The Oracle at Gula


By Joseph A. Mohr
Old School Role Playing
OSRIC
Levels 10-13

The King of Zanzia is greatly concerned about the troubles in his land and he summons the greatest adventurers that he can find to take a perilous journey to see the Oracle at the Temple of Gula to find answers to what ails the land.

This thirty page adventure has about sixteen or so rooms in a two level temple in the mountains, with the actual adventure text taking up about nine pages, once you’re past the “getting-there wandering monsters.” You’re trying to get to an oracle to ask some questions. Linear dungeon, straight-up “challenges” and fights in every room, and muddled text results in something atrocious. (Also, I had to spell atrocious three times to get it right.)

Backstory: four or five pages with the hook mixed in. IE: the worst sort of backstory, forcing you to read it so you can run the adventure. King Dipshit think something is up in his kingdom, shit been going down a lot lately, and wants you to go ask the oracle whats up. It’s a two week journey on horseback through the mountains, and you get a decent wandering monster table, with several of the encounters described. I like wanderers that have more than just a name, but the three or four paragraphs that each get here is a bit much. A couple of sentences, to set a scene and get the DM’s juices going, is really all that’s needed. Otherwise you’re facing the same issues that you have in long encounter descriptions: fighting the text to find the important bits. And for all the bullshit you go through you … a 20 acre plot. That’s what, one step above serf?

The maps are small and hard to read. DON’T USE FUCKING A CURSIVE FONT. Don’t use it in on your map and don’t use it in your adventure text. It’s fucking impossible to read. And the grid lines on the map are in a heavy blue, obfuscating the numbers and just lending the entire thing an air of “oh god, why the fuck am I even trying to read this.” Level one is a big open room while level two is COMPLETELY linear. One room after the other connected by a line. Not. Good.
Roome one of the temple complex. The statue blocking the door asks you “What do you seek?” If you answer knowledge it moves. Any other answer has some stone golems animating to attack you. Oh, and if you answer knowledge then then the statue says “then face my challenge to prove your worth” and the same enemies attack. So nothing you do matters.

Walk around a big room, proving your worth, repeatedly, until you face all of the challenges, and then a door appears, allowing access to level two. Level two is a linear map. You go in a room, right a monster, etc, and then go to the next room to repeat. This is not adventuring.

Why you would want to suffer through this is beyond me.

This is $3.50 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages and all you get to see is backstory. Joy.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/229864/The-Oracle-At-Gula

mother fucker, and now my copy/paste isn’t preserving para breaks between google docs and wordpress. Grrr…..

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The Beleaguered Burrow


By C.T. McGrew
Paper Brain Games
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 1-3

A lonely hill concealing terrible tragedy. Orcs and goblins in a standoff. A monstrous predator.

This twelve page adventure details three interconnecting cave systems featuring an abandoned gnome burrow, an orc outpost, and a goblin lair. There’s some faction play present, and the overall setup has a charming/simple vibe present. The adventure takes a lot of words to describe mundane things in detail, which detracts significantly from its ability to actually BE a charming little adventure.

There’s no real hook, just a throw away line about a poster with rewards for monster heads and to go to a hill a half day away. There’s no read-aloud either, which is a joy after the last few reviews page long monstrosities. There are three cave systems under the hill, all interconnected and all that also have outside entrances. The first was a gnome burrow that was taken over by an owlbear. The second is an orc outpost, with a gnome owlbear survivor tricking them to attack the third caves: the goblins who sent the owlbear to the gnome burrow. Stirge fly out of holes, the owlbear has a rank smell, the goblins caves also have some webbed corridors with a giant black widow or two. (PERFECT! I LUV “real” monsters that are relatable, especially at first level.) You can talk to the orcs, since they have a couple of goals other than “kill everyone they see.” That’s good and can add a depth to the adventure and some interesting situations … which is why the fuck I generally advocate a couple of NPCs in the dungeon. Talk to someone, ally with them, enjoy the roleplaying and the problem solving your new friends can help you with. You can always stab them later.

But, charming though it is, this should really be just a couple of pages, not twelve. It’s not full of appendices and pages of introduction and background, it’s actually just room after room. But .. the rooms are pretty poorly written. It falls in to the common mistake of describing the mundane. The kitchen describes everything you would expect to find in the kitchen. The coat closet describes everything you would find in a coat closet. The bedroom describes a bedroom. And it takes several sentences/a long paragraph to do that. We don’t need that. We all know what a kitchen looks like. The descriptions should instead focus on the “the different”, and in particular, that which is relevant to actual play. The kitchen description, after the long boring normal description, has a second one that has the table smeared with blood and viscera, where the owlbear caught a gnome and ate it. That’s great. The closet has the outfits of a gnome family. It’s good to know there are five and one is a child, but that can be communicated to the DM in a method OTHER than a long drawn-out description of the quantity and length description of each object.

The overall effect is to hide the important information and make the DM hunt for it during play. When if the owlbear at home? I don’t know, let me dig through a bunch of “what happened before” text and then find the “moms at home” data buried at the end …

It doesn’t help, either, that padding words and phrases are used. “Anyone searching will find …” is just padding. It’s an IF/THEN clause. “IF the party searches the room THEN they will find …” That’s all padding. There is a rosewood box hidden under ashes in the fireplace. ?-Period. Describe what IS. This is what good editing should deliver for you.

