The Bishop’s Secret

By Mark Chance
Spes Magna Games
Swords & Wizardry
Level 4-6

Bishop Pausanias, gray haired with merry blue eyes and respectable girth, has long been one of the city’s pillars. He is famed for his charity and the holy protection he exercises over his city. So why do ghouls stalk the city at night? Why, on moonless nights, do zombies shuffle down streets, and what horror murders the faithful in their sleep? What is The Bishop’s Secret?

This eleven page adventure details a small nine romo underground tunnel complex and a bit of plot in the city above. It’s got a nice undead vibe going on, and the city intrigue is explained in just enough detail to make it work well. The writing style, though, is conversational. You’ll need a highlighter, and there’s no room in my new condo for a highlighter.

This thing is above average in a couple of areas. First, it provides some good summary information for a plot in town. The adventure is basically just a nine room dungeon, but the little bits provided before the dungeon description provide a nice little overview of ways to involve the party. A gang of thugs the bishop uses when he needs people. Corrupt priests. Dead walking in the streets. It’s just a little, but it’s enough for the DM to craft something around that’s a little more than a throw-away investigation. It’s a decent way to handle the context of the dungeon. This kind of matches my view on hooks. Either you don’t include them or you make them more than “You are caravan guards.” You don’t have to write a book, but a few specifics in order to get the DM’s imagination going seems to be the correct amount of length.

It also does a pretty good job of painting a picture of an Undead adventure. Muddy tunnels with water in them. Low. Cramped. Claw marks here and there. The smell of rot. Weird echoing sounds. It does a good job of providing some atmosphere for the DM to work with. A bowl stained by blood from gory libations. It’s decent text.

It’s also buried in a conversational writing style. “IF characters speak in this chamber” is a classic example of IF THEN writing style, a kind of indirect style that pads text out. “As with the Mausoleum of the Patriarchs, the gated area to the spiral stairs leading down to this area is kept locked.” Well, yes, I lie the idea of a locked gate in a church leading down to the crypts. But the first clause is, again, just padding. I’d have liked to see better editing and use of whitespace to separate out descriptions from mechanics.

The treasure also seems quite light for a gold=xp system. It feels more like the token “treasure parcels”of 5e than the riches of gold/xp.

This is clearly trying, but the organization of the text is far too … loose for me. You have to make an effort, find a highlighter, etc. I choose Pikachu instead.

This is $2 on DriveThru. The first few pages of the preview are good examples of what you get … and in fact the entire adventure is there in the preview. The second and third page shows you the loose information for the town data/plot that I liked so much. The fourth page onward shows you the adventure and the writing style in the rooms that I think is too loose.

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Tower of the Black Sorcorers

By R. Nelson Bailey
Dungeoneers Guild Games
Level 5-8

The cabal of sorcerers has dwelled with their baleful tower for hundreds of years. Now something evil stirs in the town of Bal-Curz — strange happenings of malefic magics and persons disappearing in the night. The fearful townsfolk whisper that its source stems from the Black Tower. Possibly a few bold heroes could investigate the tower to uncover its secrets and put an end to this unseen terror?

This 27 page adventure describes a 27 room tower of evil wizards and its single dungeon underneath. The usual wizard stuff, like libraries and summoning rooms. It’s quite verbose, at about two rooms per page. It’s not worth it to dig through it all, even if it does contain some depth and freaky monsters.

This is offered as plotless, meaning it is offered as location rather than tying it to the end destination of a kidnapping plot, for example. Why the party is going in is up to the DM. There are a few ideas mentioned, most of which are the usual throwaways. A foot-race to win the hand of the lord mayors daughter, and the last temple in town are both more interesting options for getting the party involved, if the DM needs help. The few extra details present in each help elevate them above the usual “help us!” throwaways.

The original monsters, and their art, are good. A human torso with the arms and legs replaced by spider legs, but ending in uman hands … freaky deaky! And with art to match! Likewise the adventure presents a bit of an order of battle, noting responses to incursions in the tower. Other than this you’ll find the usual stuff. Cells with prisoners, summoning circles, libraries, etc.

