Dungeon Magazine #69

Blame Fallout. I wrote ahead but missed by schedule by 48 hours.

Slave Vats of the Yuan-Ti
by Jason Kuhl
Levels 3-5

“Keep a calculator at hand during this adventure, for the math.” Oh, joy … DERP! This three-parter, with the first being in this issue, is a precursor to the adventure paths to come. This one if a decrepit mansion full of jerlamainee triggering traps on the party, and then some yuan-ti labs in the basement, in a house that causes magic to misfire and giant insects/animals galore from a natural Enlarge effect. Parts of the house are nice (poison gas from an elephant trunk!) but the descriptions are mostly uninspired. The jerlamaine part feels like DM torture porn and the yuan-ti in the basement feels disconnected from the rest of the adventure.

Challenge of Champions II
by Jonathan M. Richards
Any level suckfest

I like a bit more pretext. I shall quote the entirety of my review of the first installment, back in issue #58: This is a funhouse “proving ground” adventure. All spells are on scrolls and all weapons provided, no armor, blah blah blah, which is how it’s an All Levels adventure. This is more X-Crawl then it is old school funhouse. 10 challenges, all of which are really puzzles of one sort of another. It’s hard for me to recognize this as an adventure; it’s more of an evening activity in my mind.

Stumping the Party
by Christopher Pomeroy
Levels 3-5

Side-Trek. An ambush by an Ettercap and some spiders, with a couple of webbed chambers in a cave below. What’s the fascination with Ettercaps? I don’t get the love for them.

Sleep of Ages
by Eric L. Boyd
Levels 5-8

This is it kids, the poster child for bad Dungeon adventures. If you want to know what the evil bad guy had for lunch on one random day thirty years earlier and the impact it had on their digestive system, then this is the adventure for you. I’m sure that kind of detail is in this somewhere … because EVERYTHING else is also in here. Nine pages of text before the dungeon. Three pages of triple column text as background BEFORE the information for the dungeon master is presented. I’m also happy to report that there is a great abundance of overly-long and complicated names of places and people … Oh Boy! “[Long text describing something] … but all that remains of the massacre are a few small chunks of stone.” Jesus H Fucking Christ. Really? Seriously? Lots of gimps here: lots of bodies, but speak with dead doesn’t work and all of their valuables were hidden elsewhere, blah blah blah, experience the STORY and … [bleech]. Oops, sorry, threw up in my mouth and accidentally typed it out while doing so. But at least we have column long intricate room descriptions to look forward to … right? This goes in my Hall of Fame of bad adventures.

Posted in Dungeon Magazine, Reviews, The Worst EVAR? | 7 Comments

Maiden Voyage

by Chad Brouillard
Levels 1-3

There’s a tale you might hear in a tavern by the docks if you catch an old sea dog on a dark night laden with rum. He’ll tell you of an all but forgotten sea god with a hatred for the living and their ships that so brazenly cross his waters without offering the blood sacrifice he demanded in the days of yore. The god’s powers have been waning, as brave sailors of all the races bravely cast off in search of far horizons and treasures to fill their holds, but on the darkest of days his might returns. The grizzled sailor may have known someone who set sail on the Sea Maiden, just before such a day three decades ago, and never returned. Others may tell you that the crew of the Sea Maiden was restless, and mutiny was in the air; the crew no doubt ended up hanged as pirates in a distant port. But your storyteller assures you he knows better: the dark god of the sea had his vengeance — and he will have it again one day soon.

This is an encounter with a ghost ship while on sea voyage, and was a pleasant surprise. It supports well the social aspect of the adventure and doesn’t go into great verbosity about either the ghost ship or the player’s ship. Instead it (correctly) concentrates on the people and the activities. This supports the DM in running the adventure. The adventure knows what it and it stays focused on it: it’s a zombie movie.

The Zombie Movie, like Science Fiction, has some underlying themes with the zombies (or zapper guns) just being a backdrop and/or pressure. They have a message, and it’s usually something social. This adventure sets the players up on a ship and then puts pressure on the social environment, both positively and negatively. An abrupt captain. A mistress that the superstitious crew don’t like. A card cheat. A naive cabin boy. A criminal is lockup. A surly cook. The list goes on. Each is a decent trope, and thus easy to remember. The social situation boils during the adventure, up to the point the captain is found dead. Things are then set in motion with the various people forming cliques … all while becalmed in fog. An abandoned ship appears and is then dealt with. It then returns to launch a couple of zombie attacks. That’s the critical moment in which all of the players actions in the adventure come to a head. Did they foster the cliques, treat the sailors like shit, or try to work for unity? How the zombie attack completes is based on what the players did up to that point. ((Not formally, there’s no table or anything, just some advice.) The adventure SUPPORTS the DM in running it, not by exhaustively providing stats or DC checks, but by providing opportunities and consequences and advice. It’s a sandbox social adventure, on a ship.

The player’s ship is described in about two pages. The descriptions concentrate on how the characters will interact with the rooms, not their mundane contents. They crew play darts here. The poker game is here. Bob hangs out here most of the time. People & Activities. This isn’t an exploration adventure, it’s a social adventure, and the author knows it and stays true to the material supporting the social and paying little attention to the exploration, as he should.

