by James Maliszewski
The Ruined Monastery is a five-page adventure for 1st level characters. It details the first level of the underground chambers beneath the abandoned monastery of St. Gaxyg the Gray. There is a back story given, but who really cares? Any GM worth their salt can invent their own back story, and anyway all you need to know is there is an unexplored place with monsters and treasure. There is a good paragraph that explains who the baddie is, what he is doing there and what he hopes to accomplish. That being said, I used the back story verbatim for my group of beginning players, as an example of how they can find places where they can adventure.
The next two sections are two of my favorite things: rumors and wandering monsters. James provides a rumors table to give to players. I like to use rumor tables to give barkeeps and other random acquaintances something to spill to players who like to work at information gathering. Here is one sample rumor from the table: The ghosts of the murdered monks haunt the ruins of the monastery (False). That should get the players in the right frame of
I also like wandering monster tables - they add dynamism to a locale. Whenever a designer neglects to include one, I always create my own. This wandering monster table is excellent - besides what you might expect, it also includes a new monster and a static monster (green slime). I had never before thought of using a static monster as a random encounter - consider it yoinked.
The map is a hand-drawn pencil and paper map, taking up two-thirds of a page, that has been scanned in. However, it does not look amateurish. The markings and numbers are all very clear and readable. It reminds me of the maps I used to make (and still do, come to think of it). The map flow is designed so that your choices matter; there are many side branches you can choose to take or not, but also a few circular routes so that players can try flanking maneuvers and alternate routes to many destinations.
The physical layout features 14 numbered locations, 6 of which have monsters and 2 more have traps. There are 7 locations where treasure may be found. Using Labyrinth Lord as a base, the entire dungeon contains approximately 463 xp in monsters, 250 xp in treasure, and four magic items. James also provides an option for the GM to create a second level if desired, with hints as to how to stock/create it. There are two new monsters, and one new magic item, and they are terrific. Both monsters are different enough to be memorable, but not so bizarre as to cause suspension of belief. My players will never forget being chased by death maggots.
I think James does an excellent job of showing the old-school module design memes. These include: circular routes allowing customized exploration (no railroads), no MacGuffin, wandering monsters, much of the treasure being other than coins - some of it unrecognizable as treasure to the casual player, traps for the unwary, the old Gygax trick of including one piece of treasure that the players will never find unless they are obsessive-compulsive super-paranoid completists, a nice alignment-based special, new monsters, and chances for players to kill themselves.
I ran this module for four 2nd-level characters using Swords & Wizardy White Box. They had four men-at-arms accompanying them. Three of the players were kids who had never gamed before, the fourth was their dad, a veteran of RPG's. This place chewed them up, and only the judicious use of a Charm Person spell and liberal does of flame and oil avoided several TPK's. They all enjoyed it, and I would definitely run this module in any new campaign.
The bottom line? This is a perfect representation of old school, a triumph of concision, with a lot of atmospheric detail. It is also a lot of fun, to boot.