Guest Review: Dungeon Magazine #1

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Guest Writer: Patrick Bird

Care and Use of… Dungeon Magazine, Issue 1!

In the beginning of the era of role-playing, there was the Dragon.  Starting in 1976 TSR replaced the old Strategic Review magazine with a new one focused mostly on the new world of role-playing games.  Though it still had many articles relating to the old miniatures combat games that were the focus of Strategic Review, it delved further into the game that would be the cornerstone for TSR: Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.  Expanding its offerings of articles to include many different aspects of AD&D, Dragon Magazine would occasionally publish an issue with a new adventure in the center of it.  Often considered some of the most popular issues of the magazine, these particular issues expanded the number of plug and play adventures for DMs to use.
In 1989 the perhaps inevitable second magazine arrived.  Called Dungeon, it was designed exclusively around offering adventures for DMs who had too little time to plan their own or just wanted to try something that someone else had written.  Featuring high quality and eye-catching full color cover artwork like its sister publication Dragon, Dungeon was grabbing attention right off the bat at the off campus gaming and comic store where I worked, with the ten copies of the first issue selling out that first afternoon.  Later issues would also fly off of our shelves even as copies ordered increased.  It was obvious that there was a desire for adventures!
The first issue came out the same year as the Dungeoneer’s and Wilderness Survival Guides and would incorporate some rules from these new books.  The majority of the adventures were directly compatible with the core rulebooks and required no new purchases to be integrated.  At worst they might require some minor alterations, but many DMs did such alterations anyway to frustrate those players who bought the magazines in the hopes of getting an advantage.  With an average of five or six new adventures per issue, each for a different range of character levels, DMs had a large pool of possibilities for game nights.

Cover of Dungeon Magazine #1 Art by Keith Parkinson

Cover of Dungeon Magazine #1 Art by Keith Parkinson © Wizards of the Coast

Dungeon #1 set that precedent with its adventures.  The adventures were mini-modules, each with a suggested range of number and levels of characters for the adventure, a background story that gave the DM an idea of the style and type of adventure, and the standard maps, descriptions, and monster and treasure listings throughout.  They were generally generic enough that they could be dropped into any campaign world or setting with minimal changes.

 The Dark Tower of Calibar: A vampire has the royal crown, and you have to get it back!

Background: An usurper overthrew the rightful ruler of a kingdom, killing all of the royal family except for the crown prince who was spirited away along with the royal crown that would mark him as the true ruler.  While the young prince made it to safety the crown did not.  Now the prince is old enough to try to retake the throne, but the crown needs to be found.  Brave and bold adventurers are needed to find the crown and defeat its evil guardian.
Adventure Overview: This adventure was designed for 4-7 characters of 4th to 7th level using the AD&D rules.  The adventure takes place in a tower with an attached underground dungeon.  This multi-level dungeon has a variety of oddly shaped rooms and angular passages that were more than enough to frustrate any mapper used to drawing squares, rectangles and the occasional octagon or circle.  The adventure has forty five encounter areas, meaning it is better for a long session or multiple short sessions.  This adventure is fairly straightforward with no real way for a party to get so distracted that they leave the dungeon and wander in random directions.  The dungeon itself provides a variety of opponents up to the penultimate vampire, and also has areas where the environment is an important factor to be overcome.  There is one fairly nasty unavoidable trick and some puzzles to be figured out.  Beyond that the adventure is challenging and if nothing else can provide plenty of ideas for the DM to use in their own adventures.
Adventure Issues: The numbered rooms and the map do not always jibe: areas 24 and 25 were described but those numbers are not on the map and the locations where they were meant to be are not easy to figure at the first or second glance.  The rooms and passageways of the dungeon are filled with odd shapes and angles that can make the dimensions difficult to describe to the party and frustrating to map out based on verbal descriptions.  The DM can modify the map slightly to make it fit the customary graph paper generally used for maps if needed, or if the DM has a wet or dry erase board they use for showing players the dungeon as it is explored that can work just as well.
Continuing Adventures: The adventure is obviously the first stage in an ongoing power struggle.  DMs who wish to continue the story can do so with some effort required.  More information about the key players, key locations, and events in the defeat of the usurper are left up to the DM to provide, allowing  them to create an adventure chain that fits their campaign world.

