In preparation for the review of a certain Lotfp module by a certain well-loved OSR blogger who failed to deliver on a certain kickstarter and is now ominously silent, I have decided to take a look at the two modules it lists as having ripped off the most. Tegel Manor by Judges Guild is old as fuck and represents the first, and arguably best take on turning the haunted house trope into a dungeon. It succeeds brilliantly and I would argue it is still playable and fun even today. Please note I am using the originally published 1977 Judges Guild Edition, NOT the revised version.
Despite being only 32 pages long (not including its HUGE and gorgeous maps), Tegel Manor is cock full of content and can easily sustain sessions upon sessions of exploration. The trademark terse yet evocative descriptions by Bob Bledsaw do their dread work once more.
The premise is simple and takes but a paragraph. Tegel Manor is an ancient fortress-manor held for generations by the Rump family. The Rumps have long neglected their ancestral duty of protecting the nearby village and this and their myriad insanities may have caused the place to be in the state it is now: A gigantic haunted house full of weird shit.
The surroundings of the manse are diligently mapped and we get some encounter tables for both day and night. Alongside such favourites as Stirges, Ghouls and Goblins we get a wandering Rump highwayman with his goblin minions, wandering acolytes of the Frog God Tsathoggus in search of new converts, A Ranger that has sworn enmity with your likely NPC paladin ally after being left to die in the mansion at the hands of a spectre etc. Solid all the way through.
The village itself is given a page of description in the form of number of able-bodied men and a number of NPCs that are given stats, alignment, treasure and a single line of terse, evocative description. While there is but one hook that can be worked into an adventure (the Temple of Thor is losing worshippers to the temple of Tsathoggus on the hill), each line does help to make the NPCs more then stat-blocks. For example:
One eyed owner of Neptune’s Trident, bores customers with stories of unlikely sea monsters
Far more interesting is the introduction of a friendly NPC/Your Boss! Runic the Rump is a paladin and descendant of the Rump line. Uncharacteristic for a Paladin, he is both an idiot and a huge coward and constantly tries to sell his haunted house to people at cheap rates. If pressed, he will grudgingly agree to help clear out the house and lay to rest his undying family members. That sounds like the plot to Luigi’s Mansion and it probably is. On the plus side, he is loaded with magical shit so if he dies or ahem has an accident in the course of Duty then it is payday. I like how in ye olden times LG Paladins were allowed to have more then one type of personality.
Enough talk. The Mansion proper. It is huge. It is difficult to take in in one go. It’s map is gorgeous and very legible. It has segments with more then one floor, allows for nonlinear exploration, has secret doors and of course it would not be complete without three levels of dungeon underneath. Practically a megadungeon in haunted house form. Very impressive. Very well done. Great. Delicious. Outside, a collection of gravestones hints at the tragicomic dooms that befell the benighted owners of this vast mansion.
But what of the content? How does one create an interesting adventure with only a very limited backstory/investigation component. How does one make the house interesting? Say it with me: Exploration. DnD is about a lot of things and one of those things is expeditions into the unknown. What is behind the next room? What happens if I fiddle with this? And Tegel Manor is chuck full of weird and interesting shit. Despite it’s use of classic horror/dnd monsters (ghosts, skeletons, ghouls etc.) it never falls into the trap of room upon room of brainless hacking and turning undead.
To name but one example: Paintings! The mansion has paintings of all the members of the Rump family (many of them prowling the corridors or haunting the salons of the mansion in hideous undead form). In the original version, some of the Picture effects have been left blank, presumably so the GM could do the work, which is an annoyance since the GM can replace anything in the game with something he sees fit. Regardless, paintings have all these different effects: Offer a person 1 GP if he hits his companion, Pivot to the room behind it, Teleport people to a different location, Ask a riddle, raise or lower a stat based on a reaction roll or question, curse someone etc. Occasionally the teleportation effects are annoying because they transport someone to “the Spectral Stairway” and you have to go through the entire mansion to find where it is located but overal, very nice.
