Switch Theme:

Retro Review-Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits (Dungeons and Dragons, 1980)  [RSS] Share on facebook Share on Twitter Submit to Reddit
Author Message

Forum adverts like this one are shown to any user who is not logged in. Join us by filling out a tiny 3 field form and you will get your own, free, dakka user account which gives a good range of benefits to you:
  • No adverts like this in the forums anymore.
  • Times and dates in your local timezone.
  • Full tracking of what you have read so you can skip to your first unread post, easily see what has changed since you last logged in, and easily see what is new at a glance.
  • Email notifications for threads you want to watch closely.
  • Being a part of the oldest wargaming community on the net.
If you are already a member then feel free to login now.

Made in eg
Keeper of the Adeptus Arbites Flame

Cairo, Egypt

Picture this, Jackson Heights, the 80s, me and my buddies are bored, bored, bored which means one thing.

It’s time to make Lolth eat canvas, AGAIN!

(I should point out I’m referring to Lolth, Demon Queen of Spiders, not to be confused with Lolth Westheimer who taught 3rd grade at PS 182.)

Since I was introduced to D&D (and AD&D and other variants) players have wanted to go big. Yeah, saving the village from the giant rats and their wererat leader is nice and all, but what’s the point of a Monster Manual filled with Greater Demons and various Lords of Hell if you don’t actually, y’know, fight them at some point. To say nothing of Deities and Demigods, the book that tells you how many hit points Zeus has.

I remember my first DM talked about how he his buddies once raided the Nine Hells and killed every demon lord. Sorry, Devil Lord, this is the Nine Hells we’re talking about, home of the Lawful Evil Devils, not the Abyss home of the Chaotic Evil Demons. And this is like our first game where’re playing level 1 characters with 5 pit points.

Anyway in the 80s there was really only one official adventure where you actually could kick down the gates of hell (sorry Abyss) and challenge a full on Lord (OK Lady) of Hell (sorry Abyss) and that was Dungeon Module Q1-Queen of the Demonweb Pits.

Published in 1980 (which I must note is FORTY ONE years ago), this was actually an incredibly ambitious module, not just because it pitted the heroes against a literal goddess of evil (OK lesser goddess, and technically she was only the lesser goddess of the Dark Elves, which really is like being the coolest goth in Hot Topic, but still, she counts). It was also the capstone of six prior modules the 3 “Against the Giants” books and then 3 “Descent into the Depths of the Earth” books which introduced many inhabitants of the “Underdark” to the D&D universie, such as the Svirfneblin (Deep Gnomes), Kuo-Toa (evil slimy fish men) and of course the Elf-Drow (Dark Elf)!

And they were quite an addition. While Norse myth had dark elves, there was nothing in the concept that required poison crossbows, spider web-themed lingerie, and such.

With their pale hair and blue/purple/grey skin the Drow have been striking villains in years of novels and video games and RPGs. Credit for all that, and the goes to TSR and I assume Gary Gygax who wrote the first 6 modules in the series.

(I spent way too much time playing the Gold Box games)

But for this capstone he turns things over to David Sutherland III and explains why in the preface. Looking at some of these old books I miss these introductions and author’s statements, it’s nice to hear the writer explain why a book exists and how it came to be (other than, I want to make money and I had a deadline). It adds a lot.

So Gygax explains that a combination of time commitments (what do you mean you’ve not finished the Dungeon Master’s Guide?!) and Sutherland coming with a brilliant design for Lolth’s the layer of the Abyss led him to hand it over. And that design is quite a… demon web thing.

The map alone is impressive but the description makes it even better. The players appear on a stone pathway hovering in a maelstrom of fog and wind. If they examine the pathway they’ll find it is only 3” thick and if they look at the stone they’ll see screaming faces and hear moans of pain, the walkway is literally made from the souls of the damned. Players can climb or jump to other levels but the howling maelstrom blocks sight, so the players aren’t even aware there are other levels at first.
In addition you see how the layers of the web mesh and intertwine? The paths themselves never slope or rise, they’re always precisely level. Even if you’ve passed over a level you were just on. A neat little bit of impossibility to remind everyone they’re far from home.

