Review: A Question of Gravity (AD&D 3pp); A Stunt Dungeon

[Adventure]
A Question of Gravity (1982)

Jerome Mooney (Mayfair Games)
Level 3 – 6

A Question of Gravity is an old 3rd party adventure for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons published by Mayfair games under the Role Aids brand, and by semi-clever use of game term they were able to publish material for DnD that was obviously for DnD but not technically/legally so. The history is sort of complex, anyway, I picked A Question of Gravity because it is a relatively straightforward adventure and I wanted sort of palette cleanser from hopeless, doom-obsessed, gritty fantasy settings before I start my review of the Brobdingnagian Zweihander Core Rulebook.

A Question of Gravity is a straightforward Dungeon for character levels 3-6 published in 1982 by Jerome Mooney. It’s central premise is fairly straightforward: An evil wizard apprentice has stolen a magical staff of evil and has holed up in a great cubic stone fortress after murdering several villagers near the village of Vispera. You must go inside and get the staff back. About as classic a DnD premise as you can get. “The orcs all fight to the death.” Yup.

The adventure starts off shittily, by pairing you up with 2 NPCs. One is immediately irritating and we recognize in him the GM’s filthy fingers messing with player agency. The other (non-evil) wizard’s apprentice joins your party and only he knows a spell to neutralize the staff of darkness. He is there mainly to prevent the players from obtaining the staff themselves and the adventure goes so far as to give him an amulet that will teleport him with all his possessions to a high level cleric upon his death, making his presence pure fucking faggotry. A far more interesting NPC is the evil Zaberiet, who poses as an adventurer looking for a band to stage a raid on the Cube. In actuality he is a servant of the local ruler, effectively named The Tyrant, whose goal it is to obtain as much magical items as possible. Since he hires the party, he gets dibs on between 1-4 items. At least you can kill the fucker and while he does have an ulterior motive, it doesn’t necessarily manifest itself as ‘kill the PCs in their sleep because I am evil bwahahaha.’ Zaberiet offers the party 1000 gp to join him in raiding the shit out of the Cube fortress. If the PCs still don’t agree the GM is given the option of railroading them into it using a fucking bullshit high level cleric that will not deal with the threat himself because ‘he has been ordered not too by his superiors.’ We are off to a very rough start.

To help you in case you want to use the adventure as a one short or a tournament mod, the adventure is generous enough to provide you with some sample PCs. In true oldschool fashion, they are an eclectic mix, consist mostly of fighting men and there is no cleric. Each character has a rough backstory, motivation and some even have quest objectives which is actually rather neat (i.e the half-elf wizard needs to bring a magical item to his master before he can advance beyond his current level and the thief will split as soon as he has 100 gp worth of loot). The game gives you the option of adding them as NPCs in case the PCs need help.

The village proper is unusually well done, with an interesting backstory. It was founded by the descendants of the old aristocratic opponents of the Tyrant’s father and currently the village serves as the go-too place for fencing stolen goods and laying low from the law in the region. A neat idea. Major locations and NPCs have been statted out, providing a remarkably diverse mix, and not all of them have obvious in-game uses which adds to the verisimilitude. A lazy and corrupt sheriff bribed to close an eye to all of the dealings, an enterprising blacksmith’s apprentice that wishes to join the PCs on their quest but who will bolt at the first sign of trouble, a corrupt mayor, a family of thieves who runs the place, a rival family who wants them out etc. etc. Each NPC goes beyond a goal and some stats and is actually given character traits, making them seem alive. For such a comparatively small place, Vispera has a lot of stuff going on, and that is excellent.

A single glance at the random encounter table outside the valley lets you know that the Cube is serious shit. Orc slaves, Wights, hell-hounds, overflying young dragons and Type I-III demons. Gravity shifts should let the party know shit is real, if a 500 ft. Cube of impenetrable granite did not tip them off. If I must gripe (YES I MUST), both the outside and the inside encounters are little more then stats, which could have used some elaboration. However, A Question of Gravity gets back some credit by providing a list of random “events” that can take place within the cube, which are all kind of atmospheric and vaguely ominous, such as an Orc Guard splattering down from a great height, objects falling into a different direction, Groups of bats flying according to a gravitational plane that is perpendicular to that of the PCs etc.

The premise of the cube, and by far the most interesting part of the Dungeon is it’s nature. Each side of the cube is an almost escheresque landscape of stairways and elevated platforms, complete with its own gravitational pull. Crossing from one side to another can only be done via special ramps, some of which are one-way only. The entire cube is filled with a strange, grayish, luminescent mist that removes the need for torches but allows for about 20 feet of vision. The result is one of the most interesting maps I have seen for  dungeon so far, with loads of tactical possibilities and more importantly, something that is genuinely original. Each platform has an altitude on the map, allowing the GM to make sense where everything is. The map is, bizarrely enough, not  disorienting peace of shit.

