Megadungeon #1


By Courtney Campbell
Hack & Slash Publishing
5E & OSR

Come explore Numenhalla, the god halls. Learn about the altars and the logos, see the ettercop lair.

This is a 43 page periodical focused on megadungeons, with two two-page dungeon areas presented. Imagine is a megadungeon was broken up in to parts and serialized through a number of magazine issues. That’s what this is. You get a few sections/articles about how to run a megadungeon, a few more with some background/weird in THIS megadungeon, and then a couple of parts of the megadungeon proper. It’s less academic and more oriented towards play.

I’m being generous here, because I only review adventures. If I think of this as, say, Dwimmermount, broken up in to different issues, ala The Darkness Beneath, then I’m still reviewing an adventure. Plus, I like megadungeons and I’m a hypocrite.

Courtney has a conceit that the idea is based around: megadungeon are infinite. With this in mind the periodical thing makes more sense. He’s not publishing a dungeon but rather parts of the dungeon … and that could go on forever. This has the effect of the dungeon parts looking a little like they do in the 13th Age Eyes of the Stone Thief; little self-contained modules that stand in for the levels in a traditional megadungeon. It’s up to the DM to tie them together.

And that’s a theme. The advice sections are just advice, needing a DM to tie them together. We’re told, for example, that a plunge in to the megadungeon is to accomplish a task, get something or so on. But for the SPECIFIC megadungeon presented there’s none of that present. A table and/or article for a future issue, perhaps? These advice sections range from explaining how megadungeon play different, and what’s important about it, to how to run a megadungeon campaign in 5e. The advice here is pretty standard megadungeon advice, or, maybe I mean “new megadungeon advice.” It covers concepts like exploration and treasure extraction, resource constraints as a part of play, the weirdness and ambiguity in megadungeons and so on. Folks who have kept up with the OSR should recognize the ideas. Being oriented toward play, their are less academic article presentations and more brief summaries of the issues. There’s a place for both and I’d hope to an inclusion of the more academic type in the future.

There’s a small amount of specific information presented for this dungeon. A mythology article, one on the gods, one on their “altars” (which are a lot like ASE1.) This is good stuff, but it’s all essentially fluff. Actually, it’s a little better than fluff. The god descriptions are just the generic god stuff, but then hey have a little poem/myth snippet that is pretty good for reference during play, enhancing the mystery and ambiguity of a megadungeon.

There’s a bit of extra campaign content, like a new class (machine men, you have to go to town to get spare parts to heal!) and so on.

There are two megadungeon sections/levels provided. The first is an entrance hall area and the second an ettercop tree level. They share the same basic layout even with the entrance being a kind of traditional “top down” view and the ettercop level being arranged vertically around a tree. Both have around eight encounter areas. Both have the same basic layout of a map page, resembling an artistic rendering rather than a 10’ hex layout, and then a page of text using an uncommon description style. FInally, there’s a page of free text that may contain tables, etc. Let’s call it “the appendix data for the level on the previous page.” Column one has a room name and a short evocative description under it in italics. Column two has facts related to the rooms in column one, short punchy statements of mechanics, etc. It’s not exactly space efficient, but it does make it easy to find information.

The art/map is integral to the description. In the second dungeon room two says “the tree is 15’ away” … which is the only mention of a tree in the room description, either part. But the map/art clearly shows you are on a ledge with a big tree a short distance away. This sort of interplay between the map and description is a good thing, overloading the data on the map to provide more context.

But … there’s some hand waving. In the context of the periodical, and advice, it makes sense. “Use wandering monsters that make sense.” In the context of helping a DM at the table … well, not so well. The wandering monster table would be better fixed to the DM screen or appearing on the maps. (Hmmm, a new magazine feature? “Print this and attach it to your screen.”) Plus, a little table of actual wanderers for the level would be trivial to include, enhancing usability.

The content is spot on. A black doorway that kills all who touch it … you have to be dead to pass through. A spider queen you can talk to. People being sacrificed to said spiders who are happy to talk about their willing religion/sacrifice. And some silly stuff, like anthropomorphic ants that pretend to be spiders with community theater costumes.

This is a serviceable product. I think I would have prefered a more academic approach to the advice and still more actual dungeon content. The ettercop dungeon, in particular, is a memorable level while the entry hall is full of mystery and implied danger … exactly what an entry should be.

This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview shows you the table of contents (disguised as a dungeon map) and one page of intro text. A sample dungeon map/text would have been a better representation, as well as perhaps one page of an advice column. That would give you a better understanding of what you are purchasing.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/227977/Megadungeon-1

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The Shrine of Sirona


By Jeremy Reaban
Self Published
1E
Levels 5-7

Twenty years ago, the Shrine of Sirona was attacked by evil creatures. Now it’s time for you to take it back!

This is a six page adventure in a small symmetrical ten room dungeon. The dungeon fits on two pages, plus an additional one for the map, so the writing is tight. Essentially a hack, there are hints of better things in Jeremy’s head, both in content and style. I’d like to see those better things.

