Dungeon Magazine #140

The Bullywug Gambit
By Nicolas Logue
Level 3

Savage Tide adventure path part two. When the synopsis contains “the party must then race to …” then I’m predisposed to not like it. “Stilt-walking monks” is something I would use if I were lampooning a genre. You are tracking down the tool from the first adventure. First have to journey to a village, but rowboat, sailing ship, or overland, varying by days to reach the village. Your choice is meaningless since nothing changes in the village. In spite of this the village scene is a good one. Rabid animals tearing each other apart, a bay oil slick on fire … the read-aloud sucks shit but the concept is a good one in spite. It doesn’t help that everything is all mixed together in the DM notes, making pulling out useful information difficult. It’s as if someone managed to successfully describe, in generalities, the vibe from the DCO intro … but buried it in the DM text and all specifics were instead terrible generalities. It’s full of embedded backstory shit, but it’s ALMOST got ahold of something good with the savagery vibe. This sort of “Rage virus” like 28 days later thing is pretty nice. There are a few challenges back in the main town, you know, the one you raced to to prevent your employer from being killed in revenge, making your way through some parade encounters including the ridiculous stilt-walking monks. Finally, you get to stop a bullywug attack on your employer’s house … which is very poorly handled, described like a typical exploration adventure instead of a more lightweight assault-type type adventure with tactics, etc. The outline of this adventure and it’s concepts are not bad and in some cases have some very nice imagery associated with them. But the endless embedded backstory, boring read-aloud, crappily organized DM text all contribute to something hard to run. A rewrite of this chapter could be something to look forward to.

The Fall of Graymalkin Academy
By Mark A. Hall
Level 9

An assault/looting on a magic school that is now a war zone, with four faction vying for control. Kind of Hogwarts if the final battle went on two months and has settled down in to a less fierce campaign. Dead students, magic books, little magical features. The map could have used some shading to show which areas were under whose control. Another good idea that needs at least ? of the words eliminated and the rest rewritten to be more evocative. The faction play combined with a wizard school battle aftermath make this interesting. Summoning circles, greenhouses, labs … the entire Hogwarts is here to explore.

Heart of Hellfire Mountain
By Dave Coulson
Level 20

Convinced/hired by a fire giant king to wipe out an evil temple in the nearby mountains. This is just a simple temple assault where the defenders are fire giants and devils, with little advice about the defenders responding. These sorts of things remind me more of mini’s gaming than RPG’s. You CAN do assaults RPG-style, but these high level ones, especially, just seem like excuses to combine kits and stats and make EL-appropriate encounters. *sigh* high-level D&D …

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Trouble in Waterdeep

By Eugene Fasano & James Hutt
Arcana Games
Levels 1-3

An urban Waterdeep adventure.

21 pages of linear crap (with sewers!) that dips in to “barely comprehensible” territory wrapped in lipstick art & formatting to make it look decent. It embodies the more recent design style that calls for scenes instead of relying on player-driven interaction. Hackneyed, barely comprehensible, sudden scenes springing up, and poor DM support round things out.

The cities poort section is suffering from a plague. The players enter, have a couple of scenes to find poisoned grain, get led to the sewers to find zombie workers digging tunnels, and are led to a noble house to learn everything is masterminded by a bastard son who is killing everyone there to cover up his tunnelling for a longevity amulet.

The very first ‘scene’, past the hook, exemplifies the style of design. Two guards stand at the gate to the poor district. They have no personality, or even stats. You can’t bribe them. You can’t intimidate them. You can’t get in. You HAVE to go to the next scene, which has a merchant with a stuck cart. Helping him gets you his papers to let you in. This is SHIT for design. Linear, doing exactly what the fucking designer tells you to do. D&D on autopilot. Just sit at the table and roll your fucking dice and keep your ideas to yourself you POS player scum! It’s the DM’s story! Fuck. You. Real design would have given us a few details about them, supporting the DM in roleplaying them. It would have allowed you to stab the fuckers. Or put a building nearby to climb on to get in. Or Let you bribe them or intimidate them or befriend them. It would have ALSO provided the stuck cart. Then the PLAYERS get to decide how they want to approach the entry to the district, with the designers having provided the supporting material for the DM to respond.

Worried about catching the plague? Have no fear! The characters CAN’T catch the plague, according to the text! Recall folks that this is consequence free D&D; you have to eat the poisoned grain for WEEKS to get sick! Yeah!