But, just when you want the detail, it doesn’t exist. “A necklace worth 1000gp” is listed as treasure. That’s a lot of cash. Perhaps we could get JUST a bit more description of that? That’s the kind of thing I mean about the focus of the adventine text being on the actual play elements. That should be a famulous necklace that elicits awe and envy in the PLAYERS … all in less than one sentence. That’s the trick to writing an adventure.

This is $1 at DriveThru. Alas, there is no preview.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/131298/The-Beleaguered-Burrow

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(5e) The Halls of Runehammer


By Joel Logan
A Hole in the Ground Terrain & Games
5e
Level 2

Fuck me, man. It’s 95 fucking pages long! Come on, if you’re gonna publish shit at least make it short to reduce the suffering of the fuckwits who end up with it.

This thing is divided up in to eight episodes. Each episode has a couple of sub-parts. The adventure has some nice large mass combats, which I always find satisfying, but that doesn’t keep it from being an UTTER PIECE OF SHIT!

The adventure is episodic with the episode outcomes not being determined by character actions but rather by “when things appear grim.” IE: the adventure is arbitrary; there is no player agency. Your actions do not determine your outcome.

The first episode has you relaxing in a crowded inn. “A well armed and agile skeleton bursts in.” What follows is an endless number of skeletons. The instructions are, literally, to keep pouring them in the inn. Doors, windows, they are coming in. The inn is crowded. The people in the inn have personalities (Great!) and there is a kind of slow desperate retreat upstairs.

This is all pretty good, at least in theory. “Army of the Dead” is a popular trope, but the party almost never faces the full might of the army. Adventures always throw in a couple of skeletons or zombies out in the wilderness. Not this time. The army of the dead is attacking the town and every building in it, and grabbing people and taking them. The entire town, and your puny inn is just one part of it. There’s a shit ton of skeletons that create a desperate vibe and a lot of innocent people, panicking. The people have personalities and that can contribute to the desperate situation inside the inn.

Except the designer fucks up nearly every aspect of it. There’s not just a lot of skeletons, there’s an infinite amount of them. The instructions are to call them off once the situation in the inn gets desperate. Fuck. You. This is a shitty designer attempting to create tension through fiat. That’s not D&D. You set up a situation and let the players handle it. THAT is D&D. The former gives the players no agency, their actions are meaningless. Use your daily or just burn you at-wils, so to speak, it makes no difference.

The personalities of the NPC’s are useless. The blacksmith is gaining a reputation as good and reliable and doesn’t talk much. The Farmer is one of the biggest suppliers of fresh food & meat to the Inn. The waitress is hard worker, one of three bar wenches. And so on and so on. ALl of these have in common a lack of potential energy. The descriptions are generic people descriptions, maybe useful if you were moving to town and talking to the mailman. But that’s not what is going on. It’s a stressful situation in an inn under attack. The personalities need to be oriented toward the action. The farmer tries to save his rutabagas is actionable. The dwarf is lame AND hates the undead. The bar wench freezes or hates the undead. The fucking NPC”s need to have data presented that is relevant to the fucking adventure.

Finally, let’s note that the description tells us that a “well-armed and agile skeleton bursts through the door.” L.A.M.E. Those are conclusions. The read-aloud should present information that lets the players draw conclusions. Describe the weapon. Describe something that makes the players think the skeleton is agile. Give us a nice image of the undead bursting through a door of a cheery inn during a thunderstorm.

And did I mention that this “episode” takes four pages to describe?

This happens over and over again. LONG sections to describe “normal” D&D things. “When things look grim, have the ranger show up to save the party from the wolves and drive them off.” Oh, and the arbitrary shit for the purpose of narrtive? How about:
“For purposes of the game narrative the door can not be opened by any low level spells such as knock or dispel magic. On the other side of the door is a large overwhelming force of the undead.”

Uh, No. It’s the players and their characters journey, not yours.

LONG read-alouds. Longer DM text. Backstory presented through … JOURNAL ENTRIES! Oh joy, just when I thought I was safe.

But some of the scenes are great. Mass combats. A bunch of orphan kids in town after the attack of the army of the dead. There are even some summary sheets for the episodes, which I thought were great. If they were better written you’d be able to skip the massive adventure text.

But NONE of it is worth the downsides. MASSIVE text to wade through for no player agency and a DM-driven “story.”

Fuck. Your. Story.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The last four pages of the preview show you the first episode, the attack on the inn, and show you both the good and the bad.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/219586/The-Halls-of-Runehammer–A-Classic-Dungeon-Crawl-for-5E

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Shards of Memory


By Mark Hughey
Darker Age Press
Castles & Crusades
Level 3-5

After awakening in an immense cavern amidst the signs of an unearthly struggle– with little clue what happened– the few scattered survivors piece together that they are behind enemy lines, and will need their wits and their swordarms to return to the surface and report what has happened. But along the way, they find that their battle is a small part of a much grander scheme, one that may embroil all of Melcanth in war!

My life is a living hell.

