Adventure Review: D3 – Vault of the Drow & Q1 – Queen of the Demonweb Pits
I off and on have been reviewing the parts of the first AD&D adventure path – Against the Giants (in two parts – Part 1 & Part 2), and Descent into the Depths of the Earth. Well, now the time has come to the conclusion of the Adventure Path, and while for an inventive ending, it’s kind of a rough one.
After your merry band of adventurers has slain three different giant chieftains, navigated through the underdark, they have now reached their goal – the Vault of the Drow. And this is where the adventure immediately stumbles. The thing is, the Vault itself is another hexcrawl. But where D1 & 2 gave you some basic direction with some landmarks and a rough map through the underdark itself, D3 basically plops the party at the entrance to incredibly hostile territory and given a general shrug as their direction.
This issue is aggravated by issues with navigation. D1-2 provided some very low light through phosphorescent moss, there’s nothing of the sort here – so players are reliant on spells or magic items which provide infravision or other low-light vision. Infravision in particular is especially important, as the city is “lit” with an infrared light source, and drow writing in particular is only visible in infrared light. Except very few items that provide those effects haven’t been dropped over the past 5 adventures (I checked), so the GM would need to have seen this part coming and needed to provide items that resolved that in earlier adventures, or the players would have needed to run a party that was almost entirely Elves or Dwarves.
The other issue is related to the general lack of guidance. You arrive with no information on where you’re going when you get there – so again, the DM needs to drop provide some hooks before then on the party’s destination – that they need to make their way to the Great Fane of Lolth – where they can fight Lolth herself, leading to her withdrawing to the Demonweb Pits and setting up Q1. If the GM doesn’t, then the party is basically limited to ambushing Drow patrols, holding up the note in G3, and demanding to know who is behind this – though that does make for a humorous image.
Scene – The party has ambushed a drow patrol, the rest of the patrol is dead or otherwise taken out of action is potentially comic poses (halfway through a window, etc.). The remaining member of the patrol has been held up at knife and swordpoint by the party.
Wizard (holding up letter): Who is responsible for this plan!? Talk!
Drow (squinting): I can’t read the letter.
Wizard (Holds it closer): Who!
Drow: Look, it isn’t written in Infrared ink, I can’t read it!
Wizard: Oh, sorry! *Light* How’s this?
Drow: Somewhat better – but I can’t read your crazy moon language.
Cleric: (sighing) *Comprehend Languages*
Drow: Ah, much better. This is the plan of Charinida, high priestess of Lolth, who can be found at the temple. Look for the room that looks like it’s been decorated by the Marquis De Sade (if I knew who that was).
Wizard: Thank you for your cooperation!
Drow: So, will you let me live?
Other Drow Patrol: Hey, there’s surface light that way!
Fighter: Crap, gotta go. *Stab*
Drow: *Dies giving the middle finger*
By comparison to those other issues, the fact that probably none of the party speaks or reads Drow is a lesser issue – Tongues and Comprehend Languages solve that problem nicely.
Q1 changes things up dramatically by basically taking the party completely out of this plane of reality, and into the realm of the Abyss. It handles this by mapping the dungeon in a way that nobody’s done a dungeon before, through four interlaced levels of dungeon, and adding a few basic side-quests to portions of other planes, where the party can intercede in some of Lolth’s other plans, and potentially resupply from any allies they find there.
This adventure also dramatically changes how a lot of spells function at a fundamental level, forcing the party to adjust their tactics on the fly to adjust on how those spells functions have changed. However, this is also where the 1st edition skill system (or lack of a skill system) causes stumbling blocks – as there isn’t really any directives on learning how these spells work differently until the players cast those spells. Having an Arcana or Spellcraft skill (as with 3rd or 5th edition) or a similar non-weapon proficiency (as with 2nd edition or the 1st edition supplemental books) would help resolve this a lot.
My recommendation, if you’re using 1st edition (or 2nd edition without NWPs) would be to give any players who are spellcasters the opportunity to make a check with whatever their relevant spellcasting stat is (Int or Wis). If they succeed on the check, then they know that their spells would work differently here, without necessarily knowing the particulars. The higher the degree of success, the more they know about particular spells or classes of spells. If they roll a critical success, then I’d just give them a sheet with the changes to various spells.
Probably the more pressing issue is that clerics can’t get spells above 1st or 2nd level back, for fear of “offending the gods that rule there”, and that spells with positive modifiers have those modifiers decreased by 1. It kind of puts a capstone on the issues with these two adventures – in order to run this campaign, the DM needs to have every part of this campaign in advance, to make sure that they can adjust the earlier adventures that the party is running, or these adventures, to make sure that the seed the magic items that party needs in order for the players to have fun. Not to triumph, just to have the adventure not to be a miserable slog.
Because, reading this adventure, as written, a party from a high magic campaign, where everyone is coming into this adventure with +2 or even +3 weapons (and a Paladin definitely having their Holy Avenger), will have the proper equipment for this final dungeon, as opposed to the party from a low-magic campaign where you’ve only found a couple +2 weapons by this point.
As far as the campaign as a whole is concerned, if put together right this could make an extremely fun campaign, possibly one of those campaigns that the players speak fondly of in the future. However, you really need to do some extensive prep going in, to make sure your party is ready for the challenges they face towards the end of the campaign. Not to give them on a silver platter everything they need to win, but to make sure that they’ve got what it takes to have a fighting chance to survive.
Additionally, if you enjoyed this review, please consider backing my Patreon. Backers get my reviews and Let’s Play episodes up to a week early. If you can’t afford a monthly donation, you might also consider tossing a buck or two into the Ko-Fi tip jar.