An Overwhelming Sense of Loss

By Roger E Burgess III
Red Flag
Levels 1-3

Or, The Occasion Of a Visit Into The Underworld By Way of The Grand Entrance To The Ancient Dwarven Fortress of Thrumi`Zud: SOMETHING brought down the mighty civilization. The sages say it was desperate invaders from below, escaping something even more horrible. Whatever it was, Thrumi`Zud was quickly overwhelmed and sealed, forgotten except in the stories of the old. The vast riches of the fabled Dwarves must surely be hidden within its depths. Perhaps you will be the one to rediscover them. Perhaps there are secrets better left unearthed. Horror lies within. You have been warned.

This FREE 39 page adventure describes the first level of a dungeon with 82 rooms, on about eighteen actual pages. The rest are maps, patrons, new monsters, etc. It has a twerse writing style that makes it easy to run the rooms, with an effort at evocative language use. There are some window dressing issues, but, otherwise, it’s a decent dungeon adventure.

There an introduction to this adventure, a kind of designers notes, placed up front. I like those; a one-pager or less on what the designer was thinking can provide some good insight that might otherwise slip away. This time around the designer notes that the dungeon is geared toward three OSR concepts that, he asserts, don’t get much love: Fantasy Fucking Vietnam, Henchmen, and Reaction Rolls. I must say, he nails all three concepts. He’s using Henchmen as a stand in for the geometric XP charts. If you die at level five then your new level one will reach level five again by the time your fellow level fives reach level six … not leaving you too far behind. This allows for a lethal game which encourages henchmen. Horror, isolation and loss in the dungeon are the hallmarks of FFV. There’s got to be survival tension. Reaction rolls mean that there’s a good chance you can talk to and interact with the dungeon creatures in a manner other than just hacking them down. Or, as I like to say, you can always resort to a bit of ultra-violence, why not interact some first to break up the d20 rolls?

Complementing these design philosophies are the formatting decisions made. The writing style is terse, one step beyond minimal keying, with a decent attempt made at being evocative. This allows the DM is quickly scan the room during play and embellish it fr the players. It’s full on trying to implant an image in the DM’s head and leveraging that to greater effect … EXACTLY what the fuck a room description should do. The room titles are descriptive, in and of themselves, which complements the entire affair. Thus a room might looks like:

Preparation room 2.
Barrel of rancid oil, torches, barricade of columns to the north. Moldering cloth lines the walls. Light, glowing softly blue, emanates from the West.”

Not the most evocative ever, but still WAY above average. It’s focusing on giving an impression and letting the DM fill the rest in, which is what a room should do. Another room has alcoves “guarded” by faded tapestries. That’s EXACTLY the way you are supposed to use language in describing a room. You can do ANY fucking thing you want as long as its clear and jabs the vibe of that room in to the DMs head.

Sometimes, though, the writing engages in window dressing. Weird for the sake of weird. This can be ok, but I generally think its better when the weird is targeted. The opening room has some column covered in glowing glyphs, sputtering like a bad CFL. That’s it. It could have been strong if it were a warning, or clue to something deeper in the dungeon, or even even just general “protection against great evil” stuff. IF the players investigate, and they will, what’s up with them? No, you don’t have to give away every secret, but it would have been great forshadowing.

I mentioned that the writing is decent, but could be more evocative. Clearly an effort was made and it shows and IS decently effective … but could have been better. I know, that’s shitty feedback. I wouldn’t say flat, but, maybe I’m picking it apart because I see so much potential here. Anyway, I was going to compare the evocative writing to the map. It’s a decent exploration map, with a couple of loops … but it also feels like a star formation with little clusters of rooms hanging of the central point. So, decent map, better than most, but not superstar quality.

The encounters, he meat, are generally pretty good. A decent mix, you can talk to things, and a lot of neutral elements to get in to trouble with or exploit. In one room there’s a group of demons (manes) trying to figure out how to loot a temple nearby. In another, a group of warriors has another group trapped in a rooms. There are things going on, thing happening. There are effects in the dungeon that are neutral, waiting for the party to fuck with them and then maybe exploit them in the future for their own gain.

This thing is EXACTLY what you are looking for in level one of an exploratory dungeon.

It’s not rock star, but it could have been. I think I tend to pick things apart, like the wanderers not doing things or the writing not as evocative as it could be, when things are close. But, anyway, this absolutly goes in my DM toolbox.

This is free at DriveThru. The seven page preview shows you the map and the designers notes section but, alas, no rooms. That’s too bad. Every preview should give you a look at the rooms so you know what to expect.

Posted in Reviews, The Best | 5 Comments

Svarog’s Anvil

By Thanasis Tsiakmakis
Geek Society
Level 4

The long lost Dwarven Kindgom of Gleodemar holds a relic of the past, Svarogs’s Anvil, a magical artifact, that when used by a Dwarf it can help mass produce weapons, armor and ammunition. The Heroes are send to reclaim it, but the ancient fort is not empty and the new denizens have settled for good and seem to be also looking for some lost treasure. Will the Heroes manage to win them in a direct (and bloody) confrontation, or will the try to slip through the shadows to reach their goal? Maybe they will be captured and the “cavalry” will have to save them? In this adventure anything goes and it takes only one mistake to unravel the Heroes’ careful plans.

