[Review] AA2 The Red Mausoleum (OSRIC); Tombmaxxing

The Red Mausoleum (2006)

James C. Boney (Expeditious Retreat Press)
Lvl 12 – 15

There is something about many Tomb adventures that seems inherently static or limited. By its very nature the PCs are intruding into a space that has remained mostly undisturbed (even with random encounters this will remain in force), and the most likely progression will be that of the PCs mounting a sequential series of careful ventures, wearing down the Tombs defenses one by one, solving its riddles, breaking off if their resources get too depleted and perhaps losing the occasional character to a cunning trap or unlucky combat. This fundamental structure does not appear to change much with the expected level of the characters, although as we can see, complications and developments are possible.

Red Mausoleum is pretty good, maybe even very good. The room descriptions are long and slightly generic, possibly to aid placement into one’s own fantasy adventure campaign, but underneath it is something that has a a real weird vibe to it. There is a mastery of the dungeoncrawling fundamentals combined with some interesting flourishes and additions. It also uses both gameplay and thematic elements to give one a feel of descending into a place of terrible, ancient and transcendent evil.

The Sister-moors, a war-torn region now enjoying over a century of peace, are once again disturbed. A gnomish settlement has been wiped off the earth. Baronial guards report clashes with the walking dead. The baron promises 50 gp for every undead head you come across (and hoping you don’t go Blood Meridian) and the Gnome king throws in another 7500 gp. The high level equivalent of working pro-bono, but who knows, there might be lucrative finds in there.

Red Mausoleum is an adventure set for 5-8 PCs of level 12-15. It is designed to give a high level of challenge to PCs who have “seen and done it all.”

Looks like I came to the right place.

Some useful preliminaries, notes on what happens if the PCs, through various means, attempt to research the origins of the Red Mausoleum, a location that predates the current human settlement into the region. There is a rumor table and some notes on the nearest town and its prominent NPCs, which is appreciated. The great antiquity of the Tomb is hinted at in other ways. All writing in the tomb is in some ancient tongue the PCs have no way of knowing initially (but of course there is magic) but later on they have a chance to get their hands on a pictograhical lexicon so they can translate. Ancient and accursed tomes with names like the Red Antiquities or the living Book of Wrynn add to the sense of lovecraftian evil.

As the players rise in skill and the characters rise in ability and resources, a way of maintaining challenge is to pile on complexity. The tomb is no longer within a day’s convenient travelling distance from the nearest village, being placed instead somewhere in the perpetually fog-shrouded superstitiously avoided centre of the Sister-marches. Narrow and hidden paths are the only way through, and a guide can be hired for a steep fee (he will certainly not stay but will return on a fixed day for 200 gp). A long list of random encounters with various marsh critters (but besides some ghouls, no undead! ominious!) and a druid that attempts to warn people away from the Mausoleum serve as additional speed bumps. A high level party worth its salt is likely going to have ways of dealing with this complication, from scrying to flight to find the path, but it is good that AA2 at least makes the effort, considers complications like the PCs getting lost and does not waste overmuch time covering conditions that are likely to be bypassed.

Red Mausoleum proper starts off with a fantastic set piece to introduce the dungeon: all the vegetation within 50 yards is withered and crimson, then a flat red slab of unknown stone surrounded by 4 fifteen foot statues and no visible means of ingress. Magical sigils adorn each weapon. The PCs can either translate the sigils, find 4 words, and perhaps come upon some combination that will open portal, or if they stare at the red stone slab for too long, they are overcome with some compulsion and begin babbling the words hysterically for 10 minutes Lovecraft style, perhaps inadvertently triggering the portal. The whole thing is foreshadowing for the adventure to come: You have to use your mind, pay attention to detail and experiment.

Three tomb levels proper, not quite a sprawling maze but at least somewhat nonlinear with the exception of the 3rd level. The adventure follows the rhythm of room –> investigation –> trap –> treasure pretty closely. Occasional secret chambers or false doors keep the PCs on their toes. The entryway closes behind the PCs after 3 hours, and escape is by no means simple. There is a carefully hidden glyph key that will open it once more, but of course investigating the wrong features will trigger traps. This trick, of trapping the PCs inside a place, adds to the oppressive atmosphere of the adventure and it is repeated: The 2nd level also closes off after 3 hours, but this time there is no glyph key, and sections of the walls come down, closing off tunnels if a good-aligned character walks through them. And unlike the 1st level, the 2nd level has plentiful wandering monsters.

