Undermountain is getting lots of buzz lately. I know of at least three projects going on within Guild circles, including this Undermountain Locales series, that involve Undermountain in some way. I don’t want to turn this review into a history lesson on the megadungeon beneath Waterdeep though. Suffice to say that Undermountain is currently popular because of an upcoming release by Wizards of the Coast entitled Waterdeep Dungeon of the Mad Mage. As such, DMs Guild products will work to coordinate complimentary products as is the case with Undermountain Locale: Altar of the Spider God by Dan Harlan.
Undermountain Locale: Altar of the Spider God
Writer: Dan Harlan, (edited by Ken Carcas)
Publisher: DMs Guild
Product Length: 5 pages
Altar of the Spider God is a brief encounter for tier 1 characters. It is directly tied to the Ultimate Undermountain project by Dan. More on that note in just a bit.
There is a lot of potential with this product. An elf is chained to an idol and is to be used in a ritual sacrifice soon. What sort of ritual? We don’t know. All we know of the two drow that are here is that they are guards. They don’t have names or listed affiliations. Just stats.
In the Description, Harlan writes that Selvetarm is “worshipped by certain drow” but who are they? We know the ritual involves these adherents; however, we know nothing else about them. I wanted more.
There isn’t much to read here with a cover page, one page for credits/copyright/legal, and over half a page for stats. What is here though is easy to follow but not page-turning material.
Production is hurting in this product. The background image is nice-looking in and of itself. However, throwing black text on top of it strains the reader’s eyes. This is especially true when it concerns the lighter font used for the stats. In fact, better stat blocks would have gone a long way in helping the aesthetics for Altar of the Spider God.
There is only one encounter in this adventure. However, I do like the drows’ tactics. Even though they will dogmatically fight to the death, they won’t just sit around waiting to die. Nor will they make it easy for the PCs.
The map is somewhat disappointing though. It’s big and it’s filled with secret doors and there are several checks that let you learn things like the floors were worked by dwarven craftsmen many years ago. But are any of these things useful? The high ceilings in the main room are. Maybe the secret doors could give the players evasion options? It’s hard to say because we don’t know if the drow know these doors exist. It would make sense that they do. However, if they do, I find the secret doors altogether useless.They go nowhere and if you can’t use them to hide then they’re little more than distracting red herrings. Furthermore, several hallways lead off the map with no explanation of where they might lead. Players will want to explore these hallways and the DM will have to improvise.
Improvisation is something a DM should be able to do anyway but when this product gives alternate ideas for why there is an elf chained to the spider idol or that the idol is for another god altogether I’m not sure why the author didn’t also provide suggestions for where these other hallways go.
Altar of the Spider God showed a lot of promise but ultimately fell just a little short of the mark for me. If you need a ready dungeon with a couple of suggestions for what’s in it that you can conjoin with a dungeon your players are already in, then you may be able to make this work. I want to be clear that this product doesn’t try to suggest it’s anything more than a brief encounter. But between the unexplained dungeon design and the unresolved issue of just who these particular drow are this almost feels like the initial stages of an adventure that struggled to get off the ground and was instead hastily converted to an encounter for an Undermountain Locale and the Ultimate Undermountain project.