Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Retrospective: Dungeon #63 (July-August 1997)

I started buying issues of Dungeon magazines from about 1997, subscribing (with a few intermittent gaps) until the end of the print run in 2007. I sorted them the other day, and found that I have 75 issues all together: half of the magazines published, amounting to some hundreds of adventures. It's been between five and fifteen years since I read these, but there were some great adventurers with vivid scenes memorable even after years. However, I rarely use them, because it's hard to usefully find good adventures. Although Dungeon #150 has an index that lists only the system, title, author, and issue of each adventure, and there are a few public indices online that add a short blurb, it's usually still not easy enough to find an appropriate adventure for a certain style, setting, or situation. So I'm going to start a regular feature, reading through and reviewing some my old Dungeon magazines, starting with the first one I ever bought in a store, #63. What do I remember from this issue, before re-reading it? The goblin-o-war, invisible stalker, and "Blood & Fire".

"Hunt for a Hierophant", by Chris Doyle (AD&D, Levels 6-8): The evil wizard Zerrick has rallied a horde of bullywugs from the Cragmoor swamp to invade the communities beyond the Drakewood Forest, so adventurers are needed to rouse the slumbering hierophant druid Leander. They get some clues from an assortment of fey, treants, and giants, then negotiate the druid's dungeon resting place. The dungeon combines some combat tests with puzzles and riddles, most of which look relatively simple enough for an average group to handle easily.

"Gnome Droppings", by Christopher Perkins (Spelljammer, Levels 2-4): Tinker gnomes drop their autognome cargo from a spelljamming ship, then come back and recover it. The adventurers hear a strange noise in the forest, and if they're curious, they might investigate, slaughter some evil-if-innocent bystanders (grimlocks and spriggans), and interact with a harmless-but-malfunctioning robot. There's a hook into Spelljammer (especially the goofier parts, like giant hamsters), but nobody gets hurt if the adventurers just snooze. The right group would have fun, but is this actually an adventure?

"Huzza's Goblin-O-War", by Paul F. Culotta (AD&D Forgotten Realms, Levels 4-6): A monstrous pirate ship, crewed by goblins, margoyles, and a wizard, attack the PCs' ship at sea. When I first read it, the idea of a hill giant pirate captain struck me as a little too high-fantasy for my tastes. It may seem a little gonzo, but it sure does look like an entertaining encounter, even if Huzza is probably not bright enough to be a corsair. It's set in the Sea of Fallen Stars in the Forgotten Realms, but could be worked into any sea area with monstrous pirates.

"Invisible Stalker", by Johnathan M. Richards (AD&D SideTrek, Levels 1-2): It's exactly what you'd guess from the pun: a creepy sleazeball of a villain with the power to not be seen, here accomplished via a level-inappropriate magic item. The villain's plan would be an interesting encounter, if you want to see how 1st-level characters plan to use a powerful magic ring later on. If so, it can be set in any city environment.

"Blood & Fire", by John Baichtal (Al-Qadim, Levels 5-7): The adventurers travel from Qaybar, an emirate somewhere in Zakhara, to find its missing heir (the McGuffin). They travel across the desert to the oasis of Khaldun where they discover he's been taken by the Brotherhood of the True Flame, a powerful cabal of sinister flame mages, and taken to their Ivory Tower in the Valley of Mist. The plot of this adventure is fairly straightforward, and the final dungeon is not complex; there's about a half-dozen wilderness encounters and ten or so at the Tower. But there's a great deal of attention to detail in creating an evocative Arabian-themed desert setting. There's some excellent images and encounters: leucrottas haunting the dunes at night, an enchanted young couple mystically frozen in amber, a wizard mummy who doesn't realize he's dead in his cairn, the Apparatus of Kwalish clattering in a poisonous fog. Tony DiTerlizzi did some great illustrations here; I love the portrait of the coiling dragonne Zu'l Janah. This looks like a great adventure, my favorite in this issue.

"Beauty Corrupt", by Kent Ertman (AD&D 2E, Levels 4-5): After "The Phantom Menace", I'll never blindly trust a plot that revolves around the disruption of trade negotiations (here, between the coastal towns of Orchid Bay and WyrWatch). The hook is a simple request to heal the key negotiator, who has a mystical afflication. But this adventure has a fairly creative McGuffin: a sirene's song, captured by a covey of hags as a spell component. They dwell in a fairly simple lair typical of a sea hag, guarded by scrags and merrow, with a few false entrances; the encounters look very tough, but the goal is to disrupt a spell, not kill everything in sight. There's the opportunity to adventure underwater, since a plant called quipper kelp allows characters to breathe water.

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