[TenfootPOSR 6] Dungeon Magazine #10; Grindset




Another factory reset. A man can’t read Gygax, Kowolski and Unbalanced Dice Games all day and expect to keep a neutral perspective. In this issue the readers complain about the dearth of Solo adventures and the editor explains to these braying mongoloids that since no one in his fucking right mind still plays let alone sends in Basic D&D, there is a dearth of that too. Truly a golden age of gaming.

The Shrine of Ilsidahur
John Nephew
AD&D
Lvl 3 – 6

Jewels of Gwahlur but written by a mid-level corporate executive. The module is aiming in the right direction but is mostly of atmosphere or ostentation. Deep in the jungle, filled with monsters, the local savages used to worship a hideous demon-prince Ilsidahur. Rumors persist of a temple, with a great bronze idol with eyes of flaming orange jacinth. No one has survived as of yet. Classic.

First, something that is theoretically good from a verisimilitude standpoint even if it means a shittonne of random encounters. The temple is actually 120 miles from the nearest outpost, and travel by river is about the best way to go about it, with the only other option a punishing trek through jungle with 6 random encounter rolls per day. Proper traders too, with native guides, porters, guards, naked and armed with machetes. A hint of something there, but nothing of it shows up in the description.

12-room Temple proper has one moment of interaction, a native caretaker, CE, bone and lacquered wood armor, pointing the heroes to the shrine while secretely worshipping the demon prince and considering them a sacrifice. The rest is…not bad but very bland. The opening is strong, with a big bronze idol with jacinth eyes, animating monkey statues, and an illusory pit that dumps players to a second level, but after that almost everything is just ‘this room was once used for…’ followed by a different monster, followed by decently concealed and described treasure. The standout is an intelligent sacrificial knife of evil alignment. The final room is a fight with a bar-lurga and an underwhelming hoard. Possible follow ups with the forgettable demon prince notwithstanding, it’s all a bit meh.

**

The Artisan’s Tomb
Matthew Maaske
OA
Lvl 3 – 5

An oriental adventures…side-trek, that has the opposite problem as the preceding adventure. So tonnes of flavor and description, but it is 3 rooms and two encounter. The spirit of a potter asks you to bring him the vase he gifted to the noblewoman he loved. The guards that killed him placed the vase in his tomb, and while it is intact he can gain no rest. One encounter with a tigbanua buso later, the adventure is all but over.

So, good atmosphere, rich, beautiful treasure, jade animal figurines, brass lamps, tapestries, enchanted origami. But 3 pages for something that can be completed in under an hour, if that. Fluff.

**

They Also Serve…
Robert Kelk
AD&D
5 – 7 level (thieves?)

Another mega-hit by the proud author of Stolen Power. Sweet Gygax save us. The death of the King of Falora creates a crisis of succession. The chamberlain has figured out a royal bastard is somewhere but he needs the documents to prove her claim, which are in the hands of the local thieves guild. For whatever contrived reason, this objective must be completed within 72 hours or war breaks out. A bullshit Cavalier hires you to find the fucking document because they can’t send soldiers to just break down the thieves guild for BULLSHIT reasons and you had better not be thinking of ‘looting’ or else!!!

Nominally an adventure for thieves, the adventure figures the best way to do so is not to create an elaborate nonlinear map, with patrol schedules, opportunities for deception, trickery and requiring finesse, but instead places time-wasting fucking traps on every other door, fills a square building with 5 floors full of thieves, assassins and civilians that mostly fight to the death and removes some stairs so you will get use out of your climb walls ability.

There is something about the writing in this thing that is oddly controlling and passive-aggressive. The straight line between city A and village B. The stringent time-limit. The random encounters, 2d10 worth of them, almost all avoid the party, or do not interact with them. Vintage Kelk. Horses that run. Wererats in human form that don’t engage. A young lady with a bag of 40 pearls worth 100 gp each that is actually a gold dragon. Even the Bugbears can’t be bothered to attack the PCs if they ‘look tough.’ A troll that does attack so ‘Hack-and-Slash players should have fun.’