This fifty two page adventure (the appendices start on page 32) details a raid on a ruined keep to retrieve an ancient dwarf anvil. A decent basic premise is ruined by a lack of understanding of basic adventure structure/formatting. It’s ok, but too hard a slog to use at the table.

Conceptually, it’s a decent basic adventure. Journey to keep. Figure out how to get past monsters. Probe depths and loot quest item. Get chased on way back to town. There’s even a kind of basic sandboxy element as you see the keep from the outside and humanoid patrols and figure out a way to get inside. Force, sneaking, deception … all of which will result in The Best Layed Plans of the party … a classic part of D&D fun. There is no greater joy then a plan being devised and then the fun of watching it execute/go south. Elements of the journey to the keep, as well as being chased/followed by the humanoids you stole from, on the way home, give this a decent little third act, something most adventures miss.

There’s nothing really new or exciting about this. Or, maybe instead I should say, it seems to cover all of what you need for a decent adventure, which is in and of itself exciting since so few adventures, especially for the modern games, seem to hit these notes. Three are mercs to use/hire, and even a Casper to perhaps win over to your side and exploit. The mercs even have some personalities that are not expanded upon too much. There’s an order of battle for the humanoids responding. You could view this as a nice little sandboxy humanoid keep.

Except it’s executed like a NIGHTMARE.

MOUNTAINS of read-aloud and DM text. The writing is directed at the players. There’s no real map key or organization to the adventure. And, there’s enforced morality.

The last is first. At one point you kill an orc mother holding a an orc baby. The baby is crying. If you kill it your alignment shifts to either neutral (if good) or evil (if neutral.) This is not how alignment works and it is not fun. Yes, I know, many adventures do it. They are WRONG. This is an arbitrary DM ruling and those have not place in D&D. The ONLY way this works is if you tell the party “If you kill the baby your alignment shifts towards evil.” At that point they get to make an explicit decision: take the hit or not. That’s ok (in theory anyway.) I would still argue though that this is a bad thing. Do you really want to have a nature vs nurture discussion in your D&D game? Shall we all read some Peter Singer before or next game? Further, the proposed solution, leaving the orc baby in a crib you found in one of the rooms, is abandoning the baby to die … the same as if you’d cut its throat. Arbitrary DM’s are not fun. The trolly problem doesn’t have a solution. That’s the fucking point. It forces discussion no a hard topic. By saying it DOES have a solution (in a world in which evil gods come down and fart on you, no less) you are wrong..

There’s no map key to speak of, or creature annotations. Guards in the keep walls? It’s in the text not on the map, in spite of the map having a lot of other notes. The text is quite free form, not being in room/key format, and really just a conversation that flows. A kind of linear running text of how the adventure might go.

The read aloud contains text like “You stop to assess the situation.”

No doubt much of this was learned by copying other adventure. Other adventure suck ass. Seriously, the modern adventure is written terribly. The purpose of an adventure is to be used by the DM at the table to run a game. That means no lengthy sections of text. That means text that is easy to scan at the table, find you need, and improvise on. Do you really need the introduction? Could the NPC personality section be rewritten to make it easier to scan? This is technical writing, almost like a dictionary, more than it is a novel. Help me run the adventure. You don’t do that with mountains of text. ANd no, you don’t get to use “written for n00bs” as an excuse. A: don’t pander. B: that’s an excuse.

Too much of this seems like it was written “because you have to have to do it that way”, where the “have to” is learned from modern adventure styles. A REALLY strong edit, not a copy edit, is needed to get the designer to prune back the text to about a third of what’s offered, and formatted much much better,

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a current suggested price of $.5. The preview is eleven pages, and is decently representative. The last few pages, in particular, offer a good example of the mish mash conversational writing style and lack of structure/formatting.

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Into the Trolls’ Den!!!

By John Fredericks
Sharp Mountain Games
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 1-3

The party will enter a troll lair in search of magical weapons. But will they exit alive?

This 26 page linear adventure contains seven pages of actual adventure text, overpowered opponents, and has, the chief draw I assume, full color battle maps.

Some dude in a halfling village asks you to go check out a troll den a day away. Getting rid of the trolls does the halflings a favor and they are rumored to have treasure and magic swords. So wouldn’t you like to go do it? You follow a linear path to get there. At night you have a wandering monster encounter if the DM decides to have one. It’s suggested it be at dusk so spellcasters can still get a full eight hours of sleep in order to regain spells.

[As an aside, who here could actually be a spellcaster? I mean, do you get eight hours of sleep a night? I know, I know, “Rest”, but I’m using sleep. This is the only part of aging I will admit to.]

