The Night Wolf Inn

By Anthony Huso
Self Published
All Levels

Once, a designer told me: “More is better, right? I mean, better to have it and not need it!” Not, I reply, when it makes the design difficult to actually use.

It is an Inn, a tavern, and a universe unto itself—a place of powerful dweomers, secret doors, lost gods, hidden dimensions and dangerous artifacts. Behind the sand box experience is a back story & a mystery. Players never need solve this mystery, but it is the glue that holds the experience together.

You are warned: This is a difficult review of a difficult product.

This 190 page supplement, found on Lulu, describes an interdimensional inn. It can serve as a kind of “home base” for a party. Over time, as the inn reveals its secrets, it becomes both a tool for generating adventure seeds and, ultimately, maybe, the outline of a TRUE high-level AD&D adventure. One of the few, ever. And I don’t mean “Q1” hight level, I mean REALLY high level.

The inn is extra-dimensional and the entrances/exits are in several locations at once. Further, there are multiple exits to other planes. The rooms, both common and private, number about a hundred, and include about a twenty “other plane” areas, similar to what’s found behind the doors in Q1, but expanded a bit more. The rooms range from about a half page to around a page each and take up about a hundred pages of text, the rest being monsters, backgrounds, NPC’s, and explanations.

The inn can serve as a home base for adventurers, ven across campaigns from one to another. It’s a nice adventurers locale and place to take your hat off and engage in that carousing table, perhaps. But, it also is exotic enough to serve as a location to pick up hooks from other patrons in the inn. An overheard snippet of conversation, and so forth. But … it can also serve up hooks more explicitly. You can join the inns adventuring guild, which obligates you to performing some services for the inn. Why are you going on the adventure? Because it’s time for your two weeks a year of obligation, that’s why! In this way the inn is a decent home base for adventurers. The various rooms have enough quirks to keep the players a little interested, in a kind of Disney Adventurers Club kind of way. The rocking chairs on the porch continue to rock. The cigar box never empties, and so on. Of all of the extra-dimensional inns and home bases that I’ve seen/reviewed this is probably the best. (And I only say probably because I can’t remember them all!) It reminds me a bit of that Dave Bowman tavern/inn in the Darkness Beneath. The Deep Caves, maybe, was the level? But wait! There’s more!

And it’s the “more” that really sets this one apart from the est of the field. There’s this concept of Hidden Depth in dungeons/adventures. Theming of levels may be the most superficial hidden depth. After that might come slightly more complex hidden depth, in the form of a puzzle or some such to a different area. The NE corner has a statue that gives a clue to how to open a secret door in the SE corner of the dungeon, for example. At a step up form there is the infamous Kuntz hidden depth, which is how the term is usually used. A rose in one room has a dungeon on each of its petals that can only be accessed through some complex ritual, and so forth. And then, there’s something like happens in this adventure.

Paying attention pays rewards. As the characters use the inn they will inevitably discover more and more of its secrets. They will, perhaps, be drawn to the noise they hear coming from upstairs over the veranda and one day investigate. Or sneak in to the obviously open secret door behind the bar. There’s a LOT. Almost every single room has some sort of secret, and most have several. Some are simple. Some are clues to other areas. Some are devilishly complex. There is A LOT to explore … and a lot to get in to trouble with. The inn can kill, easily, even a high level character. Ultimately the most complex and in-depth of the secrets are related to the inns creation and its owner “The Master.” He’s lost something and most of the inn contains clues to finding it. Thus the ENTIRE thing is almost like an adventure outline. Various things within the inn may lead to other adventures. This entire section if both an outline and highlight specific. What you need to achieve is highly specific, particularly as it relates to things WITHIN the inn, but parts outside of the inn are more of a sketched outline of goals and objectives. And it can all be pursued, or not, pretty much at the leisure of the players. Thus the diversions and interesting little bits of the inn, a place to goof off between adventures, can become the main focus after a while … if the party is inclined to do so. As an inn, this is great. The party will visit time as again, as their home base, giving the various aspects the ability to stretch their legs over time and be integrated in to the game.

