||This PDF is the follow-up to Bits of Darkness: Dungeons. Like the other books in this series, Dungeons II offers a collection of descriptions that a GM can insert into his or her campaign to build suspense, enhance atmosphere, and otherwise improve the feel of the game. As the name implies, this product focuses on dungeons and other subterranean environments.
The book divides its descriptions into a number of different categories, each with a clever title that alludes to the description?s size and its role in the building and running of adventures. These categories include Shards, Bits, Bricks, and Splinters. Each of these elements is designed to be useful in different ways. Splinters and Bits are short descriptions (one sentence each in the case of the former) that can be used on-the-fly to spice things up. Shards are longer descriptions, and are meant to be picked during the planning process before the adventure. Bricks are like Shards, but are designed to serve as major locations and features within the dungeon.
One of the main strengths of this book is the quality of the descriptions. Not only is the writing good, but the ideas are clever and often inspirational. Reading them, I?m left wanting more. I think the average D&D group would take these random descriptions as important clues. A clever DM could get a lot of mileage out of even the shortest Bit, turning something that is truly random into a major dungeon feature or adventure hook. With a little less prep time, the various short descriptions could be dropped in to enhance the mood and keep the players on their toes.
New to Dungeons II are Bricks, which are essentially mini toolkits to help you design typical dungeon rooms and features. A few examples include an armory, a guard post, and a mostly tongue-in-cheek version of Schrodinger?s room (a physics paradox with which you may or may not be familiar). These rooms are mostly mechanics free, instead giving you a description and a listing of appropriate features. The idea is that a skilled DM could use the Bricks to build a fairly detailed section of a dungeon. Some of the Bricks contain encounters, while others are meant to be used as traps. The mechanics are sound here, and the traps and encounters are interesting. The only drawback is that the Bricks are meant to represent typical dungeon rooms, meaning that a DM looking for something very different or innovative probably won?t find it here. They work well for what they are intended, though, so I?ll just note that a little more variety would have nice alongside the typical rooms.
Dungeons II places more emphasis on things that are helpful during the planning phase of an adventure, as opposed to things like Bits that are meant to be dropped in during the course of play. I think this change in focus from earlier products is a good design decision. While I think that adding the occasional random Bit or Shard into my narrative would improve my D&D sessions, Dungeons II is probably best used as a source of ideas for building interesting dungeon features and encounters. Think of it as an inspirational toolkit that can also be used on-the-fly from time to time.
LIKED: Tabletop Adventures has a very cool series of products here. They fill a unique niche in d20 gaming, they are very well written, and they really go above and beyond their intended purpose. Any DM that runs the occasional dungeon-crawl should have this PDF in his or her library.
DISLIKED: Reading through this book, I?m reminded of a problem with roleplaying games in general. Boxed flavor text doesn?t seem to work very well in actual play. Even the most attentive player seems to gloss over a bit while the DM is describing the environment. This isn?t a fault of this product, or course, but it does raise the fear that some of this rich description may be lost on the typical d20 group. I?m especially leery of particularly wordy passages. There were a few Brick descriptions that lost me as a reader, and I can?t imagine using them verbatim at the gaming table.
Fortunately, these are the exception; I think that the majority of the flavor text here is brief, descriptive, and easy to use as-is.
VALUE: Very Satisfied
[5 of 5 Stars!]