Proteus Sinking

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by Bjorn Warmedal
Psychedelic Fantasies
D&D
Levels 1-3

Recall: I like gonzo and spaceships full of slime people is certainly gonzo.

Of the eight Psychedelic Fantasies adventures this may be the weakest. It’s still better than most of the dreck published. It reminds me of Tegal, Vampire Queen, and perhaps most closely: Dungeon of the Bear. Random-ish things in rooms with a paragraph or so for each, that work out to be puzzles … if you have a broad definition of the word puzzle.

The adventure details the goings-on in a spaceship crashed in a swamp. The encounters fall into three broad categories. First, there are the inhabitants of the ship. There’s not really much direction given here, and most of them are in one room having a disco party. Secondly there are the weird levels, buttons, boxes, and pipes of the ship that fill most of the rooms. Finally there are several rooms that have things from outside the ship in them, tentacles from the swamp and the like. Most of the rooms fall into the second category: weird ship stuff.

Like Dungeon of the Bear, this adventure lacks evocative descriptions. The room descriptions are focused and not full of extraneous information (Yeah!) but they are not exactly powerfully written either. I’m not sure what the issue is. Passive descriptive text or some other problem. The imagery around the rooms is not very evocative though and that’s an issue for something that you need to fill to run well. I’m looking for a description to cement itself in my mind and be a springboard to further description that my own brain can fill in. The description needs to plant a seed that I can expand on. I just don’t get that here. It’s all slightly … bland. The core of the room encounters are fine, I guess. But they don’t come across as interesting, exciting, and something you want to run and experience.

I’m sure many folks will latch on to the Disco Room. It’s a room full of slime people drinking, dancing, and looking slightly depressed. As if they are trying desperately to fight off the melancholy by going through the motions. This room is desperate for MORE. Examples, a random table, 12 personalities that are a shade of “melancholy.” Alas, nothing of the like will be found.

PF has committed itself to bare bones presentation. I would suggest that may be a mistake in certain situations. In this adventure we get a map of ship that’s clearly been done in some line-drawing application. Boring, bland, and communicating nothing except where the walls are, it’s crying out for more. A little tentacle drawn in. A water notation. SOMETHING.

Maps is maps, and the DM still does need to bring all adventures to life, but the purpose of the product is to help the DM do that. This one doesn’t do as good a job of that as I’d like. It’s right on the edge of my “keep it or burn it” threshold.

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Dungeon Magazine #49

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A cover painting of a poisoned flute? Oh, this should be gooooood …

The Dark Place
by Lee Sheppard
AD&D
Levels 5-7

A Predator-clone so clone-like that it suggests you watch the movie! I kind of enjoyed the backstory, for once. It could have been cut WAY down, but a demon that stops fearing the townfolk and attacks day & night, picking them off, paints a nice image. It is,of course, completely irrelevant to any actual play, but any port in a storm. Anyway … while reprovirioning a ship there’s an abandoned town run across and a demon playing Predator with hit & run attacks. The party finds a missing sailor, who, while a COMPLETE coward, tried to convince the party to be brave and save the first mate or the ship’s captain will be mad at them. The juxtaposition between the sailors words and actions seem lost on the man. The hit and run attacks then start. In another stunning example of middle-class morality, you get more XP for letting an undead possess you and less-than-book-value if you kill it. Lovely. Finally, the backstory is told through a found journal entry. Here’s a tip: if you have to tell your story through a journal/diary/etc, then you haven’t done a good job with the adventure and need to edit it again.

I really want to bitch about one thing though: the purpose of the adventure vs the content provided. THINK. What is the purpose of your adventure? Your content should match that. In both this adventure and in another recent Dungeon one (the middle-eastern one with the guy coming out of the paint and killing people) this problem is quite noticeable. In both the room descriptions are presented as “normal.” IE: too much text telling you irrelevant things; aka the style of the time. Instead the text should be used to … support the adventure! Stunning thought, I know. In this adventure the demon is supposed to be doing hit & runs on the party. The text for the rooms should be supporting that. Instead of giving us a long paragraphs on describing a well in the parade grounds it should instead be loading us up with ideas. It hides in the well, ready to yank someone in looking over the edge, and things like that. This one tip would save a billion trees and immeasurably improve almost every adventure ever published. Figure out what your adventure is supposed to be doing and use the text to support it. Really THINK.

Two for the Road
by Tony Quirk
AD&D
Levels 2-5

DM torture porn. The party buys a wagon that has two gremlins hiding in it that the DM can use to torment the party. The DM is encouraged to make the wagon buying seem normal, ignoring the fact that ANYTHING the DM says in D&D is immediately taken as significant.

Lenny O’Brien’s Pot O’Gold
by J. Lee Cunningham
AD&D
Levels 3-6

Jesus Fuck, two and half pages of backstory for four pages of adventure! That must be a new Dungeon record. Leprechaun steals from party to lure them to a locale and trick them into killing some mudmen that have his pot of gold. Annoying fey (“Oh boy! Kender!” has never been uttered, ever, in the history of RPG’s) and DM fiat combine to provide a frustrating experience for the players. I love fey. The backstory here is not bad, especially if shortened to two paragraphs. This isn’t a fey adventure though; it’s more DM torture porn. Adversarial with none of the heart and soul of a fey adventure.

