Thursday, October 30, 2014

Advanced Adventures #26 Review—The Witch Mounds by Keith Sloan

 The Witch Mounds by Keith Sloan is the 26th entry in the Advanced Adventures line from Expeditious Retreat Press. Like the others in the line, it's for OSRIC, the 1st edition AD&D retro-clone, and in this case is for six to ten characters of levels three to six. There is literally no plot, it's a pure site based adventure. The Witch Mounds are the burial grounds of a Viking like culture, basically a mini-Valhalla for evil warriors who couldn't make the real one. Presumably, the PCs want to loot it.

Most recent Advanced Adventures tend to be short in terms of page count, and this is no different, at 12 pages. Sometimes that means a very small module if the author has a verbose style or there is a lot of background material. In this case, none of that is true, so you get a fairly large 2 level dungeon with just over 50 keyed entries, as well as three new monsters and a few magic items. As well as a small barrow mound complex of about 10 barrows.

The first level has 34 rooms and is remarkably non-linear. The dungeon start has 4 possible pathes and there are basically 4-5 different room clusters or regions for the players to explore. A maze, a temple, a throne room and feast hall, a battle arena, and a lesser maze of sorts. The vast majority of encounters on this level are with the new monsters introduced: undead viking warriors, evil dwarves, and a norse troll. Somewhat out of place is a medusa in the maze. There's a couple of puzzles of sorts, but nothing outlandish, riddles in one case.

The second level is smaller, only 17 keyed locations. It's still non-linear, essentially a rectangle with PCs able to explore (or not) a region on each side or so. Again, it mostly uses the new monsters in the module, with the exception of a spectre. With the exception of the very last room, which has a wheel of fate players can spin to do something to their character (somewhat like a Deck of Many Things), it's a fairly straight forward level, mostly killing stuff.

In terms of treasure, it's perhaps a bit loot heavy. Not so much the cash, but virtually every NPC has magic weapons and/or armor. In most cases it's either a battle axe or broadsword though, so they might not be overly desirable.

If you're ever seen an Advanced Adventures module, you'll know what to expect. If not, well, it's very similar to the old TSR modules for AD&D, circa 1980 or so. There is perhaps less artwork in this one, only one illustration (in addition to the frontispiece), but at least it's an original one, not stock art.

I ran it with the same group as past modules I've reviewed — mostly a 4th-5th level party:  A 5th level Paladin, 4th level Cleric/Ranger, 4th level MU/Thief, 5th level Bard (Dragon #56, mostly), 4th level Hunter (2e Ranger), 4th level Warlock (my own creation based on an OGL version) and three henchmen — 3rd level Fighter, 1st level Cleric/Fighter Dwarf, and 2nd level Rogue (2e thief).

For the most part, it was smooth sailing. The Ranger/Cleric got incapacitated in the fight against the boss of the undead warriors. They got fed up with both puzzles (some people really don't like riddles) and so missed maybe 1/3 of the 1st level dungeon. After cleaning out much of the 1st level, they left to go back to town. The second expedition (now with even more henchmen) make short work of the second level, though the encounter with spectre caused some tension (thanks to its level drain ability).

Advanced Adventures
can be hit or miss, usually depending on the author, but this, The Witch Mounds, is a definite hit, one of the best adventures they've released. It has a very non-linear design and wastes little space, packing a large adventure in a small number of pages. While some of the combat encounters are repetitive, at least it's new monsters being repeated. It's combat heavy, but there are some opportunities for roleplaying if desired, if your players really want to talk to evil dwarfs or undead.



  1. I was lucky enough to playtest this at GaryCon a few years back. Keith did a great job with this adventure, and it's nice to see him get some recognition.

  2. I was in the GaryCon playtest group with Rich, and can confirm it was a blast to run through it with Keith as the DM.

    This module would work well as the destination to a found treasure map, particularly if the DM has a specific magic item they would like to place in the campaign.