Assault on Eddistone Point: What awaits you in the lonely signal tower?

Background: Two city-states once at war have found peace for the last generation by use of signal towers to communicate back and forth from peak to peak over the mountain range and the trade route that cuts through it.  But now the signal tower at Eddistone Point near the Town of Four Trails has gone dark and a message has come through telling of bandits!  Heroes, any heroes, are sought by the mayor to clear the tower of villains and rescue those within.
Adventure Overview: This adventure was designed for 3-5 characters of 1st to 3rd level using the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules.  The adventure takes place in a simply designed and built signal tower.  The multi-level tower is designed similarly to a lighthouse: each floor is generally its own room.  There are five levels and thus five encounter areas in the adventure.  In spite of the small map, there is a lot of potential for role-play encounters both in the local town of Four Trails and with various characters who are imprisoned in the tower itself.
Adventure Issues: Beyond the small scope of the adventure, there isn’t a lot to do for those who do not enjoy role-playing and enjoy just killing bad guys.  All of the named villains in this adventure are willing to sell out their “allies” for the right price, or they are willing to just flee and fight another day, preferably with the element of surprise.
Continuing Adventures:  This adventure provides a lot of information on the area, naming the two city-states and providing the names and locations of the other signal towers on the map of the region.  This means that the adventure area can be set into an existing campaign world with a little effort.  In addition to providing a campaign area for the DM, the adventure also provides numerous named and fairly well detailed NPCs, both heroes and villains as well as everyday people, who can be used in multiple ways in the DM’s campaign.  While the adventure itself is comparatively brief, the potential for expanded adventures is high.

Grakhirt’s Lair: The war is over – but there’s one battle left.

Background: A small town was founded fifteen years ago on the edge of the wilderness to provide a base for those who wished to seek the wealth of natural resources in the area.  Ever since its founding it has been attacked time and time again by norkers in a war of attrition.  The most recent battle against the norkers was the day before the adventurers arrived in town.  The prince of the town has posted notices for adventurers willing to track the decimated norkers to their lair and kill their leader, named Grakhirt.  The adventurers can break the cycle and end the threat altogether, and in the process become heroes if they are brave and valorous!
Adventure Overview:  This adventure was designed for 4-8 characters of 1st to 3rd level.  The adventure is difficult enough that it is suggested that at least one fighter class should be second level to increase the chances for survival.  The adventure takes place in a series of subterranean caves that have been worked for the norkers’ ends.  There are twenty-nine encounter areas spread throughout this two-level dungeon, plus there are a few notes on the wilderness area around it and some potential random encounters there, but no set wilderness encounters.
Adventure Issues: There are some places where it is obvious that the encounter areas were renumbered and not every instance of reference was updated, but these errors are easy enough to work around.  The number and abilities of the named opponents, especially the spellcasters, is high enough that a party of new first level characters will likely be obliterated if they are not careful AND lucky.  This adventure is not recommended for a first or second adventure for a new party.
Continuing Adventures:  The area where the main adventure occurs is a wilderness area, much like that of the classic module The Keep on the Borderlands.  This means that the DM can place it anywhere they feel it will fit on the frontier and continue expanding the wilderness as they like.  The adventure also mentions an Assassins Guild in a near city that might need to be put out of business.  The adventurers that survive this adventure and succeed at it may have to watch their backs while they build up their strength to be able to take down the Guild.  If nothing else, the DM can turn the Guild into a long-term opponent who watches from the shadows and occasionally interferes in the adventurers lives.