There is a lot of mystery and wonder to be found in the inn, both important to a location like this. Various aspects of it, the imagination behind it, feel very OD&D. That sense of the unknown and the non-standard is to be found in abundance in this. Wall panels that turn in to seven thousand vipers. A secret room that turns you in to a skeleton for a thousand years … which only a day for the other party members. The designer makes the imagination and the non-standard. It is this idiosyncratic nature that gives the inn a vibe of both a real place and a place thar the adventurers will want to return to.

And yet …

This is HOPELESSLY an AD&D adventure. While it does have that sense of imagination and wonder that is hallmark, I think, of the early OD&D days it also is quite purposefully presenting it as an AD&D adventure. Mechanically. The impacts and results and details are all VERY mechanically dense, in the 1E sense rather than the 3.5e sense. Mechanics are described. In detail. This is supplemented by a verbose writing style and a use of whitespace that I think sometimes works against readability. All of these, together, are the reason for the half page to full page room descriptions in the adventure. The third room, the coatroom, is 10×20 feet. It takes over a page to describe. This isn’t because of he read-aloud but rather because of the (loose) writing style and need to describe the rooms mechanics to the DM. This is, I think, because of the authorial vision. Not just a need to describe the mechanics but to get the intent of the author across. I get this. I think it’s interesting to know what the author intends. I also think that the verbosity that incurs from this makes the product hard to use.

The read-aloud is also a bit of a let down. For the aforementioned coatroom we get: “A dim hall set with two doors and an open archway has been fitted with numerous racks and hooks for coats, scarves and the like. There are two taxidermy umbrella stands made of elephant feet. They appear ghastly in the faint rays streaming from a small rose window in the south wall.” This is all very fact based. It’s also very straightforward without invoking the sense of wonder and awe that exist in many of these rooms. We know what a coat room looks like. The umbrella stands come off a bit flat. It’s not that it’s bad, but rather that it’s not very inspiring to the DM … for a location, the inn, that is very much mysterious and inspiring.

This is the sort of book that you need to use as a reference at the table, that you can mark up. Making notes in it, adventure after adventure, on what has happened and what the party has done inside. This is one of those products that you dream of finding. While at a con, digging through old boxes of adventures for $5 each, you come across this thing and know instantly you have found something special. A work of madness and genius. It just desperately needs a second edit pass. Given that major edit you would have something quite interesting indeed, from both content and usability. It’s maddening. It’s frustrating. It needs more NPC’s wandering through to dump in on return visits. I will also never give this adventure/supplement up. It can be the cornerstone and foundation of your game for years and years to come, providing your players something familiar and stable .. and yet filled with mystery … if you can exhume it form the density of words.

Also: Nice cover!

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Dungeon Magazine #122

Final Resting Place
By Michael Kortes
Level 3

This is a strange kind of befuddled adventure. A lone adventurer died killing a mind flayer deep underground. The newly freed trogs slaves rever his body as a hero and want to give his body a hero’s sendoff: cremation. His kid wants you to go to the underdark and get his body to bury next to his dead wife. The 10 or so encounters to the trog cave are all rubble, shaft to negotiate and so on, which really only come in to play as set piece locations to use while the party is fleeing with the body. The cavern they live in is mostly empty, making a commando stealth raid mostly out of the question. It’s also all combat, with not even a word of advice to negotiation … just hack them down. There’s a weird faction in the trogs described, with chief and sub-chief, but there’s no opportunity to take advantage because of the HACK nature. And EVERYTHING is under a DC10 search check for a secret door … adventure blocks, even at DC10, are never a good thing. A more varied cavern, some roleplay with the trogs … that would have been much better.

Fiendish Footprints
By Tito Leati
Level 6

A frustrating twelve room linear dungeoncrawl in three parts. You meet elves, some of who wish to avenge their dead father and want to come with the party to kill hobgoblins. There’s a nice “cursed wood” pretext to keep the elf warband from assisting en masse. This entire section of elves and forest is much longer than it needs to be, but it does present some interesting visuals with burning bodies and a gay elven camp after a battle. The dungeon has two parts: hobgoblin lair and then the sealed off portion with a few vampires … and the magic item from the adventure title. The dungeon presents some interesting scenes, particularly with a creature reaching up out of the well to drag a victim in to it. This “hiding in a hole” thing comes in three separate flavors, each with slight variations, and is a nice little addition. The dungeon, while linear, does have three separate entrances for clever players to find. It also places A LOT of the adventure behind choke point DC checks. To find the location of the wood from the hook, to be allowed to talk to the elves. To find the trap door in the ruins that hides the dungeon. These are (mostly) trivial … but choke point DC checks are NEVER a good thing, in spite of the advice to “get the players rolling dice.” The hobgoblin portion of the dungeon is better than the vampire portion, with more interesting things going on. If you can get past the linear nature then its not too bad …

