It’s been a while since I wrote my last adventure review, as I examined the GDQ adventure series (Giants, Drow/underDark, Queen of the Demonweb Pits). This time I’m taking a look at the first adventure in the Competition Series. C1: The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan.
Is an adventure with a weak start, rough start, strong build up to the finish, and then a weak finish.
First off, the adventure’s setup is pretty weak – the party pulls an Adol Christian (of the Ys series) and gets shipwrecked, with the characters being on a mysterious coastline, at which point they’re forced to flee inland to escape from mysterious pursuers, only to end up inside a ruined temple, whose lower levels are filled with poison gas, that they’ll have to quickly flee through to escape certain death.
To be honest – this premise can be thrown into the sea. The poison gas does way too much damage – 1-6 damage per minute, with slow poison shortening that to one damage per minute until the spell expires, then if you’re still in an environment where the poison is present you take all the damage which you could have taken in the intervening time.
I understand the narrative reason for this – it creates a sense of urgency to drive the action, particularly for a game run in a convention environment. It’s just way too lethal, especially considering that in AD&D 1st and 2nd edition Magic users get 1d4 HP/level, which means that this can kill a single-class mage incredibly fast. So, I’d recommend, if you keep the poison damage, reducing the damage considerably (say, 1d3 max), with a successful saving throw negating. I’d also give player characters who take steps to improvise some sort of respiratory protection (say masks to block the poison) to reduce damage to 1.
The other problem with the early areas of the game is how the monster and trap mix shakes out. Part of it works – the dungeon has a mix of monsters that have moved in from the jungles outside the dungeon, combined with monsters that were summoned and bound into the dungeon which represent creatures from the pantheon of the people who built the temple. This part works great. The bound monsters have a great deal of flavor to them, and they are often encounters that the party can negotiate their way past.
And then there a few other encounters that don’t fit into the dungeon, and some of the traps. We have a few monsters that don’t fit into that earlier framework, like a Nereid in the first level that doesn’t really fit in the dungeon at all, and who doesn’t have an anchor with the mythology. The Nereid is particularly bad because they can kill party members really fast. And speaking of killing party members, there are the traps. There are several traps in the dungeon that can be spotted by party members, but if triggered can end up killing party members, but very slowly. I don’t necessarily have a problem with certain death traps – but I do have a problem with certain death traps that are inescapable and are slow.
A quick character death can be frustrating, but still something the player can roll with. A slow character death, on the other hand, is something worse – it’s boring.
Finally, the other major issue I have is there isn’t really a meaningful goal to the adventure. The hook as established has the players trying to escape a horde of pursuers and ending up falling into the shrine. Successfully traversing the shrine doesn’t resolve this problem. Similarly, the pursuers aren’t worshiping some unnamed evil worshiped within the shrine, they’re just some guys chasing you down because of The Reason. If you take the shipwreck and pursuit side of the story out, there is not particularly notable treasure in the temple, and no big named final boss to fight at the end. In short, there is no major climax to the adventure.
In short, Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan is an adventure written with the assumption that no group of adventurers would ever reach the end, and that it would not necessarily be dropped into any real existing campaign, so no effort need be put into those parts of the book.
Other than those, the adventure has some really solid ideas throughout its middle, and those part are definitely worth keeping.
One last side note, when it comes to updating the adventure, even if you’re sticking with AD&D or an OSR rules set. There’s an encounter in the first level of the dungeon where the players will encounter a sarcophagus containing a vampire. The room features a cursed magical axe, and the monster’s treasure contains a creepy looking but otherwise innocuous jade mask. If your players have seen or read the Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency arcs of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, they’re going to latch onto the idea of the mask as the cursed item, and not the axe. If so, just role with it, even if you’re not planning on sticking a knock-off of the Pillar Men into the campaign.C1: The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan is currently available for purchase from the Dungeon Master’s Guild. Buying anything through that link helps to support the site.
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