by Gerald Cameron
Dungeon Crawl Classics #61: Citadel of the Corruptor
Published by Goodman Games
Written by Adrian Pommier
48 page saddle-stitched softcover, full-color cover, b & w interior
Dungeon Crawl Classics #61: Citadel of the Corruptor (CotC) is
the eleventh adventure in the Dungeon Crawl Classics line for Dungeons &
Dragons: Fourth Edition. While it is a standalone adventure, it can also
be used as a sequel to DCC #54: Halls of the Mountain King and
DCC #57: Wyvern Mountain.
This time, the heroes are drawn to the Ul-Dominor mountains, where they
find Fort Frostbite (depending on the story hook used, they can find it
accidentally or intentionally). Taking shelter against an oncoming
magical storm, they come across a scene of slaughter, but things may not
be entirely as they seem.
The plot of this module is not going to win awards for originality, but
it is completely serviceable, and stands as a solid example of a typical
Dungeons & Dragons premise. Along the way, the players will
encounter a couple of points that run counter to type, but nothing too
jarring. Perhaps the only bit that is a bit too strange is the shape of
the weapon that the Big Badguy at the End of the Game (BBEG) uses in the
Unfortunately, CotC is rather linear, and even veers toward
railroading at the beginning. The DCC format does not leave room
for a more "exploreable" environment, of course, so a certain amount of
linearity is to be expected. Using the aforementioned magical storm to
push characters into the fortress leaves a bad taste in my mouth,
though. Better story hooks would serve just as well, and would give a
nod to player agency, at least.
On top of that, the text admits that the first encounter is designed to
keep the PCs trapped by draining resources they could use to fight the
storm, too. The idea is to keep them indoors so they will investigate
further. There are even tips on how to draw reluctant parties onward so
they can finally uncover the beginning of the main storyline. For my
money, a better approach would be throwing the situation in their faces,
forcing them to act rather than just camp out. I'm not sure the plot is
grabby enough as written if keeping the players "on track" requires the
techniques described in the text.
It's worth noting that one encounter also involves an infanticide in its
history, which some groups might find too horrible for D&D play,
especially if it touches on personal tragedies. Other groups will find
it a welcome breath of a mature outlook on gaming, though.
Substance and Crunch
Like all Dungeon Crawl Classics, CotC is published under
the Open Game License, aided and abetted by fair use, rather than the
Game System License Wizards of the Coast is trying to promote for 4th
Edition products. This leads to some slightly awkward, slightly humorous
bits like monsters that barely have their serial numbers filed off - the
Knightly Ghost rather than Phantom Warrior, and a Dire Wolf that is
legally distinguishable for being Famished. The most amusing instance of
this is a Winterclaw Owlbear dressed up as a tribal totem animal, never
once using the word owlbear. There are also some instances of magic
items named without any description or reference, which is less amusing.
That aside, the monsters in CotC are better designed than the new
monsters I've seen in other DCCs. While there are a couple cases
of brutes and soldiers that only have one option, most monsters feature
enough powers to stay fresh for a single fight where they are one party
of a diverse group, at least. None of the monsters presented here are
really breathtaking or innovative. The best ones are above average,
though, and offer a range of tactics, even if one of the better ones is
lacking a deserved leader tag in its header, and another notable is
relegated to the role of wandering monster.
Licensing notwithstanding, CotC feels more like a Fourth
Edition adventure than other DCC adventures that I've read.
There are fewer solos and plus-level elites fighting the party by
themselves; combats with multiple monsters are more likely to feature a
mix of monsters; traps are used as an integrated, dynamic element of an
encounter, not standalone gotchas; and the skill challenge presented in
CotC is complex, featuring a long list of useable skills. In
fact, the skill challenge is better than most that Wizards of the Coast
have published, although WotC has started raising the bar again lately.
Encounters tend to be solid, not exceptional, but there are a couple of
The final encounter is a bit of an anticlimax, unfortunately. While the
fight itself offers an intriguing twist, it is set in a storage room,
and there is almost no build up. There is some foreshadowing of the
BBEG's terrible weapon, but he does not develop a strong sense of
identity. At least DMs are advised to ham up his megalomania in best 70s
comic book villain style. The fact that the adventure's denouement takes
place in a more interesting location than its climax does is a little
There are a couple of headscratchers, too. The tactical guidelines in
one early encounter encourage the DM to have a monster "hang back and
let [an aura 1 power] afflict the party. I'm not sure how this is
supposed to work with a power that does not extend beyond melee range. I
also thought the decision to make operating a (load-bearing) crane an
Arcana skill check a bit odd. I'm not sure if I'd make it a skill check
at all, but, if I did, Arcana doesn't seem like the right skill for
using a non-magical item.
