Broodmother Skyfortress

By Jeff Rients

Jeff Rients is fucking crazy. And I mean that as a compliment.

This is a 173 page digest book on how to DM a great game … with an adventure included and used as an example. The first 95 or so pages are the “how to with adventure” with the rest of the book being “a best-of from Jeff’s Gameblog.” The entire booklet is in the same conversational voice Jeff uses in his blog, making this a low-density affair in terms of traditional content . If you’re buying this for the adventure then you’re making a mistake. If you’re buying this for advice from Jeff on how to design and run an adventure then you’re buying it for the right reason. It’s packed full of great advice and chock full of alternatives and ideas. What you are NOT getting is a dungeon taking up 173 pages in traditional room/key format. The nominal pretext is atha a big sky castle is raiding villages. Or, as Jeff says “What would happen is a bunch of giants showed up here and wrecked the place?”

Let’s cover the second half of the book first. It is, true to word, a best-of from his blog. This includes carousing, motivations for jackass players who can’t figure out why to go on an adventure, dungeon dressing between forays in to it, his famous 20 questions, and a variety of essays on morale, XP for exploration, and a variety of house rules for his own D&D-Mine. Jeff’s blog is insightful and his approach to D&D is pure joy. That comes through in his essays & writings in this section. It generally advocates a less “Holy Writ” approach to D&D. Monkey with the rules. Monkey A LOT with the game world. It’s all a kind of big old lego set that you can break apart, rearrange, destroy, and build upon in a free-wheeling fashion. The style of D&D is describing is one close to my heart and that I aspire to. It looks like all of the included material is essentially the same as is on his blog, but collected. You’ll four or five of them a repeat of Miscellaneum of Cinder … one of the three reference books I keep handy at the table. Is there were ever an OSR “Dungeon Master’s Guide” then Rients columns should be a required part of it. The advice is invaluable. He does tend toward the silly side of D&D, but not so much so that it becomes cartoony (in spite of the cartoon art style in Broodmother.) D&D works best, I think, with some moderate pretext of seriousness that devolves in to archtype NPC’s, crazy plans, and weird stupid magic items (and their exploitation.) Traditional Gamma World games usually work out this way as well. And both do NOT work when you TRY to be silly … 4e Gamma World I’m looking at you. Anyway, Jeff is encouraging to get really close to the line, take a load off, and have fun. The line for SIlly will be different for everyone but he doesn’t cross it. What he does do is promote AWESOME.

As for the adventure, well … let me cover the monster section of the adventure in detail. From that you can extrapolate to get an idea of what the rest of the adventure is like. Generically, the monsters get some OSR stats. For example, the primary villains, the giants, get a set of OSR style stats. (There are also some Pathfinder style stats later on in the book that look like one would expect for Pathfinder.) These are pretty normal. AC:17, HP: 10d8, Mv: 120, +10 hit, Morale 10, Save as 10th level fighter, hit things for 4d6 and throw boulder for 3d6. Jeff labels this “Boring Generic Fantasy Roleplaying Game stats.” He then Jeff’s it up. Fuck your rules. Generic stats are boring. Let’s wreck the players expectations and put the fear of the gods in to the party! It’s Clobbering time!

The new giants stats don’t have an AC. The players don’t even have to roll to hit the giants. They are so big that you can’t miss. Think about that for a minute. When you relate that to the players somehow. “No, you don’t need to roll to hit. It’s so big that there’s no way you can miss.”
What are your players then thinking? I’ll tell you what they are thinking. They are thinking the same thing every single roleplay gamer in the world would be thinking when told that by the DM. “Holy fucking shit man! We’re in trouble! Game over Man! Game over!” You, as the DM, have now effectively communicated the situation and vibe to the players. Then follow the consequences. Hp:20d8, which is related as “In LotFP terms that’s nearly godlike. Which is fine, because one Giant loose in your hometown should seem like a visit from an angry Jehovah.” And then a DR of -5, with two paragraphs of why. The why is not some bullshit ecology of the giants. Many adventures, or games, would go that route, trying to justify it. But it doesn’t NEED to be justified. You’re the DM. It’s that way because of a different reason. Because of the impact it will have on the players and the game and the way they will experience it through their characters. Jeff doesn’t say any of this explicitly, I don’t think, anywhere in the book, but its the core essence, I think, of what he says repeatedly. Break expectations. Break the rules. The rules don’t apply to the DM the way they do to the players. They don’t even apply to the NPC’s or monsters the way they do for the players. Always with the end-state goal in mind: be awesome and have fun.

