A Forgotten Evil

By Alex D. Karaczun
Mischief, Inc
Levels 1-3

In ages past, nations fought great wars with the aid of powers from fiendish allies. Much has been forgotten since then, but sometimes that which is forgotten can be the greatest danger of all. Goblins are raiding the small villages near Caer Carega. Is it just the depredations of a few desperate tribes, or is there something more sinister behind the night raids?

This forty page adventure details a three level dungeon with about forty rooms, as well as a small overland adventure. Goblins have been raiding and the party is sent to find & kill them, ending up in their base; the tower. Inside is a “goblins have taken over a ruin” dungeon, stuffed full of magic and monsters. Long & meaningless descriptions that seem like filler are the highlights of this and, frankly, I’m struggling to find this adventure brings to a table. It’s just Yet Another Goblin Lair adventure.

You’re hired to go find and destroy some raiding goblins, while the regions own militia pull back to protect the villages and homesteads from the raids, which at least makes sense. The party is sent out in to the wilderness to find the goblins with no hints, NPC’s to talk to, or any supporting information even about which way the goblins come from. They wander the wilderness, use the wandering monster chart, until the DM drops a hint and they find a ruined tower wherein the goblins lair. I’m not a fan of most of this adventure, but this really stands out to me. It’s all abstracted away with no support for the DM to run a meaningful encounter in getting hired or asking about. No ruined villages or homesteads or any resources if the party asks about … which they are sure to do.

The ruined tower has ruined ground floor and then two dungeon levels. The dungeon levels are pretty standard with goblins, a couple of other demi-humans, some undead in old ruined areas, and a few vermin. It’s mostly uninteresting encounters with monsters stuffed in to rooms who react when you open the door, and little else to explore or interact with. The bugbear sleeps in his armor, there’s no real response to an incursion outlined, it all feels like just monsters stuffed in a room with not much tying it together besides “it’s a goblin lair.” It’s best when it is defying this, such as with the young white dragon that lives in the tower and may fly out. But there’s far far too little of this.

The descriptions are long; long read-alouds and long DM text, for meaningless text. Once, after a long read-aloud, there was a DM note, the first sentence, stating “the knives in the description are worthless.” That’s the story of this adventure in a nutshell. The mundane is expanded upon both in the read-aloud and in the DM text. “Characters may enter this room and begin searching it.” Well, that’s great to know, I guess. Can they also breathe in and exhale? It seems petty, but repeated, a hundred times, it gets tiresome. You’re looking for that special spark to make the rooms come alive and instead you get just filler.

The magic items are another example of this. There’s an attempt to provide lore, a background, for, oh, lets say six to eight of them, mostly weapons. I appreciate a little extra in magic items, a terse/nice description, a non-mechanical effect, and so on. But the lore sections for the magic items get themselves bogged down in to backstory that is unlikely to impact play. They are at their best when they say things like “baron butthurt will pay 3x-5x the price to recover this sword” … IE: when they lead to more adventure and drive action. Otherwise it’s just more useless trivia and that shit has a place of about one short sentence for people/places/things.

To top it all off, the disguised bad guy has a ring of mind shielding and needs to get away so the other adventures in the series can go off.

Byrce’s Tip o’the day: It’s always best to just kill all prisoners in a dungeon. Because, you know, THE. EVIL. ONE.

This is a rough adventure, with LOTS of foes, and a lot of magic items to go with them. The room descriptions drag on, describing trivia, and the entire thing lacks a certain focus of purpose, with little interactivity. It’s just another generic goblin lair, this time in a ruined tower.

It’s $10 on DriveThru. The four page preview shows you almost nothing, it being the first four pages of the adventure and all backstory and how to read a stat block. At best, the last page or so describes the generic hiring hook and lack of support for the DM in running the hiring/search.

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The Atheneum of Yearning

By Oswald
Self Published
Levels 1-3?

The atheneum was a center of learning which became the headquarters of a dangerous cult. Where forgotten ones hoped to be chosen for the pure land. Their rituals went wrong during the city’s raid. Now it’s been forgotten inside its containment cube for 50 years. Until a secret entrance was found in the basement of a nearby house. Only the players have access to this hidden chamber for now.

This nineteen page adventure is a three level tower with about fifty rooms in it. It describes a ruined home/library in a city that has been magically walled off … and now has a tunnel coming in from underneath from a nearby home. Greed, or searching for something specific, the factions and weirdness inside make this like a more active/interactive/action-oriented Tower of the Stargazer.

This is an interesting little adventure, something like a mix between Stargazer and maybe Spire of Iron & Crystal. The default hook is, as described, a loot-the-place-we-just-found-the-way-in adventure. The map here is three levels with various parts of the levels, especially the second, blocked off from other areas because of a collapsed floor. You can see them, both from below and on the the second level, and there are multiple stairs and ways up. This makes the map one of the better ones I’ve seen lately. It offers tantalizing scenes that pull the players in certain directions.

