DMs Guild Review: Minotaur’s Bargain

A press copy of Minotaur’s Bargain was provided for the purposes of this review.

Designed by: JVC Perry and Phil Beckwith
Published by: P.B. Publishing

DMs GuildMinotaurs are usually depicted as just another monster, one that happens to be found in mazes and labyrinths thanks to Greek Mythology. Fantasy author Richard A. Knaak transformed the horned humanoids into a rich culture within the Dragonlance universe, one that I gobbled up back in high school and college.

Minotaur’s Bargain” runs with that same concept of Minotaurs as a tribal warrior culture, not unlike the orcs of Warcraft. It’s a neat idea but the adventure somewhat squanders potential role-playing interactions in favor of a standard deathtrap dungeon.

The adventure is a mini-dungeon crawl designed for a party of 5th level characters, with a suggested play time of 3-4 hours. It’s relatively tiny compared to P.B. Publishing’s other material, running at only 12 pages not including maps and statblocks.

The adventure hook has your player characters arriving at a Minotaur settlement to seek a potential alliance. The Minotaurs only respect strength, however, and no matter how negotiations go, the PCs are thrown into the arena.

The PCs have a chance to role-play with the powerful Minotaur leader, but the result is the same regardless. Given the title of the adventure and the fantastic Foreward by Knaak himself, I was expecting a much more story-heavy adventure. Instead after that initial confrontation, the PCs are dropped into a dungeon full of fairly standard traps.

The arena is divided up into four separate challenge rooms that must be overcome before the fifth and final challenge (a big boss fight) opens up. It feels very video game-y, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

DMs Guild

In the initial room the PCs are told to bring only one item with them – including clothing, armor, or arcane foci! Most PCs are going to balk at this, and there are rules and notes for anyone who wants to try and smuggle in more items (um, where exactly are they hiding them??). I’m always leery of taking away power or agency from my players. Stripping them of beloved loot makes everything in the dungeon much deadlier than normal.

A potential Minotaur ally named Partheos can be found at the entrance. I enjoy when the DM gets to add an ally to the party, often serving as an organic way of imparting information or narration to the players. But Partheos is written as more of a brief font of information for the challenges ahead. He is young and cowardly which could have some interesting repercussions, though the notes on roleplaying him are minimal.

The four challenge rooms can be tackled in any order. There’s a decent variety here but nothing particularly awe-inspiring. It probably doesn’t help that I’m still pawing through the insanity of deathtrap dungeon design that is the Tomb of the Nine Gods from “Tomb of Annihilation.”

Areas contain the standard array of dungeon traps, including ground spikes, spinning scythes, pressure plates with wall darts, and a 60 ft pool with a Darkness spell. The goal in each room is to simply pull a lever. I don’t see why any spellcaster with the Mage Hand cantrip and/or 3rd level spells like Fly, Alter Self, and Gaseous Form couldn’t complete most rooms without breaking a sweat.

There’s not a lot of combat. The spike trap room can potentially include some random beasts, while the scythe/wall dart room has a unique orc variant called a Gladiator. The final battle is against a crazy powerful CR 8 Minotaur boss with legendary actions!

The most interesting feature the dungeon offers is in integrating the arena crowd. You’re not in some underground tomb – you’re in a gauntlet-style arena with a cheering (or jeering) crowd all around you. If the PCs perform honorable deeds or heroic actions (or roll a crit), the crowd will cheer, resulting in either Inspiration, or throwing out useful items like a Potion of Healing.

On the flip side if the heroes act cowardly or the crowd notices their smuggled items, the fickle crowd will hurl rocks at them, making attack rolls and dealing damage. This is a great feature that really drives home the fact that the PCs are proving themselves in an arena instead of crawling through just another dungeon.

Since the PCs are supposed to prove themselves, the outcome can vary depending on their actions. Even if they fail and wipe (that last boss fight looks scary considering the PCs are near-naked and probably quite wounded) they could be revived and exonerated for a job well done, completing the mission and securing the Minotaurs’ help.

DMs Guild

The adventure includes a full map of the arena, with seven separate room images and one big dungeon map that connects them. The pictures look really great in an isometric style, but unfortunately that style isn’t really usable in a virtual tabletop like Roll20. You could still use the pictures as handouts, but you’d have to rebuild the dungeon. Thankfully it’s not very big or complex.