The major, major detractor though is the length of the actual locations. These things are taking up about over half a page each, and of a smaller font at that. It has to have a seperate section, for each room, noting illumination. Then it goes in to detail about what the kitchen looks like. Then it may have a section on tactics. And then maybe there’s some backstory embedded in the location, telling us WHY. All with a penchant for overly flowery text in a conversational writing style.

This doesn’t work. I’m not going to suggest “adventure to be read not played” but it is leaning in that direction. You can’t run an adventure, at the table, trying to dig through all that text. What do the players see? Who knows … you have to dig through a half page of text to find out. “Oh, uh, wait, it turns out that there’s a guy in here and he’s attacking you.” Indeed.

We know what a kitchen looks like. A kitchen location in an adventure needs to only describe what is relevant to the adventure. If the chimney is a way in, or has a treasure hidden in it, for example. Telling us their is a carving block is worthless, unless it’s got the head wizards noggiin on it. All this extra text does is pad the word count and clog us the bowels of the text. Likewise tactics. Long tactics sections are boring and useless and generally a sign that the designer is overly invested in their creation.

And as for backstory, here’s what makes up ?’s of the entry for a cell with a bodak in it:” The bodak is the former master of the tower before Basharn rose to power. It seems that Basharn inadvertently gave the wizard the wrong information concerning a specific layer of the Abyss he intended to travel to. There the pure evil of the Abyss transformed him into a dreaded bo- dak. Basharn then summoned his former master back from the Abyss to employ him as a servant. However, the bodak remains rebellious, not yet submitting to the magic-user’s will.” What then, does this add to the adventurer that just death saved? That most certainly DOES smack of novel writing!

The tactics section for a wizards starts with “In the event of intruders in the complex …” This is a classic IF/THEN writing style. IF the party opens the door to the room THEN they see … Padding. That’s all it is. A conversational style of writing. The room IS, just say so.

This is just an overly described tower stuffed full of low-level wizards and creatures. It hints of better things with a map of underground tunnels and spider/man slaves, but can’t deliver.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages long. The fourth page shows you some of the example plots tha DM could develop, and I suggest reading number four for an idea of what a short “summary plot idea” might look like in an adventure. Otherwise, the writing style of the locations is not really shown.

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(5e) The Chapel on the Cliffs

By Joseph Crawford
Goblin Stone
Level 3

It’s been fifty years since the curse struck Kennmouth. Since then, few have dared brave the dangers of the abandoned village. Even fewer came back in one piece. Kathryn Reed has her eyes set on the fishery waters of Kennmouth Bay, but she needs adventurers foolish enough to lift the dark curse. Will you be the heroes who finally rid Kennmouth of its denizens?

Hey! It doesn’t suck!

This 38 page adventure details a cursed village, empty by day and patrolled by undead at night. Sandboxy, not a railroad, and rewarding thoughtful exploration, it’s organized well and has great imagery. I am not mad as this adventure. (It also comes with a 25 page supplement that scales the adventure to various levels and has full monster stats.)

This adventure is focused. It knows what it wants to do and it’s focused on doing that and little else. The setting is a ruined village. While a village map is provided, the only structures described are those related to the adventure. You can pick up a rumor about a witch being hanged at a tree, so the tree is described. There’s a lighthouse that, if you climb, you can see a couple of new locations to go look in to. The carpenters shop has tools and supplies to fortify a house (against undead attack at night) so it get a few words.

The details provided all directly relate to how the party interacts with the world. It’s like the thing was playtested and additional detail provided based on those playtests. Hmmm, need chase rules and/or skeleton siege rules. Hmmm, players want supplies to barricade themselves. Better put some help in for the dm.

It’s got more than once path to look in to. There’s an (obvious) green glow coming from a chapel on the cliff at night. There’s rumors about a hung witch. There’s obviously some ancient barrow-mound shit going on. Not exactly false trails, since they can contribute to things going on in the village also. Clue trails that lead to other things, in other words. This thing is DESIGNED, something few adventures seem to be.

Ghost ships, erie green glows from the cliffside chapel, the entire concept of a cursed/haunted village, disturbed graves, skeletons clawing their way out, a pale thin woman trapped in a sea cave … this thing also brings the evocative. It does a great job of creative a vivid picture with only a few words.

