Blue Alley Review (5e)

A funhouse dungeon set in Waterdeep

By MARK WILSON

System: 5th Edition D&D

Level: 2-3

Created, it seems, somewhat explicitly to accompany Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, Blue Alley is a funhouse dungeon for an APL 2 party in 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. Headlined by writer M.T. Black, it features a number of DM’s Guild luminaries who have, at this point, received some sporadic credits writing for official Wizards of the Coast products.

Blue Alley is established in the lore, having first been invented by Ed Greenwood back in the Before Times. It’s a proving grounds of sorts for aspiring adventurers and is refreshed periodically – much like an escape room – by a mysterious wizard who runs a gambling ring as people watch adventurers traverse the dungeon. It’s smack in the middle of the metropolis of Waterdeep, making it a bit of a goofy foil to its surroundings.

The Good
There’s a fair amount of good here, so let’s get to it.

  • The tricks and riddles and traps are generally quite clever. It all feels familiar (spike traps, mimics, etc.) but with enough of a twist to feel fresh. I particularly like the minotaur that pops in and out of existence when they Touch The Thing in the minotaur’s room. The minotaur itself isn’t the point; the key on its person is. But the monster porting in and out acts as interesting misdirection.
  • The traps also aren’t onerously complicated, making it palatable for a newer DM to run. I’d expect some wondrously complex traps for, say, a level 10 party, but not here.
  • The dungeon is going to be difficult for a level 2 party, and they only get one shot at it (due to magical shenanigans). Some roaming monsters also potentially complicate rests aiding the party. While this is neither good or bad in and of itself, it becomes good when…
  • There’s a meta-puzzle in Blue Alley that requires a near-complete clearing of the dungeon to decipher. Many groups likely have to decide between solving it and getting out alive. Nice tension-builder.
  • Read-aloud is nearly nonexistent. I like functional descriptions that I can put in my own words, not ver batim text, and this has the former. This is a positive development, in stark contrast to WotC products – including well-regarded ones like Strahd – that give us 4-5 read-aloud sentences per room minimum in most locations.
  • The map file it comes with is big. I opted not to print it, but I suspect it’s scaled to print across multiple pages and actually be used at the table for minis and such. Nice touch; I appreciate maps that are usable, not just for show.

The Not As Good

  • Good puzzles overall, but the one that fell flat for my group was for The Big Treasure, as it’s too easily solved by anyone with a modicum of roleplaying experience.
  • Minimal read-aloud, but some odd choices like including the line, “The area has the following features” for Every. Single. Room. 26 of them by my count. Maybe it’s a WotC style-guide thing? In which case it’s an unnecessary restriction. The descriptions are occasionally meandering as well. Not as bad as many you see, and good in plenty of places, but ~4 rooms per page seems a touch long to me. I suppose it’s no different than much of the official 5e stuff, but under the DM’s Guild pay structure, I assume no one is being paid by word or has a page count quota here.

Other Notables

  • The adventure’s wrap-up seems destined to have the players run afoul of the quest-giver (Mirt, a prominent noble and classic Greenwood character) if they learn the truth of their treasure. Seems an odd Catch-22 for something that shouldn’t be quite so contentious. Plenty of ways around it though.
  • While one of the sidebars says that might learn more about the dungeon’s wizard proprietor from the dungeon’s inhabitants, we’re given nothing concrete to work with, and I struggle to come up with a creature who’s going to spill much. The specters and skeletons don’t seem the talkative type. Missed opportunity to seed a future quest where they infiltrate the secret Blue Alley gambling cabal.
  • I mentioned the challenge. My players were level 3, and although there were only four of them (as opposed to the standard five it’s balanced for), it wasn’t easy for them. I suspect there’s a TPK somewhere in here for level 2 parties if a DM isn’t careful. Many groups won’t mind that possibility, but it’s a consideration. Letting them level up to 3 before you dangle this hook is perfectly fine and will still present a challenge for most groups.

It’s Fun
The purpose of play, for me, is simply to have fun, and I think this one does that. It never takes itself too seriously, despite offering a challenge, and I think many groups will appreciate both of those elements.

If we look at the meta-context of its place in many Dragon Heist (DH) campaigns, it becomes even better. The DH adventure is sorely lacking fleshed out side quests that can act as city exploration or faction quests. This can seamlessly act as either. I suppose “{X product} isn’t good in this area, so that makes {Y Product} better” is problematic from a critiquing standpoint, but in practice, I was personally thankful for Blue Alley’s existence and would recommend it to a DM running either Dragon Heist or a Tier 1 campaign set in Waterdeep.

This is $4.95 on the DM’s Guild. The preview is four pages, but doesn’t include anything of the actual dungeon.

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