Doctrine of Ghul

By Bruce Cordell
Monte Cook Games
Levels 4-5

Ghul. The creator of Goth Gulgamel, the fortress halfway up the Spire. Self-proclaimed offspring of Eslathagos Malkith—who himself created the wicked citadel at the top of the Spire, one of the most innately evil sites in the world. Lately, talk has been swirling around Delver’s Square—talk of a newly uncovered ancient manuscript scribed by the Half God himself. ome seek the manuscript to ensure it is destroyed. A few want it to glorify Ghul. And some believe it holds the key to powerful magics they hope to harness for themselves. The motives are varied, but one thing is certain: the race to find it is on! Does the manuscript even exist? And if it does, what does its unearthing portend?

This 31 page adventure has the party doing three mini dungeons with different themes. It’s overly wordy and is doing its best to befuddle anyone running it. But, the dungeons do have some interesting concepts behind them, poorly executed. Monte COok Games is a brand with people hired to produce content for it, and it feels like it.

For [pretext] to hunt down an ancient manuscript at this chicks house in the city. Oh no! Now you’re cursed! You have to go “underground” to find three shrines and visit each to undo the curse, and you’ve got seven days to do it. After visiting the three  mini-dungeons you are NOT turned in to an evil demi-god so the dude that created the manuscript, Lareth the Beautiful, teleports in to try and kill you. What’s actually going on is that Vruce Cordell has three ideas for dungeon effects and his pal Monty slapped his name on it as publishers and no one gave a shit as they shoveled it out the door. I’m going to hope that Ray Vallese’s name, associated with this as editor, just meant he was looking for misspelled words and we can blame the layout and managing editor people for not knowing how to run an adventure. [Ray is the only person who has ever published anything remotely resembling good advice for an adventure writer. Well, him and Guy Fullerton, who has a lot of good tips.]

The three mini dungeons have some decent little ideas behind them. I wouldn’t say that, given the size of the dungeons, at sixish rooms each, that the ideas are given the best environment to grow in. There’s just not enough depth provided by six rooms to allow anything to grow well. But, you can see where things are going. I’m going to focus on the second of the mini-dungeons, a kind of ooze themed area. The characters can get sick in here, and get the sniffles. Which can cause them to cough up grey good. Oh, also, getting seriously hurt with a slashing/piercing weapons, spilling their blood, then the stuff congeals in to an ooze that attacks them. Insult to injury, man oh man! That’s a decent idea! Sniffling, building up to coughing up shit, to your own blood attacking? And that gets about a little less than a column to explain, never becomes relevant again, and doesn’t really build at all, at least not through the designer. The other two dungeons also have some distinct theming (yeah!) and some kind of interesting effect going on. 

Everything else is shit.

The hooks are pretextual. Yes, all hooks are, in a sense. But if you’re going to include content then you must make an effort at that content. The party is hired, the party is interested in it themselves … these are not hooks worth mentioning. The job of the designer is to breathe enough life in to these so that the DM can take the hook and run with it, inspired. Something to hang your hat on. Leave them out if you’re not going to make an effort.

The initial investigation involves the party tracking down a copy of the manuscript, in a chicks house. There’s no way given to connect the dots. This is not an investigation. It jumps from some rather loose rumors directly to the house, with nothing in between about finding the house. There is NO investigation, no way of getting from the rumors to the house.

But, the rumors, the only thing you have, are behind some DC skill checks. And if we don’t succeed on those? Yes, the DM can fudge it. Then why put it behind a skill check at all? Just as the rest of the adventure is behind a skill check in the house. Just as finding the door to the first dungeon is behind a skill check. TWO skill checks, in fact. Do we not want to play D&D tonight? This is not the way skill checks are used in an adventure. 

The path to the mini-dungeons is linear. The DM is given advice to “If you wish, sprinkle a couple of the following encounters into the PCs’ path as they make their way between the three shrines, or include an encounter of your own creation.” This is not design. There is no progression. This is time wasting. Just throwing shit in because you think the adventure MUST have that element, and yet putting no effort at all in to it.

The first dungeon a kind of tomb, has such exciting entries as “Sarcophagus B: “Yurik Leor.” When opened, an ice-cold revenant lurches out. Still worn on its finger is a gold ring set with bloodstones worth 200 gp.” There should be horror elements here. No real description of the tomb. No description of the revenant. Just here, here is a monster. Attack! THis is fucking boring. It does NOTHING to assist the DM. 