Root of Evil
By Mike Mearls
Level 18

A true piece of shit from Mearls. A giant tree grows in a city and destroys it. The party enters the tree and has six combat encounters. “Linear” doesn’t begin to describe this, the tree moves its internal passageways so the party MUST have all five encounters. While the tree moves the environment around to make the combats harder. Thus this “adventure” is nothing more than a D&D Miniatures ”campaign.” The destroyed city is given nothing, so it really is just the six encounters in the tree. It DOES offer up the Broodmother Skyfortress type destruction of a campaign city, and the plea for help from the Pelor cleric is nice, but the COMPLETE lack of pretext and bold-faced turning of D&D in to tactics porn and calling it an “adventure”? Fuck. You.

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The Drow Undercity of Death

By Eldrad
Back to the Dungeon RPG

Labeled “mature”, this third installment of the Black Stairs megadungeon comes in at 28 pages for 128(!) rooms. It’s an art project, or madness, or some combination of the two that produces something greater than the whole. Linear. Minimally keyed. It relies more on concepts than anything else. And that works. Sometimes. There’s something charming about the high concept rooms mixed together to form this very classic feeling dungeon environment. Until you reach the drow city. Then it falls apart.

Thirs is the third installment in this series, and I’ve GOT to stop coming in during the middle of these series. “The Black Stairs” sounds familiar, but I don’t think I’ve reviewed either the first or second level. Anyway, this is all single column with a stark typeface and a writing style I KNOW I’ve seen before.

The adventure has some great room ideas. Ideas are presented starkly and left to the DM. One line from room six reads “The hallway ends with a Stone Face with Huge Jasper Jeweled Eyes worth …” and then the pit trap when the face is touched. A different room presents “A gigantic ruined gate blocks off the other side of the cavern. Glowing lichens on the ceiling above give a dim eerie light. It’s architecture and style is unknown and it is VERY OLD.” and then goes on detail two columns full of rats nests. All three of those are great brief concepts for things to build a room around. And everything is left for the DM, for better or worse. “The door is ornate and evil looking.” Well … ok. I would normally make a “show, don’t tell” statement about that. It’s all very stark and there’s something VERY charming about the randomness of finding a gate with glowing lichen in the middle of a cave room, deep underground. It FEELS mysterious and wondrous, because there is so much for the mind to fill in.

I can deal with the minimalism, for the most part, because of the high hit rate on concepts. But then it breaks down. Bad. The drow city, once reached through the caves (the city is about 35 rooms, I’d guess) is full on D3 mode. House Demon has 10 male drow and 13 female drow and a female drow cleric leading them. [treasure list] The iconic rooms stop and it devolves in to just facts without charm.

The treasure is quite weird. Long lists that look randomly rolled that go on forever. “… Statuette-10 gp, Necklace-300 gp, Anklet-50 gp, Ring-200 gp, Orb-1800 gp, Bracelet-40 gp, Brooch-900 gp, Chain-300 gp …” That’s about 10% of the treasure in one room listing. Generic and nonsensical. But then, early on, you get a Ring of Three Wishes, with details on recharging it and who wants it and complications and so on. It’s great!

And then there’s the map. While there are holes with ropes and different ways up and down on the maps to create a decently diverse dimensionality, they are, essentially, linear. Leave one room, go down a short hall, enter another room. The maps, handdrawn, are also quite difficult to read at times. I’m looking at you keys 2&3 and 9&10 on map 3a! Further, sometimes the numbers don’t actually appear in rooms. This is an issue in “corridor mazes” when you’re trying to figure out just what is a passage and what is a wall.