There’s a nice vignette where a couple of noblemen retainers are handing out bread to the crowds. There’s a pickpocket, and a cream, and one of them chases after. The crowd rushes forward to get their bread, women and children in danger of being crushed … and that’s it. It’s a nice scene, lots going on, lots of potential for improvisation (completely unsupported by the DM text, of course) … and no consequences. There is no payoff. This is followed by a family wanted to get past a barricade guarded by two retainers. It’s just left hanging, with their stats. It’s so poorly supported that it’s almost minimalist. Imagine the four paragraphs of text were “2 guards won’t let a family carrying bread through a barricade. Their son is sick on the other side and the guards say everyone inside is DOOMED.” That could be an interesting wandering monster encounter in another adventure. In this telegraphed thing though it’s clear that it’s so poorly written that things have been left out and assumed. Of COURSE the party will attack, I mean, stats were provided and everything!

The next section starts the party in an infirmary; it’s just assumed the party is there. This sort of “now you are here” stuff happens all the time. The bad guys are all half-orcs. I’m not a paragon of social justice but fuck man, why? It’s the fucking laziness that gets to me. Like the exciting adventure (linear) in the sewers! Yes, the next section is all about sewers! One room the party overhearing a bad guy talking to some half orcs from outside. Stats are provided for ‘Gar’ a half-orc. Is that the dude? No, it’s supposed to be a human and the stats are for a half-orc. Who the fuck is the ‘Gar the half orc’ stats? It’s both linear AND incoherent, a great accomplishment!

It’s $4 on DM’s guild, or if you go look on Reddit you can find the designers pimping a free download version. This thing has all the trade dress of a WOTC adventure and doesn’t even reach THEIR low standards of quality. The preview is three pages and will get you a view in to the guard scene and the pickpocket scene. It’s a good preview in that it shows you what’s typical for what you’ll find inside.

Posted in Reviews, The Worst EVAR? | 13 Comments

Against the Goblins

By Matt Kline
Creation’s Edge Games
Sword & Wizardry
Level 1-3

A foreboding dream of impossible foes; goblins with control over fire, disease, and death, leads to a tiny village on the edge of the wilderness threatened by three goblin tribes united by chaos and a legacy of hate.

This 65 page adventure has three goblin lairs near a village. There’s a terrible hook/pretext, and the writing is long and drawn out for what are, essentially, three standard goblin lairs. It rises slightly above generic by including a few extra features in a few rooms. Three lairs, two with 25+ rooms, stuffed full of goblins, means rough going for 1st levels and extended periods in the supplied village. The longer time in the village is refreshing, even if the three goblin lairs are a bit samey … just because it’s always goblins. As “generic first level goblin” adventures go it would be an uninspiring thing to fall back on … but I can’t get over the expansive writing that drags me down mentally as I try to imagine finding things while running the adventure. There are better choices.

The worst part of this thing is at the beginning and is something that can be safely ignored: the hook. You have a dream about fire and goblins and a certain village. You have it every night. If you ignore it you take damage … and eventually die from it. Look, I know there’s some give and take in hooks. We all pretend and compromise and find some pretext to want to take the DM’s shitty hook. But this kind of TERRIBLE advice on how to deal with people not biting is bad for adventure writing. Somewhere, someone is going to read this and think it’s an acceptable way to run a hook. Why the fuck this would be proffered as a solution is beyond me. “So, you don’t want to play D&D then?” would be better advice, as would pulling out a boardgame to play. I fucking hate this kind of shit. It’s not helpful for a new DM solving problems at the table and in facts hurts them. There’s no excuse for it. But, it’s easily ignored by most.

The intro and village take up the first seventeen pages, with most businesses getting a column or so of text. Given the amount of time the party will be healing, that’s not entirely inappropriate for a homebase, but I think it’s done all wrong. It focuses much more on trivia then on memorable bits. For example, some long-ish historical anecdote on how NPC Bob got his name/nickname. Long boring trivia, including most physical descriptions, don’t make folks memorable. The NPC’s need something to hang their personalities/peculiarities on. There’s a few side quests in the village, from killing rats (ug!) to wolves (ug!) to finding missing creates (ug!) Side quests are great, but something NOT hackneyed like rats in the basement. Further, the village has between one and THREE monster attacks night, from rats to wolves to zombies to bears and so on. More than a little excessive and would result in the town in a state of panic at that frequency. I think. Then entire village just comes off as generic, with the text expanded with boring trivia. There ARE a couple of investigatory bits, which can provide some assistance down the road. IF you find the goblins body then this other thing changes. Or IF you talk to the druid then she talk to the woodland creatures and you get a heads up on the goblin attack, and so on. It’s ALWAYS a good thing when the parties actions have consequences, especially when they see positive results.

