Night of the Mad Kobold

By Dave Olson
Cut to the Chase Games
Level 1

The town of Cresthill enjoys a favorable location along the winding Graywand River. Trade is good, and the prominent gnomes of House Kelver run most of the businesses to the prosperity of the people. Now, however, a dangerous lunatic—a kobold from the nearby Talon Hills—has decided the gnomes of House Kelver need to be a taught a fiery lesson, and only a band of heroes can stop his plot.

There are about six different versions of this, each for a different system. I somehow managed to end up with the 5e version instead of the S&W version. This is a magic ren-faire adventure, in a gnome city with an alchemist kobold constructing bombs of flour and fire beetle. It’s mostly linear, with a brief free-range element in the middle, and a lot of contrivances to make up a plot. It’s also quite lengthy, and I’d say boring/uninspiring, for the amount of content.

Only about six of the twenty pages are the core content of the adventure. There’s quite a few pre-amble pages with instructions and backgrounds, and quite a few pages in the rear for NPC stats and personalities, maps, and so on. I’m not sure when this “lots of useless shit and not much adventure content” began, but I suspect it has something to do with the Pay Per Word scene. If I can provide the same content three different ways then I only have to be original once. For some definition of original that I may not agree with.

This verbosity-to-little-effect continues in the adventure proper. The key NPC’s get little offset boxes with their personalities and motivations noted. That’s great, in theory. It helps you find the content during the adventure. In practice, these sections are a couple of paragraphs long and drone on and on, using a maximal number of words to convey simple concepts. The guard captain is a family man, dedicated, and dislike his corrupt boss. The adventure takes two paragraphs to tell us those three things. The added words do nothing. In fact, they detract from the adventure because now the DM has to read the lengthy ass paragraphs when running the adventure instead of just scanning one sentence that says: family-man, dedicated, hates lazy corrupt boss. My language isn’t that good. It’s too fact based and doesn’t take advantage of the wealth the english dictionary provides. My language is also AT LEAST ten times better than the two paragraphs provided, because my language is usable to run the game.

There is a paragrapgh or so in the beginning that tells us all about kobolds. Their history in D&D, that these kobold sin this adventure are a different common brown type, and so on. It goes on and on, adding nothing useful to the adventure … until finally it says: And don’t forget, they ‘Yip!’” Once decent thing to help the DM bring the adventure to life. They Yip, in a paragraph of text. And I should say that that kind of direct game-enhancing content (such as, They Yip) is few and far between in this adventure. When there’s read it’s lengthy. The DM sections are lengthy. The NPC descriptions are lengthy. Seldom do they contain useful things and seldom still do they provide content like: They Yip.

There’s a … railroad? Or maybe it’s just very linear and full of contrivances to advance the plot. Hmmm. I think that means railroad. Anyway, the inciting event is an explosion. It’s assumed the characters help out, I guess out of the kindness of their hearts? If they ask around the milling crowd they get a description of someone seen entering several weeks ago. Giving this to the guard captain causes him to recognize the dude. You go find the dude in a bar, only to be attacked by some thug buddies. The dude conveniently falls unconscious so you can question him. You run around town, in the “free play” portion, finding the other bombs. It’s assumed that somewhere along the route you meet the mad kobold bomber and find out there’s a fifth bomb.

I think it’s fair to say that this is pretty typical adventure schlock.First you ask around, then run around, then finally fight the baddie. It’s boring, lame, and not very interesting, providing the barest of ties to try and connect things. You have to question the crowd. Twice. You have to then talk to the captain. You have to not kill the corrupt guard and not kill him. You have to accidentally run into the kobold while going from place to place in town. Why is the town gnomish? For no particular reason, and it doesn’t really feel like a gnome town at all. Why is the bad guy a kobold? For no particular reason. It’s this sense of the generic that comes from applying fantastic tags to the mundane that rubs me such the wrong way with these magical ren-faire settings.

There’s also this weird vibe around defusing the ‘bombs.’ The players are encouraged to be creative, by the text, and then it goes to great trouble to say what WON’T work. The bombs have a fire beetle in them. But if you kill the beetle then the reagent still goes off and the thing explode. This means that there ARE right answers. On the one hand limitations should be fine. On the other, making them arbitrary seems counterproductive to encouraging the party to think freely.

The amount of DM fiat to make the thing work right, the linearity, verbosity, and dullness of the general text make this a skip for me. The addition to gnomes and kobolds, for no particular reason, and the magical ren-faire alchemist stuff is just a turn off. I wish the adventure had not tried to explain things. It’s a magic bomb. It’s doesn’t need a flour/fire beetle explanation. Exploding skulls, yellow with flaming eyes that cackle manically as they get close to *BOOM* time? That I could accept without question.

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Dungeon Magazine #83

Deep Freeze
By Cameron Widen
Level 2

Joy. An asylum. I’ll put this in the pile of museum and archeology dig adventures I’ve collected. You’re hired to find some missing people who were to deliver supplies to an asylum. Turns out they never made it and weather forces you to stay overnight. Blah blah blah evil plot, enslaved people digging something out of the nearby mountain. It’s unclear why the party doesn’t just kill everyone they see and burn the place down right after “asylum” and “don’t know anything about it” and “please stay the night to keep out of the weather.” You know the deal. Super long read-alouds for mundane locations that add nothing, and longer DM text that is also mostly irrelevant to the adventure make this a pain to run. And since it’s a “mystery” then all of the mystery-breaking spells the characters have access to are gimped. Lazy. One of the “subtle clues” that the party is suppose to pick up on is that one of the beds have bed bugs … evidence that the good doctor has not been working alone for months. A) No one listened to the monologue. B) No one is going to pick up on that. C) They already stabbed the guy when he opened the door. Asylum & bad weather, remember? Nice weird art on page 26 by …. Marc Sasso? (Ha! Turns out he’s done Dio covers!) Otherwise this adventure has nothing interesting to offer.

