"Dzeebagd: Under Dark and Misty Ground," Troll Lord Games

Pros: Great flexibility; solid plot
Cons: Occasional inclarity or confusion
Rating: 4 out of 5

First posted 5/8/2001

This is an adventure for the D20 system (you’ll need a copy of the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, Third Edition to play this game). It’s virtually impossible to review an adventure without including some details that might be considered spoilers (although I’ll try to minimize them), so if your game master (GM) could potentially run this, you might want to skip this review.

Overview

There are several plot threads running throughout this module. A princess was kidnapped and is being held. Assassins are hunting a group of refugees. And a warlord is gathering together an army. There is a surprising number of characters and critters involved. Because there are quite a few elements to pull together, I would recommend Dzeebagd for GMs who have already run a couple of adventures. I think a first-time GM might find keeping track of things a little difficult.

The adventure includes good information on what sort of party is needed – suggested types of characters, levels, number of characters, etc. (4-8 characters of levels 2-4). It also goes into detail on some ways in which you can integrate the party into the adventure. There are multiple suggestions, all of which are fairly flexible. I doubt you’ll feel like you have to push your party into getting involved.

Aesthetics

The art is good but not great (for a $7 product put out by a small press company, actually, it’s pretty darn good). The little sidebars done up as pennants are simplistic, but an amusing device. Text that is meant to be read to players is set in bold; I would prefer something additional to set it off just because bad lighting combined with bad eyesight might cause problems, but that’s a very minor quibble.

The printing job is much better than that of After Winter Dark – it’s clear, crisp and un-smudged.

Flexibility

This module appeals to me for one major reason: The information in here is provided primarily in terms of background information. This means plot background, location information, character motivations, histories, etc. This also means that you can very easily adapt the module to the actions of your particular party of characters; there’s little need to railroad them into doing certain things or going certain places. The module even has comments on what might happen if the characters bypass certain parts of the adventure, and suggestions for alternate ways to suck them into things that you don’t want them to miss. In my opinion this is the ideal way to structure an adventure.

Even the parts that are meant to be read directly to players are strictly location descriptions; they don’t do any bad things like dictating character choices or anticipating conversational directions. The varied means for integrating the party into the game similarly support the flexibility of the adventure. The fact that personalities, goals, and tactics are provided for NPCs allows you to easily adapt their actions to whatever the party might do. The adventure even takes into account the fact that various parties might be vastly different in terms of attitudes, goals, alignments, and so on – something that few adventures take under consideration.

Helpful Tools

There’s a good, clear synopsis provided at the beginning of the book. Given that there’s a lot to this adventure, it’s nice to be able to read a quick summary of what’s going on when you get a little lost. There are also some useful tables here and there, such as rough timelines and encounter tables.

There’s a reasonably good pronunciation guide toward the back of the book. Trust me – you’ll probably need it! It’s also accompanied by lists of places and people of note. This is a very necessary tool in keeping everything straight!

The cross-referencing (“see page such-and-such”) within the text is pretty thorough and very useful. Great helpful hints for the GM (“referee” in here, or alternately, “Troll Lord”) abound in little sidebars throughout.

Adventure Details

The NPCs are quite interesting. Even the trolls, ogres and goblins have their neat personality quirks or cultural details. The history of the location is interesting and detailed, and is reflected in the contents and layout of the dungeon – it isn’t just some random dungeon in a ridiculous location; instead it has its own stories and ghosts. A history section at the end will help you to remember the details by tying them all together nicely in narrative form.

This adventure is a follow-on to an adventure called “Vakhund – Into the Unknown”. It is designed, however, to be run on its own. I think the references to previous material are mostly detailed; the remaining one or two small bits you can get creative with.

The atmosphere of the adventure is fantastic. For instance, the water that has submerged part of the dungeon is warm and steaming, rather than the traditional cold and clammy. There are a number of small physical details that really bring this adventure to life. My favorite is that the sizes of rooms are often described to the players in terms of paces rather than concrete measurements! The lung infection that characters can pick up comes in a close second.

The author clearly thought very carefully about the implications of the items he was putting into the game. For instance, there’s a solid fuel canister in one room, meant to be used in a lantern. The author not only addresses whether it can be used as a grenade, but also how much damage it would do if spread out on the floor of a room and lit.

Small Problems

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a gaming product that didn’t have something that could be called a problem somewhere inside of it, and Dzeebagd is no exception. There are a few typos, but hardly enough to be worth mentioning. Of more obvious note are a few unclear, confusing or cumbersome wordings here and there, and the tendency to make the pieces of text that are read to the players a bit overblown and melodramatic.

The whole “kidnapped princess” plot is old. Really, really old. This reminds me a little of “After Winter Dark’s” tendency to mix very creative and original stuff with the occasional trite detail. An odd combination, and one that can be easily forgiven because of the preponderance of original material.

There are some places where little detail is given as to how the party is to accomplish a certain thing. Sometimes this seems like flexibility – allowing the party to get creative. Sometimes it seems like a lack of necessary detail. It might just have been a very understandable difficulty in getting the line between the two things right. I also found it occasionally difficult to visualize what a described item or location was supposed to look like; clearer wording or a few extra little pictures might have been nice.

It’s often difficult to tell how deep the water is supposed to be in an area. The description of a room will say that it’s “half submerged,” which to me means the water is halfway up the walls of the room, but then will say that half of the floor is above water. Or a room is “nearly submerged,” but then a moment later the water is only three feet deep (and there’s no mention of water pouring out of the room when the door is opened, even though that’s much deeper than the water outside).

Something you might want to consider: I went into this thinking that a $7 price tag was a bit high for a 40-page adventure. I came out of it thinking that it was a very reasonable price to pay. I really do believe that you’ll get more than just an evening of fun out of this, and that even if you do complete the adventure in an evening you’ll still get your money’s worth. The problems that I found were small, and easy enough to take care of with a quick read-through and a little thought. That’s pretty good for less than the cost of a movie. Besides, how can you not love a game with a name like Dzeebagd!?

Posted in Gaming, Reviews

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