Looking Over Book of Challenges: Shambling Death


It's just cover art

Premise

A pair of shambling mounds lair in a watery grotto.


Good

Despite describing the exact same area, the boxed text here is more succinct than in Grotto of the Shocker Lizards. It even includes mentions of sound and smell rather than just visual descriptions.


Given that traces of iron in water is good for most plants, the trap in the pool is actually quite clever.


The qualitative advice to scale up the challenge by adding shocker lizards is great for the natural synergy between them and the mounds.


Salvageable

Although the boxed text is mostly better than in Grotto of the Shocker Lizards, “variegated light” is an awkward word choice, especially coming soon after “varicolored fungi”. I’d go with “striated light (beams/rays)” instead.


The carpet of plant matter covering the ground is a decent way of hiding the central pool, but I’d give some hint or chance to notice that the pool’s cover is slightly lower than the general ground cover (since it’d sink slightly into the water).


As before, I’m not a fan of needing Balance checks to move normally and would replace that with difficult terrain that requires a Balance check for running or elaborate maneuvers.


I’d shift both mounds’ starting positions under the ceiling cracks to the east for photosynthesis. That would also put them in better position to support each other by moving around the east side of the pool while avoiding the trap (in line with the “Tactics” section).


Bad

Reusing the map from Grotto of the Shocker Lizards is as lazy as ever.


Given the “damp, woody smell” in the chamber, the complete covering of organic debris over the pool, and the “numerous bent and broken weapons and dented armor, now very rusty” in the pool, the water in the pool being “clear” makes no sense.


The eastward extent of the hazard region in the pool is undefined.


As usual, simple currency and mathemagical items are the most boring forms of treasure. The gems are ever-so-slightly better, but not by much.


The quantitative advice for scaling the challenge is just about varying the number of creatures.


Overall

Much of what I had to say about Grotto of the Shocker Lizards still applies here; it’s an interesting backdrop containing a slightly unusual but generally uninspiring encounter. The mounds offer very limited opportunities for parley (most players don’t think of trying to speak with ambulatory plants who are attacking them), so it feels like they’re waiting to ambush the party just because that’s what stuff does in Dungeons & Dragons. That’s not necessarily bad (combat is a significant and fun part of D&D), but as with Grotto of the Shocker Lizards, I think putting some effort into thinking about why the mounds are here (perhaps they use the pool as a compost/fertilizer pond, or perhaps it’s a common watering hole that’s lucrative for setting ambushes) or doing something more interesting with the treasure can give it much more life.


All in all, it’s still a cool setting that can make for an excellent landmark, and it’s still inhabited by a fine-but-unremarkable encounter.

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