Looking Over Dungeon Delve: The Raiders' Hideout
Some gnoll raiders are hiding out in a sandy lair.
The hook that “[t]he PCs have come to exact a measure of justice for recent brutal caravan raids” works for heroic, aloof, and villainous PCs alike; the former can avenge amoral violence with moral violence, the aloof can do something that will earn them rewards on top of the spoils they find, and the latter can either ignore the “justice” bit to turn it into a recruitment drive or deal with the gnolls to gain power over the communities they victimized. Clean, simple, and versatile.
While the ideas for expanding the adventure are nothing too creative, they hit the obvious avenues: add more gnolls, add allies for the gnolls, or add more creatures below the gnolls.
Mentioning the sloped floor and differently-colored alcove walls in the boxed text is a good way of foreshadowing the sand trap without giving it away entirely.
The claw fighter stat block is a decent template for a high-mobility melee shock trooper (for systems that use area-of-control/disengagement/opportunity attacks, it’s worth noting that the mobile melee attack ability suppresses that only for the target of the melee attack).
The illusions for sitting in the thrones are pretty cool and hint that whoever built the tomb had some capacity for magic looking forward and backward through time.
I appreciate the sidebar calling out the reference location for grabbing/escaping rules instead of reprinting them.
The grell’s bite mechanics are a decent way of representing a tentacled horror drawing victims into its gaping maw.
The touch about the ancient civilizations cultural habits is a nice bit of flavor, and the anachronism of metal-pipe plumbing in an ancient stone tomb fits with the thrones’ magic.
The basic set-up of a human(oid) tomb built over some other creature’s lair is fine in a vacuum, but it needs some thought to actually make sense in greater context.
Restraining characters who get caught in the crevasse is fine to start, but the situation should escalate if they remain there while sand continues pouring in, perhaps by taking damage from being scoured and/or getting more restricted as they get buried deeper. I’d probably also add a save to bridge the crevasse rather than being pushed into it automatically, given how narrow it is.
I’m not entirely sure about the rotating skull to trigger the sand trap, and the whole thing is leaning towards a funhouse dungeon-style trap even without that. Still, I think changing it to something of cultural significance to the tomb’s makers (or to the grell) would be a more natural fit while also signaling that there is more going on in here.
Using the golden casket as a glorified treasure chest is a missed opportunity. Having two or three bodies together, a child’s skeleton, or even some alien remains that aren’t readily identifiable as remains in there along with the treasure would be better than nothing.
The lack of difficult terrain for the dais steps is odd.
It’s worth adding some flavor description for the scourge’s aura (feeling a sense of vulnerability, a more focused look in the gnolls’ eyes, their attacks coming with greater ferocity, the scourge giving shouts of martial motivation as they attack, etc.).
The bottom of the well being an empty square for the grell to float about in is a wasted opportunity. The lack of remains can be an eerie touch, but there should at least be some designs or shapes in the stones if not some actual possessions.
A 1’-deep puddle around the well means there must be substantial unevenness in the floor, yet the text is silent on that; just making it a slippery surface that acts as difficult terrain should given the same effects without seeming so out-of-place.
Hyenas make far more interesting sounds than just “sporadic barks”.
The starting locations for the marauders and hyenas in area 2 (marauders on the formation’s wings with the hyenas at the core) are at cross-purposes with their tactics (marauders stem movement from intruders while the hyenas flank).
The text is inconsistent on the DC for noticing the hidden huntmaster in area 3 (DC 21 in the initial text, DC 14 in the boxed text).
The scourge’s bloodthirst is useless unless the huntermasters are engaged in melee (which the tactics say they avoid “at all costs”) or the grell has entered the fray (assuming the GM interprets it as an ally of the scourge). Its overwhelming attack is even more useless unless the GM adds more melee allies to benefit from it.
The ceiling in area 3 being lower than in area 2 feels like it’s a concession to keep the grell from flying out of melee reach.
Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of tying mechanics into the bloodied threshold; for all that I do like that term from a descriptive perspective, it’s too easy to forget about it in the bustle of actual play; but I thought the various creature stat blocks did a broadly good job of being straightforward and engaging despite leaning on that so much. Beyond that, this adventure had a solid hook, included a surprising amount of flavor (as someone who values holistic trap design, the hints of time-related proficiency even have me on board with the sand trap rewinding itself some time after being triggered), and managed to feature some interesting encounter design despite each area really being a simple rectangle at heart.
Add in the ease of expanding the adventure and of swapping out the creatures for any others that the GM wants (the only strong connection between the creatures and the environment is needing a way for the thing from below to get out of the well), and it’s hard to expect anything more.
All in all, this is one of the best adventures in the book, and being able to work well as a prelude to something more is just the icing on the cake.