I know, I know. I say that a lot. But man, this kind of stuff …

This 48 page linear adventure has about a dozen dungeon rooms that lead to a small town with about another dozen encounters. The premise is great, but massive Massive MASSIVE read-aloud and wall of text for the DM makes this a “Must Skip.”

The premise is decent. In all the tropes the good guys rush in at the last minute and battle the bad guy and save the world. There’s usually some *boom* with a ring shaped shockwave that fattens everyone, etc. This adventure starts RIGHT THEN. Awake in a cavern signs of evil lights & summoning. Hordes of dead orc & legionnaire bodies … of which you wear the same tunics. You seem to be the only survivors … and have little to no memory of what happened. Pretty sweet start to a campaign. Except this one seems to start at level three to five … but whatever.

The initial read-aloud is a page long. When you find a survivor, his read-aloud is a column long. And that’s before all of his LONG scripted read-aloud answers to the players questions. Half a column seems like the minimum read-aloud length for this adventure, per room. Even the empty rooms, of which most are, get extensive read-alouds. Players don’t like read-aloud. They don’t pay attention. If they tell you otherwise they are lying to you to be polite. I am 100% certain of this. An article by WOTC, observing organized play games, noted that people stopped paying attention after two or three sentences. There’s some kind of control issues, I think, mixed in with this read-aloud. The survivor, when questioned, has a read-aloud for each answer. This is in contrast to a different style, which might be summarizing what they know in a short list of bullets, or a one or two summary note for the DM per question. But, that would allow the DM to deviate from THE STORY and perhaps interject some of their own personality in to the scene .. and thus it cannot happen.

The DM text most often appears as a long paragraph, wall of text style. Important facts appear mixed in to the text, making them hard to find. There’s a weird description style where the scene is set with things “it looks like the campsite was in the process of being abandoned …” and so on … only to have text like “there are four orcs and their leader sifting through …” Well, fuck man! Do ya think you might have moved that up a bit in the text? That would seem to be the most obvious things the characters are going to see when they have a looksee. There’s no effective use of organization to communicate information, only an almost stream of consciousness like flow of words.

And then there’s the description abstraction. You find some refugees, hiding in their house. They have some information. One family tried to stand up to the orc army looters and died in their yard. That’s the text. That’s not what happened. Old man Johnson and his boy stood up to them and saw his wife Marie and their daughter cut down before their eyes before they were gutted. SHOW, don’t tell. Be specific, without being wordy. One is flavorful and effectively communicates a vibe. The other is abstracted garbage.

There is not really anything special about this adventure. The starting dungeon element is completely linear. The town part is a little better, because of the chance of refugees to spice things up, as well as looter stragglers. But You have to wade through the wall of shit text to get there.

This is $7 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages and takes FOREVER to load (Did I mention the download is 100meg?) Your reward is the entire perview being the bullshit pages long backstory.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/174847/Shards-of-Memory

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Reign of Ruin


By Skeeter Green & Richard Moore
Jon Brazer Enterprises
S&W (ha!)
Level 6

Rumors of death move like a plague through the Crannogtowns of the Great Swamp — of ranger patrols mysteriously disappearing on routine scouting missions, of a winged shadow that blots out the midday sun, and of entire villages slaughtered, their homes left burning and the victims’ flesh melted from their bones. All evidence gathered from the sites of these massacres points to the heart of the Great Swamp, where an ancient and primitive tribe of lizardmen have ruled from an abandoned human temple for centuries on end. The Crannogtowns’ protectors, the Stormhammer Rangers, warn that horrid half-dragon monstrosities still stalk the bogs and travelers would do well to stay away from the inner swamp. Yet the killing and the carnage continue, and the people of the Crannogs plead for heroes to aid them now as they did in days long forgotten. Are you up to the challenge?

To paraphrase: Stupid, worthless, no good, goddamn, freeloading son of a bitch. Retarded, big mouth, know-it-all, asshole, jerk. “You forgot ugly, lazy and disrespectful.” Yes, yes I did. Thank you for reminding me.

This 34 page piece of absolute garbage detail a “five level” temple with about twenty rooms where lairs a black dragon. 5e/PF conversion piece of shit, wall of text, combat/set piece fuck fest and historical descriptions all contribute to the most worthless piece of garbage I have reviewed in a long time. Everyone involved should be ashamed. I’m going to try hard to criticize ideas and effort, not the people involved, but fuck, man, how does your life get to the point where you care so little about the crap you put out and attach your name to?

This little thing is a conversion. How do we know that? Well, there are versions available for 5e, Pathfinder, 13th Age and Swords & Wizardry. But, even if you don’t know that, let me suggest that the presence of monster called a “Ixtupi dragonblood brute” is pretty much a dead give away. Conversions don’t have to be bad but almost always are. Different systems tend to have a different vibe to them and its hard to convert that vibe, especially, I would suggest, between something like 13th Age and Swords & Wizardry. There are mechanical aspects as well such as, say, XP. The adventure proudly states that 6 characters should get enough XP to gain two levels, each. A fighter going from level six to eight will require about 100,000xp. For quickness, let’s say it’s 600,000 for a party of six. The dragons hoard contains 10,000gp of treasure, that being the major source of XP for S&W characters. It’s fucking absurd for a S&W character to gain two levels in an adventure. Even simple things like stat conversion can be hard. At one point early on some baddies attack a village. A bunch of 2hd dudes and a couple of 4hd ones. “Its a hard fight” says the adventure, “so four 3hd guards join in to help.” Sixth level S&W characters are badasses. There is a fundamental lack of knowledge about S&W shown, the mistake almost every conversion makes. Skeeter did the conversion while Richard was responsible for the bulk of the crapfest, I believe.

