[TenfootpOSR 5] Dungeon Magazine #5; Eye of the Tiger

As the entries are slowly trinkling in and my mind is gearing up towards the weighty task of judging the efforts of the No – Artpunk Contest, it must be kept in fighting shape with a regular diet of adventures that are something else then groundbreaking, innovative, or too Artpunk. Dungeon Magazine provides a cornucopia, or perhaps a bottomless pit? of adventures that are short, punchy, well-intentioned and because of the format, use mostly by the book monsters.

A glance at the letters once again reveal the thankless task of the editor for this flagship publication. An endless deluge of petulant whines and groans, bemoaning the lack of high level adventures, the lack of Basic D&D modules, the generally abominable quality of the submissions, and the inclusion of anything but Basic or AD&D modules. The editor’s rebuttals are snide, pithy, and redolent with general irritation. The only positive note is effusive praise for the module Fluffy Goes to Heck, a possible candidate for the tenfootpole Best Evar?

The Rotting Willow
Edward P. Bromley III

AD&D
Lvl 7-9

A side-treck with Boggarts a.k.a the Ballad of have you ever fought AC – 6 monsters with confusion spell-like abilities in a swamp? The village of Genericton is 30 centimetres from a swamp haunted by evil faeries with the annoying tendency to disguise themselves as halflings, children or gnomes, prompting the village to despise and distrust these on sight. The PCs are thus subjected to several shades of generic villager not trusting halflings and gnomes, with the odd retired adventurer thrown in. This hommlet of 20-120 people has a 9th level Fighting Man with a +3 bastard sword for an innkeep, a 4th level fighting man for a blacksmith and some other nonsense, not that it matters, it’s all filler. Useless maps of the village and the inn consume half the space of the actual adventure.

The adventure is that Boggarts (infant Will ó the Wisps) attempt steal the character’s shit in children guise to lure them into the swamp and face them by the Rotting Willow. Adventure over. There is a very elaborate hex map of the swamp, with a branching path of good ground, surrounded by various pools, mires, quicksand etc. etc. The Boggarts make effective use of their abilities, have almost no treasure, and that’s about all she wrote. And then we killed some Boggarts in a swamp. Actual Play report.

Theoretically it’s not hard to throw in anywhere I guess. There’s nothing here.

*

Lady of the Lake
Laura Ferguson

AD&D
Lvl 1st (???)

A faerie-talish wilderness adventure, that will likely leave a few 1st level characters dead in a forest, but then again if that isn’t the heart of D&D I don’t know what is. Good hook, you encounter a lady, beaten to within an inch of her life, conscious only long enough to whisper a name ‘the Lake of Orb Loc’, very classic. Then you find a cursed necklace and you might kill the fucking lady if you are incautious, I don’t know what to think of that one.

I don’t know what it is with settlements in this issue but they all take up half the adventure and have elaborate maps but they don’t do anything, hold no NPCs of interest and seem to be included mostly to take up space. Lots of mundane detail, a druidic shrine that is mostly devoid of wonder, the only break a T5 that tries to pickpocket one of the characters. If you are going to include something like this you need to make the NPCs stand out. As they are not movers and shakers of the realm and they will be left behind never to return again, they need about one or two HIGHLY VISIBLE CHARACTERISTICS OR QUIRKS. We are not writing fucking Gene Wolfe here, this character needs to be here, last for 20 minutes, and then fuck off. ANOTHER RETIRED 6TH LEVEL FIGHTER BLACKSMITH. GAH. Maybe I exaggerate. He has calm grey eyes, a daughter and a limp, it feels a little frontier-er-ey.

