What’s Wrong With The Woonder Well (2019)
Unbalanced Dice Games
Mid level (4-6?)
Typing with one hand is laborious. Will I be more frugal with words? Let us see.
WWWTWW is the key to UBDGs method. At 40 pages, It is the Lagrange point for his efforts, and in reading it his ways unveiled themselves before me. It is written for the mid levels (4-7?), and its structure mirrors that of Eructation or Broken God’s pain.
The basic model of the Dungeon is a non-linearly arranged set of obstacles and rewards that can be crawled through in different ways and even abandoned halfway through, usually with the difficulty of the obstacles increasing proportional to the reward. In an UBDG adventure, victory cannot always be achieved only through mastery of standard dungeon crawling procedures and tactics. Instead the players are forced to immerse themselves in the self-contained and often disturbing fantasy world of the dungeon, understand its purpose, interact with its strangeness and use that knowledge to find the way to succeed. There is no fluff in an UBDG adventure. The premise and the adventure are inextricably intertwined.
In Eructation the Goblin Troll is invulnerable until his protective sheath of bottles is abandoned. In Dying Sword the wraith must first be ‘activated’ and the hazards of the area mapped out. In Broken Gods Pain the Sea God must be reassembled. In Woonder Well the source of the corruption can likewise not be defeated by mere force of arms.
The premise; The old Woonder Well, out at that edge of the forest had always given gifts for milk. The well stops giving its gifts, and dead cows begin to appear. Villagers ask the PCs for help. Down the well is a complex belonging to an Elven goddess that served as the wells source of power. Now it has been corrupted by the minions of the Ull(?) lord Pucka-Cruck.
This dungeon is fundamentally a puzzle, and as they navigate its tunnels the PCs must figure out the hierarchy between the well’s bizarre horrors, the triple idol of Pucka-Cruck, the undying half-ooze high-priest Poodun and the significance of the mysterious Woonder Balls. D&D meets Sierra adventure game.
Perhaps critically, the actual dungeon crawling part is no slouch either. Trick doors, Monsters to both attack AND avoid (the Idol foremost), deadly tricks (an illusionary gold chest at the bottom of lake occupied by a giant shark), the odd order of battle (!) and even grudgingly hidden pockets of wealth and magical treasure, all of these make their appearance in a pretty good 30 room dungeon.
The bestiary is customarily bizarre and includes the following:
And the terrible petrifying might of
Its all strongly themed and abides by its own demented, internal consistency.
Treasure is actually bordering on decent for once (a few magic weapons, over 10k worth of treasure, most of which is WELL HIDDEN), hoard class is actually used and the creatures and additional objective XP might actually result in a level up for once. A petrified heart that can turn stone to flesh, shark fins that allow waterbreathing if glued on, a black bead that is like an animated figurine of a black pudding or non-standard variations; two halves of a staff of striking that must be glued or tied together for effect. Its got a strong OD&D vibe.
Format drawbacks remain constant over time and can be found in other reviews. They are never dealbreaking.
This one should be doable in a few sessions and serves as a very good introduction to UBDG and weirdo D&D in general. I suspect it is very playable and might have JUST enough normal elements to drop in your home campaign for a bizarre detour. The true nature of Pucka Cruck remains concealed until the utterly insane 279-page sequel, which I am currently reading.
That took time. Check it out. UBDG deserves some love. High ***