Looking Over Book of Challenges: Tangled Webs


It's just cover art

Premise

A couple of drow lovers have turned a cavern into their lair.


Good

Shadow sentries and spider-silk vibration sensor networks are both reasonable ways to raise a silent alarm.


The mention that the couple “are particularly vicious against drow, attacking them on sight” implies that a party without any drow members could have a chance to parley, even though the couple are “paranoid and extremely hostile”.


Seldara’s potion of haste and Garem’s cloak of arachnida are interesting treasures.


The lists of preparatory spells for each drow, including order of priority, is welcome. It’s odd that Seldara doesn’t use her potion of haste as well, but that can always be added at the end as she goes to her mount.


Salvageable

Rather than making the players roll to get a definitive explanation for what made the secret door, I’d describe it as having been formed seamlessly out of the stone walls and let the players draw their own conclusions.


While I’m not normally a fan of capricious save-or-die, in the context of an EL 14 encounter in 3E Dungeons & Dragons at a location where the PCs are facing no other threats, I can see a case for it as a warning of significant danger beyond that point. However, I’d still make the glyph visible to avoid making it completely capricious.


It’s not clear how the various terrain features are meant to impact movement. I’d assume the webs work like a monstrous spider’s web throwing ability and the stalagmites/columns are difficult terrain that also provides cover.


Given how many spells each drow can cast, the “Tactics” section doesn’t provide enough information to run them efficiently in combat. As mentioned for Path of Deceit, I’d suggest listing out their spells with simple notes for when they’re likely to be used.


Bad

As ever, repeating the rules for unhallow is worthless.


Off to a great start as the secret door for the entrance is off the map, and the boxed text for the area preceding it is worthless.


The boxed text for the area beyond the secret door doesn’t seem to match with what’s shown on the map.


Given the scattering of stalactites/stalagmites in the cavern, there should be water trickling in more places than just the pool, though it’s fine for that to be the main area where that happens.


Describing the pool as “easily large enough for a person to bathe in” doesn’t say anything when it has a perimeter of around 200’ and is about 40’ across at its widest part.


Doing nothing with the altar aside from centering an unhallow spell on it feels like a wasted opportunity.


The living quarters are directly after the archway on the map, so I’m not sure why the text says the PCs should find it “eventually” after passing through.


Aside from the potion of haste and the cloak of arachnida, all of the drow’s other items are basically mathemagical items or minor currency.


The advice for scaling the challenge is just about modifying the number of spiders and various creatures’ levels/HD.


Overall

This write-up has a whole lot of pomp and circumstance for what’s pretty much a forced fight in a dead-end room. Granted, the variety of spells/abilities and the various terrain features mean that it can still end up being an intense and engaging fight, but it still feels like there isn’t much content despite taking up about 3.5 pages.


Fortunately, it’s not difficult to getting better returns. Having the drow try to parley after casting their preparatory spells seems reasonable (assuming the party hasn’t done anything to warrant immediate attack) and could lead to them becoming patrons or allies. Having the altar actually do something more than just take up space on the map can make this less of a dead-end room. Having the PCs come across the cavern when they’re too weak for combat to be a viable option can pressure them into finding creative roleplay solutions, especially if they have some reasonable potential to spur the occupants to flee (just make sure the disparity in power is telegraphed clearly).


The write-up for the encounter implies that the party could’ve been sent by a drow settlement to eliminate the outcasts, which is certainly a way to use it, though having it as its own thing without direct connections to any of the PCs’ interests/activities can also help foster the feeling of a living world beyond the PCs’ involvement.


All in all, this reminds me of the random lich in D1 – Descent Into the Depths of the Earth or the random balor in the Underdark area of Baldur’s Gate 2 in that it’s a high-risk encounter with some warning before it happens. That’s a set-up that I like, though I like being open to non-violent approaches. This isn’t a particularly remarkable encounter aside from that aspect, but it’s not bad, either.

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