DMs Guild Review – Death by Goblins

Fight your way out of a massive goblin lair in this adventure for 6th level parties.

dms guild review

A review copy of “Death by Goblins” was provided by the publisher. Find more DMs Guild Reviews on my website and YouTube channel.

Support my work by using affiliate links for shopping and pledging via Patreon.

Designed by: Gordon McAlpin

The aptly named Death by Goblins is an adventure centered around a single, massive goblin lair, for 6th level parties. How do you make goblins challenging at 6th level? Start by throwing them into the deepest room at the bottom of the dungeon, and put the goblins under the command of a hilariously deranged elf bard.

Although the subtitle describes it as “short but deadly,” at over 40 pages (and 20+ pages of appendices) the adventure is anything but short. It’s well-organized, with a professional layout, as well as original artwork and panels by the designer (if you haven’t read his Multiplex webcomic and animated web series – you really should).

The opening chapter provides an intriguing introduction to our main villain, in a style I’ve never seen before. Although the adventure is balanced for a level 6 party, the opening chapter should take place earlier in the party’s campaign, when they’re staying at an inn (the adventure uses the Phandalin Inn as an example location) and meet a bard, Elleas.

Elleas is a pompous elf bard-wizard who thinks he’s amazing, and demands everyone else think so as well. He’s not a powerful monster or a scheming warlock or an elder god. He’s just a dick. And he’s a fantastic adversary.

Elleas puts on a hopelessly bland performance during open mic night, and is hopefully upstaged by at least one of the PCs, whom he swears vengeance on. It’s all in good fun, and should make for a funny, if random social encounter. Little do the PCs know Elleas becomes a fairly powerful (and obsessive) wizard, and has magically enchanted an entire goblin tribe into worshipping him.

In chapter two, the now higher level party stumbles into an ambush by goblins disguised as distressed travelers. If all goes according to plan, the PCs should end up falling into a pit trap that teleports them into the bowels of the massive goblin lair dungeon, and become pawns of Elleas.

Chapter two is the weak link of the adventure, as capturing PCs is an incredibly difficult feat to pull off. You need to avoid taking away player agency while not employing too much super-powerful DM shenanigans.

I fail to see how a group of goblins could capture a somewhat competent level 6 party and shove them in a pit, let alone if the PCs were weary about the situation they stumble into. The adventure hinges on the DM capturing the players here, and I would preferred some backup plans – or at least a spellcaster, to help seal the deal.

dms guild

Chapter three is where the bulk of the adventure takes place. The goblin lair is absolutely massive, consisting of four floors (if you count castle walls) and over 40 rooms. The PCs start in the bowels, captured by the goblins, but are quickly presented with multiple escape routes as they explore the surrounding caves beneath the keep.

The Glorious Death tribe goblins aren’t your typical goblins, however. In the appendices we’re given expanded goblin actions and abilities to spice up encounters – and all goblins are capable of climbing on walls to launch themselves at the adventurers, along with new custom statblocks and mini-bosses, transforming the tiresome D&D enemy into a terrifying, swarming threat.

The party could escape to the east, avoiding (or fighting) patrols in the Great Hall, battle a mini-boss with his consorts, run afoul of the spell-casting gardener, and free an enchanted halfling who joins the party but turns on them during the final fight.

Or they could travel south into the goblin barracks, finding secret tunnels into the keep, a trash pit with a black pudding at the bottom, and a water way with a crafty and hungry water weird.

Smart dungeon design is giving the players as many choices as possible while still funneling them toward a natural crescendo in the action, ultimately culminating in an epic climactic battle once they reach the upper floor of the keep.

dms guild

Elleas wants to enslave the PCs to torture them and force them to listen to his incessant concerts (which his enchanted goblins love), and his self-absorbed monologue during the boss fight hits the perfect tone (unlike his music). The final showdown involves waves of goblins attacking the party, drinking giant-size potions, and employing goblin-launching catapults while Elleas casts paralyzing spells from afar and dishes out indignant monologues.

While chapter two didn’t have enough information, chapters three and four are overloaded – we’re given five pages of dungeon details before the room-by-room breakdown. Patrol routes and encounters, cave mushrooms, secret doors, traps, lighting, tunnel sizes. Everything you need to run a large, complex dungeon. The lair also feels like a real place where goblins live, rather than a series of combat encounters.

Combined with the full color, detailed battle maps and token goblins, Death by Goblins is one of the most complete packages, and one of the most enjoyable dungeon crawls, I’ve reviewed this year.

Pros:

  • The goblin lair is an excellently designed mega-dungeon, with multiple paths and detailed patrols.
  • Several rescuable prisoners with unique situations that help (and hinder) the party.
  • 20+ pages of appendices, including expanded goblin actions, unique statblocks, and mini-bosses.
  • Fun original artwork and comic panels by the designer.
  • Full color, detailed DM and player maps of the dungeon.
  • Legitimately funny and captivating BBEG with an epic final boss battle.

Cons:

  • The adventure relies on successfully capturing the party via a goblin ambush.

The Verdict: With a massive, incredibly detailed dungeon design, expanded goblin statblocks, full color art, tokens, and maps, and a villain you love to hate, Death by Goblins is easily one of my favorite adventures of the year.

A review copy of “Death by Goblins” was provided by the publisher. Find more DMs Guild Reviews on my website and YouTube channel.

Support my work by using affiliate links for shopping and pledging via Patreon.

Author: roguewatson

Freelance Writer

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