RPG Review – C06: The Community Dungeon
This massive pdf clocks in at 88 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 84 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Now the first thing you need to know, if the name has not been ample clue – this a community-based module – it essentially depicts a dungeon, with each and every room designed by another person. The obvious question here being whether all designers were up to their A-game and whether the module still manages to resonate with a unified voice.
The following being a review of this module, from here on out reign the SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.
All right, still here? Great! This pdf begins, as so many before it, in a tavern – a mysterious man, I think a proxy of my friend Joshua Gullion (Rest in peace…) contacts the PCs and proposes a wager – 20% of the loot…and he’ll show them the entry of a particularly interesting dungeon, one which, to his knowledge, has not been conquered. At the entrance of the dungeon, a child awaits with a sprained ankle – waiting to potentially pickpocket the PCs, though not with malicious intent. Apart from this, we soon enter a room, where a complex set-up/trap may have the PCs stumble into an evil wizard’s erstwhile pleasure den – if they survive, they may claim a magical, ruby pomegranate!
Another room acts as a customizable teleport nexus – upon entering it, PCs may find themselves having the option to enter certain rooms, which also doubles as a nice means for the GM to customize the dungeon-exploring experience…or provide further adventuring options/tie in encounters of his/her own making. As aminor complaint, the read-aloud text in the room of doors does not sport the usual box in a minor layout-hiccup -but you should be aware that this in no way impedes functionality of it. Another room contains statues and a concise, well-crafted logic puzzle associated with them – classic and makes sense in the context of the game-world! Another room contains a great set-up: An water elemental scientist (!!!) trying to determine how long it’d take for an earth elemental to turn into a mud elemental.
A snake-summoning fountain is also pretty enigmatic – but in a delightfully, old-school matter – the secondary aspect of it can provide random potions…some benevolent, some…not so much. The dungeon also contains an oasis-style micro-eco-system with numerous intriguing riddles to pose to your players – should they fail, one can only hope that they’re good at swimming… Beyond this place, strange beetles can be found and Dark Souls-level of atmosphere suffuses one of the parts – when direct research provides additional clues and may even provide a well-hidden treasure, gleaned from the hints strewn…well, then we have a component I pretty much enjoy. Speaking of which – I should also not be remiss to mention an intriguing kind of “elevator”-puzzle that phases the PCs through almost identical parallel worlds, allowing for the restocking of rooms…or a nice explanation for the GM to change either campaign setting or retcon some minor issues. But there are dungeon denizens in here that adhere to more…traditional tropes: Gambling gnolls, friendly kobold cooks who *really* know how to make a truly astounding stew and the PCs may dance with the dead herein – literally! In another room, mysterious jewels may bestow boons or banes upon the PCs.
Fans of traditional death-traps will certainly love a particular room that pours a thick viscous fluid into the room….and a shark. Oh, and escape attempts will prompt piranha swarms to join the fray. Pretty cool – it reminded me of Czech writer Michal Ajvaz’ superb satirical travelogue “The Golden Age” – which btw. should be considered a great read for an inspiration-starved designer looking for some means to create a culture with alien morals and perceptions. In a vast array of “I’m the star”-level rooms, I also was positively surprised to see a traditional bluff-room that in fact is not dangerous at all – kudos for that one’s inclusion!
If all of this sounds as disjointed as quite a few old-school dungeons, then you would be correct – to an extent. You see, while the respective rooms may feel a bit disjointed and inorganic in their composition, there thankfully are some thematic leitmotifs and overarching themes that transcend the limitations of their rooms – we do have, for example, an infectious, madness-causing fungus or the interaction between some dungeon denizens that result in some sense of narrative cohesion. Another definite strength of this module would be its combats – when e.g. an animated object’s parts resume attacking the PCs after the original one has been destroyed, you’ll definitely see some wonder (and fear) in the faces of your players and a rather significant array of new creatures helps render the dungeon pretty unpredictable. Speaking of which – there is also a room that amounts to a dungeon’s equivalent of a slot-machine – which much to gain…but also the adventurer’s very lives at stake! Indeed, Stefanos Patelich’s rooms deserve accolades herein (much like the ones of the other designers) – his traps in particular have made me grin rather wide – they are interesting indeed! Oh, and yes, there also would be a flowing encounter with a haunt provided!
The dungeon itself comes with stats for both PFRPG and 3.5 adversaries and the cartography comes with a second, player-friendly version of the map.
Editing and formatting are pretty good – while a couple of entries have minor typo-level glitches, I noticed no undue amount of them. It should be noted that the construction-line of some of the items herein adheres to a non-standard formatting that deviates from the standard, so if stuff like this annoys you, you may be a bit weary regarding some items.
Layout adheres to AAW Games’ beautiful 2-column standard and the pdf comes with quite a few stock full-color artworks as well as some I have not seen before. The cartography is, as we’ve come to expect from AAW Games, superb and beautiful. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, with nested bookmarks.
Take a look at this list: Will Myers, Justin Andre Mason, Larry Wooters, Haakon Sullivan, R.A. McReynolds, Rachel Ventura, Dan Sudkamp, Stephen Yeardley, Gent, Rory Toma, Peter Bayly, Kevin Long, Lance Kepner, Jeremy Kleve, Michael Holland, Andre C. Durston, Jonathan G. Nelson, Stefanos Patelich, Jonathan Hughes – that’s a LOT of narrative voices and GM styles – and, quite frankly, it is a wonder that this pdf is as concise as it is.
So, let’s get this right out of the way: This is classic dungeon-exploration – there is not much going on in the vein of story-telling. This is a dungeon, it contains treasures of old, go and loot it. The dungeon itself does not evoke a particularly concise impression, with the rooms themselves being pretty weird and diverse.
This plurality of narrative voices and oddness, though, also represents the biggest strength of this module – it is odd, far-out and creative – since each author only has limited space to shine, it does seem like this module contains an accumulation of creative A-game-ideas – indeed, not one the rooms herein was boring in the slightest – and quite a few of the rooms could act as the central angle of a whole dungeon-floor! Which is precisely how I recommend to use this module.
You see, playing this provided to be a blast while it lasted – but once it was done, my players asked me whether they had missed the story…which they didn’t. Indeed, the narrative theme, the glue if you will, that holds this dungeon together, alas, is pretty flimsy and in more than one instance, I felt as though one or more of the rooms could have sustained with their mechanics more than just being a singular room.
What I’m trying to say is that this is a SUPERB collection of encounters, traps and adversaries – for scavenging purposes, this is one glorious book, one particularly distinguished by the amount of read-aloud text provided for successful skill-checks, items, etc.. As far as its virtues as a stand-alone module are concerned, it falls a bit flat of the individual awesomeness of the encounters – in this context, I’d consider it “only” a good module. So if you’re looking for an old-school go-play module, I’d recommend the excellent C01: Alagoran’s Gem instead.
If you’re, however, looking for an absolute superb collection of odd rooms and tidbits, of cool puzzles to insert in your game, then get this beast ASAP – for this purpose, the content herein absolutely excels. How to rate this, then? Ultimately, I’ll average the final verdict and settle on a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform. If you’re looking for a scavenging-ground, this pdf delivers in spades, though – if you think about getting this module for this purpose, round up instead.
C06: The Community Dungeon is available from:
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