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Review of Beyond the Black Door by Black Death Publishing

No one gets out of here alive, now” ~ The Doors (“Five to One”, Waiting for the Sun, 1968)

Adventure modules are one of those things that leave many Dungeon Masters straddling the proverbial “fence”. 

On one side, some Dungeon Masters simply do not care for them, and would rather make up their own adventures and plotlines, and typically find pre-made modules to be a useless expenditure out of a their “sourcebook” budget.

On the other side, adventure modules provide a ready-made session of “play” for a campaign, and are a boon to DMs that have a limited amount of time to prepare their adventures.  Pre-made adventures also have the benefit of providing “fodder” for ideas about adventures, and can be used entirely or even piecemeal to create entirely new quests and mini-campaigns of a Dungeon Master’s own design.
beyond the black door
For my part, I believe in using adventure modules, and my campaigns tend to be composed of a mix of adventures: some my own person writing; some adventures designed around the “good” parts of pulled from modules; and some adventures using a pre-made in its entirety.  Between my DDI Subscription, giving me access to Dungeon Magazine, and adventure modules purchased inexpensively from 3rd Party GSL publishers, it’s not very costly to have a wide variety of adventure material to use, or to simply read and glean ideas for adventures of my own devising.

One such low-cost 3rd Party adventure module, by Black Death Publishing, is Beyond the Black Door: an adventure that takes Characters on a sojourn from their world to Acheron, and back again.

Beyond the Black Door
  • Designer: Rex Baker
  • Illustrations: Joe Calkins
  • Publisher: Black Death Publishing
  • Year: 2009
  • Media: PDF (33 pages)
  • Price: $2.99

Beyond the Black Door is an adventure for use with D&D 4e that can be used in any campaign setting that utilizes the the Astral Sea cosmology as introduced in Manual of the Planes.  The module contains an unknown number of encounters and dozen new monsters created for this adventure.  There is a map of the Acheronian town of “The Dive”, a dungeon map, and a single encounter map for use with the final encounter.

The production quality of Beyond the Black Door is poor, with numerous grammatical and spelling errors, and with monster stat blocks laid out in a format recognizable in 3.5 edition version rather than that used by 4e.  However, the art work and maps are fairly good, but sadly do not add enough to the overall production value to pull up its rating.

The general plot of Beyond the Black Door appears to be that a group of Characters finds a black doorway in a dungeon, and are inadvertently transported by it to the plane of Acheron – as Acheron no longer exists in the current D&D 4e cosmology, one can infer that the Author meant the realm of Pluton:

You made your way through the labyrinth and have arrived at the Black Door. The gate is just as dormant now as it ever was. Now that you are up close, you see that it has two sides to it and stands in the middle of the room.

There is yet another thing to it, though. Each side has a corner that can be viewed when looking across the flat surface between the arched doorway. In the corner you can see stars and shadowy light. Suddenly, the whole chamber is lit with a purple flash of light. Even as you tried to run you felt yourself move to somewhere else!

The land you have arrived in is cold, black and starless. There is a single moon, high in the sky, providing shadowy light in this black, icy landscape. Steaming breath forms ice crystals on facial hair. One could very well freeze to death here if warmth and shelter aren’t found.

Any sound you make is muffled in this dark, freezing, dead landscape. You have to speak directly to one another in order to be heard clearly. There is no color, only the stark contrast of black and white. Whole areas are lost in shadow, the darkness is depth-less.

From here, the plot moves the Characters to an Acheronian/Plutonian village where they encounter undead and a vampire, which is none other than Vlad Tepes himself (aka Dracula), who offers to be their guide as they attempt to find an escape.  Along the way, they encounter a number of dubious npcs, ranging from an orc tavern owner/pig-keeper to a jacalai demon named Randolph.  Randolph appears to be a scam artist bent on using the Characters to help him escape Acheron, and he involves himself with the Characters at a number of points in the plot.

The journey through Acheron has the Characters encountering Charon and eventually Cerberus, who appears to be the “boss” fight of the adventure.  As Cerberus is designed as an 18th Level Brute, I would have to guess that the adventure is meant for Characters in their upper Paragon Tier. 