By Tito Leati
Level 4

Find & explore a barrow to cure a cursed unicorn. This thing is full of LONG monologues and overly-descriptive DM text. It could easy be 75% shorter and lose nothing. I’m fond of barrows and this has a barrow, which means I’m fond of it. The barrow is decently done, feels barrow-like and has several interesting encounters … including one that seems out of Grimtooth that could be telegraphed better. The clues to find the barrow are decent, if long. There’s a tribe of evil humanoids that will talk to you and you can buy info/stuff from. Inexplicably, they attack the starting village while you’re on the way back from the barrow. I get the nice visual and the scene the designer is going for, but it seems very out of place and random. The spear you recover from the barrow is the cursed unicorn’s horn. You need to touch them together to cure the unicorn. The spear is powerful. If they had stopped there it would have been ok. “Keeping the spear is an evil act.” Welllllll…… yes, it is. Calling it an evil act comes with DM-fiat baggage, and all of the implied punishment … even though the adventure doesn’t actually say anything else. TELLING the party the spear is super powerful, describing the powers, and THEN giving them a choice would be delicious indeed.

London Calling
By Andy Collins

Indian diabolist attempts to summon a demon named Kali to earth. Maybe there are gypsies that steal children and penny pinching scots also? Scene based, and there are six. You can shove your scenes up your ass Andy Collins. Go play Vampire or wait eight more years for Fiasco.

Depths of Rage
By J.D. Walker
Level 3

Oh! Oh! I knew I recognized this issue! It’s got one of my favorite adventures in it! I love this one! At least, I REMEMBER it as being one of my favorites … sooo …. I’m probably reviewing this one through rose glasses.

A week ago the local DCC mob went all funnel up in the local goblin caves … and no one came out as first level … or came back at all. Full of old people, women, and children, the party is encouraged to take a shot … and lured by a magic sword the goblin leader has. This intro is pretty abstract in the adventure and could use just a bit more colour.

The caves are multi-level, with bridges, chasms, chimneys, multiple ledges, cramped corridors, short 5’ ceilings full of smoke from torches, and other cave features. And then suddenly some crazed goblins come screaming out the darkness! There’s some nonsense about how they are barbarians, but it’s TOTALLY that cave scene in 13th Warrior (and fuck you if you don’t like 13th warrior! It’s one of the two best D&D movies EVAR!) Primitive cannibal goblins, fetishes all over the place shoved in the cracks & crevices, war paint, howling goblins, tight and evocative setting. I fucking love this cave! And THEN the place changes. After killing the leader there’s an earthquake the caves change, with new challenges to overcome! There’s even some faction play thrown in, with the bitter shamen being discovered (maybe) early on, and he’s willing to sell out the chief, as well as an NPC ranger. The read-aloud, while not imaginative, is mercifully short. The DM text, while not terse by my standards, is not the usual completely over-prescriptive text usually found in Dungeon, except maybe in its description of the cave features, which goes on for two pages. The reaction section, to the parties intrusion, could also be beefed up a little. A gross shamen bowl full of blood that’s Bulls Strength? Sign me up! I WAS disappointed that the magic sword is only a +2 longsword. 🙁 LAME!

By Philip Athans
D&D Greyhawk 2000
Level 1

Post-industrial Greyhawk. IE: Shadowrun. Hired to retrieve a package from a bad part of town, the party finds something is wrong, the place being trashed and the street gang turned into zombies. They find a genetics lab in the basement. The DM text needs focus; important information is hidden after trivia. The various sections are nicely done though, with the “normal” house being a combination of horror and zombiepocalypse and the lab basement being a nice little sci-fi ruined genetics lab with a creature loose. Nice wandering monster table for the neighborhood also, with the encounters there offering some nice roleplay opportunities that FEEL like post-industrial/Shadowrun. Some of the initial read-aloud is quite overblown: “No one really wants to know what’s going on in Crossroads tonight, or any night ….” That’s some wannabe author shit right there. This is definitely highlighter bait though.

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Smuggler’s Run

By Dylan Held
Pick Up & Go Games
Crypts & Creatures
Levels 1-2

Welcome to Smugglers Run. An adventure designed for four to five players from levels one to two. Smuggler’s Run, once considered the primary pipeline for Corinthean contraband in the great City of Jor-Carmin, has been dormant for quite some time now. Officially claimed by Corinthea nearly 20 years ago when a toll was placed on the road; the farmhands and settlers along the old route have enjoyed peace and fair trade since, albeit heavily taxed. The humble villagers of Hamilton, who once would have to sneak their goods throughout the kingdom, now are simple farmers, traders, and craftsmen who are happy to play by the rules. Still, the dangers along Smuggler’s Run have not entirely vanished. The players in this adventure are hired to investigate a lost caravan. What seems a simple task that any farmhand could do turns into something much more intriguing. The path to becoming a hero starts somewhere. The mysteries of Smuggler’s Run may be more than just urban legends and are filled with more questions than answers, but will the players have the guile to investigate it’s shady past? If they make it through to the end, it will be up to them to decide.

This is a railroad of an adventure, but it’s also nicely done. The personality of the NPC’s involved really comes through and most of the situations seem quite a bit more relatable than most adventures. People act like people do. It also does a decent job of making it SEEM like actions have consequences, even though almost everything is pre programmed, right down to the last minute escape of the evil villain.

One of the many nice things about DCC is the funnel. Take a bunch of commoners and shove them through some danger. The outraged village mob is a trobe that very much appeals to me, as is their slaughter and their couple of standouts. This adventure uses that for a hook. Willy the hops farmer has a wagonload that has gone missing, right during the harvest and gets a group of fieldhands, etc to go look for it. Willy speaks in authentic western gibberish and both the first and a great example of the characterization given to the NPC’s. Almost every NPC has a personality that comes through in their (generally brief) read-alouds. They have strong personalities, from WIlly the yokel, to the highwaymen, to the bar room brawlers, to the barman to the barmaids. Not only do they have a memorable presence, but it’s done in a terse style AND their motivations are relatable. During the big finale battle one of the bar maids grabs anything valuable and tries to flee. Nice! The NPC’s are also all summarized on a single page at the end of the adventure, something I appreciate as a DM. There’s not an overwhelming amount, but it still keeps you from having to jot down notes.