Whether you are going to like the Red Mausoleum is going to come down on your views on these types of adventures in general. If you like the style of D&D where you come across a tomb, search some feature that the GM has previously described, find a slot or concealed switch, eye its sarcophagi wearily, and either detect the trap beforehand or trigger some trap or guardian. It works on level 1 characters, it works on level 13 characters only this time the collapsing ceiling does 10d6 damage and the sarcophagus contains an extraplanar space filled with 6 Hezrou.

At the same time, I find myself wondering how hard AA2 throws punches. The deadliness of the traps notwithstanding, upper level tombs can be plundered relatively sedately, allowing the party to prepare adequate magical protections before committing themselves, and the plentiful undead encountered in the lower levels can be blasted into oblivion with an (automatically successful) turning check as it does not pull the usual trick of making everything harder to turn. Some of the more powerful undead (Skeletal Warrior, Ghost, Banshee, Apparition) might stand a better chance, but the 56 HP Mummy is going to be turned on a 4+ on a d20 and the Crypt things are unlikely to do much better. There is a fantastic early room that releases a whole menagerie of monsters in a gigantic chaotic fight which stands out quite well.

A bit on the traps or puzzles themselves. I appreciate that occasionally AA2 will give PCs a suboptimal, costly but viable way to brute force their way through a problem. There’s a magical archway at 7. that you can bypass if you are clever enough, or you can attempt to break down the archway and brave its many protections. Same goes for the Book of Wrynn later on, there is a subtle way of opening it…OR you take plentiful damage (don’t forget item saving throws) as you force the electrified locks on its living pages. This staggered approach is a bit more forgiving then S1’s dead stop method.

To its credit, AA2 attempts to mix up the normal tomb formula as the players descend deeper into it. The second level is a bit more labyrinthine, the use of the 3 hour window for delving is nice and cruel, and the entire place is coated with a red ivy that causes damage and irritation if touched, preventing the PCs from resting if they are trapped below. Combined with the sealing passageways, this is nasty, and the conceit of including a possible haven (the Hezrou tombs extraplanar location) with a subtle bit of poison (if the sarcophagus in which the PCs are resting is fully sealed they are trapped) is appreciated. It is herein also somewhat generous, for if the PCs get trapped it is possible they discover corridor 7, which leads to an area near the starting village, eventually allowing them to bypass the logistical hurdles of getting to and from the tomb and resting up for what will likely be the final showdown below, and corridor 7 also does double duty as a means of explaining how the living dead get to and from the tomb.

A linear gauntlet. The fights get hard, with the possibility of permanent harm increasing. The last few tricks get meaner. The random encounter rate has been cranked up to an unforgiving 2 in 6 per turn, and although a TUD will take care of most of them, there’s always the chance those 1d6 wraiths or 2-8 Wights will get a surprise round off. The source of the living dead is here, an obscene pit piled with corpses taken on the raids, bombarded with negative energy, and made to rise again. Large numbers of undead, two harbingers, some sort of deathknight variant, with powerful magic swords. Unlike the rest of the place, the inhabitants of this level are intelligent, will be alerted, and will take intelligent precautions against intruders. The final showdown with Gaheris, Lich Lord of the Red Mausoleum, is suitably nasty, and his preparations and trickery should prove a formidable challenge even for high level adventurers. The suggestion to have the villain ask to be allowed to leave in exchange for all the treasure and attack the players one by one while they are resting if his respect is honored is cruel but completely justified.

