Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Review: Dungeon Crawl Classics #10 The Sunless Garden

Dungeon Crawl Classics #10 The Sunless Garden By Brendan LaSalle

(A 32 page d20 adventure for 4 to 6 player characters levels 6-8)

Front Cover Artist: Erol Otus
Back Cover Artist: William McAusland
Inetrior Artists: Jason Edwards, William McAusland, Brad McDevitt
Cartographer: Jeremy Simmons

If you are planning on playing in this adventure then STOP READING NOW! Or I will be forced to summon Hastor, Hastor, Hast... oops...

There is a slightly lovecraftian feel to this module as well as a sprinkling of humor.

This is a vast adventure stuffed into 32 pages. Well written but missing a few elements. The Otus cover is fantastic, the balance favors the players but it seems challenging enough and interesting. I pick apart a number of elements in this module but this is a very good adventure that I feel could have been a truly great adventure.

The plot involves a Treant corrupted by a fallen meteor in a somewhat Color out of Space concept but with less dismal cancerous wasting and more mutations. It would involve a little work on the DMs part but this could easily be converted to a much darker adventure, the spots of silliness removed, such as exploding apple grenades, cavorting owlbears, and the invention of toothpaste and peanut butter, and replaced with more gruesome and perhaps lovecraftian touches.

LaSalle is an excellent descriptive writer and his concept is creative with many interesting touches for a garden/wilderness adventure but 32 pages just did not provide enough room to cover the size of the area he tries to describe. The interior map is bland, as are most of the DCC maps in the first 10 adventures in their line. The text makes note of the vast size of the map, 50 feet per square, or more accurately 2,500 square feet per square. Each section of this underground garden is huge, the ceiling high above, the center of the cavern accommodating trees of over 100 feet. Unfortunately LaSalle only has a few paragraphs to touch on each section. Each area has some detail, challenging, humorous, intriguing, but not enough for the ground being covered. I have no doubt that this adventure could have been incredible, instead of merely excellent and flawed, if it had been allowed to grow in description and detail to a fuller page count.

The main theme is a corrupted treant's war against despoiler races such as humans, (though for some reason it has no problem with bugbears who fill in the empty chambers within the former smugglers den it calls home that would otherwise need to be filled with something more creative). Why not a race of mutated bugbears, or plantmen, or a merging of the two? The use of the bugbears feels out of place in view of the plot of the adventure and so easily changed to a mutated form that it makes me feel that they were slapped on like a hastily blotted background to a detailed portrait thats creation has perhaps passed its deadline.

To combat humanity the treant has found a mutated growth which can be used as a poison. This poison turns humans and humanoids into trees. This substance, Black Moss, will potentially effect the players and I was expecting to find it detailed in the appendix section. A paragraph on page 3 titled Effects of the Black Moss were surprising in their lack of information about the effects of black moss. One paragraph describes that a check is needed when tasting infected water, but the next three paragraphs describe how it was made, the antidote, and effects of the antidote, and prevention. What is not described are the actual effects in game turns. How long does it take to be overcome, what happens to characters infected before they are turned into trees? What is the effect if it is inhaled? Do you only need to save once against it? Some of the information can be pieced out from other paragraphs in the adventure. It seems to take 3 days to be turned into a tree, and the character will be slowly petrified though there is no description of the actual process. In the end it will be up to the DM to actual work out the mechanics of this poison. A definite flaw in the modules design.

The adventure itself is straightforward. There are few allies to be found and little or no misdirection. The monsters and mutations are there to be killed or overcome. The wide undescribed sections of the garden could be filled with brief encounters of unsettling but non-hostile plant life or glossed over lightly, as the characters pass trees, bushes, or walk over grass or weeds till they come across the written encounters. The vastness of the garden could be shrunken and encounters combined into a single section rather than spread out over 6 or more areas hundreds of feet across. There is a great deal of room for expansion in this adventure, and even more as suggested at the end of the module, this may not be the only meteor.

A good adventure, even an excellent one, especially the concepts involved, but the execution is missing detail that would have made this a great adventure.

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