Hell’s Portal (1981)
Will Stephenson (White Dwarf 27)
There’s a few White Dwarf issues I didn’t cover. There’s one with an adventure that’s essentially a glorified Monster entry, and one that’s for Traveller. Traveller is cool, but I don’t play it and I have very little idea what would constitute a good adventure.
The 4-page Hell’s Portal has a concise, but compelling premise. The Empire of Kolos once held this region, and constructed the prison known as Hell’s Portal. There they imprisoned the infamous rebel Ketab. Now they are gone, but a group of rebels wants you to retrieve his possessions, long thought lost. The jerk who found them has also contacted the Empire. Enter the PCs.
The premise is excellent, and one can almost imagine it be plunked into Greyhawk, with the Empire changed to Aerendy, with very little alteration. A rival Imperial party, just class levels with some accountrements, arrives d20+4 hours after the PCs to fuck shit up and prepare an ambush so they’ve got another thing coming on their way out of the dungeon.
We dive in almost immediately. The contents of the dungeon are solid but there’s a funhouse element to the whole, very little attempt at emulation, making the backstory feel like the intro to an NES video game. Considering its short length, 40+ rooms and 5 floors, it’s a lot better then it has any right to be.
It doesn’t really go for emulation but there’s a sense of verisimilitude on the encounter level basis. A phase spider and a hill giant both have lairs, the guy who contacted the empire turns out to be a Grell with a surgical lab and a band of demon-worshipping henchmen. This is all compounded with illusionary walls, hidden switches and strange traps. It’s stuff you don’t really see anymore. It almost reminds me that so many traps more or less went extinct as time went on. Explosive gas, a dial that lowers a floor below a permanent illusion, memphits that try to separate the PCs by lowering portcullises, teleporters, dart trap with a magic mouth that tells you you will die in 2 hours (you won’t), it’s all good stuff, channeling the spirit of the little brown books more than the later, more ‘realistic’ modules.
There’s the trademark White Dwarf oddball palette of monsters, nary a goblin in sight. It’s all memphits, weird fire skeletons, strange super-zombies that see through an eye painted on the wall, an asshole 5 HD worm in a 20 ft. trapdoor (DICK) that touches off pretty well.
There’s a difference between this and something like Maldred the Mighty in that there’s better variety here. There’s a tradeoff between oldschool lethality and wonder, puzzle-solving, riddle-solving (check), and door-hunting that gives a more balanced vibe to the whole experience. There’s no faction play or any super complex overlapping mechanisms in play but its reasonably exciting, there’s an element of nonlinear exploration and the encounters are pretty strong.
A light ***. I think you could run this for a human.