The lairs are a small tower, some rate tunnels and a necromancer’s cave system, with the later two have 25-ish+ rooms in them. It’s mostly the usual stuff with guard rooms and so forth, with the text expanded upon with boring mundane details and and what the goblins usually do but not right now embedded history that is USELESS during a game. There are exceptions. A room with a dretch in a summoning circle, or a room with a pit in the middle. The latter, in particular is a good example of mixing up the terrain to make combat a bit more interesting. Chucking a goblin in a pit, or avoiding that fate, is great fun. A room described as having a table and chairs is boring mundane description if the room has nothing else in it. A room with tethering bookshelves described is potentially interesting combat terrain if combat happens there. The lairs are their best the bridges, ledges, pits, and summoning circles are in the rooms … things to make them more than just a room with five goblins … that takes a column of text to describe.

The random mundane treasure tables, and the few new magic items, are a delight and I would have liked to see those sorts of elements used more rather than the emphasis on the mundanity of the dungeon description and de rigueur text.

It’s $6 on DriveThru. The four page preview tells you almost nothing about the style of adventure you are buying, unfortunately. The last sentence of the last page, three, is fairly typical of the writing style throughout, with lots of detail about things probably don’t matter.


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Dungeon Magazine #139

There is No Honor
By James Jacobs
Level 1

The first part of the Savage Tide adventure path. I look forward to the tedious underwater rules and the magic item gifting to send the party Under The Sea. Hey! Surprise! But not in this adventure! This one is just a bunch of little railroad vignettes until a final “dungeon” in some thief guild tunnels. First you have to go fight some dock workers to get a ring. Then you have to use go to vault to use the ring to get in. They track down a chicks brother. Then fight off undead in some abandoned tunnels. Then track him down again, get ambushed by thieves guild, and then attack the thieves guild. It reminds me of those “How to write an adventure” articles. Start things off with a fight, include some roleplaying vignettes, etc … but all in the context of a linear story. The room descriptions are, of course, mixed up with history and irrelevant backstory, clogging them up. Want a linear adventure? Here’s one. It’s not too odious, if you’re in to that stuff.It’s also not particularly good. Perhaps the best part is when the party is trapped in some tunnels, surrounded by undead, and have to explore/escape while being sometimes attacked. It’s a nice claustrophobic feel … that’s still too long. The roleplay segments are not supported well, the set pieces are not supported well, blech.

Requiem of the Shadow Serpent
By Anson Caralya
Level 9

A fifteen room COMPLETELY linear cave under the pretext of being a troll lair but have yuan-ti at the rear. The first few rooms are a “test” to “try the mettle of intruders.” Ug. A lame pretext by the designer to just throw shit in and solve some imaginary continuity problems, you mean? It falls in to the trap of needing to explain everything. A nice little painting, with snaked designs showing patterns in patterns, has to explained as a they enjoy painting it as pastime and tormenting the trolls with the design patterns.” NO ONE CARES. The trolls are dead. It’s linear. The yuan-ti are dead. What the fuck is the point? Nice treasure, but this MANIA of explaining is a disease.

Maure Castle: The Greater Halls
By Robery J. Kuntz
Level 17

Maure Castle bitches! I LUV WG5. Hmmm, I need to go back and look at it again after seeing this entry in to the castle. The map is one of classic old school complexity, the kind truly made for exploration. The dungeon level has things to learn and puzzle out, especially with the help of Augury, etc to fill in the gaps. It’s full of weird paintings, statues, cryptic messages and the like, all positive. It’s also FULL of monsters being released from stasis, the ethereal plane, etc, which is a schlocky way to handle creatures and I don’t recall WG5 resorting to that, at least not to the extent that it’s done in this one. It feels like almost every room has “a guardian placed here by Wizard Bob.” There is a trap or two that could be straight out grimtooth, anti-grav, through an illusion ceiling, to a ceiling of spikes, that make you bleed to death, while putting you to sleep. A little of that goes a long way and Rob doesn’t really cross the line, except with the stasis monsters/guardians. The writing feels wrong, and needs to be tightened up. This isn’t really something to seek out, unless you’re a Maure Castle fanatic, and even then, its one of the weaker levels.