The adventure also does a decent job with callbacks. Bandits met once are met again, and remember the party and react. As does WIlly. As does an NPC hireling. As do the bar maids. As does the bartender. NPC’s show up more than once and by doing so they give a sense of connectedness to the locations. Not just random places with random people but concrete locations with real people in them. This is all VERY nice

On the downside, this is a completely linear adventure. Go do X, then Y, then Z. The text single column, in a large font, and is full of “if the party does A then B” kinds of very specific DM advice. This all leads to a wall of text kind of thing when encounters run into each other. More than any other adventure I’ve seen recently, this one has problems. It’s like line breaks and section breaks have not been invented. It’s more than wall of text, it’s combined with this lack of … clearly delineated sections? That makes this a hard one to find things in and follow. It IS pretty simple, all in all, but still …

It also engages in two activities twice that I take exception to. The first is the wagon driver the party rescue. Regardless of the parties healing magic, potions they carry, or anything else they do, he collapses. I believe the text goes something like “regardless of if they are successful or not …” I get it. You want the party to rescue the dude. But there’s no reason. The dud being alive or dead does nothing to add to the adventure. But by FORCING the dude to be not responsive to the party you take away the player’s agency. Why heal someone, ever, if DM fiat is always at issue? The guy just should have been dead. Period. (If he talks to the party then might find out a wolf attacked him, which is evidently hidden information. I’m not sure why, since knowing its a wolf doesn’t really do anything one way or another.)

Secondly, the barkeep double crosses the party AND he’s given a plot shield escape. Bad form old chap. He’s the local bad guy representative, hance the doublecross, but, still, making the adventure/arc less transparently good vs. evil and more “Choose Your Own Adventure” would have been nicer to see. And giving the dude a plot shield, that he only uses when at 0 or less than 0, is SUPER lame. Fuck you. You’re the designer. Find a way to make your villain “cool” without taking complete control away from the players. That’s your job. Or, and here’s some free advice: Don’t. Let’em fucking kill the dude. You know, like they EARNED.

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The Wizard’s Tomb

wtBy Vincent Howard
Second Thought Games
Levels 7-9

The players have come into possession of a magical circlet. Its powers are tied to a long-dead Wizard, who calls to the possessor of the circlet from Beyond. A search for the Wizard’s hidden resting place is in order! Will the party sever the circlet’s link, or cement it? The Wizard’s Tomb is a stand-alone adventure for 4-6 players of 7th-9th level. A detailed history of the Wizard, the magic circlet, his tomb, as well as full descriptions for 20 traps and the guardian who maintains them is included.

This is Yet Another Tomb of Horrors Knock-off. Wizard’s tomb. Full of traps. Lengthy read-aloud. Long room descriptions. It’s got a little bit of nice up-front, but that’s all. Do you want another Tomb of Horrors? To go with the 6,000 that already exist? Great. This is one. Enjoy.

The room keys start on page seven, so there’s a lengthy preamble. Most of it is interesting and unneeded backstory. There is a nice little half a page section on sage/research results. I like this kind of thing, for a prepared group it makes a lot of sense to find out all you can. There’s another column or so on an artifact, presumed to already be in the parties possession, which is the hook for the adventure. It had an evil presence and now you feel compelled to go to a place, the tomb.

The map is pretty simple and linear and FULL of hallway traps. In fact, there are twenty different types of hallway presented over two pages. I am NOT the biggest fan of hallway traps. As soon as a hallway trap triggers the game slows to a grind. As soon as you spring a door trap then the game grinds to a halt. I’ll accept the Indian Jones Idol trap, IE, a trick that everyone recognizes, but most traps suck. The best way I’ve found is to give hints in your descriptions, like dead bodies, charred walls, and so on, and let the players take it from there. Random traps in random hallways do nothing. There are seventeen hallway traps in this adventure, in addition to a few other types.

The read aloud is LONG. It has to be in these torture-porn things in order to describe the trapped/puzzle room fully to the party. But NO ONE listens to long read-aloud. It’s boring. The DM room descriptions then round out the entire keyed room to about a full column.

All for abstracted treasure. “The evil wizard’s treasure, as determined by the GM …” ug! So, a mummy a wizard, and a bunch of traps.

There’s just almost nothing to this adventure.

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The Seer

By Ron Lundeen
Level 4

The time has come to venture beyond the village of Oras?nou and explore the realm of Barovia. However, in your travels, you happen across an unusual tribe of people–distrusted denizens of the Demiplane of Dread. Do the Vistani truly possess the ability to see the future, or is it simple parlor tricks and deceit? Part Five of Misty Fortunes and Absent Hearts.

Forced bear combat
What wolves combat?!?!
Forced undead combat
“The dark powers protect her” adv save

Uh … derp? I don’t get this one AT ALL. It randomly places you in a forest in order to encounter some Vistani. You are then led through three forced combats and two roleplaying encounters. End. I just don’t get it at all. It doesn’t look like it’s connected in any way to anything else going on and is just dropped in the laps of the party. It’s as if someone said “We need a unconnected adventure!” and someone else replied “Well, how about they meet some vistini while wandering in the forest?” and then it went forward.

The idea is that you meet some friendly vistini, they ask you to look into a bridal matter with another family of vistini. That group tells you that the bride ran off with an outcast. You “track her down” (which in this context means just having a forced combat) and then find out she’s a vampire spawn and kill her. Done! There’s just nothing to this adventure. It literally starts with the group wandering through the woods and getting attacked by bears. Then, Vistini group A, Vinstini group B, undead attack, Finale. There’s no real game here, just rolling some combat dice. I guess the bride/marriage/outcast thing could count as depth development … if we ever see any of these people again in another adventure.

And it’s weirdly incomplete. There are references to wolves in the adventure, including stat blocks in the back … but there are no wolves in the adventure at all. SImilarly, there are references to an owlbear in the Encounter chart as well as the back of book stat block … but no owlbear either. I don’t get this AT ALL.

I’m not sure what’s going on. It’s like someone said “ok, three fights and a little roleplay.” This adventure is not even trying. This fucking review is short because there’s nothing to review! I think I count 5.5 pages of content? And one of the fights is supposed to be removed if you’ve less than 45 minutes remaining? I guess … yeah? I mean, it was just a railroaded forced combat after all, but …less content?!

