No Art Punks
Lvl 4 – 6
An entry by legendary DCC artist Peter Mullen for mid level AD&D? I’ll take it!
The wanted Poster hung outside the Village trading post and fish market door by the town
deputy confirms the identity of that bearded Vagabond you saw rowing into the Sea Cave just
south of town four days ago. More importantly, it states that Darvel the Dashing is worth 5000
GP* Dead or Alive!
Five Thousand gold pieces is a lot of money!
Good style, a little breezy in a way that illustrates the joy it brought to its creator. No rumor table, no starting town. 13 pages of pure, uncut dungeon. And yet some preparations are indeed made in advance. Myriad rival agents, from the Assassin Thurgood to the brothers Milton and Fritz, or, dare we say it, the shapechanging inhabitants of the dreaded Sea Cave try to team up with party or beat them to the punch and there is even a rival adventuring party consisting of a family of drunken yokels starts off a few days after you set out. Nice. I would have enjoyed some extra ability scores and other stats besides just the levels (as has been done for the assassin) but we are off to a good start.
Let’s get something out of the way. The map.
Which sent me screeching into my basement where I spent three days in a paranoid fugue state wrapped in a tinfoil poncho drinking filtered water laced with virility supplements because for a moment I could have sworn…
The idiot flailings of the overactive pattern recognition. Probably a byproduct of too much chess. Regardless, feast your eyes back on the original map. It looks gorgeous. At first I was like: ‘There is no fucking way that map is useful’ but if you look at the entrance and at the evenly spaced dots that cover every part of the exposed isometric floor and that form 10 foot squares then you suddenly discover that, yes, you can use it. It has a scale, the corridors are actually seperated by walls so you will not run into problems of describing it, doors are marked with an L or an S if they are locked or hidden and gosh darn it different colors are used to indicate if an area is submerged or no. I am still suspicious about the extra few seconds it might take a person to figure out the geometry of some of it (say, the passageway that passes over 22 does not actually intersect 22, and that is an easy mistake to make), but this does, by and large work. The one omission I can see is a high tide/low tide mechanic, which would have required additional colors but might have been interesting.
Is it good? Yeah it’s pretty damn good. Nice, thicc Random encounter table, d15 entries (uh, d20 and just don’t use the last 5 I guess). Everything is doing something, creating the impression of a vivid ecosystem. It doesn’t reach Perlammo Salt Mines levels, but it does very nicely reflect this idea of a fantastical ecology, Tsojcanth style. The bulk of the random encounters are either monsters already inhabiting the caves or parties of goblins or dwarves, searching for the stragglers trapped in the Sea Caves when the flood started and the water level rose. Random encounter chance is set at 1 in 6 for every EMPTY CAVE which is a curious inaccuracy, considering the map has scale and everything, but I won’t complain. The elaboration is often only a single sentence but a single sentence is enough to get some context.
(3-24) Giant Rats. 90% of the time they flee and swarm in order to get away. If more than
half of the party is wounded or are weakened these rats will instead attack! -AC 7, MV
12”//6”, HD 1-4hp, DMG 1-3 +Chance of disease.
HP (4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1)
(2-3) Giant Crabs fighting over a dead giant rat. -AC 3, MV 9”, HD 3, DMG 2-8/2-8,
Surprise on 1-4
HP (15, 13, 10)
The crazy geometry of the map and submerged areas aside, there is not much in the way of pits cave-ins or other natural hazards, which is a little unexpected, though there are two VERY COOL narrow tunnels that can only be entered via Potion of Diminution, small halfling, or the weird ass Snake Cult Scale Mail that allows people to contort themselves into areas that would not even fit their bones.
What this adventure nails, and nails well, is good old, standard, home-grown, natural, 100% especial AD&D like your uncle used to make it before he was arrested. There is an astonishing diversity of favorites from both the Caves and the Sea encounter lists alongside the weirder intruders, but what is critical is how they are used. It walks, nay, gallumphs a confident line between just ‘they attack’ and trying to turn every encounter into some sort of vignette or perhaps a scene from Friends where everyone won’t shut the fuck up. Piercers pierce, Stirges attack from the ceiling, Crabs surge forward to inflict devastation, yes, but then you get to a band of Bugbears pirates loudly feasting and bragging about their daring raids, a band of dwarves that got trapped and have since found a promising vein of silver they want to mine, an Ogre running an honest to god rat-roasting fastfood joint, an war party of underwater Hobgoblins in diving suits!!!, a Leprechaun amusing himself scaring everyone pretending it’s a Sea Drake via illusions… and it just keeps on slamming like that.
