Contest Winners! Bryce’s 2013 Adventure Design Contest is OVER!


Contest Over! Entries Read! Reviews Written! Post Contest Analysis … NOW!

I was really disappointed with the context entires. Given the timeframes involved I really expected a different level of quality. Instead I got a bunch of adventures in which NO ONE SUCKED! Huzzah!

That’s right. No. One. Sucked. I will not get to use my “Worst adventure EVAR?!” tag on my blog. Each and every adventure had a decent vision for what it was trying to do and, even if it didn’t make it, I could generally see where they were going. I believe I could pick up each one, read it once, and run it at a con. To be sure, they could all do something better. Some started great but trailed off in the middle and quite a few tried to do some hand waving in certain aspects. Hand waving not allowed and you have been called on it.

You’ve all done something I have not: written and published an adventure. I know I get ranty at times but I have a lot respect for anyone who puts themselves out there for criticism. You all have more balls and imagination than I. I would hope that my comments are never taken as discouragement for the work. There’s alot of hurdles to overcome in doing anything and I would not want to engage in anything that discourages people producing.

Caroline Berg wrote a d20 sci-fi adventure Amoebas in Space! Episode 23: My Spaceship for a Sandwich. This is a delightful little romp through a hotel/resort having issues. She does a great job of taking some classic elements, like angry guests, and attaching them to some bizarre Space Opera elements, like making everyone involved an Amoeba. She also tried some hand waving in certain important parts of the adventure. DENIED.

Karl Larsson wrote Dreams in the Cloud Castle. He wanted to communicate the FANTASTIC environment that Numenera embodies. I wanted to commit suicide while reading his adventure. But that was because of the movie I was watching, I promise! He started strong with a great environment and a strongly flavored temple. His cloud castle fell down on communicating his vision for the environment and in the strong dream/nightmare aspect. I wrote Karls review while a sad little boy sat in a snow storm. Also, Let the RIght One in was on Tv. Ouch! But my drama over it did catapult to #1 on The Hotness. Congrats Karl!

Phil Sbszine wrote Hive of the Giant Bees. This is a charming old school adventure full of weirdness and would be perfectly at home in any hex crawl. Given the importance of the native village Phil could have beefed up his NPC’s a bit, and been a little clearer on the bee hive proper. IE: the walls and chambers.

Simon Fairweather wrote The Missing of Cloud Bluff, a fantasy adventure. While a bit unorganized and having a few elements I loathe, he did a great job on his encounters. Many of them were great little unique set ups that provide a wide deal of variety.

Mixu Lauronen wrote a Call of Cthulhu adventure The Possession. The village and social aspect of it was well done and it had a decent CoC vibe. Again, the organization could have been better and the beginning of the end game could have been clearer.

Alex Schröder write a fantasy adventure To Rob A Witch. This one page adventure packs the full punch that one would expect from Alex. Great NPC’s, great little encounters, all delivered in the “expanded crib notes” format that a one-page dungeon provides for. Good outline of a good adventure.

Pete Douglas wrote a fantasy adventure The Six-Thousand Steps. It was full of bizarre reprobate townsfolk, good social possibilities, great environment to adventure in and nice challenges to overcome. It’s also part 1 of 2. You better finish it you SOB!

Nicholas Coriz wrote a fantasy adventure called The Tower of Madness. He got this to me in time for the contest but it is still struggling its way through the database addition, which I would pretty much be a dick to ding him for. It’s got some decent flavor in the town and set up and some decent imagery in the adventure. It also tries to get away with some hand-waving. DENIED!

I’d like to give a special shout out to a couple of folks who went above & beyond in the art department. This had no impact on my reviews, but I did find them charming. Phil has a great side-view of Middenhell and the Monastery in his adventure. Alex’s art that supplements his one-page adds a lot to the adventure. Cloud Bluff has a great hand-drawn map in it with lots of old school charm. Amoebas in Space has one of the greatest covers of all time, rivaling the Wizards Mutants Lazer Pistols covers. Hive of the Giant Bees has not only a great cover but also a great illustration of a bee-man shaman.

