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Review of EX1: Dungeonland

pic1572139_mdWhile Tracy Hickman was ushering in the new style of D&D adventures, Gary Gygax was still producing adventures of the whimsical, fun-house dungeon tradition. EX1: Dungeonland was originally a sub-level of the Castle Greyhawk dungeons in Gygax's original campaign, but, with the rest of Castle Greyhawk lacking, was released on its own to be inserted into campaigns as the individual DM saw fit.

As the adventure takes place in a small pocket dimension, this actually works quite well. Its style means it best works as part of a dungeon-delving campaign (such as a mega-dungeon campaign) rather than a story-based campaign, and it certainly harkens back to the early days of D&D where inventive dungeon encounters were extremely important for keeping the players entertained.

Of course, the most notable thing about Dungeonland is that it is based on Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. The situations and characters met by Alice have been converted into D&D encounters. As an adventure for 9th-12th level characters, these encounters are particularly deadly, and there are a few death traps that can kill the characters of unwary or unprepared players. There is a certain arbitrariness to a lot of the material, which is not entirely out-of-keeping with the logic of Carroll's original work.

Structurally, the adventure is fairly linear, with the paths through the woods taking the group from one encounter to another in the order that Alice encountered them. Some of the translation is extremely inventive, for instance there's a senile arch-mage who likes wandering around in the form of a rabbit, and the use of a smilodon (sabre-toothed) tiger for the Cheshire Cat is brilliant.

Thankfully, not everything in the realm wants to kill the characters; there are several encounters that are played entirely for their role-playing potential, although it's entirely possible the players will wish to kill the strange creatures of this realm afterwards due to their madness, which, of course, gives great material to the DM for entertaining the group.

The adventure culminates in a potential mass melee in the palace as the Jack of Hearts plants the jewelled tarts owned by the Queen on one of the characters; "Off with their heads!" screams the Queen, and wise players will find it is a good moment to make themselves scarce (probably following the Jack away), otherwise the resulting battle is likely to be a challenge for the DM, with many, many participants!

I admit that I'm very fond of this adventure (as I am of the source material). The whimsical (if not downright insane) characters found within have been a huge hit with the players I've run the adventure for, and I'm sure I'll find a place for it in future campaigns.

That said, the adventure would be completely out of place in a more serious, story-focused campaign. Can you imagine dropping it into the middle of Pharaoh or Temple of Elemental Evil? It represents a different line of adventure design.

There are no credits for this adventure save Gary Gygax, but the cover artwork is definitely by Jim Holloway, who remains one of my least favorite artists who has worked on D&D. The interior art, on the other hand, is by Tim Truman and is fantastic and particularly evocative.

Dungeonland would be followed by its companion piece later in the same year, The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror, which covered the other Alice book. You shouldn't approach Dungeonland expecting a standard D&D adventure or a straight covering of Alice's adventures, but what is here is very entertaining, if your campaign can stand it!


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jeremy Blackman
Oct. 30th, 2013 09:41 am (UTC)
Loving the old-timey reviews. Well written and insightful. #flashbacks #comforting
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