This also allows for faction play, with five being detailed. Where they live, what they want, and how they are related to each other. Billy needs a couple of things, then he can become The Chosen One and kill the Queen in the queen faction. There’s an interconnectedness here that many/most dungeons don’t have and that kicks things up a notch, particularly with the factions and their relationship to each other.

This is complimented by a nice overview of the street the house is on, and a timeline of what happens on the street, all on a small and well laid-out section of a page, almost like bullet points. I can’t compliment the format enough. It covers all sorts of things to make the OUTSIDE portion of the house, as the party retreat and re enter, as much fun as the inside, if not more so. Nosy neighbors, street scenes, gangs moving in; it’s well done and is exactly what you’re hoping to see when you want to make the OUTSIDE of the dungeon lively. It’s enough to get your imagination going and run an entire little vignette, or twele, but doesn’t do it either by droning on or boring you with generic random encounters.

The various encounters in the house range from weird vignettes, like corpses, that set the mood, to encounters that almost have a dream-like feel to them. If you go through a certain secret door, to a secret garden, you meet your mother. You know it’s her, even though she’s wearing a mask. She tells you not to go back through the door, because there are monsters there who killed your father. She can also give you a bonus. There’s a heavy innocence and innocence-lost theme to things. Pans lost boys fifty years later, as children who could have been The Chosen One (ala Potter to CS Lewis) They are weird, not in a gonzo way but in a slightly off kilter melancholy way.

The adventure isn’t perfect and I can point out a couple of flaws. The first is a little petty. The very first words of the first level tell us that every surface of the library walls is covered with shelves and overstuffed with books. This leads to the inevitable questions of “what are their titles and can we systematically loot and sell them?” … neither of which is addressed. A book title generator and/or value/quality system would have hooked in nicely with the timeline and factions, as the players “mine” the books and deal with the factions and the goings on in the tunnel house and the street outside of it. That would have been an excellent tie in.

The designer could also use a little more evocative language and scene setting. “Iron railing connects the pillars.” or “central spiral stairs leads to the middle chamber.” or “Each chamber has a skeleton, stacks of books, a cot, a chamber pot, writing utensils and paper.” These examples are all not at the sterling heights of evocative imagery. It’s important that the text be arranged to make sense to the DM and also to jam a scene in to their head.

This is PWYW on DriveThru, with a suggested price of … $0! That’s right, it’s free! The preview doesn’t work, but, hey, it’s free, and worth checking out. http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/217721/The-Atheneum-of-Yearning

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Dungeon Magazine #147

The Aundairian Job
By Craig Shackleton
Level 5

Holy shit! A sandbox! I’m not kidding, a real sandbox! In a late issue dungeon! It’s a bank heist. An exorcist wants a possessed amulet from a bank vault, so he can banish the demon in it, but the bankers have their rules and he ain’t got the password. No one is evil! Try THAT one on for once! There’s a bit of the ol magical society bullshit, with skylights held in place with sovereign glue and permanent whispering wind spell intercom systems. Without that stuff, and changing the place from a bank to “Karl the moneylender” and you’ve have more standard fantasy world adventure. There’s a corrupt clerk you can give you information on the maps, the guard rotations, security procedures, and so on. Then, it’s just game fucking on! Come up with a crazy plan and go to town, the essence of great D&D! It IS laid out incorrectly, using room/key format. This means that the security procedures, like the bears that roam the compound and guard posts, have long descriptions about how they work. Other rooms, like a shower room, have very terse ones. “With a handle that dumps cold water when pulled.” That’s about the most that’s appropriate for a shower room, in a caper adventure. The “big picture” details of the security and procedures should have been pulled out in general sections and then a terse room/key presented, with the two referencing each other. I don’t want to dig for information about the patrolling animals by trying to find the correct room with the info. Put it in “night patrols” section and reference room 4 as their pen, with room 4 referencing the night patrols section, noting it’s the home of the patrolling animals. With a rewrite this could be an ok adventure!

Dread Pagoda of the Inscrutable Ones
By: A shiton of people
Level 10

Part three, the final part of the Seeds of Sehan adventure path. Starts with an auto-ambush, no doubt “to get the players going for the night!” and follows with some yak-folk probably attacking in a forest. Then there’s a thirty room dungeon/pagoda to infiltrate/hack through so you can kill the last remnants of the Sehan entity. It’s all janni and room/key, and not even a brain in a jar can save it. It’s the strongest in the series thanks to its bluff/infiltrate basis, but digging through this to run it and understand what’s going on is a chore.