Ok, have some linear encounters. Get in to the cave. Have some more linear encounters. How about a treant at first level? It’s on the wanderers table. If it were a normal wanderers table I might be ok with that. A “force the party in to a fight/encounter” decision though is different. The same thing with the actual encounters in the wilderness and dungeon. At one point four wolves, each with four HD, attack the party. No chance to avoid. The dungeon proper has three five HD trolls and a four HD rust monster in the same room. At first level. Again, varied opponent challenges are a feature of old school play. You don’t know what you are encountering. But this goes hand in hand with non-linearity. You have to be able to allow the party to avoid, negotiate, etc with those overpowered challenges. “You are first level. You will die from poison in one hour. The ONLY antidote is in the cave. The cave has one room with a 23 HD dragon in it. He attacks immediately.” That’s not old school D&D AND it’s piss poor design to boot.

Your reward are some +1 items. +1 dagger. +1sword. +1 mace. The most generic of the generic. You also get 60gp in books and 507 in coins and gems. Oh boy. Abstracted treasure. My favorite. How about just saying “Treasure Parcel: 567 gp”? That would suck even more joy out of life. Plus, there’s not NEARLY enough treasure for a Gold=XP game. It’s absurd.

There IS some dust in a pouch that replicates a Knock spell. That’s nice. There’s also a scardy cat Druid in the forest that slams her door shut and locks it to hide form the party and only talks in whispers so as to not disturb the serenity of nature. Nice though that.

But, hey, you get full color battlemaps!


This is $2.50 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. Pages four and five show the druid, with the wolf encounter on page five also. The last page shows some of the dungeon encounters, proper. It’s a fair representation of the writing style throughout.

Posted in Reviews | 11 Comments

The Last Candle

By Greg Christopher
Chubby Funster
Level 1-3

The Prieuré de Chaurillon lies isolated in the upper valley of the Satrebonne river. The empire that once protected it has fallen. Barbarian hordes now roam the land. Once tamed borderlands have become infested with monsters and foul beasts. The monks of the Prieuré are all that remain of their ancient order. They stand alone against the darkness of the age; The Last Candle of their faith.

This 37 page adventure details a small home base (?), the surrounding region (?) and a 64 room dungeon (?.) This is the real deal. All three parts have very strong content with interesting encounters and NPC’s that directly relate to a parties adventures without having a “hey dummy. Here is the adventure” label on them. It’s also padded to all fuck and back with loose language and an informal style that makes finding information a total pain in the ass. Bolding, terser writing, etc would have gone a long way to making this MUCH more usable at the table. You’re gonna need a highlighter. It might be worth it.

The home base centers around an abbey. It’s got a secretive and plotting, but good, head along with a famous library and knights/soldiers patrolling around it, as befitting the last religious site in a rough borderlands region. This allows for a variety of NPC’s and subplots to be brought in to play. The library needs something, you need access to the library, the head monk wants something from you, the peasants are available as plots or hirelings. There are folk who want in the library who you can hire, etc. The place feels like a natural part of the environment and the people in it feel like they should be there. And it’s all oriented towards actual play. The people described are the ones the party will interact with or want to interact with, like field worker who also fights in bare knuckle matches. There’s a hireling for you! He wants to go get some leather armor from father-in-law first though … those are the details that bring an NPC to life and this first third is full of those. There’s an armed band camped out, with the leader wanting to see the prior about his promised wife to be … who the prior has sent away to see a mage on the edge of the territory in order to protect her from the fiance. Human Drama! It’s got a lot of REALLY nice subplots (which the adventure terms “hooks”) that allow for a whole host of things to be going on while the party is “in town” and yet still be quite relevant to a current or future Thing To Do.

The local region has a decently extensive wandering monster table, and enough regional variety of woods, lowlands, hills, etc to provide variety, with some decent little details also. Like “this area was once home to farms and a lot of abandoned orchards attract monsters.” The creatures are doing things and there’s also twenty or so more in depth encounters for the DM to toss in when a wanderer is called for. They remind me a bit of the Wilderlands hex entries, expanded in to two or three paragraphs each. Things are going on and happening. They are full of potential energy. You discover a man lying on the ground in tattered clothes, covered in blood. Dude has a secret … he’s a werewolf! There’s a lot here to take advantage of. [As an aside, the wanderers would be strong if they also included an adjective/adverb. “A FRIENDLY troll roasting a halfling on a spit.”]

The dungeon is great also. A little over sixty rooms, laid out in a roughly “square surrounding an inner bailey” format, with rooms and little mini-corridor complexes scattered around the edges. It’s got a good mix of traps and monsters, NPC’s and monsters you can talk to, and little in media res things. A group of darkelves with their leader gravely injured, trapped in a room by a monster outside. Clearly, there are opportunities here for roleplay. Those opportunities are repeated over and over again. Roleplaying in the dungeon, little almost vignette scenes, without them being full on set-pieces.

And yet this is a full on highlighter adventure. There is little to no bolding, bullets, or indents to make finding information easier. Those great village NPC’s are spread out over three pages and have two to three paragraphs each. They need a one sentence bolded summary up top that says “Hireling: crude bare-knuckle boxing field-hand. The regional presentation is likewise … lazily described. As are the wilderness encounters. As are the dungeon entries. What you are most likely to see in a dungeon room is not necessarily the first few words/sentences. Mixed throughout a couple of paragraphs are obvious sensory information. The entries are cluttered with verbose advice and explanations.

Entire paragraphs are devoted to tactics of DM advice. Verbose. “They want to avoid a fight and are hungry for food/horses” and “they pick up things and drop them a height.” is great. It’s terse. But an entire paragraph saying that on the first round they will perform diving attacks. And that they target the largest pack animals. And they knock players out of saddles. And that they flutter around the ground on the second round. And on the third round they fly in to the air with anything they have. Man. Look, I get it. You can get there with a word or two juicy unridden pack animals and destroyed equipment.

This happens over and over again in the adventure. It uses a sentence when a word will do, and comes off dry because of that.

Still, all in all, great encounters. Encounter after encounter. Great NPC’s/village/starting region. Just in need of a major MAJOR edit.

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages long. The last page is probably the closest to representing the spirit of the writing in the product. You can see how the entries can tend to the longish side of the spectrum. This page still kind of falls in to the General Overview section, and so its harder to see the issues and/or for them to stand out.

Posted in No Regerts, Reviews | 2 Comments

(PF) The Forest of Starving Spirits

By … Jessica Redekop, Robert Gresham, Michael Whitney
Wayward Rogues Publishing
Level 10

Explore the haunted remains of Endiel Forest, the forsaken kingdom of the gruesome ghastlord Mortalbane. Once a vibrant wildwood where the ancient elves lived in harmony with nature, what’s left of Endiel now is a shadow of its former glory, a rotten wilderness guarded jealously by an enigmatic horror known only as the Endiel Witch. Tread paths no mortal has walked in over a thousand years and uncover long-forgotten forgotten secrets in Forest of Starving Spirits, part four of the Ravenous Ruin adventure path.

This thirteen page adventure is a trip through a haunted forest. Part four of an adventure pah, it is barely coherent. Motivations, knowledge, challenges … they all have some of the most tenuous ties I’ve ever seen in an adventure. Another example of focusing on the style, artwork, layout, font, borders, instead of the substance of the text.

I like treading paths no one has walked for a thousand years … I am a failure as a father because my son now plays Pathfinder … because it’s what his friends play … and he said Oswalds adventure, while great, was something his friends could not handle. Fuck your system superiority complex; it’ all about market share.

Oops. I stumbled on to part 4 of an adventure path. Still … let’s judge the entire series by this one entry and also see if its useful as a standalone haunted forest.

The party wants the magic gobstopper and is told that The EVil One has it; you gotta go in to the haunted forest to find him and get it. The forest is 400 miles by 800 miles, with each square being 30 miles on the map. There’s some mountains on one side where The Evil One resides. I think. Well, I, the DM, know he’s there. It’s unclear if the party is supposed to know that before they go in. I guess not? I mean if they did, then why would they enter the forest at the far/opposite side, why not enter the forest at the square next to the mountains, keeping to the unhaunted grasslands AROUND the forest until then? So I guess the party doesn’t know he lives in the mountains? It’s VERY clear. Just like everything else in this adventure.

Remember that super big 400×800 mile forest? The one with the map? The map doesn’t have locations on it. The text of the adventure eventually tells us that the lost city is in I-4 and waterfall is in G-8, but that’s at the top of each entry, spread out through the entire adventure. So what the fucks the purpose of the map? I don’t know. The evil spirits in the forest get you lost and evli dryads lead you to danger … but the map doesn’t tell you where anything is.

The climax is in a ruined city. “Once the players reach the ruined city …” Really? Once they reach it? Were they trying to reach it? That’s not mentioned anywhere. In the ruined city (city!) are some crypts. Are you looking for crypts? It doesn’t say we’re looking for a crypt in a ruined city. There’s a total disconnect between what the players are trying to do and what the text is assuming. More on this later.

There’s a stinking cloud above the forest, it makes flying above it hard. (I Guess it reaches outer space?) So you’re footslogging 30 mile hexes in a tangled forest. What is that, 8 miles a day or something in a bramble filled haunted forest? For every hour spent in the forest there’s a chance the evil witch shows up to fuck with the party. What is the chance? We’re not told. Just “there’s a chance.” Wandering monsters? No, no list. At all. There’s a couple of entries: Winding Woods (you get lost) and an Unnerving Presence that makes you have a -2 to WIll saves. Oh ,it also says that you an encounter a poison pit tap, four shambling mounds, four lacedon trolls, and a ghoul treant. In as many words. That’s literally a quote from the adventure to describe the encounters on your trek. Nothing else. That’s it. I’m not making this fucking up.

