No Salvation for Witches

by Rafael Chandler

England, 1620. To strike a blow against the Patriarchy, six women perform a dangerous rite in an abandoned priory. Through their art, they commune with Terpsichore, Greek muse and patroness of dancers. Starving demons slither across the moors; monstrous nuns shriek in the infirmary; and within the Attic, a great unravelling awaits. The fate of the world rests in the hands of the player characters. Will they bring about an egalitarian utopia? Will they skulk away in the night, pockets bulging with treasure? Will they bring about the destruction of all things?

The usual Lamentations horrow gorefest. The party stumbles into a region of land and they can’t get out. Inside they see a church surrounded by a glowing forcefield. By collecting some glowing bubbles they can break on through to the other side. If they do this within 24 hours, and stop the ritual in the church, then the status quo of 1620 gets to continue. if they don’t then kings fall, religions die, and the peasants of the world get to be a little better off as the entire world begins to convert to the commie witches in the church. Scattered through the church, and the land, are the usual LotFP bizarre creatures and fucked up situations. It’s a decent enough adventure and hits several of the points I admire: fucked up creatures, fucked up magic, nice mundane trease, and mostly human antagonists mixed in with bizarre abominations. It’s a bit wordy, but it’s organized well. And, news flash, making the first line of the text “This is not a low-prep adventure.”, as this adventure does, does not in fact excuse the designer from providing supplemental data and/or well-organized information.

The big Lamentations adventures suffer from the same kind of flaw: they create Big Changes. Death Frost Doom famously starts the zombie apocalypse. In this one the workers of the world finally unite and a world-wide version of the Reign of Terror begins.The absolutist commitment to the vision is admirable, in a trainwreck gawking kind of way. And now, back in the real world, how many of us have nuked our campaigns because of a published adventure? How many are willing to? While I admire the commitment to the vision, my standards can’t allow for it. The adventure is a tool for the DM. What I expect is a page on how to destroy the world and perhaps a paragraph or two on other impacts than destroying the world. Some ideas on a timeline, a course of events and so on. Some ideas to kick the pig. What’s done in this adventure is the open-ended high-level descriptions that I’m not too fond of. Too generic. Too high level. It needs grounded in order for the imagination to work at its best. That’s a lot of bitching about the ending, but it’s also standing in for the bitching I didn’t do at the apocalyptic endings of the other LotFP adventure. Oops.

This has the monsters you would expect in either a Chandler or LotFP adventure. Weird human hybrids and a prominence of nudity, penis weapons, and gross out birthing scenes. The creatures are a pretty good example of how to work this style into an adventure. They generally relate to the circumstances the creature is found in and their effects are somewhat related as well. None of this “the golem is invisible because he wears a ring of invisible.” Oh no, the creatures here are abominations front and center and don’t need no stinking mechanic/rule to make them so. Bravo! Well described, there’s enough information to cement them in the DMs mind so they can adequately communicate the horror to the players. There does seem to be a theme of blob-creatures in this adventure, with three of four showing up, most in true “get bigger as they eat” blob form. Lots of hybrid humans, mutated humans and so on. Nicely weird, nicely non-standard, they fit in well to the environments in which they encountered.

Treasure is similarly nicely described. From ancient porno to golden crows, what you find is interesting enough to pique the interest of the players, and their characters. My standard here is always a players saying “Cool! I’m keeping that for my house!” and the treasure here is close enough to that. For those that are not they DO provide a decent bit of interesting when the party tries to hock them. “A 12” long golden dildo, slightly used. Hmmm, how do we fence THAT?” The magic items all have some decently good effects, nice and bizarre. The is a tendency to resemble “normal” magic items in form, like a ring or a magic wand, but the effects are suitable weird. Frankly, I would have preferred to see a magic jawbone of an ass instead of a magic wand, or a voodoo doll instead of a magic ring, but whatever; at least the effects are non-standard.

I’m pretty fond of the simplicity of the maps. A nice little wilderness map that combines “nice looking” with an almost abstracted design. It’s quite clear, as are the interior maps for the church and grounds. My primary complaint here would be … the scale and/or timeline. We are told to keep careful track of time (24 hours till the ritual completes!), and yet the map has no scale and the booklet no instructions on travel time. This gets back to that concept I harp on a lot about the adventure being a play aid for the DM. Sure, I can make something up and go consult the travel time sections in the book. I could also compile all of the monster stats onto one page, along with NPC personalities, so I can run the (probable) big final encounter in the church. I can also go create my own adventure, or use a thesaurus as one also. I expect the adventure to help the DM run it. You don’t need to reprint the rulebook but missing a key feature in a timed adventure shows this fundamental disconnect.

Lamentations adventures have an interesting way or being organized. Well, this one does and I recall the others being of a similar design. I spoke earlier of the almost abstract nature of the wilderness map. It looks like a normal wilderness map. The encounter areas are “the forest”, “the pond”, “the village” and so on. This is what I’m referring to when I mention the abstract nature. I wish I could describe it better. It’s absolutely not abstract. Except it really is. This leads back to the adventure descriptions. The Woods description appears on one page, describing the one encounter there. The Pool appears over two pages. The village appears over three pages. It’s a pretty simple way to organize the adventure and it works quite well. After all, this isn’t really an exploration adventure, it’s more an investigation. In each of those sections you get a description of something, or maybe two or three somethings. The descriptions can be quite long but the environment proper is simple. The pool description is quite simple. It focuses not on the pool, which is given but a simple description, but rather a paragraph on the undead fish in the water. Then the red sphere floating over it. Then the frozen tree on the other side of the pond. This alone gets a page. The descriptions are short. Are they? Wait, no, they are sometimes short. What they do is convey the flavor quickly and memorable. Because of this it’s pretty easy to get a grasp of what’s going on, quickly, and thus run it. It’s a very non intuitive way of organizing things and works, I suspect, because of the digest size with two columns forcing a kind of natural rhythm and breakpoint.
Where this breaks down is with the major NPC’s. They are scattered all over the book. Some descriptions in the church, some up front before the keys begin, some in the keys. The adventure encourages a very chaotic ending, with everyone you could possibly encounter almost certainly showing up in one very chaotic ending. Even if that doesn’t happen you’ll have stats & descriptions scattered through the church section … except for all of the major and important NPC’s scattered over a half dozen pages near the beginning. Flip back & forth or create your own cheat sheet? This is why I like summary sheets being included with an adventure. Briefly stat’d, reference to more information, quick personality, Done.