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The Treasure Vaults of Zadabad

By Carl Bussler & Eric Hoffman
Stormlord Publishing
Swords & Wizardry
Level 2-4

Hot wind snaps the black sails of the Soulcatcher as an eager voice calls from the crow’s nest, “Land ho!” Ahead lies the island of Kalmatta, your destination, home to plague colonies, marooned pirates, madmen and secrets no mortal mind was meant to uncover. It is also the location of the ruined city of Zadabad and its famed treasure vaults. Whether fortunate or ill-fated, you have in your possession the Rod of the Crescent Moon, a relic of dead religions and forgotten kingdoms. It is also the key to unlocking the vaults. But finding the lost city is a challenge many have accepted, but none have survived. Fetid swamps, harsh jungles and unforgiving mountains hide your prize. How far will you travel and how much will you risk to uncover the treasure vaults of Zadabad?

This is a 64 page hex crawl on an island, looking for a lost city and its treasure. Pirates, big game hunters, natives, tombs, a lost city, giant animals … it’s all here. Any hex crawl on an island will force comparisons to Isle of Dread. To its credit, this is about as far removed from Dread as you can get while still containing the major bullet points of native, pirates, lost cities and giant animals.

The natives are the descendants of a former plague colony. The pirates have a little town and will trade with you (a refreshing fucking change from the usual Attack On Sight pirates.) The toombs, and several other sites, are mini-dungeons. There are resources to exploit and mine/trade. It’s got a little of that Isle of the Unknown weirdness. I’ll summarize everything as saying it’s got a little Land of the Lost vibe going on, sans Sleestaks. The mixture of the tropes is refreshing.The plague village, the big game hunters, “friendly” pirates, teleporter circles and ancient tombs. All with the goal of exploring the island to find the lost city and its treasure vaults. There’s a hint of whimsy at times, with a knob turned to eleven, a heavy metal axe, and In The Garden of Eden all appearing in the lost city. For those that are turned off by this meta, it’s mostly confined to that one area and easily avoidable.

The adventure has two (three?) problems, both not new issues. First, the encounter text is laid out incorrectly. Yes, I said incorrectly and Yes, that means that there is a right way. It engages in a form of description in which things are explained in order. FIrst let me describe the trees in two paragraphs, then let me describe the acorns in two paragraphs. Then I will describe the Giant Ape statue that looms over everything and glows bright red. This is not a format that is helpful at the table. As you turn to an entry and begin to scan it, in order to run it, you either get lost in the beginning paragraphs or miss something. “Oh, yeah gang, there’s this giant glowing red ape statue that’s 90’ tall towering over everything.” That’s not cool. The descriptions need to be laid out in a manner that help the DM pull information out. That could be done with (SHORT!) read-aloud that mentions the major features. Or a brief summary in the first few sentences of the DM text. Or by bolding words in the various paragraphs (IE: highlighting it for us) or by using bullet points or indentation. There are many options but the result needs to be a text that assists the DM by making the information easy to find.

There’s a treasure room description on page twelve that’s a good example of this. The room is dry. There are intact paintings on the wall showing X, There are several chests of silver bars. Then there’s a section on the problems involved in moving heavy silver bars long distances. THEN there’s a separate paragraph telling us there’s also a mannequin wearing a colorful robe. Well, FUCK. I wish I knew about that earlier. This isn’t an isolated occurrence. Half column encounter descriptions mix the relevent with the irrelevant, mix up the important information, and generally show little care about how the information is organized in order for it to be used well. Which is a shame because some of it is good.

It’s got a great unique and colorful magic items, lots of new monsters, but also leaves out things like “what happens when your the dead woman back to life… you know the major feature of multiple encounters.” But the other major miss comes from the nature of the hex crawl proper. There are very few encounter areas that lead to other areas. The hunters and pirates have rivalry, and some teleportation circles, but there’s not much that leads you from encounter X to encounter Y. Rumors, partial maps, inscriptions, etc. The effect is a party just wandering around the island, exploring every hex so they don’t miss something and/or find the lost city … because no one else knows about it. In Dread you know about the Central Plateau, but here you just wander about. I’m not sure that exhaustively searching every hex on the island is “fun.” I wish there was more clues to things integrated in and maybe some words about seeing what’s in the surrounding hexes from the hex you are in. That would both reduce the tedium and provide some nice roleplaying as you find giant poop, or smoke in the distance. A brief paragraph at the start describing the general layout/overview would have been nice also. These factions exist doing these things, etc.

If you like Dread and you have a highlighter then this should be ok for you. It’s better than most Dread hex crawls and you can certainly make something out of it, with effort.