Treasure is a lot of art objects and gemstones, with some nice additions. An obscene magic tome, sort of a Book of Vile Darkness light, proselytizing a philosophy of life as a preparation to undeath, a statue of a polar bear that can be used to summon an actual polar bear, nice combined hoards of consumables, gemstones, jewelry and items, with coinage being a rarity. Occasional concealment, more or less on par, with the final hoard being concealed in a place likely to be left alone by the squeemish, but if they made it to level 12-15 they should have developed some persistence. Total treasure amount excluding magic items is positively impecunious, around 56.000 gp even if accounting for the occasional random roll to increase the base value of its various pieces of jewelry and treasure (probably note whether this is the case in the overview somewhere). The magic treasure is likely to compensate for this deficiency to some degree, with the chaotic evil dancing bastard swords +5, deck of many things, girdle of frost giants strength et al. but hot damn 50k, that’s barely enough to make rent. The omission of a gp value for the villain’s full length portrait of a posing Orcus admired by a gaggle of Succubi is dissapointing.

Red Mausoleum is not without its shortcomings, including its tendency to bury possibly crucial information (like the use of lead-lined chambers) in ample paragraphs and its general destitution but it throws a few good punches, is long enough for what it is trying to do and it has good atmosphere. I don’t quite know if it lives up to its boast of being a challenge for jaded veteran players but no one is going to be bored out of their skull playing it that’s for sure. It feels like you are somewhat properly fantasy adventure gaming. Perhaps the Tomb format is inherently limited. Intelligent, reactive opposition might be a better avenue then all these static defences, however formidable.

The quest for the high level holy grail continues, but this one clocks in at about a mid ***, tolerable, probably amusing, but we aren’t hitting full power just yet.


28 thoughts on “[Review] AA2 The Red Mausoleum (OSRIC); Tombmaxxing

  1. Bryce reviewed this one some twelve-ish years ago…apparently before the gig started grinding him down (just judging the tenor of the review).

    This I don’t like. For a number of reasons. I mean…so many reasons.

    I know Tomb of Horrors is written for “high level” adventurers, but generally “tomb robbing” is no longer the purview of characters in the post-Name level realms. If anything, S1 is one of those ‘exceptions that prove the rule,’ kind of thing, specifically because it is Gygax and his “tomb” is filled with a lot of non-undead hazards. Sending a lich up against a 14th level cleric has a 55% of the lich pissing his burial garments and heading for the hills…and 14th level (well, 13.5) is average strength for the module’s stated challenge. Are the wraiths coming in waves of10+? A high level patriarch automatically destroys 1d12 of ’em.

    By the way, how does one “bring the head” of a wraith back to town to collect 50 gold coins. How much does an incorporeal undead’s head weigh? Doesn’t a vampire disintegrate when slain? How do you tell a zombie head from that of any corpse, a skeleton head from a found skull, a mummy head from…well, a mummy head? And for chump change? 50 g.p. may be a lot to the 3rd level fighter working for that first suit of plate armor, but with high level characters that’s a tip to the serving wench for keeping the flagons full.

    Why are the PCs here? Why would PCs of 12th to 15th level…at least SOME of whom MUST have strongholds and domains; they can’t ALL be bards…be slumming it in this cursed barony? Okay, a “gnomish settlement has been wiped off the earth;” did they have a stashed hoard of gems (as is usual for that particular demihuman type)? Is that what the gnome king wants us to recover? Or are the dead gnomes’ warrens still filled with rich plunder? Maybe THAT’s worth an investigation.

    If it’s not, if this is just a revenge raid, Mr. King is going to have to pony up more than 7,500 gold. My castle staff and life stock eat that much in a month. Bring out the diamonds, Big Guy!

    Canny players (i.e. the type with high level characters) should be able to suss out the secret tunnel that the undead are using and breach the “tomb” complex that way. And then it’s just barrels of holy water and oil and fire (maybe a cacodemon or elemental) punctuated with liberal doses of true seeing, detect magic, find traps, etc. Sliding walls and time limits? Do these PCs not have access to teleport, passwall, word of recall? Can we not crack the thing open with move earth and rock-to-mud? Or does the red slab of “unknown stone” not function as stone?

    56,000 gold is an insult. Sure, this think might be a cakewalk to parties in the 12th to 15th level range, especially if they have some undead-specific magic items (weapons vs. undead, scrolls of protection, etc.) but, hey, time is money. A party of the average size and average levels given for this module consumes nearly 10K per MONTH in expenses. If you expect the PCs to risk S1-deadly traps and level-draining undead, then the score for the venture better keep us in the black for a YEAR…hopefully with a bit left over for magical research!