Which is not to say this is a terse adventure. It has something else going on. The page count is a bit up there. Some of that is related to the formatting. It uses sections titles, formatting, and whitespace to good effect, but that also contributes to the length. As does the anticipation of the needs the characters might have; that DM advice takes up space. The text can get long in a few sections and a little bolding would have helped. I’m thinking of the Green Mold curse, which gets a column of text. You’ll need to dig through it to find the mechanics for when the party encounters it. The NPC’s also tend to get an opening paragraph description that’s a bit conversations. A little bolding, to call out their main traits, would have helped with scanning during play. It DOES make good use of bullet points, and in spite of my nits IS organized well.

The hook is also a little … 5e. It’s oriented around a businesswoman wanting the party to look in to things for her so she can used the cursed villages harbour. How pedestrian. There’s a lot of rumors and information to follow up on in the nearby village by the mundanity of the hook is lame. A curse/haunted village nearby, with rumors about it in town, and maybe some related small hooks (which are interconnected with the businesswoman) might have been a more natural fit. But … there is a lot of rumor and information in the nearby town and it’s done well. The italic text, used for read-aloud, in an offset color, doesn’t work well for me, i find the italics and color chosen hard to read.

This is a decent adventure that rewards some thoughtful play. Looking around. Paying attention. NOT rushing in to things. Running away. Rushing headlong will get you murderized by 120 skeletons. Nice. I approve. I could/would run this and not be mad. A few better choices in formatting and editing would have pushed this in to my Best Of category. But, it’s also easily one of the best, if not the best 5e adventure I’ve seen.

This is $5 on DriveThru, with print versions available. The preview is 13 pages, a third of the adventure. The lighthouse, rowan tree, and smithy are on the last two pages and give you a good idea of the town locations and writing style. Page 11 shows some of the helpful DM advice, in the form of simple timekeeping tasks (for sunset when the skeletons arise.)

Posted in No Regerts, Reviews | 6 Comments

The Exfiltrators

God is dead and everything is sex.

By Lance Hawvermale
Hawvermale Paper & Pen
Levels 5-7

One of the doomed souls within Velgate Prison is innocent, but the only way to free him is to infiltrate the prison. And if that task isn’t difficult enough, what’s far more challenging is getting out.

This 42 page adventure is a prison break in an inescapable panopticon prison. The designer has no idea how to format an adventure. It has wall of text, mixes important data at random in to random bots of text, stacks the cards against the party, and, to top it off, the product description is inaccurate.

I once had a boss who was the most incompetent person I’d ever seen. I mean truly a fuckwit. He stayed on the job two years. The lesson learned is that you don’t have to be good at your job. You have to be good at GETTING a job. This adventure raised $2000 on kickstarter, with 100 backers. Any of you creators struggling with the quality of your product, the crippling self-doubt that comes from creating, need to learn a lesson from this product. Marketing baby, who gives a fuck about quality.

The ‘quality’ in question? It’s a mess. I don’t even know where to start. Room four of the prison describes the control room. That’s where we learn that the prison has only twelve guards. Because, obviously, if you needed that information you would not look in the “prison overview” section but rather in the control room entry. Clearly.

This club has everything. The hooks are mixed in to the long background text. Page long NPC’s.

This kind of shit happens over and over again. Worse, the descriptions for EVERYTHING are long and full of fiction writing. “This room is the prisons dark heart.” *yawn* How about justifying itself? “The door has been reinforced by strips of laminated horn so that any check to open it is at -4.” *yawn* People don’t hear the door chime/doorbell, but they always hear the door being broken down.

Speaking of … The prison is a panopticon. The party is searched and everyone disabled and scanned by magic. The ambush has illusions, a spellcaster wearing a ring of inviso, massmorph attackers, and other gimps. The walls take a 50% penalty to climb. It just goes on and on and on. You WILL play the adventure the way the designer intended! He’s going to be sure of that …

The opening ambush is three pages long. A column of tactics. Long NPC stat blocks. The entire thing feels more like a late 3.5 adventure than an OSR one. “You see what appears to be a weary traveller.” That is both a common way to write and a shitty one. Wasn’t there a good blog post about “appears” somewhere?

Finally, and just to show how petty I am, you don’t break in to free an innocent. You get captured. The entire blurb is wrong.

Abort! Danger! Abort!
This is just badly written and designed dreck. I will again use the most stinging rebuke I know of: Why would you attach your name to this?

