There are D&D adventures I am intimately familiar with. I3 Pharaoh is one of those. It’s an adventure I’ve read many, many times, and DMed on two separate occasions. Other adventures I have known only through their product code. X6 Quagmire
is of that latter sort. I never owned it during my early days of D&D, nor did I play it or run it.
So, all that I had to go on with Quagmire is its reputation. As an adventure released in 1984, it doesn’t really have one. It’s not particularly memorable as an adventure, it was released as part of the Expert line, and – perhaps more importantly – it wasn’t released in 1983 or before. The first few years of D&D adventures have an astonishingly high “hit” rate, with most of them now being considered classics. Being first is important, and being first with a good adventure makes for a good reputation. Quagmire wasn’t first. And it isn’t very distinguished.
Jon Peterson posted a history of the making of Quagmire
on his blog, which gives us rare insight into the development of this adventure. Through it, we learn that the original goal of the adventure was to teach the players how to map – wilderness mapping, in particular, it seems – although the later proposals began to consider the hook (and plot) of the adventure more than just it as a teaching aide.
This, just in itself, causes problems for the adventure. And a lot of this has to do with the fact that it’s hard to make interesting wilderness exploration adventures. Filling in a lot of blank hexes whilst having random encounters was explored in detail in X1: The Isle of Dread, and it was less than satisfactory. At least The Isle of Dread had a lot of dinosaurs. The monsters in Quagmire are nowhere near as interesting. The author, Merle Rasmussen, does at least try something new, by providing random encounters with a little more detail and interest than 2d4 pteradons.
The trouble is that the encounters tend to be lone set-pieces, with very few really leading on to anything. Demonstrating natural hazards like quicksand and swamp fever is nice for verisimilitude, but it doesn’t make for interesting adventuring. An encounter with curious horses? Well, it fills a few minutes. We also have encounters like “Grab Grass” and “Killer Trees”. The players see a lot of skeletons ahead. If they avoid them, they avoid the encounter. If they investigate them, they get attacked. It’s interesting once, but two encounters that are essentially the same? Likewise, we get one encounter where you gain the services of a djinni and another where you get the services of an efreeti. The occasional encounter that is good is quickly overwhelmed by a sea of mediocrity.
There are twelve pages covering this material. There are encounters for the sea, and encounters for the land. And very little of it builds to anything. It is a relief when you find that there’s a ship in one location and a survey team randomly encountered elsewhere and the two encounters are linked… but only a handful of encounters actually build the adventure rather than just providing obstacles.
The plot that the adventure was eventually designed about has the party discovering a message in a bottle from the King of the Swamp begging for help. Their city is under siege, has the plague, and needs heroes to bring them food and water and escort them to a new home. As described, this is a properly epic quest. It doesn’t come off that way. When the adventurers reach Quagmire, they find the residents are now reduced to about 40 in number.
It’s at this point that we realise that the reason no-one talks about Quagmire is because the adventure is utter crap. The premise is absolutely ridiculous: You need to escort forty people to a new home which, in fact, is exactly like the old home except it has different monsters. (To save space, there are three “spiral cities” in the adventure, each which uses the same map, and have shared encounter keys with notes when they diverge from the other cities. It isn’t inspiring). Forty people in a new monster-ridden city? Sixteen of them children? Why aren’t you taking them to a proper population centre where they’d have a chance of surviving? It’s not like the new city will have any trade or farms. You’re just condemning them to a different death!
There are seven pages devoted to describing the three cities. It’s absolutely astonishing how dull these cities are. They are marvels of architecture, but anything stimulating is abandoned in favour of lots of mundane descriptions of yet more rooms with monsters. Fascinating ruins with hints of the civilisation that built them? We only wish. There’s nothing interesting about any of them. A room with trolls. Great. Why did we come this way?
Who names their city Quagmire, anyway?
People talk about bad adventures like The Forest Oracle because they’re at least interesting in how they go wrong. No-one talks about Quagmire! because it’s just dull. The main hook for the adventure doesn’t work, and though there is some attempt at more detailed wilderness exploration, the results are hardly worth the effort. This is one of the worst adventures I’ve read in the line.