As a result of this exposition (which goes on for damage and thrown boulders and so on) the length of text is larger. The boring old generic stats for the giants if about 1/6th of a page, and a digest page at that. The new stats take two pages. It’s not because they are dense, like some old 3.x or Pathfinder stat blocks might be. It’s because the philosophy and reasoning for doing what in the stats is explained. The DR section is two paragraphs. To describe “-5 points.” Clearly something else is going on here and that something else is the Reasons Why. Not the ecology. The reasons why you want to do this to promote gameable content and actions. Telling the players their blows bounce off. Watching the futility when you announce a roll of 6 barely scratches the surface. How to use the “ecology” of the monster to promote the vibe and gameable content. It’s ingrained in to every part of the stat block for the “new” giants.

And this happens over and over again for almost every part of the adventure. The giants here are centaur monsters with the lower half of elephants and the upper parts of sharks … because Rients. What are they, actually? You get four pages of options of what they could be, from Angels to Space Aliens to Mutants to shark-elephants, along with the consequences of those decisions. And the flying castle? Again you get four options on who could have built it,along with the consequences, theming, etc of those decisions. And then you get the section before all of this, where RIents is telling you that you should be doing this with ALL of your content. Awesome it ALL up … but just this one time he’s going to walk you through what “Making it awesome” looks like. The adventure and the How To are tightly bound.

I’ll cover the actual adventure briefly. Some half-shark/elephant giants in a floating sky castle are attacking villages. The characters get to track them down/their path, find a way to get to the castle, experience the sub-humans in the tunnels under the castle and the giants in the castle proper. Maybe twelve rooms in the castle and maybe twelve more in the tunnels under the castle. Motivations? Make one up. Someone got captured or the giants took something. Destruction path? Make something up. Witnesses. “What would this place/my campaign map look like if giants destroyed it.” The giants get brief personalities. They have some factions. The subhumans underneath represent another faction. The fortress proper represents the better parts of the style of G1. “Here’s the big place, there’s a lot of stuff going on, like a slave revolt, a lothario and so on. Go interact with it.” The giants move around a bit, and there are nice effects to this. The lead-in, with the village destruction, etc, communicates the vibe rather than specifics. Night attacks, the terror of huge shadowy things in the dark. Weird egg hatchings. Fire everywhere, screams, and so on. The vibe you’re going for is communicated well. The faction play is good. The “how to get your ass to the cloud” is good … because it has nothing in it except some advice on how to evaluate the crazy-ass plans the party will come up with. Crazy ass plans, and the disasters that ensue, are a chief component of D&D fun, IMO. The rooms in the castle have some control panels to fuck with , a crazy dead brain in a giant skull that’s not dead along with a body to play with, and are generally all quite wonderful. And you’re going to need a highlighter, notes, and a photocopier to get the most out of it. Even the most casual of readers of my blog should know by now that this style is not one I prefer. Given the teaching nature of the adventure I’m giving this some slack. Yes, everything IS awesome. And I still gotta run it at the table which means margin notes and a highlighter. Likewise, condensing a couple of tables on the giants, their interactions and personalities, in to one page for printing/photocopying would have made life easier on DM’s. I understand the dichotomy of explaining why and room description usability. But DO NOT PASS GO on condensing/including reference tables in a way easy for a DM to reproduce and use at the table.

The adventure is designed well, if a little abstracted and verbose because of the “how to” nature. The map encourages play, as to the factions and various elements. It might be the best primer thus far on running things by the seat of your pants in an OSR manner … if there is such a thing. “Here’s the basic set up. It’s written in a neutral fashion. A plot will develop as the party experiences the place. GO!”

It’s the holiday season. You could do a lot worse than buying this for your DM. It’s packed full of advice, examples, and how to’s.

