Yeah, there’s a new revised edition of Death Frost Doom out. Some might say that isn’t a “Classic Dungeon” and I know when I ranted other times about classic dungeons it was always something from the ancient days of gaming. But Death Frost Doom is special.
This is adventure that launched a 1,000 screams. Not only from the unfortunate characters who foolishly entered its unholy halls but also from the Internet. Let’s see Death Frost Doom became the iconic Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventure and when the rule book for it came there were screams. I remember that? OMG! Boobies and gore! People argued and flamed. Blah. Blah. Also, Death Frost Doom played a big part in Zak S’s Vornheim campaign. (Which if you don’t have Vornheim get it.) But in certain corners of the Internet, if you say like Zak and his stuff. Well, that’s a lynching offense. So yeah. Death Frost Doom. It launched probably more than a thousand screams. And probably a thousand more just because Zak revised it.
The revised Death Frost Doom has some totally awesome and creepy new art from brilliant Jez Gordon. I don’t often comment on art in RPG books. But this stuff is has style that leaps out of the page at you.
As far as the adventure itself. (Don’t expect any spoilers.) The new format is much easier for this aged grognard to read. There’s more options and details than the original. The general plot is pretty straight forward. Big mountain. Lost temple. Bad things happen. Really bad things happen. I mean world changing bad things happen. This is still a challenging and very dangerous dungeon. If you have a bunch of players who expect perfectly balanced encounters and a happy ending then they’re in the wrong dungeon crawl. There’s a very good chance that not every character will make it out alive and maybe the dead one’s are the lucky ones. And bonus points for the Evil Dead reference. (OK, that’s as close to a spoiler as I’m getting.)
Death Frost Doom was already a great adventure. This revision takes it up to 11. Really, it goes to 11.
Hey, this isn’t an old D&D module. Nope, It’s Tunnels & Trolls, kids. In that small chance that you don’t know, Tunnels & Trolls is an original old school game that isn’t based around d20’s. If you have no idea about the system then check out the free (older) version on Drivethrurpg or you can just a wee bit more and the Deluxe Edition should be out soon. But this post ain’t about the game itself. It’s about Uncle Ugly’s Underground.
The dungeon begins in a simple room with three doors. One labeled “Death”, another “Doom”, and the third “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.” Let me put it simply this is a killer dungeon (like many of the T&T adventures). One thing that modern gamers will notice immediately is that there’s no setup. No hook. Just here’s the dungeon. There’s no story arch or catch or boss monster. It’s a dungeon inhabited by monsters and traps with some cool treasure. That’s a feature not a bug. Plug where ever and however you want into your own campaign.
Even if you don’t play T&T and the idea of a wild dungeon crawl just chills your spine then there’s some really good inspiration and stuff you hack and move to your favorite OSR game. Most notable and eligible for use are The Smoke Snakes Altar (which could have come from a Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventure), The Miss One Turn Jewel (could have come from a Flailsnails game), and The Wardens of the Walls (Beware players who are too smart for their own good).
And there’s a great piece of wisdom from Ugly John Carter, the author, “Remember that this is YOUR dungeon now, and if you are not particularly happy with one aspect or another – not enough treasure, too much treasure, too deadly, not deadly enough – then feel free to change it. Ideally, this dungeon should spark your imagination and lead yo on to flights of elaboration. It would be a shame to allow the parameters of the text to shackle your creativity.” And that folks is what I really love about that old school stuff. DIY and creativity.
You can still grab the PDF over at Warehouse 23.
There’s a reason I ranted about Lankhmar last week. It was a cool and still handy supplement. So I figured I’d another one the old licensed modules. Well, actually three: Conan Unchained, Conan Against Darkness, and Red Sonja Unconquered. I’m putting them together because well they’re pretty the same.
Unlike Lankhmar where there was wealth of information to run games in The City of Thieves, this trilogy gives a couple pages of extra rules and some pretty bland advise. Basically, just a Fear system, Luck/Hero Points and some alternate rules for healing a little quicker. The rest is just minor advice. Also, what hits these square in shorts is that it’s really expected that run the per-generated title characters. Yeah, sure. Everybody wants to be Conan or Batman. But it’s nice to your kind of Conan. The setting material and rules is pretty scarce. I’ll admit that it would have been considered much better in the pre-Internet days but still, there’s not much there to be inspired by. It’s kind of sad really. Robert E. Howard’s tales are there in Appendix N. I’m sure there was probably some crazy licensing deal or whatever.
