Tuesday, September 14, 2010

4E Dungeon Delve: A Review

Dungeon Delve is a 192 page hardcover that was published in February 2009 to fairly mundane reviews. I picked it up a while back but it wasn't really a priority. as I was busy designing and starting my first 4E campaign. One of my own rules while doing this was that I didn't want to read any published 4E adventure material as I wanted to figure it out myself.  Feeling fairly solid with those arrangements now I sat down to read it over the weekend and was very impressed.

The concept for the book is to publish a short adventure for every level from 1-30. Each "Delve" starts with a few paragraphs of background, an overview map , a note on what set of dungeon tiles was used to make the map, and some notes on how to expand it beyond the encounters given. Each encounter has a more detailed map including the monster locations, complete monster stats, a setup section, tactical notes, and details on any features in the area like statues that could be pushed over or ledges to fall off of or secret doors or the like. Everything that the DM needs to run the encounter is right there, usually on 1 or 2 facing pages.

The introduction to the book talks about different ways to use this material including a DM Training Tool (not a terrible idea) and as a boardgame type affair where it's openly DM vs. Players - I thought that was Descent . Those are fine but they are not the highest purpose of this book.

The greatness of this book is in having a huge pile of prepared, fully statted-out mini-dungeons with short simple backgrounds. As anyone who has DM'd an ongoing campaign knows, this kind of material is incredibly valuable. If you're running a specific adventure and the players know it or if you're running one-shots then it's not as important as everyone tends to be focused on the task at hand but in a classic open-ended serial campaign the players pretty much decide where they are going next and that's not always some place you have prepared. Even if you are running a known adventure players will go back to town and then go traipsing off in another direction. When this happens it's very handy to have some other material you can drop in as a side adventure - sometimes as the goal of the side trip and sometimes as a delay along the way so that you can finish writing up the goal before the next session.  Plus the size of each - 3 encounters -  is perfect as that's about how many my group can get through in a typical night. The descriptions are also perfect - a paragraph or 3 about the location, who the monsters are and why they are there is exactly what this kind of adventure needs and it's specific to the encounter, not to any campaign world.

Old School Notes - This book is similar to the Book of Lairs or Adventure Pack I - premade encounters with monster stats and maps that can be dropped in as needed. Now the encounters are not as large-scale as some of the Lair setups - no 130 Brigands or 249 Sahaugin - nor are they as involved as the adventures in AP, but they are very similar as far as intended use.

What if you don't play 4th edition? Well, it's not a whole lot of use in that case. The maps are fairly simple and the feature notes include DC's for climbing up on things or breaking things that could be used with 3E characters. The monsters would have to be replaced though, so some of the utility of the book would be lost but the maps and the concepts might be enough of a head start to make it easier than doing your own from scratch. For 1E or 2E DM's there isn't much here. The concept, though, is very good and there's no reason it couldn't be used to make up a similar product for 1E/2E.

This book is a godsend for my own 4E campaign which is set in Phlan and inspired by the old Gold Box game. In that game the main adventuring area is the city itself but there are several small adventures set outside of the city and I have been debating how to incorporate them into the campaign. I don't want them to replace big chunks of my carefully designed city zones but I want players to have the option to head outside of the city -especially those who remember the old game - and look for trouble. They could also be used as XP catch-up missions for characters who sit out a session or two. So I was thinking of making up some set pieces of 1-5 encounters using the themes of the original - an orc lair, a lizardman lair,a wizard's laboratory, and others - but now I don't really have to as I have Dungeon Delve and I can place whatever I need depending on the level of the characters involved. I may still do the laboratory as it was a pretty big part of the original and I had already figured it in as one of my higher-level areas, but the other little side encounters will most likely be handled by adventures from this book. What higher praise can I give than I like it and expect to be using it in the next month or two. If you;re running a traditional campaign using 4E then it's an immediately useful book for you as a DM and it's something you will want in your toolkit.

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