Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Adventure Site Contest: Review #12 Lost Vault of Kadish

Lost Vault of Kadish

The patrician choice to not reflexively loopy-doopy

By: Jonathan Becker

Ruleset: AD&D

Recommended Levels: 5-7 characters of 3rd to 5th level

The Gist: Our second adventure location interacting with a desert oasis, and a very fine adventure location it is.  Mr. Becker knows his business and efficiently turns out a tomb location that works by itself and reaches out beyond its initial exploration to hinder and/or harm PCs for the temerity of looting it (presuming this in fact happens).

You know what I like most about this, among the many fine room ideas and no-nonsense writing?  Departing from the checklist mentality that so many have when making pieces for play.  There is no loopy-doopying to be seen in this tomb.  There's almost a functional loopy, but it's incomplete, requires such effort to make it functional that doing so represents a net loss (of time if nothing else), and if completed destroys something beautiful, forever.  Jonathan may not have intended to send a message with this; it might be entirely coincidental; but when mapping a location has reached a point where people would try and force multiple loops on a cathedral floorplan just because every blog in the world seems reflexively check whether loops are present on maps, it's a subtle fuck-you to mindless box ticking. 

Linearity has drawbacks in dungeons.  However, everything is not a dungeon.

Another thing I like about Lost Vault of Kadish is that it can and reasonably might remain lost.  There is no hook, no way to drag players to the spot, it's entirely possible they might be driven off by hostile centaurs before figuring out there's something to find, or, never stumble over the transition point.  (Speaking of the centaurs, having them wear horse skull helmets is low-key dark.)

It's ok in a persistent world if some things are so subtle they're usually missed.  I guarantee you that if the players were to stumble on this long after beginning play in a DMs world - perhaps only on their 4th or 5th visit to this oasis - the very real sense of discovery felt by the players would be a cool moment.  "What?  Was this here the whole time?  How did we miss it?"  The interest felt by flesh and blood people sitting around a table just went up a hundred fold, for this little tomb.  Players should feel how willing you are to let secrets remain buried, in an amused detachment.  

But let's say that the party isn't driven off, they do wander around in the general direction a statue is pointing a spear towards: what happens?  They fall down a sinkhole into a cavern with  a door carved into one side.  They likely have to deal with some scorpions, possibly some blood hawks.  So we open with a little rough and tumble to make sure everyone's engaged.  Then come the series of rooms, which feels just like a desert tomb should.

From there we get the almost-loop; a crevice opened by the shifting earth, and time, that seems to go nowhere really.  We're probably going to eat up some time with looking for doors here, and there are some doors to find.  But that time.  Now, it isn't as if the time penalty is harsh, but those blood hawks outside are normally only active at night.  If you spend a lot of time looking for secret doors, the odds of another encounter happening on the way out (presuming it isn't dark initially) goes up.  Nothing massive, just a touch of consequence.   There doesn't seem to have been much to find here, absent a decision to extend one leg when nothing makes doing so an obvious choice, but if one of the bricked-over old rooms is uncovered then one magical trap farther in is largely nullified.  

Taking the constructed route leads the party to a room with an eternal flame burning in the center - dousing it is the only way to open a way forward.  This is a good use of puzzles; the answer seems obvious when reading it, but practice tells us this will take up a reasonable amount of game time and conversation while almost certainly being solved, and yet still deliver the satisfaction to the players which are the only (barely worthwhile) purpose of puzzles.

After that, there is the trope of danger presenting as beautiful women.  It isn't badly done, but I'd use this opportunity to remind DMs that unless you've woven nine encounters such as these into regular play that weren't dangerous at all to the players, including a subset that benefited the players, then they're not going to be fooled and will just start filling up the "women" with arrows, fire bombs, and assorted spells.  It isn't that I don't like the trope - it's a genre classic for a reason - but the number of DMs who only use the subversion never seem to get that you can't subvert what never happens according to expectations/normalcy.

Next is a room unlikely to be cracked except on the way back.  It has a really cool treasure - an efreeti bottle!  But the efreeti won't serve, even if the bottle is opened.  The text doesn't give any indication the efreeti is bluffing or fronting here, but I'd suggest its better if it is.  Or perhaps that the players can try to subdue it for an even greater reward than normal, for its initial intransigence.  Otherwise it feels like dangling a far better treasure than can be found elsewhere in the location in front of the players while preventing them from gaining it.

Following this is a wonder-room...a large chamber that seems as a night sky.  And also prevents the use of magic.  While it has no immediate or obvious tactical use or need to exist, that's also cool.  However - if things go south with the efreet, luring it here for combat would certainly tip the scales in the PCs favor, provided they discover the room's powers.  And hey - unless they ruin it, the room will exist for a long, long while...I can think of many reasons over a character's career that knowing the location of a secret large chamber where no magic works, would be very useful.

After that is a library of many old books and scrolls, and here is a place for an enterprising DM to seed many more adventure locations, rumors, legends, etc.  Don't be shy about expanding beyond the bare minimum description given here under a 2-page limit.  Players are going to perk up in situations such as these, and (just as with beautiful ladies) it only helps your campaign to typically match the trope whenever lost knowledge rooms such as this are found.  Becker doesn't make extracting such info easy - unless the PCs have comprehend languages immediately available, they're likely going to have to pick and choose a subset of material to take with them for later perusal.  Among the smattering of magic treasure usually present in places such as these is a variation of the spell invisible stalker, that summons a dune stalker (found in the Fiend Folio).  This might (but probably not) tip off wise players of the danger they'll face if looting the place before leaving, and is another opportunity for a natural "ah-ha" moment that levels up the player skill.

Last is the throne room, properly placed, with the skeleton still on the throne.  Players will absolutely be expecting a big fight with undead here; but coyly, the DM only offers them a chance to destroy treasure if they're trigger happy.  Just as with beautiful women, you need to make some dead things stay dead for the ones that come alive to work to maximum effect.

Very delightful entry.  No random encounter matrix - which feels right here.  

Monster Roster: centaurs, scorps, blood hawks, huecuva, efreet, likely a dune stalker.

Treasure: between 5,500 and 7,500 in gp value of monetary treasure. Magical items possible to come away with include: an axe +1, scroll with a couple of good mid-level spells, the very very rare spell for summoning dune stalkers, wand of lightning and potion of longevity.  No issues with treasure.

Do I think this will work: Yes

Do I like it: Yes

Nitpicks:  Only one really - while I think contextually it's clear that the magic mouth happens on the way out if the PCs have the gem in their possession, it's possible to read it that the mouth speaks when PCs take the treasure into their possession in the throne room.  Might be worth a couple of words to exclude that interpretation.


  1. Very kind words. Thank you.

    I didn't have the time to edit this one (Owen, amusingly, refers to the dunestalker as a "Dun Stalker" throughout his video due to my typo), and I see what you're talking about with the Magic Mouth. Your interpretation is correct, by the way...but that's easily fixed.

    The efreeti bottle is interesting (to me) as the DMG always provides a chance that the monster inside is hostile rather than submissive. Initially, my idea was to add some sort of warning for PCs, and let their own greed/curiosity do them in...but THAT trope is tired, and I figured I'd let them (instead) grovel to save their hides.

    This adventure is meant to be part of a larger region, BTW, where the centaurs and some of the site's themes have more meaning.

    1. I'll be looking forward to that larger region - it sounds like fun! Thanks for sharing this entry for the contest.