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Dungeons of Dread: Classic D&D adventures truly are an epic find

Posted by on April 9, 2013 – 8:45 am

Dungeons of DreadDungeons of Dread, the first in a new series of compiled reprints of classic Dungeons & Dragons adventure modules, has been released. Containing the four “S1″ dungeons — Tomb of Horrors, White Plume Mountain, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks and The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth — it’s a grand tour of the dangerous locales that bedeviled the early adventurers and sparked the imaginations of those dungeon masters and players so long ago. All examples of the “classic” dungeon that nonetheless couldn’t be more different from each other, they continue to enthrall D&D enthusiasts today, and make a good addition to the library of collectors and players alike.

The first piece of artwork, the lead illustration for Tomb of Horrors’ title page, doesn’t reproduce well, and it’s a bit of a stain on the product being so front-and-center. Fortunately it’s a rare exception. Pages and most images are crisp and worthy of the product’s premium status.

The tome has a short but sweet foreward by White Plume Mountain designer Lawrence Schick, who regales readers with the humble origin of his adventure — it was meant to get noticed, not published, with its “funhouse” conceit. Dungeons of Dread could use more behind-the-scenes insights along these lines, presented as sidebars or a less-disruptive appendix, perhaps.

Although there is an index pointing to the beginning of each module, another thing lacking in Dungeons of Dread that would be a useful aid to readers is the use of page headers or footers that identify which of the four adventures a given page represents. While doing so would intrude on the original module format a bit, the browsing benefits and quick reference utility, I feel, would outweigh the minor modification. If compilations of archive material are going to become the norm for Wizards’ business model going forward — and we certainly hope they are — some adjustments like this may be necessary.

The cover and binding are sturdy, especially when compared to other recent releases. That can probably be chalked up to the limited-edition run of Dungeons of Dread, but it speaks well for the line. At $39.95, it certainly feels a better value than other recent releases that contain original material. I’d much rather have access to quality over novelty, if a balance cannot be achieved.

Dungeons of Dread content:

S1: Tomb of Horrors: In the far reaches of the world, under a lost and lonely hill, lies the sinister Tomb of Horrors. This labyrinthine crypt is filled with terrible traps, strange and ferocious monsters, rich and magical treasures, and somewhere within rest the evil Demi-Lich.

S2: White Plume Mountain: It has always been a subject of superstitious awe to the neighboring villagers. People still travel many miles to gaze upon this natural wonder, though few will approach it closely, as it is reputed to be the haunt of various demons and devils. The occasional disappearance of those who stray too close to the Plume reinforces this belief. Now, the former owners of Wave, Whelmand Blackrazor are outfitting a group of intrepid heroes to take up the challenge of recovering these magical weapons from White Plume Mountain.

S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks: From the preface by Gary Gygax: “This module was begun early in 1976 when TSR was contemplating publication of a science fantasy role playing game. Jim Ward had already shown us some rough notes on Metamorphosis Alpha I thought it would be a splendid idea to introduce Jim’s game at Origins II, and introduce the concept to D&DO players by means of the tournament scenario. I laid out the tournament from old “Greyhawk Castle” campaign material involving a spaceship, and Rob Kuntz helped me to populate the ruined vessel.”

S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth: In the Yatil Mountains south of Perrenland there is rumored to be a magical hoard of unsurpassed value, a treasure of such fame that scores of adventurers have perished in search of it. Find the perilous Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth and you may gain the hidden wealth of the long-dead arch-mage—if you live!

I’m looking forward to many more archival releases such as Dungeons of Dread, and we’ll be getting that in June with the “A” series of adventures compiled in a similar hardcover format and repackaged as Against the Slave Lords. And I know it’s unlikely, but I can’t help but hope that we get a re-release of the original Deities & Demigods, complete with Cthulhu mythos …