There are knowledge checks. “The forest is wild and overgrown.” Ok. They are all just as useless. They tell you nothing of consequence. It’s just trivia. Why the fuck do they exist if they are just trivia?

Grief builds inside of you, silence is deafening, and the writing is hackneyed. More to the word, the formatting is terrible. Recall how a modern bullet point system works in a word processor. If you indent then the text is offset to the right and the style of bullet point changes. This denotes this is a sub-item to the item above it. This allows for easy visual groupings of data and relationships to be immediately obvious. Yeah, this adventure don’t do that. Everything is at the same level, and appears in the same style. Is this a new monster? Is this a part of a different encounter? Who knows, because the formatting makes everything confusing as fuck. You know those monstrous long Pathfinder stat blocks … imagine three of them all in a row with something else FORMATTED THE EXACT SAME WAY appearing between two of them. There’s no way to tell where one things ends and another begins. I wouldn’t quite call it wall of text, but “confusing mass of text” is a relative of it, to be sure.

Oh, oh, in the crypt in the ruined city (again, why the fiuck are the party drawn there?) you finally battle the evil witch that has been harassing you. This time she flees to an estate. Uh. She has fled in every encounter. Is the party still chasing her? Why are they following her? Killing the witch isn’t a part of the adventure, getting the gobstopper is. It makes no fucking sense AT ALL.

Back to that total disconnect I mentioned earlier? I think this adventure falls in to the “throw some shit at the party” category of product. Here’s some shit, throw it at the party until bored. Make them have this encounter, and then this one. Lead them to this one. Just put them in the ruined city and tell them they see a crypt. (Aside: Roll to find the crypt, to trigger the witch encounter? That’s a roll to continue. What if they DON’T succeed in their roll? Nothing happens, ever? No, the DM fudges it. So why the fuck is it in the adventure?)

This is a bad adventure. It fails on the most basic points. Great encounters might be a part of my review standards, as might evocative writing, terse writing, useful to the DM at the table. One of the most fundamental points though, that I never mention because it’s NEVER an issue, is a goal. I don’t mean a hook, or some such. But communicating to the players what they need to do. This adventure doesn’t do that. Sure, I think the read-aloud is hackneyed, I see that in a lot of adventures. Terse and evocative? Meh, again, lots of examples of that. Useful to the DM at the table? Again, lots of product fail at that point. But to be so incoherent that no one at the table understands what is going on in the adventure? That’s a new one. I think. I’ll have to go reread my review of Golanda.

Giving the designer(s) the benefit of the doubt, I have to question the editing of this. What the fuck is the purpose of editing these days? Copy editing? Fact checking? It’s certainly not “point out basic things wrong”, which is much more important than an orc having an ac of 13 vs 14.

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is one of those mini things, so you can’t actually see what you are getting. Boo! I Boo I say! Still … on that last page? That’s two things you are looking at, nt one. See how everything is in “one line” green boxes? Yeah, no indent. Confusing as fuck. On the page before that, #3, that’s THREE things in that text on the left side column. Good fucking luck with that.

Oh, and one more thing. A Poison pit trap is CR13 in Pathfinder. Ouch.

Posted in Reviews | 13 Comments

The Wizard of Bald Mountain

By Ken Goudsward
Dimensionfold Games
Entry Level

Our adventurers are commissioned by the Jarl of Connaught to investigate strange weather phenomenon at Bald Mountain. The Jarl also sends his personal mage to accompany them.

I don’t even know where to start on this one.

This 24 page adventure details a short overland journey to a ruined keep on top of a mountain with a wizard in it. The keep has ten rooms and has two monsters: the wizard and his fighter buddy. Single column, sparse, and yet with 24 pages … there’s just nothing here. Condensing this to a one page dungeon would still leave ¾ of a page to spare.

The jarl charges you with getting to the bottom of the weird weather coming from the top of the mountain. He gives you a sword and some armor. He sends his mage with you. (Ug. NPC with the party means betrary by him and/or DM pet. And in this case it’s a party betrayal.) You wander up a mountain for a day, find a ruined keep that is mostly empty, and fight a wizard. Everything here is more than little off.

Take the overland. The mountain is eight hours away, walking. Each hour you have an encounter on the wandering animal table. “Woah!” I thought, way too much. Foolish me. The encounters involve flies, mosquitos, crows, grouse, rabbits, deer, geese, a falcon, etc. I was then surprised there was no wandering rock table.

Once again, the adventure should concentrate on player interactivity. The mundane has little place. Wanna set the mood, or foreshadow? Great, no problem. Roll on table 12 each hour to see what kind of gravel the road is made of that hour? No. This is a caricature of D&D and, much like the rest of this adventure, reminds me of fantasy heartbreakers. Someone’s got a bug up their ass about how things should be.

“The team will need to gain entry into the keep. The keep can be entered easily from the east, north, or west.” *sigh* And does the sun rise today also?

The keep, proper, has two levels and ten rooms. “R3: (Servants quarters) (dark-empty torch sconce) 3 beds, only 1 with blankets; 1 dresser with shabby clothes” Fucking wonderful. My life is now complete. I never knew what I was missing. This is adventure? This is value? This is supposed to help you run a good game for your players? Yeah, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, but it also doesn’t DO anything. Room after room is like this. Well, at least all ten rooms, that is.

The adventure ends on page ten, after starting on page four, with the Boss Fight. It’s labeled The Boss Fight. It’s one page long, with TOO much whitespace, and full of tactics for the evil bad guy wizard. The rest of the page count is monster stats, tables, etc. Any EVERYTHING is in single column “i wrote this in word and printed in PDF” format.

There’s just nothing here. It would make, at best, a quarter to half a page of a one page dungeon. I get “slow burn”, but this is a little silly.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a current suggested price of $3. The preview shows you the entire adventure. Enjoy, in particular, the boss fight on page ten. Or maybe the adventure design on pages two and three.

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Desecration & Damnation

By Davis Chenault
Troll Lord Games
Castles & Crusades
Levels 4-6

All along the banks of the Vindig River people worshipped the river goddess. She blessed the people and kept the trolls at bay. But in time, she grew weary and to guard them she set statues upon the river to watch over the people, and then she left them to their own devices. But no troll fears stone, nor the forgotten promises of a goddess. They have returned to the Vindig, but this time with a vengeance.

This is a twenty page adventure detailing a small/dangerous river journey and a small river temple. Full of flavor but too long for what it is, it takes a lot of words to get where it’s going which results in confusion on more than one occasion.

The Trolls can be frustrating. This adventure is FULL of flavor. It’s got a nice river/delta setting, kind of Lewis & Clark or Mississippi River rafting setting. Everything is wet, there’s a big wide river with some rapids and sheer cliffs in places. Slippery mud and slick rock stair. Sunken temples wet. Rules for swimming, storms, drowning, rapids. Ancient protective river gods and beast-like men ruining their temples. It’s got a nice slow pace and realism to it without it going too far down the “roll every 10 minutes of game time for heat exhaustion” nonsense. There’s this primitivism that would be at home in Harn or maybe even Runequest. Not bronze age, but a good rural river thing.

It’s also quite a short adventure for the page count. The last seven are just monster stats. Before that we get an opening battle with the beast-men/trolls that is the hook. Then some village and priest roleplay, wilderness wandering monsters and the river rules, and then a four-ish encounter temple. The adventure is mostly a very conversational writing style with little of the traditional encounter/key format. Bolding runs in to DM text runs in to bolding.

This can lead to confusion in places as multiple areas kind of overlap with little distinction as to the location change. The editing really let this one down.

The wilderness is a big part of this, but the wandering table is a poor, at best. Just a list of monster stats without detail on actions. Farmers, sure, but what are they doing out in the wilderness? I like a little pretext to get the old DM juices going.

At another point, in some rough rapids, there’s a little dungeon entrance that’s left for the DM to develop, as a reward for those who brave the rapids instead of going around them. For the amount of content I would have expected a one or two room cave, at least, with some loot. (And as an aside, that’s a perfect example of putting things out of the way. If you look behind the waterfall, behind the stairs, you should find something.)

The encounters, what there is, are weirdly long, repeating background text, and quite a bit overly detailed.

The seeds are planted for a longer adventure, visiting more temples, and the setting that leaks through the detail is interesting. It’s just really simple for the page count provided.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. The second and third page show the initial encounter and gives you a good idea of the style of writing to expect. Note the three or four paragraphs on page three and the amount of text there.–Crusades–Desecration–Damnation

Oh, and as an aside, here’s a paragraph I found funny. Yeah, I think we get, mostly, what is meant, but sometimes you need the regional setting product to decipher things precisely …

“The stealing of an idol by a vindehoyer is a bad omen and may indicate that Atharioon has given up on the Vindig River and Urshoonga is coming to claim what he says is his. Since the Zjerd are invading the region, a PC will make the connection as Stroomsh is a Dorstmin.”

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Gravelbeard’s Quest

By Lyndsey Stern
Levels 1-3

Take your adventurers on a daunting quest through a dangerous, uncharted cave system to discover the mystery behind the missing city guards. Will they emerge victorious or become yet another group swallowed by the depths of the tunnels?

This fifteen page “adventure” contains one encounter. Perhaps a new low in Page count to encounter ratio?

A page and a half of read-aloud to get in to the adventure. The usual nonsense hook of THIS IS IMPORTANT BUT I DONT HAVE TIME.

I wish I could truly relate the map to you. It’s a battlemap of a 50 foot secret room with two orcs in it a two pits (containing oozes) in a hallway outside. Encounter the pit and then the orcs come out.

This is what passes for an adventure in 2018.