Into the Maw
By Robert J. Schwald
Level 17

Part none of the twelve part Savage Tide adventure path. You take your boat in to an abyss ocean, to a prison, to do a jail break. With a bullywug lich. All of the prisoners are either hostile or indifferent. That’s right Mr Angel-held-captive-in-an-abyss-prison is, at best, indifferent to the people freeing him. It claims to have factions, but since they all attack it’s really just some theming to the different areas. It’s just a fucking hack.

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The Ruined Tower Giant

By (Uncredited)
Unbalanced Dice Games
Labyrinth Lord

The party must go to the tower the giant took with him when he ran away. Something is bugging the Duke and his Necromancer thinks it has to do with the tower. The tower must be explored and the purgative put in every room. Will they have an easy time doing this? Of course not. The tower is dangerous but someone else has taken residence up very close to it. Only by entering the tower will they find out who that is…

!!!I DON’T KNOW!!!

This is a 43 page six-level dungeon with about 65 rooms in it. I don’t know how to summarize it. The rooms feel random, but connected by an overall theme. It’s like junior high kid wrote a D&D adventure … and english wasn’t their first language but they were fluent in it but they were raised in a skinner box with only the LabLord rules. It’s all basic and to the point, simplistic almost to the point of being iconic. This is BARE BONES … but not minimally keyed. It’s somehow one step above that.

After I bought this and cracked it I had a sudden realization: I had seen this style before. Looking back it became clear: I had no fucking idea what was up with the previous product I reviewed and I have no idea what is up with this one.

Nearby is part of a tower and attached to it is a giant that has been turned to stone. You’re hired to go put some magic salt in every room in order to put to rest the spirit haunting the Duke every night. The tower has three levels and the giant has been hollowed out in to three levels also. The magic salt thing is an interesting way to get the party in to every room and to explore all levels/rooms. It also has the kind of old timey folklore vibe that I groove on.

The maps are pretty good, with decent looping and variety of design. The treasure seems light with not nearly enough to justify going in to the place. But, really, the “highlight” here are the encounters. One room has two shovels sticking out of the ground, forming a V. WTF is up with that, you ay ask. I have no idea. You know as much as I. It’s the “shovel themed” area, I guess, cause there’s a zombie digging a hole in another room nearby, and another that like to lie in the holes he’s digging to rest. And another room with a bunch of buried bodies in it with a skeletons hand sticking “partway out of the ground.” One room in the giant has some pink fluid oozing out of it, the giant is still alive and begs you to restore him! Another has a giant stone thumb sticking through the towers wall with a magic sword sticking in it. (Sword, is explicitly stated, has no discernable effects.) The rooms go on and on like this. Almost every one is short.

There is some kind of intelligent hand massaging things here, but the entire thing is unlike almost anything I’ve seen before. The encounters are … simple, but with detail like an icepick. It’s almost like a series of minimally keyed rooms, loosely connected, but with detail then added that is EXACTLY what is needed to bump it up a notch in to “terse & interesting” territory. Your mind races with what is going on. Room three on the top level of the tower has No Ceiling, according to room name: “This area no longer have a ceiling. The sky is visible. Anyone who climbs upwards will be standing on top of the tower. From there they can see everything for a long distance.”

This thing is creative. The zombie laying down in the grave it is digging. The giant still living. The fact that the giant (a folklore giant who just wanted something to eat) has RUN AWAY WITH THE TOWER. Almost all of the writing is direct and to the point.

There’s something WRONG with it though, beyond the light to non-existent treasure. The rooms, while lightly themed, generally creative, and connected to each other (recall all the shovel rooms?) are somehow lacking. It doesn’t feel like a cohesive whole.

Imagine I created a random dungeon from a generator. Then I went through and minimally expanded the rooms a bit, and themed them a bit, to turn the randomness in to a decent little room idea. That’s what this thing feels like, this sort of vibe of things being random or unconnected or somehow off center.

It’s hard to recommend this. As minimall keyed things go it’s a decent endeavor with room creativity and variety that’s a cut above. The minimal keying makes it pretty terse and easier to run than most adventures. Combined, they make this better than the dreck of most adventures. It doesn’t all click together though and your happiness with it probably depends on your views of minimally keying.

It’s worth checking out one of these Unbalanced Dice Games adventures, just to get a toehold on the design behind it.

It’s $4 on DriveThru. The preview is six pages and tells you almost nothing about what is inside. The only “real” adventure page is the background, which is not really representative. Which is too bad. I Wish ONE of the real room pages was present in one of these so people would think I’m not crazy as I struggle to describe the style.

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These Violent Delights

By Darvin Martin
The Design Mechanism
Levels 1-2

When the son of an elven noblewoman goes missing, the characters are recruited by the Lady Nuathyn to find him, leading the party from the town of Gramby and into the mysteries of Grune Vel Wood. Is everything as it seems? And how will the characters cope with the moral choices ahead…

This 36 page adventure features a fourteen room dungeon after a small wilderness section. A son is missing and the party hired to find him, only to be faced with a “moral” decision at the end. It has some decently interactive room details but also goes in to to much history and backstory, leading to ¾ column rooms with long paragraphs full of meaningless trivia.

