The Darkness Beneath Dalentown is a Swords & Wizardry adventure for characters of levels 8-12 by Tim Bannock and Matthew Bannock.
At First Glance
First, I want to mention what pretty much everyone does with any printed module: Be lured in by the cover, read the back cover for more information and then flip through the pages before actually reading it.
The cover is great! The title is legible so it doesn't use any crazy fonts that I've been seeing a lot of products using lately. Which, is a personal pet peeve of mine. If a product is sitting on a shelf at a store but I can't read the title because of the font then chances are I'm not going to look at it unless the cover is showing and the art draws me in. Also, on the cover it states clearly that this product is for Swords & Wizardry and that it is for four to eight characters of levels 8-12. This is something else I feel is extremely important for any module. Tell me how many characters and the level range of the module either on the cover or back cover. I don't want to have to flip through the book to find it.
Now, the cover art. The artwork is by Dean Spencer. I love the style and I love the double take reaction I had with this piece. At first glance I saw an adventurer fighting off a gelatinous cube which tells me that I can expect to see at least one of these in the adventure. BUT then I noticed the blood on the sword and I thought, "Why would there be blood on the blade?" And then I realized that the adventurer is actually trying to hack away at (her?) own leg that is caught in the gelatinous cube. Very nice touch!
Now there isn't a back cover because this is a PDF so I will just flip (digitally) through the pages to see what catches my eye. I noticed there are 6 maps and a few pieces of art that caught my eye. These pieces are on pages 1, 16 and 18. The artwork on page 16 has a female at an altar with a bowl filled with some sort of liquid. But what really caught my eye are the crazy figures behind her. They are creepy and disturbing in a great way. The interior artwork is by Dean Spencer, Patrick E. Pullen and Luigi Castellani. The layout and graphic elements are done by Elena Naylor.
The adventure is 23 pages long including artwork and maps. There are also 7 pages worth of appendix information.
The adventure takes place in the town of Dalentown and the depths below. Dalentown sits atop of an abandoned Dwarven stronghold that the characters will venture through. The product information does the best job at giving the summary of this adventure:
"...takes a party of adventurers below the surface of Dalentown to investigate a long-abandoned dwarven stronghold. But that's where the familiar tropes end! Spurred by stories of restless spirits, the party soon finds themselves staring down an invading force of oozes, slimes, puddings and jellies all in the service of demons!"
First, I want to address one thing I already have a problem with in this chapter. It really isn't a real problem but it is mentioned twice: "Referees are encouraged to set this adventure in the sewers beneath a town in their campaign world to provide context and color appropriate to their games."
The only reason why I have a problem with it is because even though the information on Dalentown is about a page and a half it still has a LOT of information on major locations/NPCs in the town. It highlights seven different locations and a total of sixteen NPCs. Half of the NPCs have their class/es and levels mentioned by their name. So I would use this town as where the adventure takes place rather than taking the adventure to another location. Though, you can do that with ease. There are four different adventure hooks listed including the traditional, "So, you're in a tavern..." hook. Also, there is an Events Table that is used to cause havoc within Dalentown. The events are to be used when the adventurers are either taking too much time in the town or when they go back up to rest and such. It is to give that feeling that if the adventurers don't act on what's going on below Dalentown then eventually there may not even be a Dalentown. I like that because it keeps the adventure going and so when things get slow, which can happen in any game, you can use the events to bring the players back into the game.
Chapters 2 & 3
These two chapters detail the adventure in the traditional format that we are all familiar with. But I really want to say how much I LOVE what they did with the maps and the location details. If you're reading my blog regularly then you know I write One-Page Adventures because I find that most modules can be a little too overwhelming for me to run. But this module isn't overwhelming at all. And the reason why is because of this:
The very first map within the adventure has about 15 rooms but only 2 of them is described and the final location (the last map in the adventure) has many, many rooms but only 10 of them are described.
This might discourage some GMs who might need information on every single nook and cranny but for me this is perfect. It gives me a lot of room to make this module my own. And I also expect if I were a player in this module under three different GMs that I would have three different takes on this module.
The monsters throughout this module are mainly oozes, slimes and jellys. Thus, they can be deadly encounters with things like immunities, acid, paralyses, magic resistances, etc. And where there are oozes you can also find....a lot more oozes. It's everywhere! The adventurers can't find a place that isn't crawling (or dripping, slithering, sliding, leaking) with oozes. And behind all of it is Jubilex, The Faceless Lord, and Sedeen, The Faceless Demon Ooze. There is one important thing the GM must keep in mind when running this module is that "Sedeen can experience what each of her ooze minions experiences and she can communicate through them." This can create unique and challenging encounters. It can also create great moments in roleplaying. I would use this as my way of changing the playing field. For example, if the adventurers are doing much better than expected you can use her powers to change that. Maybe reveal, through an ooze, to the adventurers that one of the Events is taking place above them in Dalentown to make them choose: Help the town with the current problem or continue on.
The Appendix A section gives details on the two magic items that can be found in this module and every monster the adventurers could encounter. So in reality if you are already familiar with Swords & Wizardry this is all that you would need to run the module.
The Appendix B section gives rules and information on how to fill the bookshelves of the library (found in levels 2 & 3 of Chapter 2). There are 20 books/tomes/scrolls that could be found on the shelves using various tables. Some books are magical and can give bonuses, others are curses, others are just regular books (fiction, history, cookbooks, etc.) and there are also scrolls.
Honestly, without playing it, I think the level suggestion might be a little too high. I believe if you were to have just the core classes at level 10 they aren't going to be struggling too much. BUT that is also why there are so many blanks on the maps. For you, the GM, to raise or lower the difficulty of the adventure by filling in the blanks.
But I could see myself being able to run this adventure with ease. Often, I game with just a skeleton of an outline and make it up on the fly. And with this adventure having so many blanks and having just the key elements described I would have no problem running this after a single read through and jotting down notes. I think this is a GREAT example on how to write future modules! You don't have to describe every room/location. You don't even have to say empty or even number them all. Just write the story, the goals, the key elements, the stats and then let the GM create upon what you have given them.
For $5 this is a great deal! I highly recommend this module and if the Bannocks continue with this model for their future Swords & Wizardry modules then I already know I'm going to love those as well!
Now, to turn this into a One-Page Adventure for my on personal use. Though, I'm sure it would have to be at least three pages.