There’s no real hook presented. A little work could have gone into creating one beyond “you stumble onto something weird.” The flaws in this adventure are minor though, and with a little thought (hook), and some prep work (stat sheets/notes) you could have decent little adventure to toss at folks. It brings a good mix of horror, without going TOO far into bizarro penis-monster territory (quite an accomplishment given the presence of more than two penis monsters in this adventure.)

I’d have no qualms about running this.

Get it at the LotFP store.

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Gibbous Moon

by Creighton Broadhurst
Raging Swan Press
Level 3

Months ago, the necromancer Dunstan Wymer was gored by a wereboar and infected with lycanthropy. Almost driven insane by the realisation of what he had become after awaking amid the gore and viscera of his companions’ eviscerated corpses, he has since shunned civilisation instead seeking only solitude and the company of his undead servants. Terrified of the savage, bloody deeds he performs when the full moon shines down upon the world he now lurks within the remote hermitage at Clear Pool. In a desperate attempt to control his terrible, atavistic urges he has taken to stealing cattle from a nearby village to assuage his bestial lust for fresh, bloody flesh. The unknowing villagers, however, are angry at the continued theft of their livestock and the arrival of a passing band of adventurers gives them the perfect tools to bring the culprit to justice…

There’s at least three adventures with this title. A normal version, an expanded Collector’s Edition, and then some Living Forgotten Realms adventure that I’m pretty sure is not related. If you’re going to pick up a copy of this mediocre werewolf adventure then make sure and get the right one.

As with a lot of adventures, this one doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up. Because of that you get some great stuff mixed in with a lot of half efforts … or less. Ostensibly about a sad wereboar, it tries to mix in some village politics and village life and some modern morality. The party either investigates some missing cattle in the village or gets hired to go to the lair, proper, to pick up some old hermit bones for a relative. The effort to put into these is minimal and they rank just above “Look, we’re playing this adventure tonight.” Lots of words, lots of detail. None of it very interesting. If you’re going to put in words then put in words that are NOT obvious. In both cases they are introduced to the village, it’s problem of the missing cattle, and then end up at the old caves to meet the new hermit. He’s a not-so-evil necromancer who has a bad case of wereboarism. You get extra XP for curing him or getting him to pay the villagers for the cattle he stole. I hate that kind of shit. Hmmm, do I? I hate XP for “correct” morality choices. The inconsistency of the system is lame. XP for overcoming monsters? Sure. Treasure recovery? Ok, if that’s your deal. For being goody-goody? Well… did you tell the players that they are in a goody-goody game and get their XP from being goody-goody? Expectations.

The NPC descriptions for the village provide more fodder for my opinions. “Fierce advocate for a pastoral way of life” is a nice NPC description. So is “eternally nosy self-appointed sheriff.” These are things you can work with and are short enough to not get in the way. “Angered by recent thefts” or “proponent of greater trade & industry” are not as good. In these cases we get more facts than personality, and the NPC descriptions suffer because of it. This is a continuing theme in this adventure. Brief hits with a lot of misses in between. Another good example of this would be the read-aloud in the first room of the cave system: “Dried gore and blood cover the walls and floor. The ceiling bears sprays of dried arterial blood. Ripped, torn and partially eaten animal corpses are scattered about the chamber. “ Short and to the point while still being evocative. But then the kitchen read-aloud describes a typical kitchen. WTF? Text that describes “normal” things is wasted text. This goes for the village description, the read-aloud everywhere, and the cave/wilderness sections. We don’t need a kitchen described to us. We need the unusual described to us. We need the area cemented in our heads and we already have that with most normal areas.

The village presented is supposed to have some conflict going on The pastoral villagers vs. the industrious dwarves. The fey running around in the village. But neither of these is really expanded upon in any way. Just throw away lines in a rumor table or the villagers not really sitting with each other. Instead of the village being a focus, which it should be, instead it’s just barely interesting in any useful way. Oh, there’s lots of text, but it’s unfocused, describing the mundane instead of the potential conflict. There is a great table for events happening in the village. I think there’s like six possibilities. Rather than rolling I’d suggest running all six at once, along with all the dwarf/villager tension, the missing cattle, the hermit bones, and everything else. Adventures are a pretext for the party to get into trouble and more stuff means more trouble, and thus more fun and memories.

The cave system only have about 5 keyed rooms, and only a couple with stuff in them. There’s a nice little random “what you find in an empty room” table, but again it’s a little out of place. Most of it seems to be geared towards a running battle; slick floors and the like. But there’s not really much opportunity of that kind of thing to happen. And why make it a random table? What does that add? Just put the stuff in the empty rooms and gear it toward something in the adventure.

Focus. Focus on the adventure. Don’t focus on the mundane. Don’t focus on the forms. Don’t focus on the stat blocks. Focus on the adventure. Focus on the wonder. Focus on the unusual. Sadly, this adventure doesn’t do that. When the adventure does that it’s great. The read-aloud I quoted is a good example. There’s an NPC described, a captured thief adventurer. WHen you free him he retires to become a fence … and thus a contact for the party. That’s a GREAT thing. None of this “and they send you a reward later” stuff. It’s gameable. It introduces long-term changes to your game, things you can leverage easily in the future. Gameable. Interesting. And then the adventure gives us this, for the main villain: “Socially ill at ease and awkward in crowds he reacts by erecting emotional barriers and keeping social interactions as superficial as possible. He secretly harbours a desire to be a painter, but lacks the skills and materials.“ And that’s just one part of the ten or eleven paragraphs used to describe him and advice on how to play him. Do we really expect he painter shit to come up? Is it interesting? Is it gameable? Does it have direct long-term impact like the fence stuff does?

It’s sad that this is a mediocre also-ran. It could been great. It coulda been a contender.

This is on RPGnow.