Let me cite an example or the setups provided. At the start someone is brought on board by the shore patrol that looks unconscious. The captain orders him put in the brig. A drunk sailor? Something else? The players later learn he’s a criminal being taken somewhere to be turned over to another country/city. If they talk to him he claims to be innocent/persecuted because of who e is. He’s sharp. The players probably figure that out. He works his way in with the crew, especially the marginalized ones. In the end he figures out what is going on before everyone. Now imagine this guy in a cell, up against the bars, screaming about a curse and ghosts and all that. You KNOW he’s a liar and a cheat and will do anything to get out of that cell. What to do, what to do … It’s WONDERFUL. There are a lot of situations like that. There are a lot of little details that bring the place to life, but are easy to remember and run. But it doesn’t go overboard.

I have no problem saying this is one of the better adventures of the d20 era and while not perfect it does a much better job of setting up and supporting a social adventure than almost anything else I’ve seen. Like all/most good social adventures, it could be used in almost any time/setting/genre, as long as you’re willing to throw in a few zombies. It needs a social cheat sheet to go along with the combat one, and maybe a summary of the ship/events also. Otherwise, it’s very good at what it does.

It’s $5 at rpgnow.

Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Road of the Dead

by Creighton Broadhurst
Raging Swan Press
3rd Level

Centuries ago, the Tuath were a mighty folk who strove against the goblins of the Tangled Wood for dominion over that ancient place. Defeated by treachery and their feral, warlike enemies the Tuath’s civilisation was thrown down, their settlements were sacked, their places of strength broken open and their holy places despoiled. The few survivors melted away into the trackless gloom of the deep forest leaving behind nothing but remnants of their once?great culture. The Road of the Dead, a ceremonial pathway representing a soul’s journey to the underworld, is one such fragment that yet lingers in the Tangled Wood awaiting the brave or the foolhardy. A cunningly designed death?trap, it hides the forgotten treasures and legends of a fallen people.

I don’t like reviewing this one, for some reason. Maybe because I’m so disappointed. Most of the review can be summed up by looking at some numbers: 50 pages. 7-10 encounters. Maybe 14-16 pages of actual encounter description. There is some GREAT imagery in this, extremely evocative. It’s also fragmented and disconnected and so verbose that the excitement that comes from the evocative imagery is dulled by the slog through the text.

There’s a sinkhole. It leads to the Path of the Dead, an ancient underground path/area that an old culture had funerary/symbolic meaning. It’s got seven rooms/encounters, a couple with a few parts, a few extra add ons for after the adventure. Each room generally has several features that is described in what I like to call “4.0 style.” A little section detailing lighting, sound, doors, ceilings, etc. One for each. Each cool little thing gets it’s own paragraph. That’s the problem.

Inside a barrow, water dripping from the ceiling. Large menhirs. A sinkhole, dark. The sound of churning water from below. Maybe a light mist. Part of the way down the sinkhole are three leering stone demon faces, covered in light mold/fungus/etc. That’s GREAT! OMG! I’d love to run that room! But it’s all spread out over two pages. The adventure has to describe EVERYTHING. The DC for this, the DC for that, the (irrelevent) history of things, things that are meaningless to the room or adventure, or the plot. The joy is sucked out of it by the explaining. Yes, guidelines for the DM are good. Explaining EVERYTHING is bad. It all gets in the way. “Overly Organized” might be the right description.

I’m not sure what’s going on. Is the length supposed to be a feature? Are Pathfinder DM’s morons? (I doubt it?) Is that the expected behaviour of Pathfinder adventures? I really don’t get it.

This thing could easily be trimmed to be a 1-page adventure, or maybe two. There’s clearly some very good imaginative stuff going on in this, especially the environments. I’d gladly pay $5 for this if it were 1 or 2 pages of the good stuff. $5 for the 50 page monstrosity that it exists as? No. It distracts and takes too much to run. I’ll forgive the linear nature, the challenge/test thing that I hate. The Imagery is REALLY good and works well together as a cohesive whole to present a compelling journey to the afterlife. Well, if it’s edited down.

I really like the imagery. I just can’t stomach the way its presented.

Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Dungeon Magazine #68

OMG! Why am I writing this instead of playing Fallout!

The Artist’s Loving Touch
by Charles C. Reed
Level 2-4

An adventure with no redeeming qualities. A sculptor is turning people into statues. (Weird, never seen that one before.) He’s aided by wererats and jermaine. He thinks he’s doing good. The party is hired as guards for an art event, then they randomly find a woman looking for her missing husband. Rumors abound, a lot related to the sculptor. Telegraph much? This is akin to the notes you jot down in 10 minutes to run your game Friday night, but over ten or twelve pages. No interesting content at all. Wererates. Wow.

by Christopher Perkins
Level 1

I suck at SciFi/Space, so no review from me for this space station tickery adventure.

One Winter’s Night
by David Zenz
Levels 1-2

Side-Trek Uh, it’s an tree cuttinging engineering mini-game. A young boy summons the party to help free his uncle, trapped under a tree. Goblins and wolves are nearby and attack if the party takes too long. There are a wide variety of options offered for freeing the guy, which is good. None of them mention time, which is bad. The adventure makes a point of the timeline and then gimps the timing aspect? Hmmmm … Nice imagery of snow in a fir forest, but it takes a lot of words to get there.