Take the Ogre.
11. Obb the Ogre -This cave entrance has a sign on a board that reads, “Stop! No entry beyond
line. Yell for service. -Management.” From within issues a delicious smell of something roasting!
Further in a little way is a line drawn in bright multi-spectrum paint on the floor.
If any PC’s cross the line, Obb’s pet piercer drops on them by surprise 95% of the time. Obb alerted, reels in the piercer by the rope attached to it and whatever it impaled. Hopefully a big juicy rat he can add to the others already roasting on skewers over his fire. This ogre will roast what he catches and anything over his line is fair game! If more critters have crossed his line he will hurl his harpoon next and reel it in the following round.
If instead, PC’s yell for service, Obb calls back his menu and price. He instructs them to leave
their payment on the flat rock at the line and he will leave the food next to it. Once they back
away he emerges with roasted rats on skewers in one hand and his trusty harpoon in the other.
They are excellent and cost 1 GP each
And so on, and obviously the ogre has treasure etc. etc. The point is, there is a richness to the encounters but it is not overwritten to ensnare the reviewer. A cave with several piercers is not exciting but as part of a framework it works VERY WELL. This sort of balance, with aggressive monsters, trickery, ambiguous or even friendly monsters, like, say, the Goblin tribe in 23, that can be plied and is the only group that knows the location of Darvel the Dashing. Or you can talk to the treacherous Gustave the Giant Spider  who will trade his knowledge for a tasty halfling, and will stalk the party to ambush them at a later point if his (very reasonable) demands are not met. The Koaliths can be allied with but will betray people at a later date etc. etc. Great use of intelligent tactics for intelligent creatures also. Proper orders of battle, very nice.
So this all slaps pretty hard. Finding the fugitive serves as the lynchpin for this exploration and it helps that doing so is actually quite difficult. He is well concealed, behind a difficult to find secret door, or else a circuitous route will lead the party to him eventually. The final encounter is demented, he more or less completes his plan just as the PCs blunder upon him, a storygaming convenience that I will overlook, and the final fight is a demented scramble as he and his 5 doppleganger minions that all resemble him struggle to flee and complete the blowing of the great horn, embedded in a gigantic Water Elemental, to summon the once vanquished STORM KING from his prison, and with him his host of undead sea giants. For once the STORM KING has the decency not to show up immediately to obliterate the party, and instead arrives weeks later, accompanied by a great storm and the enraged howling of Mr. Jonathan Becker at yet another instance where an ancient evil is awakened by a villain and must be stopped before it is unleashed.
In keeping with the more Gygaxian school of this work (as opposed to the Jaquaysian model which relies more heavily on weird shit, secret doors, teleportation etc.) there is not a great deal of weird objects to interact with, though there is the odd faded cthuloid idol that contains, among other things, a diminutive obsidean man that can be awakened by an evil cleric and sent against enemies (which I believe is a minor violation of my edict of only using book items with one exception, as the Scale Mail should count towards one). And then the other idol is actually a giant crab covered in barnacles IT ATTACKS. YEEEAAAH. Actually now that I reread it, this adventure also has paint that can only be seen via infravision, and a 10000 gp gemstone that emits a howl as of a banshee’s wail if it is immersed in water. And later on a unique dagger that shrinks its enemies on a crit. A tiny red cross is set in the checkbox and we continue with our enumeration of this adventure’s virtues.
Yeah treasure is good, what did you expect? I don’t mean good as in, it looks pretty, although it does look pretty, I mean it is good as in how it is used. It is stowed in hard to reach locations, it is hidden, it is sewn into vests. There’s little complications, like a strongbox with a huge hoard but there’s oil of slipperiness and breaking open the chest will shatter the vial over the rest of the treasure, causing most of it to be lost. I am talking about a big difference between the haul of an average party, and the haul of a superb, skillfull party. That’s what we like to see. General treasure is something like this.
Gurrzguzz -Bugbear Leader AC 0 (+2 Shield with an emblem from the fabled city of Nessus),
MV 9”, HD 4, HP (30) DMG 4-10, Surprise on 1-3. This monster carries a pouch of 50 PP and
50 GP and carefully stitched in the padding of his leathern vest are a golden necklace with
emeralds worth 500 GP and matching jeweled earrings worth 300 GP for his mate back home.
Stacked against the wall are several sealed casks with the loot! 5000 CP, 3000 EP, and 3000
GP. Another barrel (unsealed and obviously sampled) has about 20 bottles of various vintages.
Some are quite fine and others are not. Bugbears are not connoisseurs. One is a potion of
So there is the important caveat that this one violated one of the strictures of No Artpunk, which means it will be penalized in the final listing, but this is otherwise a very strong entry for people that want to play some fucking AD&D. No stunt-writing, no gimmick, no high concept here (I mean okay, the last part is very high concept), just the game as is, and a skillfull hand, capable of utilizing its potential. I guess a minor caveat is that normally you expect a large reward at the final showdown but in this case, the party is going to have to make due with several magic items and the 5000 gp bounty on poor Darvel’s head. Reminds me of a busier, more interactive version of Tsojcanth.
As I have previously mentioned, picking only 8 of these things is going to be heartwrenching so I will have to look deep into my blackened heart and pray for the strength to make the tough decisions.
 Indeed, haywire pattern recognition would observe the parallels between the Gustave of the Sea Caves and the one of the real world are striking
21 thoughts on “[No-Artpunk] #21 No Art Punks”
He’s getting dinged on points due to the map? That’s what violated the “No Artpunk” rule?
No he’s getting a minor ding on points because of a custom unique dagger +2/+3 vs large creatures that casts diminution on the target on a nat 20, a unique magic scale mail that allows one to move through narrow spaces, the infravision paint is a corner case and the gemstone that screams like a wail of the banshee if immersed in water is a similar corner case. They are all good additions, they might make the adventure a little better, but I must be firm.
Dinged for magic items out of scope is understood. We have rules for a reason or else we’d turn into RPG.netland
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That map looks gorgeous (wouldn’t expect anything less from a bona fide professional artist) but I always wonder when looking at maps like this if you couldn’t redraw it “flat” without actually losing anything and making it more fictional and easier to parse visually. Especially for GM-facing maps: I understand that when you’re putting something in front of the players there’s more incentive to make something visually striking, but at least when I’m DMing I want things to be as plainly functional as possible.
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Thanks Trent! I agree, the Isometric maps aren’t perfect because you are only able to see certain sides but it was nice to be able to see the verticality of the dungeon which I still think could be exploited more. Maybe at some point when things settle down! Flat maps are still better at conveying the most info but wish there was something that could merge them together better in paper form. A digital/animated image could do it but that would have to be someone versed it that stuff!
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Nice work Peter, great looking map! That’s worth getting printed out and put on my wall.
FRIENDS: The RPG is being written as I type this.
Who will YOU be there for?
Roll for simultaneous napping on the couch, motherfucker!
Remove the Laugh Track for an old school challenge!
That map is in all seriousness amazeballs.
> As I have previously mentioned, picking only 8 of these things is
> going to be heartwrenching so I will have to look deep into my
> blackened heart and pray for the strength to make the tough
Will the “No Artpunk Companion” finally materialise with the not-top-8 entries from contests one and two? Please say yes or, as the kids say these days, “shut up and take my money!”
It is indeed an impressive map, though I agree with Trent that its purpose is to assist the DM with their descriptions of the dungeon. I’ve done a small number of isometric maps to play around with but I’ve always felt that they need a lot of white space to be useful.
This adventure reason da great and I hope it makes the cut despite its transgressions.
Woah! I really wanna try this one.
Very cool, Peter! Hope you are well.
Thanks for the review Prince and especially for the fun contest!
This idea was started around a conversation on Isometric Mapping in D&D and whether it was worth the time and effort and what did it really contribute to the DM in running the adventure. I’ve taught isometric drawing as a faster and cheaper alternative to the longer drawn-out and perplexing Linear Perspective models to my Intro students for their visual paradox projects and 3D forms paintings and figured it would be a good exercise and something I could either apply or dismiss outright!
Ultimately, the ISO maps are fun to draw. My next Isometric map will be more exact and I would like to try color-coding different levels. Maybe like strata in the geological maps you can find around? I also need to work on the mapping symbols. I think there would be some really interesting ways to depict traps and secret passages with this but I didn’t have the time to explore all the possibilities yet. (Like the tides idea!)
I forgot to scrub-off the embellishments for the magic items. Scale mail +2 is cool, don’t get me wrong, but scale mail +2 made from a revered gigantic snake nurtured by an evil Snake-man cult should allow the wearer to squeeze into some tight spots and maybe require the wearer to sun themselves to warm-up enough to function without a penalty in cooler weather… Right? Costs and effects!
For the ending maybe a timed element could be a better solution, find Darvel and his minions in 4 days or the horn sounds and Storm King shows up in 1d6 days? (I like the idea of a delay because it tends to lull some into a false sense of security.)
Thanks again and I hope it was at least fun the read through!
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Hell yeah dude, fantastic you could join!
I think as an advocation for the re-introduction of isometric mapping, men could have done far worse.
I am running into some of the more stringent contest limitations because a lot of these new items tend to be very good and make the adventure better but I do still want to incentivize the use of mostly book material, and any new items in the context of the existing library. I’ll consider how to resolve this conundrum more precisely with the next edition.
Putting a definite date of arrival on the Storm King would help but it is a very minor quibble I think.
It was a great readthrough, and, well, you’ll see how well you did.
The map is pretty.
This looks like it might be a frustrating adventure…both to play and to run. Just a gut feeling I get (especially wrt “running” the adventure), but…
…if the hook is “find this bandit” this is a really epic length labyrinth. PCs expecting to prep for an outlaw gang hideout are going to find themselves lost in an epic length delve. Which is…kind of dirty pool? Mmm. I’m having a hard time describing this. I guess, if it were ME playing and my party found ourselves in some sort of weird underworld ecosystem with multiple faction groups (goblin tribes, bugbears, koalinths) I’d be tempted to bug out two or three encounters in. “What the hell is this? I thought this was just a bounty hunt! F this noise!”
And then, of course, if the party *does* bug out, then Who O Who will save the world from the awakening devastation of the STORM KING. O my, you MUST stop this madman, my Precious Little Heroes!
[yes, there I go “howling” again]
My reservations probably seem a tad overblown. ‘Jeez, dude, it’s just an adventure, do you want to D&D tonight or what?’ Sure, man, but I don’t just “D&D to D&D.” I can clearly remember playing in some adventure…decades ago…where some princess lost her damn dog down a well, and the adventurers being hired by the king to retrieve it, and then ending up in some nightmare labyrinth underground scenario and it being Not Great Fun. That’s the kind of rope-a-dope that leads PCs to not want to play dungeon adventures. Certainly did with our group, back in the day, and we weren’t even mature adults.
SO…probably I’m just not the target demographic for this type of adventure. Unless I’m doing a demo or a play-test, I’m generally not doing one-offs (and this looks a little long for a con game anyway)…rather, I have to see a way for an adventure to be workable within my campaign. This one looks a little “death-trappy” for an AD&D adventure (at least, the way I run ’em)…a bit tough for players to map, good chance of them getting lost and running out of resources (men, food, light, spells, etc.) and then dying a frustrating demise. PCs in the 4-6 level range don’t have much in the “get out of jail free cards” (word of recall, teleport) and the distances here look loooong. A group that goes in unprepared (because they’re expecting something different) may find themselves in deep trouble, without some really heads up play (for example, NOT killing humanoids, taking hostages and/or negotiating to find ways out, etc.). And PCs in the 4-6 range aren’t always the most “heads up” players in this regard. Expectations, you know (“let’s just fireball ’em!”).
Pretty map, though.
Hey Jonathan! I guess we always played with the concept of things snowballing into a crazy get out alive if you can kind of thing. I don’t think we ever entered a dungeon truly prepared for what was down there, in fact, I wouldn’t say we ever clearly beat a dungeon to be honest but we loved it! Especially when we would be fighting recurring villains or monsters that always beat us and got away by a couple lucky rolls. That said, everyone has their preferences and should stick with what they consider to be fun. Thank you for the feedback though, I really appreciate it!
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You’re welcome and I apologize if I sound over-harsh.
I am in the same camp with pmullen, our adventures off keep unfolding and we sort of go with the flow. Our objectives never stayed all that purposeful or linear.
Sounds like a fun adventure location to me. Well done pm! The map is very cool.
This contest continues to draw out some great work.