Look, I like a terse style, but fuck man, there’s VERY little content here. Two vistini families, or different personalities … is that supposed to be the adventure?

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Dungeon Magazine #82

The King is Dead. Long Live the King.
The tribulation^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H 3e-era has begun.

Evil Unearthed
By Ed Stark
Level 1

Oh, to yearn for the days of 2E adventures … A letter from a friend asking for help summons the party to a village where the friend can no longer be found. People are disappearing. Eventually a tunnel entrance is found at an old castle and a short ten room linear dungeon follows. Sixteen pages to do all of this is a long. The hook is hackneyed but handled well with the advice provided. The entire adventure is going to have to be a bit of a railroad; the ties are too tenuous and the clues too hidden, IMO, unless the DM really telegraphs where the party should go next with some REALLY obvious clues. Full page NPC stat blocks and descriptions and using 20 sentences where one sentence would do. It’s a pretty basic adventure. The highlight would be the rumors provided by the escaped travellers that appear on the wandering monster table for the woods. A little too fact based, but they still manage to convey a bit of the person underneath, of a conversation rather than a raw fact. The investigation could be a slow burn and a decent build up if more towny information were provided and A LOT less detail for each. The set up in this is really wasted on the dungeon underneath.

Playing With Fire
By Jeff Grubb
Level 2

A found key leads to a wilderness inn which leads to an old sealed lair of a bandit king. The key lets you into a basic/simple twelve room dungeon where you face some grimlocks maybe a fire elemental, and a few other foes. Only ten pages tells you that Grubb stays focused. The inn is only briefly described, the read-aloud doesn’t drone on and, while not always interesting, is at least terse and not terrible. I’m fond of the two interesting parts of this adventure. First, there’s a shield in the inn that’s quite interesting, displayed upon a wall. The owner wants too much money for it. It has a special power, sending creatures from the plane of fire back there when they touch it. That’s quite a nice effect and the art showing the shield is nice. Second, while you are exploring the lair a group of Azers, trapped inside, (probably) sneak out. They go to the inn, burn it down to get to the shield, and then use it to get back home again. This is a nice “actions have consequences” thing without it being too punitive. The inn keeper lambasting the characters is just icing on the cake. Of course, if the party manage to get the shield before going in (paying 2000gp, of killing/threatening the innkeep) then the azers attack them instead. The wanderers are lame, the hook (you found a key!) is just found-treasure-mappy-and-investigate pretext. Nice “fire-lord/bandit-king” theming on some plate armor make it a treasure worth keeping. Not a terrible adventure, but not really an outstanding dungeon either. With a little work on the grimlocks in the lair then it could be an ok diversion.

Dark Times in Sherwood
By Ian Malcomson
Level 3

This is so fucking weird. It’s a full on norman england Sherwood forest adventure, with some of the minor and none of the major characters showing up. It’s all wild boars and NPC men and then turns the corner with a necromancer baron and undead and, of course, the spellcasters in the party. I can’t figure out why something so specific showed up in Dungeon.

Bandits and asshat norman soldiers are tormenting the people of Sherwood. Investigating finds they are one and the same, with the bandits impersonating soldiers to discredit the sheriff. All under the control of an evil Baron who wants the sheriff’s job. The encounter locations are quite terse, generally, and the investigative elements point STRAIGHT at the bandit camp, over and over again. This is the ONLY way to run an investigation: provide an overwhelming number of clues … and this adventure does that. In contrast the pre-programmed events are lengthy and verbose compared to the encounter locations, with lots of long-ish read-aloud full of “Forsooths’ and “tis’s’” . The bandits all get personalities and unique stats, which seems weird since they are just gonna get killed. Everything takes a 180 when the bandits lead the investigation to the arons castle. After breaking in the dungeoncrawl with the undead and necromancer starts. It’s more like traditional D&D and less like “EVil cultist”, which again makes it seem out of place when compared to the rest of the adventure. Have fun fighting those 30 norman soldiers in the castle … and then a necromancer with undead? But he doesn’t feel like a norman necromancer, he/it feels like a “normal” D&D generic evil MU with undead. I don’t know. Weird. And the submission guidelines for adventures, in this issue, specifically calls out making them generic enough for everyone to use … unless TSR/WOTC is flogging a product launch?

Full named npcs bandits

Eye for an Eye
By Patrick W. Ross
Level 3

Oh Dungeon, what a tool you are! You hide behind your words and your slavery to form is used well to hide the jewels underneath.

While walking down the road you see a beheading. This leads to a friendly wolf, which leads to a maniacal commoner planning on destroying an entire town. And then, maybe, a follow-up dungeon crawl! I’m not sure why, exactly, but there’s something appealing to me about this one, even though it’s too wordy and has a read-aloud villain monologue at the start of the final battle. I think maybe it’s the idea that Bob the commoner hates everyone and goes off by himself to build a way to destroy the town … and in the end he’s just a commoner, working his evil in quiet. It’s got a decent bit of overland, a nice little swamp, a cool little evil-INTJ reed hut set up, complete with floodgates and counterweights for him to use his nukes in the earth’s core …err. I mean, open the gates to flood a town. The first wandering monster encounter chart has some nice bits in it, and the forest encounters, before the main swamp section, have some charming little things going on. The little bit of dungeon, AFTER the climax, most likely, is a nice little bit also, the receding swamp revealing it’s secrets and so on. It’s hard to recommend, based on the length of the encounter text and wading through it to find what you need, but it undoubtedly has some decentness to it at its core. This is a photocopy and highlighter candidate for sure.

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The Goblin Market

By Dave Tackett
Quasar Dragon Games
Levels 10-12

A wave of pain and death sweeps over the town of Sligo during a festive faire and
market, causing fear and panic. As the characters investigate this horror, they find that is just part of an ongoing, multifaceted plot to drive away all humans and their allies. With giants, demons, hags, undead, and more lined up against them, the characters will have their work cut out for them.

