The Black Maw – Last Delve of Avid the Gruesome.


Since I have senoritis at work and I had so much fun writing about Malrex’s Ranger’s Hideout, I decided to write about the hottest new mega-dungeon on the market, The Black Maw – Last Delve of Avid the Gruesome. Apparently written by a socially awkward giant pike name Craig Pike.

The entire module is six pages, which is a huge amount of content stuffed into a tiny package. The first page is the cover, which conveys the mood of this adventure well. The second page is a list of the factions. Page 3 and 4 are dedicated to 33(!) room entries. Page 5 is random encounters, monster stats and other dungeon protocols. Finally, page 6 is the map. That’s a lot of content for 6 pages, especially considering the rooms are fairly complex.

Let’s start with what I like about this adventure:

Overall, the content and imagery of this module is extremely imaginative. I love all of the weird stuff you can play with. The hungry, talking fountain and Dwarf in the Iron Maiden stick out in my mind as particularly unique encounters. Exploring this dungeon as a player would be incredibly fun. The traps are all well telegraphed. The treasure is great. There is plenty of opportunity for wacky hi-jinks and player-driven emergent stories to evolve.

The descriptions of the factions are great. The factions are a refreshing take on an otherwise cliché DnD tropes. Grimlocks rarely appear outside MM, so that’s great to see them used. The descriptions of the factions are just long enough to be useful, but simple enough that they could be swapped out for something else without having to rework the adventure.

Page 5 is great! I love the quip at the bottom: “Print this sheet & map and attach to DM screen during play.” This is very useful information if you are a new DM and not used to doing this already. This is a great nod to usability and more adventures should have this kind of thing.

Now that we’ve covered what I like, let’s talk about how this module could be improved.

As far as the writing of the 33 rooms entries go, there is absolutely no superfluous information. Everything is boiled down to a single blocky paragraph. This actually ends up working against the usability of the module in many ways. It’s more like reading someone’s shorthand notes than a tightly-written module. To crunch 33 complex room entries down to 2 pages is a feat, but the module ultimately suffers for it.

I had to read each entry multiple times to comprehend what was in the room, and there are still some rooms that are unclear to me. This issue is compounded by the fact that the rooms don’t have names. If the room-descriptions were expanded and edited, the usability of this module would be quite a bit better.

Let’s take a look at the room which suffers the most from this overly-dense formatting:

25. An iron sarcophagus lies mute, with a wide inky black swirling mosaic on the north wall & permeating putrid odor. Staring at the mosaic allows scrying the dungeon, virtually walking it[SIC?] one room/rnd, with 33%/rnd 1hp of despair damage. Fresh scintillating reptilian humanoid lies in the sarcophagus, in avian kingly regalia on pile of amber beads (400gp), strangling those who remove his lid (30 STR points required.) 1 Trog Zombie

First off, I am not sure if the inky black swirling mosaic is supposed to be on the wall, or on the sarcophagus. I could see myself DMing this and saying "THERE IS A SWIRING BLACK MOSAIC ON THE WALL. NO WAIT, IT’S ON THE SARCOPHAGUS, NO WAIT, IT’S ON THE WALL", which definitely breaks immersion for the players.

The scrying ability is great, but “virtually walking it one room/rnd, with 33%/rnd 1hp of despair damage” is hard to parse. I had to read it 2 or 3 times before I understood what it meant. Again, if I was trying to run this on the fly, this would cause problems. For such a cool ability think another sentence could be spared.

Next up, “Fresh scintillating reptilian humanoid lies in the sarcophagus, in avian kingly regalia” is a combination of adjectives that I usually don’t associate together. What does “Fresh scintillating” mean in the context of an undead Sleestak/Troglodyte? What is “avian kingly regalia?” A few more words of description would make this a lot better, and easier to convey to the players.

Finally, “Strangling those who remove his lid (30 STR points required.) 1 Trog Zombie” Does it take 30 Str points to break the strangle or to open the lid? Again, This is confusing and much harder to parse than it should be.

let’s take a look at similar rooms in other, similar modules.

Here is an example from “The Barbarian King


Even though this room has less stuff to interact with, the additional expository writing description paints a much clearer picture of what the tomb is like. One read through is entry enough to convey the info to the players, which is the most important aspect of play-ability.

On the less dense side of possibilities, here is an example of another similar room from Hole in the Oak. This is only about half of the entry of the room from that module, but again, the way the information is conveyed is quite a bit clearer and more logical. A DM wouldn't have to read the entry and think about it before DMing.

Hole in the oak example.PNG

Now let’s take a critical look at room 1 (my notes in [itallics]):

  • Towering Buttresses lost in shadowy light[where are they?] & still floor-basins of acid[where?] (1d6/rnd),, Scorched jumble of giant bulbous mushrooms in center … with some still living[it took me a while to realize that this was referencing shriekers]. A pitted dwarf shield lies half out of the NE acid pool. 3 Shriekers [Why are the number of Shrikers mentioned after the shield?]

Just like the tomb, I had to read this several times before I could build a mental image of what the room looked like in my head, and it’s still not that clear. Towering Buttress are complex things and another sentence or two about them and how they fit into the room would be incredibly useful. Do they rise out of the floor near the center of the room? Are they the kind of buttresses that go straight against the wall? Are they arches on the ceiling supported by pillars? The biggest sin is that the map doesn’t help with this. Are the circles on the map are supposed to be the buttresses or the basins of acid? With a bit of clarification and expansion, this could be much easier to parse, or grok, if you will.

here's some buttresses for inspiration

buttress example.PNGButtress example 2.PNGbuttress example 3.PNG

Keeping with the ultra-dense format, Here's how I would edit this room entry for usability

  • Shadowy circular pillars ring the room (eight). They rise into buttresses that support the ceiling.
  • A scorched jumble of giant bulbous mushrooms in grow in the center of the room. If examined a few the mushrooms are still living, they are 3 Shriekers.
  • Surrounding the mushrooms are four shallow floor-basins. A pitted dwarf shield juts out of the NE basin. If examined the basins are filled with eerily still acid (1d6/rnd if touched.)

