Advanced Adventures: The Verdant Vault of Malakum (OSR)
This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at only 9 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, ½ a page of SRD, leaving us with 6.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look.
This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreons.
As always, this Advanced Adventures-module uses the OSRIC rule-set, but can be theoretically converted easily to other rule-sets. The adventure is designated as suitable for levels 8 – 10 and works best with a well-rounded party and…*Pffff*
…I can’t do that. I just can’t.
The Verdant Vault of Malakum’s brevity is a plus. No, I am not going to dignify this with a SPOILER-warning.
Okay. I kinda did. There. No one should attempt to play this.
From the get-go, we realize what we have actually bought here: The vault is 3 miles away from the settlement…and then, the module continues to talk about how slowly the PCs can get through the jungle, noting that they can only cover 4 miles per day.
Notice something? We get a list of random encounter monsters (nothing interesting here), and that’s not all. In the jungle, turning undead is penalized. Why? Because the jungle is EEEVUHLL.
The entrance to the vault of the erstwhile despot Malakum is a stone head, flanked by basaltic columns. These are ropers concealed by illusions and surprise 5 times in 6. Means to detect? Nope. This dickishness is just a taste of the things to come. In the vault, we have -6 to turning undead.
And every 3rd and 7th of the 60 steps down into the dungeon is trapped. Tedious, even for super-methodical groups? Yes. Not telegraphed? Yes. Boring and bad design? Heck yes.
If the PCs stumble into them, the slide will dump them in a pool of slimes that all hit automatically. Oh joy. That’s harmless as far as this module is concerned.
Know these “great” modules that do NOT account for PC capability, instead neutering them or forcing them to basically guess what the author wants them to do? You know, the author’s extended middle finger à la “F*** your rules, you will do this as I intended or die horribly?”
Yeah, well, we have the like herein. A lot of it.
There is a room that is basically an elemental maelstrom: There are quasi-Egyptian hieroglyphs here (included as visual representations) that represent the 4 elements, and that the PCs must hit to cancel the respective elemental pain. (Magic-users will not survive here.) Oh, and how this trap works is utterly obtuse in its wording. I had to read it 3 times.
The few monsters herein don’t really have a strong leitmotif. Babau, a shambling mound and yellow musk zombies. No creeper. There is one interesting hazard/creature synergy, a venus man-trap that combines violet fungus rot and deadly bites – but the formatting is weird here. Why isn’t this listed like a creature? You know, like the fungi? And no, they can’t avoid damage or properly bypass this or any other one, even if the players get/guess how a trap or hazard works.
This is something to bear in mind: The Verdant Vault of Malakum is a thoroughly linear dungeon. There is no way to bypass any room within. Remember that.
So, the boss, Malakum, is a greater mummy, the rooms wizard lock and slam shut all the time…blablabla. Nothing you wouldn’t expect from the author at this point.
If you expected a plant-dungeon: Nope. There are a few plant monsters, but the dungeon per se does not have any semblance of a proper leitmotif or cultural identity.
Oh, and there is this nice trap in the beginning. Where (black) tentacles spawn from the walls. If 4 hit you (save vs. spell, fyi), they tear you apart. Death. No save. Because that totally is how being hit with multiple tentacles works in any (A)D&D-related game I know. Each PC is targeted by 4 of them. Per round.
Ah, and there is an obtuse relief-based puzzle and the utterly baffling “Path of Stars.” This room has a black floor, 30 ft. below. Motes of light dance on it. Touching the floor…is instant death, no save. If you really strain, you can hear the author’s ethereal whispers of “F*** You.” That’s how this whole room reads like. And yes, for funsies, if you touch the white motes of stars, you…die; if you touch the black void, you….BINGO, also die, no save. Sounds legit.
