|Properly Psychedelic - 2nd cover|
The characters find a nominally Meso-Amercian shrine/tomb to plunder, or they fall into one and must escape. It's a real puzzle dungeon, full of traps and set piece rooms. As such it's good a lot of transportable content and the traps are not even the bad Gygax style, like in Castle Zagyg (The wizard did it - you can't escape!) but rather really reasonable and environmental. Still the traps do have a Gygaxian level of deadly attached to them though.
- ARCHAEOLOGY - Yeah this whose place feels realish, there's an ancient culture behind this fun house, and the player and GM can get a feel for that. There are a lot of things to discover that show the why and how of the place without really impacting play (except as delays for the dumb 1D6 turn poison gas mechanic). The best party of old style games is that they encourage exploration instead of combat, and by looking at things, interacting with stuff and pawing about the players (ideally) get a novelistic or even cinematographic sense of place and scene from their being some visual and environmental cues to hang thier imaginations on. Hidden Shirne does this, with all sorts of neat room descriptions. The descriptions are even set off (albeit badly) in boxed text - not to read but more for the GM (this - see below- is the only nod to layout or useability.
- ART - It's ridiculous, it's 70's, it's lovely. More importantly Hidden Shrine is (I think?) the first module to use hand out art pieces for rooms. This is an amazing idea - especially for a trap heavy, puzzle dungeon. It might be argued that the pictures aren't the best at providing clues for the traps, but I am convinced that they're a better puzzle aide then a GM's descriptions. The rest of the art (the covers and such) are classic early D&D strange and lovely for that reason.
- WEIRD STUFF - There's some great weird stuff, a room a figurines that animate if disturbed. Random objects and strange things that hint at miniature elven space travelers, but exist only as a red herring. What makes the weird stuff good is that it keeps with the archeological dig feeling of the dungeon, preserving discovery and wonder.
- GREAT MONSTERS - The flavor from the archeology gets carried over into the monsters. While I feel the creatures are under utilized, as most are hyper aggressive,they are thematically sound, and even better avoid being standard D&D fare. Even the normal monsters (wights, vampires and zombies for example) are re-themed so that it's hard to know at first glance what to make of them. I find that monster theme and choice is a problem in a lot of TSR products, where monsters seem to have been picked more for difficulty level then with any reason as to how or why they are in the dungeon. Tamoachan feels thematically solid. Monsters also have some neat mechanics - vampires that materialize over time and giant crabs with smart tactics which give a good idea of how to make the fights interesting.
|A more restrained psychedelic - 1st cover|
- RIDING THE RAILS - It's likely the tournoment nature of this dungeon makes it such a linear puzzle fest, but the whole thing really feels like a railroad. This isn't helped by a few of the time pressure elements of the dungeon - specifically the poison gas that does damage every turn. I understand the intrigue provided by a ticking clock time limit, and why one might want it in a puzzle dungeon based on an escape premise - but it's still arbitrary and boring - I much prefer something like LOTFP 'crawling god' that makes lingering dangerous, but not in a linear predictable manner. The linear map is somewhat understandable, and on of the difficulties with trap/puzzle dungeons. Since the writer wants interaction with the puzzles, they need to be set as choke points, and since the things are really hard to think up and write out the temptation is to push the players from one to the next without opportunity for avoiding them. Hidden Shrine suffers from this, as the dungeon is eminently explorable but creates incentives not to explore or interact and instead to push through as hard as possible. Worse than the gas is the "gotcha" aspect where the dungeon collapses from the use of lightning bolt and fireball. Now I understand the annoyance that lightning bolt and fireball cause GMs, but using these spells in a tightly constrained dungeon is still enough of a challenge, and any module for PC's over 5th level has to take them into account with more than a global ban.
- AGGRESIVE MONSTERS: Maybe constantly murderous monsters are a way to provide relief from the tense tricks and traps? Still even the cool monsters (see above) that are open to/encourage discourse are really just fights. The text either notes: MONSTER X immediately attacks (despite it's name and back story - why give back story for an HP/AC bundle), or there is now way past the monster. Sure maybe one could chat the giant hermit crab into letting one by - if the text gave any idea as to what it wanted! Personally I really enjoy easily raised vampire in a hidden tomb (which no PC running from poison gas will ever find!) that has a great back story - but he just wants to rumble. Shouldn't he be suave and sinister and offer the PCs a trade of "Let me drink a level or two, and not only will I let you go - but I'll give you advice!" Later he can be a big nasty baddy riling up the locals into a new savage empire or something.
- LAYOUT: Damn that's a mess. There's no internal art (though see above there's good art) to break up the cluttered two column style. This is a lame complaint, except with the hugely detailed rooms hardly broken up, information, mechanics and description jumbled into a mad blend of things it's really very trying. One would basically need to read this thing four or five times and rewrite it to run it well. LESSON: People will buy or use modules because they lack time to prepare - not because the module writers are genius creatives. Every GM thinks well of their own creativity, other stuff will be liked if it lets people run evocative cool things easily. If I had 6 hours to plan a 3 session dungeon I'd write my own dungeon. Only fourteen year olds think anyone writing up anything in this hobby is a "professional" in the sense that they have special knowledge of it and that this knowledge makes their stuff "better" or "authentic".
- INCONSISTENT MECHANICS: The layout crimes are compounded by the writers' tendency to invent new (usually fairly useless - e.g. 5% chance to slip every round with modifiers for Dex. Better just say, slip in combat on a '1' or '2' hit roll unless Dex is over 13.) totally unsystematic (in another room slipping is done on 2d6 check) mechanics. LESSON: LAYOUT IS HELPFUL - In a PDF especially (where printing costs don't matter), but more important, don't just edit for typos, edit for your mechanics. Keep a theme so that it's not a new different one each room - stick to a scheme for similar effects - percentages are cool, stat checks feel fun, saves have a lot to offer, roll on a random die even makes sense - but scrambling them all up just causes heartache.