Everything after this is sort of alright. The wilderness map is a grid, maybe 100 by 100 miles so quite a while, and does not have enough locations for the size of the map honestly. The encounters proper are…surprisingly good. A skeleton clutching a single +1 arrow that pierces him to a tree. You can encounter a white stag that leads you to Orb Loc. There’s a roaming madman in the forest, and you can find one of his pits. A goblin patrol, attacks, but the leader wears a red-painted metal flute…that is actually made of gold…and one part detaches and is actually a ring of fire resistance. Goddamn that’s a deep cut. Bandits, still too generic, but tiny details; ‘Two dilapidated wagons pulled by two equally dilapidated nags.’ There’s a little relationship with a magic user that suspected the true nature of the lady. Somewhere in your hind brain a picture is inferred, ragged looking bastards, scars, dirt, missing teeth, scowls. Also, a burial mount, very unlikely to be found, holding a half strength Wraith (3 HD), rising from the skeleton of a woman clutching a silver pin and a stronger one in the mount proper. For a 1st level party? I actually like that. You don’t have to face it, if you do and you win there’s a tonne of treasure, and you are probably fucking dead. Also there’s Giant Weasel babies you can find. An enchanted glade that will put you to sleep, and squirrels will steal your weapons. I dig it.

When you get to Orb Loc, it turns out the Lady is actually some sort of magic winged dear that returns to her homeplane but will reward you with a magic sword. The sword and the lake. As written, this is too sparse to use, but the encounters are certainly portable and it has that rare quality, an air of enchantment.

**

The Stolen Power
Robert Kelk

AD&D
Lvl 1 – 3

A module written to offset the alleged bias that players wouldn’t play female characters because they wouldn’t get sacrificed. This is where I score points by uncritically bemoaning this supposed mysoginy in ‘our hobby’, while slyly distancing myself from the aforementioned group, despite use of the pronoun ‘we.’ WHERE IS MY MEDAL?

It feels like someone took a Sword & Sorcery tale, then applied some sort of anti-wonder bleach that I am positive is either in Changeling: The Dreaming or maybe from a villain in the Carebears Animated Series, and the result is an empty husk of an adventure, a mirage luring you in and dissipating into thin air with an echo of mocking laughter the moment you enter it.

The town of Highland (pop 1500), has had its Book of Infinite Spells stolen. The cleric Moonwind, her trusty aide Bearpaw and the ranger Deerhunter, suspect the evil visitant Hadonis. If we go by naming the module could have been written by Ahimsa Kerp. Anyway, a juicy 150 gp per person if you return a fucking book of inifite spells worth thousands of gold pieces, but also a coupon for 2 resurrections. What the fuck is up with the economics in these things? Anyway, normally you’d expect the badguy to have some sort of Tower or Fortress of evil men, but Hadonis keeps a country house in the middle of nowhere. Highland is surpisingly sparse.

Large overland map, a little simple for its size. Expansive random encounter table, with a curious twist. Almost nothing on the encounter table is hostile. Humanoids are still reeling to recover from a disasterous assault on the nearby elven village, the many faerie creatures are harmless unless provoked, most wild animals flee, and there’s a fucking Oliphaunt that the characters can spot from far off. I don’t mind that one either. Put a big monster somewhere far away, see what the PCs do. A very strange choice to go for avoidance instead of conflict or interaction.

House proper, very boring, mostly linear map. You have two instances where you kill Hadonis’s guard dogs, but one dog vs 4-8 LG adventurers? Poor Puppers. Underneath the retreat proper, a secret passage leads to an underground complex of the Cult of the Succubi Queen Shami-Amourae. There’s a bit of nice window dressing with the treasure, offset by a hint of worrying eccentricity. Minor cursed items to fuck with the serving staff. A book with a treasure map that leads to a lair of two ancient reds, but that’s not mentioned. Loaves of bread holding 500 gp rings, or a ring of delusion? Items that inflict a curse if one but picks them up. A new currency is introduced, bronze pieces, which are worth ¼ of a cp each and make up most of the treasure. A pit trap is ancient so attempts to disarm it are at -2%. Someone is a stickler for tiny details! And then, as piece de la resistance, a depressed Paladin named Marvin in a cell, that is reluctant to do anything unless asked repeatedly. You will find the cell only at the end of a dungeon.