The sins are many, but let’s cover the decent parts first. Imagine the DM saying “the room has a mural on the wall.” What is it, you ask? “A mythic figure, king of the forest, Daren O’Reily, holding the sun in his left hand.” Anything else? You look closer? “The sun is covered in soot.” Something close to this is, I think, a great way to cover room secrets. The DM is providing hints and players picking up on it ask some follow ups and the secret is revealed: placing a fire up against the sun opens a secret door in the wall. This adventure doesn’t lead you to that interaction, that’s up to the DM, but it does provide the environment, in many rooms, that an interaction like this can take place … even if it take four fucking paragraphs to get to it. Secret doors outlined in fire if the players fill a channel with oil; it smells faintly of it. Swirling clouds of dust in rooms, or strange whistling sounds with normal explanations. I’m fond of this sort of secret, and have been since those holes in the wall in the DMG dungeon had bits of wood in them. This adventure provides that in several of the rooms. It’s an exploratory and interactive style of D&D.

There’s another nice social interaction encounter in the adventure which I think is a pretty good way to handle social rolls. While asking questions around town you could fail your roll. This doesn’t mean you don’t get information, but rather SOMETHING HAPPENS. This isn’t a “you get no information” fail, or a “not very good information” fail, but rather a fail that leads to more adventure. In this case, a drunk berserker trades blows with you. Then, if you do well against her, you might be able to recruit her! A die roll doesn’t lead to a boring fail/miss, but rather is used as springboard to MORE. More adventure. More complications … and not necessarily bad!

There’s also about a column of text in the beginning that outlines the NPC as well as the key points and timeline of the adventure. It tells you almost nothing interesting or important about the adventure, but I appreciate the style and I think bullet point style is a great way to present summary information to the DM.

And on the negative side: this adventure should be at least half as many pages as it is, and probably shorter than that. It is FULL of trivia. History. Backstory. Useless words. “The fireplace has ashes and the remains of charred wood it but nothing of interest.”


How about the price of tea in China? That has as much business as being in this adventure as does the empty fireplace description. How about some backstory about a wizard who tried to take over the dungeon and fell in love with a dryad and created some undead to guard some of the rooms? All so you can justify having a couple of skeletons in the fucking dungeon. YOU DONT NEED TO EXPLAIN THIS SHIT. Maybe it happened that way. Maybe the dryad created them. Maybe not. But it’s ONLY fucking relevant if its actually fucking relevant to something that’s going to happen in the adventure. If there’s no way for the players to exploit it, or it doesn’t add to the evocative nature of the description, then leave it the FUCK out! All you are doing is clogging up the fucking text and making it harder to find the information that IS relevant.

Bad read aloud introduction to the town that’s boring & generic. A page and a half meet & greet to get your assignment that falls in to the “exact dialog” trap, telling us our hostess wipes her wipes with a silk handkerchief and says “Thanks you for honoring my summons …” Ahhh, go fuck yourself. That’s the way YOU ran the intro. Your job, as the designer, is to provide the DM enough information to run it, hopefully in an evocative manner, in the shortest way possible. Maybe they will run it the way you did. Maybe not. Make a roll to find the secret grover so you can continue the adventure. Make a roll to find the secret door so the adventure can continue. These are terrible terrible design decisions, not to mention the traces of morality preaching. Leave the bear cubs you find to die in the forest or take them to town to sell? Well, I mean, not if you’re lawful or good, sez the dungeon. I guess logging is officially evil now also? Room dimensions in room descriptions, the list goes on and on.

The big morality play at the end is that the missing son is in love with a dryad, when you track them both down together at the end. Then some half-orcs, hired by the elf noblewoman, show up to kill the dryad. Do you help your explorers retainers, the half-orcs, or the lovers?

This is $3.75 at DriveThru. The preview is the first four pages. It doesn’t really show you anything other than the bullet point summary … which, while a good idea, doesn’t summarize the CORRECT things.

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Dungeon Magazine #146

Escape from Meenlock Prison
By Tim Connors & Eileen Connors
Level 1

It’s rare I find a morally repugnant adventure. (And maybe interesting what I put in that category …)

A hot fucking mess of an adventure with one redeeming quality that’s not enough to save it. You are hired to go to a black prison and transfer two “disappeared” people to a different prison. I like to play NE and even _I_ have a problem with that! It’s hard to see the party agreeing. Anyway, the prison has been taken over by imposters, escaped prisoners. They get the party to go in and free their two buddies from some meenlocks, through deception. This causes the party to travel down a linear jail corridor, encountering prisoners on both sides, on their way to the “correct” cells. Thus each prisoner has a backstory, personality, and sometimes an interaction with another prisoner. Anyway, you fight some meenlocks and then go to the surface where the first set of imposters attack you. It’s linear and the highlight, the various prisoners, are not really given an opportunity to shine, given the constrained & linear nature of the adventure. It’ back loaded with the meenlocks and combat and really goes out of its way wit be convoluted, up to and including the “lets attack the heavily armed party when we see them again” logic of the prisoners. I like the having to put up k00ks in the dungeon idea, I just don’t think its implemented well here at all. And a black jail? Jeez. It’s like some Carcosa “we need to bloodily sacrifice 12 children to cast healing on you Bob. I’ve got there here, got at it and bathe in their blood once you slit their throats.”

