Module Review: Dreaded Tunnels of Ruxabar (Mistfactor Press): 4 Stars
“It drew its power back from the land, using all that it had to prevent the portal from fully opening. The trees died overnight, the vegetation disappeared….The land surrounding the caves suffered, but the portal was not fully opened. Nothing could traverse through the portal, but it would continue to spew out its plague-magic.”
The Dreaded Tunnels of Ruxabar is an intense, plot-lite dungeon crawl focused on dealing with the effects of a horrible ritual, a betrayal, and the deadly infectious disease that follows. While the dungeon itself is rather repetitive, and the module suffers from some production issues, the epic boss battle combined with the tie-in potential of the module make this a great piece that builds on Mistfactor’s common themes of horror and calamity.
Disease. The entire premise of an out of control disease, as well as the way the authors executed the disease, is probably the best thing about this whole module. The narrative around the disease is engaging and well written–it is plausible and just involved enough to add flavor to an otherwise complete dungeon crawl. The disease itself is mechanically well-crafted, and is honestly quite terrifying. It adds a sense of urgency and high-stakes to the module which will immerse the table and ramp up the adrenaline. This module would pair well with the Malady Codex Series.
Monsters. The monsters in the dungeon are all infected. Have fun with that. This spin elevates normal cultists and zombies to be just dangerous enough to give you a little lump in your throat? Can you make it alive? Probably. Can you make it out without getting infected? I doubt it (go ahead, prove me wrong). Oh and
Final Battle. What has five heads and is full of germs? You’ll have to play to find out. But lets just say there’s a reason the authors include contingencies in case you fail. What I love most about this encounter is that there’s tactical, timing, and environmental considerations built in. It seems like a very video-gamey “last stand” scenario, which works well in this case. If nothing else was good about this module (not the case), I would still run this final battle and tie it in some other way.
Tie-ins. The authors provide almost a half-dozen ways in which this module can tie into a larger campaign–even everything that could go wrong. Included in this are a few tough moral decisions. Do you risk infecting the rest of the population? Do you turn evil and harness powers you may not be able to control? Or maybe you enter the portal and continue the journey on a whole different plane. I love the various contingencies the authors worked in, and an adventure that can go beyond itself is a sign of good design.
Repetition. Each room of the dungeon is formulaic, almost boarding on repetitive. Enter the room>read flavor text>engage trap>possible encounter (sometimes random)>possible loot. I realize this tends to be the nature of a dungeon crawl, and the flavor text and varying traps keep it from being completely repetitive, but from a DM perspective there doesn’t seem to be anything unique about most rooms. You could reorder most of them and they wouldn’t make a difference to the narrative. On the bright side, this makes this module relatively easy to read through and prepare.
Production Quality. My biggest concern with this product is that, in many areas, the production challenges miss the mark to the point of actually being distracting or confusing. At times the writing style is clunky and the editing misses things that detract from readability. The layout alternates between double and single spacing, and while most of the art is really great, the style is disparate and some of it is blurry or very obviously digitally imposed. I want stress that art is sometimes difficult in a product, and I greatly respect the ability of non-native English speakers to produce quality and well-written works. However, in this case, all the production aspects combined are too much to ignore.
The Dreaded Tunnels of Ruxabar is an engaging disease-based horror module that is sure to get your tables blood pumping and wondering “where do we go from here?”. It’s recommended for parties that like a dungeon crawl with a bit of roleplay, and for DMs who like to give their players some difficult encounters and choices. We’re giving it 4 Stars. If you plan on picking it up, do us a favor and use the picture below to get to the product page!