There’s a half page of introduction before the keyed encounters start so there’s not much to comment on in the background. It’s short to the point of being almost non-existent. It’s just the bare basics. On top of a mountain is a shrine. It was overrun by evil creatures. There are five hooks, all presented in one sentence. Stumble on it, hired by a cleric, hired by the parents of a captive, a town was raided. It’s just ideas. This is straightforward and direct DM text. It doesn’t drone on with generic detail. It knows what it wants to do and does it. It’s not presenting a plot it is instead presenting a location and keeps the non-essential information to a minimum.

The first room has a good progression of text. “In the center of the room is a large fountain with brackish water. Upon closer inspection, there are two large blackish lumps in the water. After a minute or so in the room, two large forms emerge from the water and attack. They are undead, re-animated zombie bears set to guard the shrine from any good beings.” What does the party see first? A large fountain with brackish water. What do they see if they look closer? Two large blackish lumps. What happens in the room? The figures come out and attack. It’s a good progression of text. Giving the DM the information they need in the order they will need it. It seems simple … and it’s surprising how many adventures can’t do it. I could quibble with parts of it. “Large” is a boring word. “Upon closer inspection” is an “if/then” statement that almost always just pads text out.

There are bits and pieces of specific detail that Jeremy describes that adds a lot to the adventure. There’s a hag who’s raising a girl to eat on her 18th birthday. You can find some crude invitations to the party. That’s pretty sweet! Likewise there’s a curse that gets just a few words more. Most curses are just mechanical bullshit. But this one is “a terminal respiratory disease.” That’s exactly the kind of specificity that adds so much to an adventure. Three extra words. That’s it. That’s all it takes. And in most cases they could replace the bullshit mechanics text that most adventures rely on, paragraph after paragraph, over-explaining and filling all loopholes in. But here? It’s just “terminal respiratory disease.” That is EXACTLY enough information. One might say the minimum, and two more words could spice it up even more, but just this opens up the imagination. Guess who’s hacking up black and blood colored phlegm! That’s right! You!

But … there’s just not much going on here. It is, as the designer readily admits, just a hack. There’s a nice little bit with a potentially friendly mimic, and a Helsinki Syndrome waif, both of which add a lot to the adventure. The rest, though, is essentially just a hack. Room 3, the Wyverns lair, doesn’t even get a description, just monster stats. And the big alter room makes no mention of the ogres and naga whose stats are in it, except for tactics. Jeremy also notes that killing Ms Helsinki, as well as taking the treasure in the same room, is an evil act. I don’t know about this … a heads up that it may be an evil act? I can get behind that but the shift to This IS an evil act starts to set off my “enforced morality” alarm … which I admit is a little overly sensitive. I could nitpick the language a bit; One rooms descriptions starts with “This room appears to be bare except for … “ NO! No! No! No! No “appears to be” is allowed! This is just padding. ”The room is bare except for …”

This is a cut above a minimal keyed adventure, but is still just a hack with book monsters and book treasures. A little more work on it would have really bounced this up a lot. Spice up the magic items, the room descriptions/monsters a bit. It wouldn’t take much and the adventure would be quite a bit better. Given the good stuff that IS present I’m confident it would have been done.

This is PWYW on DriveThru with a suggested price of $.50. The preview shows you all ten rooms as well as the intro. Check out room five for the great birthday party or room one for the text progression.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/141251/HS1-The-Lost-Shrine-of-Sirona?

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Don’t Follow the Lights

By Joel Logan
A Hole in the Ground Terrain & Games
5e
Levels 3-4

Many of the children of the village of Quiet Acres have been going missing for the past few years. Though their crops and livestock are doing better than ever they cannot explain or fgure out what has happened to so many of their children. The few villagers who have been courageous enough to go into the Dark Forest to search for their loved ones never return. The villagers and farmers in the region are scared to leave their homes at night and many have seen strange glowing orbs oating through the air all throughout the region.

This eighteen page adventure, with six pages of actual adventure, has the party following some child-voiced glowing lights to avenge their deaths by an evil hag. An interesting premise, but three combats, one of the worst cases of telegraphing & abstraction I have seen, and, ultimately, the simplicity make this hard to love.

