Looking Over Dungeon Delve: Caves of Menace


It's still just cover art

Premise

The party is conscripted to rescue some captured fey to prevent a faerie war.


Good

While I dislike the implied heroism, the premise is pretty cool and can work for non-heroic PCs (self-interest in avoiding collateral damage, doing it to earn a favor from the captured fey, etc.).


The third idea for expanding the adventure feeds naturally into considering the consequences of how the adventure’s outcome(s) fit within their greater context.


The water’s glow is a nice hint that there’s something magical about it, even if the glow in area 1 is actually coming from phosphorescent algae instead of the water’s magic.


Climbing down a hole to progress from area 1 to area 2 isn’t much by any objective measure, but I like it as a subtle way of adding a sense of vertical depth to the caverns.


While the sidebar for portraying the bralani as a corrupt cursed cannibal is light on substance, the idea is great. Just be wary about keeping it as a magical curse/corruption if taking it in a direction similar to schizophrenia would be unwelcome.


Salvageable

While I normally dislike ideas for expanding the adventure that are just adding an encounter, the additional roleplaying flavor in the first and second ideas gives them enough character to potentially build a real expansion out of either or both.


The hungerers would be more interesting as undead suicide bombers if their explosions did actual damage instead of just tickling.


The abyssal ghoul’s stench aura should cause a stink in the cavern, and it should have further palpable effects when a PC is in its area of effect.


Likewise for the bralani’s aura.


I’m not as bothered by the unused magic item in area 3’s bloody corpses as usual due to the insanity of the creatures there, but depending on the exact item, it still might strain disbelief to just leave it unused.


Bad

The night hags’ stat block seems pretty weak. Perhaps I’m overestimating how bad it is, but it seems to rely on too many moving parts lining up to enable its dream haunting without any other creatures capable of inflicting the stunned or unconscious effects.


The discrepancy in the damage formulae between the impaler’s ranged spear and impaling volley abilities is a potential source of unnecessary confusion for players and GMs alike.


The lack of threat from the crushing manacles trap doesn’t sit well with me. I understand that its immobilized effect both increases the effective melee damage of the fomorians and allows the impaler to attack freely from range, so there’s a case that it doesn’t need to provide an immediate threat, but that feels at odds with it dealing 15 average damage on hit (which then feels at odds with the mere 5 damage per failed save to escape thereafter). The whole thing feels overly mathematical rather than being a natural part of the encounter.


“Blood rock” is still a dumb name with a minor effect.


The crystals controlling the water flow in area 3 feel very random and out-of-place.


Overall

In terms of overall flavor, both the premise and the adventure itself are pretty solid. I question the choice to use cyclopes and fomorians when part of the hook is that the local fomorian king claims to have had nothing to do with the kidnappings, but I can see reasonable arguments both ways. The actual mechanics of the encounters are mostly fine, though the third encounter doesn’t seem to flow sensibly from the first two.


There’s greater context to be had with the tensions brewing between two fey courts that set up the whole thing, but that’s basically left as an exercise for the GM because the write-up does very little to support it. On the other hand, there’s also very little connection between the map and the creatures, so the GM can easily replace any of them with whatever else might be lurking in a mystical cave with many corpse piles in it (though I’d err towards keeping the third encounter because I like the bralani’s portrayal, aside from the potential for problematic schizophrenic undertones).


All in all, there’s nothing amazing about this adventure, but it hits the beats that it sets out to meet. It isn’t going to impress anyone as written, but it’s a decent foundation to build something impressive on.

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