I’d like to also call out Karl for his layout. He did a great “2-column plus sidebar” layout that made his adventure quite easy to follow. When you compare reading his adventure to some of the others that just used a flat file it really showed by columns+margins are great. I’ve added “work up a standard adventure temple format to my ToDo list. [And this falls in to that 'dont want to discourage people' thing I mentioned earlier. Flat file is better than nothing.]

On to the prizes! In no particular order:

Tower of Madness wins 180GG and a random module from my collection! Yeah you! You also get a Dancing Monkey microbadge and a special autographed toilet paper roll that declares “I tried my best!”

The Possession wins 180GG and a random module from my collection! Yeah you! You also get a Dancing Monkey microbadge and a special autographed toilet paper roll that declares “I tried my best!”

Dreams in the Cloud Castle wins 180GG and a random module from my collection! Yeah you! You also get a Dancing Monkey microbadge and a special autographed toilet paper roll that declares “I tried my best!”

The Missing of Cloud Bluff wins 180GG and a random module from my collection! Yeah you! You also get a Dancing Monkey microbadge and a special autographed toilet paper roll that declares “I tried my best!”

Amoeba’s in Space! wins 180GG and a random module from my collection! Yeah you! You also get a Dancing Monkey microbadge and a special autographed toilet paper roll that declares “I tried my best!”

Hive of the Giant Bees wins 180GG and a random module from my collection! Yeah you! You also get a Dancing Monkey microbadge and a special autographed toilet paper roll that declares “I tried my best!” oh, and all the rest of the empty toilet paper rolls.

To Rob a Witch wins 180GG and a random module from my collection! Yeah you! You also get a Dancing Monkey microbadge and a special autographed toilet paper roll that declares “I tried my best!” You also win a real live mix-tape containing all of my favorite songs!

The Six-Thousand Steps wins 261GG and a random module from my collection! Yeah you! You also get a Dancing Monkey microbadge and a special autographed toilet paper roll that declares “I tried my best!”
You also win $100 CASH, AMERICAN MONEY and the VERY prestigious title of “I sucked Less Than Everyone Else in 2013 Bryce Adventure Design Contest” YEAH! YOU ARE WINNER!

I need addresses from all of you so I can mail out your prizes!

Congratulations One & All!


To Rob a Witch

Alex Schroder
Self published
Labyrinth Lord

You have a treasure map that leads to Kurmatesha, a witch of Hel. Find the second root of Yggdrasil, follow the frozen river to the Isla of Black Trees in the the Sea of Fog. There you shall find her greatest treasure, the Horn of the Raven Warriors, stolen from a high priest f Odin oh so many long years ago.

This is a one page adventure with A LOT of flavor. Alex hits almost all of the high notes in brining flavor and style to an adventure … in exchange for a relatively linear adventure. There’s a branching path or two here or there, but the adventure is essentially a linear plot … although it’s VERY flavorful.

The party has to find a way to the world tree and then navigate to the witches lair. Along the way they have some pre-programmed encounters. Some GOOD pre-programmed encounters. Alex has a knack for coming up with exactly the right words to use to bring a maximum amount of flavor in a minimal number of words, and he exercises this talent well in this adventure. The Freya temple is a wooden longhouse with a wold or goat head over the door, run by Anja, the priestess of a weak temple, and offers the following “Niflheim? Beware apathy and despair! It is the hell of the old and sick.” That’s pretty good stuff. It communicates a blast of flavor and gives me a pretty decent picture of how to run that part of the adventure. The entire adventure is full of those little things, ESPECIALLY when it comes to NPC’s. NJAL the drunk priest and guide. He carries the book of snakes, his wife was killed by a Set cult, and like enemies of set, honest characters, and another drink. I’m not sure how much clearer his description could be. Anyone reading that should have a great idea of what makes the NPC tick and how to improvise his actions from that point forward. It’s done in SUCH a small amount of words that it almost boggles the mind. There are maybe a half-dozen NPC’s described in that fashion and they are all very well done. There’s a ghoul tree, an evil treant with 15 arm-less ghouls hanging from its branches. Yikes! If THAT doesn’t freak out your PLAYERS then I don’t know what will! There are also some call out to some classic tropes. A silk merchant sneaks in to this hell to sell colorful things to the inhabitants of an otherwise dreary world, and a gunslinger hunts devils seeking repentance .. because he ignored his family & friends in life in order to hunt devils.