North of Narborel
by Christopher Perkins & Bob Waldbauer
AD&D
Levels 4-7

Two full columns of read-aloud start us off on the right foot. The party is hired to investigate some missing ships/suspected pirates. It leads to a battle on a ship at dock, a brief sea journey, and a small eight-ish room cave complex; the pirate HQ. The port town descriptions are a bit above average, but don’t really impact the adventure very much. Generic port town or the port town this adventure takes place in? Decision time, authors! The town portion does have a bit of a sandbox feel, and it quite open ended in the solutions available to solve the town portion. That’s very nice. Perhaps frustrating for less creative parties, and thus some DM advice could have sprinkled in. Town leads to caves adventure in the pirate base, and most likely a big battle and some chasing through the caves. The cave maps are above average, and can provide a good non-linear environment for this sort of thing. Overall, not bad. It lacks colour, but most things do.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
by Bradley Schell
AD&D
Levels 1-2 (One PC)

This is one of those “you are the subject of a monster summoning spell” adventures. One PC keeps getting sucked back in by a certain wizard, compelled to obey. A little of this goes a long way, and it’s hard to work the rest of the party in. As a running gag it could be good, with the PC trying to ferret out where/who the wizard is so they can encourage them to stop. But again, a little goes a long way in the “compelled/annoyed” category. See Also: Leprechaun adventure.

Castle of the Blind Sun
by Todd Baughman, Paul D. Culotta, Shari Culotta
AD&D
Levels 10-15

Some people love this one but I don’t get it. The party is forced into helping an elf maiden, finds a wizards tower, hits a town, goes up a mountain, and then explores a small castle. There is nothing remarkable about this adventure. Well, ok, no. It does recommend some musical pieces to accompany some of the scenes. Evidently, it was an experiment. Some artist was complaining that words came first and then the art. Why not the other way around? Art, then the adventure text!

Layers and layers of text pound you into submission. The setup/hook is a total railroad job where a group of 15th level adventurers are expected to be caught with their pants down. You’re forced to trust the NPC … it goes on and on. One of the worst hooks I’ve ever seen. At least “caravan guard” doesn’t insult our intelligence. The main villain is a 15th level bard … who defrauds people 50gp at a time. Uh … The castle was magically built for a different bard, a blind one. It features intelligent flesh golem butlers who lie down to rest, magic kitchens, and gelatinous cube garbage disposals. Reams of text. No charm. Nothing interesting. I suspect not even a challenge for four 15th level party members. Gee, hmmm, a sucky high-level adventure. That’s a new one.

There’s a Demotivator that goes “Mistakes – Perhaps the purpose of your life is to serve as a warning to others.”

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Streams of the Lucid Crack

pf6

by Paul Keigh
Psychedelic Fantasies
D&D
Mid-levels?

Uh … so …

Go read the review of Dreams of the Lurid Sac. http://tenfootpole.org/ironspike/?p=2633

Got it? Ok. This is a less procedural and more accessible version of Lurid Sac. IE: Paul Keigh has sold out. No, no no. Just kidding. He has, perhaps, slowed down his opiate use just a tad, and as a result this adventure is more approachable than Lurid. It presents the same kind of alien environment that Lurid did, albeit in a different form. Both are populated with a host of strange creatures and have large random portions to them. Lucid Crack is less procedural/randomly generated than Lurid Crack is. This is Spire of Iron & Crystal turned up to 12. Just as with the other PF adventures, this could be dropped into almost any type of RPG or campaign and would fit well. Strange, isn’t it? You have to go back to the roots of D&D and by throwing away all convention you finally get to true Universal RPG Supplement products that don’t suck.

There’s this underground complex. The rooms are all made up of 3-d diamond-like “cells”, with an exit on each of the 3 walls. The floor is the same depth below the door as the ceiling is above each. IE: the “doors” are way above the floor. All of the surfaces are covered in cryptic writing. There’s a scree slopes that leads down into the complex. There’s a huge gaping wound of ruined earth running through it. Uh … there’s a great, and growing, deep deep pit in the middle of the complex. Most rooms have some magma wells in the bottom and those have steam in them. THe various rooms have “gardens” in some of them. There are a dozen types of weird-ass creatures roaming about, doing various things. I’m sure I’ve left out about two dozen other things. Summary: It’s a weird ass place that’s been impacted by by several events which are probably not related to each other. I’d like to note that this fact (several events/history) is one of the defining features of several great adventures. From Many Gates of the Gann, to Spawning Grounds of the Crab-men, and maybe even Barrier Peaks, the Bowman map/adventure creation tutorial, and How to Host a Dungeon, the history of place and the impacts of time are some of the defining characteristics of these great adventure locales.

Remember that Lurid Sac review I made you read? For our purposes today you can consider everything in it as also applying to this adventure. Yeah, it’s a cop-out for me to say that. But it also allows me to touch on the differences without having to go explain Lurid Sac all over again. I was barely able to do that the first time. In short: this is a hardcore location-based adventure, ala those awesome MERP supplements from long-ago, but describing an alien environment. The players, through their exploration add the adventure.

Lucid Crack is quite a bit more approachable than Lurid Sac. The transition from a biological environment to a cave-like environment somehow make the comprehension of the product easier. Perhaps because the biological component is removed or because we’re used to dealing with caves & dungeons. Don’t get me wrong, this is a VERY non-traditional cave/dungeon and has more in common with the biological Lurid Sac than it ever would any cave/dungeon, but the cementing of the ideas through a more traditional environment translates into something a little easier to comprehend.