    I don’t know…this feels like something the baron’s henchmen should probably handle, not a pack of WMDs like the characters. Definitely NOT my jam.

    [gosh, I’m so mean. You should see the stuff I wrote about Rahasia. Still debating whether or not to post it to my blog]

    Oh, yeah: not a fan of these maps, either.


    1. S1 is definetively an anti-pattern for high level gameplay. It explicitly tests your dungeoncrawling fundamentals. S6 MIGHT be a bit closer because of its complex combined encouters but otherwise its also bad. I one hundred percent agree tombs are not the way to go because there is something inherently static about them, they don’t change that much whether they are level 2 or 15.

      Monsieur Becker will note I adressed nearly all of his concerns in my review and I share many of them. To supplement:
      – The lich has quite a few precautions set up even before he gets smacking but getting turned is a huge problem for him.
      – Deaths are much more likely to come from traps then undead, in this and many other tombs
      – I’m sure there is some sort of divination that may be used to find out if the corpse was once animated, and I did mention Blood Meridian :P. As for the spirits, if the original remains cannot be located then I suppose you will have to go without your 50 dollars
      – I noted the TUD. 14+ is the turning point where you start really tearing through almost everything in the dungeon. Given their low xp range, it is not unreasonable to expect them to be at that level. At the same time, one lucky level drain and there goes your blasting power. If you are suprised, those wraiths or wights can still get a hit or so in if you stupidly have not devoted the slots to Negative Plane Protection.
      – Sussing out the secret passageway would take some specifically worded divinations, otherwise its searching for a needle in a haystack. However, it is a perfectly valid tactic.
      – In level range 12-15, you are lucky if your wizard is level 13. That means what? A single level 7 spell. And you pick Cacodaemon? Conjure elemental works but is risky and time-consuming. Move Earth explicitly does not work on stone, in combination with rock to mud (lot of spell slot investment here) you *could* breach it but is that worth it, did you prepare both those spells in your wilderlands journey? Passwall works so more power to them but they go to these different levels via Portals, there is no guarantee they are below eachother, and it will not allow escape from level 2.
      – Word of Recall? First, a 15th level cleric only has two 6th level spells (18 Wis might land you another slot if I recall) and one of those is Word of Recall? What are you a girl? A 15th level WoRC covers 375 pounds. Nice…but 5-8 characters, some of whom are in platemail? Better also get that teleport spell ready. This totally works, mind you, but you do have to think of it and certainly not everyone is going to do that.
      – Post your Rahasia review on your blog, call Tracy Hickman various slurs and just tear into it, you will like it. Rahasia is…okay I guess. Very video-gamey, in a time before video-games had exploded.

      The maps are pretty crude for sure.

      The whole barony is at stake I guess? I think the hook is also not very strong.


      1. I admit and apologize for my redundancy: I just felt some of the potential concerns you raised in your review needed even more hammering.

        Quick notes:

        1) in AD&D (this *is* an OSRIC adventure), a magic-user needs less x.p. than a fighter to reach 13th level, and an equal amount to reach 14th. MUs may have more spells in their spell-book than their daily casting allotment (unlike B/X) and so both scouting and assaulting spells are potentially available, each to be memorized in turn as befits the stage of the plundering (which is smart play when no time pressures are involved).

        2) cacodaemon would probably be the first 7th level spell *I* would select (power word stun and limited wish being close seconds). If using UA, however, I’d be hard pressed not to select teleport without error (utility) or chain lightning (nostalgia).

        3) I was considering move wart to shift the ground on which the slab rests, in order to crack/breach the thing. However, I suppose disintegrate (another 6th level spell, available at L112) would prove more efficient.

        4) word of recall is available to clerics beginning at L11. At L12 they have TWO 6th level spells and should certainly be stocking one slot with WoR (dead patriarchs are pretty useless to a party). Weight limitations can be bypassed with extra-dimensional spaces (bags of holding, etc.) and magic armor (generally worn by high level characters) is weightless anyway.

        5) Still haven’t finished Blood Meridian; keep getting sidetracked by other texts.

