Dragon Issue #37 The Pit of the Oracle

The Heretic

Should be playing D&D instead
Dragon Issue #37 The Pit of the Oracle (May 1980)

This one is the 2nd place entry to the IDDC (of which Fell Pass, previously reviewed, was the winner). Fell Pass was rather interesting, hopefully this one will be as well.

The module begins with two pages or so of descriptive text about the town of Narrion and the surrounding lands. Hmm, almost like an early sandbox. Alas, much of the descriptive text is abstracted and generic ("it is said..." "according to legend..." etc). Once you get into the unique details of the town and the surrounding lands, thinks start to get more interesting. See, Narrion is a town at the edge of civilization, and its big claim to fame is the Oracle. There's a pit not far from town where you can make an offering to get the augury you seek. He's never wrong, especially when his predictions are about the Stalker! Oh yeah, that's the other thing, this town has a mysterious Stalker that likes to randomly kill the townsfolk. You can see where this is headed...

From there it goes to describing the town. Most of it is a boring generic town, but it has its highlights too. There's a 'haunted house' which is actually a means for the Stalker to get into the town. The innkeeper of one of the inns is a thrall to the Stalker. There's also the only holy place in town, the Church of Apathy. It sounds like something conceived by a GenX Objectivist. "The temple is run by one first-level Priest who will ignore anyone entering the temple who does not appear to directly concern him." *snort* Finally there's a retired local hero who has actually fought the Stalker and lived to tell the tale. He has been disillusioned with life, however, and has fully embraced the Church of Apathy. Sorry players! No help for you!

As a sidenote I need to mention that this module does not have a recommended level. Neither did Fell Pass for that matter. I'm guessing it's a mid-level romp, seems like a place that PCs early in their career could start romping around in to gain a few levels. I'm actually starting to like this one better than Fell Pass.

Then there's a bit on what happens if the PCs kill the oracle (townsfolk mad! Unless the PCs roll a good reaction roll of course), the tale of the disillusioned local hero, and a woefully abstracted rumours table. I shit you not, you roll d12 and it gives you the subject of the rumour, you have to wing it from there.

On to the dungeon. Oh, things are taking a turn for the worse. How is this for generic? "The Pit of the Oracle was torn out of the heart of the stone many
years ago by the Dark Lord's eldritch magicks when the land was young." <yawn, please wake me when it's over> Blah blah blah. Do we really need to know this. Anyway the history lesson is only a paragraph and then you get a boxed text that describes the key for the dungeon rooms.

Oh my. This is a piece of work. Most of the dungeon is described minimally. Here's an example:

Room 1)/---/A/Non-shielded; Door-None.
2)/---/A/Non-shielded; Door-None.
3)/Spider room/A/Nonshielded; Door-None. This room is filled
with webs in which live 6 Giant Spiders, 16 20 12 30 28 19 HTK.
4)/Weapons room/A/Non shielded; Door-None. Trap-spiked
sheet, 2-24, falling from ceiling on characters within 2 dotted lines
S1 = war hammer; S2 = long sword, P = chain mail (all hung on

Wait, is that HTK? Was this originally meant for Mayfair Games?

So the first bi is the room's name, the second is a code for the lighting of the room (Bryce might like that; A means no light source). Shielded/Non-shield refers to whether or not the walls are lead lined or not. <twitches nose> The rest is self explanatory. But yeah, it's pages of this stuff.

The maps themselves are boring. Each dungeon level is dominated by a huge room in the center with a number of rooms radiating off from it. Also I take back my theoretical imagined recommended level for this thing. It's definitely high level. There's a room with a statue of a four eyed hippo-god, with gems for eyes. If you take out the gems you end up summoning 2 Type I, 4 Type II, 8 Type III, and 16 Type IV demons into the room. Ouch. The gems are worth 4000g each but I'm not sure that's worth it. Another set of rooms have pictographs with the history of the Oracle/Stalker and the Dark Lord (dunh dunh DUNH!) so that the writer can fit in some fun history lessons for the DM. Yay.

There is a bit of interactivity in this thing. A room filled with bubbles that hurt you when they burst (1-10 d6 per bubble). The largest bubble (2 ft diameter) contains a 40000 gp diamond, but when it bursts you take 12d6 damage. Ouch! The bubbles pursue you when you open the door. Another room has a giant stone head along a wall. If you look into its eyes you turn into stone of a particular type that is delicious to xorn. Once that happens some xorn happen to be released in the room. Other rooms teleport you to spots on the campaign map, like 200 feet deep in the icy waters of the local Loch (and yes, of course it has a plesiosaurus in it, glad you asked). And oh look, this one treasure vault has a staff of power in it. *blink*

Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that the Stalker is unkillable because the Dark One removed his heart and stored it in a vase. No problem! The PCs just need to destroy it. Too bad it's protected by two "super-powerful" Type VI demons with 80 hp each. And a dragon. So yeah. Definitely not mid-level in here.

This thing is kind of interesting and fun to read but probably unusable at the table. It's worth seeking out for its ridiculousness. I'll probably end up using it, with quite a bit of modification, in my home campaign. The part at the beginning with the dumb villagers in Narrion thinking that the Oracle is a good thing is a lot of fun to play with.

Highlights from the rest of the issue: This issue has some classic articles, like "From the City of Brass to Dead Orc Pass", which was in the Best of Dragon #2 IIRC. There's also Sage Advice by Jean Wells (of Palace of the Silver Princess fame), which is a blast to read. Here are some highlights:
Question: This is really a disgusting problem. At my school we have several different D&D campaigns and I don’t like it
when I come back to find that someone’s character has gone up 10 levels in one day, or has picked up lots of magic and then
expects to play with this character in my game. I really don’t think this is fair, because it took me 2 years to advance my
Magic-User to 29th level. What shall I do? <just two years? amateur> <part of her answer "may I suggest you have people roll up a character only to be used in your campaign." WOW!>

<oh damn, her best answer must've been in a different issue, I'll have to go find it and add it to the appropriate review>


8, 8, I forget what is for
Wow. Sad story indeed. The post-Gygax TSR days sound like a nightmare, and poor Wells caught in the cross fire.


The Heretic

Should be playing D&D instead
I forgot to mention that this adventure has some original artwork by Erol Otus and David C Sutherland III. Those are some additional bright spots to this one. Definitely better than the next one.