Grakt’s Crag (1980)
Will Stephenson (White Dwarf 20)
The delve into White Dwarf, praying for another Halls of Tizun Thane, continues. With some adventures it feels like just another day at the office. Grakt’s crag is a 3 page tomb that never reaches the level of bad but isn’t particularly good or memorable either. There you go, you know enough.
The premise is mediocre. King Grakt was buried in hidden tombs to deter looters. A dude and his Umber hulk companion show up in the village nearby and before you know it people start going missing. Plot twist…the dude is an ogre mage. The umber hulk never shows up because he killed it for convoluted reasons but it was needed to explain a number of the rooms in the dungeon. Enter the PCs.
Grakt’s Crag is essentially a linear tomb, a difficult format to get anything done in at the best of times. Unless you have the design chops of someone like Gygax or whoever wrote Tomb of the Mud Sorcerer, you deprive yourself of so many of the elements that contribute to the enjoyment and complexity of an adventure that you essentially set yourself up to fail. So too here; no random encounters, almost no exploration (I mean you have to find the odd secret door to proceed), no faction play and that’s all she wrote basically.
So what are you left with? A series of puzzle-like encounters, some decent, leading up to a confrontation with the Ogre Mage. The conceit is that the first few rooms were excavated by the Ogre mage and gradually lead into the tomb, but there is no possible way you could know this from the way they are described and the architecture and traps seem too complex for such a piecemail excavation. To add insult to injury, the Ogre Mage has already looted the tomb so your opponents are in fact NOT ancient horrors trapped in forgotten tombs but charmed fighters and thieves. Generic fighters and thieves. The ogre mage is ‘crippled’ by his senseless fight with his umber hulk companion so he only has partial statts. There’s a spectre of the old king but he doesn’t have level drain and he just attacks.
The obstacles are okay. A pit with green slime with a latticework of wood over it. A fake ceiling with archers. A forcefield riddle. A weird elevator puzzle with traps. In themselves they are decent but the framework they are presented in is dull. There’s a complete lack of atmosphere or fantasy in this adventure.
Treasure is insultingly low, 70 pp at the end, with a high chance that you will fail to locate it and go home dejected and ashamed. The one unique magic item, the bones of a monk, dissolved in water, is described in another issue of WD.
Tomb of the Maharadja (1980)
S.Hartley (White Dwarf 21)
Lvl 3 – 4
This 16-room 2-pager one starts out a little stronger. The followers of the Maharadja worshipped him as a god in life. Now they keep his body in death. You are brought to the tomb at night by a merchant, who tasks you with destroying his body so this evil religion can end. It’s generic but it’s S&S-ey, I like it.
Unfortunately this module is too generic by far. Most of the opponents are lvl something fighters. Now human opponents as a main course is a well-worn S&S trope, and one I heartily applaud, but there’s an almost complete absence of any flavor here. Some gambling and a jeweled drinking horn is about all we known about these followers of the Maharadja. Something, some description or hint of atmosphere, would have worked wonders here.
There’s some whiffs of atmosphere, peepholes, galleries with skulls with a green continual light spell cast on it, a false tomb with two giant spitting snakes, that works kind of well. The understated vibe means that any blantant use of magic, such as by teleport, comes across as a little jarring. There’s one encounter before the end that makes the PCs basically ‘choose a champion’ and then has him face an unarmed fighter with a quarterstaff over a pit filled with spears, while the rest is more or less powerless to interfere.
The map isn’t linear or symmetrical, which is a positive, but part of the dungeon is walled off behind a secret door that, frankly, I don’t see anyone finding without some serious grinding. Hope you roll that 1.
The final showdown with the Maharadja, a mummy, and the treasure, are appropriate, if very boring. Its mostly +1 weapons, oh so many copper pieces and the odd DMG item that you don’t see every day. Fire beetles and animating statues make up the rest of the enemy roster. It’s not terrible so much as it is generic. There’s some promising hints in what is otherwise pretty primitive. It feels like someone’s first attempt at a dungeon.
Looks like I rolled two deuces.