The writing and formatting is fucking atrocious. It starts with a two page backstory. I know I’m being genter about backstory these days but FUCK I hate having this failed novelist shit passed off on me. I don’t know if this is pay per word but it sure as fuck feels that way. Or, worse, maybe a vanity thing with being too attached to your own headspace. Anyway, the sin of backstory is always “Do I have to fucking read your failed novel in order to run this thing?” In this case, yes, you do. The hook is mixed in. The adventure has tendency to suddenly present a place name and start talking about it. You are left wondering how the fuck you got there. Well, gentle reader, it is always the case that it’s mixed in somewhere to the wall of fucking text that comprises the writing. Right in the middle of a page of fucking wall of fucking text will be something saying “the village of Mistleshit is the next target.” It’s just fucking relentless text. Droning on and on. Burying anything of value in it.

Ah, and the read-aloud. LONG read alouds. A quarter of half a page of long drawn out droning boring read-aloud, overwrought prose that is worthy of spoon gagging. THREE FUCKING SENTENCES. That’s what you fucking get. THREE. No one fucking cares beyond that. People don’t pay the fuck attention, and for good fucking reason.

Oh, and our DM text. Full of such wonderful phrases such as “Once a sacred place of worship.” FUCK YOU. HOW THE FUCK DOES THAT CONTRIBUTE TO ACTUAL FUCKING PLAY? ITS FUCKING PADDING YOU GIT! You’re fucking goal is not to paint a fucking picture russian fucking novel style. It’s to help the fucking DM run the game. Bombarding the DM with useless trivia, like “once a sacred place of worship” does not fucking do that. It does the fucking opposite. It clogs up the text and makes it fucking useless to actually find the meaningful text in the fucking adventure.

The fucking maps are impossible to read and find exits, etc. The wanderers are just presented on a table “8 itlixy and 2 sorceresses” Ok. And? Doing what? Friendly? Want to talk? The actual fucking encounters are little more than “Enter room. Fight. Next room.” This is a fucking grind not an adventure.

Look, fuckwitees …er … I mean “individuals who produced a fuckwit product”, I applaud the fact you created and printed something. It sucked ass. People telling you otherwise either have no standards or are being polite to you. This thing sucks shit for a living. Keep writing & creating but, for the love of all that is fucking good in life PLEASE do a MODICUM of research on how to format your shit for better comprehension. Start there, and then we can move on to “actually creating good content for an adventure.”

This utter piece of garbage is $10 on DriveThru. Page four of the preview is a great example of literal wall of text you face as a DM. No formatting to help you out. Bolding, clue outline, whitespace … none of it. Just a wall of fucking text.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/224526/Deadly-Delves-Reign-of-Ruin-Swords-and-Wizardry

I am fortunes fool.
Posted in Reviews, The Worst EVAR? | 6 Comments

(5e) The Tree of Blight


By Glen Cooper
Dreadful Dungeons
5e
Levels 1-5

Deep in the wilderness, and only a few short hours travel from a remote human settlement; a passing druid tending to the forestry came upon a beautiful glade. In it’s centre a solitary majestic tree topping a lush grassy mound, bearing irresistibly ripe fruit. The druid sat for a moments rest to eat a piece of the fruit, and fell asleep under the shade of its cool leafy canopy.

This is a 22 page adventure that has six pages describing a small nine room complex under an evil tree. It lacks a motivating element and uses a conversation writing style that is heavy on mechanics. An edit, Usul, the likes that even god has never seen, as well as a shift from CONTROL to GUIDANCE for the DM would help make the horror elements stand out more.

Oh, where to start. This was to be a horror adventure, or, at a minimum, a creepy horror elemnt adventure. Most of the hooks are generic throw-away “sent on a mission” or “please help us” nonsense, but the first has a nice little horror theme. You stumble across a deserted camp, it’s overcast and about to storm, and then you hear a scream in the distance. It’s a classic creepy set up. It works well because the text of the hook is short. It’s not full of mechanics or overly wordy, it’s just pure refined theme. The adventure tries to bring the horror in other elements. There’s the big old creepy tree on the hill. Muddy ground, a tangle of roots at your feet and/or hanging down in your face when you get underground. But the impact is lost because the vision is hidden behind a writing style that is … unfocused? unedited? Conversational? Not to the point. And because of that you have to fight the text to get to the creepiness and then its watered down through the effort to uncover it.