There’s a lot of enthusiasm in the OSR community. That’s not always matched by focus and sometimes a vision doesn’t get translated on to paper well. Our 10-12th level characters experience the impact of an evil energy wave and, presumably, set out to find the cause out of the goodness of their cold cold murderhobo hearts. There are several smaller encounters that lead up to the big bad, and programmed ending. The adventure has A LOT of text, which is almost uniformly unfocused, meandering and verbose. It also has a couple of nice encounters and generally handles the monsters more as NPC’s, which is very nice to see. The writing needs to be more focused and there needs to be more ADVENTURE and less mundane.

The adventure is verbose, and more than that it’s verbose in describing the mundane. Lengthy descriptions of the mundane, lengthy read-aloud that add little to no value, lengthy descriptions of actions taken by NPC’s and monsters. None of this is interesting. None of this adds anything of real value. Here’s a read-aloud that, at least, is short: “Bare stairs lead downward. On one wall is a tapestry showing a traditional brewery.“ This is the soul of tercity compared to several f the other read-alouds, and the read-aloud is then augmented by lengthy DM paragraphs. Needed information gets lost in the text. The read-aloud assumes. That you have torches. That you did X. That you woke the orcs when you came in. Not good. And a textbook reason why read-aloud is generally bad, especially in higher level adventures. This lengthy text, the filler information, is the primary reason that the adventure is 62 pages long. Well, the last 22 or so pages are just appendices for magic and monsters and maps, but, still, seven or so mini-dungeons in 40 pages is not a tight adventure. And it long for no reason. One underground area is little more than a single long hallway with jail cells off to each side, packed in. Skeletons in one, wraiths in another, more skeletons, vrocks, etc. Original it is not.

It does do several things right. The rumor table is exactly the sort I like to see to see in adventures. It’s specific. It’s bits of overheard conversation. “There’s no invisible pig, Ealga. It’s a friendly joke played on outsiders and children.” or “I swear I seen it, a giant cockroach the size of my daughters pony! Up fast the monk house!” These add color, they are specific, they aren’t’ just boring fact communication. It’s that idiosyncratic nature, the specificity, that makes an adventure worth running for the DM as a play aid.

Likewise it does a great job in the way it treats the monsters. No fighting to the death here, mostly. You can bribe monsters, they will plead, even the bosses! In particularly there’s a nice lich, one of the bigger bads in the plot, who doesn’t really give a shit to die. That’s quite nice, as is the devil you can rescue you will then pledge to serve you .. and follow through! OMG! A monster that doesn’t backstab you!

Every once in awhile there’s a small nugget of a nice scene. The inciting event is the evil wave of energy that kills the old and infirm and turns them into zombies … including babies and toddlers. That’s a nice little bit, as are a couple of the flowing-red-eyes zombies.

Mostly though, this feel unnaturally long. And weirdly non-OSR. Lot’s of low-level undead. MAYBE a little light on the treasure front, and most of it is book magic items. There’s none of those “conversion mistakes” like long rests and DC checks that would give this away as a conversion. It’s more like … mundane?

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The Lost Temple of Forgotten Evil

By L. Kevin Watson
Dark Naga Adventures
5e & OSR
Levels 4-6

The small town of Boldon, and its surrounding villages are afraid. Dozens of people are missing, some speculate lost to some nefarious purpose. A broken drunkard tells fantastic tales of an evil temple and the horrible things within. The rare few who know the legends and history of the region are beginning to think the dark times have returned; not seen since the fall of the rst age of man. People are beginning to feel the icy fingers of fear closing in. The party becomes aware of these events, and is inspired to investigate. This leads them to a broken man who tells them a story of a lost temple. Has it been rediscovered by men seduced by its forgotten evil? The drunkard’s tale leads to others who might help the party discover more before they face The Lost Temple of Forgotten Evil.

This is short evil temple “crawl” that is preceded by a bit of an investigation in order to find the temple. From a 10,000 foot view the adventure is a little interesting and relatively well organized. Unfortunately I found the execution of that vision terribly flawed almost in every way. It reeks of being overly verbose and providing trivia in place of gameable content in encounters. And then it goes and provides gameable content in a kid of “continuing the adventure” section after each encounter. It’s quite frustrating. I’m going to pick this one apart. But only because I care.

The first eight pages are garbage and can be ripped out and forgotten. Regional background that will never come into play. “Over 1,400 years of history and lore” … which provide little to no value in terms of gameable content. A summary overview that provides no summary. “Two encounters are combat and two encounters are role-playing.” Joy. When you see something like that you just know. You just know the designer doesn’t get it. They are following some bullshit “rules of writing an adventure” nonsense. Anyway, i don’t dink adventures any more because they provide this bullshit background information, unless it contains information needed to run the adventure. This, thankfully, does not. It’s just filler fluff that obfuscates the fact that it’s not actually a 36 page adventure, it’s actually a 28 page adventure and one quarter is just filler.

I might also note that that this first eight pages contain the crappiest, or maybe greatest, example of hooks ever. Every single hook ever that lacks inspiration is detailed. In a sentence. “They were asked by a patron or other contact to investigate.” My, that’s original. Another one has a reward. Another one says they are from the region. Another one says they are from outside the region. And let’s be clear, it’s not like I’m abstracting these, they are already abstract. “The players could be from another part of the kingdom and sent to [town] to help.” Seriously? That’s a hook? What’s next? Caravan guard? Oh, why yes, there is a caravan guard hook! “The players could be guarding a caravan that is bringing ore to [town] and decide to look into the trouble.” This shit is absurd. It is abstract and non-specific. It’s like some weird story-based adventure I reviewed: “You may decide to have the players encounter a monster.” Really genius? Thanks. Thanks for the trouble. You know, I was really having trouble but now that you’ve suggest they encounter a monster/be caravan guards, get hired to look into thing I’m now fully inspired. This sort of generic dreck of writing is the bane of adventure. Let’s be clear, I’m not looking for two paragraphs per hook. Nor am I even looking for two sentences of detail. I’m looking for SPECIFICITY. Specificity is the soul of storytelling. By being specific you take advantage of the single greatest resource a designer has: the DM. It needs to be JUST enough to inspire the DM. “They might be caravan guards.” is not inspiring. It’s the opposite. BE. FUCKING. SPECIFIC. Not Wordy. Not Verbose. SPECIFIC.