This one-page, is, essentially, just the notes that many DM’s will write up before an adventure. A rough outline. “First the party has this, then they go here, then they talk to Bob, he tells them about Y and then then they can go to Z …”What Alex has done to this classic flowchart/plot/scene-based format is provide just A LITTLE extra. Twenty words more add SO much flavor to each of the encounters. If the entire one-page contests were made of up works this good then the publishers would be in a great deal of trouble!

This is a very strong adventure and worth checking out.

The Possession
by Mixu Lauronen
Self Published
Call of Cthulhu/1920′s

A young girl possessed.
English countryside plagued by eartquakes.
Talks about wolfman and frogmen.
What’s going on?

This is an investigation of strange goings-on in a small English village that, inevitably, involves Deep Ones. I’ve never understood the fascination with the Deep Ones; it seems like every other adventure involves them. I’m land-locked in Indiana, so maybe its something primordial that comes form living next to the sea? Anyway, the party investigates the strangeness in a village and probably gets slaughtered. Multiple times. By multiple groups.

Did you know I LUV CoC? Two Origins in a row I did almost NOTHING but play in CoC adventures, three of four a day for five days. That’s a lot of CoC for even ME to handle!

There’s earthquakes that happen every day at 1:40pm. There’s a little girl who’s insane and probably possessed. There’s a folklorist that’s disappeared and there’s livestock that are in an uproar. In to this sleepy little fishing village with a lot problems the PC’s find themselves thrown … which is almost inevitably like throwing gas on a fire to put it out. I used to say that an adventure is just a pretext to get a bunch of people together so they can come up with zany ideas that blow up in their faces. That’s as much true for CoC as it is for D&D.

The center of the adventure takes place in the fishing village and this CoC adventure suffers from the same problem most do: why the hell are the party together? A table is provided, with ten or so entires, that tries to offer some pretexts as to why. They have been called in by the doctor (or priest) to consult on the little girl. They are fishermen or farmers living nearby. There’s a lot of options, none of which bad, and all of which are as forced as every other CoC ‘monster squad’ group.

The village is moderately well described, if a bit disorganized and missing a few key descriptions. The emphasis is on who lives where and what they know. This isn’t bad, in fact it correctly recognizes that the core of the village adventure is the interaction with the NPC’s. It is, however, a little … I don’t know … forced? Strained? It’s written like a D&D adventure where each person is described in their house, which makes it seem a little like the party is going to go door to door knocking and interviewing. What the adventure really needs is some events or a timeline around the folks in the village. At 6pm these people are generally in the pub. At 5am these people are coming back from fishing and visiting X house to sell/clean up, or at noon every day the doctor does Y and there’s a town dance scheduled for 7pm on Tuesday. There’s al little bot of this scattered through the entries “Bob visits the pub at night”, but it could be better organized. In addition the town is lacking a few things that the CoC players always want to visit or buy. Namely, there is no recorders office, newspaper office, etc, and many of the buildings in the town lack description of where you can buy gasoline, guns, and axes and the like. That’s going to be important later in the adventure. VERY important.

There are a couple of major clues in the village which are a little … hidden/stingy. One family is strange and the missing persons rented house is an important, and non-obvious, place. In addition the monster lair is not all that obviously found, and in fact I’m still not sure, after two readings, how the party s supposed to discover it. This could maybe be sorted out with a ‘clue list’ that has who knows what and/or how you can learn the key details of some of the important parts of the adventure. Finally, there’s some references to a non-violent solution to the adventure. I find this difficult. The thing is written in a way that make combat very likely and its not very clear how the party could broker a peace or even learn of the even BIGGER monster that is lurking in the adventure.