The ultra-dense formatting hearkens back to the old Judge's Guild modules. There is a big difference between those modules and this, though. The amount of content per entry in this adventure is quite a bit more complex than in any of the JG modules. While expanding the entries a bit might push the page count up. Four or five pages for 33 rooms is still impressively dense and no less usable.

Onto the map. The map layout is very good. However, I think adding in a bit more detail would do this module wonders. Adding the buttresses/basins on the map in room 1 would be great. Other simple additions to the map could be the sarcophagus in 25 and the standing stones in 32. Labels on the map denoting where the major factions are would also be helpful. Finally, there are multiple exits to other levels of this dungeon but none of them are notated on the map. If the players went down the hole in 18, which connects to another level of the dungeon, the DM wouldn’t know which entry to start on in that next level without reading that other whole module. That isn’t very user friendly, but this issue seems to have been largely addressed in the next two levels.

Lastly, there were a few more things that left me with some questions:

A few of the room entries [3, 7, 12, 14, 20, 24, 28 and 29] begin with an asterisk on them that is never explained. I believe they are traps, but this isn’t mentioned in the trap protocol on page 5.

What are the statues in room 30? I assume they are spiders but it is never really said.

The final line of the entrance description says “Someone has been here recently ...” How do we know that? Is there a fresh campfire? Fresh human feces? Fresh graffiti that says “Avid the Gruesome was here?” A hint or two here would be useful for a DM to springboard off of.

Finally, who is Avid the Gruesome? Whoever they are, they would be a great addition to the random encounter table.

All and all, good adventure that could be improved with some editing for user-friendliness. If nothing else, I will plunder some of the ideas for my own campaign. With a bit more cohesion, this could be quite a remarkable mega-dungeon.

I hope you had as much fun reading this as I did writing it.


Should be playing D&D instead
Sounds like this "Craig Pike" guy needs to take some notes from "Bryce Lynch" about writing an adventure...

(yes, I know they're the same guy - it's a joke)

Good review Ice, very thorough. I enjoyed reading it.


8, 8, I forget what is for
Wow Ice. Great review. I had been meaning to do something similar for a few months now (honest!)---I kind felt I owed it to Bryce to shine some light on his work. If I can get a few spare moments (after I finish with Malrex's), I'll add to what you wrote.

In short, I very much agree with you---it was impressively compressed, but a bit too minimal for me and sometimes difficult to follow.

I'll also add a link to Melan's review
And Prince's.


So ... slow work day? Every day?
This is the first review I've seen that utilizes pictures and shit. Other reviewers needs to step up their game! :D

"I had to read each entry multiple times to comprehend what was in the room, and there are still some rooms that are unclear to me."

I agree with this. Too minimal for my tastes. It's almost like the thing that's being described should of been bolded or something.

25. An iron sarcophagus lies mute, with a wide inky black swirling mosaic on the north wall & permeating putrid odor. Staring at the mosaic allows scrying the dungeon, virtually walking it[SIC?] one room/rnd, with 33%/rnd 1hp of despair damage. Fresh scintillating reptilian humanoid lies in the sarcophagus, in avian kingly regalia on pile of amber beads (400gp), strangling those who remove his lid (30 STR points required.) 1 Trog Zombie

I agree...a title could of set the scene. A room title can be used as a tool in that way.

So...maybe sarcophagus could be bolded....when its done describing it, the next thing...mosaic could be bolded.
I think sarcophagus shouldn't be described first even though it's the first big noticable thing (I see why its set up that way, but not sure its best)...the mosaic should of been. Describe it, then done. Then move on to sarcophagus. The reason is because now it goes sarcophagus---mosaic--then back to whats going on in the sarcophagus.

I still don't understand what the mosaic does with the damage component.
Fresh, scintillating---so it doesnt look undead and its colorful...I like those descriptions.
Avian kingly regalia....I think is good...I pictured a crown with feathers or mantle with feathers on it or something.
Lid--I think that's what takes the str check to open and works for me.

Now I want to read this again and look it over. It's not my type of dungeon...there isn't enough juice in it for feels dry--what I mean by that, is that I have to read it and really have to try to understand whats going on instead of just reading it and having it flow, so it becomes boring for me--even though there is some creative stuff in here. If that makes any sense. I would prefer another sentence or 2. But I respect what its trying to do and I think it could be workable for me with a few tweaks.


i fucking hate writing ...
Staff member

I note that those comments were prevalent in the Prince & Melan reviews also. I believe Wraith King, Manor Home, and Ruins & Empire address them somewhat, at least withing the confines of the core conceit.

And ... I think it's a problem again in the draft of L4. I believe there may be a "flow." It takes time to get things worked up and juicy and that tends to show up in the first effort after taking off for awhile. Then you're all warmed up and things start striking hot. At least that's how it's felt so far.

After L4 I think a wilderness & a base are in order, then L5. I'm always been enamored with Rappan Athuks name for this "Dying outside of the dungeon"


So ... slow work day? Every day?
Should I be offended?
lol!..doh, sorry was just inspired by buttresses and now want to add them to some stuff I'm working on.

Gah, I'm behind the times...didn't realized Bryce pumped out some more levels. Threw them in my wishlist for now, but will pick them up and read them when I get some time. Maybe will follow Ice's lead and do some reviews here.
Is TPG your wife? Cover art is pretty cool.