[Review] The Purple Worm Graveyard (OSR LL); Slightly above average dungeoncrawl

The Purple Worm Graveyard (2011)

Tony Dowler (Planet Thirteen)
Level 1 – 3

Purple Worm Graveyard by Tony Dowler is a 7-page (5-pages are pure dungeon) 13-room dungeon for Labyrinth Lord for character levels 1-3. It’s alright, and that is always a bitch because I can’t get worked up over things that are alright. Statistics and frames of reference are a bitch!

The central premise is classic S&S stuff, easily importable or customizable to most Dnd games. A lady sage finds a treasure map to the Purple Worm Graveyard located deep in the mountains, behind the ruins of an ancient temple dedicated to the mysterious Worm God. Thus the adventure. Short but it doesn’t waste your fucking time.

The dungeon proper is the cave behind the temple complex (the complex itself is ruined and not detailed, a bit of a missed opportunity). A page is devoted to explaining a mechanic inspired by Dungeon World [1], covering the disbelieving of illusions and communion with the Worm God (which may be attempted at certain locations). I am perplexed why a new rulessystem would be useful where an attribute test or a saving throw would suffice. There is already a mechanism for disbelieving illusions and it is the saving throw. The additional nuance of having an ambiguous result where you succeed but there is some sort of consequence could just as easily be added to a d20 roll within a certain margin of the target number.

The dungeon map proper is short but sweet, with multiple pathways allowing for much needed exploration. Scale has been handled arbitrarily and the 3D-element would mean some passages slope down (others contain snares) but it is not hard to figure out. The only problem is that the size of the corridors is nowhere stated, making it up to the GM to determine whether or not the Purple Worm you can encounter later on (!) can pursue the adventurers into the complex. A secret door and the odd trap add some furnishing to the place.

When you enter the cave, a magic mouth warns you away (in the time-honored fashion of B1), but an opportunity for some flavor has been neglected as the warning has only been described in the most general terms. A point in the module’s favor is the contents of each room are described in a single sentence marked in italics, with the actual mechanics or GM specific information underlined below. Good job.

As long as we are talking about dungeon furnishings there is some above average stuff going on here. Creepy runes that can be studied to learn the language of Worms, an altar where one can obtain communion with the Worm God (failure can mean projectile vomiting among other things) and a statue of a brass horsemen missing a leg. Returning the leg means the horseman animates and serves you for the rest of the adventure. A pool that seems acidic but is actually rejuvenating, with a glint of metal on the bottom? A gateway to a magical kingdom, one-way? Someone read himself some B1.

Second point in favor is the module’s use of monsters. Alongside some favorites from the dnd vermin list (giant rats, fire beetles and an ooze), the adventure gives us two new monsters. One is a mimic that can disguise itself as a banquet table (ha haaah! nice twist) and the loathsome but physically weak maggot Nagas (as repulsive as they sound) whose powers of voice mimicry are used to trick or scare away PCs. Not brilliant but thematically appropriate to the sacred place of a Worm God. Where are the spawn of Kyuss and rotgrubs though?

The treasure is…okay. Not great but not boring either. Ceremonial armour that is worth less if it is used in combat, golden candlesticks, incense that smells like compost. The magic items are new, but not spectacular. A helmet that gives you a +1 to AC, an enchanted dagger that gives you a +2 to hit but nothing to damage, a gem of spell storing. Treasure is not thrown out in the open but tends to be concealed. It’s alright but it needs a little…oomph.

By far the most unique feature is the Purple Worm Graveyard itself. It is chock-full of Purple Worm Ivory. You can collect as much as you want (it takes long and weighs…a load?!?). Some of this stuff feels like it was originally written for Dungeon World and subsequently converted in haste because Dungeon World is not as good as OSR. Anyway, you can gather quite a bit (as much as you can carry) and each load is worth 200 gp but at around the 10 minute mark an actual live Purple Worm shows up. The PCs are now fucked and must escape/distract the thing. I feel an opportunity is missed to design the complex with Purple Worm pursuit in mind, but still, mad props for using a 15 HD death machine in your 1-3 level adventure.

Pros: Solid design flourishes reminiscent of B1 and other classic stuff. Suitably creative. Mad props for using a 15 HD monster in a lvl 1-3 adventure appropriately. Effective means of conveying information. Short but sweet.

Cons: Good adventure but nothing groundbreaking. Why is there dungeon world stuff in my OSR? Lukewarm magic items.

Final verdict:  It’s okay but nothing groundbreaking. Effective and efficient use of space and a good last encounter. 6 out of 10.

[1] Dungeon World is filthy hipster DnD


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