This isn’t too bad of an adventure and could stand in for a relatively run of the mill CoC adventure. No, I’d say above average adventure given the village people descriptions.It just needs a little more focus and organization to it to help someone run it who is not as familiar as the writer with how the entire thing fits together.

The Missing of Cloud Bluff
by Simon Fairweather
Self Published
Levels 5-8

Orphans have been disappearing at an unusually high rate, and the party are sent to investigate. Could this be related to weird noises and strange goings-on around the cliffs at Cloud Bluff?

The opening line begs the question: just what _IS_ an acceptable rate for orphans to go missing? In my world the answer would be “110%’ SINCE I FUCKING HATE ORPHANS!!! Uh … I mean, I hate orphanages in adventures. Why do I care? Orphans are being used as slave labor by a gang of criminals in some nearby caves that also serve as a mine. Well, finally, a good use for orphans in a D&D adventure. But get this: rather than reward the orphan slavers the party is expected to be do-gooders and stop them! My wife was just watching some Moonshine reality show on Tv and the moonshiners got busted by the land owner. They had to cut him in on the action. THAT sounds like the D&D I want to play! “sorry about stabbing your best guards in the face 27 times. Looks like you might need some new protection now. How about you pay us 1000 gp a week and we wont accidentally stab any more in the face 27 times?” Maybe I’m being a little harsh. I know that not everyone like the same things in an adventure. For example, some losers like high fantasy and being a hero and saving orphans. Anyyywayyyy …

The adventure has roughly three locations: a warehouse, a cave system, and an orphanage. The problem is that its not really clear how these three sites are connected. I believe the warehouse may only be found by exploring the caves, and its pretty obvious from the rumor tables/common sense that the orphanage is a place to visit. I guess that there’s a secret door in the orphanage that leads to the caves, but the linkage doesn’t seem that strong. It’s also laid out a bit strange, with the caves up front, then the orphanage and then the warehouse.

The maps here are good, with decent detail on them that provide more than just a spatial reference. Small hallways, stairs, stone pillars and so on. There are a couple of way to get on to and off of each map, which is a detail I like to see. Many of the locations have something interesting going on in them. A weird sounding tidal pool, or a room of sand infected with nano-particles or hormone producing polyps, or the bodies of dead children falling from the ceiling. WHAT?!?! Yes! It’s raining dead kids! Bad Ass! There’s also a decent assortment of magical items present in the adventure. These range from a flash-bang ring to a “bag of holding” locket, to a cube that summons a gelatinous cube … 3′ above the users head. There really is a wide variety of encounters and magical treasure here, as well as a=some decently described non-magical treasure.

The adventure has a couple of areas that could use some more work. First is the NPC’s/monsters/smugglers/slavers. Given the possibility of investigations around town and the interactions between the thieves guild, the gangs, and the main villains, there should be a little more details bout the personalities & actions of the various NPC’s, as well as turning some of the nameless slavers in to the real boys, with motivations and actions taking place outside of the sight of the characters. Secondly, some work needs to be done on the format. I don’t usually complain about layout, and I’m not going to ding an amateur work for problems there, but the layout of this adventure does serve as good example of some poor layout. It’s essentially just a WORD file with one column and broad fonts. The amount of whitespace on the page, from the kerning, line spacing, margins, etc, is really large which I think makes it harder to focus on the text at hand. Its almost like its tiring. A little work in this area would help bring some focus to the adventure which I think it could use.

Hive of the Giant Bees
by Phil Sbszine
Self published
Levels 2-4

Thirty years ago a meteor shower fell onto a remote isle or plateau. As luck would have it, the meteors were composed of some freaky magical or radioactive rock. The rock made the local bumblebees really big. Now, a primitive tribe of the area has taken the giant bees as their new spirit totem. Oh yeah, and the MacGuffin you’re after is in there with all the honey and stingers and stuff.

Let’s get this out of the way up front. Phil includes some pidgin english and “Aunties” references that prey upon by white male guilt and make me uncomfortable. I also have a hard time talking to the local natives at the frontier historical reenactment park for the same reason. Whatever. Maybe its my problem. Or maybe Phil like to push buttons, like “Whats the sexuality of the prison warden?”

