Looking Over Dungeon Delve: Ghoulish Designs


It's still just cover art

Premise

The party are attempting to procure a magic item, but they arrive to find the aftermath of a brutal attack, with a trail of body parts leading them to a cemetery’s catacombs where an evil hierophant has been gathering undead and demons.


Good

The hook is pretty good, at least if the whole pointless backstory is ignored.


The glyph in area 2 turning prisoners into ghouls is a great idea.


The other creatures in area 3 giving the balor a wide berth when it seems close to exploding, to the point of giving up their standard action to move further, is good foreshadowing.


The suggestion to link the bookshelves in area 3 to greater context is good.


Salvageable

The manglers’, acolytes’, hierophant’s, and balor’s auras should all have flavorful descriptions when they have detectable effects.


Area 1 should have more difficult terrain to both take advantage of the manglers’ demonic step ability and to help herd intruders together for the various auras/words.


The creature selection in area 2 feels awkward. The acolytes feel very out-of-place and should be reskinned into something more sensible, at the very least. There’s an argument to be made in favor of having only 1 or 2 myrmidons to start (with another acolyte or harbinger replacing them), too, since they’re really only there to help the acolytes do more damage (their death detonations aren’t likely to be impactful at this level of play).


I’m not a fan of the hurlers’ double throw mechanics. Either letting it always attack twice, letting it attack twice on a recharge, having a chain effect built into orb of pestilence, or having a burst area built into orb of pestilence would all be better approaches, in my opinion.


Bad

The first idea for expanding the adventure suffers from unclear presentation, but I think it’s saying that the various illuminating glyphs should open portals disgorging enemies for the party to fight their way out after defeating the balor. There’s a hint of a good idea in there, but it needs more thought and purpose to become something meaningful because the text says nothing that isn’t obvious.


The second idea for expanding the adventure is basically the same as the first, just replacing “demons/vampires come out of portals in the dungeon” with “undead rise from the cemetery outside of the dungeon”. Again, not terrible in a vacuum, but about as useful as a reminder that water is wet.


All of the room layouts are basically a large open area with some details around the edges and one roughly-central feature of questionable impact.


The balor’s stat block is straightforward enough that it didn’t need five-sentence-long paragraph dedicates to its tactics (compare to the manglers in area 1 or the harbingers in area 2 having a single sentence each).


Overall

This adventure is almost as bland and boring as Orc Stronghold was, in spite of the strong premise. The whole backstory of the original undead cult being overtaken by a reckless balor is wasted (unlike, say, the friction between the vampire lord and the necromancer in Fear the Night), the rooms seem laid out to have as much empty space as possible, and nothing about the creature choices is intriguing or inspiring. In fairness, the glyph transforming prisoners into ghouls is far and away better than anything in Orc Stronghold, but for that to be the only thing to stand out about this adventure is weak.


Having written two of the book’s worst adventures, it's amazing that Moore also wrote some of the stronger entries (Deceitful Descent, Planar Bandits, and Temple of the Four Winds). It’s been boom-or-bust, and this one was a bust.


All in all, this adventure is best used as a reference point to make every other adventure look better. It was truly ghoulish, but not in the way Moore intended.

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