Author Topic: REVIEW: The Dungeon of Gulg (by Robert Szarek and Jesse Ellman)  (Read 808 times)

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REVIEW: The Dungeon of Gulg (by Robert Szarek and Jesse Ellman)
« on: January 21, 2009, 07:20:59 PM »
The Dungeon of Gulg
by Robert Szarek and Jesse Ellman

Reviewed by: Narsham

When the opening titles came up, and I immediately spotted a grammatical error, I thought to myself, "Uh oh." On completion of the module, I must augment my initial impression--this is a mod that could have been good, and ends up merely fair.

The mod has a number of good points. Despite the opening, the number of grammatical mistakes is low. The mod has a few custom monsters, and very little imported art, but the battles are (for the most part) challenging without being overboard. All in all, it was not an unpleasant way to spend an evening.

Having said that... there are also a lot of problems here. Most of them could have been corrected if the mod had been playtested carefully.

The single biggest error committed is the failure to use the Event Occurs Only Once button. In a few cases, it is possible that this failure is intentional (in which case, the problem is more serious). The opening, for example, can be repeated by simply stepping back onto the overland map square where you start.

More troubling are the combats that are repeated. The worst offender is a battle that occurs just before the Evil One's fortress is reached. This battle cannot be avoided. It involves five Bulettes (versus a party that's around 11th level) in a magic-free zone. Since the battle takes place on the overland map, it isn't even possible to prepare for this battle. I found it possible (although difficult) to win this battle, but another battle occurs before the fortress can be entered, and there is no chance to rest between them. The alternative (going back to rest somewhere else) leaves the battle to fight over again. After five or six attempts, I finally looked up the password and got into the mod to correct the problem.

While I'm on the subject of irritating quirks, all of the shops, inns, and so forth in this mod leave you inside the buildings after the event (the back up one square when leaving button is not active). If there were any point, I wouldn't mind, but having to back out of the inn every time I visited grew annoying.

This mod has a more serious problem, however. There are a large number of monsters that the party must battle which are able to deal over 100 points of damage in one round. With a party at this level, that can kill 1 to 2 party members per round without much trouble. The designers, to correct this difficulty, chose, instead of raising the party's starting level, to make Girdles of Giant Strength, Vorpal Weapons, and +5 items readily available.

I simply can't tell you how depressed I get when my party enters a shop and I see that we can buy any +5 weapons, Vorpal Swords, and (even worse) the horrifically cheap Girdles of Giant Strength. (Just why are they cheaper than Gauntlets of Ogre Power, anyway?) This sort of power inflation tells me that the module is going to get out of hand very quickly. I've seen it happen in pen-and-paper games as well: In either case, it isn't pretty.

The result: Characters and monsters that can deal nearly as much damage per round as they have hit points. I had more dead characters in this module (without losing the entire party) than I've had in just about any other. In addition, I couldn't believe some of the battles. On one occasion, the party turned a corner and ran into THREE Liches!! This was just a generic set encounter, not a special one.

While I'm discussing my pet peeves, I'll mention another that appears in this mod: The hidden rest area. Rest areas in the actual main dungeon are not easy to find, and often, if you make a right turn instead of a left, you won't find one for a while. I find it most useful to provide rest areas directly on the main path, or to provide a large number of them. Having few places to rest really doesn't do much, as long as it's possible to backtrack and find an inn or another rest area. All it does it make the game longer, as you trace back through the dungeon, leave, and hit town, and then go all the way back again (if there are random encounters, it's even worse!). While this mod isn't a bad offender in this area (and has no random encounters), when you're fighting opponents that can do such a high percentage of your character's hit points in damage in one round, frequent rest stops are required, and that's sometimes hard to arrange in this mod until you find the rest area down the other fork.

I had been hoping that, in spite of these design flaws, the character of the module, the background story, would save it. No such luck. A promising training area, where the group can talk to a number of people about The Evil One, led to almost nothing. In one city, the game refers to an "evil pope" in a way that suggests I should be familiar with such a priest already. Dazmilar makes an appearance, "defending his turf", but upon defeating him, I discovered that he had been defending a 2 X 3 square room with NOTHING in it.

Two battles involve allies that appear out of nowhere, and with no explanation. In one, a bugbear joins to help fight Thri- kreen. In the other, two Rakshasa help to battle an assortment of baddies. No reason is ever given for such allies, and nothing more ever comes of all this.

The last straw, for me, was finding a scroll and an amulet lying around in the overland map that indicated the Evil One's plans. Both of them clearly belonged to the Evil One himself, and one was left lying just outside his fortress! The scroll, supposedly, was dropped during a battle, but there is no explanation for the amulet. I have to wonder, also, why the Evil One wouldn't have missed these items and recovered them. Perhaps one of his greatest evils is littering?

The finale battle was not too bad, but disgustingly easy compared to some of the other battles leading up to it. An NPC ally joins the group at the end (Sir Dutiocs), appearing out of nowhere to fight the Evil One (how did he get in, and why couldn't we sneak in the same way?). Regardless of how well the battle goes, the game kills him off, and then proclaims that "he is the true hero!!" I was, frankly, quite angry that this paladin snuck in for the last in a long series of difficult battles, only to be proclaimed the true hero! I guess the party members are just working-class heroes.

The ending promises a sequel. There is no way, however, to save your final party after you win the game. Just another irritation.

Despite all of these problems... I find that I actually enjoyed the module. I've played a number of mods that have left me asking, "Was I supposed to find this fun?" For some reason, this module was not one of them. In that respect, it was successful.

I'd call "The Dungeon of Gulg" a fair module. It isn't worth downloading immediately after you finish reading this review, but it might not be a bad adventure to wile away those hours while you're waiting for a really good module to come along.

Plot Matter:  3
Artwork:      5
Hacks:        N/A
Text:         6
Events:       4
Originality:  5
Errors:       6

Difficulty:   5

Total Rating: 49%
« Last Edit: January 29, 2009, 07:03:30 PM by Olivier Leroux »

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