Dungeon proper is perhaps platonically unimaginative. Hallways of concrete, lit by continual light spells. The names of the Thieves are all Number 1, Number 3 etc. Not a hint of atmosphere. You do get a few hints of interaction, some guards that can be bribed, and the occasional strange quirks of creativity. A valet that has studied martial arts so he functions as a level 1 bushi/ninja, or a scullery maid that is an expert knifefighter that will fight to the death. It’s a Kelk adventure so you will be executing at least a few civilians.

The top floor is made of Glassteel, which could have been interesting if they had used the transparent floors and walls for something, like the invisible labyrinth in the Walls of Erynx, but instead it ends up being fucking boring like everything else. There are the hints of the unpleasant surprise, like having one of the guards be a Lvl 5 assassin, but who cares at this point? Prisoners are there, but in the most boring way imaginable, all the way to the top, nothing to show for it. There’s an issue of White Dwarf that has an adventure called Eagle Hunt, that is a little dry, but that has tonnes of complexity in it. This is one is boring and dull.

All the magic weapons are naked +something swords, called ‘Killer’, ‘Razor’ and ‘Man-Opener.’ Nothing is fantastic.

*
MonsterQuest
Vince Garcia
AD&D
Lvl 1 – 3 (or pregens)

A ‘komedy’ adventure that works better than most attempts. You are sent to recover the enchanted drinking horn of an orc chief who left it in an old elf temple but one of you fucking idiots drops the map and it is picked up by the nearby human encampment. You play a goblin, a witch-doctor, an Ogre, a were-rat and a Pixy. Charming and short backstories and GO GO GO!

First part is a sort of infiltration adventure, you have to recover the map from the encampment. It is intended as a sort of stealthy adventure but it seems a bit too easy. A bunch of annoying sewer pipes in an old dwarven mine and you can follow it to the camp proper. The map is located in the commander’s quarters and he plays dice till midnight. There are not really any elaborate patrol schedules or other precautions, so it comes across as the first level of a stealth game. Finding out where the commander’s quarters are located could be a bit tricky, and a description of visibility would have been essential. Still, credit where it is due, the conditions for pursuit are considered so if you leave the grate through which you climbed in open or you ransack the commander’s chambers, you are discovered sooner and you have less time to get away and reach the forest edge before the human cavalry rides out.

Some forest encounters that are forgettable except for one (the cabin of a 7th level ranger, oof, not a good thing to encounter if your monster PCs are too greedy).

Dungeon proper is a classic greek temple to Brigit, columns, 2 levels, one is basically foreshadowing. A lot of treasure is locked behind wizard-locked doors whose purpose I do not fully understand. A few of the 5 Encounters have a light sort of charm. Weird laughing skulls with silver fangs, a throne surrounded by burning torches, if you sit on it the fire turns into firebats that attack you, a bed with a sheet phantom etc. I guess at least one of the wizard-locked doors can be opened by the Witch-doctor, and the prospect of getting chased by an olive slime through the lower levels is at least theoretically interesting.

A bit too light but not offensively stupid. As a diversion it’s not terrible.

**

Secrets of the Towers
Larry Church
AD&D
Lvl 1+

One of the few entries that someone might actually end up using. 12 Towers, each about 5 rooms, each with an inhabitant or gimmick. There are portals you can discover to travel between them. The idea is that you sprinkle them through your campaign world and if the PCs come across a few and are interested enough, they might consult a sage and learn the location of more of them. There’s helpful advice about integrating the damn things into your campaign too. Member campaigns?

Towers proper are well done, because each one is different, but there is enough complexity. Nr. 1 is Orcs, but there’s a patrol schedule, some tension between the two leaders, little nudges that make it better. Most of the monster encounters are like this, where the author knows just enough to turn a standard monster into an interesting encounter. There’s one that has nothing but traps left over from a gang of thieves that met the wrong end of a siege-by-fire. One is nothing but fake foreshadowing that it is going to contain a vampire. One is a straight up trap if your players are incautious. One contains a mean-ass druid, the other is partially submerged and contains a were-shark etc. etc. There’s opportunities for interaction. The last one is under the control of a cambion high priest to Orcus and his non-evil alu-fiend wife and is almost a little adventure seed in its own right that can end in quite a smack down for characters of level 10+.