The idea is that people are disappearing and eventually you find a drunk, who’s central to the first half of the adventure. There’s an interesting bit here. The drunk has a tale and you can follow up with him to find more details about the dungeon/temple. The more legwork you do the more details you get, up to a certain point. This sort of “try and find out where the rumored dungeon is” and “do some research on the dungeon before you get there” are both appealing. They reward the prepared and thoughtful players and add some interesting roleplaying to the encounters. Find a dungeon map, find a regional map, get the secret of a door from a sage. Neato mosquito.

And the concept is mostly where it stops being neato (mostly.) The drunk is possessed by Hastur who tells them the tale to “lure them into the temple.” Fucking wonderful. Haven’t seen that one eight thousand times before. Worse, it adds nothing to the adventure. It’s just meaningless detail that goes nowhere.

Then there’s the monologue. It’s a page long. A. Full. Page. In red/beige text. On a beige background. In italics. If I tried to read a page of text my players would leave the house. Seriously. They would get up and go to the corner for a pack of cigs and I’d be lucky if they came back. Seriously? A page? There was that famous informal WOTC GenCon observation where they noted you got two sentences, MAYBE three, before the players lost interest and stopped paying attention. The section is actually titled “Monologue.” I’m lost … is there a parallel universe in which “Monologue” doesn’t mean “complete crap?” It’s like titling your section “Generic Content that I didn’t try” Why would you do that? The ONLY saving grace here is that there’s half a page of bullet points, before the page long monologue, that details the key points of the monologue. If could be slightly better, but seeing as how the monologue is about the twelfth time the adventure relates the drunks tale to the DM, the summary is appreciated. It’s the kind of organization that the adventure should be providing (and does in several cases.) Again, it could be more specific, but at least you don’t have to wade through the morass of that crap-ass read-aloud.

One of the nics things the adventure does is, after each major section, it provides a “What Happens Next” summary. In bullet form, it provides some ideas. The cultists will sacrifice 4 people a day for a month. The Town guard will look into the beatings, the characters will be shunned. It’s a very nice little section and adds a lot to the adventure in terms of DM tools. It is, essentially, a short outline or other logical consequences and it provides the DM with JUST enough generic information to help the DM add some more local color and events so It’s not a straight “A then B then C” adventure. It’ does this after each of the seven major sections in the first half (the investigation) portion of the adventure and it’s a good addition. A little lengthy and verbose, but great idea and it EXACTLY the sort of resource that an adventure SHOULD be providing to a DM.

Similarly the encounters have a nice little section which provides the motivations. “Beat up people in celebration of the coming horrors.” Hey, that’s great content. I can now run the encounter with 4 cultists in town without ANY more information at all! Or, maybe “Jopha wants to ensure he gets a reward for his map.” Again, great! The adventure does this almost every time, and it does it in a great way. I might quibble with one encounter, in which townies beat up an old man, for burying the townie motivation in the text. But, in general, you now pretty much know know to run this encounter. Maybe one more sentence on any character quirks, maybe one bullet point on “local color” for the setting, and then on with the show!

But that’s not what happens. What follows is not a bullet point but rather several paragraphs of information that do little to add any value to adventure beyond that motivations. Two or three or four paragraphs that add very little. Focusing this, trimming it WAY down, and keeping just the core would have been far far better and far easier to run at the table. Again, the goal is to provide terse specificity to inspire the DM, not endless words that the DM has to fight against in order to find the adventure/key points.

I would note that one of the encounters has same lameness to it. The sage has a shit-ton of at-will powers, can cast any spell, etc. I like my wizards weird and I like it when they don’t follow the players rules, but this is a little far for me. It smacks of a DM plot shield, even though he has no purpose in the plot. For no reason you encounter someone inexplicably powerful … but who can’t be bothered to do something himself. DM Fiat is not a compliment.

The dungeon section is terser and manages about five rooms per page for a sixteen page dungeon/temple. There’s some pretext on why no one comes to anyone else’s help (heavy curtains!) The wall of text element is always present, making it difficult to find the good stuff. It’s a good thing that there is little good stuff then. It’s mostly just normal rooms with dudes in it, overly described with meaningless detail. I know what a bedroom looks like and don’t need it explained to me that there are four incense burners, unless they have some impact on the adventure. And they don’t. There is an effort to provide a little detail on what the cultists are doing in their rooms, but invariably it is just “praying” or “sleeping.” Once again, some gameable specificity would have been nice.

A couple of game system notes as well: A DC25 check is kind of high in 5th edition, I believe? There’s one note on OSR specific details, which seems a bit unusual. I’m not complaining, I don’t think conversion notes are generally needed, but it seems weird that ONE would be provided. Forced combats are weird in OSR adventures, since combat isn’t the focus. Likewise, the treasure is very light for a gold-for-xp OSR game.It’s clear this is a 5e adventure converted over. It’s also interesting to see both the OSR stats and the 5e stats side by side. 5e stats are SO much longer, because of the slavery to the form that is seemingly required. It’s also interesting to see the creature difference; it’s almost like the designer is afraid to give the OSR versions anything other than bare bones attacks. Shapechanging, special resistance, etc, all seem off the table for the OSR stats where they are listed for the 5e version.

There’s a comment, regarding the evil alter room, that there are 40 cultists present twice a day and it would be suicide to attack during those ceremonies. Au contraire! A couple of barrels of oil rolled into the room, a couple of fireballs, fighters in the single entrance corridor choke point, maybe dump in a couple of enraged bulls right after the inferno! I think it’s the BEST way to approach the combats!

The adventure is organized well. The follow-up sections and motivations are quite good. It’s got too much generic useless text and most of the temple is boring and uninteresting.

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The Sunday Stellar – DDAL4-04 – The Marionette


Yeah, that’s right, it’s not the Sunday Suck anymore … again.

