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Reviews: Castle Dunmere
by Joe G. Kushner

Castle Dunmere coverTitle: Hero's Journey: Castle Dunmere
Publisher: Citizen Games
Author: Michael J. Eckert
32 b&w pages

One of the bad things about the d20 flood is that there are a lot of mediocre products. Adventures that are neither horrible nor fantastic. Adventures where the artwork isn't bad, but it's not great; the cost isn't prohibitive, but it's not attractive. Castle Dunmere is one such adventure.

Castle Dunmere is an adventure for 5th-7th level characters that takes place in the land of Myrra, a fairly standard fantasy campaign setting for the most part. A general overview of Myrra is provided, which among other things tells us the races have each been given their own name (humans = tsoli, elves = jawness, half-elves = tsai'n, and so on). A nice touch, but is it really necessary? Seems to cause more confusion than anything else.

In any case, a history of the castle, the city, and its inhabitants is provided to give the GM enough information to start the adventure. Several hooks to get the players started are suggested, including starting with Secret at Greenrock or the Tome of the Dragon adventures from the four-part Return of the Dragon series. An amusing side events is included for the sticky-fingered types: if the players steal from the guards, they find nothing but rocks and a note warning them not to steal. Not finding gold on the guards, most players will eagerly leap up for the reward of 5,000 gold pieces if they can find Count Geoffrey Carlisle, who may or may not be at the Castle. Even a discussion with Mayor Terene doesn't push the heroes in the right direction as he notes that the castle was searched and no one was found. Players needing more direction are sent to The Snake's Head Tavern & Inn, the one fully-detailed city location. After the bar and an encounter with Fruquill, the former castellan of Castle Dunmere, the party should know a bit more about the situation.

After this encounter, there are no other hooks or snares to get the players motivated to go to the Castle, so if they haven't decided to go now, then the adventure is pretty much over. If the players did decide to go to Castle Dunmere, they commence with a fairly standard four level dungeon crawl. One of the strange things is that Berbo, the resident alchemist, is still in the castle. Doesn't he know about the undead and monsters roaming around the castle? Sure, he's a recluse, and as a gnome, he probably isn't too tasty, but do the monsters know that?

There is a little bit of railroading at the very end of the module. Here, the players encounter Glymych, a foe who receives special protection: "It is very important that the heroes not be allowed to kill Glymych during this adventure." This for an NPC who basically gets to throw a fireball at the party and uses a fly spell to escape. Of course, that's only if he needs to escape because Clymych is a CR of 14 and this is an adventure of 5th-7th level characters. Might be a small problem there.

The module ends with Fruquill stumbling to the party, whispering a warning, then dying, with some obvious questions asked in the text. "What are those winged terrors he mentioned? So many questions, so few answers." I guess we're supposed to tune in same Bat Time, same Bat Channel to find out.

Appendix A provides the stats for the major NPCs in the book. Monsters, however, are listed in the following manner: "Displacer Beast: 51 hp (Monster Manual, page 59)." Is this a valid use of the OGL, with a direct reference to the Monster Manual by name? I'm fairly sure that's not allowed. And for all the space Dunmere saves by not providing stats, the generous spacing of the text more than makes up for it. The module is laid out in two columns with important information boxed, and text to be read aloud in scroll like boxes. Maps are readable, but numbered strange. It's as if the rooms were numbered from wall to wall and then internally, instead of by how the players might go through them. A little confusing at first, but easy enough to overlook. Even more important is that the company uses the interior cover to do the maps. Saves space on the interior. Unfortunately, the company decided to sell advertising to Gold Rush Games for a page, as well as a page of Citizen Games advertising. Another bit that might've been unnecessary is the information about the author. Put that on the website.

Placing the module in it's own campaign setting isn't a sin. Iron Kingdoms modules do this quite frequently and need a bit of conversion to put into your own campaign. However, the problem here is that one of the main points of the campaign is the return of the dragons, and in most campaigns, the dragons never left.

This isn't a bad module, but it's not one of the better ones. Any company or authors interested in making a d20 adventure should ask themselves the following questions before beginning:

1. Will we have top notch art?
2. Will we have originality, or a unique twist of a classic theme?
3. Will we have a great setting?
4. Will we have a competitive price?
5. Will we have great web support?
6. Will we make effective use of the inside cover?
7. Will we keep advertising inside the product to a minimum?
8. Does it beat a single issue of Dungeon Magazine?

This module has some interesting ideas in terms of campaign originality. Changing the names of the standard races does make players think a little more about their assumptions of their character race, but it's also a bit of a hassle trying to keep all the new names straight. Having dragons not be a staple of the world is a unique twist, but somewhat dangerous for the book's marketability. Two pages of advertising, especially since one isn't even from the company, and too much information about the thought process on the module and the world, lower the value of the book. That information could've easily been popped onto the website without the reader thinking less of the writer.

Overall, the lack of top quality art, originality, web support, and of a low cover price make Castle Dunmere something to buy only if you really need a module for characters of this level, or are starting a campaign in the world of Myrra and are running through the whole Hero's Journey series.


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