Bottomless Pit of Zorth


8, 8, I forget what is for
Hawk has just released a wonderful new adventure

It's tight, beautiful, seamless, modular, and fun---hitting all the right notes for me. Seriously. It's precisely the kind of adventure and presentation I wish I could write and publish. Craftsmanship of the highest order. Waiting eagerly for my hardcopy.
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Two orcs

Officially better than you, according to PoN
Thanks for the heads up. I'll wait for some indepth reviews before picking up.


My my my, we just loooove to hear ourselves don't we?
Thanks for the heads up. I'll wait for some indepth reviews before picking up.
Just got the headsup as well. I just finished reading Darkness at Nekemte. It had a rocky start but I really warmed up to it! Did the author at any point in the text explain why a giant chunk of dungeon was slanted at 45 degrees?

Gunderholfin has been sitting by my bed for a month now. I'm having a harder time getting into it. I'm glad Hawk is developing the region though, I'll for sure pick it up!


So ... slow work day? Every day?
So impressed with Hawk drawing up his own stuff and putting it all together, etc. May purchase the PDF so I have something to read while on the PCT.


8, 8, I forget what is for
On the drawing-integrated-into-the-product front, I think this is top-shelf. I also love the singular-style Hawk achieves by doing it all himself. His art too has jumped up a quantum level. He gave me an advanced peek at it before it went out, so I've been enjoying this one for a bit. Truly love it.
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8, 8, I forget what is for
This just came in the mail for me. Gorgeous. It's hard to appreciate it until you see it in print. I hope to write a min-review of it next week month.
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8, 8, I forget what is for
The D&D stars aligned yesterday so that two unusual things happened: my kids were home from college on Spring Break, but one was unavailable because she was running a race the next day. This meant we had some time to play D&D, but didn't want to continue in the home campaign. So here was a rare opportunity to roll up new characters and make use of a pre-made adventure. The last time I DM'd a module was Matt Finch's Pod Caverns of the Sinister Shroom circa 2014! Everything else of what amounts to roughly six years of bi-weekly play since then has been self-generated, so what follows is as much a testament to my rustiness as an RPG consumer/user as anything else. I hope folks find some value in this cold-start perspective, as well as gain some insight with regards to running Bottomless Pit of Zorth specifically.

Why Zorth?
I chose Zorth over the dozens of new and old modules lining my shelves and filling up my hard drive for the following reasons:
  • Despite having a very loose affiliation to the other published works from Hawk's home campaign (Gunderholfen and Darkness at Nekemte), it lends itself to stand-alone sessions---being a singular oddity-on-the-horizon that can be dropped almost anywhere on your map.
  • Zorth resonates with our house-style of play being both strongly exploratory and quirky-strange. In many ways, this falls within the class of two-thirds of the material I write for the home-game. Hawk plays with his own kids in an extended campaign, so the tone was right for us.
  • My interactions with Hawk on-line have been great, and I think very highly of him and his DIY work-ethic as writer/artist/publisher.
  • It was written for AD&D/OSRIC which is what we exclusively play.
  • The layout is gorgeous. This being Hawk's 3rd product, he has internalize a number of layout lessons and to my eye was hitting all the right notes pitch-perfect. I honestly haven't seen anyone do it better.
Getting Started
The cover page clearly states "a party of 3-5 characters", but I wasn't sure how many PCs + henchmen that should be. I settled for letting each of my two players roll up two 5th-level characters. Despite having played for years, this isn't something we've done often. Usually when a PC dies, they assume control of a long-term henchman (encountered in-world)---or, to be honest, when one of their high-level characters die, the survivors move heaven and earth to try an raise them from the dead. We haven't had a TPK in quite awhile.

Here's my general impression of character creation: if you aren't starting at first-level, it's kind of suck. Fresh-off-the-boat is easy and logical, trying to invent a PC that's had a series of adventures (that you haven't actually played out) and guess how it might have altered them is not ideal. It's a bit of a short-circuit of the game and left me feeling like the characters were hollow. I get it. We were trying to manage a one-off night and use a particular adventure, so really there was no choice. But I'll go as far to say the infrastructure is not there in the rule books as-written to support it very well---I personally think playing this way is significantly inferior. This is not a knock on Zorth, but it did have me wondering if pre-gens (which always felt to me like borrowing someone else's swim suit), might actually have some utility for the "quick game".