Actually being far from home is an important plot point. Because the characters are multiple dimensions from home they’re going to lose a lot of their normal resources. A lot. A lot of lot. Like 5 pages of the 32 page booklet is spent describing things that don’t work, sort of work or are switched around. Clerics can’t regain any spells over level 2 because they are too far for their gods to hear them. Spells and items that banish demons are useless since, well, the demons are already home. Magic weapons and armor lose 2 pluses, since they’re far from their source of power. Various spells that would ordinarily allow the heroes to return home simply don’t function. One spell, Word of Recall, just makes the character nauseous. And as for the mighty Wish spell… well it’s Lolth’s plane so she decides which wishes are granted. And if she doesn’t like what you’re wishing for she sends a goon squad of demons to explain things to the party.

The point being, if your characters don’t know what they’re in for, they’re going to be in a lot of trouble. There’s a reason the book recommends 8-10 mid-to-high level characters for this.

(Side note, a lot of these rules later became standard for interdimensional jaunts in the Manual of the Planes and later Planescape rules but as far as I know this was the first time they were ever mentioned, so again, kudos to Sutherland for finding an interesting, and appropriate way to handicap players right off the bat, which later became standard rules for interdimensional travel.)

And all that is before the heroes have even opened a door.

Join us next time as we discover, what happens when the heroes open a door!

Made in eg
Keeper of the Adeptus Arbites Flame

Cairo, Egypt

Once the players get their bearings and start wandering the web, eventually finding doors that are literally just stuck to the side of the walkway. If they peek around the doors there’s nothing on the other side, but opening them leads to pocket dimensions. Some of the “rooms” lead to predictable encounters, a barracks full of gnolls or a group of Lolth’s Drow Lieutenants.

But others have some of the clever tricks and traps typical of the era. A man keeps several beautiful women prisoner, claiming they are monsters. The women plead to be rescued. As it happens he really is a good cleric, and the women are in fact werewolves. Later, some good clerics offer the party a place to rest but they’re really jackleweres (totally different from werewolves!) and try to slit their throats when they’re sleeping. A room with a powerful lodestone that traps characters in metal armor. A room where a magic mirror creates an evil duplicate of the first person to enter. You get the idea.

For a while players don’t even know there are other levels of the web, I imagine they could learn that by (ahem) questioning the monsters. Which at least among my friends meant detailed and intricately- described torture scenes. A guy who couldn’t come up with a better than Billy Swords for his character suddenly became the most creative and eloquent guy you’ve ever seen when he got a chance to interrogate a goblin. Was this like a general thing or only in my group?

But if the players never think to question anyone and don’t manage to see through the Maelstrom to catch a glimpse of the levels above and below, there are also teleport rooms that will move them to the next level. After beating the monsters of course.

Once they get to the top level things change a bit. Now instead of the doors leading to monster and trap-filled rooms, they lead to whole other alternate worlds. Each one has the potential to be a whole campaign in and of itself. In one world Lolth’s armies are invading a kingdom ruled by evil elves called Pharisees, will the players ally themselves with the evil lords to oppose Lolth or try to take them both on? Or just ignore it and use this chance to replenish spells and supplies?

Other worlds include “The Frozen Lands” a mountainous waste with several forts controlled by Lolth’s forces as the eliminate the remaining human resistance. In “The Great Ocean” players arrive on a beach in a world of small islands where Lolth’s sea monsters are fighting the migratory sea people who said the ocean in great catamarans. “The Black Fen” is vast swamp where Lolth breeds new monsters, having driven the humans out. “The Labyrinth of Arachne” is an endless underground maze where Lolth keeps her various monstrous spiders. The dwarves of “Maldev” are making their last stand against Lolth’s invading armies. “The Nightworld of Vlad Tolenkov” is inhabited by armies of the undead led by a high-level… look do I really have to tell you he’s a vampire? He lives on a ‘nightworld’ and his name his Vlad OK? Not too many career options when you’re named Vlad y’know. It’s like being named Jeeves. And finally there’s “Lolth’s Prison” a 2000 yard diameter world created just to hold one cleric. If the party rescues him he’ll give them a useful item and some healing before taking off on his own quest.

