The Great Dwarf Road

By Simon Carryer
Simon Carryer Games
Labyrinth Lord
Level 3

The Great Dwarf Road! A fabled trade route beneath otherwise impassable mountains. For years it brought wealth and prestige to both sides of the range. But now it is shuttered and abandoned. Home to black forgotten things, crawling subterranean creatures and freakish outcasts. Only dire haste or desperate ambition could prompt someone to attempt the road.

This eleven page adventure details seven areas in Moria, with around eight locations per are, for about forty locations overall. It’s one of the better “lets travel through Moria to get to the other side of the mountain” adventures, although it lacks that feeling of scale that text and media Morias have. 

I generally don’t review one-page dungeons; there isn’t really enough going on. But, a collection of one pagers that make up a larger context? That’s Stonehell, and I’m all in for that. For some reason you need to travel The Great Dwarven Road to get to the other side of the mountain. Maybe there’s a blizzard up top with giants, or Saurmon is watching with his crows. Whatever. In you go! It’s got a familiar mix of encounter objects in it, from an entrance door that is stuck closed, to a broken bridge over a chasm. No balrog, but you do get a dragon! The water is the water is now a flock of harpies, ready to lure you off the cliffside, and so on, so, it’s not a Moria rip-off but rather a kind of Inspired By A Trip Under a Mountain. 

The maps are a highlight of the adventure, at least in terms of Moria-like. You get a series of of them, one for each of the seven main areas, presented in an isometric kind of view. He does a great job with terrain, from aquaduct/canal like things to same level  stairs, towers, debris, and elevation features. More than most, this helps bring that complex Moria-like environment to life. The individual area groupings are on the small side, maybe seven or eight rooms per, so you can’t have that looping complex map that exploration adventures provide. Your going from point A, one side of the mountain, to point B, the other side. And that maps supports that style of play well.

It’s a one page dungeon format, so, you get one map per page. Surrounding the map are the individual adventure keys, with a couple of page sin the back to help support things, like magic item descriptions and wanderers and travel times between the major areas, etc. 

The implications here should be obvious. The magic items are all decently described, after all the product take a page to list them all and gives them each a paragraph. Mantaster is “A crude cleaver on a long haft, adorned with grisly fetishes and trophies of past victims. For the enemies of Man, this weapon is a famous relic. It twitches and throbs when a human is within 60’ …” Neat little thing and an ok description. Or a curled horn of beaten bronze, covered in a blue-green patina. Like all of the best descriptions, they seem to be imagined. While there are mechanics, they don’t overshadow the item … and therefore the players lust for it. 

The individual encounters here are decent. The creatures are engaged in activities sometimes, like bickering, Or they have something going on … like being infested by parasites. Ick! Each map is generally themed. The dragon map. The cultist map. The goblin map, and so on. There are others in those areas also, but you do get a good zones vibe going on. And the interactivity from the encounters is pretty decent as well. A pool full of tiny parasites … that you can barely see. That’s a little different than the usuall Stab It/Talk to it cycle. The harpies are on a cliffside, and the bandit leader is paranoid of traitors. This is a good example of including just a little bit more in the description, a few words, to help the DM bring the encounter to life and give it variety. And he does it pretty well.

The writing style is supported by evocative descriptions …; where evocative is defined as … a little bit more to the environment. “The red light of cooking fires, the sound of murmuring voices, and the smell of woodsmoke spill from the arched entrance. Ropes and pulleys hang overhead.” That’s not so bad. The main gates are rain-wrm and of pitted iron, towering. And, eve the monsters, from the “man-legged centipede” to an ogre that “…  is elderly and gaunt, his face a mess of scars, one of his eyes a horrible wet hole.” We’re doing well here!

What’s missing here, though, is the scale of Moria. Hmm, no, not the scale, but the VIBE that comes from the scale. The art/maps and text descriptions don’t really convey the tower buttress or collosol emptiness of the halls. The maps HINT at it, bt there’s not much more than a hint. You never get the sense, at all, of the massive undertaking fallen. That void of nothingness and hints of the majesty of days of old just doesn’t come through at all. Perhaps, we can reframe this somewhat by calling this “just another mountain tunnel” instead of the appeals ro Moria. IN this case things are a little better, from a vibe (although Moria still hangs heavy in the back of your mind) but now we’re on the Just Another Tunnel Complex thing, and, while this is an ok zoned dungeon, it  still doesn’t really FEEL like a place.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $3. The preview is seven pages and more than enough to get a sense of the adventure. Good job.

This entry was posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, No Regerts, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The Great Dwarf Road

  1. Bailey says:


    I don’t know about “just” another mountain tunnel, either. What are the other ones really? I mean, decently executed other ones. There’s a bizarre shortage of competently executed, fully worked up vanilla drop-in adventures in D&D. Of the Tower, Temple, Tomb trilogy variety. There are attempts, but they’re too often sidetracked into bad writing, incomplete execution, or sometimes excursions into side themes that neither match the ad copy nor add value to play. So far all the adventures out there there’s no large body of generic drop-ins that even rise to the level of pretty good, if vanilla.

    Someone will now come along to point out a really good Moria-like I’m sure, I have an idea there are a couple out there now, but is it just a mountain tunnel I can drop in as that alone, or is it doing its own thing also?

    • Bucaramanga says:

      Well, Morias require some actual imagination, and yes, FANTASY to pull off. That’s why “orcs in a hole” and “rats in a cellar” are a dime a dozen but “dwarves in a tunnel” are (comparatively) rare.

    • Shuffling Wombat says:

      If you want to capture the feel of Moria, it needs to be a vast region you travel through (for whatever reason), not a clear room by room dungeon. You might have a look at MERP Moria materials, the Free League Moria Kickstarter (the 5E version is called Shadow of Khazad-Dum), and Dwarrowdeep. Some of the comments for the last when it was reviewed on this site would be helpful. A more obscure magazine containing a dwarven adventure with decent maps is Gamemaster Publications GM4 The Awakening.

  2. Anonymous says:

    If I want to play Moria, I’ll play Moria….if I want to play Isle of Dread, I’ll play Isle of Dread. Why does every dwarf tunnel or island have to be ‘forced’ to be similar to what’s been done before? It’s an island in the Arctic?…oh…well it didn’t feel like Isle of Dread so it sucks…

    • The Middle Finger Of Vecna says:

      Probably for the same reason that Hollywood reboots old shows. Or for the same reason that a successful movie has multiple sequels. It’s easier and more familiar. There’s not as much heavy lifting involved. A lot of times it’s creatively bereft but they aren’t concerned with that. Did we need to have another McGyvar or Magnum PI show? There’s no use asking why because they have products to shove out the door. What about reality TV? All you need is an idea and a bunch of yutzes to throw in a house or island somewhere and boom, an instant TV show. Never mind that it’s crap and just a derivative of the 28 reality shows that came before it.

      It’s really not that much different when someone tries their hand at Moria or Keep on the Borderlands, etc, etc. It’s easier to copy an idea than come up with a new one.

    • Tom H. says:

      This isn’t actually a Moria clone, though, that’s just an analogy our host used to get us in the right neighbourhood of expectations. I could easily drop this into places where Moria wouldn’t be appropriate – at least, I want to use this in a campaign, where I have no intent of replaying Tolkien or using some sort of Moria-clone…

      There are plenty of new ideas here, and I don’t see here the laziness that the other commenter implies – this is perhaps a different interpretation of some of the same underlying tropes, but it’s *thoroughly different*. Not having played it at the table yet, it at least reads far better.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *