The Dusty Door

By Shane Ward
3 Toadstools
Level 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Red Prophet Rises

By Malrex & PrinceofNothing
Merciless Merchants
Levels 3-5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Ruined Abbey of St Clewd

The Ruined Abbey of St Clewd
Gavin Norman & Greg Gorgonmilk
Necrotic Gnome

I ended up with another magazine adventure to review, Wormskin #3. This twelve digest page adventure describes the surface level of a ruined abbey in the Dolmenwood. (The entire issue, and I suspect magazine, is devoted to the Dolmenwood setting.) Clearly written, and also clearly limited by its “just the surface ruins” approach. There’s not much content, which forces one to ask some hard questions. It’s also spooky as all fuck.

Let’s talk about “spooky as fuck” first. I seem to remember an old 3e SRD monster book called something like Nightmares & Dreams. It was full of horror themed monsters and did a great job bringing the creepiness to life. This does the same thing with one of its principal encounters. The Gloom is an undead creature formed from a bunch of dead crows. It collects things, like teeth or corneas. It’s a kind of tall skinny man in finery. Offering candy to children. Or encaged in an iron tree cage being freed by dumb kids. You can run in to some kids in this adventure, maybe playing in a very old graveyard. A graveyard with a bunch of open graves, freshly dug up. And the kids all have dirty hands … seems they’re charmed and have been stealing teeth for the Gloom. I’m just a hack reviewer and can’t get CLOSE to the creep that the adventure brings with regard to the Gloom or the children. It’s really well done.

I might also comment that the writing here is very clear. I’m been trying to figure out why and I can’t really put my finger on it. Maybe because it goes from “what the party sees first” to the general to the specific. It tends to focus on stuff that the party will be interested in, and thus directly on play at table rather than trivia (with a single fucking notable exception.) An evocative sentence that you might use when the party first shows up. A line of DM text explaining things. Another line of trap/damage/search mechanics. That’s what the entries all feel like … but I’m not actually sure that’s what’s going on. Whatever. I find the writing style quite effective.

The adventure also devotes 2.5 pages, a huge amount for a 12 page adventure (20%?) to a series of seven murals in the ruined church. It goes in to detail on each. Except for one, the last one, I can find no reason why it does this. It just seems to be trivia, and is completely different from the writing in the rest of the adventure, which is quite focused on actual play. Maybe it bears fruit in the next issue, which describes the underground level?

The whole thing comes off as a bit sparse. Oh, sure the Gloom/children thing is GREAT, but the rest of the level is essentially non-existent. A couple of different ways to find stairs down is about it, except for one hidden treasure. Everything is looted. The murals thing is a big miss, again, unless it pays off in the next dungeon level. Six locations, with two of them having four or five sub-locations. It seems a little sparse. IDK.

As a horror themed stand alone this should work. I’m just having problems reconciling the sparseness with my classical view of an “adventure.” It may be the episodic/zine nature just didn’t work well here and you need the second level for things to click. Or maybe I’m being nice,

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview shows nothing of the adventure,

Here’s the text from location #2, Graveyard. Something about this turns me off at first glance … the length, one paragraph, no bolding I’m pretty sure. But then, reading it … it seems perfectly suited to run. What the players see. What happens when they follow up. Mechanics. GREAT text organization.

“Crumbling stone walls — now sprawling with ivy and buckled by the intruding roots of looming yew and holly trees — surround the abbey’s graveyard, wherein lie the remains of several hundred monks of the lower orders (the more senior monastics were interred in the crypt beneath the chapel).A thorough inspection of the dates of the graves reveals that no one has been buried here during the last 350 years. It is also noticeable that many of the graves are in the process of being carelessly dug up. There is a 2 in 6 chance of one or more of the children described in area 3b being present in the graveyard during the day.”

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The Tomb of Dagobert

The Tomb of Dagobert
by Matthew Evans
Mithgarthr Entertainment
Levels 2-3

This five page adventure, with two “real pages, is a very simple nine room tomb complex stuffer full of undead. The terse writing style and ok hook are to be commended, but the writing is not evocative. It’s too simple to offer any value.

Skeletons. Zombies Ghouls. A spectre. A mummy. And then a bandit king when you come out. This seems a touch rough for 2nd level characters, in a linear dungeon. I don’t play a lot of 5e so maybe I’m wrong. Most tomb maps bother me anyway, because they tend to be simple. But when you combine it with a bunch of enemies you need to hack past it tends to bum me out. There’s no skill, and not much fun, in slogging through a linear map full of forced combats.

The writing is terse, for 5e anyway, and simple. Five zombies clamber out of their coffins. A brazier flares up when you enter the room, but gives no heat. Really just a couple of sentences per room. Two to four per room should be enough for some rooms, and this adventure does that. But it doesn’t really do it very well. The writing is not evocative. The hi light of the adventure is: “A brazier in the center of this room flares up when the PCs pass through the arch. The flames are magical and put off no heat.” It’s the highlight because it uses the word flares. The rest of the writing is short and fact based … which is better than long wall of text but still not in the “good” category.

I want to bitch about about the encounters proper. They pretty simple combats or “put the key n the hole” tile situations. Again, the brazier is the exception. But something rubs me wrong about it. I think it may be written in a “look at this weird thing!” manner. Interactivity, and the ability to exploit the dungeon, is a key feature of a good adventure I’m not sure this does that. I think maybe I’m looking for the writing to be oriented more toward the party. Can you burn shit with that brazier, even though it has no heat? Steal the heatless fire? It just seems written in a manner that makes it more “look at the mural on the wall.” than “and now you can exploit something.” Window dressing has very little place in my D&D. Interactivity is better.

The last encounter has a trapdoor that leads to the main treasure chamber, we’re told. We’re also told that it’s inaccessible because of a cave in. Uncool. Players, in search of treasure, will go to great lengths. Either the treasure chamber should have been listed or the trapdoor/reference not put in or some guidance given. “one month to dig out,” Otherwise this is trivia, and, again, there’s not much room for trivia in my D&D adventures. The writing has to be directed to actual play at hand. Otherwise it gets in the way of the DM running it.

I will note that the hook has the players coming across a bandit in a crow’s cage hanging at a crossroads, who offers the players treasure map for his freedom. Nice job with that. It’s not the usual hook dreck. Treasure maps are fun. Crows cages are fun. Bandit lords are fun. The quandary is fun, as long as the DM doesn’t punish the players for their choices. He’s gonna die anyway, seems like a quick death is better than a slow one …

This is supposed to be something that you pull out when the players go the “wrong/‘ direction and you need a quick adventure. If the writing communicated the environment better (WITHOUT a higher word count) then it might fulfill its stated purpose, even if it were simple. As is, anyone could come up with the adventure. There’s nothing very interesting except the hook. I like the terse writing, but its also gotta deliver the goods. It don’t.

This is $2 at DriveThru.–The-Tomb-of-Dagobert-A-QuickDelve-Adventure

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Dungeon Lord – The First Issue

By: Various
Death Machine Press
Level – Various

This is a 28 page zine with a kick ass cover. It has three dungeons in it, as was published in 2014. Good ol’ Bryce, always on the ball. I don’t seek out magazines/zines magazines, but the cover lured me in. I wonder why the adventurer is naked? THis claims DCC, but I think most of the issue has a great OD&D thing going on.

Calcified Caves of the Slime Yeti – Ron Yonts
And another anomaly: a one pager. Again, I don’t usually review these. I like a good one-pages, but the amount of content usually strains my ability to say something interesting about it in a review. This cave system is both wt and dry and features some sloping caverns and holes in the ceiling to get to other area, as well as a river to explore other areas and other terrain effects. That variety is a very good thing, bringing out the exploratory nature of D&D and offering combat options. Note also that it’s not a river. It’s an ICY river. And it’s not a yeti it’s a SLIME yeit, and not caves but CALCIFIED caves. It’s a simple trick but it helps amp up the imagery. This continues with a dried streambed, dry corpses, stirge husks, and dangling buckets. This isn’t stated and the fifteen room adventure has three monsters, in addition to the wanderers, but mixed in are traps and magic pools and the like. I think it’s an excellent example of a one-pager and much much better than most of the adventures I review. I’ll take this as a Lair or Side Trek any day of the week.

The Caves of the Sacred Seven =
This is a thirty room cave complex roughly divided in three sections: cavemen, reptile men, and prehistory … with a map that could easily be easier on the eyes, As you get deeper in freaky things start happening in the corridors (a d30 table) as you experience all the weirdness of the underworld. The rules are all wrong and every perversion is justified when adventurers journey to the mythic underworld, Aisha. The encounters are decent, with some willing to talk and/or trade, and a bit of silliness mixed in. Ooze pits mutate you, and egg incubation chambers await. The text style is very “wal lof paragraph.” The incubation chambers starts with “This chamber appears to be a sort of nesting area for reptilians with many eggs …” Yes … that’s why the room title is “Incubation Chamber.” The text also spends a decent amount of time describing the physical logistics of rooms “the north path runs along the edge of the lake” and so on, as well as delving in to generic descriptions like “This large chamber …” Focused writing with a strong edit would shorten the rooms and make them more scannable at the table and make this an ok adventure.

Tomb of Zarfulgar the Lost
The last entry has a linear map that spells out “ABQ Zine Fest 2014,” so it’s a bit of a funhouse adventure. It’s fifteen rooms, in a tortuous typeface. A gnome with a big treasure sack that grows sharp teeth and tries to eat the adventurers. A room full of friendly clones of the wizard in question, with one doppleganger. Buzz saw blade corridors and creatures made of light that bludgeon you to death with their shoes. It’s a decent funhouse that is a pain to run because of the typeface and wall of text paragraph style. Too bad, it looks fun.

This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview only shows you the one-pager, with the other five preview pages being table of contents, etc. Bad zone writers!

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The Orb of Undying Discord

By Ian McGarty
Silver Bulettes
Swords & Wizardry
Level 2-3

Can you brave the dangers and outsmart the puzzles to obtain the Orb of Undying Discord?

This eleven page adventure in a small seven room dungeon answers the question put forth above with a resounding “No.” Simple puzzles combine with IMPOSSIBLE combats and drab read aloud.

See that level range? 2-3? Uh huh. How does a 6HD iron golem with AC18 strike you? No? How about a 9HD chimera? Or a 7HD priest with twelve 2HD acolytes? All in the same seven rooms. I don’t want to come across as some kind balance freak, but there’s a limit. There’s no fucking way this was playested. I like unbalanced encounters, but usually you make them a little social, or put allies nearby, or there are some things in the dungeon to take advantage of to give you a leg up. A simple “challenge dungeon” is enemies this tough for a level 2 S&W party is just WAY too much.

And that’s what this is, a simple challenge dungeon. A dyrad has you do some tasks (fighting, of course) for her so she will make the door magically appear. Inside you solve some simple puzzles and face monsters you have to kill in order to move on. This is, by far, not my favorite style of adventure. I find the style seems to tend toward linear and limiting.

The writing is uninspired. A “large room” has a “large stone” in it. Large is a boring word. The goal of this part of the writing is to be inspiring and evocative and ‘large’ don’t cut it. Room descriptions are full of “this 20’ square room” and things like that … facts conveyed by the map that distract from what should be evocative descriptions.

There’s almost no background. I know I bitch about too much background, but there’s too little in this adventure. It’s the third in a series that can be ‘run in any order’, which I suspect is the issue. While you are walking down the road a monk runs out with a scroll case to tell you where the orb of undying is. That’s your background. Why you want it, what it does, etc is not covered at all … I guess it’s in one of the other adventures. This weirdness in the basics of the design continues with one of the room descriptions appearing ABOVE the room number. There’s a basic inattention to some core items.

A half page is devoted to a nearby city. It’s useless. Just generic detail. It has a temple that sometimes sells potions and a mercantile. I have now provided as much detail as the adventure does, with as much evocativeness.

This fails on several basic points, from the descriptions to the challenges to the basics of putting an adventure together.

This is $4 on DriveThru. The preview shows you the town text and some wandering monster tables. “They attack!”

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A Wedding in Axebridge

By Christopher Seal
Guild Companion/Iron Crown
“Up to 5th Level”

The lands around Axebridge are renowned for strange happenings. Unbeknown to the inhabitants, these occurrences happen because Axebridge is situated close to a place of great magical power, which was once the site of a great druidic temple. In more recent times, fey creatures have been drawn to the nexus. With the inevitable contact between fey and mortal, old wounds have been reopened. When a jealous admirer is thrown into the mix, the village of Axebridge finds itself under threat, and hope for the village’s future lies in the hands of a few bold souls marked by fate.

Fuck it. Let’s review a HARP adventure.

This 48 page adventure is a simplistic linear “investigation” followed by an old underground druid temple. It has some some fairytale influence and great undead monster imagery. The map is shit, the village lifeless, and it has column long read-alouds and massive amounts of DM text for what should be simple entries … hiding information that the DM needs.

HARP is, I believe, a simplified version of MERP, which is in turn a simplified version of Rolemaster. Normal people were introduced to MERP through the EXCELLENT middle earth regional supplements and to Rolemaster through the greatest critical hit charts ever .. at least prior to DCC. I can’t really review the system specific info, but the adventure here should be easy to review, at least in the context of stealing it for your D&D like game. It starts with you being invited to a wedding.

And as good adventurers you should immediately decline and get as far away from the area as possible. Nothing good ever comes from an invitation. At best you accept it under the social convention that “were playing D&D tonight,” but you know there’s a set up coming. Far better to just burn down any place you are invited in to. The real XP is in the Keep, not on the Borderlands. Also, but only tangentially related, if your DM ever says the word “mists” then you are in Ravenloft and should pull out the holy symbols/water/etc immediately. Anyway, I doubt there any n00bs reading this that need that advice.

More interesting than the invitation there is a Witchhunter hook. The region only recently gaining enlightenment, the local priest as written for help with a local witch and the party are sent to look in to things. While I’m wary of “assignment” hooks, witch hunting IS a fun one … and one of the NPC’s with info is the local wise woman in question. Her and the priest hate each other, and they both have a piece of the puzzle plaguing the village. This is the ONLY interesting dynamic in the adventure and it’s also barely mentioned.

Instead we get a lot of read-aloud in the vein of “Contests of skill and accuracy elicit supportive cheers from those watching …” and “The golden sunrise gilds the buildings of the village …” Just bullshit generalized and flowery text. Paragraphs and paragraphs of it. Columns full of it. You get three sentences before the players stop caring. No one cares about your golden sunrise. The text is generic, ala the “contexts of skill and accuracy …” line, above. The mass of text hides important things. In one part a fey drops a doll which is VERY easy to miss since its in a giants text block. Bolding, terser text, better formatting. All of these are needed.

Instead of focusing the amateur novel writing, the text could have focused on the village NPC’s. The priest and wise woman get a couple of sentences about hating each other, scattered throughout the text, but most of the NPC’s (the four or five mentioned) comes off as flat and dull. Some of the first people you meet are the couple about to be wed and they get no personality at all. Just some generic “hello, how are you” stuff. That’s crap. Given the importance of the village, it needs more NPC’s, written shorter, but with better personalities to hang out DM hat on. Kudos, though, for naming the hothead forester Bryce. 🙂

There’s some decent telegraphing going on. An apprentice priests watches the bride to be with sharp vision. He’s a hangly and homely. He has an unexplained cut on his hand that won’t heal by normal magic and he’s nervous and obviously lying to explain. For some reason, beating the answer out of his isn’t really offered as guidance to the DM, even though it’s the obvious correct investigation avenue to pursue.

This has some great fey stuff in it, but which I mean it seems heavily folklore based. A fey creature sits on the brides chest at night and steals her breathe. A sidhe is silent and aloof and vengeful. A wooden doll is a fetish. This is the kind of folklore and fey based stuff that I really enjoy … those elements related to old myths and legends and turnip princesses. At one point the wise woman send you out to find “elf stones”, river rocks with a hole in them. It turns out they let your nonmagical stuff hit undead only hit by magic items. The old religion redefined, Andrew.

The shitty imagery in the read-aloud stands in contrast to the way the undead are treated, in particular. Buried in their text are one or two really great sentences that make them horrific. It reminds me a lot of how Fallen Jarls treated undead. A woman, stabbed through the chest, wearing a white gown stained with blood, is actually a ghost. Some bones and bits of fur pull themselves together to form a dog-like skeleton. It’s not a ghost,or a skeleton dog, but they are more individualistic and thus more terrifying and mysterious. Good job!

But … too much text for what it is. It’s decent enough, at its core, although simplistic. It’s just BURIED In text.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview doesn’t work.

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Santa Fe Starport

By Venger Satanis
Kort’thalis Publishing
Alpha Blue/Generic

This 34 page “adventure” is actually a regional setting with a few event ideas. On a ruined earth the starport in Santa Fe still exists,hence the post-apoc and Alpha Blue/spaceships crossover. It’s got the jr high sex stuff that is becoming synonymous with Vengers style.

I love Gamma World. It’s my favorite child. I have a framed poster of the Warden hanging proudly in my dining room. I wear my Warden command bracelet every day to work. Every Christmas I ask for more post-apoc/generation ship fiction. I STILL think I remember a Tv version of Orphans of the Sky, even though I can find no google hint of it/Universe.

This setting is about 50 years after the disaster. Nukes, radiation, cthulhu monsters, it’s all in here. New Albuquerque is a mutant hanting function city that embraces aliens. Miles to the south, through the wasteland, is the Santa Fe Starport, a working starport. In between are gangs (theming ala The Warriors), warring robot factions, Wizard towers, and a sunken Statue of Liberty. (Because Venger.)

There’s not really an adventure here. The major parts of the region are described each in a paragraph or two. There are a few more words for New Albuquerque and also the starport. There are some events/plots mentioned in the starport, like a sex android revolution, security checkpoints, violent candy, and a “Deal” for smuggling turquoise.

A cult leader, skull face, is referenced several times in the supplement. There’s one throw-away line in the adventure about him launching an assault on the starport.

There’s a gamma world-ish random loot table. I love those things. There’s also a mutant power table in which almost every power involves bodily fluids and sex organs. (I think it’s clear by now that I’m from the midwest, and a bit of the ultra-violence is ok but not boobies.) There’s a strong sex/sleaze theme, which I assume comes from its Alpha Blue heritage.

It’s not an adventure. At best it’s a regional setting with a bunch of ideas that you could use to string a couple of adventure ideas together and add some complications from some other details.

The contention between regional setting and adventure/events/complications makes the organization a bit iffy. Things tend to be scattered around a bit, except for “the region” in the front section and “the starport” in the rear section. When not describing “penis shooting cum facial tattoos” the writing is fairly good. Enough detail (reference facial tattoo above) to bring the specific imagery without the useless garbage that weighs an adventure down in wall of text.

But it’s missing a strong Adventure element, and thus it goes in to my “regional setting with some things to do” category rather than my “adventure in a region” category. Too generalized for my tastes.

This is $6.66 (because Venger … can one roll one’s eyes AND appreciate the devotion to the theme?) at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. You can see the loot table (with entry number one being the required stop sign shield) and the last page being the mutation table that focuses on sex organs.

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The City of Talos

By L. Kevin Watson
Fat Goblin Games
Levels 8-10

Talos, a city of legend, focus of tales dating back to the First Age of Man—exotic and forbidden. Buried deep in the Formene, this lone gem of the subterranean realms has legends as tall as the mountains under which it lies. Scholars and sages know more: it is the capital of the Elven race of the subterranean realms, sealed off from the surface world, supported by smaller towns, trading nexuses, and the wealth of knowledge accumulated by the Formene Elves who ward it.

This 37 page adventure collection contains thirteen adventures, eas about two pages long, supplemented by a separate 33 page booklet describing a lost city of elves. It is, at best, an adventure outline and at worst incoherent in many places. Badly bolded, wall of text, generic locations and almost NO context for the adventures.

It’s really hard to describe just how disconnected these adventures are. U guess, in some way, they all relate in some manner to the city of elves. An alternate way to gain entrance, go on missions for them … but then also some REALLY tangential ones. Things like “the party may encounter some of these magic gems and follow up on where to mine them.” Furhter, the actual connection to the city, or maybe the context of the adventures, is almost non-existent.

The first adventure is representatives. Two pages. The first column is a detailed wall of text on meeting an elf and getting assigned the mission. Approached by a halfling. DIrections to a grove. Given a bird call. Details on the journey like “The two-hour walk is uneventful. The characters find the grove with little difficulty.” are rife, along with all the ways the elf will just leave the grove without contacting the party. (I guess that means the rest of the book is useless, since they now cant get entrance to the city the book is arranged around?)

The backgrounds are full of this of micro-level detail, but there’s almost no context. The halfing says an elf wants to meet you. The elf says his wants wants to use the party to arrange contact with the greater world. Why the party gives a shit, the mythic nature of the city, the rewards … all of that is missing. It’s like there’s a paragraph or two missing.

Then the DM text starts in. In contrast to the micr-detail of the background the locations are abstracted to a large degree. Here’s one: “6, 7—Purification Rooms—Up the stairs from the Outer Chapel, these rooms are lit by ever-burning braziers like Area 5 and contain two large, dormant, incense burners near the door on the far end of the room. These rooms might have been used to inhale heady incense before proceeding deeper into the temple.”

Two rooms with one description (the dreaded “reflected layout” for a temple!) and not evocative at all. It’s not that I want a paragraph, but the contract to the detail of the background is stark. Then, the location numbers are bolded and so are the words “For the GM.” Well, it’s all fo rhe GM, since it’s not read-aloud, and bolding of those words, in addition to the location numbers, makes picking out text hard.

The adventures, on two pages each, are all very abstracted. There are cultists around the temple. There are some priests inside the temple. There’s an evil book in room eleven.

There’s just nothing to this. The adventures are generic, with overly detailed introductions and overly-abstracted content.. The context is non-existent and the formatting difficult to follow.It’s almost a Books of Lairs set up, but without even that much coherence.

This is $13 at DriveThru. The third page of the preview starts the first adventure. It’s a great representation of the content you get. Note the left hand column and the detail and then the location descriptions on the right hand side. Weird as all hell.–The-City-of-Talos-Complete-Edition

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Mission to Thay: Nethwatch Keep

By Jon Gilliam
Self Published
Level 12-15

Here is the Episode 8 that Rise of Tiamat should have contained! Thay in all it’s horrid and far-reaching power and might. A society dark, alien, at odds with itself, and at the boiling point of explosion.

This 130 page adventure (in five parts, with part five being an appendix) offers an alternative to chapter 8 of Hoard of the Dragon Queen/Rise of Tiamat, but could also stand alone. While the original chapter 8 was just some general throw away content, this is specific, evocative, and, more than ANY product I can recall, revels in flavor of Forgotten Realms. Look, I’m not an expert in FR, but I do know every adventure I’ve seen is generic and lacks flavor. All of the designers seem to think that stupid 50 character-long names are what “flavor” is. That’s not flavor. THIS adventure is flavor. It brings home the evil of Thay, and will no doubt focus the PLAYERS angers, without going off the deep end in to being puerile or vile, at least according to my midwestern tastes. It’s got some issues with being … long? Whatever, while it does a decent job with organizen & reference sheets it’s also going to take some work to prep. It’s ALMOST worth it to me … and since I have high standards … maybe it’s worth it to you.