This is how you do side-trekking. Inoffensive, tantalizing, momentarily diverting. You provide hints, you tantalize, you provoke, you misdirect. The ability to travel instantaneously between points is an ability that will likely attract the ire of regional powers, as the module notes.

Pretty good.


Threshold of Evil
Scott Bennie
AD&D
Level 14-18

Another crack at an uber-high level adventure. This one can at least be taken seriously. The town near God’s Cradle, the highest peak in the formidable Sleeper’s Teeth, has been suffering all manner of blights. Research reveals that the Archmage Azurax last went there with a band of heroes to destroy a marauding band of giants, and declared that he would make his workshop there, and be as a babe compared to the power he would wield when last he would descend.

Lair assault but this time the guy in a lair is a 21st level Archmage with 200 years to prepare. You kind of admire the balls of some of it even though it makes heavy-handed use of the blanket immunity-via-wish-spell trope. So, mountain stronghold on a 12.000 foot mountain, surrounded by 50 mph storms, freezing cold, no teleportation, no scrying, no shadow-walk or dream, but…a 5% chance of breaking in through the backdoor if you come via the Astral Plane…very generous!

This module likes to live on the edge between trash and good. One encounter in the valley before the mountain…and it’s fucking huge. A proper challenge for 14th-18th heroes. A giant fucking warband of half a hundred orcs, dozens of ogres, a captured White Dragon, Giants and some Ice trolls led by a high level half-ogre. There’s complicated enmities between various leaders that the PCs could try to exploit, but since the warband is not under the envelope of the tower of Azurax, it is equally likely they will die in fire, or broken by +5 weapons and giant’s strength. Do whatever the fuck you want with random encounters on the mountain, mentions Scott.

This module uses the Wilderness Survival Guide for mountaineering rules and its…not that good. Elaborate tables and classifications are used to separate the mountain into 3 different areas, with different risk factors depending on whether the PCs took training with their 6th level Barbarian Guide or no. Falling is bad but you have fifteen different options for Feather Fall, even if the fucking Wind storms might pose a problem here. As you get higher you get hit with avalanches, more environmental damage if you haven’t prepared accordingly, storms etc. etc. It’s an ordeal…and it probably should be, at this level. If you aren’t going to go outer planar the choice of having the adventure set in the most extreme of natural circumstances seems logical. Having some more actual encounters (Remorhaz or something equally shitty that is too dangerous to share a habitat with human beings) would have been a good way to break up the grueling monotony of cold damage and rolling for avalanches but maybe that is the actual point. You actually would have to sort of prepare to figure out a way to survive this brutal 54-hour death climb into regions completely and utterly unfit for human habitation so well done. At least when you get there you would be able to teleport back and forth between the plateau and the ground.

The beginning if effective because you immediately face an Azurax simulacrum that is only level 4, warning you away, primed with a delayed blast fireball to clue everyone in that this isn’t a joke. From thereon out it’s torture, but for character levels 14-18, you kind of need to bring extraordinary cruelty or they walk all over you. That means you take 1 damage per turn while inside the structure, divination, mobility and summoning is gimped…but not entirely eliminated, there are environmental features that you can learn to use against the opponent, certain rooms where these spells can be used. It seems horribly unfair but you sort of start to figure out the logic behind some of it.

