Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Review: D3 Vault of the Drow

Ben's prize for making me laugh the most in the caption contest was to pick a module for me to review. He chose D3.

I also reviewed D1 and D2.

This review does contain a lot of SPOILERS.

I won't review GDQ1-7 as I brought it to High School one day, left it in a classroom, and it disappeared before the next period started, never to be seen again. I have the map book, though, FWIW, but can't look at the original to compare to this version. I also don't own the purple cover of D3, so again, no comparison there.

D3 Vault of the Drow
by Gary Gygax
TSR 1978
28 pages

D3 Vault of the Drow is a the third and final installment in the D-series of modules, and the next to last in the G1-3, D1-3, Q1 arc of modules. It's meant for character levels 10-14, making it one of the higher-level adventures that were available back when I first started playing AD&D.

Like the other adventures in the series, this combines miles of tunnels full of random encounters spotted with a few special encounter areas.

D3 picks up where D2 leaves off - right after passing the temple of the Kuo-Toa. The PCs have three basic choices of tunnels - a high-traffic area (guarded by a drow fortress), and two lower-traffic areas with more interesting encounters, one involving spiders and one depicted in the awesome back cover picture by Jeff Dee.

Once past those, the PCs can reach the vault - a big spherical cavern containing the drow civilization. Fortresses for males and females, noble houses, merchant houses, and even an entire city. The city is evocatively described - drow, slaves, half-drow, mind flayers, daemons and demons, bugbears, troglodytes, ghouls, ghasts . . . this is probably the first "evil city of monsters" I ever encountered.

It's a bit of a sandbox, in that the PCs can do whatever they like and have many places they could go. This could easily be a single long session if the PCs stay on target, quickly determine a course of action, and go for it. I say "a bit" because it's both a limited sandbox and the PCs have a mission - bring vengeance upon the drow.

Or it could be a many-session series of adventures as the PCs navigate the vault, the city, find the enemies they seek, choose who to go after, and then do the actual going after.

D3 is very light on maps of the various areas the PCs can interact with - forts, noble houses, the city of Erelhei-Cinlu, etc. Pretty much the only specifically mapped area is the Great Fane of Lolth. Some of the potential foes are equally light on details - you'll get the AC and HP and levels of noble family members, but then get "staff of withering, wand of paralyzation, efreet bottle, and useful items to be determined at random: 3 potions, 3 scrolls, 2 rings, 3 miscellaneous magic items" to help equip them. Useful, but only if you work ahead of time or stall and roll.

Overall, the adventure is potentially very challenging even given the levels of PCs involved.

Criticisms of the plot

One frequent criticism of D3 is the connection to Q1. Basically, the Eilservs clan started the giants attacking the civilized lands, the PCs solve that (with violence) and then continue on to smite the drow behind it all. But the adventure heavily points you towards Q1 and Lolth's priesthood. They're the other side in the struggle within drow society (if you simplify it to two sides.) Are the PCs the dupes of the Eilservs? Are they making a terrible mistake by killing Lotlh?

I'd say no.

Look at it from the Good point of view: does maintaining a balance of power between a weakened Eilservs clan and Lloth really matter? If you can smash one and leave the other, how is that "bad" for Good? Oh, sure, the Chaotic Evil elves might organize and rise up to threaten the surface world again, this time stronger. Maybe. Since the Eilservs were only using the giants to build up a surface power base so they could dominate the underworld, would their victory mean a threat to the surface world? Maybe, but maybe not. Probably not. It's not even clear the Eilservs plan was any good at all (and if the PCs are here, it clearly didn't work out well.) That's not a useful reason to spare Lloth. Neutral might be "ensure the balance of power" but Good doesn't seem like it should or would access "evil balanced against evil is good" instead of "victory of evil, even if partial, is good." It's hard to be running a paladin or Lawful Good cleric and justify "evil put into a reasonable balance of power" as "evil defeated to the extent you are capable."

If you can smash both, even better! It's quite possible to go after both, it's just the module doesn't give you maps of the Eilservs house. Crushing both would be a dramatic victory for Good - a demon lord/goddess slain permanently, the power structure that supported her defeated, and their biggest rivals also defeated.

Assuming you just smash Lolth, the Eilservs have plenty of other rivals. Those rivals will be weakened, but so are the Eilservs. Good is probably best served by crushing them all or provoking a civil war, not by finishing off one side.

All of that said, moving on to Q1 and fighting a demon-goddess is what D&D can be all about at its best, so why not do that? You don't seal the gate and disadvantage evil, you chase it into the Abyss and destroy it. That is epic.

War Stories: Basically, none. I do remember having this adventure back in Elementary School, but I don't recall ever running it. I do have some recollection of statting out some of the random encounters, such as a high-level magic-user party and the HP for mezzodaemons and nycadaemons. We basically skipped this to get to Q1.

Overall: The adventure area is interesting and rewards stealth and careful adventuring more than direct violence. This is a very challenging environment for a part to survive in - especially ones that "solve" problems by attacking things. Given a skilled group, this should be a really evocative and interesting place to adventure. The choices of who to attack and why - and the chance to continue on into the Abyss itself to kill a demon-goddess - make for a real strategic challenge.


  1. Staff of Withering and Efreeti Bottle, two of the weirder treasure items.

  2. Many thanks for your insights!


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