This comes from several different sins, almost all a form of padding. The first is drawing conclusions. The read-aloud at one point, in the middle of a paragraph of it, tells us “Centered in the glade is a ghastly sight.” This sentence is a conclusion. You See A Ghastly Sight. This is TELLING the players to be afraid. This is not a good thing. Instead we should be SHOWING the players and, hopefully, we do it in such a manner that they say to themselves “Man, what a ghastly sight! I’m freaked out!” So, sin one, we’re told what to think instead of being shown something for us to draw our own conclusions. To be fair, the text does then describe what we see. Which means that the entire sentence quoted is also redundant. It serves no purpose other than to clog up the text. The read-alouds can get long, also. Our WOTC friends published that famous article noting that no one pays attention after three sentences, and yet we get long sections that take up almost an entire column. Worse, it’s written in a first person style, so there’s a lot of “you push through the roots” and “you see a “ text. I’m NOT a fan of that style of read-aloud, the kind of assumed action dialog.

The DM notes do not fare much better. Long and full of both repetitive elements and overly descriptive mechanics. The “you approach the hill/tree” encounter has four paragraphs. The first two completely duplicate the information on the map, describing where the next room is, textually, and giving dimensions. Almost all of it is unneeded. A pool is described as “… appears to become very swamp-like …” No. It does not “appear.” It is. And swamp-like is more of an overly abstract term. Bog? Peat? Watery with trees sticking out? But, the mechanics are what I really want to focus on. “From either side of the pool or even standing above the mound the entrance door is incredibly well camouflaged.” This is a sentence justifying what is to come in the next one. It’s not really need. “The door is well camouflaged” would do the same thing. But then, you need to be within a maximum of 10 feet and make a DC25 check to find the door, increasing to DC30 with subsequent rolls as disbelief sets in. Thats a lot of words for something very simple. (Plus, its a roll to continue. What happens if we don’t find the door? I guess the adventure is over?) Finally, there’s a lot of if/then statements. IF the adventurers do X THEN this thing happens. Again, that’s just padding begging to be rewritten in a more direct fashion.

[And, as a nitpick, it uses boring words in places. Tall, heavy, long, big … these are all words that should be replaced with more descriptive ones,]

There’s a lot of maps provided, and I especially like the cross-section ones and the way they help communicate the room flow. I wish, though, that more information would have been on them. There’s a column or so o text near the beginning that describes a lot of terrain features, in the rain, in root rooms, etc. Those could have been placed on the map, making them less confusing and easier to find than continually flipping back to the terrain section at the beginning.

I note, also, that the adventure suffers from a “Why do that?” problem. Why go inside the tree? Creepy tree. Creepy setting. Tree clearly evil. Burn/chop it down. Yes, it’s raining. Yes, if you chop it down the evil dudes come out. But, still, seems much safer than going inside. And yet the premise is that the party goes inside. And past a big trapped front door at that. A little more incitement to explore would have been nice to see.

There’s some creepy stuff lurking in this, but its all obfuscated by the over-use of mechanics and padding/ineffective text.

Also, let’s all welcome Glen to the blog. He sent me a note saying how much he was enjoying reading it, and noting he had written this adventure. I repaid his kindness with this review.And here I am claiming that the only meaning to life is our interactions with others. Bah!

This is $2 on dmsguild. The preview shows you some stats and the terrain features … Which makes it seem more like a 4e adventure than a 5e one. Showing the meat of the adventure, so we can get an idea what to expect, would have been better.
http://www.dmsguild.com/product/190617/The-Tree-of-Blight

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Caverns of the Fish-folk


By Casey Hoekstra
Self Published
OSR/S&W/DCC? Probably 5e
Levels 1-3

The players begin by meeting Tomen, a shipwrecked halfling, whose brother has been abducted by Kuo-Toa living off the coast. Tomen washed ashore on this forlorn coast thirteen years ago, and will do anything to escape, but first he must save Silvus, his younger brother, from the sacrificial fanaticism of the fish-folk. In addition, Kertol, Prince of the sprites has a bone to pick with the halfling brothers over the destruction of his summer court.

This fifteen page adventure details nine rooms in a kua-toa cavern. A real shit show of an adventure, it is as close to incomprehensible as I’ve ever seen, rivaling the efforts of the dear departed Injured Mage of old. Single column, no stats, confusing as fuck map, linear combat crap fests … everything present but Yul Brynner. Earner of a coveted Bryce Lynch ‘Worst EVAR’ award.

I bought this because the DriveThru page said S&W, OSR, DCC. The adventure proper doesn’t say what system it is for, but I suspect it’s 5e … there’s no evidence of OSR type stats while it does have ascending AC and DC checks. Bryce doesn’t like it when he feels like he’s been misled in to buying something. It brings back the trauma of Castle Greyhawk. What kind of person would do that to me, Casey? Do I not suffer enough, universe? Everything falling apart around me, grinding my nose in to the fact that I am powerless, I turn to D&D for a spark of joy and am confronted with this thing. Why, Casey? Why?

Some halfling shit lives in a hut on the beach. His brother has gone missing ad he’s a piece of shit, leading us to that famous situation: fight for the hook. The little fuck needs the party to do something for him. The DM needs the players to take the hook and to go on the adventure so we can all play D&D tonight And yet our designer has made the halfing an unlikable fellow who you have to convince to talk to you and receive the hook. This is the opposite of good design. You want the players excited about going on the adventure. You want them motivated. Putting them through a grinder just to start play puts everyone in a bad mood. I’d just kill the little fuck and move on with my adventuring life. Even the more traditional definitions of HERO, if that’s your play style, doesn’t mean DOORMAT. This is nothing more than the DM torturing the players and abusing the social contract of accepting the hook.