CotC also features, like most D&D adventures, a pet peeve
of mine: the trivial skill check. In this case, there are a couple of DC
8 checks, one to find some barely hidden treasure. If you want
characters to have or to see something, just let them find it or see it;
you can still say it is barely visible, or something the PCs notice out
of the corner of their eye. Trivial skill checks are usually a waste of
time, and when they aren't they may screw over the players or, worse,
bring the game to a grinding halt. Enough!
Overall, the writing in CotC is solid, which puts it above the
average for the RPG industry. Unfortunately, the read-aloud sections,
featuring descriptions on areas and events, are a bit creaky.
Occasionally, Pommier reaches for a flourish that feels a bit forced and
out of line with the rest of the writing. Nothing that should concern a
would-be DM, perhaps, but it should be better. There are also several
places where the DM is advised to paraphrase the description if the PCs
do not take the "standard" way in, so the read-aloud text is not always,
in fact, read-aloud text.
More problematic is some of the editing. All of the read aloud text for
a section is placed at the start of the section, which leaves elements
dangling without sufficient context until the reader delves further into
the section. In fact, this seems to be part of a general editorial
decision to stick to the facts of the immediate situation as much as
possible, without so much as a cross-reference to help. Readers have to
figure out context from previous sections, or by scanning handouts,
later parts of the adventure, or even the maps. This is more of a
nuisance than a problem when first going through the adventure, but if a
key bit of information doesn't stick in the DM's mind, it could cause a
lot of confusion and delay when playing.
I found one section (1-4) especially confusing at first. In addition to
the main description, there are two event descriptions that are
presented out of sequence relative to how they will likely happen. There
are three other important elements described, but one of them is written
as if the DM should know it is talking about an item that was introduced
in a throwaway line in an earlier piece of read-aloud text. Once you go
back and look at it having read the entire book, it's not so bad, but
there is a lot going on, and when I first read that section I was at a
The art by Doug Kovacs is interesting, distinctive and just a bit more
ambitious than typical RPG line art. While it is not quite to my own
taste, it is always nice to see illustrators that try for something
other than dull verisimilitude. I could see others liking it a lot. A
couple of pieces are oddly placed relative to the part of the adventure
they present, but overall they do a good job of presenting what's going
on in the adventure, including a two illustrations that are full-blown
The maps at the back of the book are not as good. They have been
developed in a graphics program, and seem to have been designed in full
color. In black and white, they are not as clear as they should be. You
can read them well enough if you take a moment, but I could not
comprehend them, even the second or third time around, at a glance.
Actually, this is one area where publishers should turn back to the
methods of older editions. AD&D 1st edition and Moldvay/Cook
D&D dungeon maps were a model of clarity and readability, and it
would be nice if Goodman Games (and other publishers) returned to this
approach, like they did in their 3rd edition DCC modules.
The layout and print design is typical of the DCC line, which is
to say that the typography is professional and solid, although the stat
blocks could do with a little rethinking. They try too hard to be a
black and white version of the WotC full-color stat blocks, and black
and white print would be better served by other approaches that do not
rely on shaded backgrounds.
Unfortunately, the experience of the page is marred by a background
illustration of a world map that reduces the page's legibility a bit,
distracts from the content, and makes the book look dirty and dreary.
It's a shame that this one element drags down what is otherwise very
good work that is far above the average for the industry. Also, if you
buy DCC products as PDFs, intending to print them out, this
background will be an ink hog, even in a book this short.
Citadel of the Corruptor is a solid upper-heroic tier adventure
for Dungeons & Dragons: Fourth Edition. While it will not blow
your doors off, and there are elements that bug me, it gets the job
done. It lacks the pulpy fun vibe that some other DCCs do, but it
fits clearly into the mainstream of D&D fantasy. Also, it can
easily be adapted to a DM's own ongoing plots. A macguffin you can tie
to Fort Frostbite would probably be a better hook than what the text
offers, and you can even ditch the irksome storm. I would recommend it
to DMs looking for an easy-to-run adventure, such as a one-shot game,
DMs that have played and enjoyed the earlier installments of this
adventure path, or DMs without a lot of time and with a macguffin in
search of a home.