A lot of companies have tried to use the d20 rules to recapture an "oldschool" feel, reminiscent of the classic 1st Edition AD&D Adventures, but few seem to grasp the essence of those early modules quite as well as Goodman Games and their Dungeon Crawl Classics line. These are adventures that eliminate all trappings of pretension and focus on the meat of the adventure: exciting encounters, interesting locations, and clever puzzles.
Vault of the Dragon Kings is something of a special adventure. It was used as a "tournament" module at GenCon Indy 2005. More than 25 teams of gamers tested their mettle against this perilous dungeon. This is your chance to follow in their footsteps. A scoring system and special tournament rules are included for those interested in running this adventure as a competitive event between several groups of gamers. For players looking for a more standard gaming experience, the normal d20 rules apply.
While Vault of the Dragon Kings in intended for 10th level characters, I have a feeling that a party of that level would suffer a lot of deaths. This makes sense, considering the tournament nature of the adventure. If I were running this for my home group, I'd probably wait until the party reached 14th level or so. The adventure was meant to be a challenge and PC deaths should therefore be expected, especially at the levels suggested by the authors.
Many of Goodman's previous selections have been full of puzzles and this adventure is no exception. Fortunately, the designers were smart enough to craft the puzzles in such a way that failure to solve them doesn't generally result in the adventure grinding to a complete halt. Stuck PCs might have to take on a difficult fight, or simply absorb a lot of damage, but they can still go on. One exception is a lever puzzle encountered early in the adventure. Even with the solution, I find the whole thing confusing. There are other puzzles that I do enjoy, so this might just be a question of personal taste.
Goodman has done a pretty good job with the adventure presentation. There are nice rules reminders throughout, cutting down significantly on the amount of times I had to crack open a book to see just how something worked. In an adventure this large and involved, little touches like this are greatly appreciated.
There were a few spots where the design could have used a bit of revision. Take, for example, the read-aloud text for area 1-4. Here the author devotes five paragraphs (some 290 words) to describing a large chamber. Granted, there is a lot to see here, but asking a group of players to digest that much text in such a big piece is a bit unrealistic. The handout illustrations help to alleviate this problem immensely, and Vault of the Dragon Kings contains a bunch of them.
I should also point out that the size and scope of this dungeon is really very large. There are certain items that have different effects in certain rooms, giving the PCs reasons to explore and re-explore their surroundings. This adds a nice level of depth to the adventure, and it rewards clever players who let themselves get into the dungeon's backstory.<br><br>
<b>LIKED</b>: Vault of the Dragon Kings is a great example of a large, classic style dungeon crawl. There's a lot of things to do here, an interesting backstory, glittering treasure, and a bunch of monsters to kill. Goodman Games lives up to the expectations, delivering something thoroughly modern with an old-school flavor.
The GenCon extras, which include the scores of the various groups and a piece of short fiction are a nice little bonus.<br><br><b>DISLIKED</b>: The backstory is fairly involved for an adventure of this type, which may make hurt Vault's portability. In addition, the adventure is both big and deadly, making it best suited as a campaign-concluding adventure for potent PCs.
Finally, because of the size of the place, there were a few areas that I just didn't care for. One room, in particular, contains what can only be described as magical medieval surveillance monitors. Not a game breaker, by any means, but enough to make me want to tweak things a bit before running them for my own group.<br><br><b>QUALITY</b>: Excellent<br><br><b>VALUE</b>: Very Satisfied<br>
[5 of 5 Stars!]