Despite the fact that the cult is dedicated to a goddess of harlotry and lascivious excess there is a worrying lack of writhing, naked cultists in some incence shrouded chamber before the obscenely sensual idol of the androgynous Harlot Queen herself! Instead ‘chapel walls[…] decorated with scenes that would make a professional (!) street walker blush.’ What is this prudishness? The cult has five people total, all relatively high level, most attack on sight, one will accept a bribe. A paragraph describes an elaborate pit trap that does 1 – 6 damage.

One single wonderous feature, a pool of enchanted water with properties and that’s all she wrote. The eccentrities are subtly unsettling. Was this module ghostwritten by Jeffrey Dhamer?

*

The Kappa of Pachee Bridge
Jay Batista

OA
Lvl 2 – 5

Bryce has a noted fondness for the OA adventures in Dungeon and this is my first exposure to them. This does not disappoint! After oh so many dreary entries this is a true breath of fresh air. The Kappa of Pachee Bridge, a water spirit, has lived near the village in peace for generations. Unfortunately it has started eating humans. Enter the PCs to figure it out.

First, the scenery. A group of villagers approaches, all of them bow. The speech, the detail. ‘The Boy of the Bridge has taken to stealing children again. Once a horse would satisfy its hunger, but now five children are gone, and Tai Poa says his brother Chao is missing.’ You get the impression everything has a history, the bridge, the Kappa, the fucking village. And it does so without taking up too much space.

The scenario is open-ended but gives you enough ideas to get going. The kappa lives in a fucking lake, how are you going to catch it? It loves wrestling, eating frogs, horsemeat. It has a place where it comes out to sun. If the water in its hollow skull is spilled it loses much of its strength. It can regenerate by its knowledge of medicine and will barter for the return of its severed limbs, which it cannot otherwise regrow. Also it has a dying curse so killing it is an extremely stupid idea. Did you talk with the Giant Frog in the Rice Paddy that the villagers urge you not to kill since it brings good fortune?

Atmosphere is top notch, scenario is simple but cute. Wondrous treasure at the end, depending on how well you negotiate. A bowl that turns all food that you put on it into food of the highest quality. A jade signet ring. Wondrous.

***

The Trouble with Melvyn Wimbly
Andrew McRay

Basic D&D
Lvl 1 – 3

Have your players ever expressed a desire to roleplay as the Wet Bandits? What about the local police in Rambo: First Blood? &@#$@!#%*$% HALFLINGS.

A very unpleasant module. The players are led onto a merry goose-chase by a piece of shit Halfling that steals their shit. But it turns out he was a good person all along and the PCs just should have realized he was only stealing to get away from an evil person.

Have we as a society come far enough to address the sickening narcissism of the Halfling race? Their childlike solipsism and lack of accountability? Their complete lack of introspection? Their inability to adapt in the manner of hardworking dwarves or graceful elves to the manners of living within the borders of a civilized human kingdom? Their noxious gluttony which we are forced, at every instance, to indulge and consider amusing? Have we not for too long suppressed our righteous fury when they look upon us with their insolent, beady eyes, eat all of our food, turn us out of our own inns, disturb our solemn prayer with their capering and their antics? Yet for all their loathsome behavior, it is us, mankind, that keeps enabling them with adventures LIKE THIS!

An agonizing trek through a forest, filled with traps, orc ambushes, and disappointment. Some tracking percentages allow you to follow the little pest, with nary an option to assist the Chaotic Magic User, a no-doubt well-intentioned entrepreneur who sought for once to look beyond the heinous reputation that precedes this degenerate species like a cloud of pestilent corpse gas into whatever region it comes to infest and offer it a concept fundamentally antithetical to its nature, an honest job, only to have it callously turn upon him when this decent man, this champion of the oppressed, Lambazar the Wizard, offered the same bargain to a band of orcs, and was perhaps forced by circumstance to murder a few ruffians in the course of his dealings?   