Another example, Tegel Manor has magical statues (like fucking Isle of the Unknown). Their affects are randomly determined in the best of ways. Raise/lower stats, cast/give scroll, polymorph characters into monsters, miss a certain part (to be found elsewhere no in the manor no doubt) that causes another effect if restored etc. Unlike Isle of the Unknown, the statues are merely a clod of tzatziki in a tray of Mezedes, not the Souvlaki itself!
But these are all window dressing. Tiny elements that add to the fun. It is the dungeoncrawling itself that is the main course and thus the contents of the rooms that make or break it. Tegel Manor is definetively made, for though its monsters are for the most part the loveable old tropes we know and love, Tegel Manor never fails to throw in a curveball, interesting sight, or little description that renders the whole thing charming in a farcical sort of way.
A ghostly Balrog butler. A small black cat that will turn into a 15 HD behemoth if startled. Animating objects that fly at the players. Ghost phenomena appropriate to any haunted house. Three statues of peasants and a paintbrush and easel that animate and start painting the player’s portrait, if they finish, he will turn to stone! A yellow woman on a bed that is actually an animated pile of yellow mold. An animating Game Room!
Monsters are all over the place. It is crazy. Stirges and skeletons in the same room as A Lich, a Vampire and a Mottled Purple Worm nesting under a bed. My only point of criticizm is that there are few opportunities for interaction, and almost all of these traps, making this adventure into an extremely deadly, extremely wacky fun/slaughterhouse, for the most part. The Odd ghost might need some other asshole driven out of the house, but almost everyone that talks to you is an asshole.
This does not even scratch the surface. If you want to do tersely described, minimally keyed evocative description this is how you do tersely keyed, minimally described evocative description. Even the treasure is a hoot. How often do you find a Deck of Many Things in an adventure? The odd tailored magic item and even a druidic artifact keeps things fresh, but the sheer variety should suffice in an adventure of this nature. A woman’s head in a crystal ball will answer one question/week! A treasure map or key to some undescribed location!
What haunted manor would be complete without THREE dungeon levels beneath it? None worth MY time I say! This where the layout shows its age. In a modern product, spotting the means of egress would be far simpler, and connections between dungeon levels would be clearly described. Anyway! There are, as is only natural, mutliple means of reaching different levels and multiple connections and so on. Excellent work.
The first floor of the dungeon proper is also something new. A rat-infested maze with corridors 3 feet in diameter. All of them, save a couple of rooms! Within its cramped corridors, Two Rat Kings and their giant rat minions wage war. There are factions here, you just need to speak Giant Rat to bargain with them. I hope everyone brought their trenchpikes and got their filth fever shots.
The second level seems standard but then there is suddenly a Giant Head (the head of ormandula) that asks riddles although it will be asleep most of the time. The odd trick and trap appears but the rest of the dungeon levels is pretty bog standard with loads of monsters and at times some prisoners to rescue. For the most part, these contain very little but dungeons and treasure, a letdown after the wackiness gone awry of the upper levels.
The game ends with ressurection rules that add extra mutilation/disabilities depending on the amount and type of damage your character took when he died. Hardliner GMs might applaud but it is mostly unnessescary.
If one asks whether Tegel Manor has stood the test of time I would call him an idiot and say of course not but I think the question is, Should! someone decide they are yearning for the good old days when not every dungeon had to make sense, NPCs where there to be killed and you got your XP only after you had returned and rested in the village then I will say yes. Tegel Manor holds so many interesting tricks and phenomena that I doubt its exploration will ever be boring. Its layout is shit and a GM might need some work making the whole thing runnable in a pinch but there is a frightening amount of gameable material contained within its telegram style entries.
Pros: Lots of creative shit to fuck around with. Huge. Conforms to many guidelines of good dungeon design. A Haunted Fucking House! Gorgeous map.
Cons: No context or story makes it a bit random. Layout/Format can be confusing at times. Combat-Heavy. All over the place challenge wise (but then I believe that is the idea). Might be a bit too wacky for some.
Recommendation: Yes. Deficiencies in some departments may be alleviated by overcompensation in other departments. Silly fun from the time before storylines were invented. 7 out of 10.