It is, at this point, that an optional encounter shows up, the best part of the adventure. A noble delegation of sprites show up, demanding that the halfling move. Seems he’s been cutting down their forest and devastating the communities of sprites living in the trees. The well mannered and noble sprites send a delegation to present their demands. They are about one million times more likable than the halfling … again suggesting that the dude should just be killed. “But I’m attached to my little beach hut!” Great, he’s also a fucking whiner. Anyway, the sprites are presented as the bad guys, but a more nuanced interpretation would make this a decent encounter. Social encounters add life to an adventure, they present choices.

Anyway, the kua-toa caverns are literally 45 feet from the halflings hut. No fucking shit your brother got kidnapped. The map of the caverns is hand drawn. I usually like that, but this one is a blurry confusing mess that also has no room numbers on it. You can’t tell what connects to what of which room is which. That whole “make life easier on the DM” thing that I push? FAIL.

The fish-men have no order of battle, they just wait in their rooms to die. The monsters have no stats presented, just references to page number in a monster manual … I guess the 5e one? Again, not making life easier for the DM. It’s all straight up combat encounters with nothing much interesting going on in the rooms. And since when did kua-toa and a giant octopus become a first level encounter? I know unbalanced encounters and “run away” are time honored OSR traditions, but, still, there should be SOME hand waving to character level. “Welcome to D&D, you are all first level. The dungeon we will be playing tonight is full of vampire lords and balrogs. It’s all combat and STFU its the adventure we’re playing tonight.” Wow. Fun times. The room descriptions/text are nigh incomprehensible.

This is $10 at DriveThru. Ten fucking dollars for a single column crap fest. The preview doesn’t really show you anything. You DO get to see the sprite encounter, on the last page of the preview, that’s worth checking out. The rest is just overview and wall of stat bloat text.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/228321/Caverns-of-the-FishFolk

Happy fucking new year!

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The Hyqueous Vaults


By [Various]
OSRIC
Level 3

A centuries-old map leads to a mysterious cliffside complex, rumored to be flooded, and supposedly holding a dead necromancer’s fortune. Sages believe the arm-length metal implement accompanying the map must be some sort of key. The complex stands ripe for exploration by a party sufficiently strong and sneaky to wrest any treasures from the depths within.

Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words—
Fullerton, Dettmann, Grohe, Johnson, Riedel, Zisch, Redmond
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good DM teach his players;

This is a 20 page adventure detailing a one level 67 room dungeon, and old necromancer’s lair. A group effort to celebrate the 10th anniversary of OSRIC, it has no faults.

This thing doesn’t fuck around with backstory or introductions or other padding that doesn’t’ contribute to the adventure. You get one paragraph of background and one to start the party: you found a treasure map wrapped around a metal rod. Sages point you to a wilderness location. GO! More than enough for a one shot. More than enough to integrate in to an ongoing campaign. Magnificent in both its brevity and usefulness. And wanderers! Broken up by sections of the dungeon, the table is short, efficient, and a great example of incorporating action in to the encounter. Goblins nervously fishing or on an errand for [NPC.] Shadows lurking to ambush the rearmost member of a group. Trogs searching for an escape path. This is not a mindless and boring table copied from the DMG but abstracted encounters in their own right. Just enough detail to get the DMs head working without boring them or making it hard to grasp the encounter immediately. They are perfect.

Speaking of perfection, let me talk about the map. The dungeon features a river” flowing through it. It has multiple entrances. It makes great use of color. It has little annotations on it to help their DM understand what is going on. There are a lot of “same level: terrain changes, like same level stairs, ledges, rises, and so on. It’s got loops to allow ambushes and ambushing. There is enough conventional cartography present to make the map immediately accessible to a DM and yet it does not let itself be bound to a corner by being forced to follow convention mindlessly. It presents a GREAT adventuring environment (loops, terrain, features) while still understanding that its purpose is to be an aid for the DM. I fucking love it,.

Speaking of loops and ambushes … Room three has some bodies in it. Room four has some eel-men, prepared to ambush a group. And they can run through room 3, or a nearby hallway, to get behind the party. A dynamic fucking environment in a dungeon?!?!?! Holy Cow, these people must understand dungeons! It’s one of the reasons for loops and why they can help make play interesting.

That one little section has so much representative of good design. A hint in room 3 that bad shit is nearby, in the form of the bodies/previous ambush site. Other areas of the dungeon have deep scar marks on the floor (oh shit! I wonder what’s nearby!) and other hints that something is nearby. It both builds tension and provides hints for the with-it player. The dungeon does this to great effect over and over again.

Oh, and eel-men, you got that right? Eel-man is a GREAT monster name. It is both magnificently descriptive and magnificently vague at the same time. Enough description to get your juices. your mind races to fill in the details. Koa-toa? What the hell is that? FIsh man? Meh, a little vague. Trout-man.” Perfect! I know what they look like! And yet there’s enough vaugery to allow me to fill in their culture and specifics. I fucking love it.