– The Elven Home: A Basic D&D wilderness scenario.
Background: A small group of elves lives in this small and beautiful hilltop glade in the wilderness.  The stream that flows by the hillside has some unusual properties that, while somewhat powerful, are very limited in scope.  Three elves are currently laughing and playing in the pond on the back side of the hill, and the faint sound of the shouts, screams, and laughter of their playful conversation can be heard by those who listen carefully.
Encounter Overview: This encounter (not adventure since it has few of the hallmarks of an actual adventure) is designed using the Basic D&D rules and is for 1-4 characters of 1st to 3rd level.  It involves a (hopefully) peaceful encounter with a small group of elves who live happily near the unusual stream that springs from under the hill and winds its way through the area.  The elves are not unfriendly but may be wary if the party, mistaking their playful shrieks for the sounds of terror and combat, come charging around the hill with weapons and spells ready to do battle.  A friendly rapport can be quickly established through conversation and the DM can use this to provide information about the area and potentially any other adventures they might wish the players to investigate.  If the party decides to go into kill-em-all mode, they will find that the elves and their ally are not pushovers and the battle could go horribly wrong fairly quickly.  As it is, this encounter can serve to be a place where a badly injured group could rest and recover for a day or two, and could possibly find new leads to adventure from conversations with the elves.
Encounter Issues: For those DMs looking for a treacherous dungeon for their players’ characters to risk life and limb in, this small interlude offers nothing of interest.  But even then it might offer something.  The unusual magical properties of the stream could spur an idea of a group of semi-aquatic humanoids who live in or near a similar stream and reap the benefits, leading to a more difficult than expected encounter for careless adventurers!
Continuing Adventures: While this single encounter offers nothing to the good-aligned party looking for combat, treasure, and experience points, having a friendly place to gather information and to take a break from the rigors of adventuring while in the wilderness is always a bonus.  In addition, as the elves explore the area looking for a more aesthetically pleasing home they may encounter new adventure areas that they may tell their new friends about.  Plus the encounter itself has at least one possible adventure lead within its current description if the DM wishes to expand it further.

Into The Fire: A lost prince, a silver necklace, and a dangerous journey.

Background: Fifteen years ago a young prince was lost at sea as he journeyed to another land to finish his schooling in another land.  Less than a month ago a group of deep gnomes appeared at a fort at the edge of the volcanic yet snowy mountain range at the northern edge of the kingdom bearing the body of a fallen knight of the kingdom and a silver necklace that the knight swore he had found in the mountains before he died.  The necklace was one that had been specially made for the boy prince fifteen years ago and had been thought to be resting at the bottom of the sea with the boy’s remains.  How did it get to the far northern mountains?  What, other than exposure to the cold, killed the knight?  What happened to the other knights who rode with him?  The king wants answers to all these questions, and so the heroes are prevailed upon to discover the truth.
Adventure Overview:  This long adventure is designed for 6-10 characters of 6th to 10th level and was written for the AD&D ruleset.  It contains an extensive wilderness adventure as well as a subterranean adventure area and a ruined tower.  It has enough to keep a group of players occupied for several sessions of adventuring, and its main opponent is extremely difficult and should be played wisely by the DM to ensure the adventure is as challenging as it is intended to be.
Adventure Issues: This adventure is related to the cover artwork for this issue of Dungeon Magazine, which means that a powerful dragon will be the party’s overall nemesis.  Such an opponent needs to be taken seriously and played very intelligently by the DM.  Even without the dragon as the opponent the adventure contains several other difficult encounters that require knowledge of more uncommon monsters such as the galeb duhr and wolfwere.  Even the wandering monsters that can be encountered, including a large and powerful group of bandits led by a 9th level magic-user or a group of 25 ghasts and ghouls, could easily overwhelm an incautious adventuring party.  The players should be careful and well prepared and the DM should be ready to play the opponents to their full capacity.  Otherwise the adventure could be very deadly or could be unreasonably easy.
Continuing Adventures: Even if the adventure presented is successfully overcome it gives more leads to the events that preceded this adventure than it gives definite answers.  The fate of the ship that the young price sailed on can be easily determined by a successful party, but the limited information discovered about the prince is fifteen years old and it will likely require lots of time and effort to track down the prince’s path since that time.  Any surviving adventurers can have a variety of future adventures to build off of from this adventure or, if they choose to retire and rest on their laurels afterward, they can hand off such adventures to new characters to explore, carefully following a trail of documents and encounters until they reach the end of their own quest.  Since the background for these additional adventures is vague, the DM will have to do a good amount of work to learn the truth, but such good leads provide a lot of seeds for the DM to grow.

