Another double shot review! The first by Bryce and the second by The Pretty Girl!
Review 1 – Bryce Lynch
Coin and Scrolls Blog
This thirteen page adventure is a three level dungeon with 52 rooms. It’s a teaching dungeon, meant to introduce new players to various dungeon elements. Because of this it has a wide variety of things to encounter with lots of things to “play with” in the dungeon, from breaking statues to secret doors, traps, puzzles, and so on, with integrated designers notes. It’s also got a conversational style and, while targeted at new players, it’s almost certainly inappropriate for new DM’s. It needs to decide what it is, burn itself to the ground, and build off the nugget that’s left.
This is a teaching dungeon, meant to introduce new players to the various elements/tropes of dungeon. It’s a nice idea, but I disagree with many of the choices made. Yeah! Something interesting to talk about! The core concept of introducing players to dungeon tropes means that there is a WIDE variety of things to interact with in the dungeon. Status you can break open to find treasures, secret doors/statue interactions, weird lich-like monsters to talk to, weird trap things you can use against enemies, and so on. The variety of encounters in this dungeon is staggering and reminds me of Thacia and Blue Medusa in terms of density of things to do.
And this is my first issue, which is going to be super pedantic. It’s not an OSR teaching dungeon. It’s a SKERPLES-designed teaching dungeon, teaching you how to play Skerples dungeons. (Which, btw, seem to have LOTS of statues in them. 🙂 Further, it’s mostly teaching the standard Tolkien-D&D dungeon tropes. Is there a role for this? I guess so? I think I take exception to the Standard Tropes. I like the classics, but, I dislike the … genericism? that sometimes creeps in to them. Another path would have to include some classic pop-culture/folklore elements. Things behind waterfalls. A moving bookcase. Chandeliers that fall. A chimney with golden arms up it. I freely admit this is a preference thing, but I also think that my classics list would give n00bs a better first experience than generic D&D tropes … even though some of those generic tropes are likely to serve them better since THATS the stuff they are likely to see in 5e/pathfinder shovelware. So it does what it sets out to do, and a result you get a TON of variety to interact with, and that alone make this enough to take a look at.
While it may be targeted at new players it’s clearly not targeted at new DM’s. In fact, this would be one of the more difficult things for a mid-level DM to run. It’s system neutral, so our DM will be stat’ing everything either in advance or on the fly. The maps don’t have grids because “I think it’s important you redraw them yourself.” Further, the rooms are not really evocatively described and the details tend to focus on mechanics rather than evocative. There also tends to be a stronger focus on “gotcha!” traps than I would prefer. That may be personal preference, but I think it’s bullshit traps that lead to paranoid player play that slows things down. Searching every 10; of hallway and 30 minute descriptions of searching and opening doors. This is not to say traps are bad, but BAD traps are bad. 🙂 Each room has a “Lesson” to learn, that’s a kind of designers note on the purpose of the room, but could also be seen as DM text … if the entire thing wasn’t DM text.
Which is not to say this is a boring adventure, it’s just a very hit & miss thing. There are great things like a magic ring that lets you take out an eyeball to see … that’s about a million times better than generic clairvoyance rings. There are goblins you will elect you king and follow you as your minions … until they murder you during the next full moon. And, they have sticky skin to boot! An ultra-powerful lich-like guy you can talk to and maybe exploit … with a usual push your luck until he gets annoyed with you. This is great non-standard content and is the kind of content I WANT to pay for.
This thing lacks focus. It needs to figure out what it wants to be, burn the thing down to that, and rebuild it. Expert DM & new players? New players & DM? The core of creativity and variety is there, it’s just doesn’t really know what it wants to do. It has an idea, it states so explicitly, but I don’t think the stated idea matches what’s presented. So, overall, I have some philosophical disagreements about some of the content, but the conversational style and lack of focus is what I think makes it fall short of its own goals. As a general adventure, it’s got a lot of stuff to interact with and some decent new content, like the magic ring and goblins, that make it appealing, it just doesn’t do a good job being organized or evocative.
This is available on the Coins & Scrolls blog, and can be downloaded for free at:
Review A – The Pretty Girl
Tomb of the Serpent Kings
Total Score: 11 (out of 22)
Intended for, “New Players” this module nobly sets out teach the basics of advanced D&D Gameplay from the 2.0 – 3.5 era. Overshooting that goal, in the hands of an experienced GM this module could be pulled from to entertain any experience level players. Intentionally or incidentally, the methodical attempt to present a variety of 2-3.5 style encounters generated a nice variety. The degree of creativity in the module would be wasted on new players still bewildered on how to use ropes and cross bridges without sufficient support from a very experienced (and patient) GM. The assertion that the GM should make their own wandering encounter table was uncool.
|Experienced GM||Able to role-play NPC’s, take advantage of creative ques, and comfortable generating stats for their chosen game system easily.|
|Any player group||The adventure could work for anyone|
Optimal Application – Circumstance where this module would provide maximum benefit. All scores assume that the module is with the group most likely to enjoy and benefit from it
GM Complexity – Degree of effort required to generate a delightful game in optimal application of the material:
- 6 – GM could open the document with no preparation and run a delightful game
- 5 – GM would need to read through the campaign and expect to spend 1-2 hours preparing for each 4 hours of game play
- 4 – GM would be required to reorganize campaign somewhat and smooth over some shortcomings spending 3-4 hours preparing for each 4 hours of game play
- 1 – There are some innovative sections (encounters) that could be inserted into a different campaign, or linked together in a fully original way, but the material in its entirety cannot be utilized as is without investing a significant degree of GM effort and creativity
- 0 – Material provides no more value than a random encounter table while presenting such an arduous unraveling it would be foolish to attempt running
Player Amusement – Quality of material presented that has the possibility to delight the optimal player group
- 5 – Thoughtful pacing and ample opportunities to feel immersed in the game world, “Better than “Cats”, going to see it again and again”
- 2 – It’s fine
- 0 – Relationships between players and patients with the game itself will be challenged. Material creates multiple opportunities for rule quibbling and general discord
- 4 – Usable during the game to share with players
- 2 – Useful only to GM
- 1 – No graphics
- 0 – Of no discernable purpose and in the way – crowds space
- 4 – Succinct and evocative
- 2 – Conversational but clear
- 1 – You should have hired an English Major to edit this
- 0 – Very wordy/ incomprehensible
- 3 – It’s a shame that you are trying to keep some information a surprise as the maps are so delightful you want to hang them on the wall and show them off
- 2 – There are maps, they are legible
- 1 – There are no maps
- 0 – The included maps create logical inconsistencies with the written material that are difficult to catch