Looking Over Dungeon Delve: Cold Hands of Chaos


It's still just cover art

Premise

The party discovers a route to an Abyssal temple complex where a priest of an evil patron is assembling a strike force.


Good

The suggestions to expand the adventure by having the party fend off a preliminary assault on a prominent city interwoven with a skill challenge to track the priest to their lair and to have additional areas between the ones described in the book with multiple reasonable paths of progression are both great.


The sidebar in area 2 on managing the creature positions to make use of their auras is a nice reminder.


The crumbling tomb in area 3 that disgorges ghoul minions periodically is a cool idea.


Salvageable

There are plenty of creatures with auras in this adventure, so I’ll just say once that all of them should have flavorful descriptions when their auras are causing detectable effects. Credit where it’s due: area 2 has a sidebar dedicated to doing that since all of the creatures there have auras.


The randomized starting locations for taking a portal into area 1 were okay, but keeping up that gimmick in areas 2 and 3 is a bit much. I’d have a jumbled order of appearance prepared in advance for them.


The frostshaper’s design is odd. Needing to hit with a melee attack to recharge its icy burst means exposing itself regularly despite likely being the most fragile of the creatures in area 2, and losing its aura when bloodied makes it one of the rare creatures that actually gets easier to defeat as it takes damage. I’d change it to having its aura activate when bloodied and put its icy burst on a recharge roll (probably 2-in-6).


As usual, if the magic item in the idol’s basin is something the marilith can use, the marilith should use it.


Bad

The three ideas for expanding the adventure are all just adding an extra encounter, though I will admit the offhand mention of a demonic avatar of the patron that awakens when a character becomes bloodied in its proximity is a good moment.


I don’t understand the logic behind the cloud of souls that sustains the undead in area 1 hurting them if they enter it. It comes off as Christ throwing a minor concession in to tone the encounter down slightly.


The teleporting pillars in area 1 are bizarre, but at least they can be used by anyone, I guess?


Something smelling “like a rotting icebox” doesn’t make much sense, since frigid temperatures tend to minimize odor by arresting rot/decomposition.


“Blood rock” is still a poorly-named terrain feature with a negligible effect.


The boxed text for area 3 describes the goristro’s starting location differently from what the map shows.


The potential of the ring of runes in area 3 is hamstrung by having only one way for the party to interact with it.


Overall

All three encounters of this adventure follow a similar format: a brawl with a handful of creatures in an open space around a central hazard (which the party is forced to begin near due to the limited portal egress locations). They each put a twist on that format (area 1 has a central hazard that’s only a threat to undead creatures, area 2 uses creatures with explicitly synergizing abilities, and area 3 has both minions and a replacement for the initial goristro that can show up partway through combat), but there’s still enough common ground that the encounters can feel repetitive while being different enough that knowledge from one won’t be much use in the next; that’s generally not a sign of good design. Given that the whole adventure is supposed to take place in a part of the Abyss, I would’ve expected more variation in the set-ups rather than the pattern-free pattern that was given.


The suggestion for the priest to launch a preliminary attack before the adventure proper is a nice way of connecting to greater context; rumors of what’s happening in the complex or leads on magic items in there that the party wants can also work. The adventure is nominally themed around Orcus, Demon Prince of Undeath, but since he just sits around without doing anything as usual, the creatures in the adventure are all rather generic; I wouldn’t hesitate to replace most of them with something else fitting for my needs, although area 2 would need a little care in that regard. As written, everything fights to the death and there are no lasting consequences (even for drinking the idol’s blood), so it’s left entirely up to the GM to come up with any means of having this feed into future adventures.


All in all, there are some good pieces in here, but the whole is held back by being rather bland and formulaic. It’s not terrible by any means, but there’s not much about the adventure to raise it above being mediocre filler.

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