Posted on January 14, 2009 by teampreston
Writing: Harley Stroh with Aeryn “Blackdirge” Rudel
Editing: Aeryn “Blackdirge” Rudel
Cover Art: Clyde Caldwell
Interior Art: Britt Martin
Cartography: Ed Bourelle
Art Direction: Jim Pinto
At the first glance we see color art by Clyde Caldwell in 2001. This image is available for review at Clyde’s website. I imagine this piece was used for nostalgia reasons, or being one of the contributor’s favorites. As far as the cover art goes, I’m torn. Clyde Caldwell’s work does invoke a certain “feel” from an earlier era of D&D, which I expect was part of the idea in using this piece.
The Interior Art was done by Britt Martin and is good solid work. Having one artist do all the internal artwork does have the advantage of consistent-looking art. Honestly, I think the adventure would have been better served by Britt Martin’s cover art than re-using an old piece from Clyde Caldwell. My only negative comment on the interior art is that the image of the Dragon…well…it’s not a Dragon. It is missing arms. That makes it a Wyvern. That’s just me being a nit-picker.
The cartography is smooth and clear. Very well done. Ed Bourelle is an exceptional cartographer.
The Introduction of this module is important. Usually I glaze over the intro, but in this adventure, it gives some important info to the DM. Specifically on what is expected of the PCs and DM.
Caution: While Dragora’s Dungeon is for low-level characters, it is not recommended for first-time GMs or players. The adventure is designed to reward intelligent play, just as foolish choices must surely be punished. But for players and GMs looking for a challenging, dynamic adventure, Dragora’s Dungeon will not disappoint.
This is no joke. The traps and encounters in this adventure are deadly. An experienced DM is necessary in order to keep this from becoming a Total Party Kill (TPK) right off the bat.
There is ample background material and explanation of what all is going on surrounding the central plot. Included is a Dragon and a slave-race of Gorilla-Men.
The first half of the adventure is a straight up series of linear deadly encounters. By linear I mean that while there are a few options given, there is really only one path to succeed. By deadly I do indeed mean DEADLY. A party of 1st Level Adventurers needs to be balanced and smart. They need to be absolutely cautious or face mortality. True Dungeoneers only please! All other should stay on the porch. No real RP at all in the first half. It’s a series of combat encounters and traps only.
The second half of the adventure introduces some roleplaying opportunities. Actually, it’s a big opportunity for characters with social skills to shine because failure at this stage could almost certainly result in TPK as well. Poor rolls and accidentally insulting a faction can result in a massive attack or ambush by vastly overwhelming forces. There is DM advice on how the adventurers should act in order to save themselves; tactical advice that they (the PCs) hopefully realize before they are all dead.
The finale is a battle with the Big Boss (Dragora) where she has prepared the area and is ready to escape at the first sign of defeat.
Overall, I liked the adventure for its production values. Good editing, good art. Good maps. The layout is consistent with other D&D 4E products so it’s easy for 4E DMs to find what they are looking for. One of the benefits of 4E and this adventure illuminates this…is that every encounter is a self-contained “object”. Think in terms of object-oriented programming. Every encounter is easily dropped in or hooked to. All the encounters come with all the data needed in a nice neat little package. For a DM, this is awfully nice.
The adventure itself? Honestly, it’s a deathtrap. You have essentially a single track, with combat and traps stacked against you every step of the way. The roleplaying aspects are minimal and really only serve to make things worse for you in the end (if certain factions have joined you, the end encounter is even harder).
Part of the problem I believe is an overabundance of non-minion critters. Almost everything the PCs face will be their equals. There’s no slow attrition by hordes of minions…just a constant flow of combat encounters against things that could conceivably wipe out the party each time. Add to this that everything is trapped. Not wimpy little traps…character killer traps.
I believe that if this adventure had options for circumventing more of the combat, alternate paths to success, false or broken traps, more minions and adjust the target level of PCs from 1st level to 2nd or 3rd even…this would be an awesome adventure. As it sits, this adventure is a great way to kill your party of 1st Level Adventurers. Aside from that it’s useful for strip-mining for adventure ideas or as a fun dream sequence where everyone dies.
Production Value: 4 out of 5 Dice
Playability: 2 out of 5 Dice
Overall Score: 3 out of 5 Dice
Review by Jeff Preston