This is $7 on DriveThru. The end of the review shows you the three page ambush and half of a LONG NPC description.

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Gardens of Ynn

By Emmy Allen
Dying Stylishly Games
Level 3-5

The Gardens of Ynn is a point-crawl adventure set in an ever-shifting extradimensional garden. Each expedition generates its route as it explores, resulting in new vistas being unlocked with every visit.

This 79 page product is a method for generating freaky garden locations/pointcrawls in a an alternate “garden dimension.” Evocative writing helps lend a hand to the sunny just-a-little-bit-off character that lends an almost dreamy air to the locations. The gothic horror of a brightly lit victorian garden is fully on display. It also could do with some bolding, tighter writing for the DM mechanics, some cross-referencing, and, ultimately, is not an adventure but rather a location generator.

I’m having a hard time describing the environments this creates. I keep falling back to the “brightly lit gothic horror of VIctorian gardens” that I used in my summary. This thing does a great job of communicating that vibe. Not the full on gonzo of the more recent Alice movies, but rather the cartoon and/or the original Alice stories. Just a little off. And just a little creepy because of that. It’s a nice vibe, different, and certainly one of the most well-done in this genre.

This is a combination of the encounters and the writing. The locations are random, a combination of a location and a detail about it. The Wood – of Dead Birds. The glass-roofed cemetery. A smouldering hothouse. The combinations that are generated seem to work well together and being to spark your thinking when you roll them. Each has a small evocative description. “Fruit trees spaced out every few yards, coppiced so their branches start five feet above the ground. Trunks now gnarled and grizzled with age, branches extending into a tangled canopy that ends fifty feet up.” or “Steel frameworks hold up a tangle of overgrown vines, producing dappled shade beneath them.” or “The ground is littered with dead birds, as if they dropped out of the sky suddenly. Brightly coloured, their feather’ all broken and bedraggled.” To this might be added an event, or creature, or treasure, again, almost all of them with a terse and evocative description. From there is up’s to the DM to figure out why the formal orchard, littered with dead birds, has a treasure of gold coins in a wooden box, with the praying mantis creature wandering about. It all kind of works, for the almost dream-like, or slightly fever-induced, environment.

In all, about fifteen pages are devoted to each section; bestiary, locations, details, rando tables to spice things up, etc. One nice feature is that the main tables needed to generate a location are all grouped next to each other on adjacent pages. They could have used a cross-reference to the specific page number the text description appears on, in order to make the DM’s life a little easier.

There’s DM text for each entry also, and this is where things start to break down. It can get long, especially as the rooms get freakier the deeper you go in to the endless garden. Bolding, better use of whitespace, a tighter edit, would have all made a difference here.

The issue is, of course, running it at the table. You have a roll on the location table, and the details table. And maybe an event or creature. And then maybe looking up each of those entries (remember, no cross-references to page numbers on the tables), and then grokking the descriptions of each. And then tearing through the DM text, which can be a full page long for the more complex locations. It produces interesting results, but I have my doubts about running it at the table without longish pauses. I’d be interested in knowing about that aspect if anyone runs this.

It does so much right to creature the atmosphere. From the entryway being a chalk drawn door on a garden wall to various rumor-hooks about old books, half-remembered tales and the like. Higher numbers on the tables allow for d12 dice rolls when things are calm and d20’s when things get freaky, and so on, which is a nice duel-use feature.

But, it also is JUST a collection of tables. There’s nothing to put things together for a narrative. Something feels off about it. I was thinking about that, comparing it to my favorite adventure, from Fight On, the Upper Caves. That adventure is just some simple rooms. It has a couple of tough monsters, but no ‘Boss of the Level” or other overarching goal. It’s just an explore/loot adventure. That should be what this one is also, but they feel different from each other. Maybe it is the theming of certain sections in the Upper Caves that makes it feel different? I don’t know. The random treasure seems light for a gold-xp game, so maybe not “loot it.” At best, it seems like you could use this by placing another location or person/knowledge somewhere deep in it and make it a stepping stone for the party to get at their prize.

This is $3 on DriveThru. The preview shows you some of the intro text about the gardens and then the core tables for generating locations.

