Thursday, December 23, 2010

Why Caverns of Thracia Is The Best Published Dungeon And Shouldn't Be

When I was a kid, I never read published modules--and for the most part, neither did anybody else I knew. The only published adventures I ever came across were the little introductory ones stuck into core rulebooks and I and everyone I knew knew that those were lame. We wrote our own.

So the first time I picked up a published dungeon, I'd been making homemade dungeons for years--and, Lo and Behold, I picked it up And It Was Lame. I picked up another, Lame Again.

Adventure modules are only slightly above PC-build splatbooks on the RPG-product chain of being. Compared to the imagination fuel you typically get out of corebooks, monsterbooks, and sourcebooks, they suck a lot. Once in a while there's a good one-shot, and there are tons of great monsters that first appeared in published adventures, but beyond that, modules suck to a degree not seen since titans walked the earth and dogs could talk.

Now, when I first saw Jaquays' Caverns of Thracia (the link is to the d20 update, but I read the 1979 original) I was an adult, I was aware of its reputation, and I had played a lot of D&D and made a lotta dungeons.

My reaction was (and still is):

1) This is the best large dungeon module I've ever seen, and...

2) that is sad because this isn't that great.

omgblasphemy. I am sure I will now be burned in effigy on boards I don't read.

Don't get it twisted: if I ran Thracia tomorrow as a player or DM I'd have a blast, for sure. It's good. It's solid. It's lovingly constructed. It's...

Ok, let me put it this way: Whenever I design a large dungeon, and whenever I was in a dungeon designed by someone else, the default assumptions are:

-There is a wide variety of monsters in the dungeon.

-It's really big.

-The design is nonlinear so you that you can end up doing the dungeon in any number of different ways.*

-There are traps. These traps make sense considering who built them and what they were protecting.

-There are weird nonstandard tricks--these things are weird but they have a reason they're there. If all else fails its some kind of "test" and if even that fails then maybe it was designed by an insane wizard.

-There are enough traps that PCs look at every single thing in the dungeon sideways. Therefore every detail--even if harmless--is potentially important.

-The culture(s) that built the dungeon aren't the ones who live in it now (that's why there are traps and tricks guarding ancient hidden treasures rather than just guards in front of what amounts to a bank vault.)

-There is more than one intelligent faction living in the dungeon and controlling what goes on there (that's why 3-8 random adventurers have a chance of getting in and out--the enemy isn't inept, they just have to simultaneously deal with other shit besides you.) (That's also why there's more than one kind of trick and trap.)

-The whole dungeon functions together. A lever or key in location A can affect things that happen in location B. You have to go back sometimes to find these things.

-Dangerous features of the dungeon can be used against the dungeon inhabitants by clever PCs.

-The tricks and the traps alternate with monster fights but--more than that--they are integrated with monster fights so that they can work together. You never fight the same monster twice because environmental factors make a difference.

Now, like I said, these are the defaults. It's possible to build a good dungeon with one of these switches turned "off" but it's like tying your hands.

More than that though, a lot of these features are why I like dungeons in the first place: the complexity, the mystery, the interfactional drama and multidirectional possibilities for problem-solving.

When I say almost all our dungeons were like this, I am not claiming to be special--I assume anybody who knows what they're doing would do dungeons this way at least once in a while. It seems like the cliche. A good cliche. This is what the DM guide in the Red Box and AD&D DMG had trained me to expect, it's what video games, from Zork to Super Mario Bros had trained me to expect, and it's what actually playing the game for years had trained me to expect and I was always kind of mystified that whenever I looked at a module it was never like this.

There were repetitive dungeons that were just one-note orc-and-ogre bullshit, or "theme" dungeons where it's all about some specific cute gimmick, or (especially from WoTC) dungeons which were just a bunch of fights linearly strung together in order with inhabitants apparently too dumb to help each other, or funhouse dungeons designed by wizards whose idea of a good time was making you fight a chocolate moose in a Corridor of Living Succotash, or fortress dungeons where the whole thing was controlled by one entity so that it didn't really make sense how easy it was to get past the traps and stuff.