This is a stark vision. When it’s good then it’s terse and wonderful. And when it’s bad it’s very bad. In one product you can find both the best and the worst aspects of minimal design. I would steal like a mofo from it and stick it in to a better map.

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Escape from the Astral Spellhold

By Christian Kessler
Any Level

You know what “Any Level” means, don’t you? PUZZLES! Well … kind of.

This twenty page digest adventure describes a small wizard’s tower with about nine rooms in it, in pointcrawl style, along with a couple of pages about a city you could locate it in. It does a decent job of describing a freaky wizard tower, although treasure is a little light.

This reminds me of Korgoth of Barbaria. The wizard is out of town, the party finds out and decides to raid his tower for loot. Or maybe, for the higher level party, they try to kill him. In both hooks the rooms are written in a way that combat is not INSTANT and is rather dependent on how far the party pushes their luck … for certain definitions of that phrase.

The room descriptions are, mechanically, an interesting choice. Each key element of the room is bolded and has its own paragraph. Functionally, this gives you a quick way to get the high-level objects in the room called out easily for you, the DM, and then the couple of extra sentences (the “paragraph” I mentioned) provides the details on those. The lab has 4 mannikins, an alchemy workbench, a tinkering workbench, and a dissection table. A couple f extra sentences describe each. For the dissection table it’s: “A thin white sheet covers an inert flesh golem with the top of its skull removed. There is a steel skullplate next to the body, and a pair of copper wires sticking out of the base of its skull and connecting it to a box with a (broken) switch on the wall.” It’s an interesting way to communicate the room and works fairly well. I think it breaks down a bit in that its very fact based descriptions rather than evocative impressions. Both can work well to create scenes in the DM’s head, but more descriptive words/less fact-based (grammar school noun/verb?) does a better job, IMO.

The actual contents of the rooms gives the party something to play with or talk to in almost every case. They are, true to description, pretty level-neutral. A couple of the puzzles rely on some external (player) knowledge (a knight chess puzzle, for example) but in general they are a nice combination of pretext and a difficulty that is enough to give a sense of accomplishment without being maddening. Also, there’s a built in clue system in the library where the book ladder can answer questions by directing folks to passages in certain volumes. It’s always a good thing when interesting play in the dungeon can lead to discovers and problem-solving in the dungeon.

Eventually the wizard returns. This is, I think, a problem. Or may be, anyway. There’s an escalation die mechanic (a great mechanic! And great use here!) that determines when the wizard returns. Every turn the die is rolled. It turns out the party is trapped in the tower and most of the tower needs to be explored (and a puzzle solved, I believe) in order to find the way out. Further, a major (only?) clue is in a room with a dragon that has a 25% chance of waking up every turn. Now, both the wizard and the dragon have a reaction table, so party destruction is not guaranteed, but it is pretty likely, to the point of “almost certain.” This is the weirdest part of the adventure. While most of the adventure is, in fact, pretty level neutra, the exit and/or wizard return are almost certain combats with very powerful opponents. Running would not be an option since the party is trapped in the tower. These two parts need a reworking, as well, perhaps, as some allusion to the wizard returning, which I don’t believe is ever socialized with the party. Treasure is also quite light, with only a few objects to loot. A few more integrated objects, such as perhaps making the vivisection table skull bolts platinum or some such, would have brought out that murder-hobo “unbolt it and take it” propensity.

These adventures are the most heartbreaking for me. This adventure does not suck. It is not bad. This is a decent adventure. It’s just not a great adventure. What’s holding it back is, mostly, the language and vividness of the scenes it paints. A reworking of the text would push it over the top. These sorts of journeyman works get a deal from my reviews. If all adventures were as good as this one then I wouldn’t be writing reviews.

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Dungeon Magazine #121

Fiend’s Embrace
By Stephen Greer
Level 4

This is a journey through a swamp and small 27 room ruined castle exploration. It’s a fetch quest, to retrieve a cloak. The wilderness portion is through a dreadful swamp-like environment, during a cold spell. Both it and the castle are more evocative than the usual Dungeon Magazine dreck. The ruined castle has weak walls & floors, flooded areas, some open/balcony areas, and a rival NPC party. This suffers from the usual “DM word bloat” but “ruined castle in a chilly swamp” is a pretty classic trope and executed ok in this one. The chilly elements could be brought out a little more, the read-aloud is a little dull (but generally short) and the DM text is way too long. But you do get some good imagery in this one. That’s not a recommendation, unless you’re desperate.

The Styles
By Richard Pett
Level 9

Meh. The party is hired to look in to a guy who was framed as being a serial killer. The trail leads to a warehouse, and then a water temple and water worship area. The adventure pays lip service to multiple motivations, allowing hooks for the party to be hired or be do-gooders, a nice nod to assisting the DM even if they are more than a little bland. Likewise it addresses burning down a warehouse, just as G1 addressed burning down the Steading … always a nice addition where PC parties are concerned. It tries to provide an atmospheric setting but it engages in telling instead of showing. The city quarter is depressing. Great. What’s that mean? Contrast that with Deep Carbon’s SHOWING you WHY the place is depressing. It also engages in the practice of mixing important clues/facts in to walls of text during the investigation portion, and makes the jump that the party will follow-up on the Tharizdun cult (parts three & four of the adventure) after fulfilling their hook obligations in parts one and two. The concepts here had potential but execution is WAY off.

Secrets of the Arch Wood
By Skip WIlliams
Level 13

You’re hired to investigate an estate in the woods. The worst kind of dreck: tactics/mechanics porn. Reams and reams of Break DC’s and long-winded tactics passages for combats. I note that there’s a section on some Forgotten Realms spell that prevents teleportation and divination from working. Such shitty creativity that player gimping has been memorialized as official Forgotten Realms cannon!

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The Watchtower in the Wood

By Travis Legge
Aegis Studios
Level 1-3

In this adventure, the characters venture forth from the safety of the Isle of Hope, seeking to bring order to the Plains of Marrow. The adventure offers options for the characters to begin in various areas on the Isle of Hope, but regardless of the path taken, the party eventually makes their way to the haunted lands of the Plains of Marrow. After crossing the harrowing and chaotic lands (and fighting off some of the dark denizens) of the Plains of Marrow, the characters come across a small wooded area. A small stone fort with a lone watchtower stands in a clearing among the trees. Within this camp, the characters will find adventure, drama, and their first dharmachackra!

Another 24 page adventure that should be a page. Whatever vision was trying to be communicated didn’t make it. Sixteen pages of introduction and wandering monster tables, supplemented by six pages of appendix filler leaves us with two pages for the adventure proper. Which is one encounter. I like the cover, but for some reason it reminds me of FATAL.

This is an adventure for some new setting, Choe Pho, so I’m going to assume that the base setting book has the details that are missing from the adventure. You’re in this city and you’re travelling to the Plains of Marrow … “to bring order to it.” You can go North to get there, through the mountains, or south through the forests, east through the grasslands or west through the desert. And there you find a dharmachackra. None of that is described in this adventure and, frankly, I’m a little curious how you can go any direction and get the same place. At least I assume it’s a world feature and not a crutch. We’ll assume it’s all in the setting book.

The adventure consist of a wandering monster table for each of the cardinal directions. The direction descriptions are essentially all the same, with desert adjectives replaced with mountain or forest adjectives. Settlements, tribespeople. All generic. There’s a paragraph or two for each entry on the four wandering tables, which all reduce to “it’s a creature.” There’s not really anything interesting in any of them. The Plains of Marrow are covered in fog and all of the monsters on the table are undead. If you roll a certain encounter then you find the watchtower. Or, if two days pass you also find it. So … no maps in this one. Just an abstracted “encounter wandering monsters until you find the tower after a set time period.”

The watchtower is populated by a couple of furry goblinoid creatures. They are getting attacked by undead every two minutes. The chief wears a necklace that’s attracting the undead. There are little to no details on the titular watchtower.

There’s nothing in this adventure. Some wandering monster tables and an abstracted watchtower. Nothing remotely evocative or interesting to be found.

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Winds of the Ice Forest

By James V. West
Random Order Creations
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 1-3

You enter the dreaded Ice Forest where the ancient path leading through can change with the wind. What perils will you face before nding the way to the other side?

This 24 page “adventure” is a series of random encounters that a party has in a snowy forest … that acts as a labyrinth. Some ok magic items and eerie dead bodies can’t save a glorified wandering monster table.

The icy forest is cursed and people get lost in it. You need to make the correct path choice 13 times to get out .. which means making a 50/50 dice roll at each path split. There’s no map, this is all abstracted. Each time you go down a path there’s a chance to encounter one of the fourteen table entries. There’s also a chance that you’ll encounter an ice igloo that serves as a safe house to rest in … and keep evil creatures 20’ away. The combination of game-ist safe igloos and “just roll the dice until you succeed 13 times” is just too much for me. It all feels like a waste of time. Inexplicably, you can’t leave the paths. Recall, there’s no map, it’s all abstracted, but there is a mechanism for punishing players with being crushed by moving trees if they leave the path. This makes no sense. Who cares if they leave the path, it’s not like doing so will shorten their 13 choices?

The hooks involve going in to find a treasure, escorting a box through the forest, and taking a short-cut to deliver medicine. There are two common elements to each: why am I going in the cursed forest and then Here’s A Thing To Help Make The Right Path Choice. The “going in” reasons are generally pretty weak. Having to go in and find an object is an ok reason, and the need for a speedy short-cut to deliver medicine is a pretty good one. The others just offer no motivation at all for going through the wood instead of around it. That entire section could use a rethink. The Path Chooser objects, specific to each hook, are generally ok, ranging from a bag of path-picking frogs to a magic lantern. I would probably mix & match to find a hook that I think would appeal to MY party, with a bag of frogs for path-picking from a different hook.

The real problem is the encounters. They feel, for the most part, like generic wandering monster encounters. Monsters show up and attack. Joy. There’s not really even much of a “frozen forest” vibe going on, at least not one that comes through with the writing. The encounters that DO spark the imagination are the ones that play well on the ice forest theme. These ALL involve frozen dead bodies. Wherever ter is a frozen body the text handles it well. Without a frozen body in the encounter it just comes across as Yet Another Wandering Monster. That’s quite disappointing. Alas, the titular “Winds” are not to be found.

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Dungeon Magazine #120

RELIGION IS EVIL! At least according to this issue of Dungeon, featuring evil cults in every adventure.

The Obsidian Eye
By Nicholas Logue & Brendan Victorson
Level 4

I can be hyperbolic. I know it. But Jesus Christ this adventure makes pervious Dungeon adventures look like they are minimally keyed in comparison. Two NPC’s each get a page to describe them. The opening encounter, with three jackelweres, take FOUR PAGES to describe. Every. Single. Detail. is spelled out. The hooks are “bad dreams, better save humanity!” or “go rescue my relative please!” or the ever popular archeology expedition. It’s like they are not even trying at all. Our jackelweres get backstory and complex feelings, all to say “they kill people.” It’s crazy. Things get slightly better after the party tracks them back to an obelisk in the desert. Freed slaves will join your cause en masse (Yeah!) and you can bribe some thri-kreen mercenaries (Yeah!) and there’s a mouth you can reach in to in order to get the magical gizmo the adventure is centered around. Still too many words, all boring, but there are some decent concepts. A fountain floods the room in one area and you can disdev it to stop it … I imagine stuffing cloaks in to it to clog it. That kind of thing, putting concepts before mechanics, is what more adventures should do.

The Forsaken Arch
By Timothy J. Haener
Level 7

Villagers want you to look in to their missing pearl shipments. A long, and not very interesting, village description leads to an ambush by 10 CR1 monsters, and then a linear lair/caves built in to a giant sea arch. I find the lair strangely compelling, even though it is a COMPLETELY linear map. You could do a great job with the core concept or land, cliffs, sea, top of the pillar, interior of the pillar, as a kind of big bandit lair. That’s what this TRIES to do, without doing it very interesting. Kenku bandits. Eagles on top. Sea cats in the water. Ogre mage and an EHP inside along with some “vermin” type monsters in the garbage room, etc. For a “cleaning out the bandits lair” I guess it’s not too bad, if you’re willing to accept the linear nature and exposition.