Back to my comparison to Lankhmar. While Lankhmar is setting material, this is three adventures. And pretty bad ones. There’s some interesting monsters and encounters that good DM’s can tweak and insert into a Sword & Sorcery campaign. But the actual adventures are railroads. Sigh. It would have been nice to have something better.
OK, yes. I know. This really isn’t a dungeon. It’s a setting supplement but this one that really has influenced my tastes as far as running campaigns.
First, I am a big Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser fan. I devoured those long before I trudged my through Lord of the Rings. That’s one of the reasons I like this little worn book. There’s a nice little fan boy section covering highlights from the series. But let’s about the gaming goodness.
There isn’t a dungeon or even an adventure here. It’s a city and setting. In the matter of race, it’s just human player characters (although the possibility of Newhon ghouls might have been interesting). Classes. Well, that pretty much the same for the non-spell casters. There are paladins and rangers but they don’t get spells. Then the spell casters. That changes quite a bit. Ditch the old classes and add the Black Wizard and White Wizard. Black Wizards get to use all of the Magic-User and Illusionist spells. Remember this is for AD&D. And are slowly warped by the evil magic becoming evil themselves. The White Wizards get all of the Cleric and Druid spells. But that’s not where it ends. Casting times are greatly increased. And there is no 8 hour adventuring day. It takes a week to recover a spell. That’s pretty nasty but keeps to the low magic Sword & Sorcery feel. There’s a few other things about reduced access to heavy armor and magic items. Pretty much what you would expect.
Where this book really shines is inspiration for cities. I lost the nice color poster map long ago. The heart of the book is a big catalog on NPC’s that serve as great inspiration. Plus some handy random NPC and city encounter charts. Plenty of things on society, crime, social status, guilds, cults, and festivals. Now there’s also some nice maps of each of the districts of the city. These are really handy. There’s a nice place for notes and blank spaces for GM’s to insert whatever they want.
I have a holy trinity of books for running adventurers through cities. Obviously, one of them is Lankhmar, then there Cities Book by Chaosium and most recently Vornheim. If you don’t have the last two then grab them up!
And, oh yeah, there’s a really cool bestiary in Lankhmar too. Can’t go wrong with more monsters.
I probably should have done Tomb of Horrors sooner but I thought everybody knows about it. What more can I say? Then I started thinking about it.
Tomb of Horrors is the bad boy of dungeons. It’s a killer. If you played through and your character survived unscathed, they should give you a t-shirt. “I Survived The Tomb Of Horrors” But you half of the people who would end wearing the shirt would probably be lying or have had a really nice DM. Playing thru or running Tomb of Horrors should be right of passage. You don’t get your super secret gamer conspiracy handbook until you’ve been put through that meat grinder. It’s that special.
Speaking of special. Tomb of Horrors hold a very special place in my gaming history. It is the module where in the absolutely dumbest thing any player has every done/said in any game that I have ever run.
There’s a trap that teleports the characters back to the entrance without any of their gear. The party was standing there buck naked in front of the dungeon and scratching their heads and asses. I mention that the Paladin has access to a Wish spell. “So, what can I do with that?”
“You could wish for all your shit back.”
“Great idea. I wish we had all of our shit back!”
Yes. Yes. I did. There were two elves and dwarf in the party. That’s a lot of shit. And the player knew better.
Fortunately, they had some money stashed away. They crept to the nearest town. Bought some minimal gear and hired a bunch of peasants to shovel all the crap away from the tomb’s entrance.
The Temple of Elemental Evil is a huge adventure. It’s really sort of four or to put it another way, it’s own mini-campaign. I suppose I could have done The Village Hommlet on its own but in the big scheme of things it is part of the mega-adventure that is The Temple of Elemental Evil. This module pretty much has it all. Cults, ruins, dungeons, villages, and just plain weirdness. Heck, it even became a video game.
With the modern availability of all sorts of modules, there’s nothing that makes me say, “Oh my god! This is awesome!” But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t awesome. Like so many of the early modules, this one lays the blueprint for countless others to come. It was foundation on the way a whole series of interconnecting adventures could be written. It has a special awesomeness of its own. It’s good. It’s solid. Also, The Temple can play as lead in to other classic dungeons like the Giants and Drow series.
Like so many of the Classic Dungeons, there’s a good chance that players have read or already played through it (possibly years ago). But don’t let that stop you. Pick it up and gain some inspiration. Or do what I do so many times. Read it over and a take room here and encounter there. Mix it up with some other stuff from other modules. Season with my own kind of crazy and run with it.