But first, what the fuck man?! Was October National Baby Eating month? This is the third baby eating adventure I’ve reviewed in as many weeks, I think. I like seasonal activities; I’m kind of disappointed I missed the festivities …

Man this thing is bad. Or maybe it’s a work of genius. What if you had the shittiest most misplaced design goals of all time but then PERFECTLY implemented your plan? This thing is a perfect implementation of the shitty path 5e adventures are/were on. Shitty long read-aloud. Abstracted text. Useless DM notes. Leading the party around by the nose and COMPLETELY telegraphing what they need to do. It just blows chunks, doing a perfect job writing for a DM with a second grade education and players with a first grade education. And yet …

A hag living nearby, pretending to be a wise woman, working her evil but being kind of benign also, is a great idea. The little glowing orbs of light as the souls of children is a great idea. There are bits and pieces of good text. Here’s a little snippet from an evil alter in the swamp: “The shrine is located on a small rise of land within the center of the swamp. It is surrounded by ancient black and gnarled evil looking hardwoods. In the center is a sacrificial altar surrounded by tall stones with abyssal glyphs carved into them.” That’s not a terrible little bit of writing. There’s a Dagger of Blood magic item, predating the invention of metalworking, glowing red when covered in blood. That’s pretty sweet! Perfect little spiffing up of a generic +1 dagger to make it something the party will want to hang on to long after it becomes mechanically overshadowed. There’s another little scene where the hag is confronted, after the party is led there by the lights. Making the hag overpowered and making the little lights turn in to ghost children who suicide their souls to take revenge on the hag would have been a nice little thing. You could have even tied it mechanically to something the players control, making them choose between defeating the hag and destroying little souls. Great little bits in this adventure.

But FUCK ME THIS THING SUX! Mountains and mountains of read aloud. And it has got to be close to the worst read aloud I’ve ever seen. It telegraphs, saying things like “You should go over there and do THAT.” It fucking abstracts to a level of cRaZy! Here’s a little bit: “You reach the edge of the forest and see a large swamp before you. The blue orb carefully helps you walk a treacherous trail deep into this miserable place. The blue orb reaches a point where it says it can go no further and tells you to destroy the place of evil.” Hey! Dishit! That’s the fucking adventure you just abstracted. You don’t even get a “Please destroy it! It pains us!”, instead getting “it tells you to destroy the place.” Fuck me man. And that’s not an isolated incident. “The orbs bring you to many ghostly visages …” Thats the fucking adventure dishit! You ever hear something about the relationship of the journey to the destination? No? You grew up on 4e and Adventurers League/RPGA adventure? I weep for the fucking future.

And then there’s the exciting DM notes! “The manticore is intrigued and excited about combat with the players. It has been a long time since he has fought a worthy opponent.” This adds nothing to the adventure. And this shit happens over and over again.

I don’t know what to say about this. It feels like it’s got a good idea and then goes about implementing it in the shittiest way possible. This isn’t the usual sort of dreck I review. It’s actually got an idea but it’s like the designer doesn’t know to wrap it in anything but the shitty 5e/4e/AL/RPGA formatting style. Hard work in learning how to present ideas would results in a great deal of improvement.

This is $1 at DriveThru. The preview doesn’t really show you anything other than the table of contents … which makes it a pretty piss poor preview.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/226071/Off-the-Beaten-Path-Vol-I-Dont-Follow-The-Lights

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RPGPundit Present #5 – The Child Eaters


By RPGpundit
Precis Intermedia
Dark Albion

Meh.

This eleven page “adventure” details a witch cult in a small village. It’s more of an outline, as if you were describing an adventure idea to a friend over a beer. There’s a Spanish version available.

A witch comes to a village posing as the Mother figure of the three-fold pagan goddess, setting up shop in an old grotto under the church. She recruits a Maiden and a Crone from the village head-family. Crops start to crow well and the villagers feel invigorated as they all convert to the pagan worship. A nearby village has formed a bandit gang and suspect something evil is up, as their babies go missing around the new moon. The local lord supports the cult villagers, unless brought incontrovertible proof. One more new moon feast and a dark beast will be summoned and the cult will move on the surrounding lands.

That’s the adventure. It really just outlines about eight NPC’s, the general village demeanor (they are pagans now and don’t know about the evilness of the cult) and the endgame.

It’s an interesting enough outline, but I don’t think it’s an adventure. I know, I know. “Bryce has taxonomy.” “WTF is your taxonomy Bryce?” “Why isn’t Scenic Innsmouth an adventure Bryce?” Look, I don’t think this is an adventure. WHat makes an adventure? I don’t know. But this ain’t it. Innsmouth wasn’t an adventure, it was a town description. Not an urban adventure, a town. This isn’t an adventure. It’s an adventure outline, or maybe an adventure idea, at best. It represents the bare minimum of an idea communicated to someone. It needs fleshed out. It reminds me of those “50 adventure idea” products that used to be (still are?) popular.

A little more about the village. A little more about the surrounding lands. A little more about the neighboring villages. A little more about subplots in the village. This entire thing needs a little more to hang your hat on.

This is $2 on DriveThru. The preview just shows you the formatting and is too small to see the text.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/225294/RPGPundit-Presents-5-The-Child-Eaters

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Mysteries in Mannath


By Thom Wilson
ThrowiGames
S&W
Levels 1-2

The small village of Mannath is faced with several different issues, but lacks the resources to solve them properly. The mayor of the small hamlet, Hans Kildor, is eagerly seeking outside help and will immediately ask any visitors for assistance the moment they arrive.

This 56 page adventure details a small town and nine short adventures in and around it. A few nice magic items and an attempt to make the area feel alive don’t save it from the expanded upon trivia that obfuscates the adventures proper. This feels unexamined, or, maybe, a first draft.

People have gone missing from the village, including, very recently, the mayor’s daughter. The town well has gone dry and people blame a nearby wise woman. The watchtower almost certainly has the body of the last guard in it, but seems haunted now. Then a farmer shows up saying he’s got a giant hole in his field. In to this environment our party is thrust, with the outcomes of those initial offerings leading to others. There are two major plot lines going on with a couple of other isolated “adventures” tossed in also. The idea, I think, is to have a little area that seems alive and you can sink your teeth into, both as DM and player. Hobo’s no more! Well, at least until level 3 …

I don’t think, though, that the text works well for its intended purpose. It’s supposed to have a high degree of connectivity but it comes across disconnected and isolated. There’s NOT that feeling of a living breathing place. The town has a long description, maybe ten pages worth. The vast majority of the text is just generic town data. Bob has a wife named Mary. The inn charges normal prices. Eds farms produced wheat, barley and common vegetables and fruit as well as a few varieties of grape.

That’s not useful information.

This is part of a problem I like to refer to as The Bedroom Problem, or sometimes The Kitchen Problem. Writers will put a bedroom in an adventure and then spend long paragraphs describing it to us. It has a bed. The bed has a mattress and a box spring. There’s a desk. The desk is made of wood. It has three drawers. There is a mirror in the corner. And on and on. Likewise the kitchen description will focus on the common elements of a kitchen. We don’t need that. It contributes NOTHING to the adventure. We all know what is in a kitchen, or bedroom, or torture chamber, or guard room, or inn. What we need to know is what is special about THIS place. What is the relevance to the adventure and/or interactivity with the party? I rail about history and backstory in adventures and room descriptions so much for this very reason. If it’s not likely to come up and be relevant during play then why the fuck are you diverting the DM’s attention away from what IS relevant and contributes to play? Look, I’m not unreasonable. If you want to say that “the farmer’s wife is in love with the innkeeper and visits him every night” then have at it. It adds a little color to the village, and her nocturnal visits can be used as blackmail and/or a red herring. But it needs to be pretty close to what I wrote above and not three paragraphs worth of their fucking backstory. You can put your Beren and Luthien love poem in the fucking appendix if you have to.

And that’s what this adventure does, both in the town and in the “adventures.” It fills the text with trivia and distracts from the actually interesting bits. This village has a “slum” section, with three buildings used for migrant labor, not inhabited year round, which is causing tensions. That’s great! Perfect chaos that can appear during play! But even then it gets glossed over too much, with the witches visits to the slums, and differing village viewpoints glossed over in a manner not very conducive to contributing to play easily.

It does try to make things easier for the DM. There’s a table of the adventures and how they are related to each other. The rumors are easy to find, the local bandits have a timeline for their kidnapping activity. An NPC summary sheet for the town would have been quite useful, with names, locations, and personalities/subplots, as would a better method of describing the bandits day/night locations in their lair. But even then, Things Fall Apart. The text refers to the “adventure relations” table multiple times as the order to be run in, but it’s not obvious at all. And it needs to be, because …

Man, the difficulty is all over the place. The hole in the farmer’s field is from giants ants. 3HD giants ants. And there are encounters in which you meet five of them at once. S&W is low-power, right? I’m not a balance nut, at all, but this seems like things are being pushed a little. Likewise the ghost tower has an actual undead that you need magic weapons to hit … at first level. This this is clearly a conversion from another system (the text says so up front, in fact) and it looks like it. Treasure can be quite light and encounter fights can be quite tough. There ARE a couple of nice little non-standard items, like a cap that prevents you from falling asleep and some crossbow bolts that can’t break (oh boy, could I ever abuse that …) but it doesn’t really help the gold=xp situation at all. The ghost is worth 1000xp .. good luck with that.

Speaking of the encounters … four of them are less than 50 feet in to the forest that is on the west side of the village. An ogre, bandits, a witch, and a burial mound. But the villagers don’t go over there for fear of “disease.” Maybe this village deserves to get what they are earning …

I like the concept of this. I like the attempts to make the village come alive and present interlinking adventures and other little tasks that are not clearing out sewers or old lady attics. I just can’t say this succeeds at what is trying to do. It doesn’t present the information lor resources to the DM that they need in order to fulfill the vision. Less concentration on trivia and more focus on the ACTIONABLE parts of the adventure would have solved this. Less really IS more.

This is $2.50 at DriveThru. There’s no preview. Bad designer! Back to gong farmer with you!
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/225069/Mysteries-in-Mannath

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(53) 5th Edition Funnel


By Ken Sturgis
Ten Red Crows Place
5e
0-Level

Trouble at the door. Something in town is dangerously wrong, and there is no one to bail you out. The grave quest falls to you and your friends. You are under-equipped, under-prepared, and in all likelihood, you are not coming back. There is a second of hesitation but then you grab your gear and head out the door. Adventurers are made, not born.