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Dungeon Magazine #66

Enormously Inconvenient
by Kent Ertman
Levels 2-3

I’m a little fond of this adventure, maybe because I’m fond of those 70’s giant animal/horror movies. A woman begs you to find the source of giant animals that just attacked/killed her. Moving into the forest the party encounters many varieties of giant animals until they find the source: some magic potions at the source of a stream. Creative thinking is probably more important than hacking away as ogre-sized bunnies and buffalo with 5’ long hooves are encountered. The tropes comes strong with raccoons hunting a trapper, a bunny chasing a wolf, and so on. One thing I REALLY like about this adventure is the way a decent sized wilderness map is presented, with encounters all over the place, so the party can choose to avoid the swamp, or go through the mountains, or whatever. That’s a good way to support the DM. The encounters are lengthy, but that’s to be expected. This is quite the inoffensive adventure.

Avenging Murik
by Christopher Perkins
Levels 4-6

A good example of a decent setup being ruined by length. A vengeful dwarf and an (unknown to all) evil one seek the parties help to kill an evil giant. The giant is actually the victim. Decent roleplay here. Could be a paragraph instead of 2 pages.

The Sunken Shadow
by James Wyatt
Levels 1-3

A fetch quest underwater with a “surprise” villain. Captain Bob, the paladin, wants you to go search a seawreck for the body of his friend and a magic armband. On the trip there on Captain Bobs ship there are some killings by a sea monster. The wreck has a ghast, some sea creatures, and a vignette showing Captain Bob did something evil. In the spirit of “The Journey is the Destination”, the sea journey is one of the best parts of this and it’s because of the ship/crew. This is an oared ship with a couple of hundred oarsmen and about a eight to twelve well described crew. Everyone LOVES the captain even though it should be obvious to the players that he’s the monster after the first night. There should be some delicious tension here as the party tries to figure out what to do with a couple of hundred allies of the captain on board. The destination is never as good as the journey, and it’s not in this either. The wreck is lame, overly described, and not very interesting. You get water breathing potions from the captain to explore it. Hint: If you have to give the party stuff to make the adventure work then you probably have a big problem in your adventure. I love adventures that telegraph and this one does that, putting the party in a precarious situation. I just hate the underwater portion with the madness of someone prejudiced against underwater adventures.

Swing Shot!
by Chris Doyle
Levels 4-6

This sidetrek is an elaborate ambush on a rope bridge. How many rope bridges have ambushes? Fewer than the number of Side Trek’s that feature Elaborate Ambushes, I’d wager. It’s just a pitched battle with the orcs having the perfect set of stuff they need. Set Pieces are boring. Am I the only one who thinks they are boring?

Operation Manta Ray
by Paul F. Culotta
Levels 6-9

The party needs to infiltrate a pirate town and find a spy and get him out. It turns out he’s got a pirate wife that may not want to betray her pirate friends. The party is clearly meant to get captured/etc and run The Pirates Challenge, a gauntlet/test which takes up a large chunk of the adventure. I’m not fond of these sorts of things. I like a funhouse but not a gauntlet/challenge. I’m fond of a few of the parts of the challenge, especially the first one which is more of a pirate word trick (“All pirate journeys start with a drink! “ if they drink …” you’re not pirates yet!” lash lash lash) The entire place is a little too together. Underwater evil elf patrols with killer whales, ramships, a chain over the harbor, cannons, gargoyles flying around … it’s a little too “complete the adventure the way the designer wants you to.” The open ended nature of the assignment is nice, in theory, but could use more some advice to get things going. It’s a little too “room/key” to support an infiltration/spy mission. In one room entry it notes that to keep up morale sometimes entertainers come in to the closely guarded citadel. That sort of stuff is better moved outside of the keys, for example. The amount of supporting infor for the DM is quite small, at least the amount that’s actionable.

The Petrifying Priestess
by Brian Corvello
Levels 5-7

A small nine room cave with some orcs and medusa. There’s not really much to this. It’s got a pretty lame backstory and hook, all to justify the orcs & medusa in the same cave. Generic Adventure is generic.

Orange and Black
by Peter C. Spahn
Levels 103

A weird adventure. A boy is lost in the forest. Hope someone in the party can track! Eventually he’s found. He tells of a tiger. The party is hired to kill it. The party might then do that. They might also find the tiger’s lair. Inside they might find a journal. They might return the journal to the family. The family will hire them to find a temple that will turn the tiger back into a man … turns out he’s been poly’d. This is part 2; the temple grounds are detailed. Pretty tenuous ties, I’d say. The temple has an arch that does 2d4 damage to clerics and MU’s going through it … without warning. That will kill the firsties and maybe the seconds as well. Ouch. The ruined temple grounds are ok, nothing special, but the beginning is really just one big hook and requires a lot of things to go right to work. Plus: plot reveals via journals, letters, notes are lame and lazy. If you have to resort to it then you should rewrite/rethink the plot/adventure. Fire & Torture are popular alternatives.

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Fuck for Satan

by James Raggi

Animals and children have gone missing from the village of Schwarzton. Locals suspect that an old Satanic coven has re-established itself! Can your intrepid heroes survive dread dungeons and bizarre monsters and save the day?


Well, it’s not as bad as some of the other Raggi adventures. As the publishers blurb says, some kids have gone missing and there was once a satanic cult around. The adventure comes in three parts. The closer you get to the actual cause for the disappearances the shorter the details. The first part is where the party is generally directed and makes up the bulk of the text of the adventure proper. It’s a red herring. The second part, usually triggered after the party gets back from the dungeon in the first part, takes up quite a bit less space and it, still, essentially, unrelated to the actual cause of the disappearances. The third part, the actual cause, is a couple of paragraphs long. A random bear has wandered in nearby and ate the kids. Random chance each day the party stumbles on to the bear. Everything is pretext. Everything is unrelated. It’s just an excuse for the party to stumble around until the bear shows up.

