The Black Ruins is a short adventure written for old-school D&D (that is, AD&D 2E and before). It contains no monster statistics, only including the number and names of those encountered. In theory, it could be used for 5E play, although the suggested monsters would have to be modified to fit the level of the 5E party – a berserker means a very different thing in 5E than in original D&D!
The adventure consists of three wilderness hexes and a small dungeon. There isn’t really a strong hook to the adventure, although the players may learn in town about an escaped bandit, Rolf of Haris, who can be found hiding in the third hex.
Each area (hex) of the wilderness has its own random encounter table. There are some really interesting encounters here, although I find it interesting that there’s a 1 in 3 chance each day spent in the Badlands that a mad hermit will be encountered; I think it’s fair to say that some of the tables could have a few more entries!
The main dungeon of the adventure can only be found by exploration of the woods – discovered as a random encounter, which I find an entirely fair way of doing it, although it’s quite possible the party will never encounter it. The dungeon is small, consisting of 11 areas. There are some entertaining encounters here, although some are under-developed. Statues which change form when touched work a lot better if the statue is described first! There’s not a lot of combat in the dungeon – two combats in total by my count – but there are numerous traps and tricks. Some evocative writing sets the scene of the dungeon, and it can easily be placed in another setting to provide colour and a little bit of the unusual and weird.
The formatting of the adventure is basic and has a few problems, for instance one heading is separated from its text by a page break. The maps are very idiosyncratic, but not unattractive, although the map of the dungeon could be a little clearer.
Although The Black Ruins isn’t a great adventure, it has some nice moments. It’s also free, which is not bad for an adventure that contains some good inspiration for longer tales.