It’s $8 on DriveThru. The preview is four pages and doesn’t show you anything other than the table of contents. http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/176644/The-Treasure-Vaults-of-Zadabad-Swords–Wizardry?term=zadab&test_epoch=0

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The Trail of Stone and Sorrow

By Zzarchov Kowolski
Neoclassical Geek Revival/OSR
Level 1-3

Something wicked has emerged from the mountains and begun turning things to stone. The villagers are scared and have begun casting a suspicious eye towards a foreign wizard.

This is a rather short adventure, at eight pages (with three being title page filler), and focuses on the blurb: something is turning things to stone and there’s this wizard nearby … It s good little adventure for tossing in to a one-night party, with strong social elements for the party to roleplay and a mystery for the party to look in to that should not lose the party. The text could be formatted better for information transfer, but, it’s also only four pages long and is a decent little adventure for that size.

The wizard is rich, he’s foreign, and he’s a wizard; three strikes and the Salt of the Earth point their finger at you. Following the breadcrumbs, with the wizard or one of the other clues related by the villagers, leads to a trail or crushed vegetation, hoofprints, and/or stoned creatures. Following the rail leads to the creature. There are notes to convert to OSR, which is easily done on the fly.

More than a side-trek and less than most adventure, this is probably a single night adventure. Roll in to the village, get hired and talk to folk, then start in a clue and follow it to the end of the trail. To its credit you can enter the adventure from many points: the wizard, the stone creatures, rumors, and the adventure is open enough that starting at site three does NOT mean that one and two are not relevant anymore. It’s more than likely that the party will revisit locations several times for what is, in essence, a social adventure.

The situations presented are pretty strong, if a little long. The villagers distrust the rich, foreign, wizard, for all three of those reasons. That’s a pretty good hook in to roleplaying them. The wizard is relatable and yet suitably wizard-like in his esoteric studies. The farmers under attack are frenzied, sobbing, in grief, and shock and horror, which again comes across well in the writing. The creature has a good little hook: it turns things to stone AND does a mind transfer from the victim in to the creature body. That’s some gaze attack!

It’s only four pages but, still, needs a highlighter. The writing gets a bit long in places, or, maybe, I want a different word. It could have been bolded or indented in places in order to make the organization of the information better. The goal, of course, being for the DM to scan the text quickly to find the important bits during play.

It’s Pay What You Want on DriveThru, currently at around $1.80. The preview shows you three of the four adventure pages (five if you count the map) so you’ll get a good idea of the adventure and the writing style.

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Dungeon Magazine #138

It’s interesting, I’ve noticed another tonal change in Dungeon Magazine. The last few issues have contained adventures with a variety of styles. Linear, combat focused, more traditional styles. Accident or purpose? Who knows, but I do find the uptick in useful content refreshing. I’ve not been lothing my weekly review nearly as much.

Urban Decay
By Amber E. Scott
Level 2

Be aware: I’m fond of urban campaigns. Wererats. In sewers. Oh boy. Short & straightforward, the party learns some ratcatchers are missing. Checking in with the guild find the guild leader missing. A three room sewer reveals a wererat, which leads to a three room scow with another. End. I applaud the terseness, by Dungeon standards. This has a modicum of a low-tech/grunge feel to it, with a half-orc selling meat pies made out of rats and a “pigeon swarm” as guards in the sewers, as well as a giant cockroach. It’s nice theming. The NPC’s also fight to the death, for the usual reasons of fearing their superiors. Still, there’s room in this for roleplaying, bluffing enemies and the like. It’s getting pretty close to the platonic form of the lair-based/event adventure, but the roleplaying available and low-tech/low-life elements make it a cut above. It would make a nice little thing to dump in to an urban campaign.

The Weavers
By Richard Pett
Level 10

A long-winded linear adventure. Bob pleads with the party to stop an impending spider infestation in the city. You follow a linear trail, having fight after fight. Pretext after pretext for combat. Dude doesn’t answer his door and has a “guard drake.” Thugs don’t like people asking questions. On it goes. This is augmented by MOUNTAINS of justifying text. There has to be multiple paragraphs justifying the guard drake. Bobs mansion has a museum and there has to be a tour, to no purpose, so each room is described. The adventure goes on and on like this, as you follow the line,

