Guest Writer: Brian DiTullo
This Month in Dungeon: Plug-And-Play!!!
The final issue of the first year of Dungeon Magazine represented the first milestone for the publication, and the last issue that was available exclusively for subscribers. Beginning with issue #7, Dungeon was available for purchase at newsstands, book stores, and hobby shops.
This issue contains six adventures of varying degrees of difficulty, and only one author would be recognizable to today’s audience, Merle and Jackie Rasmussen. This assumes the reader either is over the age of 35 or has taken the time to go through the history of the game. This duo wrote a few modules for the BECMI line in the day.
The editorial, by Roger Moore, notes this is the end of the first year, and the short letter column asks for more letters to be sent in. It is worth noting this is not a problem in the 21st Century as you could fill a printed page just with Tweets and message board postings.
The first module in the magazine is a high-level affair, “After the Storm,” written by the duo of Nick Kopsinis and Patrick P. Goshtigian. Designed for a party of 8th-10th level characters, it pits the players against a wereshark and his shark friends to find a pirate’s treasure sunk in the nearby cove during a storm a few days earlier.
The authors do a good job of setting the scene, and even give great reasons why a wereshark has been able to operate in the area for so long without notice. In human form, the wereshark operates the nearby lighthouse and uses a curmudgeonly attitude to get everyone to leave him alone.
Should the players get to the treasure, which is not easy and requires a lot of magical items, especially for operating underwater, it is well worth it. The ship is stacked with piles of coins and magical items. If nothing else, the module contains a pirate ship map that can be used in any aquatic-themed campaign.
The next adventure, “White Death,” by Randy Maxwell, is a true plug-and-play scenario. The background is meaningless as the whole adventure is the white dragon’s lair and the wilderness immediately surrounding it. The dragon is advertised as being small and the adventure is scaled for parties 4th-7th-level. It’s a great little run to give younger parties a sense of accomplishment.
In fact, this probably is one of the better examples of what Dungeon Magazine advertised they would do when it was launched. Shorter, easily adaptable adventures the DM could just throw together with minimal prep time on their part. It’s a great read and a fun romp for players still trying to get to the higher levels.
“Bristanam’s Cairn,” by John Nephew, continues the theme of true plug-and-play, as the players stumble on a hermit’s cottage during a storm, only to find out he protects the tomb of a Death Knight.
Like many adventures using 1st-Edition rules, some of the more legendary monsters are relatively under-powered compared to today’s editions, and depictions in the fiction written through TSR, WotC, and others. The adventure is scaled for an 8th-10th level party, and the Death Knight, as written, is defeatable by such a party.
Still, looking at it through today’s prejudice’s, it looks slightly silly to have one small group of players under 15th level take on a Death Knight and hope to come out alive. Properly adapted, scaled, and massaged for the 21st Century, this a very good, short, dungeon crawl with a nice tomb map that doesn’t try to turn into the “Tomb of Horrors.”
Next up is “The House of the Brothers,” by Mark Shipley, who readers of Frog God Games products might recognize as the author of “The Black Monastery.” Set in the World of Greyhawk, this piece was written for parties of 6th-10th level. The main baddies are two fog giants from the Fiend Folio tome, the second choice from that book in the issue of the magazine.
This is the third consecutive plug-and-play piece in this issue, and again, there’s nothing to complain about here. Both fog giants are well-written with detailed backgrounds for the DM to use in the course of play. This particular piece probably could be run as a one-shot, increasing its versatility.
Following three successful plug-and-play pieces, the magazine takes a left turn into the experimental. “Forbidden Mountain,” by Larry L. Church, features a non-euclidean dungeon. The scenario takes the time to explain how this works with several helpful examples, but it gets bogged down in the math, and I couldn’t be bothered to finish this section of the scenario since I wasn’t actually going to run it.
A quick scan of the rest of the piece shows the “dungeon” is very dangerous, and the players have a chance to release an evil Demi-God into the world if they don’t follow certain instructions that will effectively destroy the entity.
It’s an interesting read, but I think a lot of groups would inadvertently, or deliberately, set the evil Demi-God free. But what’s one more evil Demi-God in a fantasy-themed world among friends?
The final adventure, by the aforementioned Rasmussen duo, is titled “Tortles of the Purple Sage Part I,” and caps off the magazine. The introduction notes it is set in the D&D Known World, uses the BECMI rules, and acts as a companion to their Expert Set module X9 The Savage Coast.
The back matter of this module is essential for anyone who loves the world of Mystara. The first few pages of this scenario flesh out The Savage Coast area more and expand on what was described in X9. Two maps are provided of the region, with one being a larger overview of the lower half of the continent the “Known World” sits on.
The “plot” of the adventure, which really is a giant sandbox designed to fit into a larger campaign, is to get a tribe of Tortles (Turtle-Men) to their breeding grounds so they can hatch their eggs. Hanging over this quest are evil witches and the various politics of the area they are traveling through. Clocking in at 22 pages, this is it’s own complete module.
As the title suggests, this is just Part One, with Part Two published the following issue . . . but that’s another review.
Overall, I give this issue of Dungeon an “A.” All the plug-and-play scenarios were top notch with one experimental scenario to keep things interesting. Topping that off is the expansion to The Savage Coast that any BECMI fan will want to read.