You will find with “The Sinister Tunnels of GREENFIELDS” a sorcerer, terrible rituals, forgotten dungeons …. and a little more than that.
This seventeen page “adventure” in a village is more of an adventure outline. Pretty maps abound, but it feels more like the outline for a short story then it does anything usable at the table. The keyed encounters are not actually keyed encounters, but merely mentioned in a long paragraph, while the NPCs and backgrounds get too much text. The hook and villain are, at least, more fresh than usual. I WANTED to run this adventure … but I don’t want to devote the mental effort to do so. I think this is French, translated to english.
There was a plague in a small village about fifteen years ago, followed by a famine since no one was there to work the fields. A merchant moved in and built a spinning mill, providing food & jobs ad place for the orphans in the village, and region, to work. I’m sure you can work out the major thrusts of the rest on your own. He’s evil, caused the plague, and has nefarious purposes. In this case he’s a (relatively) low-level evil wizard who is using the kids to remain young. (A classic! I love the classics!) He only hangs about for fifteen years and his self-imposed time limit in this village is almost up. Two of the three hooks are a bit fresh: you’re guard for a merchant going to visit him for normal spinning-wheel business. This is a decent pretext to put the party in the middle of the village while shit unfolds around them. The second is a lord who lost his entire family 30 years ago due to an epidemic identical to the one in this village, and hires the party to go look in to things. The idea of an ancient dying lord, hunting down with vengeance his family’s murders, but too old not to pursue it, is another trope I like because I think it appeals to players. The wizards low level nature, the classic theme of eternal youth, and his benefactor status in the village all VERY strongly appeal to me. These are things that a DM can work with pretty easily, I think.
In support of the DM there are some column-long descriptions of the village’s mayor (loyal to the villages benefactor), his loyal manservant, and an orphan-finder who roams the countryside seeking out new workers. All three are well done, but their descriptions go on much longer than they need to. A couple of sentences, or maybe a short paragraph is all that should be needed. More than this requires notes & highlighters.
You also get maps of the village (Harn-like … my favorite sort of village-area map) and three maps of underground areas/tunnels. The maps are beautiful, as one would expect from a French illustrator. Top notch (isometric?) cutaways of the areas showing a decent amount of detail. The maps are much more vertical than most, and have nice elevation elements present. There are multiple entrances, through various wells and so on. It is, essentially I think, a linear design with a couple of room hanging off of it. The vertical elements save it, and while it’s not an exploration dungeon-map it IS quite a bit better, quite a bit, than the usual plot-maps. Winches. Wooden platforms, ropes, tunnels in to the dark, ladders stairs, ruins, the maps do a great job of being evocative and providing the chaotic sort of environment that I think a good exploration map provides. Here’s a link to one of them:
There are some things going on to spice things up. He’s getting to ready to move. He’s about to/will sacrifice several children. That also creates ground tremors when he does it. There’s a monster under the water that appears when he sacrifices kids. There are goblins ready to invade the town. The mayor is a die-hard supporter. There is at least one visiting “merchant.” I’m not sure if any of this is faction-like, but it is enough going on to create the sort of chaos I like to see in an adventure … without it FEELING like it’s manufactured chaos (as it is in so many Dungeon Magazine adventures.)
Alas, I am now out of kind things to say. The adventure is only an outline. A seventeen page outline, but an outline nonetheless. No orphans presented (but for one “a mute girl”), no villagers presented but for the mayor. No encounter keys presented. WHAT?!?1 Yes, the entirety of the undergrounds 21 rooms are covered in about three paragraphs of free-text. Imagine if you will, at the end of a paragraph … “Several rooms dug around are used to store weapons and equipment to gear up a small troop of mercenaries and to accommodate it if necessary (16, 17, 20 and 21).” That is the extent of four room descriptions. All of the others are like that. Roughly in order, but skipping around abit, with text mixed freely.
Imagine you came upon a map and numbered it and minimally keyed it. “Storeroom”, “merc bedchambers” and so on. You also scrawled “kindly wizard disguised as merchant who actually sacrifices kids to stay young” along the top of the page. You would have this adventure. And you will again since you’re going to have to print out those map pages and take notes on it.
I’ve been accused of having a rather strict taxonomy on what an adventure is, and it’s because of product this like one. If you sent your husband out to the store to buy an adventure and he came home with this, for your game tonight, you’d probably sigh and pronounce it worthless. It’s not an adventure that one expects to get.
But I don’t think the product is bad if you accept that it’s not an adventure. If it were advertised as an adventure planner, or outline, or something like that then I think it’s an interesting product. As a reviewer you’re faced with a lot of the same and so products like this stand out. I can imagine something similar, for example, as a kind of outline for Scourge of the Demon Wolf. “Here’s the framework for an adventure. Go add the details.” Not an adventure. A framework that you need to work on to add to. Kind of a more expanded “Adventure Seeds” that clog up DriveThru/RPGNow. Something for which to inspire. In that vein, a few more villager details and intrigues, as well as orphans, would be called for, as least in outline.