The adventure gets off on the meta. The summary above should clearly illustrate one aspect of the meta. In another part, right outside the dungeon, the party finds a note for them that clearly indicates that the dungeon has nothing to do with the missing children and they should not go in it. In another part the DM is instructed to make their next adventure very easy because one aspect of the adventure has cursed them, the referee. Clearly Jim has fun breaking the fourth wall. All of that nonsense is just performance art. Or, worse, it breaks the contract with the players of the DM being a neutral third party.

The DM has absolute power. The players put themselves at the DMs mercy. There is a contract here. The DM will be neutral and not be a dick and the players will play. When that is broken we get to Killer DM territory; the junior high DM would views the game as adversarial. “I’m too good, You can’t beat me!” one potential DM once told me. I wisely did not play in that game. When the DM goes meta there’s a problem. I’m not saying this adventure does that. Or maybe I am. I’m not exactly sure where the line is. I do know this adventure walks VERY close to that line. One of the most delightful parts is the note addressed to the party. It tells them not to go in. The DM is clearly fucking with the party by putting it in. Is a META note like this FAIRLY fucking with the party? I don’t know. Like I said, it’s close to the line. I like fucking with the party. I like tempting the party. Putting in a deathtrap dungeon, having all of the PC’s say the solution to the quest is in the deathtrap dungeon, putting a sign outside the deathtrap dungeon saying “Nope, the missing kids are not in here.” … I don’t know. It’s too close for me. Maybe it’s a mean-spirited”fucking with the party.” I don’t know.

The satanic cult aspect is quite nice, with a misunderstood alien space penis. It’s a cute little section and it’s too bad that the only you can find it, probably, is after exploring the deathtrap dungeon. That smacks of linearity. It’s a great section where everything makes sense and the party gets one up on the local dirt-farmers with a fellow buddy. A little silly, but in that way all D&D adventures tend to get when they are the most fun, and not much sense of the entire situation being forced (except in getting there in the first place.)

The village is non-existent. There is a lot of padding at the beginning with designer exposition (not much/any useful) and a couple of pages of a long example of play. Instead of this nonsense Raggi could have included some nice NPC’s for the village. The play example is quite colorful but meaningless to the adventure. A page of Pembrooktonshite NPC’s for the village, or the two NPC’s in the play example condensed down to three sentences each and augmented with a dozen more … any of this would have supported the village play. As written the adventure does next to nothing to support this major portion of the adventure. Not good enough! You’re meant to fuck around the village for a long while. And there’s nothing. Well, almost nothing. There’s a pretty good rumor table.

The dungeon is decent and more good than bad. “Bad” in this sense is “Jim Raggi Random Deathtrap.” Again, it’s important for the players to know the consequences of the decisions they make. When very bad things happen to them out of the blue, or seemingly out of the blue, it can seem random. When they KNOW they are making a decision it’s so much more wonderful. Putting a nice treasure on an obvious pressure plate? DELICIOUS. Putting a death trap around the corner at the bottom of a long staircase with no warning? Uncool. This type of nonsense encourages game-slowing behaviour. The kid where the party searches every ten foot section of the dungeon corridor. The kind where it takes 15 minutes of real time to open every door because the hinges, direction of the door swing, construction, etc must all be examined and dealt with. There are a couple of these things in the dungeon. There’s SOME room for this stuff at much higher levels when augury/etc come into play for the characters, but I don’t get the sense that this is a high-level adventure. But there’s other stuff, more of it, that is good. There IS an obvious pressure plate. There’s a room with levers that do things. The stairway deathtrap DOES have a good effect, both in the trap and in the solution and in the color.

Treasure is good, nice and unique. Monsters are good, as they always are in LotFP adventures. New creatures, well described, unique abilities tailored to the environment/creature/theme.

Jim goes on a diatribe/monologue in the beginning about how he gets bored and the quantity of adventures on the market. How he’s not inspired and thus this is how the Meta aspects of Fuck for Satan. I would assume, he’s justifying his other adventures as well … at least the gimmickry/gimpy ones. It’s too bad he feels like he has to do something with a silly gimpy gimmick for it to be interesting.

The village needs an overhaul. The dungeon is nice, if meta and little unfair. The cult is great as an ending. The parts just don’t work together well because it’s meant to be a screw job. Is it fun playing a game you know will be a screw job? (Jim directly advises the DM to not let on it’s a LotFP adventure/screwjob.) Adversarial D&D is not my thing. Maybe Jim should write Fiasco playsets?

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Dwellers Amid Bones

by Creighton Broadhurst
Raging Swan Press
Level 5

Lurking in the watery depths of a fallen orc tribe’s sacred burial cairn amid the bleached, broken bones of savage warriors, honoured champions and mighty warlords the forest drakes Arduthal and Ingeirmaugh have made themselves a comfortable, safe home. Periodically emerging to ravage the surrounding countryside their depredations have reached such a level that Baron Liofa Othen begs the PCs to slay the foul beasts. The cairn’s remote location, inundated, bone?choked passageways and the vengeful, possessive ghost of the orc champion Gork Shattershield, not to mention the drakes’ mistaken identity as green dragons, all stand in the way of the PCs’ victory.

We all have these internal stereotypes about things. A frequent stereotype of modern adventures is that they are verbose, linear, and more encounter based. I try very hard to not fall into those prejudged traps … and then something like this comes along: Verbose, linear, and encounter based Pathfinder adventure. There are some decent parts to this but the slavish devotion to form results in a 21 page adventure with five rooms. And they are not very good rooms.

The adventure proper doesn’t start until page ten. The rest of the beginning is introduction, background, explanation of how to do an appraise check for item value, or how to identify magic items. There’s a room underwater so the adventure also has three pages of filler at the end that includes two pages of underwater rules. For those keeping count we’re now at eight pages for five rooms. TO be fair, the constipation is at the beginning and end, and thus easily ignored, but that still means that we’re averaging 1.5 pages per room for the rest. I’m a softy, so explaining the idiosyncratic rules at the beginning and end is ok with me. The room keys, though, are sacred. And the room keys in this stink.

Long keys. Descriptions on separate lines in each room for illumination, ceiling, and features. Creature descriptions that are half a page long, at least. Each room has three or four features and each one needs a full couple of lines of description.
Bones: Bones cover much of the floor.
Shallow bone piles add 2 to the DC of Acrobatics checks.