Two other things also contribute to this more approachable nature. There’s a little more purpose in this adventure, it seems. There are some creatures hanging out inside that have a direction relationship to the environment, the purpose behind it. This adds something to the adventure, but describing what is hard. A purpose perhaps? While Lurid Sac simply felt like it existed, this place feels a little more … purpose-driven. That extra little bit, like the non-organic walls, allows you something to hang your hat on and ground you in what’s to come. It’s a bit like someone pushing you at the top of the sledding hill: just a bit goes a long way. Similarly, the side-effect of the environment gives you a good hook. The rooms contains knowledge. By remaining in them you can learn things. (Knowledge skills! Yeah!) But they also learn from the occupants. They encode the knowledge of those that visit. I’m sure you can see how this leads to adventure. Voldemort visits to learn some hidden knowledge and then the party shows up to learn things leaked from Voldie’s head … and then you have to interact with the “owners” to figure out where (and even more to figure out there ARE owners!) and then you need to go do other things for them before they reveal the secrets, etc. It fits in almost any campaign. Again, just a little bit more to get the DM started leads to endless possibilities. These are the little bits of data that I’m always talking about wanting in an adventure. Just some throwaway comments, a couple of sentences, about the knowledge thing, leads you, the DM, to build and build and build on it. It’s a jump-start. It’s what every adventure should provide, time and time again, in it’s pages.

I’ve got one suggestion for improvement, and it’s related to the creatures. The various creatures in both Lucid and Lurid have names that are … almost random? When combined with the hard-core new creatures things can get a bit confusing. I’m pretty sure Psychadelic is committed to now/low art, to keep costs down, so relieving the issue with some line drawings seems out. Somehow clarifying the creature names and their relation to who they are and what they do needs to happen. What’s a Waarfa? Or A Drevod? Or any of the other 10 or so similar random assortments of letters? How do you ties those letters back to what they do and what they look like? I think 1 creature type sticks out to me, and I’m still not sure I can describe it in any way other than its purpose. This is a problem.

Paul’s adventures (Lurid & Lucid) are not the usual 0-work things. You need to read, think about, and plan and note-take a bit. I’m usually not very happy about that in an adventure. These are SO out there that they get a pass. Also, they cost $3. You won’t invest $3 in some of the most unusual D&D content ever published? Really?

Churl.

(Is “Philistine” still acceptable to use?)

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The Harvester From Outer Space

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by Yves Geens
Psychedelic Fantasies
D&D
Fuck it if I know the level. 4-ish?

From the introduction …
As the PCs are camped out one night during their travels, they are caught in a bright tractor beam and with the deafening noise of blaring horns steadily pulled up into the ship …

She’s sweet brown sugar with a touch of spice!

Uh, I mean; this is a couple of levels of an overrun alien space, ala Metamorphosis Alpha. I’m totally in love with that genre, so I’m predisposed to liking this. It could be a drop in for almost any game system, but MA & Gamma World are both lacking a lot of content. It’s the usual Psychedelic Fantasies fare, meaning it focuses on the new & imaginative. Geoff’s PF line is really one of the best lines being actively published.

The adventure is a little ham-handed: you get tractored-beamed up to the ship and need to find the escape. After that, though, the goodness begins. Even if you’re not into Sci Fi in your D&D, this adventure presents itself well.

There’s a type of adventure writing, exemplified in some of the earlier TSR D&D modules, in which the adventure is explained through the room keys. In other words, as you travel through the keys it becomes more and more apparent what the deal is the dungeon. The summary is kind of built in to the descriptions by using the text. It’s nothing overt; you just learn more as more of the “picture” is revealed. This allowed those adventures to have, generally, quite short introductions/backgrounds. This adventure does that as well. The entire front-end is only a half page, and then the keys start. The party appears in room 1 and room 2 tells us that guards, “cronies of new boss Borzum, make money on the side by robbing new arrivals.” We now know that there’s some kind of boss/dictator thing going on, power just changed hands, and things are a bit rough and chaotic. From one short sentence a picture emerges and we view every other room from now on through the light cast by this second room. This is excellent design! No preaching, or monologues, or endless exposition. Just a short little sentence that communicates more to the DM than a page of backstory could. It empowers the DM’s imagination rather than forcing it to conform. This continues throughout the adventure, setting up several situations.

The rooms are imaginative and there are many memorable characters for the party to interact with. “Glorp’s Pad” houses a blob-like thing that loves to have his photo taken with visitors; photos of Glorp with other aliens cover the walls. He sells people jars of his own slime. How can you not love that? Imagine the difference if this were one of the endless number of schlock “standard” adventures. “The slime attacks!” Oh, that’s original. Slime that attacks. *YAWN* You know what’s more fun than a, ogre wearing a 10,000gp crown attacking the party? An ogre with a 10,000 gp crown NOT attacking the party. Every time the party meets this potential friend they are going to be thinking “man, if we had that crown we could pop a level, for sure!” THAT’S fun. The monsters and treasures are unique and wonderful, as they are in all Psychedelic Fantasies adventures. I’d go on about them but it feels like a broken record. It’s one of the core design principals of PF and it’s one of the reasons that the line is better than almost everything else. It brings the mystery and wonder that is missing from the book-standard stuff. The wanderers do things, and the room descriptions are tight enough to use during play while being vivid enough to spur the DM’s imagination: eight or nine keyed encounters per page, including monster stats.

