Mines, Claws & Princesses


By Oswald
Oswald Publishing
OGL
Level 2-4

The groom is dead, the bride Sunnhild taken. Men rave in pain whilst their women wail in sorrow. Blood mixed with tears, the chieftain Erfried cries out “Only you are left who can hold a sword. Go now. The orcs ride to Sanjikar and you must follow.”

Fuck yeah!

Magnificent.

This 48 page tour-de-force of an adventure takes place in a four-ish level dungeon in a mesa with about eighty rooms. Terse. Evocative. Well formatted. Interesting encounters. From the first paragraph it makes you want to run it. With this Oswald cements himself as one of the best writers currently producing material. As with all of my “best” reviews, I’m just going to rant some in a nigh incomprehensible manner over how good this is. My good reviews always suck.

Simplicity can be deceptive. It’s easy to fall in to ruts, to do what is expected, to go on auto-pilot. You can, at times, see this in art, looking at something that seems very simple and yet very profound. Behind it is a very deep understanding. We don’t need routers, turn off NTP, transponders are for fools … understanding the environment and what you want to do and laser-like focus. Oswald has written something that could be dismissed by fools as simple … and yet is masterful in all of its details.

This thing is EXCITING. From the first paragraph it makes you want to run it, makes you want to play it. There’s an implied urgency to the adventure which everyone can feel immediately. The premise is ridiculously basic: orcs raided a wedding and stole the princess and are gonna marry her to their chief. Fabulous! That opening blurb, above, is the first paragraph and contains the literal call to action. And it just builds and builds on itself. Tension ramps up over and over again.

There’s no fucking garbage! There’s no “this is an adventure for 4-6 characters” or any “As a DM you can modify the encounters” or any “This is set in the region of Boring Generic land.” It just GOES. Oh? Don’t like princess wedding kidnap? How about scabrous beggar vet displaying his ruined limbs and medals, trading food for the location of four magic sword? No? A dead bishop with a map in a secret pocket showing the location of the Hand of St. Aren? This fucking thing packs and delivers like UPS trucks! Dense, word choice offering implied mystery and depth. That vet doesn’t show you ruined limbs (Ruined limbs!). He DISPLAYS them. That offers so much more inspiration for a DM and implies and others things. Word choice fucking matters. English, the most rich language ever, is full on displayed.

It’s like every sentence, every paragraph delivers on something evocative and loaded with implied subtext for your brain to grab and run with. It does this with a minimal word count and good use of bolding and white space to facilitate scanning by the DM. You INSTANTLY find the section you need and the the part of it you need. The first couple of pages orient you toward the adventure. A summary of main character, an outline. The starting village is in an appendix so as to not get in the way. There’s an In Media Res beginning, ala DCO, showing the aftermath of the orc raid on the village. And it gives you the possibility to recruit peasants to your cause! Fuck yeah! D&D FOREVER!

Oh, Oh, let’s talk about one thing he does … There’s this encounter with an old woman who begs you to no go rescue the princess! She does it on three separate occasions. Three, of course, being a magic number. Refused three times she, the last of a line of warrior-maids and secret keeper of the magic sword Hadviya, gifts the sword with cryptic words. That’s fucking mythic. It’s obviously mythic. It preys on overloaded legend that resides in the back of everyone’s consciousness, that almost generic memory. It’s fucking perfect.

The encounters? A big bubbling cauldron with a head floating int? Orcs man, can’t live with … Orcs tossing live sheep off a cliff for fun? Orcs you can talk to. The bride, trapped in a room with her dead bridesmaid (the orcs thought she would want company) staring ahead in shock while she bleeds on the floor from her wrist … Magnificent. Orcs are orcs. People are people. It’s all turned up to ten … never over the top but all at the height of what it could be.

The maps are great, using color, same level features, tunnels, multiple loops, multiple paths in an out. Further, they manage this while being relatively small, at about 25 rooms or so per level. A good map, while being small, is quite hard. AND HE PUT THE FUCKING LIGHT SOURCES ON THE MAP! Good lord, it’s like Oswald thought “What does the DM need?” and then he fucking did it! “Because you told me to drill sergeant!”

There’s just so much to this and I could talk about almost any aspect for pages. Monsters grok their own nature. Blackbirds are jerks, orcs bestial, a succubus deceptive but egomaniacal. Magic items are wonderous and on-standard. They FEEL magical! Set in an old dwarf fort, it feels a little THX “Mandatory Recreational Smithing Area.” Follow up to the parties actions, both during the adventure for delaying and then at the end for consequences. Terse. Evocative. Every. Fucking. Word. Delivers.