And that’s not all, an appendix at the back of the book offers up even more ideas for random worlds.

Just in case, y’know, your players decide to explore all eight side worlds and still want more! These don’t even get half page the first few worlds did, just literally a sentence or two. “Cloud World: A world made up completely of clouds, fog and mists. Perhaps it would be occupied by flying creatures, floating castles, etc.” That etcetera is doing a lot work there. Sure let me just go ahead and throw together some ideas for entire planet with no land surface area, where clouds are solid and the dwarves fly massive steam-powered airships amidst the ever-changing terrain and there are sky pirates on wyverns and Storm Giants who control how the clouds move trying to merge them to create kingdoms and I wonder how food would work, can you grow plants on the clouds, would there be floating islands of ferns?

Darn. Now I want to play a game on Cloud World. Can we play Cloud World instead of Demon Web Queen?

Or if you’re just sick of it all, how about a quick trip to “Airless World: A hostile world devoid of breathable atmosphere.”

This level a very ambitious addition and big gamble for any Dungeon Master. The details for each world are little more than a paragraph of fluff and a wandering monster table. They can function as quick way-stations for the players to recoup before stepping back through the door into the Abyss or become a whole side quest taking up several sessions. But the players have the choice of entering a door or not, and of learning about the world or not. A DM might spend time developing a whole political side story involving the evil elves, their dwarf slaves and Lolth’s army only for the party to ignore it and decide the planet-sized maze is more fun.
Or the players, having gotten their butts kicked on the lower levels might decide to ignore it all and move on to the end. I mean that’s why we’re all here right? Not to freeze to death in the aptly named Frozen Lands or risk sinking into the much of the Black Fen. We are here to fight the Demon Queen of Spiders and not muck around with any side quests!
So let’s get to it!


Made in ca
Longtime Dakkanaut

Surrey, BC - Canada

My group did the three "Against the Giants” modules and then the first two of “Descent into the Depths of the Earth”. Then one got married, I deployed, another moved away, and the quest was left unfinished by those who remained.



44 successful trades in the Dakka Swap Shop. I have an ongoing Sale Thread there with painted Empire, Elysian and Tau units looking for a new home. Unpainted Bretonnian metal units and figures for sale.
Finished Forge World Elysian Army | Finished Tau Sept Cadre | Finished Ork Waaagh | Alaitoc Eldar Warhost | Building Necromunda and Terrain
Finished Order of Our Martyred Lady - Sisters of Battle | Finished Necromundian Imperial Guard Regiment | Finished a 1/72 Flower Class Corvette - HMCS CHILLIWACK
Made in de
!!Goffik Rocker!!


Great stuff so far! And yes, players turning into Shakespeare when they get the chance to torture a prisoner is unfortunately very much a thing.

Made in gb
Highlord of Terra

Adrift within the vortex of my imagination.

 Da Boss wrote:
Great stuff so far! And yes, players turning into Shakespeare when they get the chance to torture a prisoner is unfortunately very much a thing.

Torture? Never! My paladin and co have myriad other terms for aggressive intelligence gathering and yours does too.

n'oublie jamais - It appears I now have to highlight this again.

It is by tea alone I set my mind in motion. By the juice of the brew my thoughts aquire speed, my mind becomes strained, the strain becomes a warning. It is by tea alone I set my mind in motion. 
Made in eg
Keeper of the Adeptus Arbites Flame

Cairo, Egypt

 Orlanth wrote:
 Da Boss wrote:
Great stuff so far! And yes, players turning into Shakespeare when they get the chance to torture a prisoner is unfortunately very much a thing.

Torture? Never! My paladin and co have myriad other terms for aggressive intelligence gathering and yours does too.

In my group the Paladin would always volunteer to scout for other foes, just out of earshot, whenever it was time for "enhanced interrogation" on the kobold prisoner.

"Accursed hellspawn! Stop crying like a child, you still have nine fingers left! Now tell us where you hid those d6 copper pieces and rusty helmet!"

This message was edited 1 time. Last update was at 2021/03/04 13:13:00

Made in de
!!Goffik Rocker!!