The Trouble with In-Laws
by W.D.B. Kenower
Levels 1-3

Oh … so close. The hook in this is finding a locket in a cave. The cave also some dead bodies in it, being gnawed upon by spiders. Checking things out in the nearby town discovers a kidnapped woman, the owner of the locket. Nosing about discovers some leads to an old keep, and ye old assault then begins. This does several things quite well. The hook, a discovered item, is nice. The information in town is organized, with “here’s this person and heres what they know”, and it’s fairly easy to see how one lead can point out another person to seek out. There’s a good encounter near the keep, some attention paid to decent wandering and town encounters, and an order of battle for how the baddies in the keep react. It’s a bit … I don’t know. Dry isn’t the right word. It’s a bit flat. The characters, town, and so on are all pretty one-dimensional and lack the flavor that makes for great NPC’s. I’ll chuck this in to the “organized well” category and also the “lacks imagination” category that is oh so rare.

by John Baichtal
Levels 5-10

Side-Trek. A cursed magic item: a genie map that has a guy in it instead of a genie. He tries to trick someone into taking his place. Nice idea for a cursed object, if done in three sentences.

Stepping Stones
by Lisa Smedman
Levels 6-8

This looks a lot like one of the modern D&D 5E adventures published by WOTC, at least in style. It’s a rough outline of an adventure with oddly specific details thrown in. A blind woman has a treasure map. If you wait a month and find some standing stones you can get a crown that lets you turn some stones into trolls … with their bags of gold. There are some centaurs nearby that know where the standing stones are. They hate dwarves. That’s the adventure. It’s all very general, almost like someone jotted some notes down on a page: “centaurs nearby know the location of the stone but hate dwarves.” And then centaur stats and names. Very odd. It’s more of a description of a potential plot outline then it is an adventure.

Merkin’s Magic
by Brian Corvello
Levels 5-9

Imaginative but not evocative. Some dwarves hire you to find out what’s going on in the forest. It’s full of plant monsters created by a now-evil treant that was corrupted by a now-dead wizard in his now-abandoned mansion in the forest. The integration of the monsters into the adventure is well down, they fit. There’s a nice NPC in the form of a were-spider girl. The wizards mansions is nice and wondrous in the non-standard/non-book way that I like, with some great unique items, like a talking door plaque, that the party can grab. It’s D&D as if you hadn’t read all of the D&D books and adventures from the last 30 years. The descriptions are not quite up to snuff and are a bit boring, but the concepts behind them are good.

Posted in Dungeon Magazine, Reviews | 4 Comments

Scenic Dunnsmouth


by Zzarchov Kowolski

Dunnsmouth is diseased and rotten to the core. Beset by malefactors supernatural and mundane, Dunnsmouth slowly dies in the swamp. But within the rot are mysteries to be solved, evil to be fought, and the Weird to be encountered.

Scenic Dunnsmouth is good. Scenic Dunnsmouth is not an adventure. Here’s the blurb from the LotFP store: “Scenic Dunnsmouth is an adventure for characters of levels 2-5 for use with Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-Playing and other traditional role-playing games.”

Yes, sometimes I can be a petty ass and this is one of those times. Scenic is a village. It’s got lots of strange shit going on in it and a lot of weirdos to interact with. I love it. Scenic is not an adventure. It’s a backdrop. It’s a terrific backdrop full of everything Bryce loves. But it’s not an adventure.

I’m not sure why this shit sets me off the way it does. I’ve clearly got some deep wounds to my inner child that this sort of stuff sets off. Probably because of Castle Greyhawk. Everything bad in the world can be traced back to Castle Greyhawk.

I review adventures. I buy adventures to review. People don’t give me things. They try. I politely decline. If I buy an apple and you give me an orange I’m going to be pissed. If I wanted an orange I’d buy an orange.

This is a good supplement. A good village. I’ll almost certainly use it as a backdrop for some other adventure I’m running. But it’s not an adventure and I’ll always feel a little cheated when I look at it. :(

[Aso, this is why Zak’s stuff doesn’t get reviewed. He writes great stuff, but they generally don’t fall into the “adventure” category.]

Posted in Reviews | 2 Comments

Three Days to Kill

by John Tynes
Levels 1-3

Deeptown lies in the shadows of mountains, a town where anything is for sale if you can only meet the price. But in the wild surrounding valleys of the Deeps, it’s the bandits who make the darkest deals–and their ambition comes at a cost far greater than the contents of any wayward caravan. You and your team have just been handed a new job: disrupt a meeting between a bandit lord and his mysterious new allies. At a remote mountain villa, you will strike hard and fast and leave terror in your wake. They give you the tools. You provide the talent. Survive, and you’ll be well rewarded. Fail, and you’ll pay the price. You’ve got three days to raise some hell.

Sometimes I read forum threads where various folks say “Blah blah blah adventure is great!” I jot down the names and grab them when I stumble across them in a garage sale. Such is the case for Three Days to Kill. I can see why folks like this. In the land of generic genericism this adventure has some colour. The colour is scattered and not consistent. Portions of the adventure left me wanting to know more, in a good way. Excited about what I was reading. The main portion of the adventure is a raid on a ruined manor. That portion is relatively short compared to the page count in the rest of the adventure. This adventure covers all of the bases. It doesn’t treat the introduction or the starting village as a second-class part of the adventure. This recognition that the fun takes places EVERYWHERE in D&D is an important one. The journey is the Destination, and all of that jazz. I just wish it were a little more consistent in it’s color, in a bad way, and wish there was A LOT more, in a very good way.

The party is hired, in mysterious circumstances, to go raid a manor where an important meeting is taking place, disrupting the potential alliance being formed. Pretty simple, even though that particular task is not one that is usually seen. There’s this underlying sense of the unsavory that appeals to me. Everything about the adventure, from the village to the hook to the raid, is just a LITTLE bit not kosher. After experiencing adventure after adventure where the goal is to Save the World or Stop Evil, it’s refreshing to see an adventure in which things are a little more mercenary. There’s this sense that something’s not on the up and up … and yet nothing you can point your finger at to say “this is wrong!” It’s pretty skillfully done; no big complex setups, just relatable motivations.