For a one-shot deathtrap dungeon “Minotaur’s Bargain” is serviceable, offering some interesting challenges and a neat feature with the arena crowd. But it’s quite short, and doesn’t fully utilize the Minotaurs themselves (there’s not even a maze!). The adventure is designed as part one of a trilogy of adventures on the DMs Guild, and I’m hoping the others do a better job of exploring Minotaurs from a more interesting role-playing and political perspective.

Pros:

  • The arena crowd is a neat feature with well-integrated mechanics.
  • Particularly amazing art on the cover and throughout the adventure. The isometric maps are also lovely.
  • Spiffy Foreward by fantasy author and Minotaur scribe Richard A. Knaak.

Cons:

  • Role-playing is limited to the very beginning, and the PCs are thrown into the arena regardless.
  • Challenge difficulty feels artificially enhanced due to stripping the PCs.
  • The traps and levers seem particularly susceptible to PC spellcasters.
  • Isometric maps aren’t really compatible with virtual tabletops like Roll20.

The Verdict: Minotaur’s Bargain offers some neat features in its deathtrap dungeon but fails to utilize minotaurs in a meaningful way.

A press copy of Minotaur’s Bargain was provided for the purposes of this review.

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DMs Guild Review: Struggle in Three Horn Valley

A press copy of Struggle in Three Horn Valley was provided for the purposes of this review.

Designed by: Phil Beckwith
Published by: P.B. Publishing

d&dDinosaurs and D&D are all the rage right now thanks to “Tomb of Annihilation,” the current ongoing story-line and campaign adventure for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition. “Struggle in Three Horn Valley” provides even more lost island dino goodness, beginning with a shipwreck and ending in a full-blown Dino-Riders war zone.

“Struggle in Three Horn Valley” is a lost island adventure designed for a party of 3rd to 4th level characters. It’s about 40 pages long with a suggested play time of six hours. It’s set on an uncharted island called Selu, home to tribal warriors, dinosaurs, lizardfolk, and pirates. Continue reading “DMs Guild Review: Struggle in Three Horn Valley”

D&D 5E “Storm King’s Thunder” Session 29 Recap

Guarding the second giant relic we encounter our most dangerous foe yet, then have to choose a side between a dragon and some dragonslayers.

Streamed, recorded and uploaded every week. Subscribe for our weekly adventures. Join us live on Fridays at 7pm Pacific/10pm Eastern!

Previously on “Storm King’s Thunder”

Note: recording was split due to technically difficulties with the live stream.

The zombie giant raised two massive fists into the air. Instead of bringing them down, electricity began gathering around him, swirling through the decaying holes throughout its body, like a macabre circulatory system. 

I could feel the hair on my body stand on end. Lightning exploded outward in a massive blast. Bryseis’s summoned rat was instantly vaporized. I reeled backward as a blast of energy surged through my body. My heart raced, and I could smell burning flesh and..burning wood? 

When the smoke cleared I looked over to see T.I.M., crumpled to the ground, a sickening popping sound echoing around us. I cried out and rushed over, empowering my hands with soothing life force while uncorking a small bottle at my belt and practically throwing it down his throat.

I coughed and spat blood on the ground nearby as I knelt over him. T.I.M.’s eyes slowly lit back up, and we both looked down at his shattered leg. I manifested my psi-glaive in my hands and stood up on shaky legs, infusing my weapon with psychic energy.

I turned to the gigantic monstrosity that towered over us and saw electricity begin to gather around its hands once more.

Continue reading “D&D 5E “Storm King’s Thunder” Session 29 Recap”

DMs Guild Review: Something Smells Fishy

A press copy of Something Smells Fishy was provided for the purposes of this review.

Designed by: Phil Beckwith
Published by: P.B. Publishing

d&d“Something Smells Fishy” is a murder mystery adventure designed for players of 2nd – 4th level. It takes place in and around the small fishing town of Lartan near Waterdeep, though you could drop it into any coastal town, and concerns a missing shipment of fish that soon becomes deadly.

It’s 30 pages long, with a suggested runtime of 8 hours, and provides DM and player maps of both the town of Lartan and a mini cave-dungeon that represents the action-packed climax.

The story is divided up into four parts, which are supposed to take place over the course of two days. It’s heavily railroaded and designed to give players both clues and misdirection regarding a case of missing shipments of fish, the town’s primary export.