The Mud Sorcerer’s Tomb
By Mike Shel
Level 14

This is the … fourth? version of this dungeon, I think? 2e (Dungeon #37), 3e (this issue), 4e and 5e. It’s a Tomb of Horrors like trap & temporal stasis dungeon full of puzzles. As I said in my d#37 review of the 2e version, the first room is a good example of what’s inside. Three names are on the front door in platinum letters. Examination reveals the letters of the last name “Elomcwe” can be depressed. Pressing “welcome” unlocks the door. By making this a Level 14 adventure it requires a pretext for gimping all of the players spells. Spells like augury, commune, contact other plane, etc were all originally used to AVOID death traps, but in this dungeon they, and others, are all gimped so the players can’t use them. This is a clear indication that the adventure is written for the wrong levels. Relying on Temporal Stasis is also a technique to disguise weak design. The puzzles, however, are top notch. A room with walls covered in eyes, all crying and moving. The tears are acid, making searching the walls for the secret door difficult. The adventure also illustrates the problem with the Search check. Previous editions had an element of player skill in the searching. The DM dropped hints in their descriptions, the players followed up and discovered things. In 3e this was abstracted to The Search Check. Just roll the dice, or take 20, and don’t bother with the more interactive portions. Rolling dice for routine resolution is boring as fuck. Once, running 4e RPGA at a con, a dude rolled his diplomacy to recruit an army of floating eyeballs from a bunch of wizards. “Uh, nope. What do you actually SAY?” I asked. “Uh, you’re one of THOSE dm’s. Can’t I just roll?” was the reply. This moment has stayed with me an excellent example of how mechanics can ruin play. Anyway, this is close enough to a clone of the D#37 adventure to be the same, except with the 3e mechanics. The 2e version, in play, should be stronger, because of the mechanics issues.

Challenge of Champions VI
By Johnathan M. Richards
Any Level

As with all of the others, it’s just a series of encounters for the players to overcome. It gets its “any level” designation because everyone in the contest gets the same stuff, provided in each room on scrolls, etc. Thus this is, essentially, a series of player challenges rather than character challenges. IE: the fun part of D&D/Combat As War. Generally the straightforward way is the worst way to tackle these situations, so ideas like “I stab it” are likely to be poorer choices than using your noggins. Creative play is encouraged. Still, I’m not really a fan of these. They require a game world with adventurers guilds with tryouts and a higher magic content than I’m comfortable with. As rooms that encourage open-ended play they are great though.

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The Rotating Labyrinth

By James Eck
Level 5

This fifteen page “adventure” centers around one gimmick: a rotating gear-like maze. A large & interesting map has to be constructed by printing it out, glueing it to cardboard, cutting out other parts and glueing to more cardboard. What you then have is a large dungeon map with some sections, circular, that can rotate entire portions of the map. And some other circular sections within those larger circles that ALSO rotate. This is combined with some sliding stone slabs that cut off access to areas, secret doors, dark portals that imps come through and some windows that give glimpses of a devil at the center. It’s a one-trick pony, the maze, with little else to recommend it beyond that. It IS a very nice trick though. And I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for gimmicks.

The dungeon has three rooms: the entry room, the prison room, and a treasure room. The entry room has a large stone statue and is the only room lit. It speaks to you, essentially introducing the purpose of the maze: to keep a devil locked up. The treasure room has a couple of unique items. The jail cell in the “middle” has a devil. It’s not quite true to say the rest of the dungeon is procedural, but it’s close enough. The circles turn. The slabs move. There are some dark portals that bring in little imps when you encounter them. And so it goes. Wander about. The maze changes. Maybe encounter some imps. Wander about.

The five rumors provided are directly related to the maze. The maze changes. There’s no light. There’s no water. Clues on how to prepare. The descriptions are bland. There’s not a lot to describe, but, even then, it’s “iron bars block access” and corridors dry & cold with smooth granite. It’s bland. The initial room, with the statue, is the best, along with “dark blobs on the walls” that the imps come through. There’s just not much to this.

And that’s both a blessing and a curse. It’s generic nature means you can drop almost anything in to it. Looking for an item? Or an oracle? Or a person in prison? The maze can easily be co-opted to insert your own plot point/thing in to it. Maybe that humble ant from DMG1e is locked in the center. But .. it’s a bland environment. Random corridor findings, more window dressing, SOMETHING to liven the place up more is needed. There’s a suggestion to include a rival adventuring party but, even then, this would need more. A four to six hour session of wandering around in corridors isn’t my idea of fun.

Enlivened a bit, I could see this as being a level of a megadungeon or a mythic place to go fetch something from. There IS prep time in this, in constructing the physical map. If you build the map AND liven the place up a bit then this would be a nice little thing. It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to a good maze and reminds me a bit of the Maze Runner movie. The map/rotation alone is worth it to have, then you can gut the place for your own adventure. Would you pay a buck for a kick ass map? That violates some core Bryce beliefs related to Setting Expectations when purchasing and Only Review Adventures … and I have ripped products apart for those two reasons. But …

If you view this as a map, and only a map, with all of the text really describing the physical characteristic of the map … then it shouldn’t end up on Tenfootpole … but it would be a cool thing to build off of if you were looking for a map to co-opt for your own adventure.

