In what seems like another life, I served in the Army. During basic training I learned that there are some things you just can’t hide from. Cover and concealment helps you avoid detection and bullets. You can train to be a better bayonet fighter and to shoot first and more accurately. You can even build bunkers to withstand bomb blasts. Despite the bayonets, bullets, and bombs…nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons are another story. NBC weapons strike fear. Gas lingers and fills tiny spaces. Nuclear attacks…vaporize me instead. Biological? Probably the most sinister. And frankly, that’s by design. Instilling terror in your enemies weakens not only their physicality but their resolve. Take away their will live and fight, and you have a keen advantage in battle. It’s atrocious. But true. This sort of dirty tactic is exactly what you’re up against in The Dreaded Tunnels of Ruxabar by MistFactor Press.
The Dreaded Tunnels of Ruxabar
Creators MistFactor Press
Publisher: DMs Guild
Product Length: 34 pages
This adventure for 8th level players plops you down into Anytown, Faerûn. It’s specifically Stagwood in this adventure. But you can start anywhere you like so long as it’s conducive to hunting and trapping. Or at least once was. Now the town and surrounding forest are plagued by an awful magic that leads to boils, blindness, uncontrollable bleeding, and sepsis. Sounds quaint and bucolic, no? The problem is some pesky cultists (it’s always cultists!) were meddling in things they had no business meddling in—even for cultists—and unleashed some nasty biological magic upon the area. Now the vegetation is dying and animals and humanoids alike are infected with unspeakable diseases. The players will learn they can close a portal from whence the plague emanates, but at a horrible cost. They will themselves become infected (if perhaps not symptomatic) and, thus, vectors.
Initially, the clerics in the group may be excited but this contagion is beyond normal incantations to completely cure and eradicate. Like actual warfare, these medics may find themselves fighting symptoms and side effects more than they will performing miracles. Also like actual warfare, they may start to find it more and more hopeless as the environmental conditions around them continue to deteriorate. Someone once told me that if you ever find yourself in a knife fight the first thing to do is accept you’re going to get cut. Players should expect to become infected in these tunnels. It’s pointless to try to avoid it. Just get to the portal.
My Reaction and Final Thoughts
When I first read through the adventure I was really enjoying the backstory and the insidious nature of what the players would be facing. There are a lot of environmental factors for them to contend with and if I remember it correctly, every monster in the dungeon is infected. There are dangerous traps and wandering monsters to contend with as well. But after a while, enduring the biological threats becomes more of a “WHEN we become infected” scenario versus an “IF we become infected” one. To twist a quote from a popular movie, when everything’s a scary pestilential threat, nothing is. Dialed back a notch or two, it would have been great.
Another thing I have a small issue with is this adventures presumption to tell the players how to feel and how to react. I’ve put an example below. And I want to be clear that it’s not every instance of flavor text but it’s enough that it stands out to me. This adventure has several ability checks already. Some of the flavor text would be more compelling if they were also checks instead of presumptions.
Flavor Text: A lingering sense of dread begins to fill you the deeper you delve into the cavern, a cold sweat begins to take hold of you. The diseased air becomes thicker and begins to smolder deep within your lungs with each shaking breath. You swear your vision is playing tricks on you, catching glimpses of horrific looking faces, covered in pustules, fungi or worms, letting out silent screams as they struggle to push through the rock to get to you. Whispers of betrayal flit through your ears into your cerebellum, taunting you that you are just like the rest. You breathe in sharply, regretting it immediately, as you attempt to steel your nerves, praying for the demons to go away…
But all in all, The Dreaded Tunnels of Ruxabar is an entertaining adventure. If it had more opportunities for some PC/NPC development and a reworked way to handle the exposure threat of the plague-magic it could be a great adventure. It’s solid and worth consideration if you like cultists (I do) and teeny tiny microscopic threats by way of biological enemies that you may not be able to fight toe to toe.
- rich and immersive backstory as well as good hooks
- consequential actions
- interesting unique magic items
- the fact that the players cannot—will not—escape the consequences of the pestilential environment the threat is cheapened
- there are few opportunities for in-depth role-playing once the PCs are in the dungeon
- the text and formatting is inconsistent…it appears (vertically) squeezed in some places and stretched in others to fit the columns accordingly