        Finally: my main gripe here is the stated “hook” and what I perceive as a complete lack of incentive for high level characters. I want motivation, not just inspiration.


      2. 1) Thieves and Clerics/monks. My statement is still accurate.
        2) Chain lightning is 6th. But yes LW, PW: Stun and Delayed Blast Fireball.
        3) It would work on the slab, it would not work on the gate. The random encounters and the guide provide some form of time-pressure
        4) The 375 pounds was directed at transporting other persons. You yourself might be able to escape, but others will not (although having everyone jump into a Bag of Holding might solve it).
        5) Its a gooder.


      3. Also dafuq Mordekainen’s Sword is 7th and Simlacrum is 7th and you take Cacodaemon, which if I read it correctly requires Spiritwrack, another 7th level spell, to reach its full potential??? To say nothing of Reverse Gravity and Phase Door. Smh.

        In the meantime, help me out with a MR interpretation. Does a succesfull MR check allow a monster to walk through a Wall of Iron? What about the sleet created by a wand of frost? Or a summoned monster? Answer me these questions three.


      4. RE #1

        Not sure what this means. What about clerics, thieves, and monks? Which statement of yours am I suggesting is inaccurate?

        RE cacodemon

        Spirtwrack is 6th level, so would be available to any magic-user high enough level to learn cacodemon; also, it isn’t necessary for players willing to go the old school, blood sacrifice path. A harnessed demon is far more destructive and versatile than MK’s sword. DBF, phase door, and reverse gravity are highly situational. Limited wish is good, but AGES the magic-user with every casting. And simulacrum, while excellent, requires another 7th level spell (limited wish) to reach its full potential. Cacodaemon and power word stun are, for me, the only truly solid choices.

        RE magic resistance

        I roll with the letter of the wording in the MM, which is pretty self-explanatory. Thus the answers would be:

        A) Yes, MR has the potential to bring down a wall of iron.
        B) No, because the “spell” is being discharged (not cast) by the wand.
        C) Depends on how the monsters were summoned.

        My interpretation of MR is that it is a struggle of wills (or ‘magic power’) between the creature and a living (or unliving) spell-caster trying to harness the forces of magic against his/her foe. It does not affect devices that “duplicate” the effect of spell-casting (like a wand), nor does it affect the natural abilities that might duplicate such effects (like a demon’s use of gate, teleport, or darkness).

        However, I think it’s pretty clear that it affects even persistent spells (citing hold portal as but one example). Magic resistance first appeared in OD&D as part of the abilities of the Balrog, and my understanding is that was used to model the abilities of the creature appearing in Fellowship of the Ring (destroying Gandalf’s hold spell, rendering Gandalf’s spells useless against it, etc.). Unfortunately, when all references to the Balrog were excised from Volume II, it probably left future players scratching their heads when they encountered the term in (for example) Eldritch Wizardry wrt demons. The MM text is pretty much a cleaned up version of what originally appears in the OD&D books.


      5. 1) My initial statement pertained to the level range of 12-15. While your statement r.e. fighter and wizard holds true (indeed, I would venture your accuracy is sublime), a comparison of relative xp reveals that a 15th level thief can have a maximum of 1.320.000 xp, trailed by the cleric (requiring xp equal to the MU at 11, but trailing behind a healthy 150.000 xp required to reach 14th level. So in a spread of 12-15 with more or less equal experience that wizard (and also the fighter/paladin) are going to be in the lower end, i.e. lucky to be 13th level.

        2) I shall learn the merits of your advocacy of the art of demonology. I had of course forgotten the limited wish requirement, but Simulacrum is great. We made good use of it in Dream House, and the sacrifice of the fighters simulacrum proved invaluable to get through one of the earlier encounters (involving two dozen mottled worms). I like Mordekainens Sword for its relative cost-effectiveness, you can bowl through an encounter of medium difficulty with it at the cost of a single 7th level spell. Reverse Gravity does not allow a saving throw, always a tempting prospect.