There’s an odd mixture of pure Death Gauntlet from hell smackdown rooms and chambers fit for habitation, holding thousands of gp in ornate furniture and commodities. You are welcomed by the simulacrum of a Comeliness 25 lady that is the paramour of Azurax’s level 18 Ftr retainer, who was raised by Gythyanki and stole her from the land of Faerie. The entire first level is a sort of guest quarters, harmless, filled with (depressingly) mundane magical stuff like pots that cook food on command and whathaveyou. I think the module could have benefited from doing its non-combat set piece rooms better. A secret door leading to a winding stairway guarded by a SINGLE Level 5 Ftr Simulacrum in magic platemail. You have just had your smackdown, and now you are high on andrenalin, waiting for something to jump out, but it won’t come.

And then BOOM. Suddenly we are cooking with gas and you are thrown headfirst into a fucking furnace. HUEG set-piece battle with simulacra, Slaad, another fake Azurax that tells you to fuck off but this time he isn’t fucking around. Azurax himself uses wish to help the welcoming party. Then 8 rooms, portals to different planes. You can get yourself trapped in an alternate Prime ruled by Two-headed Dragon Kings. You can fight a death slaad and his buddies. There’s planes of fire and Earth. One is brutal, warning runes on the door ‘great evil locked within’, then you enter, and the gate glimmers and is beautiful and tells you ‘quickly! I have been imprisoned by the evil Azurax. You must free me!’ and it’s a wish-strength illusion covering a gateway to the negative energy plane.

The levels below (there’s about 38 rooms) has a few decent set pieces, even if they are not always placed properly. One of best rooms is a sparring chamber with a wobbling floor, with 15 animated suits of armor of different fighting ability, but its placed in an off the side location and the PCs could just skip it. Or fucking Lady Florimel from Spencer’s Faerie Queene is there. Or you can find the dreadful Lord Fell’s most prized possession. There’s the occasional little hints of awesome scattered about, but there is also a lot of dead air, or wasted potential. Finding Azurax’s portrait of longevity that is both the source his seemingly everlasting youth and his slow descent into Chaos and Evil is all but impossible, there is a ring of 3 wishes that is extremely well hidden and some of the traps before that are horribly horribly cruel and therefore perfect. But the module sometimes feels like it is going for a C- when it should be striving for a fucking S+. This is level 14-18. Where is my room with 30 Iron golems?

The climactic final battle is likely to end with Azurax escaping to become a longtime fucking nemesis but to the module’s credit it is perfectly possible to convince him to use a less dangerous form of life-extension and amount of misdirection and fuckery is admittedly well done, even if reaching for things like ‘wish-empowered-illusion’ is opening a can of worms that few can close, and Azurax himself is so tarted up with formidable bullshit powers that taking him down is actually a fucking challenge, but one that is almost attainable.

I’m tempted to throw this in the bin but because of the relative dearth of high level modules and the occasional searing points of light in this I don’t think it should be written off entirely. Hell’s Own Temple is still better. A very light ***. Try High level AD&D sometime.


10 thoughts on “[TenfootPOSR 6] Dungeon Magazine #10; Grindset

  1. Is the criminal organisation in “They also serve…” meant to be a parody of Spectre, with Number One, etc? There seems to be no sensible reason why the leading adventurers of the realm aren’t undertaking this adventure, teleporting to the location, and massacring the inhabitants who never surrender or run.
    The premise might make sense if the stakes were lowered somewhat. But the stealthy raid, using illusion, charm, magical divination and trickery seems to have morphed into a series of combat encounters and traps checks.
    Your scathing review might err on the side of generosity.
    Well that has cleansed your reviewing palate. Did you not once eloquently speak of “gargling horsepiss”?

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      1. Read this now. In the style of the Giants (G) series, and anyone who liked the naturalistic dungeon levels in those should enjoy this. So that is every reader on this blog! Mass combat against devils will be more complicated due to their inate spell-like abilities, but there are helpful notes on tactics. The maps are clear and crisp.
        Once more I think Prince has picked up the key points in his review. The referee will need to provide various details for the action prior to the dungeon (e.g. Blessed Fleet veteran rumour table, sea encounters, island map). The dungeon itself would benefit from a side-view map to reinforce details such that there are hundreds of feet of stairs to the Under Caverns, the bottom of 4 The Pit is area 7, 200′ below. I have my doubts the Fire Giants will challenge such a high level group, even with their attacks considered crushing blows; I would increase their number to four (or maybe six). (The hell hounds are an excellent choice of initial guards.) Maybe a few more hints of the previous assault: a captive in constant suffering (in area 14); is the corpse in 7 Valkar?
        We really need a playtest by those skilled in handling high level characters. Summon the Alehouse!

