Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Review - Lich Dungeon - Part the Third (and Final) - It's All About Expectations

32 Corridors greet the party when they descend into the first room of the dungeon.  That is not a typo.  32 corridors are the exits to the dungeon entry area.  They may as well flip a coin.  Or coins.

(Lich Dungeon Review Part 1)
(Lich Dungeon Review Part 2)

Wandering monsters are a major part of Lich Dungeon.  Unlike most of the encounters on the outside, the party will be engaging the majority of them.  Just like the random monsters on the outside, each gets a full stat block.

If there is a major problem I have with Lich Dungeon (aside from the Non System Specific System used in the stat blocks) it is the stat blocks themselves.  They are excessive consumers of space and in the end, page count.  While not a huge deal with a PDF (as the consumer doesn't have to pay extra necessarily for extra pages) it does lead to a misleading page count.

Nine pages are devoted more or less to stat blocks for the wandering encounters outside (13 pages in total deal with the random encounters).  You can make an argument that encounter descriptions are included in the stat blocks, so we'll go with 6 1/2 pages for the outdoor wandering encounter stat blocks of creatures, nearly all of which are in the OGL SRD and the OSR rules of your choice and deserve maybe a line or two at max.  Because, truth to tell, much of the stat blocks don't match up the OSR rules that you'll be using.  So, many of you will be ignoring them.

The dungeon wandering encounter stat blocks take less space, as there are less individual encounters compared to outdoors.  They also include write ups of the dungeon workers, which in this case, do deserve their own stat blocks.

The problem is, each room that has an encounter gives us a a full stat block.  Do we real need that for Undead Skeletons?
Undead Skeletons
Power: 5%
Defense: 15%
Health: 4, 5
Move: 9
Init: 0
Damage: Sword 1d6 or Clawed Hand 1d3
Special:  Undead; immune to mental & cold-
     based attacks
Demeanor: Robotic, hostile
Appearance: Skeletal human or humanoid
Does anyone else see the space waster this is?  I will give Frank Mentzer credit, as he wanted to go with a line or two for the stats and he was outvoted by his partners (as he posted elsewhere).  Frank, you were right and they were wrong.

Furthering the issue is that many rooms just repeat the same stat blocks from other rooms.  Then we wrap up at the end with 7 more pages of stat blocks repeating all of the stat blocks that previously appeared.  I'll roughly guess at least 15 pages are wasted on stat blocks.

As for the dungeon itself?  If you've been around D&D in it's various forms long enough, you'll remember the dungeons that used every last lick of space on the graph paper.  Why waste good gaming space?  ;)

This is that type of adventure.  There is nothing wrong with that, as it is entirely justified by the backstory of the dungeon, but it might seem strange and awkward to new gamers.

It also has traps, teleports, magic fountains (remember those?) and lots of secret doors.  Very old school in this manner.

How well does it pull it off?  It depends on your expectations.

If you are expecting something on par with a Judges Guild type of adventure (maps-wise and bit of silliness) coupled with a decent back story, you should find much to your liking.  It is, if nothing else, a piece of modern gaming history.

If, as someone else pointed out, you're expecting Stonehell, Barrowmaze and the like, you will be sorely disappointed.

I still don't like the Non System Specific System.  It's not a math issue.  It's an awkwardness issue and a needless series of steps to convert to something that resembles what I need to run it.  Which, strangely enough, becomes a non-issue when things converted still don't match stats in OSR rulesets.  I'd suggest referring to the ruleset of your choice and ignore the NSSS stat blocks.


  1. And thanks for an honest and straightforward review. -- F

  2. Reading this so far, it seems to me that (from my perspective, NOT Tenkar's) the only problem would be the stat blocks. For a module I don't expect to see a bunch of random encounters, but for a megadungeon being run at successive tournaments without much time in between, the only way to repopulate the dungeon is to keep the landmarks but do the monsters on the fly (ie, randomly).

    So the randomness would make it less of a good product in terms of what I'm buying unless I'm using it a LOT, but when Frank says that it reflects the 70s, it's definitely built for the purpose of repeated use without much time between breaks.

    It's not something I'd feel the need to use, myself, but in certain circumstances this kind of approach will keep you alive where one of the fully-detailed module-megadungeons leave you hanging after the first expedition.

  3. @Erik - you're welcome :)

    @Frank Mentzer - you're welcome. as you could see, it was too much to review in a single post.

    @Matt Finch - for some reason (probably because my last con was GenCon back in 93 or 94) the tournament style dungeon did not occur to me wheile reading Lich Dungeon. Now that you mention it, yes, it would work well as such


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