I think most people's fond memories of "classic" dungeon modules comes from nostalgic memories from times when they were happy to be playing D&D at all. A goblin in a room? Awesome! And treasure, too? Holy gobstoppers! TSR's Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure is just linked fights with--if I recall--not a single secret door or real puzzle (as opposed to the occasional "that spell won't work, what about this one" puzzle) to be found, the Temple of Elemental Evil is just like random monster manual entries strung together, the only thing special about the small Village of Hommlet dungeon other than the neat picture showing the possible entrances is the lack of stupid gimmicks, and Ruins of Greyhawk and Ruins of Undermountain both seem really high on the Arbitrary Feature Justified By A Crazy Wizard quotient--and although I don't mind a crazy wizard one bit you'd think: A-the crazy wizard would think of something crazier to do other than install yet another device hidden in a random dungeon feature that does a little bit of damage, B-Even a crazy wizard might want to make rooms that have something to do with each other on occasion, and C-TSR might've eventually thought of some non-crazy-wizard justification for unusual features in a megadungeon after a while.

Not to mention the fact that TSR dungeons are so larded with descriptive text that almost always just amounts to "this room has various mundane objects you'd expect to be in here and, also, a monster that tries to kill you" that by the time you've finished reading them you've already thought of something at least as good.


"120. Kitchen. This place is 20' x 30' OH MY GOD THAT'S ON THE MAP DO I NEED IT HERE TOO?...."Within the darkest recesses of the..." HOW ABOUT A SNAKE? "...fireplace dwells a giant poisonous snake. It is coiled and..."IT'LL ATTACK AND THERE'S SOME LAME TREASURE LYING AROUND "may strike by surprise (50% chance). It has not eaten for a long time, and is very hungry. It can strike to 8 foot range, half its length, and attacks any creature coming within that range. Near the ogre skeleton is a usable shortsword (its "dagger") and a leather sack containing 84 gp. These are hidden under a small pile of nondescript debris. The ten-foot-square rooms were used for crockery storage and food storage, respectively for the south and west areas. Their contents are broken and smashed; food- stuffs are spoiled."

Thanks, 240-word room description! It's hard to figure why anyone would use these dungeons: it takes more time to read and prepare them with a highlighter than it would take to make an equally involved dungeon on your own.

A DM perusing Ruins of Undermountain, comes across this message and eagerly leans forward:
This is a complex encounter; the DM must be totally familiar with everything in this room before the PCs begin exploring the area.
What have we here? Sounds cuh-Rayzeee...Oh: A vampire with a lot of spells, and some other undead helping him. And pillars that trap you if you touch them. And some pits. What's in the pits? Zombies.

And in case you're wondering: the pillars don't work on the undead, so that's a layer of possible complexity (pointlessly) removed. Is there any self-respecting D&D-playing 12-year old anywhere who couldn't have thought of that on their own? Does that not sound exactly how Chad Blerkenwald killed your dwarf fighter in 8th grade?

Next room: a necrophidius in a partially magic-proof room. Next Medusas: 3 of them. You paid money for this. Couldn't they have just had a line in the Monster Manual: "Medusae occasionally appear in rooms".

This kind of points up the whole problem with most dungeons: publishers seem to put most of their creativity into the monsters, classes, magic items, and spells. Most of these come from the core books. When dungeons are published, they stick a monster or spells or item into a room and assume that's enough to charge money for. And, yeah, that'll make a fun encounter--but they forget that we can do that on our own since they already gave us the monsters and spells and items in other books before. The dungeon has to include encounters that are new and interesting beyond that. And they don't.

Then (years ago) I saw Caverns of Thracia.

Look at this: Everything you think is supposed to be in a dungeon! Finally. That's nice. Next...

To be fair now, Thracia has a couple features that I hadn't seen before:

-fun tables to roll on to see what the PCs have heard about the dungeon before going in, and...

-maps that are complicated and eccentric enough to resemble genuine layers of building floorplans (though this second doesn't really add that much more to play at the table.)

-a couple wonderfully described (but mechanically ordinary) unique boss monsters.

Now it's obviously possible that all the dungeon cliches I like so much actually came from Caverns of Thracia and its ilk and that's why, ten or fifteen years after it was published, none of it seemed too terribly mind-blowing.

Sure, but put it this way: Caverns of Thracia is the best big published dungeon I've ever seen, but it should be the worst.

What should've happened is people looked at this thing and how it was built and said "Look what we have here, a fine dungeon, full of depth, variety and even a few moving parts! Let's remove the Greek stuff and replace it with Viking stuff, because that's cooler, let's remove the underground forest because seriously who cares? there's already a gazillion magic forests above ground...and lets replace this trick with a more elaborate one and move this one over here, let's replace the umpteenth skeleton fight with an eye-of-fear-and-flame and..."...and basically build on the chassis provided in Thracia the way that game designers built on the chassis of D&D.