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      2. Thanks for taking the time to read the adventure and provide your feedback…I appreciate that. A couple notes for clarification:

        – I haven’t play-tested the adventure yet (shame! shame!)…all the more reason for me to offer it for free rather than try to turn a profit on DriveThru…so it’s quite possible that the numbers in some encounters are skewed. However, the wide diversity of possible high level parties is such that it’s difficult to really provide an effective challenge unless chaining the players to a specific swath of pre-gens. Point is: as written, some challenges may prove more difficult for some groups than others.

        – These are LARGE fire giants (11+5 HD equate to a higher THAC0, even if you’re not a DM that adds an attack bonus for giant strength + weapons), and should manage some resource depletion (hit points, spells, charges, crushed equipment, etc.) but I’d HOPE they wouldn’t end up a TPK. Now, incautious parties that decide to just start a big fight with the hell hounds are probably going to draw the fire giants into the combat, and THAT could end up bad (especially if the group has an invisible Bronna stalking them at the same time), but it’s still one of the early encounters…a warm-up to larger things.

        – There ARE remnants of the prior assault, but part of the idea I was trying to convey was that the Blessed Fleet never made it into the Under Caverns. They lost Valkar and ended up retreating, sealing the caverns behind them, and smash-grabbing what they could on the way out. I’d like players to feel like they’re entering ominous, uncharted territory once they descend into the caverns.

        – I decided to leave the identity of the corpse in #7 ambiguous. My own thought is that that this is actually the body of either Malhavoc (the ghost found in the appendix) or some underpriest, who was racing to unlock the Hell Knight’s “vault” during the invasion, slipped and splattered at the bottom of the shaft. Valkar’s final fate is deliberately mysterious (the adventure is not supposed to be a rescue mission, after all), and my guess is that his body was already fed to the Eternal Flame. However, other possibilities include his body rotting at the bottom of an oubliette, entombed in the ice of the crystal cave, or being imprisoned in one of the planes of hell that can be accessed through the Lake of Blood and Fire. Regardless, it would be incredibly ambitious to try to bring back Valkar, and I’d leave it to individual DMs to determine his fate based on the players’ capabilities.
        ; )

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      3. That map is an excellent find.

        It is plausible that the devils carried off some prisoners and maybe the corpse of Valkar. Perhaps they were damaged by the latter’s holy aura (even in death) and threw the body aside.

        I’d love to read play reports from Settembrini’s group, or an EOTB led expedition. The magic-users are sure to be packing lots of lightning bolts and magic missiles; I’m keen on the prayer and magic missile combination, I like hold monster, and for desperate combats the warriors should be hasted. They will have a lot of defensive spells running, and holding their ground/retreating when spells run low.

        The module is exactly the sort of G-series inspired creation I like to see: it is not a retread, but new theme enhanced.
        The 5e hardbacks seem to belong to the tradition of greenlighting “Terminator 17”.

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  2. @ Prince:

    RE Robert Kelk

    After reading this review and and the one you did for Dungeon #5 I did some research to see what else he might have written. Besides a rather throwaway article in Dragon #116, Kelk’s earlier work “The Stolen Power” appears in the 2E “Road to Danger,” a collection of low-level adventures culled from Dungeon. With regard to Kelk, DriveThru notes:

    ‘ “The Stolen Power” by Robert Kelk was published in Dungeon #5 (May/June 1987). By this time Roger Moore said that Dungeon was being “flooded” with submissions. Kelek [sic] would return for the occasional Dungeon adventure, but unlike John Nephew and Grant Boucher, he wouldn’t move on to full supplements.’

    He does not seem to have been active after 1987.

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