Addendum: Jeff appears to live in Illinois. I suggest we all move to his town in Illinois so he can be our DM.

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Misty Isles of the Eld

By Chris Kutalik, Robert Parker
Hydra Cooperative
Labyrinth Lord
Level 3-4

Come visit the acid fantasy mini-sandbox of the Misty Isles, a hellish pocket plane that’s brutally displaced a bucolic paradise. Marvel at its massive grub-ridges, shake at the body horror of its protein vats—and watch as your players dynamically unleash the Anti-Chaos Index through their own in-game actions.

This is a 103 (digest) page sandbox/pointcrawl adventure on an island that bends towards the gonzo end of the spectrum. I tend to enjoy that sort of content, so, you need to be aware that I’m unusually inclined to like this. ANyway, about 60 pages have adventure contact/pointcrawl/complexes/wandering monster tables with the last forty pages being things like a bestiary, items descriptions, a kind of (lightweight) psionic system, and so on. There are four locations that quality as “dungeons”, or, rather, plces with lots of rooms to explore. It’s a pretty focused adventure, with a terser, but not terse, writing style that generally conveys a lot of information with a few words. The main adversary race is described as “Lawful Evil space elves with a taste for bizarre bureaucracy, biomancy, and (David) Bowie.” ANY idiot should be able to take that run. Which is exactly the level of aid an adventure resource should provide. This product is good, and reminds me that, for all the dreck, we truly live at a wonderful time for RPG material. It feels like a wonderful mashup of the Soulless from Mad Lands and Splugorth stuff from Rifts. Two great tastes that taste great together!

It’s an island! Full of mist! Once a fairy realm, the Eld have moved in, merging their plane with the island. Once ON the island it’s hard to get off again, thanks to the mists. On the island we find a great example of an alien environment taking over, with their brutalism architecture being imposed over the fairy-land. The party have a chance to correct that. As they explore and destroy/kill/get into trouble it’s likely that they will begin to push reality back towards the natural fantasy elements and away from the Eld-environment. This sort of real, positive feedback on the parties actions is not something a lot of adventures do but the parties I run seem to get a lot of … motivation? out of it. In general, letting the party see the consequences of their actions, in a real and tangible way, showing instead of telling, is a great way to reward the party in a non-traditional way.

It’s laid out in a pointcrawl style, for the party to wander over the isles, with giant sandworm type things forming ridges to make it harder to go around. Several of the locations (four?) are expanded upon in detail, with 18-30 or so rooms per. The entire setting has this vibe that this both stark and baroque. It’s clearly a “Fantastic Environment” and taking a ship through the mists is a pretty classical way to declare You Are Somewhere Else Now And The Normal Rules Don’t Apply.

The Eld, as an organized foe, have a variety of response levels to the parties incursions on their plans, with the response being pretty straightforwardly presented. More patrols. Locked doors. Calling for help, etc. It’s all to the point and makes sense for how an organized foe would respond … with the Eld personality twists thrown in. The NPC have great one-sentence summaries and then a few sentences more to expand upon them. This makes it easy to get their vibe, quickly, and improvise a great NPC interaction with them. Importantly, not everything is combat oriented and, even for those that are, their (terse) descriptions are focused on making that encounter memorable. It’s not just empty backstory garbage descriptions, but they are focused on the DM’s use of them. That’s EXACTLY what a NPC description should do, even if they are fodder for the parties swords.

Monsters and magic are both non-standard. Not knowing what to expect with a new monster is part of the fear/fun of encountering new things. New items abound, with the psionic/biomancy vibe. Stuff to play with. Stuff to experiment with and get in to trouble with. Stuff to exploit. There’s no gimping the party in this. In fact, I think it’s a great example of how to provide an environment in which you don’t NEED to gimp the party. It’s relatively low level, which of course helps a lot. In fact, MOST adventure which gimp the party should really be for a much lower level party … and then you wouldn’t need to gimp them!