Instead what it looks like they did is went "Ok, here's a a fine dungeon, full of depth and variety! Let's now try to only ever publish things that are worse."

Am I being hard on the old boy? Here are some of the more elaborate ideas in Thracia:(SPOILERS)

-A rope bridge you have to go across while baddies attack

-A room full of corpses frozen in prayer position--some have treasure, but one of them is a "very patient wight".

-A skull that will answer 1 yes/no question from each PC but which marks the players with a symbol that affects whether certain other dungeon features activate at their approach and causes an undead monster to appear when the PC is low on hp.

-Curtains that stick to whatever they touch .

All good stuff, all fun, but, in terms of imagery and mechanical novelty, none of it is better than the sort of ideas I've been reading for the last week when I ask for random ideas--or what I expect to read at least once a week on somebody's blog.**

Jaquays main achievement here was thoroughness and hard work: there's craftsmanship on every page, creativity on every third or fourth page, and there's seventy-eight pages. Nothing at which to sneeze, but it's sad that, more than 30-odd years later, nobody's managed to do better than that and get it published.

*There's a popular Old School meme where someone went and analyzed the possible paths through Jaquays' dungeons, pointing out how part of their distinctive design was that they were nonlinear. This struck me at the time as a lot like someone pouring through old Minor Threat bootlegs and announcing that, after careful analysis, they'd discovered Minor Threat songs are really fast.

Examples? Here's two without even thinking about it:
Here's a room Jeff made: two doors, one big one small. Opening the small door and putting anything into it makes the same object come into the room through the other door, massively enlarged. I've never seen anything that good in a crazy wizard dungeon.

Sick of crazy wizards? Chris Lowrance inflicts this punishment on PCs captured by evil humanoids, in a random comment on this here blog:

The bearer of this mark is to be sealed inside the skull of a giant, which is then filled with either:

1. A mild acid (will ruin cloth and paper, removes all body hair, permanent scarring over entire body),
2. Cave Bees (like normal bees but deal with fungi spores instead of pollen),
3. Jackalhead pups,
4. Cave Honey Mead (think bourbon with traces of LSD in it),
5. Blood,
6. Snakes and chicken eggs,
7. Snakes and live chickens,
8. Hallucinogenic Mushrooms,
9. Rotting meat,
10. A candle, some dice, a couple hunks of meat and a kobold who just happened to draw the same sign that morning.

Why can't anybody gainfully employed in the RPG industry have their orcs do that when they capture you?


DHBoggs said...

Lots to like and ponder on in that post Zac. I'm personally not inclined to want every adventure to be a mega dungeon, but when they are, I think you've laid out a great set of standards to meet. BTW Blackmoor dungeon original), has basically everything you called for too except being a little lighter on traps, or at least Arneson didn't reveal where the traps were or what they do.

Callan S. said...

I'll agree with the 'your printing stuff we could make in a second in a half', I don't know about calling it boring.

I mean, as much as someone might be happy just to be playing D&D and an orc with some treasure is great, at the other end of the spectrum perhaps is a complex dungeon not because that's more fun, but because the persons jaded with the simple dungeon bashing pleasures in life (and needs complex to simply get as much as a high as an orc in a room used to give him)

I thinkn much like enjoying the simple things in life or stopping and smelling the roses, you need to keep enjoying the basic dungeon encounters. Or atleast the basic encounter types you enjoy.

Zak Sabbath said...


...sure, simple encounters are fine, but making people pay for them is lame. how would you feel if the monster manual 2 was just "greater" and "lesser" versions of monsters that were already in MM1?

Delta said...

How do you feel about Gygax's G/D adventures?

Zak Sabbath said...


Most of what I've read of the G and D stuff isn't really "big dungeons" but I haven't read them all. what do you think?

Callan S. said...

I'm not sure it's making people, but people probably think, when they buy the dungeon, they'd get more than that (and I don't mean purple prose). I already agree with you on that, no worries. I'm just saying not to lose enjoyment of simple encounters. Like the demo dungeons in the DM guide - they shouldn't be thought of as lame. Just simple pleasures.

artikid said...

I mostly agree on the dungeon design dos and don'ts, anyway I never expected a module to be "perfect".
A module has always just been a start.
If I played modules as written, I'd better spend my time playing tetris than playing D&D.
I never read caverns of thracia, however there's some modules I have a healthy respect for:
-Dwellers of the Forbidden City
-Baltron's Beacon

Adam Dickstein said...

I've never actually heard of or seen this module before. I am intrigued enough to check it out.