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The Oracle of Basylthor

By Walter J. Jones Jr.
New Realms Publishing

Your boots scrape off the bloodstained flagstones as you step into hall. Fluted columns rise to support a arched ceiling lost in the shadows. A scrape of leather on stone and a jangle of mail echoes off the walls as a mail-clad skeleton steps out from behind a column.

Well, fuck me. NOT an adventure. Not in my taxonomy.

This fifteen page “Adventure” is organized around a deck of cards. You print out a deck of locations, a deck of encounters, and a deck of treasures. You draw a room, roll for an encounter, and maybe a treasure. After experiencing about eight rooms you get to the boss, a harpy, and finish up the adventure. It’s straightforward, generic, and solo capable.

None locations. “Empty shelves line the walls and broken crates and tattered sacks litter the floor of this room.” or “Broken shelves and crates and toppled weapons racks litter the floor of this dusty room.” None monsters. Nine treasures.

Now that I have seen the adventure then the description makes sense. It says there are none cards of each. What I failed to comprehend, from the description, is that this is the ENTIRE adventure. A card driven “walk in to room, killa thing, move to next room” until you reach your eight room goal.

Man, I gotta pay more attention when buying.

NOT an adventure.

This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages and doesn’t really inform you that you are buying just a couple of card decks.

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Rando Stuff I bought three weeks ago

There’s trouble right here in Bryce City my friend. Boring details aside, that means I ended up buying about $40 of stuff from my DriveThru wishlist. They don’t fit the adventure category, which is why some of them have been hanging out for awhile now on the list. Dungeon Lord and Wormskin were a part of that buy. Here’s the stuff that doesn’t qualify as an adventure. I promise to not do this very often and staff focused on adventures.

The Dungeon of Doom
This was promised to be a live action LARP set up as a dungeon delve. I guess it IS that. There are seventeen scenes. At one point The Dread Gazebo attacks. The party has to choose a character to die. Also, another character becomes wounded. Also, someone can get a treasure. I kind of get what they are going for, but the LARP’ing possibilities seem REALLY limited. “Choose someone to die” isn’t really my kind LARP’ing. (I think I have a write up of my kind of LARP’ing over at Fortress Ameritrash.) Anyway, most of the scenes are like the one above, choose someone to die, someone gets wounded, gain a treasure.

B/X Essentials – Core Rules
I grabbed the txt version of this for free. I think the formatted version is cheap, like $1 or so. I like B/X, it’s my favorite rules. This is ok, but not enough to make me switch from my copy of B/X and my Ruffians & Reprobates rules (on my google drive.) Beyond the formatting, I just don’t need the rules anymore. I don’t care about swimming or gale rules or boarding vessels. That’s what Rulings not Rules is for.

Fantastic Exciting Imaginative – Volume Two
I have no idea how two got on my list when I don’t have one. This is aimed at Holmes and it has a hardcore OD&D bend. And while I like the B/X rulebook I like the OD&D vibe. Unique spekks, magic items and monsters, which remind me a bit of the same sort of vibe that the items, spells,and monsters from Fight On! had. Fight On being one of the best magazines, ever, of course. Unique items with character. No Sword +1 to be found at all!

I recognize Desboroughs name, but I don’t recall what he’s done? He says he’s edgy and people don’t like him? Anyway, i this … adventure? You play as pigs in a slaughterhouse. You’ve got special abilities and are trying to escape. The map is random and made up of various slaughterhouse rooms and “monsters” from the people who work there. The room descriptions are quite evocative. The Freezer room is “Blinding white. Slick footing. Breath makes little, puffing clouds. It’s winter in a room. Icicles hanging down and frozen corpses swinging from hooks or sitting in blocks of ice all around.” A little grim for my tastes, but very well written and immersive!

Homeward Bound – Simple Rules for Player Owned Base
This is more of a “regional setting if you own a manor” than it is a guide for manors. Note the singular. It’s actually ONE base. 27 pages to describe the interior of one manor and the cost to upgrade it. Some shit that can happen/hooks. Methinks someone didn’t read HarnManor … the closest village is a two hour walk away. Lots of potential hooks and things going on nearby are the highlight here. So while HarnManor and the 1e DMG (and almost every other supplement dealing with domains) are better at the mechanics, this one has a decent regional setting and/or plots to then go forward with. That part could be a decent resource if you were interested in a “we own a manor” campaign. This grows on me a bit every time I read it.

