Specifically designed as a one-shot adventure - or perhaps a convention game - you would need a very strong reason, a compelling backstory, to make this encounter work convincingly in an established campaign. Of course, if your campaign world includes some kobolds who have had it up to here with pesky meddling adventurers (or even your players in particular) the rationale for them having set up a death trap becomes clear. Because that's what this is. It is an excellent adventure for those who are combat-oriented and enjoy a good brawl with hordes of determined and inventive foes (not words often associated with kobolds, but these are exceptional ones!).
The premise is simple: a group of kobolds have had enough of being the butt of adventurer jokes and target of their "let's clear the monsters out" raiding, and have created a killing field staffed with kobolds who quite frankly don't expect to survive, but have an eye to becoming heroes of kobold legend for evermore. The encounter proper begins as the characters enter some twisty little lava tunnels within which kobolds are known to lair... but should your characters need more reason that that to go in (if they do, you might be better off running something else for them...) a bit of background in the shape of a lonely outpost of a township is provided. The characters happen to be there - on their way someplace else about some other business, or it may be a regular port of call for them - when an aggressive band of kobolds mount a hit and run raid, shouting threats about future raids as they depart, and naturally the townsfolk turn to obvious adventuring types to deal with them. And you're off...
This is a scenario designed to be run at a smart pace, both on the tabletop and in the alternate reality inhabited by the characters. No time for taking a rest break, or even to draw breath: one in to the tunnels event piles on event, brawl follows brawl at breakneck pace. Possibly literally. Narrow twisty lava tunnels barely five feet high, a very claustrophobic place in which to give battle, particularly for Medium or larger characters. If fighting unusually disciplined and determined kobolds under such conditions was not enough, they have prepared a goodly number of traps as well! The final cavern is big enough to stand up in, complete with the 'Big Bad' ready to rant at his victims and a truly nasty surprise ready to unleash...
Much of what is going on is keyed in to the GM's map, and the rest is described succinctly in a clear text that will enable the adventure to run smoothly and at the pace intended without need to hunt for anything, especially if you run adventures off a laptop, as it's printed in landscape. All the monster stats are collected on a couple of pages after the text, which works in this case as the same creatures pop up frequently. However, detailed encounter location notes are separate from the trap information - the same traps are used in several places - so some preparation will be necessary so you know what you need to use when.
As well as the marked map, a second unmarked one is provided along with a series of map tiles suitably scaled for use with miniatures that cover the entire complex. The unmarked map is of little use, as the whole point of such a twisty, enclosed maze of passages is that you never really get an overview of it, just seeing the bit in front of your nose - i.e. the map tile that's in play at the time. The map tiles themselves are admirable for the purpose - quite claustrophobic sitting here at the computer flicking through them, never mind in the heat of the game. A large number of 'standees' for the hordes of kobolds you'll need are provided, useful as even if you do have kobold miniatures in your collection, most of us don't have that many of them!
If a relentless meat-grinder of a dungeon death-maze appeals to your group and gaming style, this is a good one. If your characters enjoy more than fighting, or you want them to have a good chance of surviving, this may not be the best choice... yet could prove a refreshing change to a campaign in which there is more conversation than combat.
Return to The Kobold Death Maze page.
Reviewed: 12 February 2011