The DM will need to become familiar with several important NPCs, whom the PCs are designed to confront and interrogate at multiple times throughout the story. It’s a very role-playing heavy adventure with a simple but fun mystery plot and easy-to-run enemies and locations, making it a nice low-level, light combat adventure. Continue reading “DMs Guild Review: Something Smells Fishy”

D&D 5E “Storm King’s Thunder” Session 28 Recap

We let our fireballs do the talking when we descend upon a tribe of barbarians at Beorunna’s Well.

Streamed, recorded and uploaded every week. Subscribe for our weekly adventures. Join us live on Fridays at 7pm Pacific/10pm Eastern!

Previously on “Storm King’s Thunder”

Note: recording was split due to technically difficulties, and YouTube no longer has Video Editing.

We were almost within shouting distance when I noticed the barbarian shaman wasn’t just waving her arms – she was casting a spell. Before I could pull up on the hippogriff I saw blinding light all around me.

I waved my hands reflexively, nearly losing my grip on the flying mount. My eyes stung but the lights quickly evaporated. My hippogriff mount merely shook its bird-like head a few times.

I glanced over at T.I.M. who nodded back at me reassuringly, followed by some obvious gestures. Those barbarians were clearly not willing to talk.

We quickly flew down to the ground, but before we could close in on the barbarians, a bright beacon of light glowed in the night sky like a red sun. I glanced up and just made out Bryseis atop her hippogriff, aglow by the burgeoning ball of fire held between her hands, a wild grin on her face.

I could hear her cackling even from over 100 feet away. It was all I could do watch in stunned silence as the Fireball dropped like a rock onto the barbarian horde in front us.

I’ll never forget the shouts and screams, followed by the smell of vaporized snow and melting flesh. Through the haze I saw more than half of the tribe become enveloped in fire, reduced to puddles of ash and bone. The shaman’s screams echoed throughout the sunken chamber.

The cackling stopped suddenly. I looked back up to see Bryseis’ hippogriff, a shadowy flapping figure in the night sky, but no Bryseis. An object rolled off the beast’s back and began plummeting toward the ground.

It was a potted plant. Continue reading “D&D 5E “Storm King’s Thunder” Session 28 Recap”

D&D 5E “The Haunt” Recap

A one-shot Halloween adventure in a spooky haunted mansion with secret passages, ghostly visions, and deadly swimming pools.

Streamed, recorded and uploaded every week. Subscribe for our weekly adventures. Join us live on Fridays at 7pm Pacific/10pm Eastern!

It’s bonus D&D week! In a nod to Halloween I temporarily took over the DM reigns to host an extra horror-themed one-shot adventure this week, using our pre-built characters from previous one-shots.

Welcome to the “The Haunt!”

I used a one-shot adventure from the DM’s Guild called “The Haunt,” by P.B. Publishing. I built the entire two-story mansion from scratch in Roll20, and also needed to make several adjustments for both time and difficulty.

While I wanted a horror one-shot to be challenging, the original adventure was written for a party of 4th-5th level, whereas the PCs we were using were only going to be 3rd level.

Our cast (all 3rd level):

  • Gramosk, half-orc barbarian
  • Falafel, half-elf bard
  • Filkur, gnome druid
  • Scarlet O’Fair, human paladin
  • Zinli, gnome rogue

Furthermore I needed to run the whole thing in a single evening, which for us is ideally around three hours. We skipped some fights and a few rooms and still took an additional 40 minutes but we got it all in and had a great time. Continue reading “D&D 5E “The Haunt” Recap”

Roll20 Review: Tyranny of Dragons

Welcome to another Roll20 Review, my written and video series in which I review the paid modules available for sale at Roll20. A review copy of the module was provided.

“Tyranny of Dragons” was the name of the first two campaign books released for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition back in 2014: “Hoard of the Dragon Queen” and “The Rise of Tiamat.”

As the first official campaign story published for 5E, “Tyranny of Dragons” is a bit rough around the edges. Some of the rules weren’t quite solidified yet. The Monster Manual wouldn’t even be released until several months after RoT; the Dungeon Master’s Guide and even Player’s Handbook not until after HotDQ.

Lost Mine of Phandelver” was designed as a the first intro starter adventure, whereas “Tyranny of Dragons” had to evoke a full campaign. While it tells a fun story of both dungeons and dragons, it’s very linear and railroady, with few overly large maps that don’t look very good on a virtual tabletop. Continue reading “Roll20 Review: Tyranny of Dragons”