The Unnecessary Dungeon – Part Four of the Burnt Offerings Review
Whee. I come up with a snappy title, and it sounds like an Edward Gorey picture book.
The last part of the module that I talked about was the raid on the glassworks, where the characters discover some of the treachery that has fueled the events that started the module. The local innkeeper’s brother has set up the entire plot against Sandpoint, and once he’s defeated, all of his basic plans are laid out in his carefully detailed journal, as it records his role up to this point.
Once he’s been taken care of, there’s something of a leap of logic on the part of the module. (Not to say that this is the first, but it’s a particularly noteworthy one.) Characters being characters, they will inevitably discover the existence of the tunnels that run beneath the glassworks, which had been established decades ago by the innkeeper’s much less scrupulous ancestors.
The obvious question comes down to: Who cares? Part of the previous encounter hinges on having the characters rescue the innkeeper, Ameiko, and she knows full well about the history of her family. She’d likely be the first to tell the PC’s not to bother with the tunnel, which winds for about a third of a mile underneath Sandpoint. As far as most anyone knows, it just leads to a small cave north of the town. (And for all of the quality of the module’s writing, this is the worst description I’ve lain eyes upon recently. Even in the revised Anniversary edition, there’s almost no sense to be made of the layout of the tunnels under Sandpoint. And naturally, there’s no map.)
The tunnel is important because it leads to a bricked over passage that leads to the hidden runewell that was wholly responsible for everything that happened five years earlier. It’s a secret place of power that dates back to the fallen empire that ruled much of the continent some ten thousand years in the past. And if the characters logically avoid the specific tunnel that hides it, less of the module makes any sense.
That’s not to say that it made any sense to us as players at the time.
I’m sure that I could try to lay blame for this at the feet of our GM, but it really wasn’t his fault. There was a lot of stuff that was hidden around in the module that afforded no easy way to introduce. And when I look at how the material is presented here, I’m not entirely sure how I would work to remedy any of it. Having Tsuto carry around an intricate and heavily notated journal was completely necessary for the players to make their way to the final confrontation at the end of the module, but it seemed a little heavy handed.
In reading through the module as I go along, I’m finding all sorts of interesting trivia that never came up in the game I was in, even though it would have been very useful and could have filled in certain details.
So, what this amounts to is that there’s an entire dungeon that sits under the streets of the town, and were it not for a careful nudge on the part of the GM, there’s a solid chance that it would have been wholly and utterly missed. I’m not absolutely certain that the encounters are required for the module itself beyond an experience mine, but even so, it shouldn’t be framed in such a way as to make it so easily missed. There’s plenty of opportunity in Tsuto’s journal or even in an interrogation of Tsuto to have the characters pointed in this direction, but it’s never brought up on either of these counts. Until the complex collapses in a later module, thereby opening up new levels, it’s entirely possible that it could be passed by without notice.
The biggest problem I have with this dungeon is that, without any context, it’s just kind of weird. There’s a lot of deep and interesting detail that’s lent to it as being part of the larger plot, but almost none of this is revealed as the player characters are wandering through it. It just comes across as being sort of creepy and off-putting, as it has been under the streets of the characters’ hometown for untold centuries, and no one has known anything about it. (And even this aspect isn’t explored. The characters find it, and there’s no further development until the sinkhole draws them back down into the lower levels.)
From where the GM is sitting, however, it’s crucial to a lot of what happened, as it’s the source of why the murders took place five years ago. It also serves as the origin of the module’s main villain and how she came to be the way that she is, but unless the GM outright tells this to players, it’s never otherwise brought to light. So, while it may be the lynchpin to everything that’s taking place in this module and a key to what’s happening in the Adventure Path at large, it’s mainly just here to confuse the players in the module.
There was an interesting facet to character development that came from this dungeon, but it was almost purely a matter of happenstance, rather than scripted.
One of the players, as I noted in an earlier entry, was playing the Sorcerer counterpart to my Priestess. I’d offered the idea of the hometown kids that grew up together and townsfolk assumed would eventually end up together, but the player himself was far more enamored of using the character as a sort of wish-fulfillment avatar. His was the character that ended up in the cellar with the shopkeeper’s daughter, and he was solidly accumulated both Lust and Pride markers for his Sin Track, as the character was constantly preening for the ladies. It didn’t help that, being a stock built Sorcerer, he had a properly ridiculous Charisma to back it up.
In the Dungeon of Wrath, there’s an encounter with a Vargouille, and when we were running through the module, it managed to target this particular character with a Kiss. (For those who are less familiar with a Vargouille, this inflicts a curse on the affected character, triggering a transformation into a Vagouille – a grotesque and hairless flying head. One of the main abilities that takes damage in this process is Charisma.) When the transformation started taking hold, the character’s hair fell out, inflicting as much psychological damage as anything, being as it was directly attacking his perceived beauty. This became that much more of a defining factor for the character, as he’d grown a new and more irritating obsession with his looks.
It would eventually culminate in the character’s utter breakdown in the next module, when he would decide that, in the words of Nick Cave, ‘All beauty must die.’ But that will end up being covered some time later.