“Upon the door lie engravings scarcely seen through dragon acid gouges of a dwarf lord holding his hammer high, 5 swords above him, aside him a skull. Once he was legend.”

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a current suggested price of $2. You are a FOOL for not purchasing this. A fucking FOOL. Two fucking dollars. I’ve spent $20 on PDFs that were shorter and infinitely more shitty. I’ve spent $50 on hardback adventures of hundreds of pages that didn’t contain as much adventure as one page of this adventure.

The preview is NINETEEN pages long! NINETEEN! You get to see what you are buying! Check out the map on page 6, or the brides waiting room on page ten.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/240094/Mines-Claws–Princesses

There’s another review of this floating around that gives the adventure a 3 out of 5. “No read aloud and no plot.” I am incredulous.

Posted in Reviews, The Best | 21 Comments

Chamber of the Serpent


New Realms Publishing
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 1-3

Delve into the dark depths, explore ancient halls and chambers in search of gold, glory and adventure! But beware the hazards and horrors that guard the Chamber of the Serpent!

This thirteen page adventure details eight rooms in a small dungeon. It is a solo adventure. The publisher’s blurb starts with “for 4-6 characters”, which is what caught my eye. It also ends with “can be played solo or with a group, with or without a GM.”

Yes, I guess that’s correct. You can play a solo adventure with a DM. But this isn’t a choose your own adventure style solo adventure. It’s all random. Take the tables out the rear of the 1e DMG and put a subset of them in the text. Ta da! You can now charge $5 for an adventure!

When you go in a room you roll to see what’s in it. You roll if you search the room to see what you found. There are a couple of unique rooms, each of which also random tables for what happens when you touch the door, etc.

I’m really at a fucking loss here.

It is, at best, a solo adventure and at worst just a bunch of tables.

Once again, I feel ripped off. It’s like someone sold you a new razor. The box talks of how wonderful it is. You open it to find a rock. Well, yes, I could chip off a blade and use it, and I’m sure people have in the past, but that’s not what we expect. The nox needs to say “contains one rock” in giant letters. It’s what’s in it.

This thing needs to reveal that it’s just a bunch of rando tables. Not bury that in the text and declare itself an adventure for 4-6. No, it’s fucking solo adventure full of tables. That should be the first fucking line of the blurb.

Starting today I have a new tag “Do Not Buy, EVER.” This is to remind me that the publisher in question has issues with product descriptions.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is two mini pages. If it were any longer you’d know you were getting ripped off.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/241803/Deadly-Encounters-1-Chamber-of-the-Serpent

Posted in Do Not Buy Ever, Reviews, The Worst EVAR? | 1 Comment

(5e) The Tomb of Mercy


Sersa Victory
Kobold Press
5e
Level 8

Humanity’s Last Hope Corrupted! The Tomb of Mercy was built centuries ago to house arks that would preserve the souls of humanity from an infernal invasion. Now you must travel to the Wasted West, unseal the Tomb, and send the last ark safely on its journey. Fail, and humanity faces extinction!

A DriveThru Hot Seller! Let’s see how much I regret the purchase …

This thirty page adventure is a linear crawl through a dungeon with twelve rooms. The core adventure appears on ten pages, leaving the other twenty pages to fluff, monsters, pregens, etc. This could be a cool one-shot con adventure, but is too limiting for anything else.

I have opinions on this one. I feel like I was ripped off; that the marketing doesn’t actually tell you what you’re buying. Given the rather niche corner this occupies it feels important that expectations are set pre-purchase. This doesn’t do that, not by a long shot.

Did you know you could win D&D? Yes! It’s true! In this adventure the DM and players compete with each other to draw Augury cards. At the end of the adventure they use what they’ve drawn to try to figure out which three random cards were sealed in an envelope at the start. Whoever guesses more wins the game!

And there are respawn rules! If a PC dies then they respawn the next round next to an ally. That’s nice, isn’t it? Oh, but if PC’s die six times then the DM wins automatically, so …

[The adventure commits two unforgivable sins, and this is one of them. D&D is not adversarial. Any hint that it is needs to be stamped out. There is no greater mindset of evil than “Adversarial D&D. Respawn? Ok. Die six times and the DM wins? No.]

I want to touch on two other issues before I get to my first bullet point. First, an emphasis is given to terrain that I don’t usually see, except in 4e adventures. Second, killing things/defeating challenges give you the key to get to the next room.

You now what this feels like? A boardgame. A scenario for Descent, or some Neverwinter Nights scenario. As a one shot con game that’s fine. Weird rules for three to four hours and then you’re out. No commitment beyond that; it’s fun. As a standard adventure… well … This is a one-trick pony.

Read-aloud is in light green italics, which makes it hard to read. In spite of there being twenty pages of support material, the map is all on one page, in some weird scale. It’s gorgeous, and clearly meant to be printed out, but is too small to do that. But, hey, they got it all on one page.

Magic items are good. Unique items like a shield you can feed monster bodies to in order to get a breathe weapon attack. They feel mythic.

On the monsters, well …

The first monster is a “conjoined bonewraith dust goblin spirit caller.” It’s hard to take that seriously. I’m guessing this is some templated build? I don’t understand that shit. Just slap some stats down; why do designers feel the need to use the rules to build a monster? And if it’s not a templated build, then why the fuck would you give it a six word name that seems like a template build? It’s hard to take seriously when adventures do this. Not to mention the monsters are long. Like, a page and half in one case. There’s this style of adventure that seems to take rules lawyering to a new heights, and this is one of them. Everything explained using current rules and two paragraph entries for new monsters. Didn’t the OD&D mind flayer just each brains on a 1-2 out of a d6? Seems easier to run than digging through 1.5 pages of stats to read two paragraphs while you’re trying to run a combat with six players.

The read-aloud is ok. It’s certainly evocative although it tends towards to the unnecessarily flowery novelist style. And while there’s a LOT of DM text it’s formatted rather well in most cases. Too long, way too long, with too much crap in it that doesn’t matter during the adventure. It does matter if you are reading the adventure for fun … nice fluff. Which, of course, is also a major sin of adventure writing. More is not more. More gets in the way of running the adventure at the table.

This thing is the definition of idiosyncratic. The “Winning”, respawn and six deaths things. The setting is a world overrun by hell with the PC’s launching an ark in to space with humanity’s last souls. The pregens are all female and named “Sister of Mercy” and “SIster of Judgement” and “SIster of Fury.” [Sadly, no one sang corrosion to me during the review.] This is hard to use during a normal game and probably a decent con game. But then, the pregens are not formatted for easy printing, running to multiple columns. And the monsters are hard to grasp. And the map is not optimized for a con print.

I’m going to give the designer the benefit of the doubt. I think they wrote an ok convention game. And then the Kobolds got ahold of it and fucked it up by putting the map on one page, spreading the pregens over multiple columns/pages, and forcing a “standard monsters format” and mechanics bullshit. Then hey marketed it as an general purpose adventure instead of a one-shot … which I fucking HATE.

The preview s five pages. The last page shows you the map and the second to last shows you the first room. Nice imagery, and mechanics associated with it, but WAY too long.
This is $7 at DriveThru.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/240933/Tomb-of-Mercy-for-5th-Edition

Posted in Reviews | 9 Comments

Echoes from Fomalhaut #1


The Singing Caverns
First Hungarian d20 Society
Gabor Lux
Levels 2-4

This is a 44 page zine from Gabor Lux containing a variety of higher quality D&D-ish material. It includes a two level cave complex with fifty rooms, over fifteen pages, called “The Singing Caverns”, which this review will be concentrating on … since I only review adventures. Terse writing, interesting encounters and a good map all combine to create a delightful little complex to explore … reminding me more than a bit of Thracia. Could there be a higher compliment?

Gabor Lux/Melan has created some interesting material that seems to appeal to a wide variety of folks. When Guy Fullerton creates a bibliography of your works AND Kent likes you, well … you’re doing something right. Note also that my review standards link to his great article on dungeon map design. Echoes From Formalhaught is a zine he is putting out, with issue one just dropping in print ind and PDF. It’s got a lot of good content, and starts strong is a great random merchant generator. “A distracted farmer selling haircuts drawing a small crowd.” Note how it both creates a memorable NPC quality “distracted farmer” and creates some potential energy “drawing a small crowd.” That’s a great example of a perfect NPC encounter. That table alone is good enough to go on my binder … and I’d put it on my screen if I had room.

But … we’re talking about adventures.

The Singing Caverns is a two level cave system with about fifty rooms spread out over fifteen pages (maps and full page artwork taking up four or five, so ten pages of text,) Fifty rooms in ten pages … and single column wide wide margins to boot!

These encounters are packed. The wanderers are up to something. Giant rats are cowardly stragglers that try to drag down stragglers or rip open food bags.” Perfect! You’ve got your encounter right there. When the rats show up they are doing something. Drunk exploring bandits? Great! Now you’ve got a little NPC interaction before they get a bit belligerent, and an obvious way for the party to appeal to them. These things are done in a short sentence, or maybe two. You don’t have to drone on and on while writing a description. You just need to set it up, as is done here. The goal of writing in an adventure is to inspire the DM in order to leverage their ability to take something and run with it. In order to do that you need to give them a shove. And that’s what these encounters do.

Looking at room one, “Water trickles from the mouth of a grinning long-nosed strong-chinned stone head into a dented brass basin. Several footprints in the mud.” After that is a short sentence saying the wind wails through the passage, blowing out torches on a 1-2, and there’s a crude tripwire a few steps in knowing down a support beam with stone for 2d6hp.

The initial description is short. The important stuff is bolded to draw the eye. The second paragraph contains DM information, again short and bolded. This isn’t the ONLY way to write effectively, but I do think it’s one of the most straightforward ways. The adventure does this over and over again. It’s like terse little jabs to your imagination in every room.

The maps good. Same level stairs, multiple ways between levels, loops, features drawn in on the map like ledges, etc. The keying is clear and legible.It’s what you want a map to be to encourage great exploration play in the dungeon..

This is $6 at DriveThru. You get to see the merchant table and, at the end of the preview, the first few rooms of the dungeon. They are representative of the entire thing.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/241136/Echoes-From-Fomalhaut-01-Beware-the-Beekeeper

Posted in Reviews, The Best | 7 Comments

Those Dam Goblins


by Cristopher Clark
Fail Squad Games
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 1-3

A few years ago human settlers discovered a marsh-covered valley that they knew would provide fertile cropland if only the marsh could be drained. The deflected water flooded a goblin lair, ousting the ornery creatures and reaping their undying hatred. Now, the goblins seek deadly revenge!

This 38 page adventure details an eleven page dungeon and/or mine. goblins are digging a complex under a human dam in order to blow it up and reflood their valley. It’s got some interesting encounters and non-standard magic effects that have that very BASIC and OD&D vibe that I enjoy. It’s also eleven rooms in thirty eight pages … meaning it’s hard to wade through. Long read-aloud, weird read-aloud, directions & dimensions in the text, and conversational commentary to the DM are all in play. It’s serious hi lighter fodder, if you want to go there. I don’t have time in my life for that; thats what I pay someone else for. Or, hope to anyway.

The heart of this is a little eleven room and three level dungeon dig out by the goblins. It’s supported by a couple of wilderness encounters and a little bit of town information that is, essentially, clues and hooks to what’s going on The idea is that the DM takes this clue information and when the party shows up he drops hints form the townsfolk, which gets the party involved. It’s presented in bullet point form another are eight or so various things to find out. I like the format. It is, essentially, just a summary of the town information, rather than detailed room/key format for a generic village. The format should provide enough to let he DM run with them. Unfortunately, the data here is a bit generic. Eight townsfolk have gone missing in the last month. Well … ok. Like rumors, a little bit more local color would have been nice. A drunk who stays out and his nagging wife, that sort of thing. I’m not talking a book, or much more in the way of ward count than is already here. But instead of generic writing “8 people are disappeared” a little more specificity. Something for the DM to run with and expand upon. “Write anything you want!” is a much harder assignment than “write a theme on why Walden Pond sucked.” Yes, I understand tastes vary. There is some line and I just don’t think there’s much room at all for the generic in what is supposed to be a play aid for running a game at the table/ Just how much prep work should you be expected to do?

There are more than a few nice encounters in this, and that’s it strong point. Goblins have torches … with some mini-mechanics for setting huaraches alight. Nice! Or giant cockroaches who can still fight for up to ten rounds after their heads are chopped off. it’s that kind of idiosyncratic stuff that I think a good D&D game lives and dies on. It’s fun. Others are more … interesting. At one point there’s a cart full of dead and bloated animal bodies. What happens to adventurers that dig through such things? That’s right … rot grubs! A perfect application of sticking your nose in. I love it. The adventure is at its best when it’s dealing with these little things. There’s a great little albino outcast goblin, barely cognitive, and ways the party can encounter him. He’s not really an enemy, more of an NPC that could be mistaken for something else. In fact, he’s really just window dressing since he doesn’t really have a part of play in the adventure except as a “would ya look at that!”, ut it still shows the strength of the imagination behind the writing.

But … not the writing proper. It’s terrible. Long.

The usual suspect are at play. First is the read-aloud, which concentrates on the obvious. “There are three exits in the north, south and east” or “the room is 40 x 60.” Yes, these are the things the map tells us. Other times the read aloud is weirdly short and in response to specific character actions. “You open the door to see a dark room.” I’ve seen this before; some designers have their weird obsession with providing read-aloud for every situation. As if those are the only words the DM can ever utter.

The kitchen gets three paragraphs of DM text, to describe to us what is in a kitchen. I know what a kitchen looks like. The extra writing adds nothing to that. What it DOES do is distract the DM by hiding the important fucking information behind stupid shit like “there’s a table up against the wall.” Unless it’s fucking pertinent to the adventure we don’t need to fucking know that.

My favorite example of bad writing in the entire adventure is “once that doo is opened a strange sight awaits your intrepid players.”

This, gentle readers, is SIN. Not just minor sin. Not just bad writing. But SIN, in a major way. The designer is having a conversation with the DM in a bar, telling them about their character. Not. Cool. That’s not the fucking purpose of the writing. This is supposed to be a play aid. This sort of conversational dreck has absolutely no place stuck in a room key. It represents all that is bad and wrong and no fun about this writing style. Evil, pure and simple, from the eigth dimension!

Seriously. Eleven rooms in 38 pages. This is what D&D has become.

This is $6 at DriveThru.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/235859/Those-Dam-Goblins-Revised

Posted in Reviews | 17 Comments

(5e) Insurrection in the Abbey


Sidequests
5e
Level 1

The Kobolds have grown strong – surely strong enough to overthrow the local abbey that they’ve been eyeing! This SideQuest begins as word has spread about the Kobold army that is planning to lay siege and take control of a humble monastery. The only thing that stands in the Kobolds’ way is, of course, your group of brave adventurers. This is a perfect introductory campaign to the world of D&D; it is designed to give your first-level players their first taste of combat and dungeon-crawling!

This seventeen page adventure details a small abbey that kobolds have taken over, holding the poor people inside hostage. It could easily be a 1-pager and has A LOT of filler text and overly dramatic read-aloud. Some ok magic items don’t forgive the lack of monster specificity, with only general guidelines offered.

Long lame throw-away hooks, like “missing caravan” and “deliver my letters” have the party ending up outside the walls of the abbey, facing the closed doors. This is the perfect introductory campaign to the world of roleplaying games, designed to give my first-level players their first taste of combat, stealth, and dungeon-crawling! (I know because the marketing garbage mixed in to the text tells me so) so I was quite surprised with the crappiness of the hooks. I mean, I went in to it expecting crappy hooks that the designer put in because they just didn’t care, but then that marketing blurb in the text got me all worked up only to deflate me again with the “missing caravan” pile of crap. Either don’t stick the fucking hook in or put some actual fucking thought in to it. No, that does not mean you need to write a paragraph on it, as you did there. It means you need to turn it in to something that will interest and intrigue the party and a pretext saying “this is the adventure I’m running tonight, bite it or we don’t play D&D” ain’t it.

Hmmm, I get the sense I’m coming off as harsh. If this adventure were one page and 99 cents it would be an ok adventure. But it’s not; it’s seventeen pages and $5, both of which make promises the adventure doesn’t deliver.

Ok, ok, nice stuff first.

There’s a few decent magic items. A magic arrow that always flies towards creatures with an evil heart. In practice, this is just advantage on demons and monsters, but it’s a nice idea. I like the effect, it’s just ruined a bit by the mechanics. A chalice that always fills with water is nice also. Magic items described as effects instead of through mechanics … who woulda thunk it! For the uninitiated, when you name a thing it loses its power. Mechanics bring magic items down the realm of the rule books. “Always seems an evil heart” is open to interpretation, and thus wondrous and mysterious. This is what magic items should be … magical! The boring ass +1 longsword is less wonderous and lame.

The gates to the abbey are locked so there’s a brief section on getting in that outlines some methods the party might use and gives advice to the DM. Great. I love this. You are making the DM’s life easier. The advice is WAY too long, but it DOES also include befriending the gate guard, a kobold. That’s not something you see everyday!

And on the bad front … just about everything else.

The tone is childish. It replicates the “new” tone for kobolds where they are simpleton children who worship dragons and talk like dumb 20’s henchmen. I know tone preferences are subjective, but OVERT humor in games is a turn off for me. I love spontaneous silliness, both in D&D & Gamma World, but when embedded in the rules (newer editions of Gamma World) or the adventures then its a turn off. It’s trying to force the spontaneity and that always comes off as obvious … and therefore bad.

The read-aloud is he usual overly dramatic crap one comes to expect from read-aloud. “You get the feeling that this Abbey has been through some dark times, yet has always managed to find light and redemption in the end.” reads the last sentence of the initial “see the abbey” read aloud. That’s not the sense I get. I get the sense that the designer is a failed novelist and/or trying to hard. It’s critically important that players NOT be told what to think. It’s the job of the designer to communicate a vibe that lets them draw their own conclusions. Your job is to write something that makes the DM communicate it to the players so they get the sense it’s gone through rough times and things turn out ok. Telling them what to think is bad writing.