Enough philosophy. Here's how it went down with us:

Roll-up: 3d6 in order with the opportunity to re-roll one stat as 4d6 and keep the highest 3. Well, that's the way it was suppose to work out, but I my head-strong son insisted he got to rearrange them in any order in order to be able to play a ranger. (Damn candy classes!) We ended up with a party of all elves: druid, cleric, MU/Thief and Ranger. I'm out of practice and a bit of a rules-idiot at times, but I don't think made any major rules faux-pax there. (Hit points for the multi-class MU/Th are (Nd4 + Md6)/2, right?)

Equipment: I was willing to give each PC one random magic item, but honestly it took so long flesh out the other attributes of the mid-level characters, that it slipped my mind. I did however given them 2x the normal start-up money for the class. I don't think there's a standard for that.

Spells: Fully disclosure---the start-up spells for a MU tripped me up. In ORSIC it pretty clear that you get four 1st-level spells as an apprentice where one is read magic, the player gets to pick one, and the remaining two are random (d30) from the table. Roger that. But where does the percentage-chance to known each spell (based on intelligence) come in to play there? Does it apply to any of those four? Can you have it in your book...and still not understand it? Or, failing your chance-to-know, do you roll again? How does the minimum spells per level then affect those original four? I need a flowchart. This was compounded by the starting-at-mid-level problem with higher-level spells (e.g. how many in book, I chose 2x # memoriz-able; one selected, one random). In the campaign world, all this trouble goes away: you only get the new spells you can find, and after you find it, you roll to see if you can understand it. Simple. Once again, build-up from first-level in a continuous game strikes me at the "right way" to play, otherwise ad hoc Frankenstein-monster.

Last note on spells: the Druid chose animal friendship --- which provides the potential for a 5th level Druid to have an entourage of up to 10HD of animal companions. That's a lot of critters! I limited it to one, but unlike a magic-user's find familiar spell, there doesn't seem to be a table to roll against. So I went through OSRIC's section on animals and numbered twenty suitable candidates. She ended up with a Lion, with 5+3 HD and 3+ attacks is quite the badass! Did I get something wrong there? Once again, I think you need to accumulate these things in-world and are being foolish trying to roll them up out of thin air.

Hirelings: They paid 100gp out of their start-up money to advertise for some hireling. I allowed 1d4 to answer the call, and they got four but picked only two. Another eleven MU/Th (L1/1) and a fighter (L2). A shout out to the OSRIC Henchmen Generator, which helped a bunch...but doesn't do equipment, or higher-levels beyond 2nd. I also used Finch's older City Encounters (soon available again from the resurrected Mythmere games!) to roll up some random personalities.

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8, 8, I forget what is for
On to the ADVENTURE!
The first rule of Bottomless Pit of Zorth is how to say "Bottomless Pit of Zorth". It must be in your deepest bass, and preferably in an echo chamber. Seriously. That's the only way. Anything else is rubbish.

We didn't make much use of the preamble (adventure hooks, rumors, etc.) because time was running short for our one-night stand. I dumped them on the edge of the Pit, and threw a few of the environmental features from the Travel Table at them to set the mood.
The Bottomless Pit of Zorth said:
"A giant bloodshot eyeball, 3' in diameter, lies half-submerged in a pool of mud. A crow pecks away at the flesh."
The newly-minted druid thought about animal friendship-ing the crow (...seriously, my daughter wants a zoo). Given the verticality of Zorth, it might not have been a bad move in hindsight.

The Central Shaft/Maps: Zorth has a interesting feature/layout in that a huge, levitating, rotation Pin traverses across all the levels. The party descends along it. It's well diagrammed in the Dungeon Overview, but it still took me a little while to settle in with the layout --- cross-sectional map up front (WHERE GOD INTENDED IT TO BE. LOVE IT!) and maps of the side-levels at the beginning of the subsequent sections. Overall, the mapping presentation gets an A+ from me. The hand-drawn maps are gorgeous, relevant, and easy to follow. This is no small feat because Zorth is meant to be a topological wonder to be explored, so up/down/sideways is a big part of the advertised attraction. There's also a random encounter table while traversing the shaft that fits in nicely with the theme. Again, Hawk understands this game and how it's suppose to be played.

