One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.” -Hunter S. Thompson

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Ruins Of Undermountain

Undermountain, the largest known mass grave in Faerun.

I don't own the actual boxed set, but I do have a PDF version that I was able to print out and bind. And because a friend of my does own the real thing, I was able to get the four poster maps copied in black and white by a friend of mine in the printing business.

This sucker came out in 1991, and I feel as if it's another one of those essential Realms products. This is probably the first so called mega-dungeon to ever be actually published. at the very least it was probably one of the better produced ones at the time. In a lot of ways I feel as if it still holds it's own today against a lot of modern products.

So whats in this thing anyway?

The set includes:
  • A 128-page book describing Undermountain, its history, its horrors, and details of the first three levels of the dungeon;
  • A 32-page adventure book for use exclusively with Undermountain and Waterdeep;
  • Four full-color maps of the vast and dangerous dungeon;
  • Eight Monstrous Compendium pages of new monsters; and
  • Eight durable cards loaded with traps, treasures, and trinkets to fill your dungeons.
So here's the deal. I think that when a lot of people first see Undermountain they they think they're getting a fully fleshed out mega-dungeon. When they find out that it appears to be incomplete they leave disappointed. But you know what? With the exception of a few things, I think it's pretty much perfect.

Starting with the 128 guide book. We get all the important basic information we need to understand and run this behemoth of a dungeon, all in the first 15 pages. Think about it after reading those 15 pages you can master what it takes to run this thing, and most importantly make it your Undermountain.  The next hundred pages cover the key locations spread out over the first 3 levels presented. This gives you an idea of what you can do in Undermountain and help you create your own adventures. The last section covers important NPCs, new magic items and spells, as well as some advice on running and expanding this thing.

The second book covers adventures. For the most part these adventures are really just a frame work for the DM to flesh out and customize for his players. Having cut my teeth during the 3e days the first time I saw the format I kinda balked at it. Today I've gained an appreciation for this kind of presentation. Like the key room encounters in the Undermountain guide book, I feel like less is more, and really allows the DM to better mold his adventures to his own style and preferences. Then there's a section on older monsters and their variants, with an explanation on how they fit into the dungeon.

Of course as it seems was common back in the day you get 8 Monstrous Compendium pages. In a way I kinda wish they still made monster books like this. Perhaps that could be an OSR project I could get on at some time in the future. But the real gems here are the 8 cards loaded with traps, treasures, and other random tables to run things on the fly and add something special during a game session. I mean holy shit, there's a Snares and Lures card! How great is that?! Theres also a Dungeon Dressing table that includes sounds, smells, and things. Pure gold if you ask me.

Lastly the poster maps. So I have mixed feeling on these, and if I have any complaints about the box it's here. I find that the maps might be cool to put on the wall, their just too big to be practical in an actual game session. In addition, they have the random encounter tables on them, which I also feel was not the best place for them. Better to have made additional stock cards for them in addition to the one with traps and what not. On a cool not there are two kinds. There are the traditional Wandering Monster Encounters, and then the Attracted Monster Encounter tables to roll on anytime the PCs are in a fight or make other loud noise. This is in order to highlight just how deadly this dungeon really is, and I think it's brilliant!

Finally the maps themselves. Personally I just feel they're not the most interesting to explore. I do like how the keyed areas are highlighted on the maps. But over all the rooms and halls just seem for the most part to be too open, and perhaps too random. By that I mean I feel like little thought was put into the creation of the dungeon itself. OK so it was created by a Mad Wizard, but even then, I feel like the dungeon needs to be a little more modular with discreet sections to it that could be made into little lairs spread across the whole thing. Who knows, I've never actually used them myself so perhaps I'm just talking shit. At any rate this this the thing about the box I like least.

Final thoughts. Another home run. You could do a lot worse than buy and use pieces of it in your campaign. As a tool for teaching new DMs I think it's invaluable, and i highly recommend the use of the collection of random traps, and dungeon dressing, and other cards to be used at the game table. Every time I see my copy of Undermountain on the shelf, My heart aches to run it. There's just something powerful about this piece of gaming history. Of course if you disagree with me feel free to let me know in the comments.

No comments:

Post a Comment