There’s a trade pass through the mountains with a small town in the middle. Bandits abound in the mountains on both sides. The town in the center is a bit unsavory … perhaps a bit … libertarian? As the adventure notes, can you call it bribery and corruption when it’s an integrated way of life and just the way things work here? The town lives in the shadow of the mountains, literally and figuratively. Even this appeals to me. The sort of integrated whole of the environment leaves me wanting to know more about the place. It’s interesting. It’s simple. It’s described in the way that makes your mind race and want to run a game or campaign there. The town backgrounds descriptions are short and punchy yet the page count is rather high. This is because large sections are taken up with supporting sidebars. An NPC stats, or a map, or something like that. Interesting descriptions with easy to find information … that’s a plus.

The first section of the book has these little background snippets on the area, the town, the bandits lords, and the temples in town. Maybe three of four paragraphs on each with some generic sidebar information. (I said the sidebar/supporting information was easy to find, I didn’t say it added much content. :) It’s very strong of 10,000 flavor and atmosphere.

The second portion of the adventure focuses in on a specific event: the Festival of Plenty going on when the party arrives. Again, portions of this are very colorful. An effluent pit and a nice little passion play are the highlights. They are both very well done and are great things to build off of. And then there are the other suggested events. “A drunk ½ orc picks a fight with a PC elf or halfling.” My my my. I wonder how long it took to come up with THAT idea? A dwarf wrestles all comers with a 1gp purse.” Again, not too much there. This kind of boring and uninteresting dreck is jarring in comparison to the better parts. Consistently the 10,000 foot stuff is very good, communicating colour and flavor perfectly. And consistently the specific portions, while organized quite well, are boring as hell. The NPC motivations are done well. The adventure doesn’t waste space on nonsense descriptions. But the specifics are just not interesting at all. The play and the drinking game are standout exceptions. “Ill kill you!” is a Baron Munchausen like drinking game that should delight the players.

After getting hired by some shady guys in masks the party goes on to raid the manor house. In high school I used to play Danger International. Every adventure ended with a raid on the bad guys base. We’d plan our assault, come up with some goofy idea, and then execute it. That’s what’s going on here. There are a wide variety of magic items to assist in the planning and execution that range from the cool to the lame. “Flare Pebbles” are lame little flash bangs. A devil eye floating in a glass jar that always looks towards the nearest/strongest presence of evil is pretty cool. There’s also a glass orb you can look through,kind of like binoculars. Glass orbs are boring, but that’s trivial to change to an eyeball also. Bryce Pro Tip: Organic magic items are always cooler. :) The description of the manor is PERFECT. This isn’t an exploration mission. The room descriptions are about two sentences each and focus on what’s important. An oil lamp, or who hangs out there. The room descriptions match the purpose of the adventure. This section is quite short, and it really doesn’t need to be long. It may be missing an order of battle; what the various groups inside do when attacked. Other than that it recognizes what it needs to do and it does it. Good Job.

Let me note that the adventure then becomes SPECTACULAR. Chaos. Pure Chaos. While the party is attacking one faction turns on a magic mirror. And things start coming through. Who end up not allying with anyone. This makes faction number four (alliance side a, alliance side b, the party, the mirror) and THEN some orcs show up. Chaos! Wonderful wonderful chaos! The adventure is, though, missing a callback.. The presence of orcs in the area should have been a rumor, or maybe some bodies with missing ears or something. Something to trigger the party into saying “Oh shit! the orcs we forgot about!” (Also, the rumor table sucks.) Anyway, this is a great tactic to up the ante. Instead of dictating some nonsense set piece bullshit the adventure instead provides the elements to up tension. This is a great way to make things memorable without the usual set piece nonsense that modern adventures seem to rely upon. (WOTC: You suk.)

The PDF is $5 at rpgnow. I really like the background in this. I’d LUV to know more about the region/town/temples. If every adventure were at least this good I’d be a happy man and probably not running tenfootpole. It’s a long way from perfect, especially as it gets to the specifics, but it is VERY inspirational. It’s the kind of thing you WANT to run. And those are few and far between.

Posted in Reviews | 5 Comments

Dungeon Magazine #67


Several adventures in this issue that come pretty close to being usable.

Witches’ Brew
by Steve Johnson
Levels 3-5

This is a charming and delightful little adventure ruined by the verbosity. It’s one of the lamest of hooks: you’re hired to go fetch some spell components. But it’s done very very well. The maps of the wilderness and village are well done and clear (although the named of the shops could have been put on the village map to help out) and has a great little table to tell the DM who knows what about which spell components and where they can be found. Imagine that! Putting the information the DM needs in an easy to find it format! There’s also a nice colloquial rumor table, done in story format. These are much nicer than the fact-based rumor tables, especially when worked in Grandpa Simpson style. The villagers are friendly and helpful, if a bit bemused, by the party. It seems like most of the netires have something going on, and there’s a richness of style present throughout, such as the half eaten fish skeletons that the local goblins leave about in several places. On the negative side there’s a lame “usable only once” magic item, a dead man’s hand. Cool things like this should have a second use, at least, for the party to take advantage of. Carrying around the hand of a hanged man grasping a black candle is much more interesting than a stupid old wand. The writing style is also a bit too verbose. While the main encounters are a little long, the smaller keys are terrible. Way too long for what they are presenting and not nearly focused enough. The CONTENT is good, but it’s buried in the verbose conversational tone that it’s written in. This is another one of those adventures that needs a modern rewrite. [It’s always a good sign when I go research what else the author has written. In this case … Hey! I think I played D&D with this guy once! Or, rather, QAGS. I think I played his Gilgamesh QAGS game at Origins. I have my character sheet framed; it’s the first thing you see when you come in the main doors of the house!]