The DM text contains such gems as “Read this outloud:” right before offset and text-boxed read-aloud. Advice to the DM is “The boss may or may not notice the party entering depending on how they enter.” These examples are not in isolation; in fact the actual useful text might be the exception rather than the rules there is so much padding. The text is being padded for word count for the DM. Not cool. It detracts from the DM’s ability to find the important stuff at the table. Remember, during the game the DM is scanning the text. If you’re writing for a DM sitting down on their sofa reading it then you’re writing for the wrong audience. Other examples include the usual “tell me where the doors go in the text”, duplicating information the map provides.

There’s no real order of battle, so monsters wait in their rooms to die. Well, when the adventure tells you where there are monsters. “You may want to have your party encounter a kobold here” is not adventure design. The walls are supposed to be crawling with kobolds, but there are non listed. Dozens of footprints, but not dozens in the adventure. This basic keying data is fudged. I understand there may be a role for that sometimes, but not as a general purpose in a basic adventure!

While I haven’t touched on it in awhile, this is a good example of why I like humans instead of humanoids. The kobolds add nothing to this adventure. They are just 1d3 hp bipedals to be killed. Why kobolds then? What makes this special? I would argue that it, in fact, makes the entre world LESS special. When monsters are the norm they lose their appeal. Human bandits would have worked better.

As a one-pager this would be a servivable first level adventure. But not as written. No way. Just more dreck.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages and is worthless.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/240540/SideQuests-Insurrection-At-The-Abbey

Posted in Reviews | 3 Comments

Tomb of the Lovelorn


By Morten Greis Petersen
Greis Games
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 3-4

For generations the anger of a scorned wizard has kept two lovers from each other, but now adventurous souls delving into an ancient tomb is about to change all that, though they may never live to see the results.

This nineteen page adventure details a thirteen room tomb inhabited by a pair of undead servants who maintain the place for some (dead) separated lovers. It’s got a great undead vibe going on and good imagery, magic items, challenges, and monsters. It does get a bit long in places, in both flowery read-aloud and DM text, but good formatting helps.

I’m rather fond of these Danish translations. They belong to a series called Hinterlands and I’ve looked forward to seeing new ones; something quite rare for me. They are, at once, both low fantasy and high fantasy. They have that sense of the places being natural and well developed without droning on or appealing to the baser elements like “waste disposal” and the like. My favorite adventures seem to have some thought put to them, not in mechanics or balance, but in motivations and What Would It Be Like … without forgetting that the goal is to have fun.

So, a tomb. Two lovers, one dead and one undead and trapped. Two undead mummy servants who maintain the tomb and sometimes kidnap people to feed to the I-Dont-Know-I’m-dead guy. The party can stumble on the ruins of a grave complex, or encounter some youths just back from an expedition. That’s my favorite since it involves the traditional tavern, stupid braggart kids, and others in the tavern overhearing. Anyway, the thing is supplemented by some rumors which are, generally, more in the realm of hooks. This includes two guardsmen trying to calm a group of peasants by encouraging them to just stay inside at night and lock their doors, as well as a different one that has Fake news! all over it. The more typical dream and//or woman-in-a-crowd are there also, and are significantly weaker.

There’s good monsters and treasure. They tend to all be unique entities and not book creatures. The two mummy-like servants have personalities and will talk to the party, always a good thing. They want to eventually kill them, of course, but the friendly undead before I kill is a classic and I do love the classics! There’s also some undead spirits and ghosts that can/could talk before combat, and even the dead guy who doesn’t know he’s dead. (Getting him to realize that is one of the main adventure goals, so he can move along and meet his dead girlfriend in the afterlife.) The unique nature of them is a good feature, and even extends to the tomb rats, who try and drag bodies away. Those extra little bits liven up combats so they are not just roll-to-hit … something DCC recognized as well. The magic items get good descriptions and have some unique properties that DONT seem like the mechanics were thought of first. The map has some nice same-level features like same-level stairs and hallways going over and under others. I love the vibe those features give exploring parties.

The descriptions are evocative, with swarms of fat flies and putrid congealed bodily fluids and reeks of rotting flesh. An oozing mass of flesh from several merged headless bodies with a sickening stench of rot … quivering flesh covered in leaking pustules with acidic liquid flowing and popping with a spray of … well, you get the picture. And that’s the point: getting the picture. Good evocative writing is short and paints a picture for the DM so they can expand and enhance it for the party. That’s what this does. Well, for the most part.

It falls down on the “short” point. The read-aloud can sometimes tend toward the overly flowery and the DM text can get long. Mechanic effects get long and sometimes there’s a sentence or two of backstory. I know that sounds trivial, but the third time were told the mummies were charged with maintaining the tomb … well, it gets redundant and distracts from the important stuff at the table during the game.