My criticisms may be two small ones. First, it’s 2015. It’s time that the maps were better. I don’t give a crap about art, I want data. Put more data on the maps. I guarantee you I am printing out the map and putting it on my screen. What else can you put on it? Wanderers? Monster tear sheet? Second, there are factions here, at least implicitly. A little more work could have gone in to this aspect. It’s pretty clear that the minor godling and the crime lord/boss may be on different sides, as well as others. A few extra words, at the beginning or in the text, would have done a lot more to build up the real “living town” aspect of the adventure. After all, that’s kind of what this place is akin to. It’s an abandoned ruin that some folks have set up a town in. That’s means it’s a social adventure, and social adventures require a little more in the way of interaction.

Those are not anything other than minor nits compared to the content you get for $3 From the odious potion maker to the gregarious alien who wants to take selfies with you, this thing is a joy. A bit haphazard, but still a joy. Content is king.

I think PF has something like six or seven adventures in the line now. You could buy them all for about $20. It will be one of the best $20 you’ve ever spent on RPG material.

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Dungeon Magazine #48

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To Bite The Moon
by Lisa Smedman
AD&D
Levels 9-12

This is a weird little adventure. In a gnoll cave, with 70-some odd gnolls, the party is turned in to gnolls by a wish. There’s then a little straight-forward cave system. The cave adventure has a nice three-levels-on-one-page map with ten rooms, but the encounters are generally nothing to speak of at all. There’s some snake skins and a lavender mold which is nice, but otherwise it’s just “3 giants in the room” or “a cave fisher.” The noteworthy part of this adventure is that the party is turned in to gnolls in the first room. This is a bit of a railroad, but it’s also presented in such a way that it’s actually the hook … and the hook is always allowed a bit more leeway. There’s a bit if roleplay around this, as the tribe interacts with the party, but it’s otherwise not really a part of the adventure. I find this quite odd. It’s almost like a random event, but presented like it’s one of the chief components of the adventure. Half-measures and potentials not realized.

The Oracle at Sumbar
by Paul D. Culotta
AD&D
Levels 3-6

This is a strange little thing. It’s wordy, convoluted, straightforward, and weirdly enjoyable. Dungeon is full of exposition, every adventure being more wordy, by far, than it need be. This one goes even further though. And yet it’s focused. You’re implored to help a woman with a debt by selling a book for her. Each of the potential places you might stop is detailed. One of them leads to an Oracle. Hiring a ship takes you to the oracle and then on to the treasure of a pirate king. There is the usual “you were tailed and now they pop up at the end.” There is a great deal of advice given. There are a great number of … paths? explored. There’s a great number of small interesting things going on, It is a very richly environment that is painted.That rich environment is always what I’m after, however I’m generally looking for a much terser application of the principal. Given a good read-through I think you could run this WITHOUT extensive notes prepared in advance, or maybe not even a highlighter. This speaks to the skill of the writing, particularly given how wordy it is.

Them Apples
by Christopher Perkins
D&D
Levels 1-3

This is trying to set up a little fairy tale/folklore adventure. Halfling apple trees are poisoned. The cure was stolen by a giant. What follows is supposed to be a charming little adventure, with giant wives & daughters, giant wooden spoons. What we actually get is a standard little giant house layout with the usual things in it. The problem here is that it’s presented as a straightforward “explore the house” adventure when in fact it’s not. While the chief giant is an erudite fellow not inclined to violence, and the other giant women strike generally to subdue, it has no … charm? It’s clear what is SUPPOSED to happen, but it’s all up to the DM to make it happen. Hmmm, that didn’t come out right. The adventure, as written, has a certain tone to it. If you’re familiar enough with folklore you can ignore the presented tone and mold this in to a good adventure.

Melody
By Leonard Wilson & Ann Wilson
AD&D
Levels 6-8

Uh … a small tower with some orogs and ettins in it. The hook is that the party is lured there by an enchanting song. It’s a harpy polymorphed into an elf as a child and raised with no understanding of her past. This is clearly the most interesting part of the adventure. As a nice way to introduce a long-term NPC quest-object it would be great … if a little long. The core adventure is just a throw-away while the “further adventures with the harpy” section contains mostly generalities. Had it instead laid out some specifics then you’d have great advice for taking the elf/harpy NPC and integrating it well and fully into your campaign: lots of hooks, lots of adventures and quest ideas. Instead we get sentence after sentence reinforcing that her voice is enchanting. Ug. And people say _I_ beat flog my grounded horses!

Sleeping Dragon
by Bill Slavicsek
AD&D
Level 6 Dragon

1-on-1 with a Dragon PC.

Honor Lost, Honor Regained
by Paul Hamilton Beattle Jr
AD&D
Levels 4-6

The party must escort a fallen paladin, who’s afraid of spiders, in to a cave with spiders and a drider. That’s it. There’s nothing to do. You get to help a pompous ass. Yeah you! The cave has 5 encounters. All straight-forward spiders. Zzzz……

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Dreams of the Lurid Sac

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by Paul Keigh
Psychedelic Fantasies
D&D

Uh … I don’t know if I can review this.