Anyway, this is an excellent effort. Great environment, a lean towards the bio-gonzo, but not enough to turn off the people who hate Gamma World D&D adventures. A pretty decent terse writing style. Cause & effect for the party to witness along with a decent mix of encounter types beyond straight up combat. If you can tolerate the more gonzo-leaning product then this is a must buy. And even if you can’t stand gonzo I’d give one a try. Stylistically, it fills a nice niche between the originality of OD&D and wonkiness of gonzo.

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Dungeon Magazine #111

You know, these things wear on you but they are trivial to review. Linear, long stat blocks, nothing of substance.

Strike on the Rapid Dawn
By Frank Brunner
Level 15-17

This mini’s combat scenario is in three parts. First is the “hook”, a two combats at a lighthouse. The party is fetched there by the harbormaster because two drunk seaman say they are summoning a devil tonight on their ship. Arriving at the lighthouse has a couple of combats. On the way to the ship is another combat. The ship, proper, is a big dynamic combat affair with lots of elements to manage. +1 shock ballista manned by aquatic trolls, tumbling pirates on a heaving ship and heavy wind, a bugbear captain and a couple of ogre mages, with people leaping in the rigging and so on. There’s no adventure here, just a big combat on a ship.

What’s interesting is that there’s a small roleplay segment in the lighthouse, with a possessed worker. The text goes in to detail on it. It ends with an inevitable combat. On the way to the ship, if a boat is taken, some sahuagin immediately attack. But you can actually talk to them and negotiate, if you try. If someone tries to talk to you, they are treacherous. If they attack immediately, you can talk to them. The wrong lessons are being taught to the party.

I find the tactical mini’s aspect and rules mastery shit tedious and boring. I played a D&D encounters once in a game store in Indy, Saltaire Games. The dude running it usually played Warhammer. “No one can beat me!” he announced, as Dungeonmaster. – Kai, last of Brunned-G. The last of a race of romantic dreamers and warriors.

Lords of Oblivion
By Chris Perkins
Level 13

Adventure Path! oh no … Is this the last one? Please, let this be the last one … Oh god no. Three more. The party is fetched to fight their way in to a safe house to save a spy. Who is killed. Spoonfeeding the party information, they go visit a nobles house during an Evil Bad Guy dinner party. A massive fight with seven or eight complicated NPC’s/monsters then happens. More information is spoon fed to the party. “If they don’t get to listen to the speech then feed them information from documents found in the house.” They find a beholder dungeon under a different noble house. Fighting through it they find a beholder and kill it.

Pretext after pretext to force combat and “move the plot along”, which means fighting. The party has no chance to impact events. The beholder lair has some vertical shafts, circular rooms, and levitating effects, which is nice. I always thought that 2e splat book on beholders has a nice supplement, as was the mind flayer one. It’s too bad it’s all just pointless combat. This is not the way to do a plot based adventure. Scourge of the Demon Wolf, or even ENgland turn’d upside down, is the way you do plot. A sandbox, instead of a railroad.

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Stench of the Sea

By Paul Baldowski
Just Crunch Games
Any level? [No Stats]

The adventurers probably come to Brinwan not expecting a great deal, and a first encounter with a mildly insane goat herder doesn’t change that expectation. However, just as the characters secure rooms and dinner for the night, something monstrous crawls from the sea and the matter of unexpected deaths in the local mine come to light – potentially leading them down the road to adventure.

This is a nigh incomprehensible adventure. 72 pages of endless text obscure a village, mine, trog games, dwarf tomb, and mermen outpost. There’s some decent reference material included but the core adventuring locations are just … I don’t know how to describe it. I’ve seen a lot of shitty layout and writing. Seldom have I seen something as bad as this.

The idea is that, while in a village, mermen riding giant crabs attack the beach. Except it’s a mistake, the mermen are actually trying to herd the crabs back in to the ocean to KEEP them from attacking the villagers. The bigot primary landowner then hires you to investigate the goings on in the mines. Disappearances, etc. Inside you find trogs (subhumans, instead of stinky lizards) and maybe an old dwarf tomb. Hooks are the usual “fetch me something from the village” (crab, in this case) or “someone has gone missing, go find them” … but includes “the tax collector has gone missing, go find him.” That’s interesting, but neither the ctab or taxman are mentioned again. That’s not too supportive. Seems like in 72 pages you could pay some lip service to “Harvey’s Crab Shak.”