The Eternal Rest
An inn in an old mortuary, staffed by skeletons. Creepy mortuary setting. Suitably macabre special dinks. You can even sell your body to him (when you die) for use as a servant in the inn for free drinks. Some plot devices are included for the DM to expand upon. But it takes 19 pages to decribe the place and you now know enough, from my review, to run it better than the book describes.

Town of Split Stone
50 pages to describe a town … with a name for all 600+ people in it. The descriptions concentrate on the people and their lives. What they are up to and so forth. Tat’s the correct approach, although it goes in to far greater detail than need be. Woven throughout the town are five little intrigues, detailed in the potential plots section in the back. It’s well written, in that it concentrates on the people a lot more than the buildings, but has so much detail it feels like a research book that a tv series is going to be built around. “The historical village of Blandmire.” WAY too much to be useful at a table.

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Inferno: Oasis of Koessa

By Paul Elkmann/Geoffrey O. Dale
Spellbook Games
1e/Portal to Adventure
Level 10+

“Oasis of Koessa is an adventure set on the Seventh Circle of Hell, the Desert of Fire, can be used as a projection of Hell into the Material Plane, or it can be used as an enchanted location in any remote hot desert. It can represent any of nine Oases found in the Desert of Fire. The Oasis is a dangerous and challenging location suitable for challenging higher-level Adventurers. The non-linear location contains eight significant structures which can be explored in any order, each with different challenges and opportunities. The centerpieces are the two large Pyramids and the dungeon inside a Sphinx statue.”

This 69 page adventure describes an oasis on the seventh circle of hell. It’s packed full of mummies and their minions. Like the blurb says, three dungeons, and extensive at that. It’s also a pretty textbook example of the mechanics of writing getting in the way the adventure. Wall of text. Detailed room descriptions. Hordes of creatures stuffed in rooms. It burdens my soul just thinking about it.

I am NOT in the mood for this thing this morning.

Let’s talk room descriptions. What’s the goal? As always: helping the DM at the table. More specifically, picking out the important stuff in the room and describing it in a way that the flavor is communicated by the text from the designer to the DM’s head … who can then attempt to send it on to the players. How does one accomplish this? There are several possible paths. One path which is NOT useful is the one that FAR too many adventures fall in to: describing the room in excruciating detail.

We the room it titled “Kitchen” then the DM can fill in the details; we know what a kitchen looks like. Maybe the room is titled “Clean Kitchen” or “Greasy Kitchen” or something else. The designer is leveraging the DM in communicating the vibe. They are then free to add to description things like “The master key is inside a loose chimney stone.” or “The grease makes the floor slippery and the rusty knife collection is stored on the low, open shelves …” The descriptions focus both on the evocative, to communicate the vibe well to the DM, as well as the mechanics of things actually useful to the adventurers.

Revisiting our kitchen example, lets follow where the contra example takes us. If we exhaustive list he contexts of the kitchen then what does that get us? Seven bowls, Six spoons (one bent), a 10’ by 11’ work surface with a knife cut in the upper right hand corner 1 foot from the left edge running parallel to the lower edge. Unless those elements are relevant to the adventure then they do nothing but clog up the text and distract the DM from from the evocative nature of the room and the mechanics of the party interaction with it. The seven bowls could be a clue … in which case it IS relevant to the adventure, if the party needs to know/would be helpful to know there are seven people using bowls.

Besides this exhaustive listing of room contents there is also the “where does the door go” commentary. “The archway to the west goes room 14, the kitchen.” Well, yes, that is what the map indicates ,,, s why does the text tell us that also?

This, along with poor formatting choices, can lead to wall of text issues. All of the text just runs together, visually, and your eyes glaze over.

Here’s an example of the text from room three of the funerary temple. This is one paragraph of six, with the entire thing taking up over a page of text.