This is a 22 page adventure, about fifteen of which are zero-level character creation rules for fifth edition and the last six or so being a small “adventure” for a bunch of zero-levels. The zero-level rules are pretty much a clone of the DCC rules. The adventure is simple and overly non-specific.

I’ll cover the zero-level rules briefly: they are pretty close to the DCC rules, including a profession, starting gear, and multiple characters per player. It does go over the advantages of zero-level play, the idea that you form your character through play instead of “by build.” Truer words are hard to find. There’s a small section as well on raising your zero’s to level one. If you want zero-level & funnel rules, and don’t have DCC, then this does a decent job of providing the basics in a terse format.

The adventure, proper, is just the usual dreck. Bandits are burning the grain storage. And then while on your way to the evil lords manor, you encounter some kobolds. At the manor you can sneak in or knock on the front door. Both probably lead to one or two fights in the manor.

The major issue I have is with the abstraction. The guys burning the grainery are bandits. But they aren’t. They are lords men, and have been cowing the town for awhile. 5e has monsters called “bandits” and it’s not unusual for an adventure to say something like “for the kingsguard, use the stats for bandit.” Fine, no problem, but in this adventure the use of bandit if reinforced over and over in the text to the point where the original intent of the dudes, a kind of “the lord mayors guards” is lost. Further abstraction comes in the form of “one of the carries a small token of the lord’s authority” thereby indicating they operate on his behalf. What’s the point of saying “a small token …” ? How about a scroll ordering them to do it that ends with “HAIL TIAMAT!”, or the head of the village headman, or something else? Why abstract it “some token …” instead of just adding color by saying what it is? This is an EXCELLENT example of how man adventures generalize and abstract and thereby, through the lack of specificity, lose the ability to inspire the DM. This happens over and over again. “A black book that discusses evil artifacts.” and “an evil goblet.” Ug! Name them! Tobin’s Spirit Guide! Something else, anything else! “The black goblet of St Bart the Heathen Betrayer.” See, now it’s fun! Be specific! The final rub is probably the fact that the party members could “fall under the influence of the goblet”, which is TOTALLY not specified. Look, I don’t need a page, but a couple of sentences on this would be great. They get a taste for blood, or something. ANYTHING. The entire adventure is like this.
Finally, the adventure has read-aloud and that text is … weird. It seems more formatted to “visiting heroes” then it is the ad-hoc mob of locals that is implied in the text. This happens over and over again in the read-aloud.

It DOES provide for sneaking past a wilderness encounter, and even sneaking in to the lord manor, both of which are good design decisions. It’s still boring and abstracted, but at least its not exactly a railroad.

This just doesn’t work for me. The DCC zero-level stuff has your mob of morons usually going after something larger than life. The cosmic nature of it tends to add an air to the adventure and a great vibe. This, the mundanity of it, just seems … I don’t know. Boring.

This is PWYW at DriveThru, with a suggested price of $5. The preview is a 22-page flip-book, too small to read. Unlucky. 🙁
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/186076/Fifth-Edition-Funnel

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The Bloodsoaked Boudoir of Velkis the Vile


By Nick Whelan
Self Published
LotFP
“Low levels”

A brief and bloody 9-page module detailing Velkis, whose voice can never be ignored, and the 5 chambers of his subterranean boudoir.

This adventure describes the small and creepy lair of a … well, I don’t know. Let’s say it describes the small “home” of an NPC. Could be an NPC. Could be a bad guy. He’s an interesting fellow with a creepy home. Maybe you could use him as an NPC that turns in to a villain, or a villain that turns in to an NPC? You’ve got options. It’s VERY flavorful but is, perhaps a bit long for what it is: an NPC and a five rooms.

I keep playing the Trogdar lyrics in my head. Velkis the Vile is a man. I mean a undead man. I mean a demon man. I mean an evil wizard man. I mean … well. He’s a mystery … and that’s a good thing. NOT putting ah ard label on something, or describing it fully, or explaining the whys and hows of everything leaves room for mystery and that’s a powerful technique. The DM’s own imagination then run rampant and fills in the details. People call him “the undead man.” RUmors says he’s a demon or an evil wizard. All we know is that he’s tall, gaunt, sunken features and eyes that bulge. The entire description of him, from physical appearance to his speech patterns and topics is great and gives you an IMMEDIATE vibe of how to play him. It’s sticky; once read you won’t need to refer to it again. He’s absent minded and in the “doddering nutso” category of insanity. He also has non standard powers, which LUV in. Spells are for PC’s. NPC’s can do ANYTHING. It’s so much more flavorful! Basically, you are compelled to do what he says, a kind of continual suggestion spell. And every time you kill him he comes back, a little weaker at first, being regrown in one of the chambers in his lair.