The Lost Temple of Demogorgon
By Sean K. Reynolds
Level 14

Oh man, this is a rough one. Some kingdom has seen ogres near and want the party to look in to it. And all of the introduction and background and wilderness (all of which is actually pretty short) is just perfunctory in order to present a LINEAR dungeon map. I’m am not shitting. A straight line with a couple of rooms hanging off of it. About 800,000 of those rooms hanging off are little 1000 year old latrines that have been sealed off with walls of stone. WHy the fuck are they being shown on the map? What are they adding? Padding? For it’s bullshit linearity, it DOES manage to embed some nonstandard stuff on the map. Traps are shows. ABout 30 glyphs of wrding are shown. Light sources are shown. (Yeah!) AFter fighting their way through a bunch of apes & trogs the party find a death knight who is using the trog priests to cure his condition. You can fight him, or not. End. THe amount of backstory for the rooms (“this room was once”) doesn’t reach epic level but it is certainly at heroic levels, adding nothing to otherwise bland rooms in which combat with apes take place. There is no joy in this adventure. Mighty Reynolds has struck out.

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The Curse of Ravenmere

By SImon Forster
Adventurer Conquerer King
Low level

Ravenmere is a small village situated between the market towns of Appleby and Cricklewood, and once supplied both with cattle and the odd sheep. Today the village has been isolated by the local lord, for a plague has come to Ravenmere and all of its villagers are dead by their own hands. What will bold aventurers discover in the isolated village?

This twelve page and twelve location adventure locale that describe a village full of dead bodies … and little else. The background is terse, the imagery is evocative, and it’s missing almost any sort of action. Maybe a locale to put your own plot in to.

The background here is short, a page maybe two of the old-man-eyes font. From it you get exactly what you need: a terse telling of what happened and why. There’s this spear, it belonged to some tribal chief who, along with people, got killed when the current kingdom moved in to the area. It’s JUST enough to handle any exposition the DM may need to create during the game. If the party asks an old man, or goes to some church to find information then the background has provided a short little context that allows the DM to make shit up. PERFECT! This adventure does a magnificent job of leveraging the DM for this aspect. You don’t need to tell the story. You need to provide the DM just enough for THEM to tell the story. The DM is your friend. Take advantage of them. The hooks make sense in the context, even if they are the slightest of pretexts. Someone hid something in the village and can’t get it now because of the quarantine. Someone wants the gizmo that the villagers found. Someone’s husband went to the village to buy sheep and never returned. These are all recognizable but because of the introduction and background/context they have just that little extra gravitas.

The imagery of the twelve encounters is relentless. “A young boy, his head caved in by a hammer and his bare arms scarred with burns, lies sprawled on the floor; his decaying body is riddled with maggots and a swarm of flies lifts off when anyone approaches.” No? How about “Three farmers lie facedown in the pond, two drowned and the other with his head smashed in. The few fish in the water have been nibbling at them.” It does an excellent job on the corpses in each location. The descriptions are short and the impactful, allowing the DM to communicate the scene effectively to the players.

It IS a little relentless. All of the locations have these mutilated bodies in them, victims of the 28-days-later like murder rage. Go to a place. See the murder scene. The issue is compounded, I think, by the slow pacing. There are some of the lord’s men, as guards, at the front gate, preventing entry. Once inside the village palisade there is one murder-rage person left alive to encounter. There are also some ravens that attack as a horde/swarm. Other than that there’s not much going on. Cursed spear in the church. A hole in the ground, undescribed, in the pond, perhaps suitable for putting a dungeon underneath. The relentlessness of the crime scenes along with the slower pacing don’t work well together, I think. I’m sure it’s certainly very moody in play, but you’re left looking for a conclusion. An ending. Or, at least, something to DO … besides look at bodies.

You could certainly use this as a mini-regional feature to enhance some other thing you are doing. Imagine if there was a dungeon under the pond, a big one, and this village the entry point and weirdo’s show up from time to time, ala Rappan Athuk. It needs something ELSE, it’s just a part of a whole and the rest of the whole is missing, be it on purpose or not.

Two more notations. This adventure is twelve pages long. The front cover is one. The license in back is four. The Intro is two. The actual adventure, describing the keys, is three pages. The license length made it notable here, but most adventures do something similar. It feels somehow disingenuous for me to announce this is twelve pages long when it is, for some definition of content, much shorter. I’m not sure it’s fair to point this out for this particular adventure, since a lot do it, but I find it curious that only about 50% of less of the page count of these things is actual adventure … with a liberal definition of “Adventure.”

