Ramping up my reviewing.
Happily playing games for many, many years.
U2: Danger at Dunwater is an ambitious adventure. The sequel to The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, the players investigate the threat of the lizardmen revealed in the first module, invading their lair and slaying many of them, until they realise that the lizardmen aren’t actually a threat after all; they’re actually buying arms to help protect against a sahuagin attack. The module ends with the party (probably) concluding an alliance with the lizardmen against the sharkmen.
Strangely enough, the greatest threat the adventure has from modern players is them wanting to negotiate first rather than fight! When I ran this adventure a few years ago, the group took a back way into the lair, and then negotiated with the lizardmen guards, allowing them to bypass the entire adventure!
The most impressive aspect of this adventure is how seriously it treats the lizardfolk. They’re not just foes to be killed: they have their own culture, as do the other creatures of the water and swamplands, and they have their own internal power struggles.
The lizard men’s lair is well-detailed, with many furnishings and items described. It’s a challenging setting, which is pleasingly non-linear; the main plan is a ring with rooms and passages all branching off the main passage. This allows the lizard men to react to the party from both directions, and it’s one of the more pleasingly-designed maps in a D&D adventure. There are also a few ways into the lair, so the way the adventure proceeds is anything but predictable.
Boxed text is used liberally throughout the adventure, with even two sets of text for one of the areas that can be approached from either the outdoors or indoors. Some of the text makes a few assumptions of the character’s reactions and conclusions. For example, “Your earlier suspicions are confirmed”.
Artwork in the adventure is by Dave de Leuw, Jim Holloway, Harry Quinn and Tim Truman. The art is quite good, but Jim Holloway’s comedy artwork is completely out-of-place with the otherwise serious tone of the adventure. I’m really not a fan of Holloway’s D&D art; I much prefer him when he’s working on a game like Paranoia.
Even with the attention to detail and some very good descriptions, the adventure rather leaves me cold. It just relies too much on its twist ending, and if the ending is revealed too soon (which is entirely possible), then you’re left with a really detailed setting that you won’t use. Things get more problematic as the lizard men chief requires the players to return all the treasure they took from the lair; this goes against the XP for treasure returned home part of AD&D, which generally gives about 80% of the XP from an adventure. The module actually suggests giving XP for the treasure despite its return. This isn’t the only AD&D rule that might need to be broken here: it is suggested that “the DM should feel free to waive the stricter requirements for gaining experience levels in the interests of the smooth flow of the adventure series.” This adventure, for all its flaws, is pointing towards the modern D&D experience, but it's an uneasy fit in AD&D.
The players could well come out of the adventure with not enough experience to reach 3rd level - and thus major problems for the final adventure in the series, The Final Enemy, which, as we shall see, has problems of its own to negotiate.
In summary, Danger at Dunwater has a great concept behind it, but relies too heavily on the DM keeping the players in the dark until exactly the right time. Yes, it can be great, but it’s a tightrope that makes for an uneasy journey.
I often feel the urge to emigrate to Austalia to join your gaming group, such is the brilliance of your reviews and posts. The fact that you play all the games I love also helps.
I DM'd this one maybe 30 years ago and the party talked their way through the whole thing. No combat but great role playing. Took half an hour and then we played an unexpected game of Titan.
Did you ever play Beyond the Crystal Cave? It's entirely possible for the party never to get beyond the initial 'scene'. Those original UK modules were weird but great with the right group. My guys loved the investigative type stuff and we moved on to WHFRP and CoC.
- Last edited Sat Sep 15, 2012 10:49 pm (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Sat Sep 15, 2012 8:37 pm
For the love of all that is holy, will someone just ask her about the book?
But when it works, it really works!
Last time I ran this, about 3 years ago, the players completely forgot that they were on a reconnaisance mission. Hack! The lizardmen women only attacked when they felt that the kids were threatened, but then put up a really good fight. The players found the old lizard scholar guy, who took them to talk to the Chieftain, to whom they had to explain why they had killed his wives. There was a Monk in the party, who offered his own life in payment for that of the women, which I thought was pretty slick. The lizardmen showed mercy and the party was sent crocodile hunting.
On the other hand when I went through this as a player, what 28 years ago? we pretty quickly ended up in that room where any sounds of combat alerts the occupants of adjacent rooms, and we surrendered in the face of overwhealming odds. So it was off to the swamp on a croc hunt for us, with the whole adventure being overwith in about an hour and a half.
Thanks for the review.