*

The Eyes of Evil
Tom Hickerson

AD&D
Lvl 10+

Another high-level adventure of the ‘just use low level adventure design philosophy and make everything much stronger’ variety. A band of mantichores have been terrorizing the neighbourhood and extorting the village. Several retired adventurers have tried to put a stop to them and have not returned. Black clad men have been raiding them by day. They don’t have much left to give. That’s good.

And then the adventure begins. No wilderness map, but random encounters. 2-12 gargoyles, perytons, 1-6 Trolls, 1-4 Hieracosphinxes. No further description. Picked a nice place to build your village haven’t you? Was all the real-estate in Mordor already taken?

The adventure proper makes me taste bile in my mouth. 10 cave rooms. Straight up combat encounters with all the heavy hitters of the monster manual. Hieracosphinxes, Trolls + Symbiotic Jellies, a Memory Moss encounter, Manticores, a Purpe Worm, and the end fight is with a beholder. Clerics to some Abyssal god are introduced but we are told nothing about him other then that he sometimes takes the form of a beholder and is evul. Nothing memorable or standout, no NPCs worth mentioning, no funky Beholder Cultists, no good treasure, nothing.  The Cave might collapse if you throw a fireball, which is something I guess.

This is not how you D&D.

*

Hirward’s Task
Rich Stump

AD&D
Lvl 4-8

‘Rich says he wrote this adventure to get back to all those thoughtless adventurers who enjoy looting and destroying every dungeon that they enter.’ Oooooh boy. The beginning signals the adventure is going to be almost unbearably painful. A 15th level wizard contacts the party to help him get rid of the hostile Air elemental he accidentally summoned in his lair. He doesn’t have time to give you any detailed briefing, and if you steal ANYTHING FROM THE LAIR he threatens to mess you up.



When I saw the map and read the first few encounters for this one I dared to hope. It’s almost 100 rooms over 2 floors. Mapping is sprawling, nonlinear, multiple methods of egress.

It starts Well, with a portcullis, entry via an underground river, panicked kobolds, wizards barricaded inside. Basilisk chained to a wall as a guardian. Illusionary Kurtulmak used to keep the kobolds in line Good. All these shitbag wizards apprentices who have barricaded themselves in. There are even…gasp, shock, good trap rooms, that require one to experiment in order to escape them, or exercise a modicum of thought. Besides the terrifying elemental that characters might just elect to run the fuck away from, there are very little encounters that involve forced combat.

But these are points of light in a desert of mundane detail. I get the idea is that you encounter the Elemental on the Second floor and the whole object is to find a way to either defeat him (he is very tough, but intelligent so he may be bargained with) or find a way to destroy the device that brought it forth. Some might even call that clever. There is hope.

But that hope is fucking lost by the outrage of having to go into a 100 room complex, pick up no loot, look at tapestries that are obviously valuable, somehow not be able to sneak some of it out in the confusion, bargain with various assholish wizards or kobolds that have set up traps or intelligent measures etc. etc. etc.

If the motivation behind this module had not been to punish proper play and the rooms had been beefed up somewhat this could have been something good. I’ll score this one at mildly unpleasant, the no-looting and the hook is bullshit and most of it is dull, some decent encounters notwithstanding.

**


16 thoughts on “[TenfootpOSR 5] Dungeon Magazine #5; Eye of the Tiger

  1. The deadline is the end of August, yes? Because my meager effort is guilting me into the slow crawl to completion.

    It’s kind of a terrible feeling – and your fault.

    Like

  2. I once sent a bunch of submissions to Dungeon magazine. Every one of them was rejected. When I read about the shit that DID get published…well, it’s hard not to feel like an asshole whose writing must be absolute garbage.

    Like

  3. Welcome to THE PIT OF SUCK!!!

    Yeah, this is the Dungeon I know and love, including the sense of entitlement and embittered sniping going on in the letters section. (Although in hindsight, this was oddly highbrow stuff, pre “U FAGG” and “LOL U SUK” era, when even random teens reared on a diet of Mt. Dew could write a proper letter.) Several ads for Wizard Rings and similar over-priced trash, too. Really brings me back.