I have to say “guess”, because there is no mention of the Character Level range for this adventure.  Nor is there any sort of Synopsis or Introduction to give a Dungeon Master any clue what is going on with the plotline.  This haphazard writing style is prevalent throughout the entire module, and even after reading the adventure from cover to cover, I still wasn’t entirely sure what was necessary for the Characters to accomplish in order to make their escape from Acheron/Pluton.

Beyond the Black Door appears to be an attempt to convert and re-package a pre-made dungeon that was originally written for 3.5, and to release it as a D&D 4e module. There are several instances in which the original 3.5 rules and terminology were left in the adventure, and never upgraded to 4e terms.

One such example is a Phantasmal Killer trap that shows up during the dungeon delve portion of the adventure, and is listed plainly in 3.5 edition statistics. There are a couple more examples in the Appendix section, where the stat blocks for a Babau demon and a Vrock demon appear to have been lifted straight out of the 3.5 ed Monster Manual. These sorts of errors are fairly major for a module released under the GSL, or the OGL for that matter, and definitely detract from the production value of the pre-made adventure.

The new Monsters introduced in the adventure demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of the combat system, and in many cases are a mixture of 3.5 statistic blocks and 4e abilities:

Pacha Ghasts
Level 5 Brute; medium natural animate (undead) XP225; , Initiative: +2 (Dex), Speed: 20 ft., AC: 17;(-8
size, 2 Dex, 13 natural; if both claws hit, bite is auto), Attacks: 0 melee; -2 ranged, Damage: 1d8 (misc.
sword) or 1d6/1d6/1d8+4 (claw, claw, bite); Sp Resistance: 25%. Probable Face/reach:, Available Skill Points: 6, Available Feat Points: 0, Probable,
Str: 16, Dex: 14, Con: 0, Int: 9, Wis: 8, Cha: 2
Special attacks: Staph Infection (Su); Disease―bite, Fortitude DC 15, incubation period 1 day, damage 1d3 Con and 1d3 Dex. The save DC is Charisma based.
Paralysis (Ex): Those hit by a ghast’s bite or claw attack must succeed on a DC 15 Fortitude save or be paralyzed for 1d4+1 rounds. Even elves can be affected by this paralysis. The save DC is Charisma based.
Stench (EX): The stink of death and corruption surrounding these creatures is overwhelming. Living creatures within 10 feet must succeed on a DC 15 Fortitude save or be sickened for 1d6+4 minutes. A creature that successfully saves cannot be affected again by the same ghast’s stench for 24 hours. A delay poison or neutralize poison spell removes the effect from a sickened creature.

Doom Knight (by K.R.)*
Medium Undead; Initiative +13; HP 164; 5 Damage Resistance 10; Radiant Weakness;
AC 30 Fortitude 24 Reflex 23 Will 20 Speed 6;
Abilities: Str 20 Con 16 Dex 14 Int 12 Wis 10 Cha 10
Attacks: Standard; Melee, +22 1D12+15 Necrotic damage.
Special: Spells, power word: kill, blind, stun; slay
living, each once per day. Summon Steed: Nightmare (when in the open).
Ethereal Shield At Will# Standard: Gain +4 AC and deflect Ranged attacks until the end of your next turn
Alignment Chaotic Evil Languages: common, demon.
Equipment +3 vorpal Greatsword , Platemail

As you can see in the above example of the Doom Knight, there is a mix of both 4e statistics, mixed with 3.5ed “spells”, combined in a stat block that makes little sense to either edition.

Simply put, there is no way that I can recommend this product to any Dungeon Master in its current form.  The number of errors that exist – spelling, grammatical, and game mechanic – in this product is so overwhelming, that the entire adventure module needs serious revision to make it work.  There are a few interesting ideas in the module regarding the Acheronian/Plutonian towns, and the nature of the plane and its denizens, but due to the meandering writing style and errors, those good bits are hard to pry out.

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

Editor’s Note: This Blog’s Author received a complimentary copy of the product in PDF format from which the review was written.

About The Author

Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.


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