Dungeon Vault is a new, full-color gaming ‘zine, published by Elven Tower Cartography, intended to provide short adventures and adventure locations. The publication is written with D&D 5e in mind, but rules have intentionally been left to a minimum. Issue #3 chalks in at 35 pages and includes eight entries.
Let’s take a peak
Dungeon Vault #3 begins on a strong foot with Fountain of Sorrow, a tomb to a fair Fey maiden that exists on both the Material Plane and Fey Realms at the same time. With a background story is laden with emotion, players should be moved to assist the tragic spirit within. Fountain of Sorrow is an enjoyable little scenario basically ready to run
The good stuff continues with Tammy’s Skull Hut. A witch (actually a Night Hag) resides with the massive skull of some ancient titan, offering magical services—restoring blindness, perhaps, or making a young woman fall for a love-struck suitor—but at great price. PCs may turn to her for assistance. But what do they do about the captives in her basement, destined for some foul stew perhaps, or the village boy who has been transformed into the hag’s wolf companion by her curse? Nice!
Straster City is a thriving, welcoming city with a booming commerce and civic works that provide inhabitants. with a high standard of living. But at a cost: the city’s ruler, a gnome named Jeldysa, is a tyrant that rules with an iron first. The Drowning Patrol, a network of spies and watch, ruthlessly root out criminals and dissenters and drown them in public executions designed to cow the populace. 16 places of note are detailed; for PCs Straster City can be a place of respite between adventures or of revolution.
Toymaker’s Shop isn’t an adventure at all, but rather a detailed shop belonging to a simple craftsman. Because the toymaker is a humble craftsman the shop is, frankly, rather mundane. Alas, no possessed teddy bears, animated tin soldiers or doll golems are to be seen. On the plus side, six adventure ideas suggesting ways the shop could become the centerpiece of gaming session, and all of them are serviceable.
Like Toymaker’s Shop, Duskbringer is a location rather than an adventure. But unlike the former, Duskbringer is inspired: it’s a spectacular airship that screams potential. Held aloft by captured air elementals, and powered by contained fire elementals, the ship is fully-detailed and ready to be employed for or against PCs. It’s fantastic; you’ll want to use it.
The Unbound Garden is an eight-room Tier 2 mini-dungeon. A satyr herbalist and potion-crafter needs help: he dropped a powerful growth potion on some seedlings that caused them to growth rapidly and transform into mutant plant-monsters (shambling mounds) that have taken over his gardens. It’s a solid scenario that allows druids to shine, and is probably the most ready-to-run entry within the magazine.
Arena Ludus is a gladiatorial arena designed to distract the poor and the downtrodden from the misery of their existence. The Arena is fully described in good detail,but is a location rather than an adventure. Story hooks are provided. Who doesnt like some pit fighting in their D&D? This should see good use.
The Last Ceremony is a reprint of one of Elven Tower’s Pamphlet Adventures. I liked it a lot; the adventure has a dark-fantasy, Cthulhu-vibe going on that separates it from the rest. A fellow named Darley discovered an underground complex inhabited by wormlike abominations whose poisoned tentacles have the ability to unravel one’s mind. Struck by one of these worm-fiends, Darley’s mind snapped and he founded the murderous Congregation of the Crawling Slime, with himself as Abbot. It’s a cool setup and the 10 room dungeon is pretty well designed. The only downfall to the scenario is that it’s completely devoid of stats or even suggestions (what are the worm fiends? You’re on your own). Still, if you’re willing to put in some time there’s a kernel of greatness here.
The writing within Dungeon Vault can be a bit uneven at times, and the adventures could benefit from perhaps a bit less space devoted to backstory and more on detailing the setting itself (Unbound Garden, for example, had two pages of set-up and only one page devoted to the location, a ratio that should be reversed). Still, there’s originality here and the wide range of adventures ensures GMs will find something of use.
In terms of production quality, Dungeon Vault is every bit as attractive as Dungeon in its heyday. The layout is equal measure beautiful and utilitarian, with sidebars that provide at a moment’s glance important environmental features (smells, lighting, doors, etc.). But the real star here is the cartography – every map is stunning and most demonstrate a high degree of imagination. Best of all, you get three versions of the magazine: standard full-color, B+W, an interactive version optimized for phones, and Hi-Res and Roll20 versions.
In the final analysis, people who are expecting scenarios ready-to-run will be disappointed. None of the adventures provides statistics for monsters or traps, room descriptions are limited, and details on treasure rarely given. GMs will want to invest some time and effort before using the adventures. That said, the maps are amazing and inspiring, well worth the money on their own. For $5.95 Dungeon Vault is a bargain.
Dungeon Vault hasn’t become a worthy successor to the dearly departed Dungeon yet, but the potential for something close is there.