That’s about the 900th time time that we’ve been told in the adventure that shallow bone piles add 2 to acrobatics checks. I can’t remember my kids age but I sure as hell now remember the modifier to acrobatics checks for shallow bone piles. The pain in the ass part is that this garbage nonsense is mixed in with some decent stuff. The author says, somewhere in the first 10 filler pages, that they like to present interesting environments to provide tactical options for the players. I might quibble with the reasoning but the outcome is one I agree with. Large piles of bones ARE interesting. So are escarpments, muddy and slick banks into pools of water, and many of the other features presented. It’s just SO verbose and repeated SO many times that it reads more like a 4.0 encounter than it does a environment to adventure in. Does the muddy bank exist because you needed a feature in the room to provide tactical options, or does it exist because it’s a pool of water that, of course, has a muddy bank? For the most part I don’t think it matters, as I mentioned previously, the outcome is the same. But it does come off as lame encounter-based.

The linear nature of the environment doesn’t help. Five rooms, essentially all in a row. A meh background of orcs bodies tossed in a cave and two dragons who moved in. A boring rumor table presented in a fact-based format instead of adding color. It’s all just … boring. Slavish devotion to form. Slavish devotion to the standard fantasy tropes.

What’s frustrating is that there are bits and pieces that are quite good. One NPC is “impressively chauvinistic.” That’s a great description! There’s a great hook for a ½ orc character that involves a vision from an orc god, along with some nice modifiers and a good conclusion. That’s a great little bit to spice things up for the ½ orc. (Everyone likes to feel special sometimes.) A holy vision, with +2 morale modifiers to hit and saves because of the bloodlust/motivation with cleansing the defiled site. Great! And it comes with a reward of turning the bloodlust ability from ½ orc limitation to full orc limitations. AGain, perfect! Non-standard but specific to the character. Likewise the treasure is great. A sword with a dripping blood motif hilt. Scale mail that have the scales looking like severed ears. Those are great! Those are the types of items that tempt the players into keeping them when more powerful, but boring, items show up. The muddy stream, a steep escarpment … all great.

Linear. Verbose. Too much form. Too much filler.

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Dungeon Magazine #65


Knight of the Scarlet Sword
by Jeff Crook
Levels 4-6

Quite verbose, but full of stuff to get into trouble with. A misguided knight in a small village. A polymorphed imp misguiding the knight. A doppleganger impersonating the blacksmith working with the imp who is acting mayor, a thuggish/brutal group of constables, falsely accused villagers, a homunculus, a cave that’s the source of a local myth, an old wizard’s lair, and an “evil” wizard who is turning himself into a lich. Decent rumor table. The thing is laid out in a sandbox form, with a suggested timeline. Could use a little more “Village Life” stuff, but not bad for Dungeon.

by John Baichtal
Levels 6-8

A side-trek. You pick up two shipwreck survivors. One is a disguised goofy pirate and one a poly’d rakshasa. They do not necessarily mean the party harm, and there’s nothing more. IE: this is two NPC’s disguised as an adventure.

The Ice Tyrant
by Christopher Perkins
Dragonlance Fifth Age

DL5 is an act/scene based game, and so this is an act/scene based adventure. It has the usual problems: it assumes you did what you were supposed to do in the previous scene. Scene two has you allied with some elves from scene one. It you killed the elves (I would, they act like assholes) then the DM has problems in scene two. And three. And so on. It’s a juvenile attempt using a broken format, and the format is badly done at that.

by Lisa Doyle
Levels 3-5

Another side-trek. Some people in town have gone missing. There’s a cave, with a will-o-the-wisp that lures people to a gibbering mouther. This has a very nice rumor table (“I think the ran off with that Jones girl without her parents permission!”) but that’s otherwise the only highlight.

The Unkindness of Ravens
by Jason Kuhl
Levels 3-5

I’m fond of this and I’m completely sure why. It’s a murder party in a small castle/manor. During dinner a servant is murdered. The party looks into it. The host is not a dick, and the servants are not either … both quite unusual. There’s a brief timeline and a lot going on. It’s got a “fantasy but not D&D” vibe going on that I like a lot. The prevalence of ravens and other blackbirds, an orangutan demon (yes, it’s a barluga. Piss off, it’s a monkey demon.) Ghostly dwarfs who talk to you in their tomb. It’s got a great vibe. The rooms are not overly described (which alone should win this adventure “Dungeon Adventure of the Year” award) and the NPC’s are brief enough to enjoy and expand upon. The magic items are nothing to write home about. There’s a brief timeline that could use a little work and I’d prefer to have the NPC’s written up outside of their rooms, but otherwise this feels more like a good Nancy Drew fantasy than bog-standard boring-fuck Realms D&D. That’s a compliment.

The Beast Within
by Paul Beattie Jr.
Levels 1-3

This is really just a side-trek, and in that it’s really just an NPC. There’s a guy (a cleric) barricaded in a hut with a bunch of lambs tethered outside. He’s been bit by a werewolf and is trying to contain himself. The “adventure” here is non-existent, but the concept of a NPC cleric for the party to use is a good one. Lots of fun things to do with a friendly high level cleric who has a problem. As written this has a bunch of the bullshit implied morality that I hate. Kill the guy? Oh No! That’s murder! His god doesn’t like you and curses you! Loot the hut after killing him? Oh no! You’re a thief and the law comes after you! There’s no excuse for a dick DM. Baby orcs are there to kill. If you’re DM puts them there to test you, or fuck with you, then you need to go find a new DM.

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The Idea from Space

by Simon Carryer
Low Levels

Xaxus is a creature of pure thought. Manakata is a being of raw power. On an island at the edge of the world, they transform human proxies to act on their behalf. And they war Now it’s you on this island, caught in this battle. Will you remain who you are? Can you?

This is a little sandbox/module in the best/old sense of the word. It describes an environment on an island, and then offers some opportunities to get the party on to the island. It’s not a one-trick pony; it’s more like an eight-trick pony … but one of those tricks is very VERY good. Or appealing. Or something.

