Micro Review: Book of Ruins
Chris B pointed me to the old Judge's Guild Book of Ruins earlier today. The Book of Ruins is a collection of 10 "mini-dungeons" by Michale Mayeu, originally published in 1981. The dungeons vary in length from a short 4-room encounter, to a moderately large dungeon--big enough for 1-2 sessions of play. Most of the dungeons are on the short side, however, and are designed to be easily dropped into an existing campaign, or chained together as a mini-campaign.
I've got to say, I fell in love with this as soon as I started reading it. For me, it's the epitome of a good old-school product. The encounters are well thought out and obviously playtested. There's lot of room for interesting tactical positioning. The dungeons are obviously made to unfold in play. I can easily see each one unfolding in quite a different manner depending on the group, the path they take, and how they approach particular encounters.
One of my favorite things in a small dungeon is to see encounters where talking to the the monsters is an interesting option. It doesn't have to be a major option, but it's nice if it's there. Mayeu has obviously thought this out. The relationships between the monsters and their various dispositions are properly slotted into the text.
Some of the encounters are a little stock. There are no less than three dungeons where an Ogre is a prominent villain, with a group of lesser humanoids around him. If I were running it, I would substitute more varied denizens. This was also published in 1981, and reflects its time. If you're looking for skill-based challenges or epic storylines, you won't find it here, though you could probably add it yourself.
Tactical challenge and simulation are clear goals in this product. One of the larger adventures is a carefully designed encounter with a powerful stock magical monster. The author has clearly designed this encounter based on a frustration with poorly designed similar encounters he's seen in other products. The result is a particularly nasty and challenging fight. This is completely appropriate in this kind of product, possibly even essential to challenge high-level parties, but groups that aren't expecting it will be in for an unpleasant surprise.
The Book of Ruins is available on RPGnow, and is a bargain at $4.00.