Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
 
Sunless Citadel

*Spoiler Warning!* This post contains spoilers of the Dungeon & Dragons adventure Sunless Citadel, which in 5th edition is part of the Tales from the Yawning Portal collection.

Now that I am more often at the local role-playing club, I get to experience adventures as a player more often, while in my home campaign I'm always the DM. One adventure I have played is Sunless Citadel. That turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment. I checked afterwards that this wasn't the fault of the DM, but the adventure as written has a serious problem with the flow of the story.

Early on in the dungeon the adventurers come across Meepo, a non-aggressive kobold who is the dragon keeper of the local tribe of kobolds. He was guarding a white dragon wyrmling, but it got kidnapped by the local tribe of goblins. Now obviously the players can at this point decide to just kill both kobolds and goblins. But one would expect some advantage in playing along with this obvious story line. So we followed Meepo to the kobold leader, who was sitting on a dragon throne, with the dragon holding a key in his mouth. Ah, we thought, this must be the key to the magically locked door we came across earlier. And yes, the kobold leader promised us the key in exchange for bringing back his dragon.

So we go into the part of the dungeon held by the goblins, fight our way through them, and finally find the dragon. Then of course the dragon doesn't follow us or Meepo voluntarily, so we need to subdue him. We bring the dragon back to the kobolds, get the key, open the magical door, go through a few more rooms, until we come to the end of that branch of the dungeon. There is a sarcophagus, which of course contains a monster to fight. And then we think that this is it, the high point of the adventure to which all of the previous story has led. But it turns out to be a complete dead end. The treasure is lousy, just some coin and scrolls none of the players can use. And none of this has anything to do with the actual main story, which we get to later, after all the goblins.

I must say that I consider this to be bad design. Why put an interesting key NPC in an adventure that leads the group not towards the story, but away from it? You end up with filler material which is more memorable than the main story! I would at least have added some clues and better treasure in that sarcophagus. Even if it just a dungeon crawl, the flow of the story is important in a role-playing game.

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