Spawn of Sehan
A shit-ton of authors
Level 9

Part two of a three part series. I think it was the winner of the “design the shittiest series” contest? Sixteen room linear dungeon with nothing going on. The highlight is a succubus feigning damsel in distress. Sorry baby, we kill all prisoners and hostages on sight; it’s safer that way. Walk in a room, get attacked. Open an urn, trigger a trap. There’s nothing to this. Again. There’s no adventure, just encounters. I find this design style disgusting.

Serpents of Scuttlecove
By Richard Pett
Level 15

Part eight of the twelve part Savage Tide adventure path. Chick who hired you has been kidnapped by her (now) undead brother, since none of your party’s actions can be truly meaningful. Also, you seem to care that the pirates have some shadowpearls. The backstory setup takes about a million pages so you can be bored to tears by things that won’t matter. Where the fuck did these people get the idea this was a good thing? You go to piratetown to track people down, only to find your contact kidnapped, ambushes (CR11, you’re level 15. The adventure correctly notes the party could just kill everyone in town, but doesn’t deal with it well. IE: it’s a shittly designed adventre for level 15’s, unless they agree to play along.) It would be more fun as a direct assault, letting the players flex their might, instead of the linear shit-fest with forced encounters and the overreliance on conspiracies that high level adventures always seem to hang their flag on. A Death Slaad guard … oh how the mighty have fallen.

Posted in Dungeon Magazine, Reviews, The Worst EVAR? | 3 Comments

House of Flowers

By Christopher Audette
Five Cataclysms
Five Cataclysms

In a warm place sits a mansion made entirely of many-hued flowers, their vines forming the unnatural architecture of mankind. The house grew around two entities, the Heart of Eternity, and the Heart of Chaos. The Heart of Chaos mutated all life around it, changing it beyond recognition, and the Heart of Eternity gave the new life the order necessary to survive. The Hearts arrived long before mankind existed, and they have been locked in a perpetual struggle ever since. A proxy war is fought between the two, using flowers mutated into ambulatory forms as pawns. The battles are fought entirely inside the house, because while immensely powerful, the influence of the Hearts cannot extend outside. The structure around which the house grew, the Chapel of the Void, is the reason the Hearts cannot leave. Only dreams they create are dreamt beyond the house. Locals in the area know well enough to avoid the house, as all who have entered were either killed or scarred horrendously, but they all receive the dreams. Those who sleep in the area often dream of entering the house, fighting through the rooms, kidnapping one of the Hearts, and sacrificing it on the altar inside the Chapel of the Void. They dream this will bring them great wealth and power. The dreams lie.

This is a 78 page adventure in a weird flower structure with 64 rooms in it. It has about ten pages of introduction, then 22 pages of room descriptions, and then the rest being supplemental information and tables. It ABSOLUTELY has that weird non-standard vibe going on, a hallmark of some of the great OD&D adventures. It’s got a lot of interesting ideas, and a great concept, magic items, creatures, and the rest. GREAT content. It’s also got a vision in presentation and a descriptive style that, while it should work in theory, makes my brain hurt trying to decipher the text. I can let some formatting sins pass in exchange for good content, but, man, this one is hard to justify.

Oh, so a vaguely house-like structure made up of flowers. Inside are two enemies: In one wing is the Heart of Chaos and in another the Heart of Eternity (with rules for shoving one into someone’s chest, Vecna-stylet! Yes!) Their plant-creature minions contest with each other in a third section. They send dreams to people outside the house to get them inside and to kill the other heart. And in the immortal words of a cartoon person “Dude, this is pretty fucked up right here.”

Vines with flower bulbs hanging from the ceiling. Crystals glowing with sunlight with rotting bodies under the soil tended by flower-people. Non-hostile flower people. A deep chasm with 5000 skeletons in it, some wearing obvious treasure, with flower-people keeping you from fucking with it. A room FULL of multi-colored webs crawling with tiny spiders. Six creatures encased in multi-colored amber. Room after room this goes on. Enter a room, be tempted, or face a situation … most all with a kind of theming going on. It’s similar, in that way, to Blue Medusa and other dungeons with strong room visions … perhaps combined with a bit of the fab Dreams of the Lurid Sac. These bizarre and … unearthly? encounters. They force the players to engage or ignore, to tempt fate or use them to their advantage. I don’t think Funhouse is appropriate term for these. ‘OD&D’ seems closer. I don’t know what to call it, but it’s pretty exciting to see.

