Sunday, January 9, 2011

In Praise of Stonehell

*Warning: Minor spoilers*

I recently finished reading Michael Curtis' Stonehell.

My intent here is not to provide a full review, that has been done elsewhere and in a more timely fashion than this blog post. I don't have much time for casual reading, but Stonehell does require comment.

Stonehell is an excellent megadungeon game that would keep you and your players going for years. The author used the one-page dungeon format, which I really like because it makes DM prep fairly easy. I like to look at everything at a glance without flipping many pages. Statistics for your run-of-the mill monsters aren't provided, you'll need to dig those up in anticipation of playing [EDIT: Basic statistics are provided at the beginning of each level, but you'll need more detail to run the monsters]. Also, unless I missed it, you'll need to determine XP for some of the Stonehell-specific monsters as well. It would be nice if that was provided in Stonehell Book II.

The title of Stonehell is very clever. I can imagine my own players saying "We're going straight to hell!" or somesuch. In addition to being clever, the author is creative and writes very well. He provides the information DMs need and then moves on. That's to be applauded.

Each section of the dungeon has its own vibe and atmosphere. This will no doubt make for interesting gaming - sameness in a dungeon this big can get boring. However, the one-page format comes at a cost. I believe James at Grognardia noted the limitations of the format for a megadungeon - I now understand what he was referencing and agree. An alternative would be to create maps the size you want, but use the shortened entry style of the one-pagers.

I really like the traps and tricks in Stonehell. I also like, how on every level, the author has at least one dead adventurer to signal darkness and danger (something I like in my own work and rememeber from the TSR adventures).

The modular construction of this dungeon would allow you to drop sections if you so desired. Kobold Korners, or example, reminds me of the Troll Market from Hellboy. It doesn't suit my taste and makes the dungeon seem too vibrant and full-of activity. Again, that's just personal preference. The author makes it clear to steer Stonehell in a direction that makes it work for your group. Cool.

I admire the author for creating Stonehell and the amount of work devoted to it - I'd wager somewhere between a MA thesis and a PhD dissertation. He is to be commended.

In short, Stonehell is a fun and exciting adventure. I encourage you to pick up a copy. I'm looking forward to Stonehell Book II.

(As an aside, I recently went over 100 posts on the blog. Who knew!)


  1. I wanted to love Stonehell, I really did. The way it tends to treat each of the four quadrants of each level as a separate "themed" mini-dungeon with minimal connections to its neighbors really bugged me, though. Way too artifical, predictable, and linear.

  2. Yes, that is a fair criticism. However, that's only one aspect of a very large piece of work.