The village has too much information, scattered in too many places. There’s free text describing things. There are reference sheets for the locations. There are reference sheets for the NPC’s. All told it’s scattered over a half dozen or more pages. That’s not a reference sheet. The intent here is good. The implementation is what’s lacking. The reference sheets manage to put 9 NPC’s on one page but only manages three businesses a page. If this were TIGHTLY edited then you’ve have a decent little village with some flavor, driven mostly by the interactions BETWEEN the villagers. Bob hates Mary and loves Fred. Except Bob is a racist and Mary is the boss of the miners union. Those things are great. The little quirks the NPC’s have are great. But it doesn’t stop at just two sentences. Instead it goes on and On and ON.

The adventure locales, proper, have the same problem. There’s some boring read-aloud and then an endless amount of text that obscures what you need to run the room. And it’s meaningless text. “King Kailesh fights to defend his people, pulling a ghostly replica of his maul from thin air. The spirit weapon functions just like the maul, a weapon of great power that mutters and sings in the dead King’s hand.” What is that add to the room? And that’s just two sentences on a page full of worthless information about the kings chamber, in the tomb. The history, what it was used for. Needlessly flowery language. None of this is relevant to the adventure at hand. And yet it’s there.

This is a basic adventure. There’s nothing too special about it, except maybe an above average village. But it’s ALL obscured by this mania to provide MORE information. Ya gotta know when to stop man.

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Folio #4

By Scott Taylor, Ashur Taylor, Mark Timm
Art of the Genre
1e & 5e
Level 6-9

Once again, the players of the Ivory Scimitar are faced with going into Mithelvarn’s Dungeon as they race against time to help destroy the Violet Corruption. This time, however, they will be faced with a new challenge, that being the Infernal Machine’s ability to block the dungeon entrance to Level Five with a tangle of impenetrable fungal growth.

This thing (an issue? Something else?) has two dungeons, the first of which serves as the entranceway to the second. It’s duel stat’d for 1e and 5e. It suffers from railroaded encounters and two of the shittiest map of ALL time. At the same time, the map communicates more than most maps and actually serves to enhance the adventure, and the room descriptions and/or read-aloud are interesting. Or, rather, the imagery is. The actual encounters suck ass. Hard. They suck as hard. The DESIGN is shitty, the artistic elements (writing & art) are great.

This is volume four of some adventure path, and I’ve not seen the first three. Basically, you need to get down to level four of the dungeon, but it’s blocked with the infamous “regenerating fungus” nonsense. The party journeys overland to a backdoor entrance. The first dungeon has twelve rooms and is the backdoor entryway to the “core” dungeon level four, which has eighteen rooms. Got it?

Let’s start with the maps. They are terrible. And wonderful. And not in Gladarial way. There’s a page for each map in blue “OSR” style. Just rip that shit out and wipe your ass with it. There’s another page, each, showing the “real” maps. These are in DL1 isometric format, and in color. And wonderful. I’ve sometimes lamented that adventures don’t communicate more with their maps. Monsters. Light. Sound. Things like that. This does that. In spades. Rather than the icons normally found it has instead taken the path of “art piece.” Each room in the isometric format expanded, in color, to show height, features, and so on. This is nice, almost nice those Mock Man/Thompson walkthrough maps. The art of the maps adds a lot to the evocative nature of the rooms.

And in design and layout they are some of the most unoriginal maps I’ve seen. The entryway is a hallway with doors off to the side. As you walk past a door it automatically opens and the monster comes out to attack you. I am not shitting you. That’s the actual design. The main dungeon level you can imagine as a giant circular room, hundreds of feet in diameter. Along the wall are doors. Each door leads to a self-contained room. This is your adventure. Enjoy. Seriously. That’s it. It’s a pointless linear combat exercise with no reason to exist as an adventure.

I’ve covered that the actual encounters are crap. Just pointless combats. But the room descriptions are pretty decent. THE READ ALOUD IS ACTUALLY EVOCATIVE. I know. I’m stunned. Read aloud that actually does what it’s supposed to do, perhaps the rarest of all things.

