I've played a lot of adventures. I've never been able to easily find out what happens in an adventure without playing it. I've always wished someone talked about the adventures that they've been through, not so much a review, but a commentary. This. . . is that.
The Sunless CitadelI had just moved to this city for the first time, and was back in college. I was working a terrible phone support job for an internet service provider, with weird and shady people. That redhead was named Scarlett, and that story is one for another time.
I spent all my free time at work getting little dribs and drabs of information about the new third edition of Dungeons and Dragons on Enworld. It was going back to the dungeon. Any race could be any class. Dungeons & Dragons things were miraculously still being published.
It was a heady time.
I ran this module for a group of friends, as my first experience running third edition. It was a well-designed linear adventure. The part nobody remembers is that there's an evil tree sprouted from a stake used to kill a vampire, protected by an evil druid, that blooms two evil fruits with seeds that create twig blights.
There's a couple of quick and minor encounters on your way into the valley, with enough distraction to lull the players into a sense of security. They checked for traps the first time, the second, and the third, but the fourth was a pit trap they walked into. Well done. The maps are pretty interesting and although very linear, they at least nod to creativity, expansion, and multi-level adventure.
It's early in the life cycle, but the module clearly pushes a certain model of play, remember where the squares are, success is determined by checks (with a nod to some behaviors), and a strong board "game-like" feel and structure. It's easy to see how this eventually developed into the baroque Pathfinder, where the system itself handles all vagaries of play, being a precision model that answers all questions for the dungeon master.
Once entered, there's a magically locked door to the left, and the dungeon to the right.
The Citadel Proper
The magically locked door is a sequence of chambers that only give the slightest nod to options. They can have the key, The knock spell (which requires a third level wizard in this first level adventure) or they can succeed at a DC 36 (!) Strength check. It's unlikely anyone would have a +16 bonus to their strength at first level. At the end you find a troll and some treasure.
Once you give up and go the way you are supposed to, you meet Meepo. Everyone remembers Meepo, he went on to some measure of fame. He only says two things:
"The clan's dragon. . . we've lost our dragon. The wretched goblins stole Calcryx, our dragon!"
"Meepo don't know, but the leader does. Meepo take you to meet the leader, Yusdrayl, if you make nice. Grant you safe passage, if you promise not to hurt Meepo. May be if you promise to rescue dragon, leader make nice to you, answer your questions."
After this point, every adventuring group in the world pretty much teamed up with Meepo. He walks you through the Kobold sector. You can kill everything in these ten or so rooms, or follow meepo to the boss.
You could free some goblin prisoners on the way, but the adventure says you probably shouldn't. The goblins will lie and flee and double-cross players. See, the kobolds are the good guys and the goblins are the bad guys, and just go along with it.
The kobold territory consists of "Down the 60' hallway". Once that immense distance is traversed, they meat the Kobold leader, Yusdrayl. She gives a quest, retrieve the white dragon and offers the key to the earlier area, and she lets you know about the evil guy downstairs. She is standing in front of an altar with some minor magic items on it, and I've seen more than one party turn on the Kobolds at this point. Many don't, which means Meepo accompanies them on the rest of the adventure.
Even though there's a door that leads straight through to the goblin main encounter, they encourage you to go the back way, so you can adventure through the entire goblin section of the dungeon. The only way the shortcut is taken, is if the Kobolds are all killed.
You have several fights against rats and detritus. To get into the goblin area proper, you have to assault a small wall down a caltrop filled hallway. Once you get past that, you find some prisoners, including a 2nd level Gnome Fighter/Cleric named Erky Timbers who's super eager to join the party.
In a room adjacent to the main path, you can find the little tiny mini white dragon who likes it here. You'll have to fight him without killing him to bring him back to the kobolds.
Did you know they intentionally understate the difficulty of dragons in 3.x so that fighting them would always seem tougher than equivalently difficult monsters? Think about that. Monte Cook designed the rules so that players AND the people running the game would be surprised when the monsters were way more powerful than they said they were supposed to be, because they are dragons. Why not list them at their actual difficulty level? The answer to that is so that the difficulty would be a surprise to anyone who relied on those levels.
Then there are two large rooms that have lots of goblins in them (A 'main' encounter) with a shaft leading to Part II of the dungeon.
All this is fun and fine for an introductory module. People like to succeed and feel useful. There are optional side areas, but the adventure leads you by the nose. On the plus side, the fight with the hobgoblin boss takes place with a giant eighty-foot deep shaft in the middle of the room.
There's a lot of text, too much, about attacks of opportunity. Don't forget attacks of opportunity! Nobody wants attacks of opportunity. Certainly not these goblins. No sir! They'll flank, but not if they have to take those attacks of opportunity. Memento Aoo.
Down a Shaft to Part II of the dungeonThe grove level is also basically a straight line. You can go north and head into the—undescribed in this module—'underdark'. You can go east and north, or you can head south which loops around to east and north. You follow the module from there straight to the end.
You fight some goblins, worms, one shadow, and skeletons; each area, another few opponents rush to kill you as you attempt to reach the 'boss chamber' at the end of the dungeon. After killing goblins guarding a gate, you stride forward into the penultimate encounter, and slay ten of the evil twig blights all at once, introduced two at a time.
The evil druid boss has some conversation options, mainly explaining everything going on. When the conversation options are exhausted, he exhorts you to surrender. When you predictable refuse you fight the boss, the tree, some more twig blights, and a few adventurers who came here earlier and failed, becoming slaves to the evil tree. Maybe the players can figure out destroying the tree will free the captured adventurers by killing them, allowing you to defeat them without chewing through their hit points?
It was fun, the fights in 3.0 were fun. It very much instilled the idea that dungeons are limited spaces and should be 'cleared' completely, extracting all the treasure and experience. I find that the games I play in are both more difficult and challenging in the sense that it's a lot less likely you'll survive a straight combat, and have enough and large enough spaces that exhaustively exploring dungeons doesn't occur.
Originally published 3/1/19