And the page count here is not trivial. 31 pages. For about 24 rooms? There was plenty of room to concentrate and focus effort on those dungeons and their entries. There is text, a lot of it. Long read-aloud that over-reveals and yet still produces environments that are not inspiring. Mountains and mountains of DM text that do nothing to add to the adventure. 

Wasted words. Long background on who write the manuscript. That is totally irrelevant, because he just teleports in, a random dude teleporting in at the end of the adventure to attack the party? This is Lareth at his worst, the secret force behind everything, with nothing to go on or develop.

Everyone involved here should have known better. It should have been trivial to look at the thing and say that the layout is busy, that the adventure text focuses on the wrong things, that it is uninspiring and a chore to use. 

But no one did.

This is $6 at DriveThru. There’s no preview at all to help you make a purchasing decision before buying.

This entry was posted in 5e, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Doctrine of Ghul

  1. Shitty Adventure says:

    Sounds like typical 5e shovelware but the that crowd should eat this one up.

    Also, “Gulgamel” is way too close to Gargamel for me. Cordell is old enough to know that reference and should have chosen something that wouldn’t evoke memories of an inept cartoon wizard.

    • John says:

      That name’s a Monte Cook original. In the Utterdark of Ghouls, the Skull King discovered yon dread Entropy Sphere of Squirming Nightness and built his icky fortress of Goth Gargamel… I’m not familiar enough with Cook’s work to know how tongue in cheek it’s all supposed to be, if at all.

  2. Kubo says:

    Sometimes I think the 5E skill checks for investigation are more about which of several PCs discovers something, not whether they discover something, especially if the skill check DC is low. But then why not have all searching players roll a d20 with the highest roll being the finder of the object/information?

    • AB Andy says:

      Depends, yes. It can also be how long it takes you to find something, especially if you are on a time pressure. Rolling a 5 means you really had to ask around a long time to get the information, rolling a 20… not. But regardless, if that’s the purpose of these checks, it should be mentioned in the document and not even have a DC on them if that is the mechanic they aim for. Because by default D&D, fail the DC and, well, you fail the task.

      Bryce always and rightfully criticizes when key progression is locked behind a roll. Like, what are we doing here if we fail? Call it a night?

      How are we feeling on the following concept that some designers use?

      Fail the roll, so you don’t find the entrance. Enemies exit after an hour, so you get a combat and the entrance.

      I personally also don’t like it. As a player, it feels the DM nudged me towards it when my roll failed.

      Long story short, don’t lock progression behind rolls :). And this has nothing to do with 5e or OSR or anything. It’s basic principle. It’s just that many 5e designers think that “hey, this big list of skills is available, I kinda have to include as many as possible in my document”.

    • Stripe says:

      “But then why not have all searching players roll a d20 with the highest roll being the finder of the object/information?”

      Even that is fat that can be trimmed. The GM can just decide the most likely PC to find the “thing” and then tell the whole table through that PC’s perspective.

      I don’t know how many times I’ve sat at a table where the GM told a player who’s PC found the thing—and then the player repeats “in his own words” the thing he found as if everyone sitting there didn’t just hear it.

      Skip that shit. Get on with the adventure.

      • Kubo says:

        Yeah, but players like rolling dice. Sometimes you want to give them a feeling of accomplishment by getting a high roll. Other times you need to waive the rolling as you said to push the game forward.

  3. Prince says:

    Bruce Cordell has been working with MC since the 2e time so this is hardly the work of some rando freelancer. Cordell’s 2e work is excellent (Illithiad/Sahuagin trilogy), a rare breath of fresh air in an ocean of storygame dreck. This however, sounds like absolute shit.

    I’m tempted to blame modern game design, the horribly backwards-brained encount4rdation, the goofy Cypher system with its pools and bells and whistles, but at this point he might just be running out of steam.

  4. Dave says:

    “When you pry the stone lid off the tomb, a hand grabs the edge and slams it shut again, disappearing within at the last second.”

    Still working with the cliche, and probably you’ve made the encounter easier, but now there’s a play decision to be made.

    • Dave says:

      Should have said “A hand wearing a gold ring set with blood stones reaches out and…” Even more of a play decision. I really should let comments sit longer when I can’t edit them.

    • Kubo says:

      Or better yet, “the head of Lareth the Beautiful peeks out before a hand wearing a ring set with bloodstones reaches out and . . .”

Leave a Reply

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