Eye of the Storm
by Lance Hawvermale
Levels 6-8

A side-trek. LAME! But Awesome! And LAME! It’s fucking Chaos and I LUV LUV LUV chaos, especially in it’s non-cave form. The party is coming through a hellish thunder/lightning storm. Up ahead they spy a small hamlet. Dogs and children run about like crazy, being chased by women. Men madly dig impromptu shelters for their families. And the headman just concluded business with a lightning rod salesman in the middle of town … The party gets to put a lightning rod on top of every house in the middle of a lightning/thunderstorm. Yeah Adventuring! Imagine the chaos! The lame part is that the salesman is a elementalist summoning the storm and working with some “thunder children” to make the storms rage. LAME. Cooler if he was just cursed and making the best of it, or it just freakishly followed him around or something. The storm is a series of complications, but no more mention is made of the dogs/children/men/women. Those are the key to this, IMO. The lame ass combat stuff is just boring old also-ran. But the chaos of surviving a storm, with terrified villagers about? That would make a GREAT side-trek! But, alas, that’s not this adventure … this one is a hack fest.

Training Ground
by Rick Maffei
Levels 5-8

It is SO very hard for me to get past my prejudices. This is a training ground adventure (Duh!) This must be the lowest form of adventure. No pretext of adventure at all, just a bunch of shit that the players have to figure out. Suck it you fucking haters of the metagame, the Training Ground adventure writers know the score! On the plus side this has a flaming skull that can join your party, and a nice magic item in the form of a bag of bones you can pull skeletons out of. On the minus … well, it’s a completely crap training grounds adventure. The hook is a comically murderous Zent wizard. On the way to the dungeon you meet a ranger. Who has nothing to say to you. (Why the fuck is he even in this adventure? Am I missing some bit of FOrgotten Realms lore/trivia?) Then it’s room after room of challenges. 20 or so if I recall, in a proving ground an old evil overlord once tested mages in. Joy. Why not just open the monster manual to a random page and announce that there are now 7 ogres in the room. At least TRY to come up with an idea!

The Little People
by Matthew G. Adkins
Levels 1-2

Fucking piece of shit sidetrek adventure! A leprechaun gets captured by two dudes. His brother asks the party to free him. I have no idea how any other adventure pretext could be so implausible. Fuck no, I’m not freeing your brother! Gimme the gold and wishes you little bastard! Fucking fey! How many times have they tortured party members! Payback time asshole! Oh, oh, oh, if you try and talk to the two two dudes they attack immediately. Isn’t that fun? No bargaining. No Bilbo Baggins and the Trolls. No Bilbo and the Spiders. Nope, They just attack. That’s the most boring thing that can possibly happen. Exploiting leprechauns? THAT’S exciting! So of course you don’t get to do that.

Falls Run
by James Wyatt
Masque of the Red Death
Levels 1

The most Call of Cthulhu adventure I’ve seen yet in Dungeon. Strange things happen while on a train journey, ultimately wrecking the train. The party is trapped in a small appalachia town. There’s a cult that killed someone who was stranded EXACTLY ONE YEAR AGO. (duh Duh DUH!) The ghost is back and making trouble, trying to get the party to unmask the cult. The train journey is the hook, and thus quite railroady. (Get it! Train! Railroad! Literally in this case! I wonder if that was on purpose?) Anyway, the town portion is quite nice. The town is nicely described, very tersely by Dungeon standards but with lots of interesting things going on. I would have appreciated a summary page for all the NPC, and a few more non-plot NPC’s thrown in. IE: the usual village problem of anyone interesting automatically being under suspicion. A little more local color would have been nice also. Just a little table of one sentence per line with kids pulling pranks, christmas activities, etc. Another one that could use help.

Uzaglu of the Underdark
by Christopher Perkins
Levels 5-10

Uh. This is a sidetrek, but not labeled as one. It’s a cavern in the underdark. Ruled by a giant undead mushroom. He’s animated some bodies with his spores. They hop around after the party. “Bloated corpses who, when hopping, their flesh almost jiggles and jostles off of their body.” That’s nice. The adventure need more of that and less of the lame ass factual descriptions. Chris Perkins, why can’t you do more of that? Why do you have to surround the good stuff with so much mundane crap? Just edit it out if you can’t awesome it up. Your adventures would be better for it.

Posted in Dungeon Magazine, Reviews | 1 Comment

No Salvation for Witches

by Rafael Chandler

England, 1620. To strike a blow against the Patriarchy, six women perform a dangerous rite in an abandoned priory. Through their art, they commune with Terpsichore, Greek muse and patroness of dancers. Starving demons slither across the moors; monstrous nuns shriek in the infirmary; and within the Attic, a great unravelling awaits. The fate of the world rests in the hands of the player characters. Will they bring about an egalitarian utopia? Will they skulk away in the night, pockets bulging with treasure? Will they bring about the destruction of all things?