I went through several phases with this as a DM. I find torture to be evil, so hopefully that does not start a political discussion. My first approach was to say "Okay, change your alignment to Evil" as soon as torture started.
My second was to ensure that all information extracted from torture was useless, as it tends to be IRL as the victim will say whatever they think will make the torture stop.

Finally, I grew up enough to realise I didn't need to tolerate this stuff and now it's just banned at my table.

Sorry for the downer post! I really enjoy these reviews and if this seems to cause a derailment I will edit it away.

Made in gb
Decrepit Dakkanaut


i'll certainly never look at chicken wire and pumice stone in the same way again after a certain player reinvented a particularly nasty historical Chinese torture

Made in eg
Keeper of the Adeptus Arbites Flame

Cairo, Egypt

And we're back with the final section of the award-seeking Retro Review series!

So you’ve gotten through the room with the demon frogs hiding under the water, explored the depths of the Black Fen and now the party comes to the final door, the gateway to Lolth’s palace!
The door opens to an endless desert and directly in front of you is…

Holy Wild Wild West Batman!

A Giant Mechanical Steampunk Spider Robot!

(My one fault with this book is there is no real picture of the Giant Mechanical Steampunk Robot Demon Palace, so please accept this image from the Will Smith Wild Wild West remake)

And not just a Steampunk Robot Spider, but a Demonic Steampunk Robot Spider crewed by hell beasts and made from metal plates forged from the souls of the damned! And infested with chaos magic that sometimes randomly alters reality!

But still powered by coal.

The players are greeted by two lackadaisical gargoyles who show them right up the stairs to one of my favorite encounters in the module, Lolth’s secretary.

Who of course is a Type V demon, one of D&D’s 6-armed, snake-legged, demon women. An idea which I just love, one of the most powerful demonic creatures in D&D using her six arms to simultaneously file, type, take shorthand and answer the intercom. If the party talks to her she’ll ask them to fill out some forms, sign the ledger and then…

Takes them right to Lolth’s throne room!!

Well that was easy.

But let’s be serious, no one takes up the honorable profession of Grave-Robbing Murder Hobo to sit in waiting rooms and fill out paperwork. And actually there’s no where to sit because imps have stolen all the chairs anyway. And no, I’m not making this up. It’s in the book. Also in the book: “The demon, if in danger of crying, will flee…” I imagine that’s a typo for dying, but I kind of like it, if you hit her she’ll start crying and run away and, once safe, log on to Monster.com because there has to be a better job out there for a woman who can file, type, write shorthand and answer the intercom at the same time. Lolth’s secretary is clearly the most well-defined and sympathetic character in the book. And she doesn’t even get a name.

So assuming our heroes act like they usually do, and drive off Lolth’s poor harried secretary, they’re now free to explore the Steampunk Demon-Engine Spider Palace Thing.

They soon find that as a product of chaos magic, weird stuff sometimes just happens in the palace.

As they enter rooms there are some typical encounters, seeming assembled by random rolls of a table in the back of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. There’s a room full of giants, a roper, a room with a troll, a random room with a White Dragon in it, another with a Chimera, you get the idea. It might work better if you imagine them all wearing 19th century sailor suits maybe with a spider patch on the breast and increasingly silly hats for the bigger monsters. Maybe the White Dragon and Chimera are part of an elaborate magical heating and cooling system for the Mecha Spider? It could work.

And, as usual for this sort of dungeon crawl, the monsters wait patiently in their rooms for the Murder Hobos rather than sounding an alarm and everyone attacking at once. Cause then it would be a pretty short adventure.

After wandering a bit players do get a chance to play around in the control room and engine room which can be good for a laugh but have no chance to actually make the Giant Spider Mecha Palace Thing move or attack or whatever.

Which does seem a violation of Chekov’s Law “If you introduce a Giant Steampunk Demon Castle in the first act, it must move or attack or whatever in the third”. Thankfully that’s why you have a DM, to rewrite the adventure on the fly and keep things moving. What if like, Lolth’s Enormous Mechanical Arachno-Palace is here to take on an equally enormous Godzilla beast? What if the players, having killed everyone who knew how to run the damn thing now have to figure the controls out on as Godzilla tears into the Demon Spider Robot? Which also means making up rules for that on the fly…
Darn, now I want to run this module again.