This is a site based adventure with no overarching objectives or hooks. It’s just a place for you to dump into your game. I’m not sure, but I don’t think it’s breaking any new ground in any particular area. What it IS doing though is being committed to a vision. This thing has a core concept and it is FOCUSED on it. Elements of this adventure have been found in other adventures in bits & pieces, but no other adventure has, I believe, put them all together in one shell.

You’re adventuring inside of a creature, the titular Lurid Sac. Remember Fantastic Voyage? The interior sets looked … alien? Weird fibers, colors, flows, creatures. Well that’s what’s going on here. Most of the “adventuring inside a create” things I’ve seen have been half-efforts. There are doors, or stairways built in, or something like that. None of that is in this one. No stairs or doors or comforts of home brought in by travellers. This is a truly alien environment … exactly the way an alien environment should be.

Imagine a hundred overlapping bubbles, on maybe three layers. That’s the map. Where they touch you can massage the membranes to get through. Some of the bubbles have special purposes: the cortex, the mouth, the neck, the “sponges” that allow access to the outside, and so on. The rest of the bubbles are procedurally generated, as are the contents. There are random monsters, events, contents, humours … you get the idea. Most of it is simply enough to handle in practice.

Hmmm, that’s a description and not a review. Ok, review. First, the environment is truly alien. You’re gonna be confronted with having to understanding it, from what’s written, and in relaying it to the players. It should be worth it though; I’m not sure I’ve seen something so alien and so … committed, even with all the bizarro stuff I’ve seen in the 1-page contests and the weirder Finch stuff. This is good. Strange pools of humors, veins of humors, bulging membranes, this should all provide a unique experience for your players.

The creatures, while procedurally generated, are well done. They are, of course, unique. This is a feature of all creatures in Psychedelic Fantasies modules. While procedurally generated, each one DOES have 6 or so activities they could be engaged in. This is PERFECT. It takes, literally, 2 extra lines of text and provides the EXACT sort of springboard the DM can combine with the procedurally generated room in order to run the adventure. PERFECT. I say again: PERFECT. This is a monster table done right. There are also factions, with faction based rewards. The Lurid Sav vs. The Invasives, with the parasites running around on their own. GREAT for launching mini-missions within the environment.

I could go on. I could go on a Lot. This is a fully realized place that, while procedurally generated, brings more … bizarro? than a hundred other products. I’m generally down on procedurally generated stuff, but I’ll take this one.

This IS going to take some work to prep for. A few rolls ahead of time, some monster reference sheets/photocopies/printouts and the like will reduce the page-turning during play. It’s also going to take a STRONG read to wrap your mind around it. That could point to the need for better organization, although how I’m uncertain. The crossover potential, from Rifts to any sci-fi or modern day game, is huge. How many adventures can truly say that?

Like I said earlier, the only new ground here is the commitment to the vision. Because of that there is no letting up; this is a relentless view of an alien environment. If you can handle that then this is a must buy. It’s what, $3? You won’t spend $3 on one of the most bizarro environments I’ve seen in nearly 500 reviews?

You know, when I go to cons I sometimes dig through the used/old book boxes in the dealer hall. I’m looking for some forgotten gem. Something different, something special. A forgotten work of genius. This is that thing I’m looking for. When someone picks this 30 years from now they are stare in disbelief as they page through the thing. This is thick and dense the way Thracia or Dark Tower is. It’s alien in a way I’ve never fully seen before. It’s got the uniqueness in creatures and treasure that Psychadelic is known for. The ONLY downside is the procedural nature, and even that has had the rough edges filed off and made easy for the DM.

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The Caves of Ortok

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by John Paul McCartan
InfiniBadger Press
Labyrinth Lord (& S&W & OSRIC)
Levels 3-5

Centuries ago, the great wizard Ortok broke apart his treasure vault and secreted his collection in multiple hidden caches throughout the world. Some of these caches have already been found, but many more remain undiscovered. Rumors suggest that one such cache may be found in some caves nearby. However, that is not all that the caves hold!

This is a short nine room adventure through a cave & dungeon, with the front half being combat heavy and the back half puzzle focused. A sub-par effort in producing an adventure that, explicitly, wants to support the DM during actual play at the table. The “support” seems more like filler, and the actual parts of the adventure that need the designers help are missing. Sometimes, explicitly so. Combined with unremarkable ideas, lots of text, and an uninspiring premise, this is just more fodder for the great morass of “buy 1 get 3 free” vendors at the cons. Content is King … and this has little to none. If I were mincing words I would say that the designer is very unsuccessful in communicating their vision.

The adventure is wordy. Ignoring that, it’s also aggressively generic. Almost none of the descriptions amount to more than “There’s 2 Sahuagin in the room.” Take the rumors: “Pearls can be found washed up on the beach.” or “Many people explore the caves and never come back.” First, these are generic. They are fact based. They communicate no life and no soul to the DM. Second, they don’t really add anything to the adventure. Compare this to Blackeswell. There the rumors guided the party to adventure. But here they are simple facts only very tangentially related to the adventure. Yes, they communicate about the beach and the caves, sometimes. But they don’t do it in a way that adds anything to the adventure, either for the players (“we should follow up on this!”) or the DM (”Oh Boy! Now I can X, Y, and Z!”.) There’s a partially submerged stairway. It’s described as a crude steep and slippery stairway. That’s boring. Dollars to doughnuts the designer had some very strong idea of how this looks in their head. I’m guessing it was exciting. But the language used to describe comes out cheap and uninspiring. The purpose of those room descriptions should be to immediately and solidly build a strong visual image in the DM’s head. The DM’s imagination will fill in the rest once they have an inspired solid foundation. This lays a generic foundation.