Throughtout most of this post, you give all the reasons I don't like dungeons. Traditionally my exposure to them in the early days in the hobby was just as you said, so happy that D&D even existed I thought all modules were cool.

Afterwards(with a few notable exceptions) I began to see them as the same collection of random crap over and over again. Most were too linear, about fights and traps and treasure but nothing else. Why am I here? Why would someone build this thing? Another crazy wizard? Boring and annoying.

Also, I'm big into terrain and environment. I want to swim to safety. I want to soar through the air and fall from the sky. I want to experience the hustle and bustle of a city as I'm chased through its narrow, winding streets. In the rain.

A hall to a door to a room. Again. Wake me when its over.

I do like a clever trap though, always have.

Seems like this one is at least worth a look.

thekelvingreen said...

how would you feel if the monster manual 2 was just "greater" and "lesser" versions of monsters that were already in MM1?

This is exactly why I hate D&D4's monster book. Two thirds of it consists of variant versions of the other third. Give me the rules to convert the monsters into skirmishers or "artillery" or whatever myself, then use the saved space to give me more, different, monsters. Blah.

Back to the point, how do James Raggi's scenarios fit into this? Do they not match up either? Do they not fulfil the stated criteria of "published dungeon"? Or did you just overlook them? I'm not trying to foment trouble, as I broadly agree with your point; I just want to get some context so I understand your point better.

Dan said...

I agree totally Zak. I've never seen a module I wanted to buy. I'll read through adventures looking for good ideas to expand upon, sure. Sometimes I even find one.

In addition to the problem you name I also find that they tend to be lay'd out in the most awful way, making them very difficult to read and use. This is especially a problem with WotC stuff, along with the feeling that there's a bunch of information missing, like the module wasn't actually finished before being published.

Like Adam though I prefer above-ground adventures. If anything the official modules for that scenario have been even worse.

Zak Sabbath said...


If you re-read the post you see that it is about "big dungeons" nothing Raggi's produced so far qualifies.

I even say:

"once in a while there's a good one-shot".

Like Death Frost Doom f'rinstance.

Zak Sabbath said...


Judging by the fact that, for 2 years, I've been mentioning the sorts of things Thracia does well and you've been posting comments about how those things don't interest you very much, I suggest you don't buy it.

Zak Sabbath said...


All due respect, but if you're talking about the very sketchy Blackmoor dungeon laid out on pgs 30-43 of "The First Fantasy Supplement" it has pretty much none of what I am talking about: for the most part it's just a list of rooms and which monster and or treasure is in which room.

I am not really sure what you could possibly mean here. I am arguing for dungeons that provide complex interlocking situations and environments NOT already implied by the core rules.

thekelvingreen said...

Zak, that's what I thought. Okay, up to speed now.

Adam Dickstein said...


Sorry to come off as such a naysayer. I really do love your ideas, artwork and the concepts you put forth on this site. I find the material well thought out, well written and often inspiring (not to mention occasionally hilarious). I just don't play the same game.

It's funny but I'm always hoping to find that one product or item I missed that will sell me on the old school D&D phenomenon. The one that'll make me go, "Oh, I get it now!"

Zak Sabbath said...


Seriously, I get it. I mean, you like cinematics and swashbuckling and the big-screen effect and narratives of awesomeness and all that. I think old school is about: You can get whatever want outta this game, but you gotta build it up starting off as a plotless disposable schumck with nothing but padded armor and a 10 foot pole and -earn- all that radness one dead gnoll at a time.

If you want to be badass kung fu master in the middle of an epic saga right outta the box, then you definitely do wanna play a different game. That's the smart move. I appreciate you coming around and reminding everybody that just because you roll a different way doesn't mean you're a dick.

Adam Dickstein said...

Thanks man. I appreciate that.

Delta said...

Zak S said: "Most of what I've read of the G and D stuff isn't really 'big dungeons' but I haven't read them all. what do you think?"

True. I do think G/D is sort of the crown jewel of published TSR adventures. Re: Your comments on other classic stuff, G/D hits a very good spot for me on being textured, having verisimilitude, responsive inhabitants, some weird corner spots, and brevity in descriptions.

Granted my taste is way low on the "wahoo" meter. But I think it's as good as I ever saw for published adventures (in fact, likely the best single TSR production after OD&D boxed set).

Chris Lowrance said...

Good point, Zak, why aren't I gainfully employed in the RPG industry having my orcs inflict that on PCs? Damn it. But seriously, I'm flattered.