There’s an inn at the beginning with Mr I Cant Be Bothered in it. There are rumors to be had. All in fact based text for the DM. Why is it called the Troll Stew Inn? Not because “A bit of elf a bit of dwarf, a bit of human … just like a tasty troll stew.” No. “Troll Stew Tavern and Inn was humorously named for the fact that it caters to a large variety of different races all mixed together; much like a troll might make its stew.” In character adds flavor. It sets a tone. Sure, it can go too far and there’s a place for DM text, but in rumors? That should be dripping with Voice, not facts.

The text engages in explaining; justifying itself in a game in which elfs shoot fireballs. The pit is covered with a major illusion, etc. In fact, let’s examinejust one of the six paragraphs that take up three quarters of a page to describe the pit:

“Physical interaction with the major image spell effect reveals it to be an Illusion because things can pass through it. A PC that uses its action to examine the image can determine that it is an Illusion with a successful Intelligence (Investigation) check against a DC of 14. If a creature discerns the Illusion for what it is, the creature can see through the image, and its other sensory qualities become faint to the creature.”

It’s a pit covered by an illusion (DC14.)

Describe the pit paragraph. Inspect the floor paragraph. Viewing the pit paragraph. Fall paragraph. Ooze tactics paragraph. Escaping the pit paragraph.

There is no joy.

On the plus side the read-aloud is offset in a color box, making it easy to find and read, and the orcs try to drag unconscious bodies to the pits to toss them in … a nice orcish touch.

I was hoping for more with this. I’m always hoping for more. I’m hoping this is a new writer that just has no experience and has never seen any adventure other than the Adventurer League dreck.

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages. The third page is the only one that shows you anything, and that’s just some inn text. It’s joyless.

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Delverr’s Keep

By Jared Nielsen
Illusionist Investment Group
Levels 1-3

At the entrance of the Below lies the remnants of an ancient keep which is still fortified despite all odds by abandoned remnants of Dwarven lineages called the Delverr.

This thirty page confusing mess describes a dwarf hold with 21 rooms. A combination of fluff piece on dwarves in this particular setting combined with a description of a keep combined with some kind of adventure. I think. After two read-throughs I’m still not quite sure.

Dwarves are in four factions. There’s a dwarf keep sitting on the only entrance to the underdark. It keeps the monsters inside out. The dwarves are unhappy because the four factions live so close to each other. They ask the party to go inside the underdark and break the magic curse that forces them to man the keep. (Morally, that is, not physically.) I THINK that’s what’s going on. Anyway, that’s the end. They escort you to the entrance to the underdark and the module ends. For ten fucking dollars.

At first I thought I had been ripped off and that this was fluff book. Fluff books are ok, I don’t hate them, but I don’t review them. Then, I figured out it IS an adventure. Barely?

This thing has two nice points going for it. First, it’s a nice capstone/entrance to an adventure locale (the underdark.) Journey in and out and you go through the dwarf keep. It’s that whole mythic underworld thing. Also, in encounter one, the desolate road leading to the keep, there’s a rhyme carved in to the stone walls that repeats over and over again with increasing frequency as you approach the keep. Again, nice mythic underworld touch. The entrance to the underworld (IE: dungeons) SHOULD feel special. The rules are all wrong and every perversion is justified, in the dungeon. The entrance to the underworld sets the mood and gets the party ready for that. That can’t be understated.

That’s it. Nothing else nice to say. Everything else is atrocious.

Massive long read-alouds. MASSIVE amounts of DM text. “As you trod along its path your gaze is drawn to the expansiveness of the desolation around you.” Nope. Read-aloud can’t tell players what their characters think and feel. It can relate an environment to the PLAYERS who will then have their characters react. That’s what good read-aloud does. It’s also short. Remember, people don’t pay attention after three sentences. The DM text is MASSIVE. Multiple paragraphs, endless words … almost one page per room in some places. There is no way in fucking hell you can look a this at the table and run it live during play without massive pauses and interrupts. And almost all of the words present are useless. “While it would be perilous to cross the metal gridwork, especially considering the narrow gaps between oil cauldrons and the heat that is emanating from them, a particularly agile person might be able to make it unscathed.” and “There are always ShieldBorne guards here, not just because it’s their assignment, but because over the centuries this is the place where more fun is to be had than anywhere else.” *sigh*

But, worse, the plot is embedded in the room descriptions. Walk the road in encounter one. Get boiling oil poured on you in encounter three. Wake up in jail in encounter 4a and have wounds tended to you. 4b sees you escorted elsewhere. 7a has a dwarf factions asking you to go on the quest. “Should the party agree to this quest, they will be se- creted out via Stone Phaze through the Western nook under the top landing of the South Parapet Stairs, and smuggled into the Trap door stairs leading down to area 21 – South Basement Runic Guildhall under the cover of darkness.” Why the fuck the rest of the encounters were keyed between this room (seven) and twenty one, I have no idea.

Oh, and it ends with a short story for the next module in the series. Joy

The secret revealed. Novelist.