The use of paragraph breaks and bolding is ok, which helps break up the text and focus specific topics to specific paragraphs … something that seems obvious but which many adventures don’t do. So, it’s not unworkable but it is on the edge of it.

Ik kan glas eten. Het doet geen pijn.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages and shows you some of the hooks and rumors and a few rooms. “The darkness retreats from the light” can be seen in the read-aloud, as well as a good sense of the writing style, both positive and negative.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/240685/Tomb-of-the-Lovelorn

Posted in No Regerts, Reviews | 4 Comments

The Shrine of Fallen Angels


By WR Beatty
Rosethrone Publishing
S&W

The faithful will sometimes make a pilgrimage to pray at the Shrine of the Fallen Angels. Legends tell of angelic visitations and miracles. Certainly there is more to this shrine than simply a place for pilgrims to pay homage to a long forgotten saint.

This nineteen page adventure details a 20-ish room shrine/tomb of a local saint. It’s got a great OD&D vibe but suffers from formatting issues that lead to a wall of text. It could also be a disaster for the party, scale-wise. The content is ok, but I expect more from formatting/usability in 2018.

I dig an OD&D vibe. By that, I mean a style of encounter that doesn’t seem a derigour as conventional encounters. It’s not that the encounters are all that different, deep down, but they seem more natural. Each encounter must, eventually, debase itself in to providing mechanics, but it seems like OD&D-style encounters tend to do that much later in the designers thought process, and with less devotion to standard mechanics. It’s as if someone sat down and thought about what a hermit pilgrim, for example, might be and imagined it in their head and then wrote it down. Then, at some point, with almost no preconceived notions, noted mechanics for it.

There is a freshness that comes from these, and they seem effortlessly natural to the location than a lot of other writing styles have.

The wandering table is a great one, for example, because of this. Note this one: “A grave digger carrying the ashes of the Lord of the Valley. He is supposed to bury them at the shrine, but he is worried about his sick wife at home.” There’s so much embedded in that description. Most notably, it gives the grave digger some reason to interact with the party and to drive some potential action. And such it is with almost all of the wandering encounters. They contain a kind of potential energy,

But, it is also these wandering monsters that the first hints of issues are encountered. Some of them can be quite long. FUll of flavor? Absolutly. An owlbear with maximum hit points referred to by the locals as The Grey Bear with a hideously deformed left paw … which causes him to not hug and fall over if he hits of max damage? A minor demon (his patron) and a ghost show up on the encounter tables if you kill him? That’s some serious fucking chrome right there. It’s not just all in the owlbears favor, with a hit bonus, but has a natural vibe with the no hugs and falling over. It also takes a lot of text to get there.

That text journey is the adventures major problem. It’s long. There’s not much formatting with whitespace or even bolding. THis lends to a wall of text property that is quite hard to dig through during play at the table. Details are hidden in the middle of paragraphs that you would want to know or call out during play. It’s almost feels like a stream of consciousness writing style with no pauses to take a breath. There is a lot of richness and depth, but it can be conveyed better with a little bolding and whitespace.

Old school can design without an appeal to scaling and that’s done here … perhaps too much. Some creatures have 1d3 HP and others are 10hd or 60hp. Further, defiling the tomb has some SERIOUSLY bad consequences and it’s not clear to me that any warning of that is present. Looting abandoned places is what parties do … but in this case it can EASILY trigger a massive retaliation that even higher level parties would be hard pressed to live through.

So while the adventure has a very natural vibe to it, and is rich in gameable detail, it also hides that in a way that better editing could have solved. The disproportionate response to defiling is a little out of place also.. It may be a personal style thing; if you know your DM runs games like that then its ok. But if you’ve been defiling places with little godly consequences and then out of nowhere get TPK’d, well, the party might justly note a bait and switch.

This is interesting the way MERP products are interesting. But I’m seriously not convinced of its usability.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview shows you some of the great wandering encounters near the beginning. The last page shows you some of the location writing style, and gets in to some of the writing style positives and negatives.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/237736/The-Shrine-of-the-Fallen-Angels

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(5e) Whispers from the Void


By Benoit de Bernardy, Richard Jansen-Parks, JVC Parry
LoreSmyth
5e
Level 4

After enjoying many long decades of peace, the small port town of Sestone has found itself at the heart of a mystery that threatens the entire region – if not the very fabric of the mortal plane. In hopes of learning more about the growing danger, the adventurers are tasked to seek out a secretive druid circle. But the heroes are not the only ones looking for the druids.