Guardians of the Tomb: Vengeance awaits beyond the grave.

Background: A mostly overgrown side path off of the trail the adventurers are following leads to an odd shrine on a small island in a swampy area.  The odd building is overgrown by the vines and creepers of the marsh and though some ornamental carvings can be seen under the creepers they are impossible to decipher from the shore.  Crossing the swamp to the island seems to be the only way to learn more, but some of the characters feel uneasy in this area.
Adventure Overview:  This adventure is intended for 2-6 characters of 3rd to 5th level and uses the AD&D rules.  It is a short but deadly adventure containing one wilderness adventure location and a building with one single room.  It introduces a new monster, though it is more an environmental hazard as it is neither sentient nor ambulatory and deals damage only to those who come in contact with it, intentionally or not.  The entire adventure is effectively a trap to harm those who would rob or defile the tomb-shrine of the powerful thief of a past age.
Adventure Issues: The adventure itself is of the high risk for low reward nature and in some ways feels like it was an add-on to meet the required page count for the issue.  All potential treasure from the tomb of the master thief is evilly aligned and while valuable may be very difficult if not impossible to sell due to its evil nature.  The approach to the isle contains the ‘monster’ hazard of razorweed which does significant damage to adventurers and can quickly ruin any armor they have of less than banded mail’s durability, potentially even destroying magical armor.  The interior of the building in this adventure is a single almost insurmountable trap for the levels given: if entered the only normal exits are sealed with walls of stone that can only be easily breached by disintegrate spells or successful dispel magic spells against an 18th level magic-user, both of which are far beyond the capabilities of the level range of characters this adventure was designed for.  The alternate exit, barred windows in the ceiling, are more accessible exits, but they will require successful bend bars checks to force open, and by the time the adventurers can reach them the main opponents of the adventure, strength-draining shadows, will be coming through the windows and making attacks against the characters who are trying to make their escape, reducing their chances of escape and survival even further.
Continuing Adventures: While this adventure is itself too dangerous and deadly for the levels of characters listed and should not be run as written without modification to make it more fair for the levels of characters it was intended for.  Its limited scope makes it seem unlikely to be part of a continuing campaign, but there is the potential for expansion.  A DM could easily make it a continuing B side story to their main campaign story.  The adventurers could find scraps of a journal within this tomb that might refer to some adventure locations, and then other tombs to other powerful adventurers might have other references to other adventure locations.  In this way random tomb-shrines scaled properly could be adventure leads for future adventures for the party, and could perhaps be their own adventure lead.  Imagine, for instance, an item like the Rod of Seven Parts that is scattered among seven different tombs to heroes who swore to protect it from being assembled.  In time, when the adventurers were of high enough level, they could find a last journal entry that referred to the great artifact that had been hidden deep underneath the tombs they had explored long ago.  Of such things are legendary adventures made!

Dungeon Magazine #1 set the standard for later editions of the magazine with a variety of adventures for a variety of Dungeons and Dragons rules.  This first issue contained AD&D and Basic D&D adventures but future issues would run the gamut of variants with adventures in a variety of official campaign settings and for the ever-changing rules that made up the D&D line from Basic and AD&D in the beginning to the 3rd edition rules by the end of its print run.  It was and still is a great resource for the DM who is looking for complete adventures or just adventure ideas to adapt for their campaigns.

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