Finally this adventure provides an excellent opportunity to talk about small wilderness/location maps. I’m fond of the village map for this adventure but it IS missing something: Bodies. I think I noted a similar issue in my review of Out of Blackest Earth. In both cases there is a keyed map detailing a small outdoor area. The outdoor encounter locations kind of merge in to each other. Imagine you are on your front suburban lawn. You can look right, left, and across the street, at a minimum, and see what is lying on those people’s lawns. In those situations it just doesn’t make sense to ignore what the party can see. But how do you convey that? Do you force the DM to look at the map and then go look at all the keys nearby to see if there’s anything there that the party can see? The answer, I think, is the map. If notable features are on the map then it becomes trivial to describe what is going on and what the party can see. In this case, it’s bodies. Simply putting obvious bodies on the map would help the DM relate that information to the party. There’s a similar problem with hex crawls. How far can you see? Can you see the next hex? Can you see the village/town/Mount Doom in the next hex?

Anyway, this the imagery of this ruined village is decent. It’s just lacking ACTION. You need some reason, something more than those provided I think, to add an active element to this location. You could certainly add your own.

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A Bakers Denizen

By Howard Befeiff
Goblin Stomper Games
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 3-5

In the heart of Elbion, the city of Mages & Sages, a new bakery is spreading joy and icing to the local residents. The long-time baker Horthron Delb thinks something smells rotten in Ystala Tremain’s ovens, but the people of Elbion just keep going back for the Sticky Icky Buns and the Sugared Orc Ears. The old baker is willing to pay cold, hard cash for someone to end her reign as the new Queen of Quick Bread.

This thirteen page baking-themed adventure describes four dungeon rooms and a small two-room bakery above them. Poorly. Nice mundane treasure can’t make up for the long room descriptions of mundane objects and seemingly nonsensical choices on what to include … and what not to include.

Baker Bob comes across the party while making deliveries to their inn. He asks that they look in to a new bakery that’s stealing his business. He offers our third through fifth level character 500XP, I mean GP, to do it. The adventure is supposed to be a drop in kind of thing, for parties in a city, but then it goes and offers details on a default city of the designers campaign world. Perfunctory details. Three names of inns to stay at. A paragraph of a city description. Some throw off words on why the party is in the city. Four nonsensical rumors that have nothing to do with the adventure. None of it is really needed. The point is a drop in adventure in a city. By neither concentrating on that (IE: the designer has offered details of the city) or by enhancing the city (the details offered are of the most trivial available) then you don’t really strike on either side of the spectrum. The whole “meeting you while making a delivery” is a great little thing, but the reward of 500gp is a little low for a motivation.

The bakery in question has a purple glow coming from stairs in back … so no real investigation. Just walk in , see it, and watch the baker-woman (a witch) run away down the stairs … as several Dark Creeper/Stalkers come out. The whole purple glow and dark C/S stuff makes no sense to me. It looks like it’s just thrown in to have an encounter.

The encounter descriptions spend a long time descripting the mundane, like how there’s a table and chairs and flour on the table and so on. Or how there’s a dildo in the witches bedroom. I’m not a prude, but, who the fuck cares if there’s a dildo in her bedroom? Does it somehow enhance the game play? No? Then why’s it there? This is a recurring theme in this adventure. Long descriptions about nothing and then … almost noting on the good stuff.

There’s some real missed opportunities. There’s a marlith in the shape of a cat, who would REALLY like the witch dead so she can roam freely. There’s some gilded cages with captured imps in them … that’s really just have a throw off one-liner and nothing is done with them except having monster stats provided. Room are missing key features, things as little as “(200gp)” next to treasure descriptions for things. Two people get four paragraphs of descriptions, each, to describe nothing interesting or really gameable. There’s some mundane treasure descriptions, mostly magical spell components, that are decent, and likewise a new magic item that’s not too terrible (although focused a little too much on mechanics for my taste) but the emphasis on noting “2 candles on the table” and such is really puzzling.

This should be a one-page dungeon, not thirteen.

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