This is a great little adventure in a classic location: a giant bee hive. It’s really a location based adventure with some weak hooks to get the players there. The hooks are vaguely generic and don’t match the idiosyncratic and interesting content found later in the adventure. “A renowned collector want new species” or “and alchemist wants some freaky magic rocks for an experiment.” Nice try buddy, but I want detail! You can throw in a couple of adjectives and adverbs to liven up the hooks!

The hive has a tribe of humans living under it, which are mostly level 0. I like that; far too often the tribesmen are level 99 bad asses, and I hate that. If the party wants to wipe them out then they should be able to. The locals have some quaint customs and some interesting wandering events that are terse and give you enough to build off of. HOWEVER, if you’re going to put a village at the base of the adventure then you need to put some people in it that the party can interact with. Obviously, you can do that with the villagers present in this adventure, but what I mean is that I expect to have a couple of NPC’s detailed to an extent that if the party hangs out in the village then I can come up with some shit for them to interact with. There’s a bit of this with the shaman and his ugly son and so on, but there could be a bit more in this area in order to bring the area to life a bit more.

The bee hive is nice. It’s still not entirely clear to me how the hex map/cells work, but the encounters are fine. A: Giant Bees. How can you go wrong with that? There’s the usual honey, pollen, etc stuff for the party to mess with, as well as things like a giant bee egg, which, according to the adventure “you know, an idiot could mistake this thing for a giant pearl.” THIS! THIS! THIS! THIS! THAT’S the detail I want in an adventure. a giant bee egg that the players could mistake for a pearl! That’s money in the bank for an evening of adventuring! It’s got some great magic items, like the headdress of bee vision, which gives you 360 degree compound vision, a +2 to armor class, and a penchant for collecting pollen. BAD. ASS. Again, money in the bank. There is no way in hell any D&D player worth his salt would NOT wear that. I doubt they’ll take a helm of brilliance over that thing if given a choice. People want that kind of goofy, weird, fun magic item.

This is good stuff, go get it.

Amoebas in Space! Episode 23: My Spaceship for a Sandwich
by Caroline Berg
Self Published

A taste of things to come… After defeating the Warbling Zizifrex of An-Emhavla III, the crew of the Starship Lobosa feel they have earned some down time. After contacting their superiors at the Galactic Amorphous Space Patrol, they have been granted shore leave at the closest planet in the system, Mabrox V. Mabrox V is know for its delightful spas, spacious hotels, and gourmet sandwiches. Travel time from the crew’s present location is two days. Two uneventful days pass. The crew can almost taste the sandwiches. And then the ship lands in the stellar parking lot. As the team leaves the ship and locks it, they notice a few issues. The parking lot is strewn with red tape. There is a crowd of irate patrons milling around. And several overworked security guards are hurrying in their direction. “I’m sorry, but we’ll have to ask you to leave, the Gastronomic Glitterati is closed.” Unwilling to leave before knowing what has happened, the crew shows their credentials. The change in the guards is immediate. “GASP is here! We’re saved!” Somehow the crew no longer thinks this vacation will be as easy as pie…

Yes, it has a silly name. And yes, basing all of the adventure around various types of amoebas is a little strange. As is any attempt to make a sandwich as the goal of an adventure. But it’s still quite a bit less silly than Hitchhiker and its full of some classic tropes. It also misplaces its priorities in places and devolves in to victorian lists where it should be creating interesting situations.