His creepy lair. It’s a trap door at the bottom of a shallow grave. The entire entrance is wonderfully described and very evocative. That leads to a short little lair of five rooms. One has a dead tree that has withered apples growing on it. Around the tree are bodies mixed in to the roots. Or a room with bodies, hanging by their feet, blood draining in to a pool in the “office” of Velkis. Or a statue covered with a powder with jewels underneath. That last one is a GREAT example of a classic D&D issue. You know there’s treasure. You know fucking with it to get it will be a BAD idea. Pushing your luck and coming up with off beat solutions are some of the best D&D moments there are. The rooms have a lot of interactivity and are nicely evocative to give a creepy feel.

And yet … let us not forget that unlike other blogs we actually have high standards on tenfootpole. Let’s talk “area 3”, IE: 1/5th of the adventure. Spanning almost an entire page it describes a torture chamber. The issue with this room is the interactivity, or lack there of. It describes a room with branding irons, mini guillotines, the entire mechanism for an automated one, a wooden horse (thankfully no description provided.) This is all in addition to the general room description and the specific portions that deal with the interactive element in the room: a guy locked in an iron maiden. The torture chamber description, and elements thereof, come off as a laundry list of room items present and then further detailed on how at least one was used. These elements add nothing to the room and are trivia, as if you described the contents of a fridge in describing a typical american kitchen. Thanks. We know what’s in a torture chamber. This room really stands out as being out place in the adventure. The rest of the rooms feel very original and interactive and focused on the interactivity and the evocative nature of them.

It’s described as a horror/comedy adventure. I would instead classify it as a classic D&D NPC. Calling it an adventure may be going too far. Sure, it could be used that way, but I think it works much better as an oracle, or guy who makes potions, or some weird resource like that, something that the party will interact with time and again, perhaps until he turns in to a villain. It doesn’t feel like an adventure. It feels like a location in a larger adventure. A place to go to accomplish something. The name here is a bit off putting, implying a comedy adventure where there isn’t one.

This is free at DriveThru. The preview shows the entire adventure.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/148398/The-Bloodsoaked-Boudoir-of-Velkis-the-Vile

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Floaters in the Mozz Caves


By … ???
Unbalanced Dice Games
Labyrinth Lord
“Low Levels”

The Blimpkith have taken over the Orc’s caves. There’s no denying the Elves aren’t doing so well either. The party, maybe on their first adventure, are walking around looking for the old Labyrinth Lord. Something floats in front of them… was that him? Let’s see what’s in the cave. What are those, Leprechauns? They don’t seem right… too fat. Blimpkith, haven’t ever seen one of those…

Oh Unbalanced Dice, always there for me when I need a pick me up! This opium pipe adventure is a twenty two page exploration of a cave. An orc cave, under assault by elves, has been taken over by other creatures. It’s got that Unbalanced edge of unrivaled creativity. It runs right up the line of parody/joke adventures but never crosses it. It also feels like the adventures are getting longer, with longer rooms and introductions and that is making things harder to understand a pick out of the text during play. Not cool. The lack of organization and formatting to ease the burden, along with the more almost-over-the-line creatures makes this a pass to run … but better than 99.9% of the fantasy novels ever published by WOTC/TSR.

Let’s cover that creativity first. The bad guys are a breed of leprechaun with a big balloon belly and little arms and legs that float around and shoot at you with suction cup arrows. Sometimes they turn themselves in to two-dimensional colored circles and are used as weapons by other blimpkith. They can, of course, turn party members in to the same sort of floater. One room has a pirate-headed doll that you can unscrew and get some dust of disappearance. The orcs have an anti-blimpkith weapon that looks like a blimpkith turned in to a bagpipe with a gas bag on their ass. There’s a giant turkey. More than one, actually. There’s a scene out of a John Carpenter movie with the head of the orc leader, still alive, hanging from a ceiling. And his body in another room with a chicken head on it. And yet, remember, I don’t think think this is a parody/comedy adventure. It’s written straight.

The text, however, is rough. All of that off-kilter fun is hidden behind and buried in too much text. The Bored Chef room is an entire page long. A paragraph for the chef, a long one for the stove, plates and knives. Another one for how the chef acts. One for what happens if the party eats the food. One for what happens if the party attacks. One for what happens when he gets help. These page long rooms are not infrequent. The main room with the Blimpkith chief is over a page long and nigh incoherent with scantily clad “elf ladies” appearing and disappearing. The creatures themselves get over a page and half to describe all of their abilities, buried in conversational paragraphs. It’s VERY difficult to find things. Bolding, underlining, indents, etc could have all been used to make the information stand out more.