What is presented is an island. On the island are two great towers, linked up high by a rope bridge. There’s a number of other minor locations, but those are the centerpieces. The island has a god, in the form of a stone idol. He gifts his followers increased strength and con, at when they fail him their INT and WIS is lowered. They end up looking like some roid-rage blob. Recently a thing from space has crashed. It’s name is Xaxus. It’s an idea. Nothing more, just an idea. He’s a nice guy. And very convincing. Like, 25 CHR convincing. Nothing magical, nothing coerced, just really convincing and likeable. When you freely join him you become a part of a hive mind. But you do it of your own free will, and you can leave again at any time, or your own will. Finally, there was recently a shipwreck, which most likely brings the party to the island in order to find the survivors. With all of this in mind, go read the intro blurb again. Make more sense now? This thing has potential energy written all over the cover in giant red crayon.

This thing has quite a few neat things going on in it, but by far the most interesting is the concept of the Idea of Space, proper. It smacks a bit of Stranger in a Strange Land territory. The groupthink hive mind trope is not too uncommon, but the voluntary nature of this one is what makes it stand out. This, and to a lesser extent the Manakata Bro culture, are both voluntary. This plays on one of my favorite game concepts: temptation. I wonder what happens when the big red button is pushed? Yes, the friendly ogre with jeweled crown has his back turned to you. Hand and Eye of Vecna, sitting right there … This is choice. It’s real choice. No tricks. Both choices are valid. Both choices are both wonderful AND leave you wondering about the road not taken. There’s gotta be some german compound word for this sort of thing. Anyway, it’s an appeal to the PLAYERS rather than the characters. Those tend to be the more effective techniques, and I think it’s really effective here.

Beyond this it’s got a lot of other nice and interesting bits in it. The Xaxus folks can shoot a beam ray when they team up and hold hands. Great Scott! That’s AWESOME! Hive mind cultists joining hands in praise to the larger entity and shooting eyebeams as a result … wonderful! Treasure is on the lighter side and runs a bit into “creative looting”, such as “how much can we get for the glass statue” or “how much for the weird ropes holding up the bridge.” There’s a decent amount of other treasure, generally decently described. On the magic side there’s a ring that stands out. It’s one of those “magic doesn’t impact you” rings … either good or bad magic. And you can’t take it off. And you find it on a severed finger, burnt, in a fireplace. Nice touch. There are not a great many new monsters, but what there is are both described well and illustrated well. I like a good monster description, one that is more evocative than fact based, and the big monster description in this fills that well. The Bro’s are also described nicely.

Touching again on the Temptation theme: both groups on the island are, generally, friendly, or at least neutral. This sets things up well. You get to learn about their problems. You get to learn how they view The Others. You get introduced to the power that will tempt the players. Eventually, the players probably hatch a zany plan and things will end up in some kind of running hackfest, as they always tend to do when players are involved. This module sets that up perfectly.

There are a ton of other neato things in this as well, mostly in the two towers. They range from freaky skeletons (mysteries for the DM to expand upon) to freaky deaky plants, to room puzzles that feel integrated into the complex rather than “puzzle in a room.”

This is nice. It doesn’t have any of the DM torture porn aspects that LotFP have drifted into in the recent years, but it does have all of the non-mechanics interesting content that LotFP tends to feature. Probably because there’s a different designer here.

You can pick it up on the LOTFP website for 9 euro. It’s worth it.

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Against the Cult of the Bat God

The Oakhearst Chainsaw Massacre

by John Bennett
Raging Swan
Level 5

The Lonely Coast’s most remote village, Oakhurst broods under the dark boughs of the Tangled Woods. Rumours of incest, murder and vile rites during the black of night surround its insular citizens. It is a place most wise people avoid as the very air seems inhospitable to strangers. Yet in the rumours is a grain of truth, for something dark does indeed stir in the shadow haunted trees and hunched homes of Oakhurst. An ancient evil, hungry with the thirst for blood, awakens from its eons long sleep. As disappearances mount and the Lonely Coast can no longer turn a blind eye to the blight that is Oakhurst, heroes are called upon to investigate the foul rumours and mysteries that plague the village. As the search for the truth intensifies, they may find themselves the next victims of a rising, bloodthirsty evil. Can they survive Against the Cult of the Bat God?

Pathfinder?!?! Yes, Pathfinder. Don’t be an ass. Every version of D&D is essentially the same. If you can’t run a Pathfinder adventure OSR, or an OSR in Pathfinder, then, well, I’m sorry to have to say this to you: you’re an idiot. This probably goes for Warhammer, The One Ring, MERP, Harn, and every other traditional fantasy RPG. They are all close enough to run. Let’s get the Pathfinder crap out of the way up front. It’s got some magical ren faire shit, like some magic stuff for sale. It’s also got stat blocks for monsters that are a column large, per monster. It’s also got some hideous room/key style that insists on putting break stats next to everything possible, and describing every window, door, and ceiling height, for every room, on a separate line. Pathfinder sells, I get it. But man, the number of trees that died … Do the Pathfinder gamers really not buy stuff if it’s not in this excessively verbose format?

I don’t know where I heard of Raging Swan. I sometimes look at “What’s the best adventure …?” threads on various forums, so I suspect it came up in that. For whatever reason, I’ve got a review box full of the stuff, mixed in with free adventures, con promos and whatever. So you’re gonna get a couple of Raging Swan reviews. Because some idiot somewhere on the internets said they were good. I don’t know what I trusted that idiot over the ones that said some other stuff was good, but I did. So here we are.

This is a good adventure. The better parts of it remind me of Deep Carbon Observatory. DCO presented little scenes, vignettes, inspiration that the DM could then leverage for party fun time. The better parts of this adventure, specifically the village part, remind me a bit of that style. There’s also a little bit of the Steve Jobs “just one more thing …” going on also. One of the hooks has a nobleman approaching the party. His daughter ran away with her fiance to the adventure village and took she absconded with the family jewels … no doubt to pawn. Could you go fetch her back? That’s a pretty standard hook. Just one more thing … you get the feeling he’s more interested in getting his jewels back than his daughter. BLAMO! Just what you need to add a WHOLE lot of life to this interaction with the party. No longer a faceless droid, the nobleman now has something for the DM to work with. There’s a lot of this “little big extra” going on in this adventure. The second hook, by the way, is missing this. The local lord’s steward contacts the party, asking them to look into the village for the lord. What’s missing is that little bit extra: “because he doesn’t trust the reeve he appointed. Don’t contact him.” That turns boring into a spy mission, with additional distrust to play with. Not everything in the adventure is good, as that example shows, but it is at least generally decent, with no railroads.

