Looking Over Dungeon Delve: Emerald Dawn


It's still just cover art

Premise

A self-proclaimed dragon god has attracted followers that are causing a ruckus which the party is expected to stop.


Good

The altar of zealotry is a pretty cool trap, and having a simple script for what it does with dominated targets makes it fast to adjudicate in actual play, especially for a mind-controlling ability.


The magical features in area 2 providing their benefits to any who stand on them is appreciated, especially after the previous area’s flames affected only “nonreptile” creatures.


The door of the dead is very flavorful, though having options to both escape and be rescued by others if caught goes against its victims being “trapped forever in undying misery”.


Likewise, the flavor of the mirrors of trapped souls is great, even if their mechanics are dreadful.


Salvageable

Why are the fires in area 1 made of green poison “flames”? There can be some merit to being weird just to be weird, but I’m not seeing it here.


The lock on the fiery portal in area 1 isn’t completely terrible, but it is rather unintuitive. I’d at least add a chance to notice some reaction between the arrowhead flames and the symbols of the Dawn if they’re brought close to each other, and I’d say the symbols should have flames on them as well.


Likewise, the pool of blood in area 2 should have some reaction with symbols of the Dawn to indicate the connection to the door of the dead (ripples in the pool moving towards the nearest symbol, showing an enlarged reflection of the nearest symbol from any viewing angle, etc.).


While it’s nice that Marks included another sidebar on how to portray this dragon, the advice in there makes the dragon sound rather weak and pathetic compared to the one in Poisoned Shadows.


As usual, if the dragon could use the magic item in the fountain, it should use the magic item in the fountain.


Bad

The first idea for expanding the adventure is adding an extra encounter. The second idea is adding a skill challenge with no clear stakes or purpose other than being an excuse for two more encounters (which are unconnected to the skill challenge as-written). The third idea is slightly better (adding extra rooms to the temple with more variety of worshipers), admittedly, but those first two are worthless.


The “blood rock” in area 2 is one of the dumbest-sounding names I’ve heard, and the effect described in the boxed text (“which makes one’s attacks more brutal”) seems more like a comment about digging it out to fashion weapons out of it than a benefit to standing on it. Given how minimal the effect actually is, I’d get rid of it and just have that region be blood-stained stone.


If area 3 has an open roof, what’s stopping the party from approaching through there directly instead of going through the rest of the temple?


The dragon’s tail sweep ability is keyed strangely, being a reaction to enemies not doing something. I’m also not a fan of the dragon’s breath doing so little damage (less than its basic attacks!); though I understand that it’s mostly meant for slowing enemies in a large area, it just feels wrong for it to be so weak, especially when the maelstrom also has the slowing effect as well.


The gladiators’ stat block and tactics are all over the place. They swarm forward when combat begins, but they want to spread out to engage only one foe at a time, but they also want to hold engagement with their enhanced opportunity attacks, but they want to focus down vulnerable targets to enable their finishing blow ability. What is this mess?


While I could somewhat forgive escaping from the door of the dead for victims who had merged with it only recently, being able to escape from the mirrors of trapped souls in area 3 with a mere saving throw (after having had to fail two consecutive saving throws in the first place to get sucked in, a mere 20.25% chance at default odds) is a joke.


The lightning pillars in area 3 feel like a very random addition to just do something with the tile art.


Overall

Considering multiple earlier adventures included connections to this one in the expansion ideas, the writers seemed to think it was something great. Unfortunately, the actual adventure comes up short. While it has some wonderful individual pieces of flavor and some cool ideas, the disjointedly hodgepodge feel and lack of commitment to matching mechanics to the flavor undermines the whole thing. Some of the problems are easy to correct (e.g. the flames in area 1 don’t hurt creatures with a symbol of the Dawn instead of not hurting reptilian creatures), others are bigger issues (e.g. the mirrors of trapped souls are really just minor inconveniences at best), and still others strain suspension of disbelief (e.g. why does the dragon’s temple have a fire-themed room leading to a blood-themed room leading to a sky-themed room?).


I can see justifications for the different individual parts, but it feels like a mess when it’s all thrown together, and going through two rather gamist puzzles to open doors only to reach a room with no ceiling feels terrible in play. There is some potential for fitting it in with greater context (mainly around the victims of the door of the dead and/or the mirrors of trapped souls), but it’s nothing that wasn’t done better with earlier adventures with cult/gang-based opposition.


All in all, this is a case where the whole is far less than the sum of its parts. Picking one room and building an adventure around it is a better use of time than trying to make this whole thing work.

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