On a Useful Review of Dark Druids

So I got this module in the mail.

That happened, because I have art inside it. So it was free.

Let's talk about it for a second. Spoilers follow.

  • It's by Rob Kuntz, (link goes to his extensive bibliography) one of the first employees at TSR. This module is from his later design work, being written and ran during the early 1970's. 
  • It's the fourth time this module has been in print. The first was a d20 version, the second used "Creations Unlimited" stats, the third was an expanded d20 version. 
    • The version I'm reviewing has stats compatible with 1st edition Dungeons and Dragons, which ironically makes it closer to the original. 
  • It's on the upper end of mid-level adventurers or a beginning high level adventure, for 4-8 8th-12th level players. 
  • What? Is that my art on Page 10! Sweeet! Oh, and who drew that marvelous picture of the Aboleth on page 14? Who I wonder!?
  • The module allows for failure points as an option, with difficult puzzles. But if the players aren't smart enough to figure them out, their 8th-10th level characters should have other options for bypassing or solving the puzzles. It's written for that stage when it's ok to throw difficult encounters at the players, who are becoming well equipped to solve impossible situations. 
  • There are usually multiple approaches and solutions to any situations, with very few "gotcha's".
    • For example, there's a living grove arena that opens for players but is misty. Alternately they can approach from above, which avoids the mist effect. 
  • There's a bunch of stuff in here: A new class (the Dark Druid), new magic items, pages of new spells, new unique monsters, a unique monster generation system, really a ton of content.
  • It's interesting that this is the first in a series of six planned modules, with no plans for the following modules to be released. How certain are we that these won't ever see the light of day? Let's see what Robert himself has to say.

7) What I have to say next verges on the personal and humanistic, or some such. I don't care how anyone takes it, these are my feelings. I'm literally quite exhausted at being an object. Let me explain. In my many years at DF all of this "feeling" was ensconced in object worship, of the past, the present and the future objects that I either had made, was in the process of making, or would in the future, the God of Objects willing, would make. This may be a somewhat shallow view on my part, but it is the feeling I got. This is not to say that these fan outlooks and expressions were not worthy or sincere, but only that these seem limited to this view only. I understand people pay for things I have designed and thus they are entitled to criticism and speculation regarding me as an author. I understand both of these concepts, especially the latter. And I understand that I put myself and my products up for sale, so to speak. But the why of it is what remains, as it was not just for money. Money has never been a great deal with me. Creativity, then? Well that's my art, so yes, that's part, but not quite...
If you look at my designs, most if not all stress openness fused with a wonder generated by new design particles. I have always wanted to design to show how I felt about my earliest days in adventuring and in design. This with the hope that the concept would remain a constant reminder to those who proceeded me, or, for those DMs who would "get it" for their own games and thus create their own stuff. The latter, IMO, embraces he real down to earth reason why I design. I am no EGG waving a $285,000 royalty check in your face he was once did to me... I remained a fan at heart, a champion of doing the creating myself, but was in essence trapped between a rock and a hard place when TSR went the opposite route with pm-adventures. I took an oath then that if I felt that my designs were not up to snuff or in fact did not trump my last ones, that I'd call it quits. Well, it didn't happen exactly that way. I have realized, instead, that I am just tired of the same measures, over and over, and in the fact have realized that less and less people create now for the simple joy of it, but would rather wait for objects to fill their needs in this area while creating sites, like DF, to discuss these objects and their merits. Such is life in object-oriented America. Objects never let you down for the most part and we all have them. But I must end my participation in creating them as my work is done in *this area of expression*. My examples are out there. They will remain even after my death, but what I wonder besides having entertained folks is what they really achieved on singular levels beyond that? I will never know for certain; and that is all I am left with and thus that is all I can leave for my fans, except to say, Thank You for your time and dedication to my art. —RJK (Source)
To clarify, he added:

Travis nails the disconnect on the head: "I am not equating modules with DMing. Most American gamers find this notion impossible to understand." Once you go down that path (eager dependent) you rarely come back. It is about reading, studying and creating, using your imagination. Thousands of DMs in 1974 and 1975 did it (that's 100%, folks); were they more informed than others? Or is it now that the model of pm-adventures is so in force that looking back upon these oldest examples seems archaic and not genuine? There is massive disconnect going on and it has lead to surmises of what good or better design is and as promoted in a vacuum by those who have no idea WHATSOEVER what good design is for they are indeed products of the vacuum themselves.  —RJK
Why am I so certain these will never come out?
The realm of fire was best represented through Sir Robilar's City of Brass by Kenzer Co., of which I am expanding (redoing from the original 89,000 word MS which was never fully published) for republication through Black Blade Publishing. This roots the matter in my conception of it, which tended to specify what it is through the eyes and culture of the Efreeti, one of its main, and intelligently organized, inhabitants. I bring it into cultural alignment by describing the immortal history of the culture which is born of it, thus the glossary alone contains 15,000 words describing it and their views on it.  —RJK
I mean, if you're going to design and intelligent culture, why not have a 15,000 word glossary? But while he's busy working on that, I don't think the sequel to Dark Druids is going to see the light of day.

  • So, basically, this is the start of a campaign that traps your players in the underworld, cursed, with now way out, and only the vaguest outline of what comes next. You are one of two types of people. Either that is awesome or that's terrible. I think you know which one Robert thinks you should be. 
  •  It's 56 pages, Saddle stitched with a loose cover. The maps are crisp, clear, functional and on the inside of the cover. There's a single interior map with several short encounters on it. 
  • The module can be punishing and was said to have killed Jim Ward's character, among others. 
  • The basic setup is that they players are sent to stop on evil cult, only to discover that there's a civil war between the two factions of the cult, making things even more dangerous. 
  • On reason there's so much new material, is that nearly every encounter is surprising, unique, or interesting in some way. 
    • A weird altar that can summon a tentamort to serve the summoner if "scabs" are removed from nearby trees and placed on the altar or a tree entirely coated in stiff jelly are the types of strangeness encountered. 
  • Some of the puzzles seem very difficult and challenging. But not wholly impossible, and any 1st edtion group that's actually played their way up to level 8 or 9 is going to have 101 tools to help them bypass those puzzles (that's over 80 sessions, at least).
  • It isn't print on demand, and the initial print run was only 310 copies. If you'd like to get it in print, I'd suggest you do so soon.
  • It's an excellent example of a challenging mid-level adventure, which can lead to a long term high level campaign as the players confront the horrors of the dark, trapped, god and eventually the most horrendous monster of all, the Tarrasque. But it's more interesting as a more concise example of what Robert Kuntz means when he talks about reclaiming Dungeons & Dragons. (More concise in that this is the 1e version, and has the least amount of space given over to stat-blocks. The module is almost all content.)
  • Downsides? There's boxed text. There's a long (though pretty cool) monologues introduction. It really isn't a stand alone adventure. 

Hack & Slash 
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  1. Thanks for the fair review, Courtney; and for contributing some fine illustrations to the end product. The references to me were a bit of a surprise; and although we differ slightly on its use as a stand-alone adventure, so much the better. Difference is what makes the world go round.--RJK

    1. Thanks for commenting! I loved working on the project.

      I referenced you, because I think that stance is pretty boss. Anyone can use it as a stand-alone module, or detail what follows on their own. I'll still be picking up one of those CD's or any of your future work if it pans out.


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