I suspect the reason more published modules don't contain the kind of inspired material we've all been posting on our blogs and here is simple: One person's "inspired material" is another's "batshit insanity." It's the same reason Hollywood prefers a another CGI memory assassination over an original screenplay. I like Cave Bees, you like Cave Bees, but would WotC take the chance on enough people liking Cave Bees to publish that? Or would they go the safe route and say "The Gnolls will imprison PCs in a room full of Things From Another Product We Sell So Go Buy That?"

Zak Sabbath said...


I don't think that could really be the whole story--after all, this lack of trying that hard not only goes for Splatbook Era stuff but also for 3rd party stuff, pre-bloat TSR products, even products which are pretty clearly semi-self-published versions of game designers' home campaigns. The game industry just isn't big and moneybound enough to restrict complexity because "the public can't handle it".

There are LOTS of inventive, complex, and "out there" ideas in game products--just not in dungeon adventures for some reason.

Menace 3 Society said...

I kind of got that sense from Expedition to Barrier Peaks. The module suffered from genre clash, though, that made it almost unusable for everyday gaming.

Zak Sabbath said...


Barrier Peaks is a good example of a module where I would go "Ok, fine, that's a little adventure that does that thing if you want to do that, but where's the regular old dungeon that's good?"

I mean, creativity isn't just "Haha! Never expected that did you!" it's also about putting your nose to the grindstone to make actually playing the game you expect to be playing rich and interesting.

Chris Lowrance said...


I see. Yeah, if we are talking about, essentially, the entire history of published DnD-related materials, then the comparison is less to Hollywood and more to any film anyone has ever attempted to show in a theater for money. And my simile collapses.

I'm at a loss as to why there are no dungeon modules to fit your qualifications, because I don't see much to disagree with in your description of a good dungeon. Not enough for everyone that ever published a dungeon to disagree with.

There's only one thing for it. We must all create and publish a dungeon.

Noumenon said...

I don't know exactly how critical you'd be of Castle Whiterock, but to me it seems like it does all the things you'd expect and includes cool stuff like

"...and the cloud giant skeleton has to keep its balance on the tilted floor of the fallen tower while it fights,"

"...and at the top of the tower is a caged raven, are you smart enough to realize it'll carry a message to lure its master?"

"...and your water beetle opponents carry bubbles of breathable air under their carapaces,"

"...and if you knew that the slavers always dump one slave overboard at this point in the underground river, the skum wouldn't have attacked you,"

"...and the gnomish washing machines were once powered by water elementals, which attack!"

It's so hard knowing what someone else will or won't like in an adventure, the stalactite full of drow or the unicorn burial ground or the door golem might be your favorites or they might sound lame. Castle Whiterock was a quality product though, from Goodman Games.

Zak Sabbath said...


Never saw it. Will investigate.

Badmike said...

It seems like most of the people who complain about the lack of "good" dungeons are usually not very well read on said dungeon adventures. Not a specific complaint against you, Zak, but it's a little like someone who hasn't read history complaining how "boring" the sixties must have been as a decade cause it was all about The Beatles, Hippies and the Vietnam War while the history major sadly shakes his head. I wouldn't dare to venture an opinion on, say,

As someone who has probably read 90% of the stuff published by RPG companies like TSR, ICE, SPI and others from the dawn of time until the end of the last century, I'd say there are a few goodies like Caverns out there...but you are going to have to wade through a TON of muck to get there. Starstone, The Curse on Hareth, Tulan of the Isles, I1 The Forbidden City, there are plenty of selections out there perhaps not very well known but quite imaginative and outside the norm.

Besides, I've always found one persons "OMG! That is just an incredible room in the dungeon!" is another person's "What a pile of shite"...

Zak Sabbath said...


Mike, I'm surprised you still come around here, all things considered.


I totally believe that there's stuff out there I don't know about.

My calculation at this point is: is it worth spending time I could be using to write dungeons through all the muck looking for the good stuff.

Everyone enjoys a good record but a record collector is the kind of person who's willing to wade through 3000 bad records to find one good one.

My thesis isn't really that all dungeons must suck, but that the good stuff hasn't been very influential.

Badmike said...

What was that line Brian Eno had about The Velvet Underground? "They only sold a thousand records, but everyone who bought one formed their own band". I think the fact that Caverns is pointed to by so many people in the industry as an influence shows that it's place is secure (whether or not said designer's actual material copies Caverns or not....I can write a horror story but it's not going to touch King's The Shining or The Stand). I'm inclined to go with Chris' "Batshit insanity" vs "inspired material" theory myself.