Falling is meant to be a reoccurring hazard, which I like---especially because it comes with a nice "bottomless" feature via teleportals so the that luckless PC fall "forever", even encountering other NPCs, monsters, and treasure while in free-fall. I think that's brilliant, and I was secretly hoping it would happen to my players. Sadly, in our single session, it did not.

Here's what my players did:
  1. The climbed over the metal beam at the Pit Mouth (up top), completely ignored the Great Gem that blasts lasers up into space (I imagine they suspected a trap), and started down the circular staircase embedded on the side of the rotation pin. It's 3' wide so I required they march single-file.
  2. They kept going past Level 1 without stopping, ignoring the entrance platform. I had the Slime Zombies fire 3 slime-bomb at them through the arrow-slits in the shaft-walls. The didn't bother to return fire and just tried to haul-ass. Here's where I tripped again as DM: I wasn't sure how many rounds of attack the zombies should get. I allowed only one, asuming the could descend quickly. Probably a mistake on my part, because at the bottom of Section A of the shaft, the is another staircase rotating the OPPOSITE direction that they have to leap across. The shaft rotates at 5 RPM (five times around per round, or once every 12 sec). So I think, in retrospective, only 5 party members can cross per round, right? Each one also needs to make a "DEX check" to see if that make it without falling. I interpreted that as d20 vs. dex. This comes up again and again as they navigate the Pin, and---I am wondering out loud here---may become tedious...although I can't think of a better way. Maybe dex-check the first time only, or if rushing?
  3. On downwards, they also elected to pass Level 2. The Giant Slime Servitor did not shoot out it's pseudopod (I rolled). So they just continued until they hit the rotating platform. I'm not sure what was on their minds. It was getting late and either they thought the "good stuff" lay deeper (conditioning from my design habits) or else just weren't feeling much of an itch to fiddle with things that night. They are cautious, in general, and habitually walk past tons of treasure.
  4. The platform at the bottom of the Level 2 Pin Staircase ended up being tricky to DM. First off, the mechanic of climbing down the chains hanging off the sides that slap against the belt that spins the Pin/Shaft was unclear to me. Here's how I did it: once on the chain, there's a Strength Check to see if you fall when you collide with the belt, but also a Dex-Check to see if you manage to grab the belt and transfer yourself? So a double check. Fail the first you fall, failing the second...what happens? Do you (A) go around a second attempt, bumping into the belt once when it goes the wrong direction (towards the Pin, not towards the Level 3 entrance), or (B) just fall? Also, it seems like the belt would be aligned with it's thin-edge up, so would be hard to hang on to. I probably messed this part up, and since it was being attempted first by a thief, so I allowed him to use his Climb Walls % to see if he could hold on to the belt. Also, since they had a rope tied to his waist, the falling hazard was minimized.
  5. While these gymnastics were occurring I had the Brain Servitor in area 9 notice them (10%, unlucky) and start shooting psychic bolts at individual part members, chosen at random. This was my typical "poor tactics" DMing, because the 30' radius psychic command would probably have taken out the whole party. I'm a push-over. I also wasn't sure if either of the psychic powers permitted a saving throw, but I allowed one, giving the Cleric her wisdom bonus against mental spells. Earlier you mentioned that arrow-slits on Level 1 provided 90% cover and that the Zombies could be seen as silhouettes through the slits. Here I wasn't sure about these windows, so I allowed the players to shoot arrows at the Brain Servitor, killing it in a single round. I had it half-fall out the window so they could get a peek at what they were fighting (excellent illustration in the back!). I may have made that too easy too.
  6. Because of the rope and zero pressure, I hand-waived the remainder of the party making it from the platform, along the belt, and into Level 3. Time was running short and I wanted them to experience some of the level contents, which they did.
  7. The didn't mess with the Tread Servitors, and I asked my daughter afterwards why she didn't consider animal freindship on one of those---the response: "Too creepy!" Here's an example of where the illustrations (which I love) prevented the players for wanting to interact. Ha! Still it was a nice light-hearted little encounter.
  8. They poked around the Level 3, but were reluctant to touch anything and there wasn't too much in terms of environmental pressures acting against a slow cautious approach. Just a 1 in 6 random encountered per turn. They did pause in the food production area and look down into the creatures being birthed in the pits. The Druid talked with animals and I had to improvise. I decided from the description (rolling, wallowing) that the animals weren't suffering, and when asked what they were doing down there, were just incredulous that anything lived "up there" since the slime pits were all there was to existence. Weak-sauce on my part, I know.
Food Production

