Guest Writer: Brian DiTullio
This issue was published for May/June 1987, and contained seven adventures, which was a lot for any time period of that magazine’s run. Four or five scenarios were the usual breakdown per issue, looking over the history, and the editorial at the front of the periodical specifically notes this particular issue had a “lot” of short adventures.
In a quick perusal of the magazine, it is worth noting the “Letters” section is full of people complaining about the “direction” of the magazine, even though we only are at issue number five at this point, and a note from Editor Barbara Young alerting readers they are overloaded with submissions.
Reading those letters is like looking at the average message board post today. The more things change, the more they stay the same. You can’t please everybody, and upset people write more letters than happy people.
As far as layout, it strokes that nostalgia factor with the old layout anyone older than 40 knows with the illustration over the title of the scenario and the author bio in italics right above the first column of text.
On to the first scenario, “The Rotting Willow,” by Edward P. Bromley III. It is a total of six pages, including several maps, and is designed to be a quick “filler” adventure, or a fleshed-out random encounter. It succeeds on both counts, but is not a scenario that is as easily dropped into a random campaign as the editors were hoping when they published it.
Set by a swampy area at a crossroads, Bromley sets up a very Lovecraftian atmosphere of scared villagers who don’t like demi-humans and assume all of them are there to steal and torment them (SPOILER WARNING: The bad guys are invisible boggarts). The man who runs the inn is, of course, the only person there who is above such things. The plot gets set in motion with a theft and a chase to the swampy lair.
It’s good enough for what it wants to be, but it almost seems like too much trouble to fit into an existing campaign as a random encounter. There are numerous ways an encounter like this could derail a larger plot, and it just doesn’t seem worth the trouble to fight a few boggarts.
The second scenario, “Lady of the Lake,” by Laura Ferguson, is a bit more complicated even though it’s designed for first level characters as their first adventure. The scenario definitely is not designed for first-time GMs. A very elaborate plot of finding a girl who is not a girl bleeding on the side of the road who must be returned to a lake very far away is quite a bit of plot to chew on for players who may only be looking to bash some goblin heads together.
I hesitate to completely bash the scenario, but like “Willow,” it appears to be an attempt to re-invent the wheel, this time for first level characters. Ferguson does a nice job with the background and filling in encounters with interesting characters, but the “girl,” who really is a new creature called a “phantasm,” is a bit too much with no satisfying payoff once she’s returned to her lake.
The next scenario, “The Stolen Power,” by Robert Kelk, also is for first-to-third level characters, but does a much better job bringing new players, or new characters, into a campaign. The plot is a very simple, “Find Who Stole My Stuff” scenario, and the material presented gives the GM a lot of room to maneuver the players to fit the needs of their respective campaigns.
The money is good for a low-level party, and the random encounters are presented clearly and in a manner that makes sense. The big bad of the scenario has an actual lair, and Kelk even puts in two great rewards for the party who may otherwise want to take the object they’re looking for and run. A level-appropriate spellbook and a treasure map are perfect to get any low-level party going on the campaign trail.
Finally, this adventure has NPCs that can be rescued and folded into the party if necessary as well as an evil demi-goddess that can be used as an antagonist for further adventures down the road.
“The Kappa of Pachee Bridge,” by Jay Batista, is the next module in the magazine, and it is an Oriental Adventures-themed piece that focuses heavily on role-playing. The players are tasked with negotiating with a creature to stop him from eating human flesh. Negotiations are favored over combat, so this scenario is great for those who like to dig into their role-playing talents.
“The Trouble With Mylvin Wimbley,” by Andrew McCray, stands out as the most entertaining module in the magazine. Poor Mylvin Wimbley is hiding from his employer (a wizard) after the wizard tried to kill his friends, and Wimbley roasted him with a branding iron.
The module plays up the alignment aspect of 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons, something frequently talked about but rarely ever actually used in print adventures other than as a reference point when making and adjudicating decisions.
Wimbley is hiding right under his (former) employer’s nose, and in true 1st Edition fashion, the text leaves most of the little details up to the DM and the players to figure out. This kind of “loose” interpretation of events in a scenario is refreshing compared to many of today’s offerings where it sometimes feels like the writers wanted to turn their adventure into a novel, and it seems like there is little to actually do for the players as everything around them is pre-determined.
The adventure isn’t overly long, but reading it felt like it could be “clunky” at the game table.
“The Eyes of Evil,” by Tom Hickerson, is next up in the queue, and it’s a basic “Stop at an inn, get paid to kill a monster” adventure. All the players have to do is cross some wilderness (not actually mapped) to the lair of a Beholder and kill it.
It’s designed for parties of 10th level or higher, so it’s fairly balanced and can be completed in one session. Like the other “wandering monster encounter with some meat on the bones” scenarios published during this era, it’s light on motivations and consequences. Again, this is not a bad thing, and can be a bit of a breather from a lot of “this MEANS something” type of adventures you see a lot of today from the industry.
Finally, “Hirward’s Task,” by Rich Stump, is a very elaborate wizard’s lair that is so over-the-top in its mundane details it is fascinating to just read. That being said, why the eponymous wizard needs the help of an outside crew never quite makes sense. He’s 15th level and has his own crew of kobalds and human servants. Surely they would’ve come up with some way to defeat the rogue air elemental he accidentally summoned he now has tasked the players with defeating.
In addition, while Hirward warns the players about his minions and requests they don’t kill any of them, he does not accompany the players on their task, nor give them any token to show said minions to get them to stand down and assist. All of this has to be accomplished from role-playing. While some DMs would love this, it is again worth noting the Hack n’ Slashers probably would get themselves killed, or hunted down by an angry wizard for killing all his employees and stealing his stuff.
For all the background detail Stump puts in, I find it amusing he left a gigantic plot hole on the opening page. Even more confusing is the editorial staff never jumped all over this, and Dungeon was run by some pretty good people who I refuse to besmirch, other than to say, “Whoops, you guys kind of Oopsed on that one.”
Overall, I give this particular issue of Dungeon a “B.” All of the adventures were intriguing enough to read, and I would run a few of them if I were so inclined, but there were no “classics” in this issue.