Looking Over Dungeon Delve: Temple of Primordial Flame


It's still just cover art

Premise

A flameskull calling itself the Bright Lord of Everburning Fire is trying to tap into the magic binding a being of primordial fire to become a demigod.


Good

Area 1 is the only area in the entire book to have no creatures, only traps. It’s a much-appreciated breath of fresh air, even with the contrived antimagic effect.


I could pick on the flame jet traps for lacking diverse countermeasures, but I like that presentation. It’s reminiscent of the old school approach of describing a trap’s mechanics to the GM and trusting them to use their own judgment for whether the players’ attempts to deal with the trap work or not. The same applies for the necrotic tiles, though to a lesser degree.


The diamonds hidden in the font in area 2 are a nice touch.


The results for the Bright Lord completing its ritual are left up to the GM’s discretion, exactly as they should be.


I’m on board with the magic item in area 3 not being used by the creatures in there since it’s easy to read it as a component in the Bright Lord’s ritual.


Salvageable

The background of the adventure sounds like something straight out of a B-tier comic villain’s plans for world domination, right down to the flamboyant epithet. I’d tone that down and seek to tie in with greater context in some way; it’s not far off from fitting in with Elric’s grandest stories, but it needs some massaging to avoid feeling like a bad fanfic.


Surprise antimagic to counteract flying over the necrotic tiles is lazy design. Making it a triggered trap that the party can try to overcome or just getting rid of it to avoid punishing the players for using abilities they have earned would both be improvements.


The locked doors at the start of the adventure are begging for greater context on how to acquire a key.


The gate of fire sealing area 3 being controlled by mundane “levers and switches” is a letdown. In a reality of metaphysical primordial soup, there is no good reason why a gate made of fire should be controlled by simple mechanisms. Either make it magical or make it a permanent fire that requires special measures to cross safely (the Bright Lord’s regeneration and the fire resistance of the elemental creatures would make it just a minor inconvenience for them).


Needing to pass six checks with a 60% chance of success while doing only one check per round means the flameskull in area 2 is almost certainly going to die before completing its ritual. Removing the one check per round limit or allowing the other flameskull to also make checks would make the time pressure actually matter instead of being an illusion.


The Bright Lord’s and gorgons’ auras should have flavorful description when they have detectable effects.


The Bright Lord’s ritual is rather unlikely to succeed, since it needs six checks with a 70% chance of success after the flameskull in area 2 completes its ritual. Removing the one check per round limit is an improvement, but it still means that the time pressure in area 3 and the most dramatic consequences of the adventure as a whole are mostly elements of imagination rather than something in actual play.


It’s unclear whether the Bright Lord’s minor action to advance its ritual also causes the elemental conduits to attack a target of its choice or if using the conduits requires a separate minor action.


Bad

The ideas to expand the adventure by adding more to the map and/or having adventures dealing with the consequences of this one are both obvious things to do. Just because they show a little more effort than “add one encounter” doesn’t justify the space used to print them.


The boxed text for area 1 is terrible. I don’t excuse its brevity as a consequence of the lack of space on the page layout, either, because the sidebar on the Bright Lord could’ve easily been moved to area 3 instead of being in the intro, if not deleted entirely.


The liquid fire in area 3 works completely differently from the liquid fire in area 2 of Caverns of Demise.


Overall

Despite the lackluster premise, I’m a fan of this adventure. The first area encourages creative thought over just rolling dice until something works, the creature stat blocks are mostly straightforward (once superfluous abilities like the flameskulls’ illumination or the gorgons’ trample are stripped out) while still providing diverse complications for the players to deal with, and the thread of logic connecting each area to the final ritual ties things together nicely. It has some of the most interesting potential consequences since Deceitful Descent, albeit with a ritual that’s far less likely to be completed as-written, and the flavor provided by the traps, creatures, and rituals offsets the general lack of it from the area descriptions.


There are definite weaknesses for the adventure, though, especially when looking outside of what’s written. Connecting it to greater context takes some effort, and it is required effort to avoid seeming like a bad pro wrestling booker’s fever dream. Reskinning the contents around different elemental themes is fairly simple, but going beyond that is trickier, as is replacing the creatures, so the flexibility is on the low side compared to other adventures in this book. The antimagic effect in area 1 is bad design as-written. While the creatures providing decent variety when taken together, the fire elementals are metaphorical meat sacks that will probably be tedious slogs to finish off once they’re isolated; not allowing them to take part in the rituals is a major oversight. The low odds of completing the ritual undermines its threat and value.


All in all, this is one of the better adventures in the book, though a clear step down from the best. It’s worth keeping in mind, since it has the potential to be a campaign highlight despite the extra effort required to polish it, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to structure a campaign around featuring it the way I might with Deceitful Descent.

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