The usual Lamentations horrow gorefest. The party stumbles into a region of land and they can’t get out. Inside they see a church surrounded by a glowing forcefield. By collecting some glowing bubbles they can break on through to the other side. If they do this within 24 hours, and stop the ritual in the church, then the status quo of 1620 gets to continue. if they don’t then kings fall, religions die, and the peasants of the world get to be a little better off as the entire world begins to convert to the commie witches in the church. Scattered through the church, and the land, are the usual LotFP bizarre creatures and fucked up situations. It’s a decent enough adventure and hits several of the points I admire: fucked up creatures, fucked up magic, nice mundane trease, and mostly human antagonists mixed in with bizarre abominations. It’s a bit wordy, but it’s organized well. And, news flash, making the first line of the text “This is not a low-prep adventure.”, as this adventure does, does not in fact excuse the designer from providing supplemental data and/or well-organized information.

The big Lamentations adventures suffer from the same kind of flaw: they create Big Changes. Death Frost Doom famously starts the zombie apocalypse. In this one the workers of the world finally unite and a world-wide version of the Reign of Terror begins.The absolutist commitment to the vision is admirable, in a trainwreck gawking kind of way. And now, back in the real world, how many of us have nuked our campaigns because of a published adventure? How many are willing to? While I admire the commitment to the vision, my standards can’t allow for it. The adventure is a tool for the DM. What I expect is a page on how to destroy the world and perhaps a paragraph or two on other impacts than destroying the world. Some ideas on a timeline, a course of events and so on. Some ideas to kick the pig. What’s done in this adventure is the open-ended high-level descriptions that I’m not too fond of. Too generic. Too high level. It needs grounded in order for the imagination to work at its best. That’s a lot of bitching about the ending, but it’s also standing in for the bitching I didn’t do at the apocalyptic endings of the other LotFP adventure. Oops.

This has the monsters you would expect in either a Chandler or LotFP adventure. Weird human hybrids and a prominence of nudity, penis weapons, and gross out birthing scenes. The creatures are a pretty good example of how to work this style into an adventure. They generally relate to the circumstances the creature is found in and their effects are somewhat related as well. None of this “the golem is invisible because he wears a ring of invisible.” Oh no, the creatures here are abominations front and center and don’t need no stinking mechanic/rule to make them so. Bravo! Well described, there’s enough information to cement them in the DMs mind so they can adequately communicate the horror to the players. There does seem to be a theme of blob-creatures in this adventure, with three of four showing up, most in true “get bigger as they eat” blob form. Lots of hybrid humans, mutated humans and so on. Nicely weird, nicely non-standard, they fit in well to the environments in which they encountered.

Treasure is similarly nicely described. From ancient porno to golden crows, what you find is interesting enough to pique the interest of the players, and their characters. My standard here is always a players saying “Cool! I’m keeping that for my house!” and the treasure here is close enough to that. For those that are not they DO provide a decent bit of interesting when the party tries to hock them. “A 12” long golden dildo, slightly used. Hmmm, how do we fence THAT?” The magic items all have some decently good effects, nice and bizarre. The is a tendency to resemble “normal” magic items in form, like a ring or a magic wand, but the effects are suitable weird. Frankly, I would have preferred to see a magic jawbone of an ass instead of a magic wand, or a voodoo doll instead of a magic ring, but whatever; at least the effects are non-standard.

I’m pretty fond of the simplicity of the maps. A nice little wilderness map that combines “nice looking” with an almost abstracted design. It’s quite clear, as are the interior maps for the church and grounds. My primary complaint here would be … the scale and/or timeline. We are told to keep careful track of time (24 hours till the ritual completes!), and yet the map has no scale and the booklet no instructions on travel time. This gets back to that concept I harp on a lot about the adventure being a play aid for the DM. Sure, I can make something up and go consult the travel time sections in the book. I could also compile all of the monster stats onto one page, along with NPC personalities, so I can run the (probable) big final encounter in the church. I can also go create my own adventure, or use a thesaurus as one also. I expect the adventure to help the DM run it. You don’t need to reprint the rulebook but missing a key feature in a timed adventure shows this fundamental disconnect.

Lamentations adventures have an interesting way or being organized. Well, this one does and I recall the others being of a similar design. I spoke earlier of the almost abstract nature of the wilderness map. It looks like a normal wilderness map. The encounter areas are “the forest”, “the pond”, “the village” and so on. This is what I’m referring to when I mention the abstract nature. I wish I could describe it better. It’s absolutely not abstract. Except it really is. This leads back to the adventure descriptions. The Woods description appears on one page, describing the one encounter there. The Pool appears over two pages. The village appears over three pages. It’s a pretty simple way to organize the adventure and it works quite well. After all, this isn’t really an exploration adventure, it’s more an investigation. In each of those sections you get a description of something, or maybe two or three somethings. The descriptions can be quite long but the environment proper is simple. The pool description is quite simple. It focuses not on the pool, which is given but a simple description, but rather a paragraph on the undead fish in the water. Then the red sphere floating over it. Then the frozen tree on the other side of the pond. This alone gets a page. The descriptions are short. Are they? Wait, no, they are sometimes short. What they do is convey the flavor quickly and memorable. Because of this it’s pretty easy to get a grasp of what’s going on, quickly, and thus run it. It’s a very non intuitive way of organizing things and works, I suspect, because of the digest size with two columns forcing a kind of natural rhythm and breakpoint.
Where this breaks down is with the major NPC’s. They are scattered all over the book. Some descriptions in the church, some up front before the keys begin, some in the keys. The adventure encourages a very chaotic ending, with everyone you could possibly encounter almost certainly showing up in one very chaotic ending. Even if that doesn’t happen you’ll have stats & descriptions scattered through the church section … except for all of the major and important NPC’s scattered over a half dozen pages near the beginning. Flip back & forth or create your own cheat sheet? This is why I like summary sheets being included with an adventure. Briefly stat’d, reference to more information, quick personality, Done.