By Robert Alaniz
Levels 1-4

A Vistani fortuneteller has called you out by name during the Burgomaster’s private reading. She raved of an army of the dead, a delicate powderbox, and a beautiful yet dangerous woman. Now the Burgomaster wants to know why you’re more important than he is…

This four-hour adventure is in four parts. The party starts by being asked/hired to look into a missing wagon, bringing an injured person back to town. This is followed by a well done seance in part two, and then a zombie/undead attack on the town in part three. Part four is a dungeon/exploring an old manor home with some undead inside. I’m going to complain a lot upfront, but this is an ok adventure.

The first part of the adventure is mostly disconnected from the rest, providing only the introduction of a couple of NPC’s, one of which provides motivation for rescue in part four and one of which is the villain in part four. Hmmm, I may have been too harsh; the introduction of the characters prior to meeting them again IS good design, but the particular implementation in this adventure is not very strong. The “rescue” is really nonexistent and then the NPC’s are in the hospice. A little more advice/forewarning for the DM, in order to orient the NPC’s the proper way, would have been a nice addition. There’s also a bit of confusion with monsters. Harpies are mentioned in the adventure overview, and again in the appendix, but I don’t believe they are actually introduced anywhere in the encounter. The loss of a token combat hurts nothing though.

The seance sequence in part two is quite well done. The read-aloud is actually god, the mood setting for the DM is good, and the encounters, again, provide forewarning of what’s to be experienced later in the part four dungeon/manor. The part three undead attack is laid out more like a zombie movie than a typical D&D monster fight, which is a very good thing. Zombies ripping out throats of villagers and so on. The manor home is more of a slow burn, with a decent number of lead-you-by-the-nose hints, a few monster attacks, and then the big bad. There’s a decent number of tricks and traps in the home, with at least a token nod to tipping the players off beforehand. For example, the entrance hall has a glass roof that the read-aloud notes is leaking badly. Smart players will ask more questions, which may save them from the water-rotten collapsing floor. This happens FAR less often in adventures then I would like to see and I’m happy to see the designer here taking advantage of it.

There’s a plot shield here, and piece of shit plot shields (Ooops, redundant!) always piss me off. IE: “If the party killed Bob in the last adventure then the Dark powers have saw fit to restore him for their own unfathomable reasons.” No, I know the reason. It’s because of crap ass design, that’s why. Either you don’t put the dude in harms way or you don’t bring him back to life/make him critical for the further adventure.How about a big, fat, FUCK YOU. Why the hell even play the game if the player’s actions have no impact? So they can experience “The Story”? Fuck you and fuck your story. Write something that doesn’t take the god damn player agency away from them. The preceding diatribe has been a service of Fuck You Crappy Design Monitoring service.

While I’m on the subject of “bad design”, let me point out a few more issues before I get to the better parts. The rumors here are lame fact based boringness. Compare “Shadows have been seen near the graveyard” with FAR FAR better statements made by a little ghost girl later in the adventure: “She doesn’t know about her affliction, but says ‘it must be very bad because it makes Mommy very sad and Daddy very angry.’” That’s fucking great. The little ghost girls gets some wonderfully evocative lines to supplement the facts relayed. The rumors should have been done in the same manner.

The choices made are lazy in some places. In the first part you’re sent to go find Vasilly “and his friend.” “And his friend” is mentioned several times. When you find the body its “his friends body.” The poor SOB never gets a name. This is generic, abstracted detail and D&D adventures are seldom good when they rely on that sort of abstracted detail. Specificity. That’s the key to being evocative. Hmmm, lame/weak “you’re in a bar” hook. Not lame because its in a bar but lame because it’s boring and uninteresting done.

Some of the NPC’s get a nice little “roleplaying Bob” tip section. These are a little long for my tastes but their inclusion IS helpful. In particular, the last line, a quote from the NPC, conveys more information than the rest of the tip combined. Recall tha the little girl quotes were quite well done as well, and there is a great scene with a town crier that, again, uses direct quotes and it nicely done. “Oyez, Oyez, Oyez! The following is a decree from the most
distinguished and generous Burgomaster Randovich, to which we are all indebted…in one form or another.” and then also “Let it also be known that… Oleg, it is your turn to light the village lamps tonight.” A single, disembodied groan rises from the back of the crowd, oozing with disappointment. “That is all!” That’s good shit. It’s specific. It’s Olegs turn. He’s unhappy. That’s what players will remember and that the sort of thing that helps the DM out. Not a railroad. Not detailing everything, but instead providing a hard, impactful flavor burst.

I’m going to skip more commentary on part 2, a very excellent seance, and part four, the pretty decent manor crawl, and instead make some comments about part three, an undead attack on the town.

The idea is that straight out of the (non-combat) seance you are confronted by an undead attack on the town. You see four things going on at the same time and need to decide what you will do. Folks will recall that Deep Carbon did this is GREAT impact, and those leading sections were one of the reason is got labeled Grim/Dark: If you did option A then the people in Option B died, usually in front of you and in a very sad way. This being 5e it’s not QUITE as bad, and a splitting up party is assumed/advice is given.

This kind of thing works best when the players know the choices they are making. They have to KNOW that by letting Bob die they will instead save Carl who can do Y for them. This section is strongest when it illustrates those choices. The mayor yells “The food stocks are in there! We’ll die this winter!” when you see the burning building. The players know the consequences; it’s not just a burning building with crates in them. One undead seemingly directs the attack. It’s pretty obvious that if you kill him then you can cut off the head, so to speak. These are good choices presented to the players.

Two other choices are less well done. Zombies have some people cornered in an ally, in one, and in the other a man in a burning jail cell says he’ll reward the players. In both cases the reward is less obvious and more abstract “doing good.” Both have real rewards, one of the future zombie victims knows some of the map layout in the part 4 dungeon. The prisoner does have a nice reward. Instead, having the prisoner SHOW his potion and the set of magic keys he has, that would instead provide a concrete choice for the players. Likewise, putting the map-NPC in servant’s livery, or somehow communicating the reward he has, makes the choice more meaningful for the players.

