The Mad God’s Jest

mgj
By Shane Ward
3 Toadstools Publishing
Labyrinth Lord
Level 6

Deep inside the mind of Captain Sherborne, he’s cracked. His dreams haunted by a Harlot. However nothing is what it seems. He wanders the world looking for brave souls to help him. Will you?

It’s all a dream! Hahahaha! Just a dream! You can’t die! Hahahaha! Shit like this gives me a headache. It’s a 21-room cave complex full of bizarro encounters. There is a high point of two, but it’s too far disconnected from reality for me to embrace.

The hook is DM fiat: Captain Whoever has his crew kidnap you. He gives you a map to some caves and hires you to go into them and recover a boot. I’m pretty sure the boot isn’t in the caves. It makes references, obliquely in several places but never explicitly, to the fact the captain accompanies you. “If he dies” and “when he makes it back out” and so on. So it’s also an escort mission. If the captain dies you get to restart the entire thing, Groundhog Day style. How can this be? Because it’s a dream.

Consequence free adventuring. If you die you just wake up, XP intact. I hate this shit. It turns everything into Lacuna, or some co-op storytelling game. “Monkeys fly out of my butt because I’m an alien from Xrdoz-10.” This is the cheapest and lamest of all pretexts.

Oh, I get it. All D&D is a pretext. It’s just an excuse to sit around the table and have a good time with your friends. From that perspective, who really cares? The game is as serious as you take it. And yet … there’s some kind of suspension of disbelief that comes into play. I’m been arguing playstyles recently with designers who insist Different Strokes for Different Folks, so this is in the front of my brain currently. When anything is possible in D&D it turns it into Lacuna, it turns it into a storytelling game. And yet, w’ve chosen D&D for a reason. We’ve selected it because it has constraints and it has a DM. When those constraints are removed in a blatant way, as is done in this adventure, it’s a slap in the face. No, you’re not playing the game you signed up for. You’re playing this new thing. When the characters are kidnapped via DM Fiat it points out the man behind the curtain. When it goes all Groundhog Day it points out the man behind the curtain. When you wake from the dream after dying it points out the man behind the curtain. I don’t think this is positive, most of the time. Beer, pretzels, and the right mindset? Maybe. But that’s essentially justifying the existence of linear tournament modules. Yeah, they MAY have a place in a certain niche … but couldn’t you just try a bit harder and do something better that doesn’t have those limitations instead of just slapping on some pretext to justify the decisions made?

The encounters, proper, all have two notable features. First, they are the very definition of Funhouse. Second, they are aggressively exhibit based. The first is pretty easily described. There’s a room with a hot tub. There’s a room inside an ice block with a giant cooking the captains brother over a pit/spit/fire. There’s a torture chamber where cultists go to torture themselves. A pool of lava room. A jungle room. A mushroom room. It’s just a series of encounters with nothing to interconnect them except “it’s ostensibly a cave complex.”

Secondly the encounters are all aggressively exhibit based. What I mean by this is that they are all things you SEE. There are no hints of reaction. There are no defaults in the encounters. And I saw “aggressively” because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dungeon. The Pool of Lava room is a good example of this: “There is a large pool of lava in the centre of this room, the pool is manmade (amazingly enough the lava has not eaten thru the floor! into the tunnel below). The room contains 4 madness cultists that are being fed strange colored soup. A manticore feeds them, and yells when they spit out the food.do this before so thoroughly.” That’s it! You get the manticore stats and a list of treasure. It’s like a little Vine movie playing in front of you. It ignores the fact that the dungeon exists for it to be experienced BY THE CHARACTERS. The complete lack of reactions is more than a little off putting, so I hope you’ve got your reaction roll table on your DM screen.

This one is weird. And not in a good way. Not in a bad way either, but it’s going to REALLY take the right mindset to make something of it.

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8 Responses to The Mad God’s Jest

  1. Confanity says:

    I agree with you that it was all a dream so there are no consequences, only rewards feels like a dissatisfying cop-out, but this line really bothered me:

    “I hate this shit. It turns everything into Lacuna, or some co-op storytelling game. ‘Monkeys fly out of my butt because I’m an alien from Xrdoz-10.’ This is the cheapest and lamest of all pretexts.”