There’s no real hook presented. A little work could have gone into creating one beyond “you stumble onto something weird.” The flaws in this adventure are minor though, and with a little thought (hook), and some prep work (stat sheets/notes) you could have decent little adventure to toss at folks. It brings a good mix of horror, without going TOO far into bizarro penis-monster territory (quite an accomplishment given the presence of more than two penis monsters in this adventure.)

I’d have no qualms about running this.

Get it at the LotFP store.

Posted in Reviews | 5 Comments

Gibbous Moon

by Creighton Broadhurst
Raging Swan Press
Level 3

Months ago, the necromancer Dunstan Wymer was gored by a wereboar and infected with lycanthropy. Almost driven insane by the realisation of what he had become after awaking amid the gore and viscera of his companions’ eviscerated corpses, he has since shunned civilisation instead seeking only solitude and the company of his undead servants. Terrified of the savage, bloody deeds he performs when the full moon shines down upon the world he now lurks within the remote hermitage at Clear Pool. In a desperate attempt to control his terrible, atavistic urges he has taken to stealing cattle from a nearby village to assuage his bestial lust for fresh, bloody flesh. The unknowing villagers, however, are angry at the continued theft of their livestock and the arrival of a passing band of adventurers gives them the perfect tools to bring the culprit to justice…

There’s at least three adventures with this title. A normal version, an expanded Collector’s Edition, and then some Living Forgotten Realms adventure that I’m pretty sure is not related. If you’re going to pick up a copy of this mediocre werewolf adventure then make sure and get the right one.

As with a lot of adventures, this one doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up. Because of that you get some great stuff mixed in with a lot of half efforts … or less. Ostensibly about a sad wereboar, it tries to mix in some village politics and village life and some modern morality. The party either investigates some missing cattle in the village or gets hired to go to the lair, proper, to pick up some old hermit bones for a relative. The effort to put into these is minimal and they rank just above “Look, we’re playing this adventure tonight.” Lots of words, lots of detail. None of it very interesting. If you’re going to put in words then put in words that are NOT obvious. In both cases they are introduced to the village, it’s problem of the missing cattle, and then end up at the old caves to meet the new hermit. He’s a not-so-evil necromancer who has a bad case of wereboarism. You get extra XP for curing him or getting him to pay the villagers for the cattle he stole. I hate that kind of shit. Hmmm, do I? I hate XP for “correct” morality choices. The inconsistency of the system is lame. XP for overcoming monsters? Sure. Treasure recovery? Ok, if that’s your deal. For being goody-goody? Well… did you tell the players that they are in a goody-goody game and get their XP from being goody-goody? Expectations.

The NPC descriptions for the village provide more fodder for my opinions. “Fierce advocate for a pastoral way of life” is a nice NPC description. So is “eternally nosy self-appointed sheriff.” These are things you can work with and are short enough to not get in the way. “Angered by recent thefts” or “proponent of greater trade & industry” are not as good. In these cases we get more facts than personality, and the NPC descriptions suffer because of it. This is a continuing theme in this adventure. Brief hits with a lot of misses in between. Another good example of this would be the read-aloud in the first room of the cave system: “Dried gore and blood cover the walls and floor. The ceiling bears sprays of dried arterial blood. Ripped, torn and partially eaten animal corpses are scattered about the chamber. “ Short and to the point while still being evocative. But then the kitchen read-aloud describes a typical kitchen. WTF? Text that describes “normal” things is wasted text. This goes for the village description, the read-aloud everywhere, and the cave/wilderness sections. We don’t need a kitchen described to us. We need the unusual described to us. We need the area cemented in our heads and we already have that with most normal areas.

The village presented is supposed to have some conflict going on The pastoral villagers vs. the industrious dwarves. The fey running around in the village. But neither of these is really expanded upon in any way. Just throw away lines in a rumor table or the villagers not really sitting with each other. Instead of the village being a focus, which it should be, instead it’s just barely interesting in any useful way. Oh, there’s lots of text, but it’s unfocused, describing the mundane instead of the potential conflict. There is a great table for events happening in the village. I think there’s like six possibilities. Rather than rolling I’d suggest running all six at once, along with all the dwarf/villager tension, the missing cattle, the hermit bones, and everything else. Adventures are a pretext for the party to get into trouble and more stuff means more trouble, and thus more fun and memories.

The cave system only have about 5 keyed rooms, and only a couple with stuff in them. There’s a nice little random “what you find in an empty room” table, but again it’s a little out of place. Most of it seems to be geared towards a running battle; slick floors and the like. But there’s not really much opportunity of that kind of thing to happen. And why make it a random table? What does that add? Just put the stuff in the empty rooms and gear it toward something in the adventure.

Focus. Focus on the adventure. Don’t focus on the mundane. Don’t focus on the forms. Don’t focus on the stat blocks. Focus on the adventure. Focus on the wonder. Focus on the unusual. Sadly, this adventure doesn’t do that. When the adventure does that it’s great. The read-aloud I quoted is a good example. There’s an NPC described, a captured thief adventurer. WHen you free him he retires to become a fence … and thus a contact for the party. That’s a GREAT thing. None of this “and they send you a reward later” stuff. It’s gameable. It introduces long-term changes to your game, things you can leverage easily in the future. Gameable. Interesting. And then the adventure gives us this, for the main villain: “Socially ill at ease and awkward in crowds he reacts by erecting emotional barriers and keeping social interactions as superficial as possible. He secretly harbours a desire to be a painter, but lacks the skills and materials.“ And that’s just one part of the ten or eleven paragraphs used to describe him and advice on how to play him. Do we really expect he painter shit to come up? Is it interesting? Is it gameable? Does it have direct long-term impact like the fence stuff does?

