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Designed by: Mistfactor Press
“The Dreaded Tunnels of Ruxabar” is a straight-forward dungeon crawl for five players around level eight. It’s a 20-page gauntlet through disease-infested caverns, with several modified monsters, tons of environmental hazards and traps, and a few new treasures. It also includes separate VTT-friendly player maps and tokens.
The adventure is very light on role-playing but I enjoyed the overall layout and interesting challenges within the dungeon.
Despite the relatively low amount of story-telling, there’s an impressively detailed backstory. The set-up is one you’ve heard countless times over: a pesky cult was up to no good, tried to summon some bad shit, and then bad shit happened.
A wizard named Innorium infiltrated the Cult of Jargain (led by Ruxabar) to bring forth the plague devil Vinaroth. The cult found a powerful nexus in a cave system that was empowering the local wildlife. Innorium performed the ritual but was unable to complete it, resulting in the cultists being transformed as disease spread out from the crack between worlds, and soon began seeping out in the surrounding area.
Our heroes come into play when they meet Innorium, who had fled the failed ritual and now pretends to be an old man in search of aid. He tells the PCs to seek out the nexus in the cave and complete the ritual in order to stop the spread of disease. It’s a decent twist but sadly doesn’t really amount to anything within the context of this adventure, as everything takes place within the titular tunnels that the PCs soon find themselves in.
The dungeon is filled with environmental traps and hazards like poisonous gas and spores, acid pools, patches of poison ground, and even a tree that produces infected apples. Good rule of thumb when entering a tunnel filled with poisonous gas – don’t eat or drink a damn thing.
I particularly enjoyed the cult’s kitchen area, featuring a cabinet full of a swarm of jello oozes and a vial with a baby toothed worm that quickly grows into a purple wormling (but green and poisonous, naturally).
The monsters are also suitably disease-ridden, including infected cultists who don’t move or respond at all until someone not carrying the Green Filth Decay gets close.
The Green Filth Decay disease is ever-present in the dungeon. Nearly everything the PCs interact with or fight results in CON saving throws to avoid the disease. The DC continues to rise until they’re pretty much all infected by the end, creating the feeling that they’re journeying deeper and deeper through an irradiated area.
I wish the disease’s mechanics were a bit more interesting, like having a compounding effect similar to exhaustion levels. Instead it’s mostly limited to negating healing, which is still a pretty big deal. Failing the save by 5 or more is devastating, saddling the PC with disadvantage to pretty much everything and making the final battle with a CR 12 (!) plague hydra and a room full of infected cultists all the more challenging.
The only interesting role-playing moment is entirely optional and easily missed. Before the final battle the PCs are attacked by an infected hill giant. Bumpalgama is actually a survivor of the original cult, now wracked by disease and madness. If the PCs cure her madness they can learn about the cult and potentially gain a powerful ally. Definitely something that needs to be clearly telegraphed, as most PCs would simply treat it as another combat encounter.
The dungeon design is great but the physical map construction leaves much to be desired. I love having maps ready to go in Roll20 but this map is way too big for a 10-room dungeon. Vast stretches of wide hallways and huge caverns are not at all what I picture when I think of tunnels. The map makes the dungeon feel way emptier than it really is.
I also grew annoyed with the flavor text. It often overreaches and narrates actions and feelings by the PCs as if they’re reading (or listening to) a book rather than actively participating in the adventure. There’s a fine line between painting an evocative description and writing novel prose.
Despite these flaws I enjoyed the dungeon’s many interesting hazards and situations and epic boss battle. The adventure mentions that a sequel is in the works with the disease-ridden heroes leaping through the portal in order to take the fight directly to Vinaroth, which sounds like a more than worthy follow up.
- Detailed dungeon with a strong theme.
- Interesting environmental hazards and challenges.
- Player maps and tokens provided for VTTs.
- Dungeon is unnecessarily huge in most areas, making it feel far emptier than it is.
- Very light on role-playing and story-telling.
- Too much flavor text that presumes PCs’ actions and emotional responses.
The Verdict: “The Dreaded Tunnels of Ruxabar” takes PCs through a challenging, disease-ridden dungeon crawl that’s as much about surviving the environment as the denizens within.
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