Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dungeon Module D1: Descent Into the Depths of the Earth

This post really needs to be subtitled "A Megadungeon Template."  I say that because the Drow module series is the best example I can find of a TSR-published adventure that provides the sort of megadungeon I would want to run.  

The D-series of modules are comprised of D1, D2 (Shrine of the Kuo-toa) and D3 (Vault of the Drow). That series of modules provides a variety of location-based adventures, while simultaneously giving the Dungeon Master a wealth of un-developed locations for future use.

Each hex of the above map represents one mile, and only the dark grey sliver, extending from the top-left to the bottom-right of the map, is developed in the D-series.  The rest of the map, including the sunless sea in the top-right corner, is left for the Dungeon Master to develop.

The D-series starts where the G-series (Against the Giants) left off.  Having defeated the Hill, Frost and Fire Giants, the players discover that all three giant races are being manipulated by the Drow, a race of evil subterranean elves. 

The characters come into possession of a map, and using a rope-bridge and crane, the party crosses a river of lava in search of the lost city of the dark elves.  As they make their descent towards the dark elf stronghold they encounter giant slugs and other enormous subterranean creatures.

There are three major encounter areas in D1, Descent Into the Depths of the Earth.  The first is a Drow checkpoint, staffed by two separate Drow patrols.

The second encounter is a Mind Flayer outpost, representing an incursion into the realm of the Drow.

Finally, the party reaches a massive underground cavern, populated by Bugbears, Troglodytes, and Trolls, along with Drow, Purple Worms, a Lich, Gargoyles, and sundry other potential adversaries and allies.

Other than the first Drow outpost, there is no absolute requirement that the characters must participate in any of the encounters in this module.  Nor must they defeat the Drow or any of the other denizens.  In fact, there is an opportunity to win the trust of the dark elves by eliminating the Mind Flayer outpost.  The players will likely encounter at least one drow caravan while plumbing the depths, and those encounters also provide opportunities for role-playing and negotiation.

Even the Lich, who occupies a side cavern within the major encounter site of this module, can be easily avoided:  don't enter his lair to begin with.

I really like the form of adventure that the D-series represents.  While it provides a destination-based adventure path, there is no particular requirement that the players pursue a specific goal as they seek that destination, nor does the module presume that every denizen encountered must be defeated.  In addition, the module offers side passages that the DM can flesh out, to create a completely novel adventure.  And then there is that tantalizing sunless sea, lurking up in the top-right corner of the map.

I like that there is a boundedness to the D-series of modules, while offering significant agency to the DM and the players.  That, to me, is the hallmark of a good adventure product.


Justin S. Davis said...

It's been over two decades since I last looked at this module.

And your write-up makes me want to crack it open again.

Mark K said...

There is something so very special about the original modules, especially the illustrations. They were far from the best, especially by today's standards, but hell, they captured the atmosphere and the moment.

I've got that module with the space ship, but for the life of me I can't recall it's name? We never got to run it as my group weren't too fusse on the sci-fi mix. Do you know the one I'm talking about?

Woo Flaxman said...

Expedition to the Barrier Peaks! Great player's illustration book, ray guns and robots. One of my favourites :D

Peter D said...

I love the illustrations - and I'm sad they didn't make the cut for the combined D1-2. Is there any text that's also been removed in the compilation?

Brendan said...

I was actually skimming through this one the other night, and I'm going to post something about it soon, but it's really interesting to see other people's take on it. I love the old artwork.

Aaron E. Steele said...

Well worth doing so.

Aaron E. Steele said...

I agree re the art. Expedition is another great module.

Teazia said...

Don't forget the DF fueled Ecyclopaedia Subterranica which fleshes out the remaining hexes!

Carter Soles said...

Greatest series of modules ever, your writeup highlights exactly why it is so compelling and great. Thanks!

Akrasia said...

I concur that the D1-3 series exemplifies what I would want in a 'mega-dungeon'. I'm not really a fan of standard 'mega-dungeons'. But D1-3 turns it into a kind of 'underground wilderness', which I find quite compelling.

Matthew Slepin said...

Yup, Yup, and YUP! Damn right, too.

Kort said...

This module captured a magic and imagination that following versions were hard pressed to match. I miss the innocence and sense of wonder these original D&D campaigns had. Thanks for the trip down troglodyte lane! ;)