You know, because it’s a piece of the night sky, transplanted here. No, this is not telegraphed in any way. Just getting started. The PCs can activate platforms that levitate down, which flip over in a 1-second rhythm. One side is safe (oddly, the white one…you know, white like the motes that kill you, no save, when touching the equivalent on floor below), while the other evaporates you if you fail a -4 save vs. spell. Of COURSE, you can’t teleport or fly here. That’d be actually…you know…use of resources. Not even CLEVER use of resources, mind you, but damn cookie-cutter adventuring…but using that would contradict the author’s utterly baffling and random fiat, so this module raises a middle finger to your players. Play like dumb drones and walk into the unavoidable traps. You know, like you’re in a bad computer game.
Thought that this isn’t so bad? Okay, do you know how you cross it? Dexterity check at -3 to jump ON AND to jump OFF. Depending on how you read the crappy, imprecise wording, you either arrive at 9 (!!) or 18 (!!!) consecutive Dexterity checks at a “-3 penalty”. Okay…isn’t that supposed to be a +3 penalty? You know, because of roll under as a default? Never mind that OSRIC’s rules explicitly state that such things should not necessarily require skill-like checks… I swear to any deity, imagined or real, that may or may not exist, that I am NOT making this stuff up. That’s actually what’s in this module. An excerpt. Of the mercifully short adventure. Told you that this being so short was a good thing. And before you ask: No, you can’t turn off the whole thing. Just sending the thief across won’t save the other characters.
Editing and formatting on a formal level are good. On a rules-language level, this is a mess. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard and the pdf has no interior artwork apart from the glyphs. The map is functional and b/w, and no player-friendly (MUAHAHA – the only way these words will ever find their way into a review of this adventure) map has been provided.
Alphonso Warden’s “The Verdant Vault of Malakum” is an unmitigated mess. I try, very hard, to see the positive in all supplements I review. Heck, I derived some sense of fun from his messy, but somewhat inspired “Lost Pyramid of Imhotep” meatgrinder. I do *try*.
The nicest thing I can say about this one, though, is that reading it didn’t waste much of my time, as it’s shorter and slightly less boring than the atrocious “Prison of Meneptah.”
This adventure has not seen any contact with realities at the table, with actual players. It feels like a product of a frustrated author, who has read, but never actually played the game AND who has no idea how game design, math, rules language, etc. work. There is NOTHING to salvage here.
How crappy is this?
Even if you guess the author’s fiat correctly and somehow manage to correctly determine the arbitrary limitations imposed on PC capabilities, even if you basically hand out the module’s text and have your PCs run through it, they’ll STILL DIE, unless they are ridiculously lucky.
You can check. The math, thankfully, is not that hard to check for OSR-games. It is painfully obvious that no one even bothered trying to check the basics here.
This module’s “challenge” is just about dumb luck.
There is no skill on the side of either the PCs or the player’s side involved.
This feels like the spiteful AND phoned-in response of someone who read “Tomb of Horrors” or Grimtooth supplements and thought “Well, this is dumb – skill can actually avoid some of these ridiculously lethal death traps! Oh, I know, I can replace that with requiring dumb luck! Ha! That will most assuredly make gamers happy! ‘Cause, you know, that’s what makes roleplaying so cool, right?”
This is worse than a permadeath videogame with sucky RNG.
I can’t imagine that ANY group out there finished this adventure without copious amounts of GM handwaving, redesigns and/or vast death tolls.
This is a horrible, sloppy mess.
I am genuinely sorry for the paper that I used to print this adventure’s few pages. And I printed the pages on both sides. That makes 5 sheets of paper wasted on this module. As I close this review, I am deleting this adventure. It’s not worth the space on my hard drive.
I try to end on a positive side. Thanks to the adventure’s brevity, only 5 sheets of paper were wasted. And these will now go where they belong. In the trash bin, hopefully to be recycled into something more meaningful than this. Like tissues.
Final verdict: 1 star.
You can…pfff…*giggles* purchase…this here. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. You know, you could burn your money? At least, it’d provide a nice glow and some warmth? Just sayin’…