way you pick up three little mini-quests of shit people want you to do in the dungeon/wilderness.

Congrats! You made it to the might dwarf fortress! Revel in its majesty! “A 30 ft x 20 ft room with empty shelves and racks. Stale and pungent smell. Mold covered barrels and crates piled up in one corner” No? Ok. “A collapsed room with rubble and debris.” No? Ok. “This partially crumbled square room smells of rot and decay. There’s moss and mold everywhere.” Majestic! Inspiring! Wonder & Awe!

I know, they sound short. But we forget that the rooms also have to include all of the door information. Yeah! Padding! It’s just padded out with useless detail. Longish descriptions that tell you nothing. A thundering waterfall in the next room? Good thing that sound is never mentioned before you get there. 

It’s just the usual garbage. Minimal descriptive text. Padded out shit. There’s nothing here of note. Just another POS clogging up the adventure stream. My heart despairs at the thought of people thinking that this is D&D.

This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is eighteen pages. Which means, of course, that you don’t actually get to see anything of the adventure. *sigh*–A-dungeon-crawl-adventure-for-starting-players?1892600

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11 Responses to The Scourge of Thunderhold

  1. chainsaw says:

    How come so many people seem to fail to indicate level range? Are they trying to screen more broadly on DriveThru or something?

  2. Melan says:

    Thunderhold is also the title of an early Judges Guild release (later bundled with City State), which gives you a minimalist but functional dwarf fortress (with some curveballs – the dwarf king owns a fallen fighter jet), as well as the Sunstone Caverns, a semi-keyed dungeon level which gives you a map and a general descriptions of the dungeon zones (including a dragon lair, the bandits of the Man-Ape, the Oracle of Bubastis, and the Tribunal of Chaos). It is obviously very rough and not fully detailed, but the contrast between what the old Thunderhold offers and what its namesake does is remarkable.

    • Ken McKinney says:

      Ah, you beat me to posting about the original Thunderhold, which I believe I own. I definitely have the original Sunstone Caverns map, which is massive and glorious, albeit minimally keyed. I was excited when I saw the title of this review — had Thunderhold been expanded and filled out in a respectful and useful way? Sadly, no.

  3. SargonTheOK says:

    All that and a symmetric map, too. Joy of joys!

  4. SargonTheOK says:

    Double comment, but in reading the preview some more…

    On page 17 there is a “map” of the town. I scare quote map because… it’s just a picture with some callout text labeling things like “grain fields” and “thunder mountains.” It occupies an entire page. If anyone can look at that tell me honestly how this is supposed to contribute to playing the thing, I’ll eat my hat.

    And Bryce – this is the fourth such Hexplore Publishing module you’ve reviewed, and they’ve all been terrible. But there are more! The puppy mill is real! It apparently releases something every 2-4 weeks! So while I admire you warning your dear readers about poor content, when do you accept that this publisher needs to be written off (like I believe you have with Elven Tower)? Is it because the cover illustrations here are slick and colorful (AI will do that), and thus more liable to trick the unwary?

    • Maynard says:

      Sargon you do a great job keeping track of these publishers. I think this blog could really use an opposite to “The Best”. Some kind of blacklist for publishers. That would be enormously helpful for new people getting into the hobby.
      It should only be for people who have been in the game for over a year, don’t want to discourage new enthusiastic authors from improvement.

      • SargonTheOK says:

        My understanding is that’s what the “Do Not Buy Ever” tag is for – to call out exploitative, low-quality content churned out quickly to make a buck instead of improve the hobby. But it just captures individual works, not their perpetrators… I mean, producers.

        (An aside on making a buck – I’m confident the likes of Chance Dudinak and Brad Kerr make way more beer money than this puppy mill crap – If money really is the motivation, why not try and emulate them?)

        So a list is not a bad idea, provided they are given chances for redemption. Full on blacklist: no. Buyer Beware list: yes. And I agree, base it on track record, not just one creation. That could inadvertently discourage new but inexperienced creators – give them a chance to make a mistake or two, it’s how they learn provided they have the willingness to do so. But I’d have a 3 strike policy, after which true colors have likely been shown.

        I actually hold out some hope for this creator because Bryce did have some praise for their very first adventure (Curse of the Dreadstone, I think?). It was overall pretty rough, but there was promise, if they would just slow down, listen to some design advice, and refine instead of jump to the next thing so fast. But instead they doubled down on puppy mill nonsense and quality has gotten steadily worse.

  5. Anonymous says:

    You know, as I look through the preview of this and some of the author’s other adventures I keep having this sneaking suspicion. Let’s start with the art. Have a look at those vague, wavy lines on the side of the building, and at the similar wavy lines making up the archway in the preview. This art was clearly made by an AI tool like stable diffusion, from a text prompt. Now have a look at that d6 table of reasons the fortress was abandoned. This is strikingly similar to the d6 table of adventure hooks from one of the author’s previous releases, and is exactly the kind of result you would get from asking ChatGPT to “give me six reasons why the dwarf fortress was abandoned.” Have a look at the publisher’s other works, note the cadences and structures of the writing.

    I submit to you my theory that nobody is actually writing these adventures, and that the creator’s actual work here has been to develop a kind of algorithm or framework that can be fed to a collection of AI tools, resulting in the extrusion of a piece of content that is vaguely is the shape of an RPG adventure.

    I could be wrong! I’d like to be wrong! But something about the last handful of releases from this publisher has a very distinct AI-generated flavor to it. Is this just how these things are done these days? Is this what the future looks like?

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