Room 1’s, the outdoor entrance, has a name of “Clearing.” It says “animal prints near the creeks edge. Two long-unused fire rings.” That’s it. That’s the description. The first two sentences. I know it’s a clearing, I know what’s there. It’s perfect. There a couple of short offset sections (offset with paragraph breaks/whitespace) that describe what you find if you search. IE: more information. It’s a great format. It communicates immediate information to the DM and then expands upon it … but in a terse and easily understood manner. It’s easy to scan. “Ruined Bedchamber” is another room title. You know immediately what it looks like just from that. The description tells us it has a smashed open door, broken 4-poster bed, musty clothes. PERFECT.

I haven’t even touched on the actual fucking content of this thing yet. Great tricks, traps and encounters. Not the arbitrary bullshit of other dungeons but well thought out encounters that are still easy to understand and run. Doorways/archways that do things … but, I will cover one in particular.

There’s a giant troll in the dungeon. He’s a fucking asshole, extorting people, including, almost certainly, the PC’s. I don’t know where to start with him. He’s presented as an NPC, so you can talk to him. That’s almost always a great idea. You can always resort to stabbing someone, but by adding a social element the encounter becomes so much richer. There’s also this aspect to motivating the PLAYER instead of the character. An asshole monster extorting the party should do that, in spades. The PLAYERS will fucking HATE the guy, and from that great D&D moments are born. I’m in LUV.

Offsets and white space are used to great effect. There’s a monster reference sheet, with all stats on it. I could go on and on. IF I had a complaint it would be that some of the (ahalanhum) rooms at the end get a little longer. But “every room isn’t perfect” is a pretty petty thing to bitch about.

This is free at Lulu.
http://www.lulu.com/shop/guy-fullerton-and-rebecca-dettmann-and-allan-grohe-and-jimm-johnson/the-hyqueous-vaults/ebook/product-23455816.html

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(5e) Cryptic Entry


By Dan Coleman
Dan Coleman Productions
5e
Level 1

The intrepid Reslin Kine spent many of his years as an adventurer. A life of exploring ruins and fighting monsters garnered Reslin a modest reputation and a modest fortune, enough so that he could retire young from the dangerous career to live out the rest of his life on his plunder. Unfortunately, the rest of his life would come too soon. It was only a week after he learned his wife was with child that Reslin fell ill to the malady which would ultimately lead to his death. He’d be denied the chance at being a father, but he’d be damned if anyone could deny his son his inheritance.

You know that withering sigh that Sideshow Bob has? Yeah.

This twenty three page adventure is a linear exploration of nine rooms, a 2016 Free RPG Day adventure. At a page per room … well, I guess that means all the information you need for the room is on one page? Bad read-aloud, filler, useless DM advice, backstory, journal entries … it’s all here. And it’s boring as all fuck.

We start with a full page of detailed and in-depth backstory, followed by a page of hooks and … I don’t know what to call it. Filler? Crap? Absolutely and completely totally useless to the adventure. Look, I know I’m kinder and gentler lately when it comes to backstory, I mean, just don’t read the fucking shit and skip it, right? It still fucking annoys me. It feels like someone spent a bunch of time jerking off on a backstory instead of actually paying attention to the core of the adventure. The crap filler explains how detect magic works. “You can detect magic in the room you are in.” Uh .. great. “There is no light. The characters will need a light source if they want to see.” What happens when I breathe? If I have to pee what do I do? I CANT FUCKING STAND THIS SHIT!!!!!! Oh! Oh! And the journal entries! There’s are journal entries! “It has “clues” to the rooms. Zoh boy! And you did it via journal entries! You know, the stupidest fucking way possible to communicate information to the players. Put in a mother fucking magic mouth. Put in a fucking booming voice. Jesus fucking Christ shows up and tells you the fucking secret. ANYTHING but a fucking journal!

Oh, and the advice! Like the detect magic and light shit? Oh, it gets better! “The adventure is set in the Fucktard Mountain Range. You can change the name of the mountain range to fit your own game.” This is in an offset section called “Customize” and it takes three fucking sentences to get out. 1. You can change it. 2. What it is called in this adventure. 3 Why it is called that. I know I’m starting to sound redundant, but Jesus H Fucking Christ this is bad. I mean BAD bad.

Our linear map? Ohhh, another special joy. On the plus side we get little mini-maps in the text to show us the room in question. It also has icons on it to show us that there is a monster in the room, or a puzzle, or trap, or a clue. I like this idea, in theory. I fucking hate the way its implemented here. The little fucking icons don’t actually help you. They don’t depict a sound range, or detection range, or anything like that. It’s just a little icon. The room might have bats, or an animated sword, or a an elite tribe of hobgoblin ninjas (it doesn’t.) The icons are just mechanically implemented without any thought as to if they are useful to the DM. Do you need to know that there is a monster in the room if its an animated sword that only animates if you do a certain thing? I would assert No. The purpose is not to note where the monsters are. The purpose is to help the DM run the adventure and if it’s IMPORTANT to know that a monster is there then you put it on the map. The hobgoblins might hear combat in the next room, etc. It’s a cue to a scope larger than the room you are running. But generically putting icons on the map without thinking about it doesnt help the DM at all.