“The room has arches to the Embalming Room, the Wrapping Room, and to the Entry Curtain. An 8 FT by 5 FT mahogany table on the western side of the room supports a large bright blue wooden sarcophagus which is sealed with a line of lead solder (requires a knife/scraper). A 50 inch bronze gong hangs in a black wood frame to the left of the table with a hook for the 30 inch clapper; sounding the gong has no immediate impact. Two 7 FT by 4 FT black granite altars are along the east wall, separated by 10 FT. An 8 FT diameter silver spider with 8000 GP diamond eyes is mounted on the north wall in front of one altar; an 8 FT di- ameter gold ram’s head with 12,500 GP ruby eyes and 14,000 GP ivory horns is mounted on the south wall. A 12 FT diameter circular brown-and-orange carpet is between the altars. Lit golden lanterns are to the north and south walls, spaced 5 FT apart.”

Are the dimensions of the table relevant? Is the spacing of the lanterns relevant? The size of the gong? I would assert that most of the text description is irrelevant, and that which IS relevant is boring. “A silver spider with diamond eyes” barely makes the grade.

And remember, that’s one paragraph of six. The adventure engages in this over and over again. Everything is just beaten to death, and then to a pulp. Seldom have I cared less about what I’m reading. Useless detail without writing to inspire.

This is $4 on DriveThru. The preview is about six pages and the last few give you an idea of what to expect in terms of writing. It’s not actual rooms, but it is indicative.

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The Dusty Door

By Shane Ward
3 Toadstools
Level 3

Halfway between here and there is a small roadside Inn. A weather worn wooden sign stands outside of the door “Adventurers wanted, apply within”. Weary from the road, you stand outside the Inn, smoke rises from the chimney promising a warm evening. The inside of the Inn is small and cozy, a set of stairs lead up to much needed beds. The small bar is decorated with old suits of rusted armour, a bookshelf with musty tomes and a large map of the countryside. The bar is empty save for a small gnome who is fast asleep at a table, smoke curls from his pipe.

I continue to be out of sorts. I’m hoping to settle back down come April.

This twelve page adventure details a ten room dungeon using five pages. It has a throwback quality, with room nearly its own little isolated thing. Not really evocative writing, but the DM text doesn’t overstay its welcome and the basic/nostalgia factor is high with this one.

Goblins hoot and holler while whipping prisoners chained to a wall. Smoke pours from under a doorway with figures inside dancing around a glowing orb. An old crone sites near a pool of bubbling black water. Zombies stand knee deep in purpleish slime tearing a body apart to feast upon. A troll slumbers in front of a door, with a large brass key around his neck. A stone well filled with black liquid sits under a terrifying mural drawn in feces and blood.

You know, I said the writing wasn’t evocative but the encounters sure as hell are. Just about each of the ten rooms features a little vignette, described in a sentence or two. These are basic encounters; they feel like bookcases that turn to reveal a secret passage or Harryhausen skeletons. Basic but iconic. That’s the main appeal of this adventure. There’s a charm to these encounters. Almost randomly strewn together, that just lends to the overall effect of mystery.

WTF is going on here? The gnome locks you in his basement after luring you there with rumors of treasure. Inside if a demon that trades the gnome longevity potions in return of victims willingly entering the dungeon.

Curses, weird potions, new magic items, +1 swords … the adventure has what you would expect from a basic Holmes adventure. The encounters capture the weird charm and iconic non-Tolkein/non-high adventure vibe from the early dungeoneering days. It’s easily worth $1 if you are in to such things, and could serve as a nostalgic one-shot.

This is PWYW at DriveThru, with a suggested price of $1. The preview contains the entire twelve pages of the adventure.

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The Red Prophet Rises

By Malrex & PrinceofNothing
Merciless Merchants
Levels 3-5

Trouble stirs in the Borderlands. Khazra, Red Prophet of the Bull God, has united the fractious People of the Bull and proclaimed the promised time is nigh. The Bull God demands blood! Fanatics raid the outlying villages, farmsteads and towns for sacrifices. None are safe! Unbeknownst to Khazra, a power older than man stirs under the earth, fed by the blood of sacrifice. Can a band of unlikely heroes prevail where all before them have failed? Are they brave enough to face not just the minions of the Red Prophet, but the eldritch terror of the Obelisk that Thirsts? The land will suffer terrors lost to time–unless heroes step up and answer the call! A module for 3-6 characters of levels 3-5.

I’ve had a rough couple of months. I was happy to run across this adventure and bumped it up in the appearance queue, so things may appear out of order over the next couple of weeks. Just imagine this review appears a week from now.

