By Zherbus No Artpunk #2 1e Levels 3-4
An affluent family crypt turned defunct in the idyllic town of Hope that was destroyed. In those crypts, riches are buried with the dead tempt adventurers. As the evils that have made the
ruins of Hope its home, a cult has turned its eye toward the crypt and the powerful artifact hidden within.
This 25 page adventure details a tomb with about fifty rooms, as well as several other slightly smaller sites, all around the ruins of the town of Hope. It’s one of the better tomb-style adventures, and when it tries to succeed it does so easily. It could use just a little more trying though.
Ok, Lord Derec loses his wife in childbirth, tries some magic, turns in to a vampire-thing, and slaughters everyone in the nearby town of Hope. That’s 25 years ago.The family crypt probably has some loot in it … let’s go redistribute some of that filthy aristo lucre to the more deserving … us!
A few things separate this adventure from being published today. FIrst, it’s almost a small regional setting. We get a town, a couple of adventuring sites, and support tables that are generally unheard of these days in the slapdash five-room dungeon world we now inhabit. And, the content is flavourful. When it’s trying anyway. At best, it’s descriptions are rock solid and at worst you’re getting something with a bit more oomph than the typical STonehell or Barowmaze room. And the same can be said for interactivity. For, while this faces the same “it’s a tomb dungeon” issues that ALL of those face, it handles those challenges of interactivity and staidness better than the typical tomb dungeon does.
I’m not real sure where to start, and I think that’s a good sign. The descriptions, I guess. “An monolithic abandoned tower, tapering up to an implied horizon of fog. It sits atop a hill full of a hundred gravemarkers of swords, pitchforks, and axes with a few skeletal trees reaching toward the tower’s height.” Hey hey! That’s not bad! Good imagery with the fog and the sword/etc gravemarkers. The very first room, the entrance to the main crypts, tells us: “An archway swallows a wide set of stone stairs, littered with refuse, into the darkness for over 20 feet. In the depths, Four pillars run through the center of the room leading their way to hallways east and west. Two angelic statues frame sealed double stone doors to the north. Graffiti on the double doors reads simply ‘MURDERER’.” The archway SWALLOWS the stair. Depths. Statues FRAME doors. It’s a good description. Imagined and then transcribed in to words, which allows the DM to fully visualize it and grok its vibe, and thus communicate it far, far better than a lesses description would. “20’ stairs down. The two statues beside the doors are of angels. The door has MURDERER painted on it.” The murderer thing is good, in both descriptions. 🙂 I might have added an adjective or adverb to the MURDERER graffiti, but it’s good. This ability to describe thing extends to other aspects of the adventure as well. Some bracers of defense made out of human flesh, for example. (And I choose to read FLESH and not skin. I want mine gooey and not leather!)
This is not, however, universally. A scarab an insanity sits in the same room. Plate mail +1 is nearby … none of which get anything more to them. And for every great description there stands another which is more mundane. More than Barrowmaze but not really reaching the heights I’d be looking for. “A grim reaper statue stands in the southeast corner” is not the height of evocative prowess.
The more expansive nature of the adventure is appreciated. The town is ok; each business you might need gets a sentence or two descriptions … a nice change of pace from the usual room/key shit. They are generally adequate, if a little boring. But you also get a fine rumor table full of things to fuck with the players with, along with folk giving therumors well described. And you can hire a decent number of people in town … the NPC’s you are interacting with for rumors or services. The surrounding countryside is ok as well, with (four?) other adventuring sites. An abandoned tower (that one with the gravestone swords), a cave full of cultists (isn’t it always?), some lizard men .. and a little table for minor crypts and other support tables. Really unusual to find an environment like this.
I can, and will, quibble with this. The town could be beefed up a bit and I think, perhaps, maybe the barest thread of plot would have done here. Put the front door key in the lizard man lair or have some other pretext to get the cult involved, for example. It’s ALMOST there; it just needs a few more things to tie things together just SLIGHTLY more.
Formatting, for the main encounter keys, it pretty solid. A short little description of two or three sentences followed by some bullets to followup on core things in the room. Bolding and such used to good effect. It’s clear and easy to locate information. There are misses here and there. Town services listed by name instead of service, or a town rumor buried in the description of a location in the forest.
I’m a fan of the encounters, though, for the most part. Especially in the context of a tomb. Tomb adventures tend, I think, to be some of the most boring. Some undead and traps. Yawn. This one, though, goes a little further. The map, while some what symmetrical and not the most complex, is much much better than most tomb maps, with a couple of loops and some detail. Yeah, there are traps. A decent number of them. The better ones have some detail which makes them more situations than traps. A statue clutching a spear (which turns out to be magic) that you can remove. And then get sprayed in the face by poison if you do so. “Play stupid games and win stupid prizes” or “Fuck around and find out” should be the official motto of D&D and then situations, such as that one cited, embody those mottos then you’ve got good interactivity. Go ahead. DO that thing you want to do. You know you want to. And, there’s an undead or two you can talk to and interact with … even the main vampire dude. (Which, to its credit, is more like a black cloud with a red eye and inky pseudopods, to quote the text. Nice vampire!
Really one of the better done dungeons/regions/adventures I’ve seen lately. I’m going to be an ass and not give it a Best though. A little more tying things together, along with more consistency with descriptions, and, somehow, a little more in the way of variety int he main dungeon. Or, maybe not variety. Less of a static vibe? Yeah yeah, it’s a tomb, the very definition of static. But, also, we’re playing D&D. You want the players to feel the death/static/tomb vibe but you want some shit going on also. Life is tough. I’m an asshole. I really do like this one, perhaps more than a Regerts would imply. But, it’s still Regerts.