It’s sad that this is a mediocre also-ran. It could been great. It coulda been a contender.

This is on RPGnow.

Posted in Reviews | 1 Comment

Dungeon Magazine #66

Enormously Inconvenient
by Kent Ertman
Levels 2-3

I’m a little fond of this adventure, maybe because I’m fond of those 70’s giant animal/horror movies. A woman begs you to find the source of giant animals that just attacked/killed her. Moving into the forest the party encounters many varieties of giant animals until they find the source: some magic potions at the source of a stream. Creative thinking is probably more important than hacking away as ogre-sized bunnies and buffalo with 5’ long hooves are encountered. The tropes comes strong with raccoons hunting a trapper, a bunny chasing a wolf, and so on. One thing I REALLY like about this adventure is the way a decent sized wilderness map is presented, with encounters all over the place, so the party can choose to avoid the swamp, or go through the mountains, or whatever. That’s a good way to support the DM. The encounters are lengthy, but that’s to be expected. This is quite the inoffensive adventure.

Avenging Murik
by Christopher Perkins
Levels 4-6

A good example of a decent setup being ruined by length. A vengeful dwarf and an (unknown to all) evil one seek the parties help to kill an evil giant. The giant is actually the victim. Decent roleplay here. Could be a paragraph instead of 2 pages.

The Sunken Shadow
by James Wyatt
Levels 1-3

A fetch quest underwater with a “surprise” villain. Captain Bob, the paladin, wants you to go search a seawreck for the body of his friend and a magic armband. On the trip there on Captain Bobs ship there are some killings by a sea monster. The wreck has a ghast, some sea creatures, and a vignette showing Captain Bob did something evil. In the spirit of “The Journey is the Destination”, the sea journey is one of the best parts of this and it’s because of the ship/crew. This is an oared ship with a couple of hundred oarsmen and about a eight to twelve well described crew. Everyone LOVES the captain even though it should be obvious to the players that he’s the monster after the first night. There should be some delicious tension here as the party tries to figure out what to do with a couple of hundred allies of the captain on board. The destination is never as good as the journey, and it’s not in this either. The wreck is lame, overly described, and not very interesting. You get water breathing potions from the captain to explore it. Hint: If you have to give the party stuff to make the adventure work then you probably have a big problem in your adventure. I love adventures that telegraph and this one does that, putting the party in a precarious situation. I just hate the underwater portion with the madness of someone prejudiced against underwater adventures.

Swing Shot!
by Chris Doyle
Levels 4-6

This sidetrek is an elaborate ambush on a rope bridge. How many rope bridges have ambushes? Fewer than the number of Side Trek’s that feature Elaborate Ambushes, I’d wager. It’s just a pitched battle with the orcs having the perfect set of stuff they need. Set Pieces are boring. Am I the only one who thinks they are boring?

Operation Manta Ray
by Paul F. Culotta
Levels 6-9

The party needs to infiltrate a pirate town and find a spy and get him out. It turns out he’s got a pirate wife that may not want to betray her pirate friends. The party is clearly meant to get captured/etc and run The Pirates Challenge, a gauntlet/test which takes up a large chunk of the adventure. I’m not fond of these sorts of things. I like a funhouse but not a gauntlet/challenge. I’m fond of a few of the parts of the challenge, especially the first one which is more of a pirate word trick (“All pirate journeys start with a drink! “ if they drink …” you’re not pirates yet!” lash lash lash) The entire place is a little too together. Underwater evil elf patrols with killer whales, ramships, a chain over the harbor, cannons, gargoyles flying around … it’s a little too “complete the adventure the way the designer wants you to.” The open ended nature of the assignment is nice, in theory, but could use more some advice to get things going. It’s a little too “room/key” to support an infiltration/spy mission. In one room entry it notes that to keep up morale sometimes entertainers come in to the closely guarded citadel. That sort of stuff is better moved outside of the keys, for example. The amount of supporting infor for the DM is quite small, at least the amount that’s actionable.

The Petrifying Priestess
by Brian Corvello
Levels 5-7

A small nine room cave with some orcs and medusa. There’s not really much to this. It’s got a pretty lame backstory and hook, all to justify the orcs & medusa in the same cave. Generic Adventure is generic.

Orange and Black
by Peter C. Spahn
Levels 103

A weird adventure. A boy is lost in the forest. Hope someone in the party can track! Eventually he’s found. He tells of a tiger. The party is hired to kill it. The party might then do that. They might also find the tiger’s lair. Inside they might find a journal. They might return the journal to the family. The family will hire them to find a temple that will turn the tiger back into a man … turns out he’s been poly’d. This is part 2; the temple grounds are detailed. Pretty tenuous ties, I’d say. The temple has an arch that does 2d4 damage to clerics and MU’s going through it … without warning. That will kill the firsties and maybe the seconds as well. Ouch. The ruined temple grounds are ok, nothing special, but the beginning is really just one big hook and requires a lot of things to go right to work. Plus: plot reveals via journals, letters, notes are lame and lazy. If you have to resort to it then you should rewrite/rethink the plot/adventure. Fire & Torture are popular alternatives.

Posted in Dungeon Magazine, Reviews | Leave a comment