In contrast to this, the information delivery in the shorter rooms are laid out VERY well. “7 dead Blimpkith are floating around the area. An 8th is resting on the ground. Upon inspection it reveals the 8th is a Blimpkith Boomer with 10 charges left!” That’s pretty a pretty damn good progression of a description, from general to specific. Or this one: “A couple of unarmed Blimpkith are playing with the headless body of an Orc. They have made a chicken’s head as big as an Orc’s head and are trying to attach it. The body spasms and they laugh and giggle. The chicken head cackles and spits.” Again, near perfect if you are running that room. You know what to do, and in what order. DId I mention the room with the killer moss that has a pair of elf feet sticking out, wicked witch style? The rooms with more text tend to follow this style also, leading the DM along in a manner that invites the DM to expand the scene … there’s no way to pick things out in the longer rooms.

I encourage you look at the cover photo, it describes the adventure well. A word of advice: don’t run out and buy all of the Unbalanced adventures. Parcel them out. Savour the availability. One day they will all be gone. This isn’t a good Unbalanced adventure to start your journey though. The problems with the text are too many too overcome, particularly with it edging very close to the “too silly” line. But man, the ideas in this are unconventional.

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview doesn’t show you anything useful.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/226308/Floaters-In-The-Mozz-Caves-A-Labyrinth-Lord-Adventure?

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(5e) Death in Greenshade


By Ade Smith
Fainting Goat Games
5e
Level 2

A curse has fallen upon the village of Greenshade and strange things are happening. A decades old secret is about to be revealed, bringing death to the quiet streets.

This is an eight page adventure with a couple of linear encounters. IE: “scene based.” Epitomizing the shovelware problem in RPG adventures, this has no free will and little to recommend it.

While visiting a village you hear a commotion, only to find a dead man who has clearly been attacked by some animal. Three men take off into the forest to chase it. The village is then attacked by some mephits. Following the trail of the woodsmen, you have a couple of more encounters with: ravens, an awakened tree, a boar and an undead druid spirit. Adventure over! Four scenes. That’s it. And encounter is being generous; this is a 1e level of encounters. There’s a body in a tree and the trees are awakened! Or there is a dead body and there’s a swarm of crows! This could be creepy, if they were not presented so matter of factly. More attention to an evocative encounter could have built on these strong themes and delivered something better.

The adventure has one bright point: the ghostly druid keeps coming back until he gets his revenge, which means killing, or an apology from, a village elder who killed the ghost in question. Convincing the elder is a DC check, but … if you fail … he resists going to the ghost druid to apologize, being convinced he’s in the right. The villagers back him. What to do? Drag him off anyway? The villagers resist! Not quite orc babies, but getting close … in reality I suspect most murder hobos would just say “fine, you can all suffer and die. Enjoy the next three days” and move on.

I want to talk about the s”solution” some also. Ghost druid can’t be permanently killed, he keeps coming back night after night until appeased. Which means killing the heirs of the people who wronged him, getting them to apologize, or casting a Hallow spell on the area. There’s an explicit solution. This rubs me a bit wrong. What’s the purpose of the Bless spell? Is it to give you a bonus? What about Blessing things? Does that work to re-holy altars and solve other small issues? This more expansive view of the spell list, and the players actions, is one of the reasons a DM exists. They get to judge if the players actions are enough to lay the spirit to rest. Forcing the DM down a path (Yes, I know the DM can ignore it, it’s the principal) is less than helpful. Advice and guidance are both appropriate, like “tearing down his temple just infuriates him, since desecration is a big theme for him)”, but constraining the DM, and the party through too explicit advice makes it feel like a little Quest icon above the guys head, instead of the more expansive play opportunities that a DM can provide.

These adventures, the ones that feature “a couple of linear encounters”, are a plague upon the market.

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages long and shows you the entire adventure. The second page, numbered “3”, shows you the second scene with “second fallen” and /”third fallen.” Note first how they are just combats and then second how they have some potential for an evocative scene, with swarms of ravens gathering and bodies in creepy trees.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/226257/Goatlands-GL-2-Death-in-Greenshade

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A Little bit of Thievery


By Ken Sturgis
Ten Red Crows Press
5e/Any
Level 1

The players are contracted to steal a magic item at a noble’s fancy party, and are forced to abandon their weapons and rely on their wits to survive. Mayhem required and violence (mostly) optional. Success might bring the ire of an elite with a panache for vengeance and money to burn. Beats killing giant rats in the safety of a basement for a few silver pieces, right?

“A larceny based adventure for morally ambiguous level one characters”, sez the byline. Sign me up! This is a 5e adventure, but it’s being marketed as easy to convert. It’s lightly stat’d, with a few DC checks. There’s probably enough treasure/xp, if the party does some looting, for a gold=xp game.

This is a ten page adventure in which the party try to steal a treasure from a guys house during a party. It is NOT a total disaster. It has some good ideas around focusing the adventure information on the task at hand, the heist, but could use more specifics to ground it for the DM. As written it comes off as Just Another Shitty Little Adventure, when in fact I think that’s a mischaracterization.