Likewise, the magic items. There’s a big table of a hundred at the back and the adventure is worth having just for that table alone. A snow globe that when you shake it causes a blizzard to spring up within 50’. A crown of thorns that allows the players to grant 1st level cleric spells. A vial of boiling blood .., that is actually a creature. A monocle that lets you see in to a strange dreamland. An oar that, affixed to a ship/boat, surrounds it with mist and allow you passage to one of the lands of the dead. EFFECTS. It concentrates on EFFECTS. There’s some mechanics attached, usually, but never more than about a sentence or less. But the effects. I’ve overjoyed to see magic items that are mysterious and wondrous!

It is also an OH. MY. GOD. nightmare to dig through the rooms. It’s got a decent idea for formatting. Each notable thing in the room is bolded as the first sentence of a paragraph, with the paragraph adding detail. Thus room 1 has two paragraphs, the first starting with the bolded “Vines with flower bulbs hanging from the ceiling” and the second starting with the bolded “Even soil” The meat of the paragraphs follow the bolded sentence, the details to reveal upon further explanation. Thus the DM can quickly give an overview of the room, using the bolded portions that scan quickly, and then follow up as the party inquires. Why uneven soil? There are drag marks? What type? They look like body marks, and go through the east doorway. I like this format. I DO think it helps you scan quickly. My more-than-a-quibble comes with the specific implementation in this adventure. The bolded portions are a little weak, being facts and lacking strong imagery in them. I’m looking for “bulbous flower bulbs” or “oozing flower bulbs” or something like that. Further, the “mundane” text is not really organized well, which becomes a pain in the ass when the room is non-trivial. Room seven is the Vibrating Lotus Pond. Murky pond water covering the floor. Lotus flower of many colors floating on the pond. Multicolored glittering beneath the pond. The middle paragraph is long. LOOOOONG. There’s beetles in them, and, while not a lot going on, I’d argue, there is a lot of text. It’s good, but I don’t think it’s organized effectively. IDK, bullet points, or some other technique? As with the Fungi Chemist I think the strict devotion to the vision hampers the presentation. I’m in favor of a strong vision, but as we move it out of the realm of the platonic and it hits the road we need to mangle it if it conflicts with higher values … like ‘understanding.’ IN an attempt to be MORE understandable it is less. Pulling out the “beetle combat” for example, to another paragraph, and/or pulling out the treasure (present in the last two paragraphs) to a separate one would have allowed the upper paragraphs to focus on the environment while the combat/treasure focused on the actions.

I would also take exception to the random monsters. Flower people, and maybe angels and demons, could show up. There are tables for each that you can use to randomly determine them. Nice in theory. I would have also liked to have seen a table of pregen ones. Just one sheet full of stats for each of them, perhaps in addition to the random rules. Then I have the option of doing more but I’m not forced to slow down play by rolling. Yes, I could do it myself ahead of time. Or … the fuckign designer could have done it for me to help me out. There’s a few other things, like having to roll saving throws every 20 minutes in two wings of the dungeon. I’ve not sure how I feel about that. I like the “time pressure” aspect but dislike the tedium of the mechanic. Meh. But, on the plus side, it does something Death Frost Doom did, using spells in “appropriate ways.” Protection from Evil, or something similar, will prevent the save from having to be made. How about Bless? Sure, I’d say, if the player makes a good argument. This use of the “utility” nature of spells is something I favor.

I note it also has another Death Frost Doom callback … both skeletons, angels and/or demons could be let loose upon the world, if folks fuck the place up. There’s some cosmic shit going on inside with things in balance for a LONG time. Fucking with it will mean consequences.

If you are a fan of OD&D weirdness, Lamentations, Lurid Sac, or want some new magic items then this thing is for you. I think it’s non-trivial to run at the table, mostly because of the organization of the detail in the paragraphs. It that were addressed, or the bolded portions were much more evocative, then I may be able to look past my misgivings. Fantastic content, but hard to make my A-Team list.

This is PWYW on DriveThru. The preview is broken.

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The Oracle of Stone and Flame

By Jayson “Rocky” Gardner & Nathaniel Brown
Silver Bullette Games
Swords & Wizardry
Level 5-9

This is an eleven page eleven-ish room dungeon with an oracle at the end. It has a couple of good ideas for encounters, but implements them in clumsy “they attack!” manner. When combined with bad read-aloud and unfocused writing it falls far short. The room concepts need to be yanked out and reworked.

