Review: Dungeonlands – Tomb of the Lich Queen

Posted: 18 December 2014 in Reviews
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Every so often, I get the urge to run a megadungeon again. I have plans to create one using a mixture of Asteroid, How to Host a Dungeon, Labyrinth Lord and the London Underground map, and maybe someday I actually will, but recently I thought: Somebody must have done a Savage Worlds megadungeon already, why don’t I look for that? And so…

In a Nutshell: Old School killer dungeon for Savage Worlds from Savage Mojo – Pathfinder version also available. 129 page PDF, $20 at time of writing. Part one of three; the upper levels, if you will.

CONTENTS

First up: The whole dungeon is a massive death-trap, and assumes the PCs are Heroic Rank or better.

We begin with a Conanesque full-colour cover, a page about the gods of the Suzerain multiverse in which the dungeon is set, disclaimers and credits, and a table of contents. Don’t worry about the Suzerain multiverse thing, the dungeon is designed to slot into any campaign, fantasy or otherwise, with a minimum of fuss. In fact, most of the individual encounters strike me as pretty portable and could be dropped individually into other places of mystery.

The Legend of the Lich Queen (21 pages). Background fiction.

Enter and Die (18 pages). In which the PCs find their way to Paxectl Island, where the dungeon is located, and explore the 15 locations of the ruined surface level. It’s worth noting that any PC, from any setting, can find the Tomb, and there are a number of free-to-download alternative beginnings written by guest authors, usually containing some pre-generated PCs, info on their home setting, and an adventure culminating in their finding the Tomb.

The Tomb of the Lich Queen (59 pages): The bulk of this chapter is taken up with 31 encounters; the GM is advised to read them all before starting play, as some of them interact, generating different outcomes depending on what the PCs have explored before, and some of them have to be solved in a particular sequence.

First, though, there’s an explanation of the overall story structure and how the dungeon is randomly generated as the PCs explore. There’s no overall map, but there are corridors connecting encounter areas, which are of course populated by wandering monsters.

The individual encounters are a mixture of safe areas where PCs can rest, traps, clues to the storyline, and more traps; no spoilers, but they are all atmospheric and at least slightly unusual – none of this “you open a door and see six goblins; they attack” business. You do get straight-up fights, but usually those are with wandering monsters in the corridors. There’s a lot of machinery involved, for reasons which make good sense given the storyline, but if you’re purist high fantasy or swords-and-sorcery you may not want quite this much clockpunk. The general feel is that of Old School roleplaying; the PCs will not survive just on Notice rolls to find traps and Lockpicking or Repair rolls to bypass them, the players need to pay attention to their surroundings and act accordingly. There are a few encounters where I did think, how on Earth are the PCs supposed to figure that out? But experience teaches me they will, or if not, they are capable of enough sustained violence to batter their way through.

The product assumes that you’re using the companion tile maps (another ten bucks or so) and cards (free to download at time of writing) to generate the dungeon and lay it out for play, and that you only roll dice if you don’t have access to those.

How vicious is this tomb? The designers recommend PCs get a new benny (called “Karma” in the Suzerain over-setting) every time they survive meeting a monster or a trap. Under the Suzerain modifications to Savage Worlds, a player can spend a benny to avoid death, so PCs can only die if they run out of bennies; you might want to consider using that mod here.

Denizens of the Tomb (25 pages): 22 new foes for the heroes to face. Let’s leave those as surprises, shall we?

We close with a list of the Kickstarter backers who funded this.

There are a lot of free-to-download supplements for Dungeonlands; you might or might not want the alternative beginnings, but I found Heroes and Servitors useful as a source of pre-gen characters and extra encounters (and as examples of what the main book’s encounters are like), and the bonus tables useful for monsters and treasure. I’m not likely to use the Encounter Cards, but found the Tomb Cards essential to understand the layout.

FORMAT

The usual; two-column black text on a full-colour background, with full-colour art every few pages. Boxouts are in white text on black. Thankfully the background can be suppressed for cheaper printing.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

21 pages of introductory fiction? Seriously? 17% of the page count? That’s not what I buy these things for, you know; and I’d also appreciate it if previews on places like RPGNow had something other than exerts from the fiction, which really doesn’t help me assess whether I want to buy the product or not; an example encounter would be better. I would have preferred less fiction and some legible diagrams of the modules used to make up the dungeon; that could probably have been done in 2-4 pages.

Speaking of which, it would have helped me a lot to know that most encounter areas are square, about 7″ on a side, with two doors on opposing sides, but that corridors are whatever size, shape and number of exits you need to connect them. If you play in dim light, as recommended, you’ll struggle with the low contrast on some of the map cards; on many of them, exits are simply gaps in black walls on a black floor. To help with all those points, here’s a quick, rough and spoiler-free view of the main encounter areas that I knocked up in Dungeonographer:

dungeonlands

CONCLUSIONS

As usual I’ve tried to tell you enough about the product to decide whether you want to buy it, without revealing all the secrets, because your players (or mine) may be reading. What it brought to mind for me were the horror movie Cube and the first Aliens vs Predator film, in particular the sequences in the Predator pyramid; randomly shifting rooms and corridors full of death traps.

I feel inspired to use this next time I do some SW dungeon crawling; it’ll probably wind up somewhere in the Dread Sea Dominions, somewhere in or near the Fallen Realm of Keron I expect, maybe in the Keronian Range. It has probably saved me many hours of dungeon creation, but that’s a mixed blessing, since if I created my own dungeon I would be able to report the group’s adventures in more detail, as spoilers would neither matter nor potentially infringe copyright. So maybe the OD&D Tube map will see the light of day at some point after all.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5. Better than I expected, good enough to get used, not quite good enough to get me to drop everything else.

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