Another comment here, specifically about the zombie scene/choice. The read-aloud telegraphs the “correct solution” and that’s never good. The second sentence reads “You may be able to distract and lure the monsters near a stack of heavy timbers that can be released upon them, pinning and restraining them, but you will have to offer a convincing distraction.” Instead, a map of the scene, showing a stack of precarious timbers, a pulley hook to swing on, or some other things, typical to a village, would have allowed some DCC-style creative solutions. There’s nothing wrong with providing the logs, but providing a map showing an interesting environment, with lots of stuff WITHOUT THINKING HOW THEY WILL BE USED allows for the creative and interesting solutions that good D&D thrives upon. I love seeing the party come up with a stupid plan. The read-aloud telegraphs the solution. It’s too bad that Organized Play is in such a state that this needs to be done. EVERY encounter is an opportunity to not roll to hit but instead creatively solve the problem.

Shit, I lied. I will comment on the manor. The little ghost girl is friendly, but is directed to provide some scares. A general suggestion, with her dead pet goose, is given at the start, but I think many of the rooms would have been stronger with a suggestion of what she may do here. The ghost goose on the dining room table, and so on. Finally, this section has A LOT of callbacks to the seance earlier. This sort of “first you get a hint then you get to use the hint if youwere fucking paying attention” is something I wish more adventures would do. The seance is excellent, in part two, and part four is made much stronger through the use of callbacks. And some of those callbacks are VERY creepy. Puppet people are not uncommon in adventures, but the marionette’d village rin this one is very well done indeed.

This is a pretty decent adventure, and stellar by Adventurer’s League standards. With a little work, a strong edit and clean up, a little more focus, this could really be a top tier adventure.

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Dungeon Magazine #81

This is the last issue with 2E adventures in it. What fresh hell awaits us, gentle readers?

Here’s a letter from this issue:
“Recently there have two modules in which kenku NPC’s talk. According to the Monstrous Manual, kenku don’t speak by communicate with each other telepathically. Has there been a rule change that I am unaware of, or are we just throwing away the rules with ‘artistic license.’”
-Royce Williams, via email.

The response is not calling Royce a little bitch. Instead they offer a solution of gesturing and promise to catch such mistakes in the future. Were I editor I would have taken the opportunity to publicly shame ROyce, noting that his viewpoint is everything wrong with D&D, instead of pandering to him and enforcing the view that Royce’s viewpoint has any merit.

A Race Against Time
By Kent Ertman
Levels 1-3

What’s in the box? WHAT’S IN THE BOX! I want to not like this; I tend to not like convoluted set ups. I fail. In a city at random, the party gets a scroll delivered by winged snake. It has a scroll of seven riddles and a delayed blast fireball. You have three hours to find all seven additional fireballs before they explode. The clues are decent, there’s help in the form of the guard captain and 100 guards, and the various fireballs are hidden in fun ways. In the middle of coals in a forge, in the bottom of a privy and so on. There is sometimes a complication, like a group of angry brewers at the mayor’s office whose mob don’t want you cutting in front of their angry mobbing. There’s a little section at each end regarding who dies if the party doesn’t find that fireball. It all ends with a prison break, since the guards are dispersed. The text is not overly long or meandering … at least by Dungeon Magazine standards. It’s a little silly and full of chaos .. which is probably why I like it. I think, perhaps, a few more words on managing time and/or an abstracted system for managing it would have been order. It’s also generally well organized, although the city map could have been numbered in a better manner to make finding location easier.

Divisions of the Mind
By Charles C. Reed
Levels 8-12

Another one of those giant unwieldy Dungeon adventures. Fifty rooms, spread between some beholder tunnels and a floating illithid lair. Makes use of ideas from the Illithiad Supplement. The sixteen/seventeen room beholder part is essentially all hook, the beholder wanting to hire you to investigate the weird floating crystal castle he’s found. It’s full of anti-magic/anti-scrying stuff, which is never a pleasure to see. All of the encounters are full of lengthy text and overly described rooms. This is a textbook case of the unwieldy nature of large adventures that pay no attention to organization. “Next to the pots of stew are ceramic water jugs.” Well now, That’s an Adventure to remember!

The Doors to Darkness
By James Wyatt
Levels 1-3, 4-6, 7-9

Robe of Blending. Ring of Invisibility. Absurdly prepared villain. It tries, such as providing a (boring) summary of the NPC’s who work the inn the adventure takes places in. A few little things triggered in the rooms. Go in room one and trigger an event in room two. Make a noise and trigger a merchant screaming at you. All I could think of was one of those light gun games, like Crossbow. It’s not really long/large enough to breathe, and if it were then the set up (with the prepared villain) would be even more absurd. Inn of Lost Heroes this is not.

Ashtar’s Temple
By DeAnna Ferguson
Level 1

A thirty-five room abandoned temple that you’re hired to clean out … including the orc bandits who just moved in. It’s got a decent map for it’s two levels, interesting layout, nonlinear for the part. The orcs are summarized (boring, but summarized) on one page and their tactics/reactions on another, both plusses. The room descriptions note the history of the room and things which WERE instead of concentrating on things that ARE. If you accept the length of the room description then it’s not a bad dungeon/adventure with enough bits of variety to make things interesting after the initial orc assault. A little rough for 1st level though, I think.

By Felix Douglas
Levels 9-14

I’ve been accused before of having too tight a definition for “adventure”, and I’m sure I’ll get burned again on this one. This isn’t an adventure. It’s a locale in the underdark, a kind of “free village” or “free town” ruled by a couple of dragons and housing four or five factions of creatures in a loose alliance held together by the dragons. And some of those factions have another sub-faction, or at least something else interesting going on, in order to make them more interesting. Infiltration by doppleganger? Sure! Scheming drow? Sure! The setting is at its best when detailing those sorts of things, since they can lead to interesting outcomes and play, and at its worst when it is just describing More Things To Kill. As it stands it is neither an adventure or a Locale With Lots Going On. The concept is good, but it fails in its execution of Providing Shit/Motivations To Interact With. More NPC’s. Most goals and motivations for the NPC’s More weird stuff going on. more. More. MORE. This is what brings a locale, like a city, alive. Props for including a summary sheet with all the monster stats on it.

Skulking Below
By Darren Dane
Levels 1-2

Fucking god dammit! Sewers! Skulks and ghouls in the sewers. Lots of read-aloud, lots of DM’s text, not much interesting.

Posted in Dungeon Magazine, Reviews | 2 Comments