The resort is in chaos, the place is abandoned, the interior is full of rogue amoeba, the parking lot is full of irate customers and gawkers, and the group just wants a sandwich. Such is the stuff of legends. It starts strong. There’s a wide variety of folks milling about outside. Irate customers. Wealthy patrons (They have reservations! ) Security guards, local police, hotel staff, hotel administrators, gawkers, sightseers, tourists, nosey townfolk … that’s a lot of people hanging around … and A LOT of opportunities to role play. There’s nice rumor table for the party to pick up bits and pieces of weird things. And here is the issue. There’s no detail. Rather than provide some interesting folks for the group to interact with, instead there’s a lack of detail. This extends in to the descriptions of the hotel. The rooms get descriptions, to the point of some of them being static lists of what is in the rooms and what they look like. But that’s just it, they are static. There’s no action. All of the encounters are left to the DM, with just general advice like “xxyyxxyy likes bread and can be found on the lower two floors.” All of the work to breathe life in to the set up is left to the DM. And while that’s certainly part of the DMs role it is also the responsibility of the designer to help provide the mechanism to do this.

That’s just not present in the adventure. While there is a nice little list of where you can find the various components for a sandwich scattered through the locations, there is not any thing that would assist the DM in providing the gameable action that is needed to surround and give life to the adventure. So, nice set up but it needs much more detail. It needs the NPC’s that the party will interact with through the adventure and it needs the set up of a dozen r so events happening inside the buildings, caused by the foreign creatures.

Tower of Madness
by Nicholas Coriz
Self published
Mid-to-high levels

On the outskirts of a boring looking town that holds magical secrets, characters will come face to face with bizarre chaos in an abandoned magical academy- where they’ll meet a host of dangerous weirdoes, wrestle with filth, destroy a legendary demon, and find the surprising true mystical culprit behind an explosion of unadulterated madness… Will they survive with their heads on straight? Or will they join a trove of twisted terrors in a haunted, old rickety tower until the whole universe collapses on itself? Unfortunately, there’s only one very risky way to find out…

This is an adventure through a wizards academy gone bad. It has some decent theming and the 10,000 foot view is good but it falls down when it comes to the detail. Something bad has happened at the local wizards academy and it’s sucking in other MU’s through some subtle forces. Inside is a mad world, with the mages going crazy and everything falling apart. I got a very Bioshock vibe off of it.

Let’s start with the town and the adventure lead in. The designer is going for something here, but I’m not sure he succeeds. It’s got a very magical ren-faire vibe, but then he tosses in some gonzo to top it off. It’s a town full of towers with some long involved back story that is completely unnecessary. They don’t like outsiders but value them and thrive on trade and treat them with reverence. Three towers, unmarked, have teleport portals in them to bring in good … but they are heavily used. Most of this is just lame bs … but then we get to some more interesting bits. The Oracle del Marr protects the town, and the guard ritualistically blind themselves to increase her perceptions. Cool! Even cooler if she has, like, a cloak of eyes or something that meld in to her skin and then you can steal it and use it yourself after you stab her! The Blindgaurd, the town guard, are made out to be some kind of ninja warrior class of super tacticians/blind samurai nonsense. That’s lame. Better would be if they were all MAJORLY incompetent as guards BECAUSE THEY ARE BLIND and the townsfolk don’t have the heart to tell them because of their sacrifice … or maybe they are like the agents in Flash Gordon who are all linked together with those weird eye visor things? Both are cooler than Ninja senses.

The inside of the mage academy is supposed to be some kind of twisted fallen place, kind of like in Bioshock, with Chaos Magick everywhere. There are some crazy NPC’s running around, suffering the effects of the Chaos, and some token weird shit rooms. But there’s not enough here. There’s just a list of suggestions for monsters in the tower (weights, elementals, displacer beasts, etc) and suggestions for some anomalies, like an endless hallway or stone people. The anomalies get closer, but there still isn’t enough detail. There needs to be a longer and more detailed description of the academy, its various rooms and the freaky-deaky stuff in them. Matilda the giant intelligent bat is a good example, as is the perfect cube laying on the floor covered by red and gold cloth … a mage who has accidentally compressed his body in to a perfect cube. Ewwww….! Gross! More weird, more gross, more bizarre, more Bioshock, and less “make up your own stuff.”

Dreams in the Cloud Castle
by Karl Larsson
Self published

The town of Hypotos is for dreamers, or at least it used to be. Now the sleepers here are haunted by unbelievable nightmares. The town need heroes, heroes that can enter the Dreamlands and make dreaming right again.