        R.E. MR now that’s the stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. RE thieves

        Ah. I see what you mean. Though requiring all PCs to start at the same x.p. total (say, for example, with pre-gens) introduce other problems with regard to level range, as no paladin would qualify if forced to abide by the thief’s maximum (though I suppose a very strict BTB campaign would not see many thieves and paladins in the same party anyway).

        I don’t usually mind the thieves. After all, you’re not getting a huge amount of “bang” for you buck after L13 or L14 anyway. Besides, being the natural scouts thieves are often the first to encounter all manner of hazards, including level drain, and its not unusual for their x.p. totals to have been artificially reduced.
        ; )


      7. Oops! Should have added:

        A 13th level magic-user is nothing to sniff at. 25 spells ranging from 1st to 6th makes such character an absolute dungeon wrecker, if played smartly. My mind salivates at the prospect, and I’m not much of an MU player myself.


  2. As JB says, these are very weak maps for an adventure that purports to be a high level challenge. Very few loops to be seen and little chance to get lost while exploring it seems.

    I also agree with the suggestion that tombs aren’t for characters two or three levels above name level. There needs to be something more or bigger at stake for high level adventures. It needs to threaten the whole kingdom, galaxy or dimension, or threaten the ruin of the character’s finances or reputations.


  3. One thing to note about this adventure is that it is quite old in OSR terms: it was published as AA2 in 2006, but had already appeared a couple years prior to that as a free pdf giveaway from Rob Kuntz (who was at the time trying to establish one of his patented “you do all the work and I’ll take all the credit and money” partnerships with James Boney) and I’m not sure it was newly-written (as opposed to something the author had on hand) even then. So it was written from pure instinct (possibly unplaytested?) without the advantage of the last 15-20 years of discussion and analysis on the merits of non-linear mapping techniques and appropriate treasure rewards and such.

    At the time I remember it feeling like a refreshing tonic because it was actually focused on old-school-style dungeoneering rather than something “modern” and story-oriented a la Dungeon magazine, the contemporary free modules from Dragonsfoot, or the early Castles & Crusades stuff. But even then it was at best a B/B+ effort and with the added perspective of time and what we know now that we didn’t know then feels more like maybe a B-.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. @ Trent:

      Your words are a reasoned (AND refreshing) tonic. I stand abashed at my over-harsh critique.

      It would seem that much knowledge has been lost since the first decade of the hobby. Yes, I hear the cries of “duh, dude.” But seriously: when the industry leaders began publishing what was COMMERCIALLY successful (in order to capitalize on consumer demand) they inadvertently triggered a collapse in both quality and understanding. Adventure design was subverted by the “Hickman method,” and similar, and those that came after were given poor and/or false examples to emulate.

      And we STILL have not yet crawled out of the Dark Ages. Some of the “OSR” is innovative, but very little is good, and the vast majority of it is a sham…if sometimes accidentally so.


  4. This is very pedantic, but since (as I understand it) you’re some kind of European whose first language isn’t English: “egress” means exit. The word you’re looking for in cases like this is “ingress”.


  5. A couple of thoughts: (i) characters actually played to levels 12 to 15 will have an enormous collection of magical goodies, including scrolls with higher level spells; (ii) I’d protect major undead with lots of zombie and skeleton (or better) minions, to soak up turning attempts, and some magical deception.


    1. It only does this near the end, where the great pit has 4 random encounters worth of undead that are sure to face the initial turn attempt while the two Harbingers grab their +100 swords and rush into battle.


  6. This got me thinking about high-level threats. I wondered what are the chances of 15 orcs with bows and poisoned arrows killing a high level character.

    Let’s say a name-level PC has an AC 0, and a save versus poison of 5. Then in AD&D the chance that they kill him from poison is the chance to-hit multiplied by the change he fails his save, multiplied by the number of arrows:
    30*(1/20)*(4/20) = 30%.

    Not too shabby. If I had spent years building up that PC to 12th levels, I’d run like hell from those 15 orcs unless I could nuke them in a single round.

    Gotta love 1e.


    1. If he has AC -5 though, they never hit him, and he might have items that grant additional bonuses to saves. But yeah, having a company of archers armed with arrows coated with deadly poison should be a little bit scary. I suspect a similar scenario in D20 would be a total curb-stomp for the high level character.