All of this leads in to the rooms proper. A full page each. You know, Kuntz could write a long room description, but his hidden depths at least had something the fuck going on in them. This is GARBAGE. The first room is a cave. It has a bat swarm and an illusory back wall that asks for a password. An entire fucking page for this. And on and on, for each room. An entire fucking page for the most meaningless and trivial of shit.

I hope I fucking die before I forget about this publisher and accidentally review another product from them. And let me say this in advance: “You are correct, it’s not my cup of tea. Because I don’t like a big floating pile of turd in my tea.” Thanks Aziz!

This piece of shit is PWYW at DriveThru with a suggested price of $4. The preview is six pages long and shows you nothing of use. You get to see shitty backstory and the map. Joy. http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/185231/Cryptic-Entry-Level-1-PCs

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Necromancer’s Bane


By Simon Todd
MontiDots
OSRIC
Level 2-5

The valley of Highcliff Gard has had a tradition of burying its dead in the south caverns. But guards have heard disquieting noises behind the catacomb doors of late. It may be a trifling matter though another group of guard have not returned from their investigations.

This fifty two page adventure details a two level dungeon with about seventy rooms in it. There’s only about seven pages of appendix and five or so of background, so it’s mostly keyed entries. It’s got a good map and interesting encounters, but could use better organization of the actual keyed rooms. Droning on in places, a key aspect to writing is to know when to NOT add words.

This is part of an interlinked series of adventures. From that standpoint, you need to enter the crypts of a noble and cursed family to retrieve a bone. From that they can make a flute to help remove a curse on the male lineage of the family. But … the guards sent in to get it didn’t come out and there are strange noises coming from inside. They’ve barred the doors and send you in. The whole “curse on male line” thing is a classic and it appeals greatly to me. There’s also a nice little scene before entering: you have to go get the keys from the gravedigger. There you find out he won’t let you in, he’s wearing a bloody apron “cutting meat for the dogs”, the kitchen is full of blood with bloody footprints … etc. His dead wife is in the basement, reanimated as a ghoul, and he’s feeding her already dead villagers. She’s ranting about “the master” … seems An Evil One is back in town in the crypts and his influence has raised her. There’s also a clue or two about the dangers in the crypts, like a giant black and yellow furry spiders leg. This entire section is done quite well. Simon does a good job of communicating a horrible scene. Long knives, fresh and old bloodstains on the floor. Bones of sheep in a bucket under the table. Fresh bloody footprints leading to the cellar. Guttural growling from below. It builds tension well, and, ultimately, pity on the gravedigger results in clues for the party … a great reason to not gack him.

The dungeon, proper, is quite good. The maps are complex, with a variety of room sizes and shapes, some loops, some use of color and terrain features. It’s a Real Deal dungeon map. It’s not exactly Many Gates of the Gann or WG5, but it IS in the neighborhood.

More important, though, are the encounters. The first actual room (the doors being encounter one) has some slender column topped with small angelic faces. Whose eyes are wet and red. They are crying blood. Small droplets eventually splash on the floor, contributing to a red mist. After awhile the mist coalesces in to a Sanguide Fiend. Wowsers! Great imagery! Great “get your fucking ass in gear!” timer to push the party along. Hey man, any statues crying blood that turns in to a red mist is ok in my book!

This is not an isolated incident. There’s a survivor of the previous entry, traumatized and injured. There’s a cave with 300+ zombies in it, shambling towards the party, many more disintegrating as they emerge from the watery depths. (nice imagery!) Tracks of blood to crypt doors. Heads whose eyes open to stare at the party. And, of course, the ever popular “room with three thrones. Who wants to sit on one?” (I ALWAYS sit!) There’s a great horror vibe in this adventure and some decent interactivity. It FEELS like a crawl through a horror environment, full of suspense.

But …

Man this thing is a mess. If I were to consider there to be three elements to a successful adventure: evocative writing, interesting interactivity, and organized text, then this thing is, well. Missing the mark. It’s got some decently evocative writing in places, but not everywhere. The interactivity is there in a hit or miss way. And the text needs some MAJOR help in being organized. There will be a paragraph describing something in the room and then another one, later down, describing some other major feature. What it’s lacking is a kind of orientation to the room. It looks a lot like: “there’s a table. Here’s two paragraphs about the table. Also there’s a 40’ tall statues of zeus, here’s two paragraphs about it” instead of “there’s this black table and 40’ tall statue of zeus dripping blood.” and THEN going on to describe those things. Effective writing for a DM scanning the room to run it for the players. It also goes on at length sometimes about the trivial, leading to some rooms taking up a full page. And then other rooms, typically individual crypts, get long-ish write ups with little (fight monster!) or no (empty) interactivity. Barrowmaze found a way to get these sorts of encounters in without them dragging on and that’s something this adventure could have learned from.

Frankly, I find the text hard to get through, hard enough that I’m not even sure that a highlighter would help. A column per room, or a page per room in places, makes it hard to figure out what is going on with the descriptive style being used. This needs a good edit to clean it up A LOT.

This is $5.5 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. The last two detail the gravediggers house. Rooms one and two show that horror element I was referring to. You can get a decent sense of the … mixed? Writing style from these, but the actual rooms in the catacombs are much worse, from an organizational standpoint, than these few initial gravedigger rooms.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/192982/Necromancers-Bane

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