There’s some pretext to make this fit in to Hoard/Rise. You go to Thay to see what the contact has to say about the Cult. It’s pretty generic in Hoard/Rise. Not so here. There’s one little slave boy in a keep of undead (intelligent & not) who complains of a monster under his bed. Gladiator games are held, with the winners taken to be euthanized and turned in to an undead army. There are zombie infant submission baskets hanging from the ceiling. The “slaves as chattel for necromancers” is just on the edge on being uncomfortable. It’s enough to make the PLAYERS hate Thay, but not so much to generally evoke real-world darkness too hard. At one point you have a dinner with a dragonborn tribe which plays out a little like the Riker dinner with the Klingons. This place FEELS different. It’s not a hand wave. In one of the official adventure, Into the Abyss maybe, the drow guards had “sleeping pallets.” I bitched that it was lame and didn’t conjure an alien culture. Not so here! This place is alive, both with “evil culture”, “evil necromancer culture” and “nonhuman tibres culture.” That’s REALLY good.

There’s a “best way” through the adventure, but it’s not exactly linear. The designer outlines alternatives and flowcharts out the adventure so you can help understand how the locations work together. There’s an explicit section at the end of each to show you what could come next, both from the hints in the location and in things characters might do like “what if they lead a slave rebellion?” and stuff like that. That’s good for these mutliepart things. Both where the adventure naturally leads and how to handle the players choosing other options. I was struck by the hook here also. The inciting event is the kidnapping of a wizard you need to talk to. I was fully expecting a railroad and the wizard to get kidnapped no matter what. I guess that’s ok, I’ve come to accept that the hook is allowed a little more of a railroad. But, NO! In this adventure can you save the victim and there are still ways the adventure can go forward! A delightful surprise!
The NPC”s are well done. They get little offset boxes with a few words describing their physical/personality attributes. Short, evocative, and focused on helping the DM run them. That section is followed by a few bullet points that describe their goals. “Get more Druge. Find some kids to kidnap.” and so on. It’s an effective way to communicate an NPC to the DM effectively.

There are a decent number of non-standard magic items also, which I love. A book that can copy pages if left on top of another over night. A pair of balls that will gently “tug” towards the location of the other one. Not just boring old mechanical attributes but DESCRIPTIONS of effects. Perfect.

The maps are also quite interesting, at least a few for the major locations. They show a scene and can be used as a battle map, but then there’s a second, for the DM, with notations all over it. They describe what’s on the map, almost like a one page dungeon. It’s a great example of leveraging the map for communicating additional information to the DM beyond “key number.”

They are also great reference sheets for rumors (divided by the type of person, like slave or wizard) and for some of the more complicated spell-casters. Good choices.

But …. It’s also got some pretty serious issues.

First, it needs a better summary. There is some long text, that I might say is background, but a small section laying out how the entire thing works together would have been VERY helpful. There are a few sections that try to do something like this but they are all either WAY too specific (the backgrounds) or very general (the flowcharts.) There needs to be something in the middle. AT one point there’s a village where people are sometimes VERY clearly compelled to say things (I love that telegraphed stuff) but you could EASILY miss the reason why. That’s the sort of thing for a general summary. The “one page outline” does a decent job but is missing some important things and still doesn’t feel like an “overview.”

More importantly, I find the text … conversational. The What’s Next and NPC sections are GREAT, as are the reference sheets, notations for rumors, etc. But the adventure falls down over the core text. One of the first sections is when the party teleports to Thay and are greeted by their hostess. There are three paragraphs of text, longish even, taking up a column, that describes the scene. How they are greeted, by who, what they do, etc. The paragraph format, or maybe the “long text paragraph” format doesn’t really work here. Scenes run in to other scenes or other text descriptions without much delineation. More whitespace, bolding, bullets, etc would help A LOT. It’s this, far and away, which drags the adventure down from the lofty heights it achieves in other areas.

Like I said, it’s VERY flavorful, and probably the best FR thing I’ve seen. I love the NPC’s and it would work as both a standalone and as a replacement for chapter 8. But you’re going to need time to prep it and a highlighter. It’s VERY hard for me to recommend it based on that. Better summaries and a reworking of the DM text/scenes would make this magnificent.

This is $5 at dmsguild.–Nethwatch-Keep

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