10’+1 – Tomb of the Serpent Kings

Another double shot review! The first by Bryce and the second by The Pretty Girl!

Review 1 – Bryce Lynch

By Skerples
Coin and Scrolls Blog
System Neutral
Level 1

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:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwIV4ttS3R1JZGp2TGl6YTNDZjg/view

Review A – The Pretty Girl

Tomb of the Serpent Kings
By Skerples
Self-published
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.

 

Optimal Applications
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

 

Rating Breakdown
GM Complexity 5
Player Amusement 2
Graphics 1
Language 1
Maps 2

Ratings Meanings

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

 

Graphics

  • 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

 

Language

  • 4 – Succinct and evocative
  • 2 – Conversational but clear
  • 1 – You should have hired an English Major to edit this
  • 0 – Very wordy/ incomprehensible

 

Maps

  • 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
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13 Responses to 10’+1 – Tomb of the Serpent Kings

  1. No says:

    Can you review “Storm King’s Thunder”? It’s WotC’s new 5e adventure, and apparently it’s pretty good and very “sandbox-y”. Could it be true? Could WotC have finally made a decent 5th edition module???

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      I’ll see what I can do.

    • Gus L says:

      I’ve looked at it – it seems Sandboxy in the way that OotA is ‘Sandboxy’ or ‘Lost Mine’ is Sandboxy – that is there’s a map and the party rides the rails around on it to scenes … but there’s an overland map…

      • Fucktard's Everfull Ass says:

        “This 256-page adventure for characters of 1st level to 11th level or higher ” by “Wizards RPG Team” tells me everything I need to know – avoid at all costs.

  2. Skerples says:

    First, thanks for reviewing this! I really appreciate the notes.

    V. 1.0 was intended to be a placeholder to help out people who were already running the dungeon based on the blog posts alone. V 2.0, the Actual Production Values Update, should answer all* of your questions and concerns. It will also feature bonuses like “including all of the rooms” and “a proper map”, as well as a full page GM guidance section and a second, rewritten from scratch, module design and goals section.There’s also a proper random encounter table. And art by Scrap Princess (not true).

    If all goes well, V 2.0 will be up this Friday or Saturday.

    *ok, most**
    **ok, some**
    ***oh fine, at least one

  3. Fucktard's Everfull Ass says:

    The Pretty Girl provided a 108 word paragraph of context this time, though it’s still followed by 356 words of “Ratings Meanings.” I’m reminded of 3/3.5/PF/4E adventures where 80% of the page count is stat blocks. 🙁

    • Beoric says:

      I dunno, I find the quantification useful. I think each category should use the same scale, though.

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      Maybe a hyperlink to her rating system. IDK. She points out, correctly, that the numbers are meaningless if … you don’t know what they mean. 🙂

      • Fucktard's Everfull Ass says:

        I think they’re also meaningless without verbal justification through an example. Oh, the Language is a “4 – Succinct and evocative” and the Player Amusement is a “2 – it’s fine” ???? How about an example for context, so I have a clue if we’re even on the same page about what qualifies as “succinct and evocative” or “fine.” Without that, she’s quantifying in a vacuum. The whole presentation feels lazy as hell to me.

        When Bryce bitches about or praises something he gives a couple of examples to illustrate his point. THAT’s value added.

        • Evards small tentacle says:

          What he said. Ratings without any framework or analysis is rather meaningless. No insight into the basis for the ratings.

  4. /\-x~x-/\ says:

    >It needs to decide what it is,
    It’s for experienced referees to introduce new players to the hobby.

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