I love mycenoid art. Here’s the read-aloud for room one “The reek of heavy sweat and musk hangs in the air as you open this door. Inside, two bulky humanoids, both with heavy broken chains dangling from their wrists, rise to meet the party. Each looks to ank the entrance, chains swinging in unison as though they’ve fought together many times.” We can quibble with the “as you open the door” shit, but two brutes with broken chain/manacles, swinging them in unison, is pretty boss. Room two is similar “The walls are scarred with deep scratches and the oor covered in feathers. At the rear of the chamber, amid a growth of violet fungus, a large winged creature lets out a terrible screech.” Room seven “This large and oddly shaped room is lled with huge square stones that are nearly as tall as the twenty-foot ceiling. These monoliths obscure the back of the chamber. Darkness lurks beyond the rst few and the sound of dripping water echos through the area.” Again, we can quibble with parts of these, but they do a decent job, especially in comparison to the crap we usually have to wade through, in conveying the feel and vibe of the room. Monoliths. Obscured vision. Darkness. Dripping. Echoes. Short. Evocative. Sets the mood well. Of course, that’s all irrelevant, since what follows in the DM notes is almost uniformly “[stat block] attacks!”

The creative parts of this are good. The DESIGN is terrible.

Some of the art has that playfulness that the older art style had, which is quite. Plus, lots of fungus pieces.

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Dungeon Magazine #110

The Buzz in the Bridge
By John Simcoe
Level 3

Thisfifteen page adventure has the party getting rid of a giant bee hive that’s been built in a covered bridge near a halfling town. The adventure has, maybe, two encounters, or three if we count some roleplaying in the town. It’s amazing how Dungeon can stretch out a nothing adventure in to reams of paper. In spite of the volumes of pages, the adventure has some decent ideas. The halfling kids run to the party saying things like “We picked these flowers for you!”, along with some other guilt-trip shit. Perfect! The party is also NOT forced to fight the giant bees when they attack a local winery. Finally, how the party removes the bees from the covered bridge is not dictated. They are free to come up with whatever plan they wish … keeping in mind they’ve been admonished not to damage the bridge. The village has a nice little map overview which provides enough detail to run the village fairly well. The map just lists various businesses without the text going in to detail. The ACTUAL village text runs long, as one could expect a fifteen page adventure with two encounters to do. ALso, there’s no actual map of the winery or the bridge layout/hive. Well. Mostly. There’s an insert map of the bridge. It is four squares wide and 32 squares long. It’s clearly MEANT to be a tactical hack-fest, from the battle-map provided. Not being FORCED in to that makes this worthy of more than my usual diarrhea diatribe.

Last Stand at Outpost Three
By David Noonan
Dark Sun
Level 1

The majesty of Dark Sun reduced to crap. This is a kick off adventure for a Dark Sun campaign. The party starts off as rando’s at an outpost that’s been surrounded by elves and faces nightly elf attacks. The adventure starts at sunsset of the third day, after two nights of attacks. The randos are assigned to guard one section of the wall. Four “waves” of attackers come in, with a wave being defined as one or two attackers. The next night the randos are assigned to guard the inside of a warehouse, during a dust storm. Three waves of zombies attack. There’s your adventure! Welcome to Dark Sun! There IS a page of adventure seeds, for continuing the campaign, based on what the party does after the second attack. IE: some ideas on where the DM to take things based on what/how the party leaves the compound. Did I mention the NPC descriptions/stat blocks take ¾ of a page? Member when Dark Sun was good? Member?

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The Golden Four

goldenfourBy Steve Willett
Polyhedron Games
AD&D 1e
Levels 5-7

A lost compound for four enterprising adventurers has been recently uncovered and the party must travel to it and plunder its wealth whilst looking for papers and articles of historical interest.

This fifteen page adventure is a bit different than the other Willet adventures. It’s a brief overland journey followed up a two-level minimally keyed castle with a dragon in it. The minimal keying keeps the stream of consciousness/wall of text to a minimum. While minimal keying can work, it goes too far here.