Zak Sabbath said...


To each his own, but I can tell you I have NEVER heard of anyone reading a module and gone "whoa, this is just too far out" (aside from early reactions to barrier peaks or temple of the frog), but people (including me) are constantly opening them and going "oh, this again".

I'd be willing to read a lot more "Oh my god, this is just too crazy for me", if it meant once in a while I got to see "Oh, look at that, nice."

mike ninja said...

just to be clear cause I am new here. You don't like any of the old school adventures? the Bs? Tomb of horrors, White Plume mt, Against the Giants, I have used Palace of the Silver Princess about a dozen times since 1983 alone.

Zak Sabbath said...


Did you read the post?

It's about big dungeons. None of those are about big dungeons.

mike ninja said...

point taken.

Will Mistretta said...

Frankly, I think there's some map/territory confusion going on here.

Of course "three medusas in a room" is boring on paper.

But with a hyped-up group and skilled DM, "that one room with the vampire and the trapped pillars and the zombie pits" might well be an encounter remembered fondly for years.

These things aren't meant to be engrossing bathroom reading material, they're meant to be used. Of course there's going to be a dry, utilitarian aspect to a lot of the material that doesn't sizzle on the page like it's straight from the pen of some master storyteller.

And because a lot of this stuff is so utilitarian (just some simple floorplans and basic encounter notes for DMs who don't feel like coming up with their own this week and/or want something that's easy to graft onto their existing creations), requiring that extraordinary work on the level of Caverns of Thracia be the minimum necessary for publication would be nothing but detrimental. All it would accomplish is to guarantee that there'd never be a large enough quantity of material on the market to meet that need within the community.

Zak Sabbath said...


"Need within the community"?

What need? Modules aren't potatoes. We can play D&D without them. The only thing that justifies their existence is if they provide new ideas.

The amount of work it takes to find "3 medusas in a room" is MORE work than it takes to dream up "3 medusas in a room".

The amount of time it takes to read, grasp, and prep the vampire/pillar room is MORE time than it'd take to think that up.

I'm not saying things in modules--even very simple things--aren't fun. I'm saying they aren't significantly MORE fun than what the average 13 year old with a monster manual would dream up left to his or her own devices. And they have to be or they do not justify their cover price.

richard said...

(a) I agree with everything in this post. But:
(b) I've never thought of 3 medusas in a room. Probably because I always think of the medusa as a solitary cursed hubristic Titan-woman, but also... consider the tactical possibilities. How have the 3 medusas coexisted in this small space for untold aeons without turning each other to stone? What codes do they have for "I'm coming through the third columnated passage now" and "don't look up"? How would a party exploit their mutual shyness? It seems like some kind of fiendish chess problem.

But sure, just writing "this room has 3 medusas" is not worth my money.

Zak Sabbath said...


whether or not you thought of it already, TSR did, and published it:

"No. Appearing: 1-3"
-AD&D Monster Manual

So they're selling you the same idea twice.

blake said...

TSR A4: In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords

pretty much fits the bill asked here-

Multiple choices & pathways;
Multiple groups of denizens who can be allied with or battled
Weirdo flourishes like a hive of mushroom men who try to make you get high with them or ants who make a bridge out of their own bodies over a chasm, underwater options etc
Ingenuity & left field problem solving not just encouraged but a complete necessity to survive
An interesting battle on the docks with the bad guys while a volcano explodes living magma men who are potentially setting fire to the boats you will need to escape the lava explosions.

Best module ever IMO, if you can swallow the start gimmick

Zak Sabbath said...


I may have given A4 short shrift due to it having kobolds, a cave fisher and a fire lizard. I might take a second look at it if i get a minute.

blake said...

Well on the monster front, there are a few "just bigger" types but several newies.

And the presentation of the kobolds as the last of a dying colony appealed to me.

I believe the monsters the Cave Fisher, Sandling, magma Men & Myconids all appeared for the first time in A4.

So they were hardly cliches at the time

I had no idea what a cave fisher or sandling was when I played it and they freaked me out. All the new monsters presented are fairly weird creations, if taken for the first time, not the cliches some became.

Anyway, just thought it was worth throwing in the ring as a decent early module.

Zak Sabbath said...


it's not that they're cliches, it's just I don't like them. But, like I said, I'll give it a reread sometime

Michael Lewis said...

That whole series was pretty good.

Zak Sabbath said...

I want to say here that, year later, having read all the suggestions of other modules people made in the comments:

They were really bad and suggesting them seems like they didn't read the article.