Thirty four pages of linear encounters. Joy. With too much read-aloud. Joy. And read-aloud that tells you what you think and feel. Joy. Lots and lots of meaningless text. Joy. Why people put up with this dreck is beyond me. Do they just not know that there is better available? Yeah, yeah, “we had fun.” Whatever. I choose Camus. THis is just more of the usual 5th edition garbage.

Baron Cant-Be-Bothered asks you to go find some druids who might know how to shut down a mutation rift nearby. He gives you the name of a woman in a nearby town who may know where the druids are. She is dying on the floow when the party finds her. The druids in the forest are being attacked by pirates. You follow the pirates and kill them. There’s some other minor shit. It’s linear.

The maps are small and the key numbers on them are hard to read. Strike One.

The adventure opens with Baron I-dont-care and some villagers memorializing some dead people. No details given. Specificity is the soul of narrative. “Bob had 18 sons and never caught a fish though he loved fishing.” There. One sentence. The DM can now build on that for the eulogy’s that are supposed to take up the intro/hook. Nope. Can’t be bothered. This is bad fucking writing. It’ abstracts the parts of the adventure that the DM needs to run the encounter.

To add insult to injury it them expands useless background detail. This kind of crap reminds me of style guides for a Tv series. We gotta know the minor characters backstory for episode 89 … but there ain’t no episode 89 in D&D. It’s all just garbage and detracts from the information the DM needs to run the adventure RIGHT NOW … well, if that information were in the adventure to begin with.

You find your contact in town dying on the floor. The read-aloud is long. I guarantee that before the DM finishes reading the shitty text that someone will have cast cure light. But, no, no provision for that. The plot calls for a death and so their contact dies. It’s fucking lame. Don’t want to have the contact tell them something? THEN MAKE THEM DEAD. Yanking the fucking parties chain, teasing them with possibilities that you will DM fiat away, is no fucking way to run a D&D game. And if you think it is then you’re a fucking idiot.

Shitty long DM text abounds. Here’s the FIRST paragraph for an NPC found in a inn: “For many years, the Tomund siblings paid little attention to the town where they lived, but after his brother Guthber was found to be the cause of the missing townsfolk, Heleste has been making an effort to get to know the locals. Many still look on him with suspicion, but Ared at least appreciates the effort.”

What the fuck is the point of that? Does any of that fucking shit matter when the party strides up to him? Bad fucking writing.

“You see a winged monstrosity gliding …” Yeah, ok, failed novelist. That’s a fucking conclusion. Tell the fucking party what they see if you are going to make us suffer through read-aloud. Better yet, write one sentence of DM text that inspires the DM with a great description, the way good adventures do.

There’s three paragraphs devoted to a geographical feature, darkstone pass, which is completely irrelevant. The next encounter is the manticore , err, “”winged monstrosity”. The pass text adds nothing but to the page count.

“Weary from your long walk, you’re glad to see the walls of Moonstone draw closer.” No. Just, No. Conclusions. Telling the party what they see and think. Just fucking textbook bad read-aloud.

And none of that even touches on the linear nature.

You know, I really wish DriveThru/Now offered no questions asked refunds. Yeah, yeah, piracy, blah blah blah. People don’t deserve this kind of crap.

This is $7 at DriveThru.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/212028/Whispers-from-the-Void-5e-adventure

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The Midnight Duke


RPGpundit
Precis Intermedia
Dark Albion
Mid-Level

Taking control of the Debateable Lands, the Midnight Duke and his followers spread darkness and Chaos. Whether sent to investigate claims of dark powers by the Clerical Order or ordered to stop the threat at all costs by a rival lord, the PCs are sure to meet trouble in this open-ended scenario.

Well fuck me. 0 for 2 this week.

This seventeen page “adventure” details a couple of evil NPC’s and lightly outlines a situation. In a lawless border region an evil dude has taken over while everyone else is busy in a civil war. There’s some nobleman who might hire the party to go kill the dude. The dude has three followers and a duke of hell lives in his keep. The local villagers don’t really support him, but are beaten down.

It takes Pundit seventeen pages to outline this. Lots of history and background, if you are bored and can’t sleep.

NOT.
A.
FUCKING.
ADVENTURE.

There’s a crowd that says something like “it’s art if the creator says its art,”

Maybe.

Unless I pay fucking money for it. Then I’ve been ripped off. And I’m bitter.

The gang is coming over in a few hours and you go to DriveThru to buy an adventure to run. That’s my bar. “There are some evil dudes on the border and a demon” don’t cut it.

This is $3 at DriveThru. It has a four page quick preview that shows you nothing.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/239948/RPGPundit-Presents-28-The-Midnight-Duke

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