by Alphonso Warden
for Usherwood Publishing
Levels 8-12

Well over a century ago, six noble houses from the dark elf city Dar Multai grew tired of the incessant, petty political maneuverings of the seven other noble houses in the city. They eventually discovered a long-abandoned dark elf city organized around the worship of an elder, largely forgotten god in the direct opposition to the Spider Goddess. They are now poised to declare war

If you can't find TSR module D3, Vault of Drow, then this would serve as a substitute in a pinch. It lacks some of the charm of that product, especially the diverse inhabitants of the city, and has a certain style that I don't enjoy. it does however have a few truly bizarre creatures in it, if you can make it the end.

The hook to this module is simple enough, if a bit implausible: while out drinking the party is approached by three dark elves who want to hire the party to find the location of a group of dark elf raiders. This rebel faction no longer worships the spider queen and has been causing a great deal of trouble. They have a base somewhere in the under dark but the other dark elves can't find it. For this the party gets paid 3,000 coins. The party sets off in to the caverns while the DM examines a map much like the one from D1. The whole module is a bit of an homage to D1-3. The wandering monster table for this section is a bit disappointing. They tend to be a bit on the small side for my tastes and the usual 'notes' that accompany an Usherwood adventure are not really utilized very well. In the past they gave some indication of what the creature was doing, as kind of help to the DM's imagination. This module presents then more a 'additional wandering monster rules' such as 'Male or Female?' for the dark elf patrols. The monsters in this module all tend to attack on sight, which is a bit of a disappointment. In fact one of the rooms, a barracks, has a group of dark elves asleep, in their armor and weapons at their side, ready to spring up to attack the party when they enter. This is indicative of the style that don't enjoy; a kind of 'gimp the party' style that appears in many other places as well.

The party will eventually find a passage that leads elsewhere. At least I hope they find it: it's very well hidden (only 1 in 10 chance of elves finding it) and yet the rest of the adventure can't proceed until the party DOES find it. The groups first challenge will be getting past the guard post. It's a wall with towers built across the tunnel, with a permanent true seeing at it's base, manned by multiple F7 guards, two F7/U12 wizards and a F7/C10 commander. Their AC's hover around -5 with HP in the 60's. They intelligently summon help via teleports if the fight is going against them. There are multiple glyphs of warding on the doors which require a STR 75 to open. Our parties success looks doubtful, especially if they are using the pregens provided. Gordo the F4/T8 halfling has an AC of 8. Richard the 11th level paladin has 35HP and a mighty AC of 3. It's very unlikely that any group could make it past this encounter, and there is no way in hell that the pre-gens could.

The passage leads to a cavern with the usual drow city style. Ultraviolet glows, lichens for light, a noble quarter for the great houses, a small slum for the commoners, slave and lizard pens, a mushroom garden, etc. Oh, and the great temple, gotta have a great temple The party can, and perhaps should, bug out when they find the guard post. They have fulfilled the letter of their contract and can collect their pittance of a reward. Screwing with a city of dark elves is not going to turn out well, and the other faction is just not offering enough.

One of the interesting thing about D3 was the many and varied factions in the Vault. This made it possible to get some role-playing in and tackle the problem of the Vault from a variety of different angles. Ally with another house, guild, or faction, sneak about, pretend to be an evil party, etc. That element of factions is completely missing from this. There is no vibrant city the way there was in D3, just a massive number of overly-powerful dark elves who all attack on sight. UN. COOL.

There's nothing really interesting going on in this vault. The encounters are a bit dull and are generally given with far too much backstory. I also get a whiff of 'trying to be naughty', meaning that the depictions of torture and the like have a decidedly "oh, look, I put a sex devil in the torture chamber and she likes to DO IT" feel to them. A kind of being dirty for the sake of being dirty and attracting attention. I should point out that I had no problems with Carcosa and thought that The Book of Erotic Fantasy was very well done, so I'm not being a prude. It just seems forced? in this module.

Let's cover one more item before I get to some highlights. I mentioned above the 'gimp the party' style of dungeon design that is present. This involves things like doors slamming shut when you enter a room and having the door double wizard lock behind you. Not being able to teleport, passwall, dimension door, is another item that makes an appearance, as well as undead turning at a vastly different level. Footlockers are generally trapped with wizard locks AND fireball spells. Things that can be played with (Lets put on the priests robes!) are invariably magically trapped. This is all a lot of nonsense. The party presumably earned their teleports so let them use them. The prevalence of double wizard locked doors is absurdly high, as are the locked footlockers. No wonder the guards have to sleep in armor with their weapons are their side, once accident during a drill and they'd all be dead from fireballs or poison! If the party takes the time to discover the guard rotation schedule, and where they sleep, and then tries to murder them in their beds then they should have a fair shot at it. The nonsense in this module only serves to reenforce one particular style of play: hack the monster.

The end goal of the module, if the party does not follow my advice about retreating at the guard tower, is to find the temple of the Elder Eye. That's where the few good things in the module show through. There's a very nice tentacle golem and some slime/ooze golems as well. The actually avatar of the god is cool also, a giant eye floating over an alter with a bundle of nerve endings hanging down behind it. Those are all pretty cool, I just wish they were surround with a more evocative and less gimpy environment.

Note: The designer tends to reuse some of the elements I dislike the most. The guard tower has appeared in another form in Advanced Adventures #11 - The Conquerer Worm, published by Expeditious Retreat Press. Doors that slam shut behind the party and double wizard lock, as well as "you can't teleport here" structures appear in modules AA#4, AA#9 , AA#14, AA#18. The Nameless City module, by Mythmere Press, also contains those elements.