    To be fair, it’s not entirely clear what you intent was or what you’re specifically thinking of, but it sure sounds like you’re calling storytelling games “cheap” and “lame.” Which sounds crazy to me, because I’ve played several storytelling games and they’ve uniformly been pretty awesome. I mean, yes, you can make up any shit you want (within parameters that were agreed on during setup), but if you’re actually engaging with the game, then the shit you make up will be in service of telling a fun story together, so it works. (And if you’re not actually engaging, then you’re going to make the whole thing shitty for everyone no matter what rules or system or genre the group has chosen.) If you’re making a judgment here based on a bad personal experience, then you have my sympathy, but it’s still not grounds to seemingly dismiss an entire type of gaming out of hand. :[

    • Akuma says:

      I think I understand where Bryce is coming from cause I agree with him in this case. Feel free to correct me if I’m off the mark.

      It’s not that you can’t run these kind of story’s, you can and they can be great, but there not as well not suited to the game system and expectations that come with D&D.

      For example one of those expectations is that death has a cost. While death is by no means final it still comes with a direct mechanical and role play effect on the current situation in a game of D&D. But if you take that consequence away your not using the strengths of the systems mechanics anymore, so as Bryce points out, why even play D&D if your just going to ignore those things? If you were going to do that you’d probably be better served with a different tabletop system that is designed with that sort of thing in mind.

      Moving onto the exhibit point I agree alot. In one of the adventures I’ve written I’ve even performed this cardinal sin cause I couldn’t think of any other way to get very third party information to the party. It still drives me nuts and I’d probably remove the whole part if I could think of a better way of doing it, so for the meantime I tried to make it as quick as possible.

      • Confanity says:

        There seems to have been a miscommunication, actually. I’m not saying that D&D mechanics should be used in a “storytelling game” way that e.g. erases any danger of death or the like.

        I’m saying that actual storytelling-game systems such as Microscope or Fiasco or Polaris exist, and are a worthwhile pastime. In a storytelling game, you don’t have the same player investment in a given character as you do in D&D because the point is not to have “your” character defeat foes and gain in wealth and power; the point is to tell an interesting narrative together. In a storytelling game it’s not uncommon to throw all sorts of trouble, even defeat and death, at “your” character because it makes for a fun, dramatic story.

        • Bryce Lynch says:

          Fundamentally, I agree. This is about expectations.

          The problem is when I say we’re going to play Harn, or Rolemaster, or a crunch game, and then we end up with a Fiasco mechanic. Or, when we play The Quiet Year but I yank out the FATAL rules.

          This is not to say we can push the boundaries of the scenarios for the systems we play, but we can’t go overboard so far that we loose sight of the core of the original system was.

    • Anonymous says:

      Wow, I agree! I too like to dismiss others ideas and shit all over adventures I have not run! Go buddy, take down all who put out ideas that are not main stream. And while we’re at it, fuck Tolkien and Lucas! D&D 4e 4ever!

  2. Shane Ward says:

    Thank you for the review Bryce. I always look for constructive criticism when someone reviews my products. In this case, I didn’t really notice that much. You did however point out a few things that annoyed you.

    The intention behind the adventure was to push myself to create something as weird as possible (I sat and thought, How close can I get to something Venger might write). You are right it’s weird, and would take the right mindset to back it work.

    As far as the dying and coming back to life part of the adventure. I get where you are coming from on that. I may put up a revision as far as that is concerned. The basic gist of which would be, the PC’s only get XP for any monsters, treasure the first time around. Having played a few games where the PC’s feel that its entirely fine to sleep in a dungeon, I wanted to create a consequence other than the typical random encounter. And because the adventure is essentially a bad dream in the mind of a crazed god, it seemed like an appropriate fit.

    As far as the boots are concerned, they are on the goddess.

    “amazingly enough the lava has not eaten thru the floor! into the tunnel below” – It’s D&D, maybe there’s some amazing rock beneath the lava in the floor that is not susceptible to lava.

    “It ignores the fact that the dungeon exists for it to be experienced BY THE CHARACTERS.”
    Alternatively I could have not described anything whatsoever other than the room, and the monster stats. Or I could have put this in a text box (which I detest), but then the gamesmaster could have skipped over the whole thing if they wanted to. noted.

    Someone I suggested that I sift thru more of your reviews, I am going to do just that in my spare time.

    Thank you for reviewing the adventure. If you have time there are a few other one’s that I have created.

    The Tomb Of Gardag the Strange
    The Lizardmen Of Illzathatch.
    Caverns Of Ugard.

    As well there are few entertaining random tables that I have put up.

    Cheers

    Signed
    alien from Xrdoz-10

    Shane Ward
    3 Toadstools Publishing.

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