The adventure centers around a remote forest village. Decrepit and decaying, straight out a Lovecraft story. There are half a dozen notable villagers detailed. There are a handful of events detailed. There is a full percentile table full of “village backdrop” to add character to the village. There’s a handful of businesses presented. There’s a timeline presented for what happens. It’s just about perfect as the centerpoint for a village investigation locale. Try this on for size: Cats hiss at one another, fighting over a piece of rotten meat before howling and running off. A decrepit old man swoops in to grab it and begins to stuff it into his mouth. This is exactly the sort of stuff to bring a place to life. It sets the atmosphere, for both the DM and player, perfectly.

The party is hooked into the remote village. They poke around a bit and eventually get attacked that first evening. Which leads to an investigation of an old manor, which leads to another ambush, and then to a ritual in a dark cave the next day. Poke around, shit happens, do some B&E to get some more information, suffer some consequences, confront the baddie. Pretty standard. And very well executed. Werebats, the creepy village, the creepy manor (“a small sack filled with hundreds of human teeth spills over”), this is a classic example of a well-executed “showing instead of telling” adventure. Telling the party Bob is evil is a “meh” situation. The party discovering a bag of bloody humanoid teeth shows the party that Bob is evil … a much more successful way of making an impact during the adventure. This adventure does that very well. I fucking LOVE the tables in this adventure that are used to add some of that showing. The adventure proper does a decent job and it’s taken over the top by those tables.

I already touched on the verbosity a bit, but let me give another example. It illustrates perfectly the agony/ecstasy of the area descriptions in this adventure. Area M2 is the Animal Pens. “The Wearnes kept an assortment of chickens and rabbits to drink their blood.” Then there’s a little two-sence read-aloud that has a nice little bit about flies buzzing angrily around the pens. Then there’s a little bit about the family neglected the animals kept in here and they starved to death, the stench of rotting bodies hanging in the air. PERFECT. EXCELLENT! Mood set! DM Energized! Then the animal coop is described on a separate line, adding nothing of import. Then the fence is described (along with the require fucking break DC), adding nothing. Then the pen yard is described, adding nothing. All of that is at least as long as the first, good part, and maybe ever a bit longer. Going through the required (Pathfinder?) forms detracts insteads of adds.

Some of the treasure is very nice. A +1 dagger that is shaped like a scalpel with a metal handle. Some kick ass books, which double as spellbooks. Exactly what spellbooks should be. A short collection of profane poems to evil gods acts as a scroll of augury. Cool! The Necrotic Codex of Evern Holstam is bound in tanned human skin with a spine fashioned by a leg bone. It’s a treatise on the undead, and contains all L1 and L2 necrotic spells. Sweet! This is treasure! The party will shit themselves AND covet them! Awesome!

The monsters here are almost all new. While original, and well illustrated, they could use a little bit more descriptive text to communicate the flavor to the DM. But, bonus points for non-book monsters. Or at least using monsters that I don’t recognize.

There’s a miss or two also. There’s a journal present that describes the evil plan. Journals, a staple of Lovecraft and CoC, are a cop out. Find a different way to communicate things. Prisoners or something. The village feels smaller, described, than what’s portrayed on the text. The random village trappings help with this a bit, but it’s still feels a bit … empty and unsupported? I don’t know … I might be wrong about this. The trappings table is VERY strong. The main baddie, a werebat, also uses a Wand of Wounding type thing. That’s fucking lame. Make the werebat do werebat things. A werebat using a wand smacks of DM fiat. let him shoot green rays from his glowing green eyes if you want him to have a ranged attack. But using a monster using a wand is lame. The werebats have already been tweaked. They worship a dark bat god. Why not leverage that instead of jerking us out of the werebat mindset?

This is solid. It’s organization is not perfect, but it does a decent job of laying things out for you so it’s to run during actual play. The tables and information is easy to find, even if they are not reproduced in the back or on a tear sheet.

The PDF is $9 on rpgnow, with the print being $14. If you have any interest in what I’ve described then I would encourage you to look into this. I’ve bought adventures for a lot more that were a lot less good.

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Dungeon Magazine #64

Grotto of the Queen
by Paul F Culotta & Shari Culotta
Levels 6-9

This is an overly-verbose attack on a sea temple. Seriously, it goes on for at least two page, three if you count some sidebars, in order to justify the premise of the adventure. Evil Bad Guy hints to a third party that the adventurers are the right people for a certain job, then listens invisibly to the plan, and then teleports to the evil temple to warn them. This is yet another example of an adventure Trying To Explain Things. The byzantine efforts gone through are crazy, and very off-putting. Getting past that you get to a pretty decent wandering monster table, that are excellent little set ups for adventure. A little long, at a paragraph each instead of a sentence, but still good. There’s an evil village with a nice evil tavern full of Potential Energy … and they don’t attack on sight, giving the party a great opportunity for roleplaying and fun. The temple proper is … verbose. It’s trying to explain the room, what the plans for the room were, what happened in the room, and then sometimes what people in the room tell the party they know. I don’t know how many tenses of verb that is. The idea is that the temple set up an ambush, but another group of murder-hobo’s stumbled in to it, and now the party is coming in a couple of hours later to find the aftermath of a battle. There’s a nice timeline that goes along with it, with the temple finally figuring out what’s what. The whole “Surprise, it’s the REAL us!” thing is sure to bring joy to your PC’s. The treasure and scenes are not that evocative, but it’s a decent setup that plays to a group power fantasies.