But as much fun as Huge Clockwork Robo Spider Fortress Things are, that ain’t why we’re here. We’re here to take on the Demon Queen of Depressed Goth Elfs in Spider Themed Lingerie and live to tell about it!

So what happens when the heroes are either shown to Lolth’s throne room or blunder across it during their kill spree?

Nothing good.

First they walk through the Dispel Magic Zone which… do I need to spell it out for you? So yeah, all those strength and protection and invisibility spells the party (hopefully) put on themselves first, they all go away. And 70% of their potions just shatter. Meanwhile Lolth is raining spells on them, and once they charge her she flees, and if they do catch her… It was just an illusion!

“Thank you Murder Hobos! But our Demon Queen of Spiders is in another (part of the) Ginormous Cyber Spider Thing.”

So they go up a floor, fight a random Black Dragon who was just chillaxing, and kick down another door to an identical throne room, get Dispelled again, fight off the guards that weren’t there last time, charge Lolth and… sink into quicksand. Cause the floor in this throne room is quicksand. Just cause.

Now Lolth, this is as good a time as any to talk about Lolth. Lolth has 66 hit points. Less than some of the monsters in her dungeon and certainly less than most of the heroes who are going to kick down her door with murder in their eyes. But she does have Armor Class NEGATIVE TEN and 70% magic resistance, and is a high level cleric and a high level magic user and has psionic powers (which would require learning the psionics rules so, yeah, never mind) AND can heal herself 3x a day. So it is do-able, but not easy. Even without the guards and the quicksand and the disadvantages of being in the Abyss. And of course she can always teleport or just flee if things are looking bad.

While most of the module is fairly static it does detail Lolth’s fall back positions and routes of escape. So you follow her into a room with sticks on the floor and several armored statues, I wonder how this is going to work out…

Yeah like that.

(Sticks to Snakes and Iron Golems)

Her ultimate bolt hole is a room with several magic mirrors that will transport you to another plane, a handy escape for her and a way home for the heroes.

But first of course they would have to stop by Lolth’s treasure room filled to bursting with exotic coins from across the multiverse!

Which evaporate into mist when the players return home…

Along with any Drow magic items they grabbed.

Because, @#$% you players. There’s a reason they literally put LOL in Lolth’s name.

This is a really epic capstone to one of TSR’s most ambitious projects. As far as I remember it was only topped by Dragon Lance, a series of 12+ modules and 3 novels (to start with, dozens later) covering a vast war and the return of the gods.

Or maybe Throne of Bloodstone, a module for characters level 20-100 (!!)

But that’s another story.

Queen of the Demon Web Pits a product of its time of course, gimmicky, episodic and illogical.
“Hey Lady L, where should we put this super-powerful lodestone we found?”
“Oh put it in the middle of the room with the bugbears, so that it might slightly inconvenience any passing Murder Hobos in plate mail.”

It’s both too ambitious at times (eight side worlds!) while not ambitious enough (LOL, Lolth steps in the mirror and is gone). While the mundane dungeon stuff is fairly mundane and random, the new ideas are just amazing. 40 (!!) years later the Demon Web is still an impressive design both visually and conceptually.

If I were to run it there’s be some rewrites and some attention given to how the players can learn about twists, tricks and traps in advance. Maybe move the side world to the middle of the path, forcing players to hike the length of the Frozen Lands to get to the next door. Perhaps each world could offer a clue or weapon for use against Lolth along with an object lesson is what will happen to their world if they don’t stop Lolth here and now.

And of course I’d add Giant Mecha Spider vs Godzilla.

And this is really the strength of the module. I’ve played a lot of RPGs and video games and forgotten them a day later. But Queen of the Demon Web Pits is etched in my memory and honestly some of the ideas and images still resonate today. I might want or need to rewrite it, but I certainly wasn’t bored running it, playing it, or even rereading it today.

And of course Queen (along with the earlier Descent series) introduced a group of villains so iconic they’ve been ripped off and used so many times they feel like they’ve always been there. I refer of course to the Svirfneblin.

And the Drow, them too.

