Several years ago, in my Borderland of Adventure campaign, our band of heroes explored a fragment of the upper level of The Forge of Fury. Sadly, their exploration was cut short when their foray alerted a tribe of orcs in the upper level. In the ensuing battle, the party were forced to flee—and only escaped because of the heroic sacrifice of one of their number.
Not running the rest of the module is one of my biggest—recent—gaming regrets. However, at the time the campaign was much more a sandbox affair and the party chose to go elsewhere, instead of returning to the Forge’s blood-soaked halls. Such is life.
Anyway, my thoughts have again returned to The Forge of Fury as part of my quest to analyse good—and bad—dungeon design.
I’ve always been impressed with the adventure; for my money it’s one of WoTC’s best 3rd Edition era modules. This feat is made even more impressive because it’s one of the first 3rd edition modules and thus the designer—Richard Baker—was still grappling with new rules. Sure, the module doesn’t really have a particularly clever or convoluted plot—in essence it’s a fairly standard dungeon crawl—but complexity isn’t always the be and end all. Often, simplicity is superior to complexity.
As a basic, flavoursome dungeon crawl I think The Forge of Fury is particularly well executed. Why? Read on!
Khundrukar—the dungeon setting—comprises five different levels. Even better, each level has its own feel:
- The Mountain Door: The entry level primarily comprises dwarven defences.
- The Glitterhame: A large series of natural caverns.
- The Sinkhole: Dark, dank caverns, forgotten dwarven storerooms and a subterranean river.
- The Foundry: Dwarven halls and chambers comprising a forge and other areas.
- The Black Lake: A large, winding cavern filled with water seeping down from the nearby Dark Mere.
And—as an aside—the levels are laid out so that the party can explore as the mood takes them. While they have to go through certain areas to progress to the Black Lake (the final level) they can explore the upper levels pretty much as they want. I love this feature of the dungeon’s design. Current modules are much more linear—and poorer for it.
For the most part, each of the five levels showcases different challenges and opponents for the PCs to overcome:
- The Mountain Door: An orc tribe led by Great Ulfe (their ogre chieftain) has claimed the Mountain Door.
- The Glitterhame: Troglodytes dwell in the Glitterhame. A few other scavengers and suchlike share the caverns.
- The Sinkhole: Mainly abandoned, this area is (probably) the most dangerous place in the dungeon for here lurks a roper! Unwary parties are likely doomed. (But, it is important to note, adventurers do not have to slay the roper to proceed.)
- The Foundry: Undead and perfectly working dwarven traps lurk in the foundry along with a handful of duergar who have begun to explore the forges.
- The Black Lake: The main—indeed only—foe here except the frigid waters of the Black Lake is a young black dragon. The combat is made harder by the fact she is very much at home in the lake’s waters while the party could find themselves at a serious disadvantage.
The Forge of Fury also does some other things right:
- Empty Space: Unlike modern adventures, not every chamber or cavern in Khundrukar hosts a denizen or trap. Some places are empty or abandoned; nevertheless many are well described so the players can poke about and the GM can build the dungeon’s (and level’s) flavour into his game. That’s a refreshing change to dungeons these days. (As an aside, I’m running a dungeon at the moment and virtually every room in the relatively linear dungeon has a monster or trap in it—which I’m finding less than exciting to run).
- Hard (and Easy) Encounters: Some of the foes lurking in Khundrukar are easy to overcome; others—notably the roper and a succubus—are spectacularly hard to defeat and could wipe out the party. Very hard and very easy encounters are a feature of Old School play which has fallen out of favour in recent editions, but which I wish was more prevalent in Pathfinder. I’ve blogged before about our obsession with balance and I think the CR system—while well intentioned—is to blame for a lot of the angst around “unbalanced encounters”.
- Multiple Entrances:There are several ways to get into the dungeon, although two are hardly obvious. That’s good, though, because skilled players may find one or more of the hidden entrances, which—after all—rewards superior play.
What’s Not to Like?
As a dungeon crawl, I think Forge of Fury does a lot of things right. However, it’s not perfect.
- Role-Playing: Most of the encounters in The Forge of Fury can be solved with good old fashioned violence. While there’s lots of scope for exploration, clever tactics and sandbox exploration, not many of the encounters are resolvable through role-playing. That’s a shame as it doesn’t leave a tremendous amount of things for bards and the like to do. Similarly, players who prefer role-playing will find few opportunities to practise the fine arts of diplomacy, flattery and betrayal.
- Remote Location: The Forge of Fury can be set virtually anywhere in a GM’s campaign, but it “works particularly well if you pick a remote range of hugged hills or highland several days from the nearest town.” While that’s not necessarily a problem, it does mean the PCs are a decent distance from a safe base in which they can restock, rearm and rest. This might slow exploration of the dungeon down as the PCs trek backwards and forwards. This isn’t a deal breaker by any means for me, but it’s something to consider when planning to run the adventure.
- No Wandering Monsters: The adventure has no wandering monster tables. I love wandering monsters—even though they have fallen out of favour in recent editions.
- No Rumours: I would have liked to see a “Whispers & Rumours” style table in the Introduction or Character Hooks sections. Most players are going to try and find out more about the place before they visit it—if only to be better prepared—and it would have been nice to have a handy table of such facts available for the GM. I love rumours, and I have fond memories of that great table in B2 The Keep on the Borderlands—and the players trying to work out which rumours were true and which were false!
At the end of the day, though, these are all pretty minor gripes, which any competent GM could easily fix. The Forge of Fury is a great low-level adventure I’d highly recommend to anyone who hasn’t played it yet and who likes dungeon crawls.
What Did I Miss?
Did I miss anything you particularly like or dislike about The Forge of Fury? Let me know, in the comments below.
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