Looking Over Dungeon Delve: The Catacombs of Koptila
A group of ogres displaced in time are prophesied to return to their colony soon without much regard for the city built on top of it during their years of absence.
The premise is wonderful. It pushes close to funhouse dungeon territory, admittedly, but it retains enough wonder and whimsy that I can get on board with it as a variation of a Strangely Specific Horoscope treading between Portent of Doom and Rule of Cool.
Having the creatures in area 1 phase in moments after the party arrives is a brilliant introduction, provided the timing works out for that to make sense.
The whispers coming out of the otherwise-cosmetic crevasse in area 1 is a good way of using the tile art to improve the atmosphere. Likewise for the chants that can be heard through the doors to area 2.
I like the gradual cursing in area 2, although I’d add more flavor to the curse taking hold than just “the PC is slowed and has some extra defensive penalties”.
Including “burn yourself in the braziers” as a way of earning successes in the skill challenge is great.
The area 3 encounter is an interesting way of combining combat with a puzzle, though it’s liable to become very frustrating rather quickly if the players can’t figure out to disable the monolith.
The creature stat blocks for area 1 leave much to be desired. The ogres’ angry smash is a tedious bit of bookkeeping; just get rid of it (and perhaps give a slight increase to either the to-hit bonus or the damage of the basic attack to compensate, but essentially having a 1-in-6 chance to attack with 5E advantage is such a non-factor that it hardly seems worth fussing with). The orcs should probably just be minions, given that they have about half the damage output and one-third the durability of the ogres.
I like most of Koptila’s stat block but for two points: the sweeping flail attack doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of its design, and it lacks anything controller-based to do if it has a bad streak of not recharging the vitality drain/death’s beckoning combo. I’d either reskin the sweeping flail as some energy wave or replace it with conjuring an ogre-sized persistent damage zone.
The means of disabling the monolith needs to be signaled more clearly than just having the sun icon glow with the same color as the monolith. Maybe the icon can pulse darkly every time the monolith does something, maybe there can be an ethereal beam of energy linking the two, maybe the monolith can contain an enlarged representation of the icon, maybe Koptila can gloat foolishly when it resurrects a zombie for the first time, or maybe Koptila can declare that daring to approach the icon is a transgression deserving death; whatever the solution, the write-up does not provide enough to feel fair.
The unused magic item as treasure in area 3 is more egregious than usual because Koptila has to pass by it to enter the main space of the encounter.
While I like using whatever threatened the ogres originally as a basis for adding more to the adventure, the ideas presented for how to do that (add another fight or add a skill challenge) are both bland.
What is the point of having a locked door to area 2 with no way of finding a key? Does the adventure just end if the party can’t get through the lock? I can understand wanting some non-combat obstacles in the way of the party’s progress, but this is a very weak example of how to do that.
The javelin ability in the ogre skirmisher’s stat block should reference to hurling charge, not skirmish.
The healing potions hidden in the braziers are weird in and of themselves, and they seem to undermine the symbolism of characters burning themselves in the braziers to stop being “unclean”.
This adventure does a great job of combining straightforward combats with bespoke traps/puzzles. It’s much more focused in what it’s trying to do than most of the other adventures in this book, and that works to its advantage by allowing the encounter design to deliver plenty of flavor beyond just bare mechanics. Merwin was definitely channeling some strong inspiration while writing this.
On the other hand, the premise can make it tricky to fit this into any greater context. Ogres being teleported through time by their god(s) to escape certain(?) doom can be a tone-breaker, and as written, the players need to find out about the prophecy with enough advanced warning to go deal with it but not so much that they can overprepare and turn the whole thing into a dud. Perhaps the latter isn’t so great of a concern these days since it’s much more common for players to want to handle things themselves rather than raising an NPC army to take care of it for them, but even discounting that, the other possible issues place a natural limit on what sort of playing styles the adventure integrates well with.
Also, as was common in the early days of 4E’s life, the presentation for the skill challenge leaves much to be desired. In fairness, though, I think it’s handled in a way that isn’t too hard to make playable, aside from being split across two pages.
All in all, this is a fun, creative, and generally well-designed adventure. If the premise isn’t too crazy and the players are given an appropriate hook, it can be the highlight of a campaign.