It is Pay What You Want on DriveThru. The three page preview doesn’t really show you a good example of the writing but there IS a video of the physical construction in which you can see the map and how the wheels work. It’s really quite nice, and the map and the rotation ARE the highlight. http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/209116/Rotating-Labyrinth

God, I’m such a hypocrite.

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A Pipeful of Trouble

By Bret James Stewart
D-ooom Products
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 1-3

All is not well in Brierfield. The idyllic halfling village has fallen prey to unknown bandits and marauders. These peaceful victims of shattered loves and broken dreams need a band of heroes to save them. Are you willing to help them in their time of needs?

This 51 page adventure describes a halfling village, a small 26 room dungeon nearby where some bandits live, and a trial that (maybe) follows. It’s full of long tedious backstory, long tedious read aloud, long tedious DM notes … and not much else.

Bob the halfling loves Lily. He’s rejected, turns to banditry, and eventually steals a family heirloom. The villagers track the bandits to their lair, then the party shows up and they hire them to take care of the bandits/get the pipe. The bandit lair has them in it, a small sections with gremlins, and an old abandoned dwarf section with vermin. If you bring the bandits back alive then there’s a trial. This all takes 51 pages. You’d have a better adventure if it took five, and I’ve no doubt you do SOMETHING better in one. The problem is that the designer doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing.

Come to Utah and dream a little dream with me, Picard-san, while you play your flute. Imagine a village. Build it out, in your head, in exquisite detail. The full live of the people, their routines, what they wear, why they wear it. Get DEEP down the rabbit hole. A leads to B because of C, over and over again. Spend a week, non-stop, doing this. It’s alive in your head. Now, run this village as an adventure. Record it as you do so. Village, bandits, trial, the whole thing. Now, transcribe the session. Take your week long dreaming of background and reasons and combine it with the transcription of the session. You would have this adventure. AND.YOU. WOULD. HAVE. WRITTEN. A SHITTY. ADVENTURE.

This fetishizing of REASON is the problem, along with the associated detail that comes with it. The problem is not the dreaming. Or the transcription. Whatever floats your boat to help you be creative and design the adventure. The problem is that this crud makes it on to the written page. It all has NO purpose making it to the buyer. The purpose of the adventure is to help the DM run it at the table. Mountains of extraneous detail does not help the DM do that. Backstory does not help the DM do that. Evocative and terse writing helps the DM do that. The designer is intimately familiar with the adventure. It had lived in their head a long time. The buyer doesn’t have that benefit. The goal of the designer is to communicate a vision to the DM *BAM* fast and deadly. An instant explosion.

Multiple pages of backstory doesn’t do that. Want to include it? Great, put it in the appendix. You know how many cocks I had to suck this week at work? No? Well tonight I have to run a game. And you have given a massive amount of text to slog through. You’re not helping. Then, I get to a new room. And have to slog through more text. “What do you see?” the players ask … well, hang on, I’ve got two pages of read aloud to get through, and we all know EVERYONE will have gotten bored after three sentences. This. doesn’t. Fucking. Help. Get in. Get out. Quick. Evocative.

Here’s a section pulled from the intro to the dwarf caves: “Soon after construction began, the dwarves contracted the plague. The disease was strong and fast acting. All of the dwarves died, including a pair that left the complex intent on travelling to their clan for help and perished in the wilderness.” That does NOTHING. How does it advance the adventure? How does it to lead to fun & exciting play for the players and/or make the DM’s life easier? It doesn’t It’s yet another cock I have to suck in order to get through the day. How about this little gem, pulled from another room: “Although it is not evident, this room was the servant’s quarters for the scullery staff for the dwarven complex.” So … it’s irrelevant? I’m sure whatever little dream you dreamed of the life of generations of people coming through this room was a nice one, but it has not place in the adventure. It. doesn’t. matter. You’ve done nothing.

More is not better. “Just in case the DM needs it” is not a valid excuse. This text bears down on the DM, hiding relevant details, making it harder to pick out the ACTUAL content for the room hiding behind all of that trivia. And that’s what it is. Trivia. This happens over and over and over again in this adventure. The inclusion of trivia and backstory and useless detail. “Mary likes to wear yellow dresses.” Who the fuck cares? Is that relevant? Does it make Mary relevant? If she dressed in a cow costume then at least it would be memorable to the players. One of the bandits says “barely” a lot in conversation. That’s a good detail. It gives him personality. Everything else, almost every physical description, all of the intricate backstory, it’s useless. A page to describe an NPC bandit is not helpful. Putting five bandits in a table with one sentence each for personality IS helpful. It helps the DM find it, it summarizes just the important bits.