Let’s talk the good first, no matter how limited it might be. The core of this thing is that there’s a massively ancient dragon guarding an oracle. That’s mythic. As Miracleman/Marvelman will attest, it’s never easy getting the answers you want, they always sit atop Mt Olympus. And OF COURSE there’s a massively ancient dragon guarding it. That’s how this stuff works. I think it’s great; a classic trope that is telegraphed from the hook: go bargain with the dragon to ask the oracle a question. Everyone knows that at the end there’s a dragon to get past. This foreshadowing/telegraphing is a great technique for building anticipation. Oracles are great hooks. It all combines to be a great concept.

Likewise, one of the entrances is in The Undead Sands in the swampland. While walking along you find a huge fallen tree carved to look like a pathway. And skeletal hands reach to grab you and pull you under. That’s the entrance. The entrance to the mythic underworld was a big theme in the OSR community a couple of years ago, and I must say, this is nicely themed doorway in. There’s also a room with kobolds in it. They dance around with their spears and sing “more meat for the queen, we have meat for the queen.”

But it’s just a combat encounter. As are the skeletons. As is the dragon (probably.) And that’s the problem, the adventure doesn’t know what to do the rooms. There are these decent room ideas that are all just “they attack.” Skeletons attack. Kobolds attack. Annoyed cult leader attacks. Two skeleton sit up in coffins in you enter the room and turn their heads to look at you. They attack. Grells hide behind the door and attack. When you finally met the dragon, who will bargain, it stats it has a clear goal: get more loot. The dragons chamber has no treasure.

Well, the read-aloud says it is sitting on a massive pile, but “massive pile” is the last we hear about it. The read aloud tells us we’re tired of gnats and flies in the swamp. The read-aloud tells us the room dimensions. The read-aloud tells us “they attack!” or “as you finish the last of creatures off …” Where the read-aloud is not being too explicit the DM text takes up the slack, describing to us what is going on in the map: “Following the passage will lead to a small room, 15 feet square.” or telling us how many doors are in the room, just like the OTHER Dm text, the map, does. But then the REAL heart of the rooms gets almost nothing and what there is is bland. “Laying across the path is a huge tree carved to look like a pathway.” Uh … what? This is the entrance. This is IT. The main main. The real deal. And yet the description is both vague and not evocative. Disappointing, to say the least.

Speaking of treasure, the how does 12 bracelets, each worth 50gp and a couple thou from some gemstone eyes strike you? How’s that for PHAT L00T that you can use to level? The kobolds have 1d6 gold each! “They set of silver is worth 100gp to a collector.” How much XP does it take to level at level 8? A bajallion? There’s no thought, no design, just like with the room “they attack!” nonsense.

When I was in fourth grade I wrote a short short about the adventures of me & a friend in a haunted house. All I can remember now is that we kept getting knocked out … and that’s how my tiny brain made room transitions. In this thing you suddenly find yourself in the dragons chamber at the end of room four (in the swamp entrance, which is not connected to the other.) At least I think you do. The adventure just says “please turn to the dragon and the oracle to continue the adventure”, with no transition at all. And the room before that? “The sound grows louder and louder until the party passes out from over-stimulation.” I cast silence. I cast deafness on myself. We tunnel out. Teleport. How many fucking ways does the party have to deal with this DM fiat? Also a bajillion? When it’s not doing this then there’s a cave in block the passage back. Done asking a question of the oracle. You are teleported back to town. *sigh*

And the monsters? A dozen skeletons? A dozen kobolds? These are not challenges. Look, I’m not the most strident when it comes to that “appropriate challenge rating” shit, but, fuck, a dozen skeletons? Seriously? Normal book skeletons that auto-turn?

It’s on DriveThru as PWYW. The preview is five pages. Page two, the first text page, tells you everything you need to know. The skeleton hands pulling you down. Treasure. Cave ins to block the path in room 2, bad read-aloud, bad DM text. Enjoy.

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Dungeon Magazine #145

Five more fucking issues. I grow weary of tolerating this shit.