This is an adventure through a cloud “castle” high in sky while the characters are dreaming. I’m not a big fan of dreaming adventures; the consequences always end up as “you die if your dream dies” or “it was all a dream and doesn’t matter.” This one is kind of a different matter though. It’s got some nice imagery to the adventure that fits in well with the Numenera mythos and avoids some of the usual traps in dream adventures. There’s a kind of … airyness to the adventure that seems … languid and … dreamy.

There’s these severn clouds that always hang over one town. No one in the town ever has nightmares its a great place to reset and rehabilitate. Well, until recently. There’s a bunch of lame hooks about being hired to investigate and the like, Once you get past all of this you can get on to the nice stuff, like how everyone who walks in to the temple falls asleep, so the priests tie ropes to peoples feet to pull them out again. The group journeys upwards, through the roof and clouds in to …

Let’s break there for a moment. Karl does a really good job on most of the beginning. A great job is done in communicating the kind of fantastic locales that I associate with (my secondhand) knowledge of Numenera. He does an excellent job in creating a picture if this little town with its dream temple and the kind of pseudo-magical/technology hybrid seven clouds/dreaming temple sort of of place. I did get more a high-medievel/Renaissance vibe from the town/region because of Karls choice of words. This places me on guard for the magical ren-faire environment of 2E, which I loathe. If instead though I back off of this and go for a ‘holy shrine’ kind of vibe then I get a much gritty/primitive vibe. Something like a shine/pilgrimage location in Harn. And once you reach there then you find out the rumors are true! It IS a magical wonderland! Anyway, the background town/shrine/set up/pretext is a good one, even if the hooks are a bit generic.

Once the core of the adventure starts, well, then, nothing. It is at this point that the adventure breaks down. The interior has a symmetrical layout and the rooms and corridors don’t really have any strong imagery associated with them. Likewise the monsters are just nightmare creatures without any real strong descriptions associated with them. The group can meet a couple of NPC’s in the castle that appeal: an old woman with a dream scepter and a man at the console of a machine. Of course, the group is tasked with repairing a broken machine, guarded by a nightmare creature, and then that fixes the broken nightmare machine and everything is fine & dandy.

The corridors and rooms are lacking something. If Karl had a strong vision then I missed it. There’s a reference to a white metal/glass feel, with the glowing footsteps sci-fi thing. There’s also a reference or two to a curved wall with a giant holoscreen type viewport that displays dreams. This, though, is as nifty as it gets, I think. I’m pretty sure Karl had a vision for this, and I can just barely grasp the edge of what he’s going for. The same goes for the monsters. I’m not completely familiar with Numenera so I could be wrong, but I think some of the monsters are from the book. That’s cool, but they need a little more to put them in context. Not just a Ravage Bear with the tips of fur purple, but he needs to be slathering, and his circling needs to be … probing, or something like that. More adjectives. Similarly, the dreams and nightmares that the adventure centers around need some beefing up. A full page at the end with a bunch of ideas of what the party sees in these bits & flashes would have added quote a bit to helping the DM come up with ideas on what to communicate to the players about what they see. Finally, there are the Spirits of the Dreamlands that the PC’s encounter. Ain’t no PC in his right mind gonna let these people get by without a cross-examination of who they are, their lives before, what the place does, the history of the world, the meaning of life, can I have 18 wishes, where are the super weapons, what the story behind Numenera. It’s the same as Gamma World, D&D, or any other adventure in which the players get a chance to get a leg up n the DM. You gotta be prepared to deal with it, and I don’t think the adventure helps you.

This is a little frustrating. I feel that Karl almost had a hold of what he was trying to do but that it slipped through his fingers.

The Six-Thousand Steps
by Pete Douglas
Self Published

At the centre of a sprawling jungle, a great pillar of jale rock thrusts upwards to scrape the clouds of heaven. Atop the pillar lies Greyhook Monastery. It is a hallowed spot where for centuries pious monks have sung psalms in worship of gods ancient. The tolling of Greyhook’s famed bell sends the savage Winged Monkeys that call the jungle canopy their home into frenzied flocks that wheel about the sky. At the base of the pillar, the ramshackle hamlet of Middenhell services the virtues and vices of a steady stream of greasy pilgrims.