    For all the general quality of this crap, it was often still the best of its era where generic AD&D was concerned, since official content was even more cruddy. The craft of adenture writing was mostly forgotten, and you had a bunch of cargo cultists trying to cobble together junk in the faint hope it’d become a functional aeroplane or car. It was a time when normal people still wanted to bury TSR, not resurrect it.

    But I suspect Dungeon was more Gamer Lifestyle Magazine than proper adventure source, anyway, so not as much harm was done to campaigns as we might first suspect.

    Like

  4. People complain about the terribleness of Kender, but I’m delighted that they finally siloed off all the awfulness of this-era halflings into its own species. Non-awful halflings became, if not common, at least possible after that.

    Like

  5. == my mind is gearing up towards the weighty task of judging

    … perhaps your mind should gear down …

    WRT a useful scoring system:

    Hypocritically, the bulk of both of your libraries of reviews is unnavigable. Think about how hypocritical that is for Tenfootpole, he never shuts up about structure yet his own blog is an increasingly long list of reviews with no character or order or definition, with no categories or hierarchies. Now that is hypocrisy.

    Like

    1. I’ve long toyed with the idea of redoing the tags, but the time involved has thus far prevented a response. In my perfect world, I want to transfer all of my reviews to an excel format, upload it to SQL, and thus enable myself to easily answer questions in what year the good stuff was written, how tomb adventures score compared to wilderness adventures, or what level ranges yield the best average results.

      Alternatively, I could use nested pages per system so the Reviews page just brings you to an overview of all systems that leads to different systems.

      OR I could not use any of that and update the tags.

      Useful information that should be searchable, off the top of my head:
      System, Lvl Range, Score, Author, Type, Year.

      Like

    2. Tags and labels has nothing to do with it. The point is that both of you regurgitate undistinguished reams of commentary with no structure or organisation, yet that is largely the other idiot’s daily criticism of what he reads.

      If either of you had a method or argot for describing what you read it would be more evident that what you were doing was worthless.

      At least you are reading classic modules, but you are ten years behind the curve.

      Like

    3. Kent: Your reviews are not ordered, navigable, or categorized

      Also Kent: Adding properties so your reviews would become categorized, ordered or navigable has nothing to do what I said.

      I can’t talk to you when you are doing your Fredlyff Durstwynn ‘Break Stuff’ routine dude. The classics are good for any reviewer to treat because they provide a frame of reference against which both author and audience can juxtapose reviews of new material.

      Like

  6. [Lack of Basic D&D modules – further whining]

    My fellow hunchbach nerds at ledonjondudragon.fr and meself have recently completed translations of all B/X modules ever published in Dungeon : I can attest they are few and far between, and that several (like the aforementioned “Melvyn Wimbly” totally fail whatever “kiddie D&D” assignment they had. Still, some may be worth one’s time.

    Since Google assures me that I already wrote about that right here one year ago, allow me to lazily copy&paste :

    Minority opinion : The best cheese-centric D&D adventure remains “The Wererats Of Relfren” in DM #14

    Which makes me think that instead of aimlessly paning for gold in the otyugh-infested sewer that is DM, and in line with your series on B modules, you could start reviewing the few adventures specifically designed for B/X (www.pandius.com/dungeon.html), which in my rose-tinted memories often had whimsical elements lacking in standard AD&D fare. “The Keep at Koralgesh” was archetypal and a solid intro dungeo, and the two-part “Tortles of the Purple Sage” was surprisingly ambitious. “Elexa’s Endeavour” had a princess in need and a castle with magic plumbing, i.e. should have been pure garbage, and yet all of us loved it to death.

    Like

    1. It is true, mon ami. I think I might even have read Keep at Koralgesh.

      Dungeon mag is sort of a break from the highbrow stuff, it allows for more mockery and less serious analysis, but occasionally reading mediocre work can give you new insights into why the good stuff is indeed the good stuff.

      And who can foresee entries like The Stolen Power or WD’s Circle of Standing Stones. The odd stuff, this is what we live for!

      Like

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