The problem lies in the content. For all its interesting geography, the actual encounters within the dungeon are rather vanilla. Expect lots of swordfights with orcs that will not flee (they are too afraid to fight the wizard bleeeegh). A Salamander functions as a sort of mid-level boss and may turn up during any encounter. Salamanders are cool, but almost everything in this dungeon attacks on sight. Treasure may be found on the many bodies of dead adventurers that are littered throughout the Cube. On occasion the cube will pull something clever, like having Hellhounds on a nearby side attack players if they come too close, or including an urn filled with spikes that are oriented to a “side” of the cube, causing them to fall at the players. Treasure is slightly above average for a typical DnD adventure, precious substances are at least differentiated enough to avoid boredom (i.e virtually no “jewelry worth 1000 gp”) and the odd magic item, some of which are cursed. Occasionally the adventure will cause you to emit and excited gasp at precious rubies down the bottom of a 200 foot shaft filled with water and the animating corpse of a dead anti-paladin that will attempt to retrieve its sword. A particularly neat and weird encounter is a room that leads into the astral plane, where the player can get lost, and if he emerges, he will be stalked by a strange astral demon thing that periodically takes a swipe at him until he either dies or the creature is confronted on the astral plane. Encounters like a minotaur, an animating gargoyle statue and a Giant Cobra helps keep the players on their toes. At times the adventure does add in some little detail to add verisimilitude, like making the some skeletons scorched and with metal molten into them, thereby implying that they were adventurers who got fucked over by the evil wizard Bazarel. The final encounter with Bazarel is kind of underwhelming, he doesn’t really take any intelligent preparations other then summoning the Salamander if it isn’t dead yet and the only interesting detail I found was his Ermine robe worth 3600 gp, which will be ruined if the players use fire against him.

Whether you will enjoy A Question of Gravity largely depends on what you like in an adventure. It’s occasionally railroadery bullshit beginning aside, AQoG is very much a traditional 1e dungeon, a place to explore with a minimum of backstory and even flavour or atmosphere to accompany it. The nuts and bolts are there, but if the adventure can be said to lack anything it is mostly flavour. The concept is great but the execution can be a bit too workmanlike at times. It is not wacky or gonzo in the slightest, and is about as traditionally DnD as you can get. It reminds me of Dungeon Magazine.
At the same time, if you like your adventures to have a little bit more wonder and interaction within them A Question of Gravity might be a bit too dry at times (though the village should certainly facilitate some interesting roleplaying).

Pros: Good map. Nice NPCs. Overal a very workmanlike dungeon
Cons: Bog standard monsters. Villains lack specificity.

I’d give it about a 5 out of 10 now, subtracting points for being slightly generic and the railroadery/NPCery horseshit. I do applaud the ready availability of non-generic NPCs, the concept of the location and the well-fleshed out village.

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5 thoughts on “Review: A Question of Gravity (AD&D 3pp); A Stunt Dungeon

  1. So it starts badly, continues through mediocrity, and is notable mostly for diverting preamble and a location gimmick? Sounds like a parcel of shit to me.

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    1. Nu-uh. Shitty railroadery premise, good resting place loaded with intrigue and charm, very good location, occasional glimpses of charm and inspiration amidst a workmanlike slog. The final encounter is a puff of white noise. I tried to take into consideration the autistic perspective of the rollplayer, whose eyes see no nuance and whose sole form of communication is a summation of the perfect feat/class build. Kidding aside, I suspect this thing plays better then it reads.

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  2. Sounds like it might be worthwhile to renovate the cube’s encounters, and to mash-up the cube environment with tesseracts (The Dragon #17, 27, 38) and/or non-euclidean features (“Forbidden Mountain” from Dungeon #6).

    The village sounds like it could be slotted in to replace Nulb from the _Temple of Elemental Evil_, too.

    Allan.

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    1. Welcome to Age of Dusk Allan!

      [Renovation]

      Not a bad idea. There is no reason you couldn’t spice up the encounters both cosmetically and game-play wise. Add more interaction-based encounters, polish up the random encounters and throw in an ominous tesseract section in the centre and have the encounter there and you should be good.

      [Replace Nulb]

      Whew it’s been a while. Arguably you could fuse it with Nulb too (or pick and mix), but it’s not a bad idea. I sometimes forget my role should be not just to point out and destroy but also to assist and suggest improvement.

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