      1. Speaking of which! You just need a Neutralize poison spell and you are right as rain after the fight, if you interpret it in extension of Slow Poison, and if not then you would need Slow Poison first and then Neutralize poison.


      2. I knew the lower AC would come up. BUT…in 1e, most magical armor bonuses do not stack, so it often doesn’t get that crazy. Ultra-high dex is also rare with 3d6 (which is precisely as it show be). 4 HD archers instead of 1 HD orcs also fixes that (let alone a 9HD giant archer).

        Neutralize Poison, and other magical solutions are all consumables. You have to get the high-level PCs through attrition, not a single-point enemy because in almost any encounter they blow up the attacker in the first round. The key is to make them use up their resources—and they will be loath to do that if you do away with idiotic later-edition magic-shoppes/fabrication and the like.

        The real point is that you don’t need all that much in 1e to put real fear of death into high-level characters. Things like poison (even sleep) can be a great equalizer —something which low-grade players will absolutely hate.

        The drow, as used by EGG in the D-series, also shows you a recipe for evil PCs that can essentially match characters tit-for-tat by essentially being indistinguishable from characters themselves (although it was a massively huge mistake to take such a brilliant enemy and make them a playable race—boo hiss!). An intelligent fighter/magic-user enemy in large numbers = devastating.

        PCs are the precious high-level china-dolls, not the disposable cannon fodder bad-guys…so they’re the ones with the most to lose. Sure, your bad guys are going to die in droves, but the scary thing becomes if they can hit YOU—and they almost always can in 1e. (Oh Darn! You were disintegrated. Time to roll-up a first level replacement! Don’t worry, you’ll catch up to the rest of the party pretty quickly.)

        Here’s what I think you want high-level to become: pretty much same chance of death lurking around every corner as levels 3-5, but with way more toys/options for the characters to use to try and circumvent it. Also, anything with effectively infinite-charges (e.g. abilities, etc.) has to very carefully manage so that treasure/resources-management continues to have significance. Magic can be easy-come-easy-go…but don’t forget to leave out the “go” part. Otherwise that’s when the game moves into unplayable “godhood” regions. Metzner was a fool to put that notion into player’s heads like it was anything other than a total game failure-state.


      3. I’m getting rusty with my 1e/BX rules, but can’t you wear two rings of protection plus a cloak of protection, in addition to your magical armor and shield? Plate +2, shield +3, 2 rings of protection +2, and a cloak of protection +2 = -9. Or maybe you can only wear one ring of protection. Hmm. Can’t remember. I suppose the fighter would also be competing for the rings with the magic-users in the party, as they’d be much more important to them.


      4. @ Heretic:

        Nope. At least in AD&D, cloaks and rings work with bracers but NOT armor and shields. And you can’t benefit from multiple items of the same type (so, no two rings of protection, for example).

        B/X doesn’t have the same stipulations, but there are a lot fewer options (no cloaks, no ring better than +1, etc.).

        I honestly can’t remember how BECMI/RC sets handle the issue (a lot of uber-potent magic items in those later Mentzer books).


      5. @Jonathon Becker. Thanks! I thought I probably had that wrong. It was a blast to go back and look at the 1st edition DMG for the answer. I should read this thing more often, even if I no longer use the ruleset.

        It was a good thing, I suppose, for later editions (3.0) to clarify how stacking of AC bonuses worked, for simplification’s sake. Otherwise you have to remember that rings of protection don’t work with magic armor while cloaks of protection work with leather but not magical armor. Oy.


      6. @ Heretic:

        Haha! Glad I could help. I was a terrible teenage munchkin back-in-the-day, so I had to figure out the best ways to work the AC mechanics.
        ; )


  7. You hit the nail on the head as to this piece’s glaring error: undead pose little threats to parties with a high level cleric. For context, a 14th or 15th level cleric needs a 10 to turn the big lich baddy – a 10. Having written an undead-centric module myself, the only way to counter this is with waves of lesser-type undead moons to protect the baddy. And one has to be careful of too much of that to avoid crass metagaming. There’s a DF review where the Author concedes as much.

    High level modules are a tough nut to crack. Aside from the GD series, there a very examples of people getting it right


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