Moving on, the product claims to want to support the DM. There are pre-gens. Yeah! They don’t have HP, or spell slots. (Because they are written for third THROUGH fifth level ..) And then there’s the main treasure. The mighty artifacts that Ortok is rumored to have hidden. The goal for the entire adventure. “Gamemasters are encouraged to enter their own treasure here.” There’s a little treasure, like “3d1000 in mixed coins” or “Dagger +1 with a Special Property.” AGGRESSIVELY generic.

Finally, I want to note that there are some puzzles in this adventure. Three if I recall correctly. The adventure makes the fatal mistake, like so many others, of not providing clues. Instead the players must use trial & error to discover that A) deadly stuff ahead, and B) puzzle solution. This is the worst kind of puzzle. It doesn’t support play. People get bored, give up, mess with their phones. Good traps/puzzles foreshadow themselves with clues ahead of time. Both that they exist (“Gee, why is that body chopped in half?”) and in a general line of inquiry for their solution. (“Remember all those murals of Ortok paying a harp?!”) Otherwise they are random. There may be place for that at higher levels, with Augury, etc, but not at low levels.

Ortok, Ortok, See what you have done. You may be dead but the module-people said “Let’s make Another One!”

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Dungeon Magazine #47

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Shades of Darkness
by David C. Wright
AD&D
Levels 4-6

This is, essentially, a set piece battle in darkness. The party stumble on village whose manor lord has just been killed. Looking in to the manor discovers a few clues to what’s to come, and then it’s off to a four room cave in the basement filled with Dark Creepers and a Stalker. This is the darkness set piece. A little role-play in the village, a little investigation in the manor, and then a rough fight in the darkness with 1 HD monsters. It’s an inoffensive little adventure. I think I’m predisposed to like these sorts of “one notable encounter” adventures, but dropping it in as a diversion seems simple enough. Also: there’s an odious section where the party meet some people who fight with the flats of their blades. IE: a designer who can’t stomach the consequences of what they’ve written.

Quelkin’s Quandary
by Christopher Perkins
AD&D
Levels 3-5

Retaking a wizards tower from an NPC party. The NPC’s have personalities, and there’s a roleplaying element possible with them. The wizards tower tends to RenFaire wizard rather than gonzo sorcerer. There’s quite a bit of detail, and while I can quibble with the boxed text the content of the rooms are at least passable. The NPC locations vary throughout the day and they have a plan for invasion. There’s a little too much exposition of the tower, especially when you consider the core is the running battle/stealth from the NPC party. IE: this is keyed and described like a typical location and yet the emphasis is not on exploring a location but rather taking it back from the NPC’s. That’s where the emphasis of the text should be, with only the best of the wizards tower details remaining, after a good strong edit.

Smouldering Mane
by Rona Kreekei
AD&D
Levels 7-10

Who likes seeing alignment used as a bludgeon! You do? Great! Better not ignore the NPC Wemics plea for help when he asks in this Side-Trek! There’s a puzzle element, in stopping the fire, a combat element when you discover a fire elemental, and a roll-your-eyes element as the adventure implores the party to recognize the destruction the fire has caused and the need for a create & food water to keep the little animals and Wemics fed.

When the Light Goes Out
by Steve Loken
AD&D
Priest 1

1-on-1 for a 1st level priest.

Fraggart’s Contraption
by Willie Walsh
AD&D
Levels 1-2

This is the poster-child for 2E Dungeon adventures … the good and the bad. The hook for this reads like a Paranoia adventure, replete with experimental devices that may work the way you want. Four pages of hook/introduction, the tinker gnome subculture, each gnome fully realized with personality and backstory, backstory upon backstory. A brief overland with a fully described wandering monster table. All ending in a small 12-ish room bandit cave that takes many many pages to describe. Full detail. Rich environments. Interesting trivia. EVERYTHING spelled out for the DM in detail. All ending with a gnome in an Apparatus of Kwalish. The detail is a mix of trivia and gameable content, but the content tends to be over explained hand-holding. The kitchen table and it’s stools are described, including one slightly higher for a gnome to sit on. WTF is that? Trivia. If you arrive before or after an ambush you get some DM guidelines. If you arrive at the exact moment you get a wall of read-aloud text. Many of the bandits get A LOT of backstory. You can probably run this, with some furious note taking ahead of time. You will probably have fun. It’s unclear though that the effort will be worth it. I like the ‘quiet’ nature of the adventure, the monsters who may parlay … Again, it’s just not clear to me that there’s something of substance here. Like I said, good & bad … This could also be a hidden gem of your game, if you put the work in to it. No thunder, just little works for 1st level adventurers. Kind of the opposite of a DCC adventure; still involved, but not in a gonzo way.