There is the occasional bit of nice detail. An NPC personality. A word or two to describe a room. The entire “trial” idea at the end for running a “consequences” portion … including maybe a hanging. That should cause things to sink in a bit with the players. But it’s all fucking buried behind the useless detail of backstory or prescribed actions that read like they came from a session transcript. Detailed juror thoughts are not needed. Just include a few words in ONE sentence, maybe two, and move on. Leverage the DM. The wandering monster tables, for example, do a decent job of providing just a little extra “Umph” to the encounter. Skittering out of weeds, charging through the party, etc. They still take an entire page for six and are about twice as long as need be, but, still, short enough to wade through quickly to the good bits.

Understanding the purpose of a published adventure and the ability to focus your writing via editing, are two basic skills that all designers should have. Almost no one does. This leads to the shovelware industry we have today. Wanna buy an adventure? It’s probably crap. Knowing this you don’t spend much, driving prices down. Steam gives refunds, if the online stores did also maybe the state of the industry would improve. I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from writing, but fucking christ, before you make us try and play it can you PLEASE make an effort to find out HOW to write an adventure?

It’s $5 on DriveThru. The preview is eleven pages long. You’ll get to see the massive backstory and the massive intro read-aloud. This is fairly indicative of the writing style present in the rooms and areas and should give you a decent example of the detail/backstory problems prevalent throughout the adventure.

(If should be clear that sucking cock is a metaphor, stemming from the Assistant Crack Whore Trainee meme. Hey if you like sucking cock then more power to you. And if you don’t, well, then the metaphor should be clear.)

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Dungeon Magazine #137

Siege of the Spider Eaters
By Tim Conners & Eileen Connors
Level 1

A short adventure with “good guy” arenae. Arriving at a village, the party finds it encased in webs with giant spiders on it. Inside the villagers relate a large number of them are missing. A lair is found, with spider eaters in it who are attacking the peaceful aranea who live there … and who are also the missing villagers. A guy in town brought in the spider eaters, so it’s back there to free the rightful mayor and kill the other guy. The implied morality is a little lame; it would have been nice to at least have the option of fighting the aranea also. The town sections are massively overwritten. Accepting the morality tale, the fifteen-ish room aranea lair is NOT a disaster. It has some elevation changes, kid hostages, a giant paralyzed aranea queen full of spider-eater eggs, a cocooned hydra, and an old pirate treasure. The variety is nice and while the read-aloud is boring and the DM text too long it is a cut above the usual dreck. Another one that, with some tweaks, could be salvaged. If it were, it would be a good example of the “initial encounter, roleplay, lair, big bad guy/followup” style.

Tealpeck’s Flood
By Peter Vinogradov
Level 6

You ride through an underground canal on a boat and kill things in this mostly linear dungeon-float. The water has piranha swarms in it … which is pretty cool. The dungeon claims 25 rooms, has columns of read-aloud and lots of extra detail for rooms that have nothing in them. It all ends with a large color & symbol puzzle. It’s a Disney dark ride, with combat. It’s hard to get past the linear canal gimmick and rooms stuffer with water-themed ghouls, water themed ogres, water-themed trolls, etc.

Man Forever
By Jason Nelson
Level 15

This starts out well. Kind of. Town is in an uproar: there are rumors the local lord is a vampire. Investigating the rumors via roleplay/town interaction is a major part of the adventure. The local lord is a little fishy. The local ruins point to the lord. Everyone in town, including the minor officials, have a slew of anecdotal evidence pointing to him as a vamp. It’s actually three hags casting charm person, dominate person, and modify memory over and over again, along with their Hagspawn Berserker minions who all wear rings of chameleon power. That parts all pretty lame. The hags live in a little compound under an illusion pond that is probably just one big pitched battle when discovered. The whole “town in riot” and a mob marching to the lords manor with pitchforks and torches is great. The concept is great. The social portion is quite cumbersome to run, being not organized very well, and the hag stuff at the end is a big break from the rest of the adventure … it could have been handled in town or something better rather than just a lair hack/pitched battle. And I can’t see ANY reason for the dominate/charm/modify memory garbage. Subtle events, rumor, and innuendo would have been a much better method.

Posted in Dungeon Magazine, Reviews | 3 Comments