The entire intro and overland, as well as a general castle overview, fits on one page with the 43 room keys fitting on a second page. Three pages of maps round things out with the rest of the pages being devoted the dragon’s treasure (one page) and the rest being an appendix with monster stats. So, without maps, about two pages of content.

The intro, overland, and general castle description are in the style that Willet generally uses. These are large free form paragraphs full of a kind of abstracted outline for the adventure. “Set encounters before reaching their goal include brigands, a pair of owl bears, a band of bugbears, a dryad and a mother bear.” Those encounters are then followed up on in the next paragraph with a couple of sentences about each. It’s very stream of consciousness and conversational and not all all in a format conducive to running at a table, live.

The keying takes “minimal keying” to the logical extreme. The two level castle is essentially a ring road corridor with rooms off of either side of it. Typical room descriptions are “Officers Quarters”, “Water closet”, “Stables”, and “Bath.” Props for including the room name AS the description. That’s something I wish more adventures did. After all, I think we all know what a Stable looks like and don’t need the adventure to provide us wither read-aloud or a DM description of a stable. The descriptions, the content added, should focus on what’s unusual about this stable, and by unusual, I mean actual contribute to the player’s experience. Steve ‘Bloodymage’ Willett’s descriptions take this too far though.. When ALL of the room descriptions are simply a room name, maybe with a treasure description ot “(behir located here)” then we need to ask: what’s the added value? Randomly printing room names and randomly assigning monsters is something that can be done with a dozen online generators, as well as the 1E DMG.

I expect an adventure to be more than that.

I think I’ve now reviewed all of Willett’s adventures. This is by far the most coherent of them. Folks interested in BloodyMage’s work could read the “main” page of this and get an idea of what his other adventures are like and, if so inclined, have a minimally keyed dungeon.

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The Quirtion Affair

By Steve Willett
Polyhedron Games

WoW! Seldom have I seen the likes!

This twenty page adventure is more like an outline of an adventure. And I’m being quite generous by using the word “outline.” The twenty pages have about eight-ish pages of content, single spaced single column with long paragraphs, with the rest of the adventure pages being a kind of monster manual for mostly “standard” monsters, like griffins and owlbears, but in the KISS system. Not only hard to read, but both overly abstracted AND very specific. This is more of a stream of consciousness “let me tell you about my character” story from a convention, except it’s “let me tell you about my adventure.”

I don’t even know where to begin. You’re hired by a guy who wants you look in to some abductions, which are suspected to be attributed to another kingdom. There’s not detail on them except “some press gangs.” That’s it. Nothing else, for the DM or players. You’re expected to go seek out sages in far away lands to learn about the other kingdom. There mountains of details about the Bloody Crag” and “The Sanguine Mage”, an offworld archmage/sage. This is the DM’s character, “Bloody Mage”, which is why his lair/fortress gets half a page of detail. Travel to the evil kingdom gets about half a page. The bulk of the adventure, taking place in the evil kingdom, gets one page. Here’s the sea “adventure:”

“Out on the high seas, before reaching Denga?l, they will fall prey to a sea hag one moonless night. Their final encounter at sea will depend upon their route. If they track through the strait, they will fall prey to Kraeldonian raiders. If they head for open ocean west of Denga?l, they will be beset by a kraken!”

That’s your sea adventure. The details for the evil kingdom are likewise at this VERY high level. Vampire Bob is found in the capitol. The undead armies are found in pens. Three vampires guard the pens. If you kill Bob you must also kill the other three to keep one of them from taking his place of leadership. That’s not exactly word for word, but it’s pretty close. That’s the detail of the capitol of the evil kingdom and their undead armies. Everything is like that. Just the barest outline. There’s this emphasis on explaining travel routes and kingdoms, but no map to support it, meaning it comes off as a confusing mess, almost to the point of being incoherent.

This review makes me uncomfortable. The author passed away awhile ago. This feels like kicking a man while he’s down. This, and the next adventure popped up in my queue so I bought them, not making the connection. I’m going to review the next one also and then probably remove the rest of his adventures from my queue. There’s no value here, either in the adventure or in reviewing it.

