Dungeons & Dullness

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 107: Dungeons & Dullness



Perhaps due to Paizo’s surprising interest in the planes, at the end of its run with Dragon and Dungeon magazines the company printed a crazy amount of planar, or at least planar-adjacent, material. While much of the prose produced by the magazine’s own editors was frequently excellent, unfortunately, much of the random contributions from elsewhere were a bit more… forgettable. At best. This was particularly true of a few Dungeon adventures from 2006, when the magazine’s top writers and editors were focused on its adventure paths, which resulted in filling the rest of its pages with, well, perhaps not its strongest work. I’m going to cover a pair of these here, but we’re not going into too much depth because there’s no real point, as both of them should be skipped entirely by anyone less of an insane completist than I am.

“Gates of Oblivion” by Alec Austin (Dungeon #136, July 2006) is an extremely high level adventure that spends most of its time in the Plane of Shadows. An evil archmage there decided that he wants to turn all Prime worlds into extensions of this Plane (literally because he’s jealous of how much color they have), and sets about his scheme through a trio of magic obelisks. Players need to destroy these, as well as the mage himself and primary henchmen, in order to stop this apocalypse from destroying the world. As such, the adventure is a series of fights, with no real opportunity for role playing, stealth, or anything else in between. Once they’ve smacked their way through these three obelisk encounters, players murder through a small tower, which is just as linear as the rest of the adventure, and then they’ll fight the big bad. 

The art for “Gates” implies a much more exciting adventure than what it actually entails.

Does “Gates” do anything to make this dreadfully dull plane interesting or surprising? No, not at all. The version depicted here does practically nothing to expand on the rote descriptions in the DMG and Manual of the Planes. Every fight is with boring shadow creatures, and there’s no opportunity for investigation, puzzle solving, or roleplaying. It really is just a boring shadow gauntlet, and if you don’t want to fight against wave after wave of nightshades, night walkers, and shadow elementals, then this isn’t the adventure for you. The best parts of the article are its surprisingly excellent artwork, courtesy of Andrew Hou, and unsurprisingly equally good (though somewhat basic) maps by Robert Lazzaretti. At this point, he seems to have become more or less Paizo’s unofficial cartographer. Nearly every adventure they publish now features maps by him, and this would continue into the adventure paths once Pathfinder began, though I’m not sure for how long. 


A few months later, Dungeon printed “Vlindrian’s Vault” by Jonathan M. Richards (Dungeon #141, December 2006), which takes players to another oft-dull and overused plane, the Elemental Plane of Fire. That being said, I prefer this little module to the last one, even though there isn’t that much more to it. Here, players are hired to rescue a person from a vault, which turns out to be run by a beholder (and so is shaped like one), and also turns out to be located on Fire. Why would an 18th-level party be interested in this pedestrian affair rather than, say, saving the world, as in the last adventure? I have no real answer to that, but I prefer a heist to a straight-up murderfest, even if it’s almost certain that’s what’s going to happen along the way. 

This image has absolutely nothing to do with the adventures I’m writing about. Why did I include it? It was for one of the other adventures in issue #141, and I just liked it so much I decided it deserved to be here more than any of the boring work that actually accompanied the “Vault” article.

Much of the charm here comes from Richards’ absolute no-nonsense approach to the adventure. There’s very little backstory or bullshit cluttering things up, instead it’s just 11 pages of straightforward traps and encounters. There’s an assumption that you can do the rest yourself, which is rather delightful after how much padding there was in the last adventure, and really most of the adventures published during this era. The traps here seem pretty fun, as do the encounters, and overall I kinda like this as a doofy way of using the plane. Even insane aspects, such as the slaadi staff or the grumpy pit fiend in a hole, at least get explanations, such that the vault somehow never feels like a monster zoo. Were this somehow a third level adventure, I could even see myself running it. 


My main demerit would be that the maps are fairly confusing despite Lazzaretti’s decision to include three for this single location. That’s because there’s a certain three-dimensionality to the vault which is a bit hard to depict, but since several traps also rely on this aspect it needs to be part of the adventure. The maps do make sense, they’re just not as immediately easy to use as you might expect from something of this length and brevity. Oh, and the art accompanying this adventure is pretty middling as well, though it was so forgettable that my mind just kind of glazed past it when reading.

One of three maps of this relatively small area. While in theory it’s nice for dungeons to have some three-dimensionality to them, let’s be honest, that’s just not what the game’s great at.

Would I recommend either of these adventures for an actual campaign? No, not really. The first one is suitably epic for the level, but a huge yawn-and-a-half in terms of execution. The latter is silly, to the point that it features an infiltration rather similar to the one in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, but at the same time it’s extremely trifling for how crazily powerful everything involved really is. Maybe it would make for a decent last minute one-shot at this level, but at the same time each fight is going to be extremely lengthy due to the level involved, so it’s hard to say. Neither story really does anything unexpected or shocking with these other planes of existence, and as such also had no lasting effect. I guess it’s nice to see more stories taking place off the Prime, but had these never been printed no one would’ve really cared. 


And with that, I wish I could say that with this pair out of the way we’re done with 2016’s meh-fest, but unfortunately we have one more week of that ahead. Tune in for more good times… or whatever it is these are.

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