Now, the grand bell has fallen silent and snatches of psalms are no longer borne down on the wind. Such holy sounds have been replaced by the thundering crash of bodies raining down from the firmament. ’tis the splintered flesh and bone of monks… aye, and pennies amassed from centuries of pilgrimage. A fortune in gold and glory awaits those who would tread the six-thousand steps to Greyhook.

Well, SOMEONE knows how to play some fucking D&D! I choose to ignore that he also wrote a Fiasco playset. So, there’s this wretched hive of scum & villainy called Middenhell at the base of this giant cliff with a monastery at the top. Did you get that bit at the beginning about bodies raining down on the town from the monastery? Pretty cool! Did I mention that The Red Rooster has oiled lady-boys, pliant dogs, and a shit-pit out back for all of your sexual vices, as well as indecently decadency red-wine pies spiced with the juices of potent men? Pete knows how D&D works! No subtly here, just strong strong theming and the communication of imagery like a brick to the head.

You gotta get to the top to have the adventure, unfortunately those flying monkeys from the teaser are about. They are led by a mutant alpha ape who is super intelligent and has the lower body of a spider and … oh hell … are you seriously still reading this review instead of the adventure? Or how about the urns full of mummified monks? Or the orbs that can only be broken by people with an ELEVATED heart rate?

Let’s talk NPC’s, or, better, NPC descriptions. Jan van Tahon, the innkeeper, is greasy in flesh and mind, concerned about his livelihood now that the pilgrims are gone, and he’s on edge. Just like Tarantino after a few beers. That’s good. The designer had an idea in mind of this guy and was able to communicate it over to me quickly and strongly. Likewise Redleg ben the rum-soaked veteran regaling people with gory battle tales (Brian blessed in Flash Gordon … who one of my cats is named after) or Kostakurtis who, taking time off from his football career, is now turning a buck selling scrolls to folks in order to benefit from the monastery trouble … Walter-White mid-arc in Breaking Bad. As a DM I don’t HAVE to run these NPC’s the way they are described, I can change anything I want any time I want to fit whatever mood I am in if something better strikes my fancy. But the writer has given me a great default option to go with. If he had instead just said there’s an innkeeper, a mercenary, and a scroll salesman then I have to do the work to come up with their personalities on my own. But by providing them strong personalities I’m free to take a great NPC or riff of of it, or whatever is currently happening in the game, with the starting bar placed much higher.

Likewise the town of Middenhell, which plays such a big part as the default settings below the ‘dungeon.’ You might think, given the purulent description of the town, that I just like it because it’s gonzo and full of beer & pretzel guys night D&D shit. That’s not true. I like it, and gonzo in general, because it does a great job of communicating a style & theme. You can certainly do that with a standard high-medievel setting, or any other setting for that matter. But the mundane is not D&D and the mundane is not the stuff of spy stories and the mundane is not the stuff of Lovecraft. It doesn’t matter what the genre is. The adventure needs to turn it up to 12. Not just a little bit more at 11, but all the way 12. Everyone has had a hard day. The DM has been at his job. Fred has had a fight with hif wife. Mary’s cat died and Sue was studying all day for a test. This is not Papers & Paychecks. You got a limited time at that table tonight and you need to bring the noise. As the designer it is your job to help the poor schmuck running the game. You need to beat them over the head with IDEA.There should be absolutely no doubt what you intend for this (NPC, room, monster, etc) and it should be AWESOME. An orc with a +1 sword in a barracks with a victorian list of the room contents is the anthesis of that.

This adventure brings the noise. From a globe with a homunculus in it, to juvenile flying monkeys crawling all over the wall of a room, to a hundred other ideas and details, The Six Thousand Steps makes Girls Rock Boys.

This entry was posted in Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Contest Winners! Bryce’s 2013 Adventure Design Contest is OVER!

  1. Redmold says:

    Where do I find these to download?

Leave a Reply