The Distraction
By Tim Hitchcock
Level 3

This is an excellent example of shitty-ass modern D&D adventure design … uh, where ‘modern’ is defined as ‘2007.’ A wilderness outpost is about to be attacked by a gnoll army. The party is tasked with getting behind them and disrupting their cattle to delay them until reinforcements arrive. When I read the synopsis I thought ‘Great! Cool sandbox!’ and then I recalled it was Dungeon and surmised it was probably a linear adventure full of set-piece encounters. Just follow the line of set pieces and arrive at the inevitable destination. The DM tells a story, “and then, and then, there’s this ettercap that stalks the trails and he’s wiped out a fortress and then and then …” I loathe this. The story belongs to the players. It’s too bad, because outposts in the badlands, heading em off at the pass, a haunted forest ala Blair Witch … it’s got great theme ideas that just get crushed by linear shit-fest. WHich is then combined with MONSTROUS amounts of text. We get a paragraph describing a tattoo on the back of the hands of some of the soldiers WHICH HAS NO IMPACT ON THE ADVENTURE. The map uses a cursive font, ensuring it’s fucking hard to read. I mean, you don’t need it, it’s just a linear adventure after all. The haunted forest actually has twig blights in it. “Up ahead, a dark shape resolves into the gutted body of a gnoll, crucified within the thorny branches of a large tree, its cocked head leers down with empty eye sockets.” That’s the entirety of our haunted forest. It’s not a great description AND its not enough to do a haunted forest justice. This alone could be expanded upon to create a fab adventure. In fact, the entire idea needs to be harvested and reworked in to a longer sandbox. The concept here is good … if you can stomach the linearity and have a highlighter and are willing to work hard to run someone else’s adventure.

Vile Addiction
By (five fucking different authors? Seriously?)
Level 8

Part one of a three part adventure path “Seeds of Seehan.” Spriggan drug dealers, says the introduction. Fucking Eberron, sez me. But no, it’s Greyhawk, I think. And it has sewers. I can’t do it. I can’t review another sewer adventure. Oh world, I have failed thee. My only charge and I have failed. I just can’t. Pretext to get you in to the sewers and then SEWER DUNGEON. The map does appear to have pools and bridges, so at least there are some tactical options. In the sewers. Spriggan drug dealers in greyhawk sewers. Tonally, D&D is dead.

City of Broken Idols
By Tito Leati
Level 13

Part whatever of the Savage Tide adventure path.Six pages. It takes SIX. FUCKING. PAGES. To describe a friendly village with nothing going on in it except some disguised monsters attack. SIX. FUCKING. PAGES. An empty village with some couatl’s vomiting exposition only takes a single page, for Tarvinsts sake. I’m not even sure why anyone bothers, the fucking island in the middle of the lake is going to be where everyones attention is, for good reason. It has the 40 room near-linear crawl that has you fighting demogorgon at the end.

Posted in Dungeon Magazine, Reviews | 16 Comments

+1 – The Fortress of the Fungi Chemist


A belated review today from that ENTJ to my INTJ, The Pretty Girl.
As a reminder, I thought it was pretty good. Let us learn, today, what The Pretty Girl consider mortal sin …

Review A – The Pretty Girl

Hello Friend,
Come and sit with me a moment and let me tell you a tale of me. 30 years of rolling dice and 10 years living explicitly in the service of the WOTC have found me.. not the gourmand that Bryce is. Where he delights in the innovative, in the Apollonian or Dionysian dreams and realities.. I’m further on the Hephaestus/ Hades spectrum looking intently to structure, foundation, and brooding over the final outcomes. What I’m driving at is, “Is this a tool a DM can use to make it easier to run a game people will like?”

I look at a module for what value it would provide to a DM. Maintaining an agnostic stance in terms of what kind of adventure ~I~ like or what I might find delightful to read. I see modules as tools. My ratings system is more around if someone wanted to know if a module would work for them.. without that person needing to overlap my personal tastes in any way.

When I built my rating scale I took into consideration one of my favorite modules for content, that conversely ran me ragged trying to get it all tidied up enough to actually run it, vs. a starter set series of encounters that were so clean and simple I made them into the foundation of what I ran for every group of new players I encountered for years and years.

By Michael Raston
Lizard Man Diaries blog
Black Hack
Level 1
Total Score: 3 (out of 22)

A logistical mess of cross purpose(less) tables. And oh my, the tables.. let’s talk math (I like math.. if you have wondered why my scores are non-sequential it’s because they are weighted.. I’m into this kinda thing.)

So if you have about 30 doors to walk through.. how absurd is it going to sound if 25% of the time you are going to find a, “Soggy and rotten locked wooden door. Brass key to lock on waist of nearest Jungle Dwarf” Like, really? Cause if the door is soggy and rotten my players have a shovel, and a crow bar, and a barbarian, and a fighter, and some spells but you are going to FOR SERIOUS suggest that I tell everyone to go look for a hapless dwarf who likes to keep the key to a crappy door. And that door is not the door that, “Heavy and ornate stone door, requires STR test to push open.” So the creator either didn’t think about the fact they were dictating how the players should resolve each door or they thought that the GM would be dim enough to need help coming up with non-interesting doors.
Also, did you really make me just made me flip through a bunch of pages and roll a die to see if the door is locked or not locked? Cause it breaks down to 50/50.. You have just created work for the DM.


Optimal Applications

GM Prisoner or some other person trapped without alternative options.
Players Hostages? Stuffed Animals?


Rating Breakdown
GM Complexity 0
Player Amusement 0
Graphics 0
Language 1
Maps 2

What do the numbers mean?

Posted in Reviews, ThePrettyGirl | 3 Comments