Now I sometimes feel guilty writing these retro reviews, it’s like me saying look at this cool stuff I have that you can’t get! But this one is thankfully different. There’s both a digital copy of the original online, and a 5th edition update.

Digital Copy

5th edition conversion

And a novelization! Also available digitally. This does tempt me, but reading times are so limited.


There’ve also been a few sequels and updates over the years and various editions, but I can’t really speak to any of them.

(Side note) Y’know Goodman Games has been updating old modules turning 32 page pamphlets into huge hardcovers, including some I’ve run like Keep on the Borderlands, Castle Amber, Isle of Dread, The Lost City and Expedition to the Barrer Peaks…
Huh. I’ve run all of them.
I may need to buy some of these.


And honestly Queen of the Demonweb Pit would be perfect for this. (End side note)

I sincerely doubt I’ll ever run this adventure again. As the newish saying goes: “At some point in your childhood, you and your friends went outside to play together for the last time, and nobody knew it.”

(Sobs like a baby for five minutes)

But it was sure fun to revisit it… And who knows. Maybe. I mean if you’re going to play D&D just one last time why fight Kobolds and giant ants? Why not go big?

Made in ca
Damsel of the Lady

drinking tea in the snow

The heroes, tormented by the loss of their socks, flee!

realism is a lie
Made in nl
Secret Inquisitorial Eldar Xenexecutor

your mind

This was awesome. Thanks for the memories...

Made in us
Stealthy Sanctus Slipping in His Blade

Some backwater sump

Thanks as always for the journey into the past. Great commentary, too. What's next?

New Career Time? 
Made in eg
Keeper of the Adeptus Arbites Flame

Cairo, Egypt

Glad people enjoyed it!

It was lots of fun to revisit.

Right now I have a bunch of 3rd edition IG books, y'know from 20 years ago, so definitely ripe for a retro review

But if people like this one I can do some other classic D&D. I've done some Endless Quest books and Dungeon with my kids so feeling a bit of that old nostalgia lately.

Made in us
Combat Jumping Ragik

Beyond the Beltway

Go with the classic D&D, just not that Dragonlance piffle. Hoo boy, was that stuff bad... anything the Hickmans did actually... Rahasia for example...Ravenloft, over-rated and encouraged adversarial DMing.

The Goodman games update of B1: In Search of the Unknown is interesting. The Kenzer & Co. update even moreso.

Made in us
Stealthy Warhound Titan Princeps

I think we started it one night and then lost track of it, or had a falling out, or something. Never got to fight Loth, that is for sure. Thanks for the memories in any event!
Made in us
Stealthy Warhound Titan Princeps

I think we started it one night and then lost track of it, or had a falling out, or something. Never got to fight Loth, that is for sure. Thanks for the memories in any event!
Made in us
Longtime Dakkanaut

Central California

Just found this. Great as usual!

Against the Giants may be my all time favorite series of modules. For whatever reason, we had the right mix of characters, playstyles, and gear to make all three absolutely challenging. (Although there were two separate party wipes in the frost giant one...you know, if all the things in the rooms next door react to any noise made by the guards at any of the entrances...you're dead!)

Fortunately for me and my play-style, my group grew out of "High School" D&D early. My own definition, but its basically the "Kill and steal, every man for himself" style somewhat encouraged at the time. We became the heroes wanting to help and it made our games so much more enjoyable for me.

Keeping the hobby side alive!

I never forget the Dakka unit scale is binary: Units are either OP or Garbage. 
Made in gb
Stubborn Dark Angels Veteran Sergeant


I'd forgotten how fantastic this module was -- way better than the rather pedestrian G-series.

Also a lot better than Castle Amber, which ripped off two literary greats (Roger Zelazny and Clark Ashton Smith) just about wholesale while managing to lose all the greatness of both! And had an extensive appendix about the 'inspiration' from the works of Clark Ashton Smith but zero mention of Zelazny because the latter was still alive and might sue.

My painting & modelling blog: https://www.dakkadakka.com/dakkaforum/posts/list/699224.page

Serpent King Games: Dragon Warriors Reborn!

Forum Index » Dakka Discussions
Go to: