[Review] The Beholder #7 (AD&D): Changing of the Guard

The landmark ‘Monster Monster’ issue, containing not only the results of the monster design contest but also a review of the 1e Dungeon Master Guide. Interesting features are slowly starting to creep into the published adventures.



Super Monster competition. An eclectic collection of beasties in the image of White Dwarf Magazine. Low on gygaxian naturalism, high on bizarre and interesting abilities. The viewer submitted nature of the collection renders it less even then the usual bestiary, but for all that there are several interesting entries. Hand drawn art, very important for a bestiary, adorns half the entries. The contest winner, the Relkor, seems to have been inspired by the Burrough’s Kaldane. The second and third are less strong then some of the other entries. The Stone Creature is a sort of predatory ogre that can switch from stone form to flesh, and uses this to pose as an innocent creature and attack people in the rear, and while it does work, even the judge notes some sort of ambushing power would have helped flesh it out some more. The Bleeder is a variant of rust monster that feeds on the iron in people’s blood, causing hemophilia with a touch, which progresses in 5 stages and takes time to recover. But why select these in favor of tiny fire-breathing flies, or the Greebly, a hairy, primitive form of Giant with d20 fist attacks and a mortal fear of fire (50% chance they go berserk instead). Shadows that can mimic voices, gold-plated rays that trip and choke enemies, a terrifying floating acid bubble that obliterates and maims with each shot, there are standout entries among the palette swapped kobolds, 1 HD creatures with a lightning bolt ability or a bizarre type of dog whose bite gives one natural armor. Someone needs to gather all of these motley freaks together and create a dungeon complex worthy of their strangeness.

Dragonmeet II. Report of attending Dragonmeet. The most interesting are the complaints of attending other people’s games and hearing the litany of terrible rulings. The author first suffered a TPK in G3, then is exposed to a litany of bullshit calls, anti-clerics and paladins in the same party, getting murdered because he announced the party was entering a door, and then the GM ruled only the character (an illusionist) went, getting murdered by a Clay Golem that the character was outrunning and dying in a low level dungeon because the character cast light on himself and tried to trick a group of hobgoblins into believing he was some sort of spirit and it did not work (I hope the GM at least allowed a morale check). Harrowing.

The Goblin Complex
Mike Stoner & Guy J Duke
OD&D
Lvl 1-3 (but 6 characters of 3rd level is ideal).

Versimilitude and the Order of Battle at long last make their way into the pages of The Beholder with The Goblin Complex. There are, apparently, some growing pains. Also pretty interesting, the house rules used for this adventure have been stated explicitly, allowing a deeper understanding of the execution.

Once again, good but humble premise. A horde of monstrous humanoids invaded the region an masse, only to be driven back after months of fighting by the aid of a herd of Ki-rin. Most of the monsters dispersed, some remained behind in various nooks and crannies. One particular lair has been discovered and the PCs have been comissioned to ‘mop them up’ before they form a power base.

Versimilitude but at what price? The Goblin Complex is a monster lair, stuffed with guardrooms, storerooms, a pool, kitchens and thronerooms, and inhabited by Goblins, Hobgoblins, Ogres and the odd monster. Considerations of what the Goblins do if they are captured or bribed are good. What do I make of the decision to have random encounters take place every 10 minutes, unavoidably? We do not likes it my precious. Not one bit. The map is pretty solid, with occasional use of secret doors to provide alternate pathways through the dungeon proper.

The random encounter or more appropriately random event table has some impulses but the application is a little fucked. Have monsters actually depart from certain rooms and wandering the complex is good, even if it is hard to keep track of where they are, but some of these events are too unlikely for that particular frequency. A goblin reads the explosive runes in room 20 and it goes off, freeing the vengeful skeletons who will now rampage through the complex. A wight begins haunting the rest of the place. There is a coup. One wonders how long the Goblins have managed to survive here if such chaotic events are so commonplace. Parsing the table between a wandering monster table and an events table that is rolled each time the adventurers sally forth into the complex may have been better.

Encounters are…pretty good? Everything has been given a place in the complex and an effort is made to get the most out of the limited monster choice. I can buy a lone goblin guy in a loincloth reading a book in Lizardman actually being a wizard with a prepared sleep spell. Actually, that’s perfect. But the adventure also has Hobgoblin monks, hobgoblins in plate mail, goblins with a tame Giant Schorpion, goblins using torches and flasks of oil, a goblin with a ring of animal control using it to control tigers, a hobgoblin cult with a hobgoblin cleric prowling the place looking for victims to sacrifice to their idol (inside the mouth of the idol is a Phase Spider!). The monsters with class levels bit has me a bit suspicious, evne though encountering 4 unarmed unarmoured hobgoblins and then having them start karate chopping the party is a brutal suprise, brilliant in its own way. The idol and things like trap doors and false doors also raises questions of how long the Goblins have been down here, and whether or not they have unearthed this place themselves. A minor quibble, easy to brush off, but having them inhabit an extant complex would have provided more leeway. The hidden section with a Black Dragon and his hoard is also appreciated, as is the Hobgoblins resorting to the use of a minor rock throwing apparatus (which of course the PCs could repurpose). Characters that are obviously chieftains (a Goblin in plate wielding a battleaxe with a guard of ogres) are not labelled as such, which is confusing.

It is a bit ironic that the intelligent reponse to threats, which is played up at the beginning, is not given much support. Beyond the initial guard room, which will send out patrols in response to noise and intensity, you might have the odd goblin watching a hallway, but a truely organized response to intruders, or the Chieftain and his elite retainers gathering somewhere to meet the assault, this is not supported.

There are some interesting features to break up what would otherwise be an intense but routine extermination mission i.e. ‘Swords in front, spears in the second row, take one alive so he can tell us where the gold is, kill the rest.’ There’s a prisoner wizard being tortured, skeletons that you can unleash (you will probably kill them but whatever) and a handful of traps, one of them a particularly nasty trapdoor. It follows the principles of a proper fucking dungeon.

Speaking of which, I don’t trust the treasure one bit. It seems very low for the amount of opposition the characters are likely to face, even if the amount of magic items seems just right. It is telling even the Black Dragon only has 1000 gp and 3000 sp. For six characters, some of whom are going to die, you are going to end up with less then 1000 gp each. Not all adventures are made equal, but what a bitter pill to swallow. The opposition actually using its potions is good, but once again adds to the brutality of the adventure.

This one is about on the fence. For a goblin lair, it has a lot of variety and makes creative use of a limited palette of enemies. On the other hand, this is going to be a slog and you have to be prepared for that. 4 Ogres, one with max hp. Hobgoblins in platemail. Hordes of monstrous humanoids. It feels like the ultra-difficult secret bonus level of B2.

As an illustration of the variety of a humanoid lair it is interesting but the wonky random encounters, the brutal difficulty and the lack of treasure is going to make this more punishing then rewarding for most. Gm’s looking for a particularly meaty humanoid lair might find it worthwhile.

**

Play Test. Another play test report detailing an assault on a japanese keep filled with samurai. The tactics and gambits used by the party to overcome their massive numerical disadvantage are the most interesting. Mercenaries performing a diversionary attack combined with invisibility 10 ft. radius, casting wizard lock to hold a door into place, cutting off massive reinforcements, use of phantasmal force against an ogre mage, cutting off the chieftain’s head and interrogating it with Speak With Dead later etc. I notice also ad hoc rulings to cover situations not accounted for in the rules, like trying to scare off a giant boar by thrusting a torch at its face, and ending up with it perishing of heart failure as a result of a ’00.’ Sounds cool, where can we check out this adventure?

The AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide, A precis. Review of the dungeon master guide. Most of it goes over the new additions to the game in comparison to OD&D and will seem old hat to anyone even tangentially familiar with the subject. The enthusiasm is nice to see.

Magic jar. GP and XP values have been added for magic items, nice. Solid additions to the extant arsenal. A skull that can be set to watch an area and trigger a fear-effect if approached. A portable wall of bones that gnashes anyone trying to pass it. An enchanted battering ram head and a scarab that burrows through fortifications. Domain play was on the brain when they wrote this section. The consideration of items as solutions to problems IN THE GAME is critical and an examination of 2e’s Tome of Magic illustrates dreadfully the consequences of its loss.

Middling issue, the monsters are good and there’s very little filler, but the adventure has not eclipsed prior efforts. Here’s hoping for more weird wilderness style adventures.







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10 thoughts on “[Review] The Beholder #7 (AD&D): Changing of the Guard

  1. That goblin lair sounds quite nice. Far too many dungeons are static. That one sure doesn’t sound like it is.

    And really, if you think about it “something interesting happens every ten minutes” is no more artificial than “this wizard is being tortured whenever the PCs show up – whatever time, however long they take to get here.”

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    1. Yes it is. It is a matter of probability. It should be understood that a place that has become established is always going to have some prisoners from continuous raids, warfare or whathaveyou. Showing up while they are torturing someone is not unlikely since for most of the tortures the PCs would not have been present. But having an established location be super chaotic and not having that reflected in the writing (where the place is reasonably orderly) is weak writing.

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      1. The point that was made was that something happening every ten minutes was every bit as artificial as a prisoner being tortured while the PCs showed up. I contended that any particular prisoner was going to be part of a constant influx of prisoners that the complex would gather as part of its standard operations. Your response is not a good counter, because it requires more artificiality, not less. The conditions on that particular day are radically different then any other day. First of all, that’s not true, you can retreat and come back and have the same table. Second: Okay, why? Its not that it can’t work, its that it is more artificial and you need to write around that or consider it or whatever.

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  2. Having a fully stated, proper Goblin Complex lying around is a good thing! Interesting to get contemparary corroboration of the reception of the DMG at the time. It truly is the Red Boxians, who later would trample upon its legacy.

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  3. I find these reviews great. This type of D&D, amateurish with a high risk of hit & miss is really where the joy of the hobby is for me. The type of material presented is a challenge to all of us on whether we can do better.

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  4. Did you miss #6?

    I normally absolutely loathe Orcs In A Hole scenarios, they tend to be plagued by the most mundane naturalism and have been done to death. This one is also a mess, but probably a hot one.

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