The Assassin Within
by Paul F. Culotta
Al-Qadim
Levels 3-5

This is a sad, sad adventure. You’re supposed to be guarding a university professor from an assassin that is targeting his family. It’s marred by glaring issues. Way WAY too much backstory on motivations of everyone involved (justifying what’s going on in the adventure.) Forcing the party to do what the designer wants them to do. (There can be no appeal to the authorities, the university colleagues, or anyone else.) The usual “the enemy has exactly what they need to forsee every situation the party comes up with so the way I want to adventure to proceed can’t be messed with.” And, worst of all, no real Al-Quadim flavor except for mindless trappings like changing the names of the currency, etc. Finally, the adventure lacks focus. The focus is supposed to be on the cat & mouse game the assassin plays. But then the adventure, it’s descriptions and locations, are not focused on that. It’s all over the place, describing this and that, bits thrown in here and there. Know what the purpose of your adventure is and focus your writing/descriptions on that.

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The Fungus That Came To Blackeswell

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by Yves Geens
Psychedelic Fantasies
D&D
Third Level?

Publisher’s Blurb: “The inside of the detached cover has the map of the subterranean village of Blackeswell. It’s a site-based module. No quests or plots. The word “Fungus” is in the title for good reason. This is a creepy, mushroomy, fungusy adventure. If you are like me, you love that squishy, slimy, over-ripe botanic feel of lots of vile, rotting fungus in your D&D. This module has you covered. This is the best, most original fungus module of all time. It gave me some shudders. This is definitely the scariest of the three Psychedelic Fantasies modules.”

This is a tight and dense ten page adventure, packed and delivered like a UPS truck. DCC does a great job providing kick ass adventures. Psychedelic Fantasies does the same great job, but in a different manner. Looser and denser than DCC and providing great value, this line brings to life a … freer? form of the game. It describes situations, without the need to appeal to mechanics. As a result we get an adventure of imagination. No explanations of WHY the X is Y. No attempts to describe everything in sight. It IS … now deal with it. This is a refreshing view, and is closer to my platonic ideal of a prepublished adventure than the vast majority of published material. SHOW, don’t tell, is the phrase of the day, and this adventure shows us. Because it shows it supports the DM during during play. “Bob is evil” only tells us Bob is evil and communicates nothing. “Bob is pulling the legs off of a spider” shows us that Bob is evil and tells us a LOT about Bob. This adventure shows.

It’s a village with something going on … a fungus infestation. There’s no overarching quest, or plot, or anything else. Nothing is assumed about why the party is there. You can drop this into anything you’ve got got going on and use it. At best, it’s implied the party has heard about the infestation of fungus and is getting there before the authorities cordon off the place … getting in to do some looting before The Man stops you.

In one quarter of a page we are introduced to the background. In one quarter of a page we have the rumor table. In one quarter of a page we are presented the current situation. The encounter locations start. No muss. No fuss. This is the perfect sort of thing for an adventure of this type. Essentially, you are presented with what everyone nearby knows about the village. Then you’re presented with a series of rumors that can be used as hooks. The innkeeper is a miser with a hoard. There’s a powerful wizard with an apprentice. There’s some high-value mining going on. Once the party gets to the village they can use the rumors as a springboard to adventure. Go find the wizard. Go loot the gems, or the innkeepers hoard. This is gameable content. It’s not trivia. It helps drives the adventure forward and gives momentum. This is so, so important. The rumors, and the background, are directly related to pushing the adventure forward. They point you towards areas of the village where interesting things may happen. Likewise, the current situation of the village provides the general background of the CURRENT status of the village. This part could be slightly stronger, but it does a decent job of laying out the general descriptions that can be used for the rest of the adventure.
“Lying facedown in a puddle of his own face.” Oh my. That’s visceral. The encounters here tend to two sorts. Either they are quite brief, like a burned down oil merchant, or an infested green grocer, or they are more involved. Even the briefer ones are interesting, like the barbershop with a bloody torso, the extremities torn off and playfully hidden around the shop. The shorter ones tend to be a monster encounter (the barbershop) or a treasure, maybe with a tick (the grocer, or the abandoned homes.) The longer ones tend to have something more involved going, and also tend to be Places of Note, such as the Inn, the Church, or the Wizards tower. There are a smattering of NPC’s still around to interact with, rescue, and get help from. There are others that, while lucid, need mercy killing. The descriptions here are all good ones. Each paints a scene, showing instead of telling. They act as springboards to imagination.

As with everything else in this line, the monsters and treasures are all unique. Nothing from the book and everything wonderfully mysterious. The Putrid Supper monster forces rotten bits down your throat, causing you to gag and retch. The magic thimble and needle repairs even magical garments. Blaster rifles blast (and even an NPC has one!) You can climb inside a robot and maybe even fuse with it. There are fungus-ish healing pods. As the tagline says, No Orcs, Fireballs, or +1 swords inside this baby.

On to the negatives, and there are a few. There’s a wandering monster table, and, being Petty Bryce, this is the worst thing in the adventure. It’s just a series of monsters. I like my wanderers doing something, as a kickstarter for the DM building on the action. Petty complaint #2: “Check for wanderers every turn” could be instead written as “Check every turn for wanderers, 1 on a 1d6.” The various ways to check for wanderers is a pet peeve of mine, along with travelling and sight distances in overland maps.

There’s also at least one encounter, a very hard one, that could be telegraphed better. ZOG is 12 HD. Everything in the adventure is bizarre, so it’s hard to tell is bizarro #1 is tougher or easier than bizarro #2. Sprinkling a few dozen corpses around the building should do it. Otherwise it’s a random death trap roll out of nowhere. I’ve got no problem putting in a tough monster or a deathtrap, but the players should make a conscious choice for their characters to engage it. Otherwise it’s random and unfair.