This is meant to be a social type adventure, not a hack fest. It notes that the best path forward is casing the place, asking around, subtly, etc, and that starting fights will cause the characters to get in trouble quite fast. The players are contacted by “The Spider”, an underworld figure, to steal a rare objects when the local lord holds another of his “I am the richest man in the vale” party. Let’s pay attention to that, The Richest Man in the Vale party. That tells us a lot It tells us a lot about the lord and about The Spider. That’s the kind of specifics that a DM can hang their hat on. Its detail without wordiness. That is EXACTLY what I’m looking for when I talk about evocative and colorful specifics. Not wordiness “I’m the richest man in the vale party.” I had issues with “The Spider”, thinking it was lame, but the picture provided brings the dude to life, with tufts of hair and long fingers. It’s a good example of art bringing the adventure ot life instead of just being filler.

The adventure does a couple of other things right also. There are three main NPC’s described, for the party, and all of their descriptions are (relatively) short and focused on the action at hand. Pompous and plump lord, quick to anger, intelligent and cunning. The guard captain who drinks to fight his ennui. Good solid stuff. Could be a bit terser and punchier, but still good and don’t overstay their welcome.

There’s also a bit of … telegraphing? Or perhaps “facilitation of fun” that occurs. The treasure us on display but guarded. Watching the guard reveals him longingly looking at the drink trays … turns out he’s an alchi. There’s also a despondent noble in the garden who keeps eyeing the hemlock. In both of these case there’s some fun to be had and the adventure helps facilitate that with the party. If the goal of the adventure is to secretly paint the hose black then the adventure needs to focus on painting supplies, paint, and secrecy. ANd that’s what this does: it provides opportunities.

Likewise the mechanics for the infiltration of the party are decent. The first time the characters caught where they should not be they are asked to move on. The second time it’s a small DC check. The third time they are removed. It’s not just pass/fail, but leads to move adventure, quick talking, roleplay, and an escalation of effects. There’s also a small little section on Small Talk, what happens if the party avoids it, and suggestions for how to make, with specific conversation starters for the NPC’s. These are good, and, again, shows the value of specifics in the adventure. The designer is writing for the DM, to make their lives easier. You don’t do that by listing all of the contents of a room but by anticipating the needs ot DM and focusing your efforts in those areas. Pre-heist, there are some rumors to find out in town, as well as consequences; careless characters will find that the local lord knows someone has been asking questions about him … more opportunities for difficulties during the adventure. And speaking of, there’s a nice little section on difficulties for the characters AFTER the adventure, based on the consequences of their actions during the adventure. Nice integration there.

But … there’s clumsiness here which, I think, reveals a lack of familiarity with social adventures. Or, maybe, a life in which the only adventures seen are “three encounters and a boss” kind of shit fests. Judged on that scale this is a masterpiece. But, it’s lacking in areas that would make it more well rounded.

For example, there are no party guests of note. This adventure SCREAMS for a small table of 15 guests each with a few words/a sentence of personality in order to spice up the party portion. And, of course, the subplots that go along with the servants, party guests, and family … none of which is present. As written it seems like one of those mostly generic 5e/PF affairs; the extra content, a half page, would have done wonders to bring the place to life.

I’m not overly fond of the descriptions either. The read-aloud is the usual atrocious stuff (although short) that communicates nothing. There’s a “mean guard.” Mean is a conclusion; better adjectives and adverbs would help cement an evocative environment. The outside, waiting to get in, is a good example of this. There’s a line to check in, but the entire thing is written as boring as possible. It comes off as a sparsely populated party. Think, instead of the introduction we get to Gatsby in that latest movie … that’s a “I’m the richest man in the vale” party! Or think of the bustle and hustle and excitement in the air in ANY of those Jane Austen movie balls. None of that comes across or is intimated in any meaningful way. .

The entire thing is written in room/key format. That’s TERRIBLE for an adventure like this. The small talk rules are mixed in to one of the room keys. The “caught where you should not be” rules are mixed in to the outside guard post. Those things deserve their own separate sections, with a minimal key for the actual rooms. The map, while noting guards on it, doesn’t have a key (what’s the “m” on the map mean?) And the map is SCREAMING for more information, like showing patrol patterns, or some such. And, drawn as a normal 2d/flat map you don’t get a sense of the roofs, windows, and the like which is critical for an adventure involving a heist.

Those issues are, however, somewhat mitigated by the short length. It IS easy to find things because there’s not a lot of excessive bullshit to clog things up.

This is a serviceable adventure and it much easier to run, with more potential, than the vast majority of the dreck I review. I think the designer has some potential. This adventure, proper? Well … the core is solid but there’s not enough going on at the “party” to get me interested.

This is Pay What you Want at DriveThru, with a suggested price of $3. The eleven 5-star reviews seem excessive, but, it is DriveThru. 🙂 The preview shows you the entire adventure. That great pic “The Spider” is on the third page. You can’t miss it. 🙂
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/145152/A-Little-Bit-of-Thievery

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