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Dungeon Magazine #109

d109Secrets of the Soul Pillars
By Jesse Decker
Level 12

Adventure Path! Which is synonymous with linear adventure and forced combats! This starts with a forced combat; an assassination attempt. It moves to overly detailed text, another forced combat, a forced-combat assault on a temple and then a linear forced combat dungeon crawl. So, the usual shit show. Except this time the rooms have mountains of text about what they used to be and who used to live there and how they used to be used … none of which contributes to the adventure. This whole thing is just a Star Fleet Battles campaign, which, while fine for some people, is not the definition of D&D that I know and love.

The Devil Box
By Richard Pett
Level 2

CLose to a real adventure. The party stumbles upon an attacked wagon, with two kobolds looting it. They want to parley though, and have a letter from their chief. An injured merchant nearby indicates the attackers were imps, not the kobolds, which backs the kobolds story. They need to go to the nearby town and find a kobold in a sideshow so he can activate a coffin they have that traps devils. The town portion consist of the kobolds trying to stay disguised and getting in to trouble, and the party getting them out, during a masked sex festival in town while everyone looks for the sideshow kobold. Eventually the imps get wererats to attack the party and are tracked down to a building where the wererats, slaves, imps, and chained devils are holding up. Not as impossible as it may seem, since the coffin can trap devils. The setup is a little strained and relies on the time honoured fish out water monster in town trope. It’s not a bad outline for an adventure, but some more specifics of encounters with the kobolds and the sideshow or the festival would have been a better way to organize the adventure. Compared to the rest of the recent Dungeons, this is Lear.

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Temple of the Ape God

apegodBy Mattias Nrva & Terje Nordin
Svard & Svartknost
Levels 2-4

In the depth of jungle, a terrible and ancient foe has awakened.
There are rumors of gold to be won there, but it will take more than luck and a sharp sword to survive after daring the savage forces of the wilderness. The lost temple of the Ape God awaits!

This 21 page adventure describes a temple to an ape god in a jungle. It houses sixteen pages in a two column layout with Old Man Eyes font size. It has a decent mix of encounters on a somewhat simple map that FEELS right for the adventure. The writing quality is right on a knife’s edge, with the ideas presented being decent but need a little more umph to evoke the imagination.

The adventure is pretty simple. There’s a background, rumor table, a small wandering table for the area around the temple, and then the outdoor upper level of eight areas and the underground portion of eight areas. The outside area is small, with the major features being a giant ape state, a couple of one room buildings, and a hill full of degenerate apes. It reminds me, for all the world, of that scene in Around of the World in 80 days with the Kali temple. The idea that there’s this area you’re trying to get into, guarded by a lot of creatures hanging around, and you’ve got the entire area to exploit and come up with a goofy plan is one of the key elements of D&D. Since this probably involves kicking around the jungle a bit, there’s also a pretty decent jungle wandering monster table full of lotus traders, giant ants eating mules, a tiger crossing your path, and other encounters straight out of a stereotypical India … which is exactly what the fuck you want for something like this.

The encounter text, and the interior rooms, continue this theming. A dead adventurer impaled on a spear trap in a hallway is straight out of the first Indiana Jones, and no jungle temple would be complete without lotus flowers on a pond … and a buried monk in lotus position with writing on palm leaves, in this case. The concepts for these encounters are strong. The writing for them much less so. “The skeleton of a dead adventurer is impaled on a sprung spear trap.” Well, ok. Factually correct, terse, and a classic for a jungle temple, all of which are plusses. Pumping it up a bit, to install a stronger image in the DM’s imagination, without growing the description in a second or third sentence is the real challenge. A lot of writing in this adventure is similar; great ideas, terse, but lacking a bit of the evocative nature that would really push it over the top in to greatness.

The set up is pretty bare bones, as well. Other than a fact-based rumor table, there’s no real hook, starting location, overland travel, or any place else. That doesn’t have to be bad; I have a fondness in my heart for places that a DM can just drop in to a game to fit in to their own campaign.

This is a decent small adventure for drop in. It’s not a home run, but few things are, and it DOES bring a nice jungle flavor, but the DM will need to expand on it greatly.

Ps: I apologize. It takes 6 clicks in google docs to get extended character stats. No umlauts for you!]

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