This 39 page adventure details a canyon and its caves (43 rooms over two levels) that inhabited by a blood-sacrifice cult. With shadows of both the warrior cult from Conan and the enemy from 13th Warrior with a little Zardoz tossed in, it provides a great dynamic environment that has its own thing going on aside from the parties involvement … up to and including “the cult all end up killing themselves by accident.” The environment starts off “mundane” and then gets freakier as the party gets in to the heart of the caves. Well organized and evocative, this is the kind of environment you want to run.

I’m terrible at reviewing good adventures. I never know where to start. I guess can being with the writing.

The writing is evocative without being verbose. At one point there’s a captive centaur forced to fight an opponent to the death. He continues trampling his opponent on the ground “long after the cheers of the crowd have ceased.” Recall, this is a warrior blood cult. Ouch! That’s the kind of writing you get. In this adventure. It doesn’t drone on and on with endless descriptions of room contents or wether the doorway is eight foot tall or nine foot tall. Instead the writing conveys the SENSE of he place. And because it does it can leverage every life experience the DM has had to allow them to fill in the blanks. The horrified onlookers. A blood warrior, sullen with his jaw hanging open, averting his eyes from the massacre. A guy a little too much in to it. All of that can brought by DM to expand the locale as needed, reacting to the players. Good location descriptions don’t describe an locale, but rather the SENSE of the locale. ““Rough-looking men interrupt gulps of ale and bites of charred rabbit with rambunctious laughter around a sizable fire pit.” Indeed!

That same writing then turns around and uses white space, bolding and bullet points to great effect to organize the text. A small text paragraph to convey the sense and then bullets to expand the mechanical aspects. This allows the DM to scan the text quickly and effectively to locate the information they need to run the adventure. The dichotomy of adventure writing is that you get to ignore ALL sense of grammar and style in order to convey the sense of the place … but it has to be perfectly organized to allow the DM to easily run it at the table. This adventure does that.

There’s a nice little time table presented that shows what’s going on at the camp when. Locations have brief notes related to the time table that don’t get in the way. There’s an order of battle for some rooms. “The guards in room 5 might hear a prolonged combat …” or … “If an alarm is raised then …” There’s a summary sheet of monster stats so you’ll have them all at your fingertips when running this. It’s almost as if the designers *gasp* oriented the text so it would be useful to a DM running it at the table! Oh the Humanity!

The rumor table is in voice for the beleaguered people whispering tales of the raiding warriors. The entire place is written as a neutral living environment, a module, not necessarily entirely dependent on the PC”s actions. Up to the point that their blood sacrifices finally work, they raise a god, and it slaughters all of them and eventually maybe blots out the sun. The wanderers chart has a couple of allies and/or prisoners on it. (Even if “33% chance every 10 minutes” seems a little frequent …) The map has some loops in it and feels like caves in a canyon. (Or at least a fantasy version thereof.) The magic items are new and interesting.

There’s mount presented for a Paladin (that’s one of the potential hooks) that FEELS like a paladin’s mount. Aeyron, grandon of the King of Horses! Fuck yeah man! Now THAT’S a paladin’s mount!

Little rattlesnakes. Giant snakes/ Cauldrons of boiling blood. Death match games. It’s conan turned up to 11.

There’s even a faction! (Well, besides the prisoners, allies you might meet.) The old shaman doesn’t like the turn the tribe has taken and may recruit the party. This part could be handled a little better … maybe one paragraph on an outline of plan, but I still appreciate having what there is.

Likewise the hooks are essentially non-existent. A little more guidance in getting the party involved would have been nice. As is, the mount or maybe hearing some rumors of a blood cult or raided villages is all there is … and the later is a little weak unless you’re running HEROES. It is 2e, so maybe that’s ok.

Obviously, I like this. As you get in to the caves in the canyon you start to encounter freakier and freakier stuff. STarting with just camped out tribesmen in the canyon and then pentagrams, black obelisks, and cauldrons of blood inside. This is a place, not a railroad. It is that rare of things: A Good Adventure.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. Page two shows some order of battle/alarms, as well as ath rumors table. The wandering chart and cave map are also included and shows the potential depth the adventure can generate. The last couple of pages are some of the locations, and give you a good look at the location writing and organization. A great preview.

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