Bzallin’s Blacksphere
by Christopher Perkins
Levels 12-15

The longest adventure in this issue is a big ol monster zoo battle with just about every evil high HD monster in the book. Primarily a wizard’s castle, with interdimensional protections and wrap-around corridors, it’s chock full of evil wizards, devils, and a shit-ton of other extraplanar evil creatures. There’s a sphere of annihilation growing in a town, and the local mage thinks that the old local mage, Bzallin, has a talisman that will stop it. Then some yugoloths break in and try to kill everyone, name dropping that Bzallin is now a lich. You go to Bzallin’s old ruined fortress, fight some undead and wizards, then teleport to this new extra-dimensional fortress. Kill all of the mages, devils, slaadi, etc in sight, then go home. This isn’t a very interesting adventure, although it foreshadows some of the design elements to come in 3E and 4E, especially the combined arms monster approach to planning rooms. Pick some monsters that could work well together and construct some pretext for them working together. This strains credibility, in my opinion. You have to work within the rules you lay out for your world and this world-view just doesn’t fit mine. It’s just room after room of combat. Nothing too interesting.

Last Dance
by Jeff Crook
Levels 4-6

I can only hope that there is a special hell for the designers of these one-trick pony adventures. The party is lured to a house to be killed It’s full of traps, the most notable are in the form of bodies controlled like puppets. The woman who hires you won’t get out of her carriage (her eyes are hurt by bright light …) and has pallid skin. How many parties, do you think, killed her right then and there? Notably, if killed she comes back more powerful as an evil spirit that possesses the house. Go into a room, get impacted by a trap/effect, repeat. I hate these gimpy/DM torture-porn adventures.

The Mad Chefs of Lac Anchois
by Jennifer Stack
Levels 6-9

A farce of an adventure featuring two cloud giants chefs/brothers running a restaurant in a famous culinary region of the land. Three giants food critics are on their way soon, and the brothers are serving frog legs. But they captured grippli instead of frogs. They kobold waitresses and ogre mage sommelier run interference for the giants, and they are belligerent if interrupted in the kitchen. Frauds, they have stolen their recipes from a Julia Childs cookbook. It’s clearly meant to be farcical, but I think you could fit into a fey-land adventure, or a nice dungeon-town environment. It IS badly organized though, in room/key/description format. Ihe important bits of timeline & interaction should be moved out of the keys.

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No Country for Weak Men

by Anders Lager
Lazy Sod Press
Swords & Wizardry
Levels 3-4

Somewhere in Frostreave… “Ever since we left that so-called town at the edge of the land of eternal ice, I’ve been freezing my butts off! And no trace of that were-whatever-thing we’re supposed to hunt down. Our best scout, Halross, says she’s been passing here, into this valley, but I get a bad feeling from all this silence, frost and snow. It’s empty here. No animals. No tracks. No nothing, but ice and snow. It’s not natural… And now we’re stuck in this cave. The blizzard has lasted two days now, and our supplies are almost gone. Hell, I’d give a sack of gold for a cold ale and a hot wench in my lap right now. I can smell the fear of the others – die of starvation or disgust here, or freeze to death out there. And some other not so pleasant smells too… Some choice, huh? Maybe we can roast that gnome’s pony? Would have been nice with some food now… Or, we just roast the gnome… Everyone’s on the edge. No sign of the blizzard waning either. I reckon someone will snap soon… Well, not me. Guess it’s time we get moving…”
This is a short fifteen room tomb complex, mostly linear, in the frozen north. It’s got some decently unique monsters and magic, but it resembles some cross between Tomb of Horrors and Grimtooth more than a dungeon adventure. The adversarial vibe from Tomb of Horrors is present here as well, and it’s something I’ve always had a hard time getting into.

It starts off well enough: “General feel: Dark, cold. Everything is covered in a thin layer of frost. Not disturbed for ages. Faint smell of decay in the stale air. All areas are either cut out of the bedrock or natural caves. The doors are made of hard wood and locked or barred. All scribblings are in an archaic form of Old Elvish.“ That’s some pretty good inspirational text. It sets mood in a very good way. You can build off of that, getting into the right frame of mind to expand the room descriptions. Then it immediately drops off at the first room. About a half page of text to describe a cave with a body in it and a secret door in the back wall. And it’s not good description either. It has advice like “(easy perception roll)” and “Close to the corpse there’s a small triangular opening in the stone wall, leading into the depths of the rock. (average perception roll)” It goes on. A lot. This is a really great example of an unfocused writing style. It’s very conversational. It’s trying to provide atmosphere, and rules, and facts, and inspiration, but it’s not really doing much of any of that very well. Spurious text like “close to the corpse” doesn’t really give us anything to work with, it’s more like a boring fact. “Embedded in its bloody hand” does a much better job, if it is even required. The description is more like a stream of consciousness outpouring from the writer. It’s a decent start, for a first draft, but needs a polish to focus the writing, to dig into what’s important and improve it and drop the rest. Most of the rooms in the adventure are like that.

The grimtooth/Tomb of Horrors vibe turns me off also. It’s a pretty strong reaction from me, and I’m sure I’m prejudiced against this sort of dungeon. A pool of water in a natural cave that’s actually acid, or a sodium ball that drops into a pool of water to explode. Lots of levers to pull to make certain things happen. I like all of these elements, separately, but when put together in a “Challenge” style tomb I start to react badly. I think it’s the whole “the dungeon builder/wizard wants to test you” thing that I loathe, and this resembles that if you squint enough.

The dungeon is pretty linear. The map looks like a Logos-style map, but is’ pretty linear with a couple of offshoot corridors with more empty rooms and “challenges.” It’s not really large enough to stretch your legs in or to get that feeling of dread from not knowing what’s down the road not taken.

It does a decent job with the monsters and the treasure. It’s new monsters and treasure, which is always nice to see. The descriptions are a bit wanting though. “As normal skeletons, but armed with norse weapons.” Not exactly inspiring. Spectral skeletons dripping with ectoplasm (a different monster) is a bit better.

The ending has the undead king arise, 10 turns later, and begin to summon an army of the dead. The beginning has the party find a cross that is used as a kind of key to open some of the doors/traps in the complex. Both of those elements are pretty decent. It’s the middle that suffers a lot. The conversational style leads to the lack of focus in the descriptions, resulting in boring instead of inspiring.


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