Finally, the map could be better. It’s a simple line drawing on a piece of graph paper, handmade. I don’t care at all about that. What I’d like t see on the map are more … annotations? Sights, smells, piles of corpses. It is, essentially, just a village map drawn in rectangles. There was a serious opportunity missed for the map to add more to the adventure. I’m big on published adventures being a Play Aid for the DM. The map should communicate more than just the numbers to look up the room. This one doesn’t do that.

I like this adventure; it meets my high standards. I’m keeping it AND am a bit disappointed I can’t get these in print form anymore, but must rely on PDF’s. Now the hard part. There’s something wrong with it. I’m not sure I completely understand what it is. I’m generally pretty solid in my opinions, but from here on out in this review you are encountering some assertions that I’m writing down in order to see if I believe them. The room descriptions are dense. They are also shortish. That’s what I want. There is also some kind of wall of text thing going on, if you can describe a four sentence room as ‘Wall of Text.’ Adventure design is, I think, a delicate balancing act. You are presenting as the publisher states “unconstrained imagination” and yet you need to do so in a way that’s easy and convenient for a DM to use during play. Do you need to use a highlighter in preparing the adventure? If so then something is wrong. Usually the room descriptions are full of trivia and you need a highlighter to pull out the one sentence that is critical. In this adventure things are so dense that … I don’t know. My head is spinning. I THINK there’s some kind of additional … organization? structure? convention? needed in presenting the unconstrained imagination to the DM. Certainly, I’ll take this over industry norm any day. Unconstrained Imagination is what you should be paying for, not well organized (ha!) generic trivia.

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DCC #80.5 – Glipkerio’s Gambit

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by Jobe Bittman
Goodman Games
DCC RPG
Level 2

Atop the highest spire of Mount Tyche, your patron’s temple is under attack. A demonic miasma rolls down the frost-blasted peaks leaving a vile stench and foul magics in its wake. Winged black creatures roost along the crumbling solitary road to the temple. The bloodthirsty shrieks of snow apes and the moans of the tortured dead echo from the jagged rocks above. Your patron has saved your skin more times than you can count. Now it is your turn!

This is an assault on a time-travelling wizards lair that he’s just recently taken over. I’m conflicted here. What’s present is, oh, I don’t know. Confusing isn’t the right word. Muddled, maybe? On the one hand there’s some great little things presented in this adventure. Some decent atmosphere, a decent set-piece finish, and a couple of decent encounters. On the other hand … I’ve gotten the overall impression that this is a … dull? adventure? Maybe it’s made promises that are not being kept?

The idea is that you are contacted by The Fates. Their temple has been taken over by a wizard and they need you to free it. (There’s a nice bit in there where they give you a bit of thread from the spinning wheel to tie around your finger. Nice way to work in the myth and give things a more folklorish/realistic vibe.) From there you climb up a mountain on a road (or, the hard way) with five-is encounters and hit the temple up top with maybe seven encounters.

There are these great random events on the mountain. “TURN BACK NOW” chiseled into the mountain in giant letters, dead birds raining from the sky, Crimson slush, Art & Crafts messages imploring the party to go back, ala Blair Witch Project stick figures, frozen hands severed at the elbow sticking out of a snowbank with their finger outstretched as if to say “Stop.” Those are all REALLY good little things to drop in and exactly the sort of flavor bursts I’m looking for. There’s also a REALLY nice corpse gate encounter, with severed limbs and a mouth for a keyhole. The final encounter could be thought of as one of those video game Boss Fights: there’s some amount of puzzle going on during the combat but not enough to be frustrating and it’s telegraphed enough (with enough DM advice) to make running it almost certainly a major hoot.

There are two or three things here though that mar the overall attempt. The first is the lack of … theming? This is the temple of the Fates and yet there’s really only one adventure element, a stairway, that brings out that theming. “Not you explore the underwater volcano lair of Abraxis, Terror from the 10th planet!!!” “Uh … Abraxian 10th planet underwater architecture looks a whole lot like a 10×10 grey dungeon corridors …” I might say that it’s an overall appeal to the mundane rather than to the fantastic. This would extend to several (most?) of the encounters. Snow apes throw rocks at you from above. Devilkin swarm you and pick your pockets. There’s an ice bridge where two dudes attack you. I generally summarize a lot in my reviews, but in this case I’m not doing it as much as I usually do. For these “mundane” encounters there’s really not much more than what I’ve described to you. I’m not asking for each encounter to be a stand-alone set piece. But if you take the time to include something then you should take the time to make it awesome, for whatever definition of awesome is appropriate to the encounter. Never in my life do I ever want to hear “Sometimes you just have to fight a couple of kobolds.” No! reject! Reject! REJECT! I never want to see any sign of that, especially in a DCC adventure.

These .5 adventures from Goodman seem of lower quality than the others. I don’t know why. It almost seems like they made a single writing pass through the adventure and then sent it off to the printers. The “awesome it up” pass doesn’t seem to have been made. Maybe these are intro adventures? If so then this is a critical error. Introductory adventures should be THE MOST awesome of your published material. Those are the ones that will get the most exposure and introduce the most new players/markets to you, aren’t they?

Some nice things in this to steal and overall of much better quality than the vast majority of adventures. I’m a harsh critic and some of these “almost” adventures get a raw deal from me.

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