Other than walking in an accidental circle on Level 3, that's as far as we got in one night. Here's some general observation in no particular order:

  • An illustration book for showing the players might come in handy. They are plentiful and awesome.
  • I failed to make use of the rival NPC party (in the back), maybe a little more hinting at the DM how/when they might arrive would be helpful.
  • The inset map (Level 3, pg. 20) is fine, but as a layout "principal" I personally don't require a map on every page if the larger maps is "close enough". In this case, the one of the previous page is right there and legible, so I end up always turning back to it. Just food for thought.
  • The central shaft notion is a fun and interesting way to connect the levels. I like the whole idea of a "hidden level" associated with the infinite fall---that's brilliant, but I also wonder if it wouldn't be a good idea to have a few other inter-level connections hidden away. The centrals shaft makes for a linear-ness?
  • I struggled a bit, in this artificial one-night setting to providing a motivating reason to drive the adventure. Sure, exploration and hope for treasure---but other than the Great Gem, there was little to tempt my players in terms of obvious rewards. Slime is a great motif, but doesn't evoke avarice!
  • On a similar note, I felt there needed to be a bit more urgency created. We didn't penetrate in the side-levels very much, so perhaps this is not real, but I would have liked it if something was at times evoking some sense of dread..or at least "we'd better get out of here!". The presence of the greater powers in the lower levels should perhaps be foreshadowed a bit. In the small section we got through, it felt at times a little museum-ish. If I was more familiar with the adventure, perhaps I could have stepped-up as a DM and contributed more urgency and fear.
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8, 8, I forget what is for
On Zorth: I think this is a great adventure with the most optimal presentation of anything I've seen so far. The text is brief and helpful. The bolding/subparagraph format makes it easy to navigate in the at-the-table pressure-cooker that is being a DM of someone else's work (with the caveat that that particular mechanic can get short-circuited if bold is also used for emphasis elsewhere...perhaps consider underlining some things?). The TACTICS paragraph helped a lot running it. Maps up front are pure gold, and Hawk has an artist's sense for use of white-space to create beautiful and easy-on-the-eye text. All the tables, appendix, and illustrations work hard to make this smooth to run. The amount of effort and consideration for the reader put into this publication is obvious.

Furthermore, I suggest (to all) that using inset maps be done conservatively (Is there such a thing as too many maps? I think, "yes"). A picture is worth a 1000 words and Hawk's are outstanding, but on a select few of them the resolution was slightly less than you'd like for a largest graphic---some pixelization was apparent in print (small nit, the book is scrumptious). Creative, weird, original---we barely scratched the surface. If anything, I hope that with deeper penetration of the complex, the PC's level-of-stress would climb up a few notches.

This adventure definitely requires more than a single-session to do it justice.

All-in-all, a great job Hawk, you should be proud. Thanks for a night of fun. Way better than watching yet-another Friday night movie stuffed with over-the-top-CGI and forced-drama. My son is off to the other coast this summer for an internship, so we may never get a chance to ever finish Zorth, but I hope this small bit of feedback helped you and others.

On D&D: Creating mid to high level PCs for one-nighters is to be avoided IMO. This should never become one's habitual play-style, and it's poorly supported. Moreover, I think the only way you can really make an adventure shine for your players is to:
  1. DM it multiple times, so you known it like the back-of-your-hand (e.g. B2).
  2. Write it yourself.
  3. Connect it to your campaign world (for motive and context).
On Reviews: I understand better now why Bryce focuses on the structure of an adventure instead of content. I had read Zorth months ago, but I don't think I really understood it until I tried to run it. Food for thought.
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So ... slow work day? Every day?
1. Glad you had a good time
2. I wish more forums would post things like this.

Thanks for taking the time to share your experience!

If I could afford it or had the skill, I would have a illustration booklet every time for players. I might be biased because I love art and inspired by it--I can write a whole adventure just from seeing one art piece.


So ... slow work day? Every day?
LOL...ahh, well, that's probably why most don't do it....but I think it's one of the highest badges of honor for one to do so for the publisher.