The text of the adventure betrays that. I was thinking “this is a novelist”, and indeed, it was. They don’t seem to get that adventures are technical writing, not fiction. They fill the pages with words trying to paint a rich tapestry … that inevitable feels forced and keeps the DM form actually using the adventure at the table.

FYI: Generic adventure with QR codes to download stats for different game systems.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is a few pages and just shows you some of the endless background drivial that bears no relation on the “adventure.” That sylvan shit doesn’t even come in to to play ever?

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The Haunt at Crow’s Gulch

By Randy Musseau
Roan Studio
Levels 4-7

… word of adventure and gold has drawn the characters to Crow Gulch A Gnome by the name of Galemon has offered 50 gold pieces, in advance, to adventurers and sell-swords willing to explore the ruins of the ancient tower in search of a silver orb. He will pay another 500 gold upon success. Rumors and fireside tales speak of a growing terror that lies deep beneath the Haunt and the rocky crag upon which it rests, but this has not deterred those hungry for wealth and glory.

This 24 page adventure details a small town (first half) and a about twenty wilderness encounters followed by about ten dungeon encounters (second half.) Small fonts, lack of whitespace and bolding leads to some wall of text and SERIOUS highlighter fodder. The descriptions get long, even if there is a nice realism to them. Far too many negatives for me, but it’s altogether terrible.

You drudge up a cliffside, having wilderness encounters along the roadway, then get to the tower and explore the dungeons underneath. Along the way are a couple of expanded wilderness areas: a harpy lair and dragon crevisse, if you choose to go off path to chase down some fleeing monsters for their lairs. Inside the dungeon you find a sorceress … turns out the gnome hiring you was ruse and she uses him to find strong souls to sacrifice in order to summon a demon. So, while a test/challenge adventure, it doesn’t feel artificial like those usually do.

That is the great strength of this adventure. The encounters feel natural and things seem to fit as a part of the natural world. It’s not because the toilets and fresh water were provided for. Rather the text gives that natural feel and also a kind of ‘in the moment’ sort of vibe. You find prisoners almost dead, or raving madmen who rushing down a narrow cliffside trail … who slip and fall off the edge. Harpies and dragons feed, creatures are doing things. More than that though it has that natural feel that the best MRP products did.

That does, however, come at a steep price. The font is small. Whitespace is sparse and bolding/offsets/etc non-existent. This text is THICK and hard to wade through. This all combines to make the text something torturous and I can’t see how you can run this at a table easily. Highlighter? Sure.

It engages in repetition to pad things out, with the same details being repeated. It has motivations and background and history embedded in the text. It engages in … definitions! Roblins are playing dones(dice.) There is a jacinth (orange gemstone.) Folks, if you’re gonna use a two dollar word then don’t explain it. Give your readers some credit. Otherwise 7th grade me will never pronounce Chaos as if it rhymes with Taos.

One of the harpy lair rooms starts with “Large Cavern. The ceiling is a dome of sharp stalactites and filth covers the floor. A ledge along the right wall is covered in piles of twigs, rags, fur and clothing, each arranged in a nest-like fashion.” That’s not so bad. Relatively short. Not a paragon of evocativeness, but better than most. Then come harpy stats, inline, then comes the searching, inline, all in the same single paragraph, with comments. “Searching the nests (8 in total) will yield …” (four more sentences, including telling us what a jacinth is.)

It engages in this behaviour in a variety of ways, over and over again. At one point you encounter a will-o-the-wisp trying to lure a victim in . It has in it: “This is a trap. The boggart is trying to lure victims in” and then at the end of the encounter everything is justified. “The Boggart is an immature Will-o-wisp. It is building strength by feeding off the essence of its victims. It can appear in humanoid form or as small and bright hovering lights. The net is old and useless. The crackling was coming from the Boggart itself as it attempted to maintain its current form.)” Well, no shit to both.

But, the core of the encounter is great. A tony writhing and twisting figure trapped under a small net crackling with blue electricity. And if you watch long enough you can see it change to tiny hairy man, giving you a hint something is not right. It’s great little encounter.

Most of the encounters here are great. People slipping off cliffs. Harpies luring you off cliffs (cliffs are a feature of the wilderness part of the adventure.) They are great. They just get ruined by the fact I don’t want to slog through the text.

That’s all commentary on the back twelve pages or so of the adventure. The first half describes the region and town. In the same, if not more, detail. Lots of motivations for the butcher’s wife to stay in town, and so on. It feels more like a writers guide for a Tv series than it does something to use at the table.Way WAY too much detail, and a focus on things not needed.

It’s not a bad adventure, it’s just not good. Or, rather, it’s a pain to dig through. It feels like the setting should be pulled out for a fluff book, while the text proper needs to be pruned back a lot to remove all of the extraneous stuff, and then some whitespace and bolding, etc added for improved scanability. Also, I might buy a fluff book on the region, but it also needs to focus more on game ability rather than why the baker chooses to stay in town … unless there’s a hook in there.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview can give you a sense of the font size and density of the text, but not really the encounters, etc.

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