Guest Writer: Jason “Flynn” Kemp
Arduin Dungeon #3: The Citadel of Thunder, by David Hargrave, is a dungeon adventure written for six to nine characters of 5th to 8th level. Originally published in 1979, this module is a prime example of what Old School adventures looked like. This is a review of the PDF version of this module, which appears to be a scan of the published hardcopy version of The Citadal of Thunder. The PDf itself is 18 pages long, 1 being the front and back cover, thirteen of which are dedicated to the dungeon itself, two representing the front and back of eight pocket sized magic artifact cards, and two representing the front and back of eight illustrated monster cards with statistics. Of the thirteen pages that actually detail the Citadel of Thunder, it is easy to see that each page of the PDF contains two pages of the original module, scanned side by side, meaning that the module is really 26 pages long, not thirteen. Sadly, they are in no particular order, and the pages are not numbered, so reading through this document is a challenge, to say the least. However, if you are into Old School dungeon experiences, it is definitely worth the effort.
Once you figure out how the “pages” are arranged, the contents of the module break down as follows: one Opening Comments and Credits page, a background page written as a short piece of fiction, an Introduction page, four pages devoted to the Citadel of Thunder trap matrix, one page devoted to a mini-random encounter chart and random treasure chest trap matrix, another page portraying the relative position of each level using ASCII art rather than a hand-drawn picture (and including a treasure chest random trap matrix that is different from the one before), four pages devoted to the dungeon’s entry level, four pages for the dungeon’s second level, four pages that describe the dungeon’s third level, and five pages dedicated to the duengon’s fourth and final level.
Before we get started, it should be noted that this product does not refer to Dungeons & Dragons, although it can easily be run using the D&D rules. Instead, the module is intended for the Arduin Grimoire Game System, likely a result of a Cease & Desist order from TSR back in the day, and claims to be compatible with most fantasy role-playing games. I believe this adventure could easily be run using most Old School fantasy systems or the games they were based on with minimal effort.
The dungeon itself is four levels deep. Each level is based on a hand-drawn map created by David Hargrave, and has plenty of empty rooms and secret doors through out, offering an enterprising Gamemaster an opportunity to insert his own creations and help make the dungeon his own. The text describes ten rooms for each level in a three column format: room number, room description and treasure, and finally guardians and monsters. The descriptions are very colorful, written with sight, sound and smell in mind. The treasures are rather powerful, and include science fantasy elements like modern firearms and futuristic exoskeleton armor, as well as flavorful magic items such as the Amulet of Eyes and the Ruby of Runaway Regeneration. Most of the magic weapons appear to be named, which is a very nice touch. The spell names are very colorful, and could be some interesting additions to any magic-user’s spellbook. The room descriptions also include room-based traps that can, in addition to the usual loss of hitpoints, cripple or blind a character, change their attribute scores permanently and even kill them out-right. (I can see why the author recommends six to nine characters, as there’s going to be some deaths along the way.) The monsters range from common creatures to colorful monsters described in the back of the module. There were a number of references to monsters in previous modules or elsewhere in the Arduin Grimoire Game System, such as Sun Bears, Razor Snakes and Spigas. Unless the Gamemaster has these references present, he may have to get a little creative if he wants to play this today. As you read through the room descriptions, you can easily see some of the “death trap” qualities that Old School dungeons were known for.
The extensive Citadel of Thunder trap matrix is also arranged in a three column format: the alphanumeric trap designation, the type of trap (wall, door, chest, statue, floor, or ceiling), and a description of the trap. Traps are often elaborate things with interesting effects, although the same caveats exist here as mentioned for room-based traps. These traps are not placed anywhere in the material as presented, meaning that the Gamemaster must take the initiative to place them as he sees fit. The list is interesting, though, and offers some creative options for other dungeons, too, in addition to this module.
The two mini-random encounter charts are interesting. The first chart determines if something is encountered, and uses generic terms like Undead Monster and Non-Magikal Ground Monster, so the Gamemaster has the freedom to insert monsters of their choice as an encounter. The second chart describes the encountered creature’s initial attitude or reaction. I personally like charts that allow me to be creative. And if I don’t feel like it, I can always just consult a dungeon level table and choose something appropriate.
As I read through the Citadel of Thunder, I felt like I was taking a trip back in time to the first dungeons I played in as a youth. The contents of this dungeon range from the mundane to the gonzo, and are definitely a matter of taste. I also consider this module to be a “thinking” Gamemaster’s module, in that so much of it is left to the GM to round out. The non-detailed rooms can be filled with other interesting encounters. Traps must be placed. The Gamemaster should at least have an idea of what he wants to pop up when an encounter is indicated, and he might even go so far as to create lists of possible monsters organized by type and level. I think running this module as written, without the extra effort, is possible, but it can be so much more with just a little time and effort. All in all, I believe that an enterprising Gamemaster can create an amazing Old School experience with this module. I recommend it, even if only for a look back at the flair and flavor of the Old School dungeons upon which our hobby grew. Check it out; just be wary of the weird page order!