Greetings everyone! With my party having conquered the rigors of The Sunless Citadel I now want to reflect on this module.
The Sunless Citadel was originally created as an introductory adventure for D&D Third Edition, several parts of the module contained tips and tricks for DMs, as well as some nice explanation of how to run an adventure. These are really nice features for any starting DM, and don’t get in the way for experienced DMs. This adventure also converted really easily to 5e.
If you have been following my blog then you can see how my party did, as they advanced through the dungeon. One important thing to keep in mind is that I tweaked and outright changed some things to make the adventure fit my group and campaign world better, as well as make it more exciting.
Some major tweaks I did included making the Gulthias Tree come to life to attack the party. I felt like while Belak was a decent villain, he didn’t inspire the awe that a giant blood sucking tree would. I also felt like the adventure was written emphasizing the tree rather then Belak, after all the tree was creating the fruit, Belak was just studying the tree. By making the tree able to attack, I gave a better conclusion to the adventure, and created an challenging final combat.
I also swapped out a LOT of the dragon iconography, which originally filled the ruins, in place for death imagery, so that this would more clearly be the ruins of a Death’s Head Cult base. This was easy, it flowed fine, and allowed some of the monsters to make a bit more sense, like the skeletons.
Finally, I added in the cultist to the town. To see my discussion of how that session went look here: https://theroomfillswithwater.wordpress.com/2015/11/04/the-sunless-citadel-session-2/. While I think my use of the cult was a little clunky, I also think this helped the party view the town and the dungeon as connected, and had them thinking about the region as a whole.
Overall I think my players had a blast. Everyone got their moments to shine. The adventure provided a nice blend of social, environmental, and combat encounters. I also think the various portions of the dungeon felt different, which kept the party engaged.
Aman’s player had actually played through this adventure before; however, thanks to my subtle tweaks he didn’t realize it, until well into the adventure, and even then he said that he didn’t know what to expect.
The players all voiced that they really liked fighting the tree at the end of the adventure, so for those of you considering running this module I strongly suggest that switch. To create the tree all I did was take the stats of an Ogre, give it the ability to attack twice with either the club attack (branch smack) or the javelin attack (needle burst). The AC and HP were the same, but the tree couldn’t move, took double fire damage, and if a creature was bleeding out on it, it healed 1D8+3 damage.
I will start with things I thought were bland or bad in the module, that way I can end on a positive.
I really like this creature, they are different, they are spooky, and they are good challenges for level one parties. However, with the way the adventure is written, the party will almost never fight these monsters, until they are level 2-3 and by that point they really aren’t scary at all. They fall apart versus a stiff breeze, and make Kobolds and Goblins look like heavy hitters. If I were to run this adventure again, I would seriously consider adding some unnatural grooves earlier in the dungeons, in order to have the party fight Twig Blights when they are actually a threat. Or just have most of the twig blights out in the wilderness to attack the party on the way to the citadel. Later in the adventure I would double or even consider tripling the amount of twig blights if they are all that is being encountered.
Due to the wide range of monster groups in the Sunless Citadel, the dungeon itself is HUGE. It also has many, many repeating rooms, basically guard rooms with the same creatures, armed the same, doing the same thing. I get why they are in there, as it makes sense, but it requires some real thought to mix up how these monsters will fight the party, otherwise these encounters will become quite boring! The size of the dungeon also can be a little daunting, but I liked this as it allowed two rival tribes of humanoids to exist in one area, with it still making logical sense.
Lack of Traps
The dungeon itself had very few traps, which I find a little disappointing. I actually added a couple here and there, to reward my party for being cautious. I think traps are something that can allow dexterous characters to really shine, so if I were to do this adventure again, I think I would add a couple more tactically placed traps.
Multiple ways to overcome Enemy Tribes
This module had a brilliant twist, in that the party could interact with, and make a deal with the Kobolds. This makes the dungeon easier for them to navigate, and could make the goblin tribe much easier to conquer. This was a really nice addition to the adventure, and sets the precedent that the party should be thinking about NPC creatures as more the bodies to kill for XP and loot. Really nice touch!
Nice Blend of Monsters
This dungeon had a very nice range of different monsters to fight. It wasn’t just Kobolds and Goblins, there were Giant Rats, Skeletons, Hobgoblins, Twig Blights, and others! This made the dungeon very fun for me to run, as there was variety. The creatures chosen also made logical sense for the setting.
There was a Dragon!
This is a huge pro for me! Most players are fascinated with the idea of fighting a dragon, but have never actually faced them. For a game called Dungeons and Dragons the actual Dragons in the game are quite rare. This makes sense as they are rare and exotic creatures; however, anytime I have the chance to use one in an interesting and unique way I consider that a win. I also think, while the encounter with the Dragon wasn’t particularly difficult, just having it really added something to the adventure.
Perfect Amount of Treasure
Granted I tweaked when and how much treasure the party received, but not by that much. This adventure gave what I see as the ideal amount of treasure and loot. Not too much, but not so little as to be unexciting. Perhaps most importantly it only had a few opportunities where having a magical item available made sense, which works extremely well in 5e.
Overall, I had a lot of fun DMing The Sunless Citadel. I think it is an ideal introductory adventure, but can also be quite rewarding and challenging for veteran players, with some subtle tweaks. While I don’t foresee myself DMing this adventure again anytime soon, I have no regrets buying it, nor choosing it to be the first adventure for my campaign. If you are looking for a starting adventure module, that is nuanced and interesting, consider giving The Sunless Citadel a try!