Deep in the wilderness, and only a few short hours travel from a remote human settlement; a passing druid tending to the forestry came upon a beautiful glade. In it’s centre a solitary majestic tree topping a lush grassy mound, bearing irresistibly ripe fruit. The druid sat for a moments rest to eat a piece of the fruit, and fell asleep under the shade of its cool leafy canopy.
This is a 22 page adventure that has six pages describing a small nine room complex under an evil tree. It lacks a motivating element and uses a conversation writing style that is heavy on mechanics. An edit, Usul, the likes that even god has never seen, as well as a shift from CONTROL to GUIDANCE for the DM would help make the horror elements stand out more.
Oh, where to start. This was to be a horror adventure, or, at a minimum, a creepy horror elemnt adventure. Most of the hooks are generic throw-away “sent on a mission” or “please help us” nonsense, but the first has a nice little horror theme. You stumble across a deserted camp, it’s overcast and about to storm, and then you hear a scream in the distance. It’s a classic creepy set up. It works well because the text of the hook is short. It’s not full of mechanics or overly wordy, it’s just pure refined theme. The adventure tries to bring the horror in other elements. There’s the big old creepy tree on the hill. Muddy ground, a tangle of roots at your feet and/or hanging down in your face when you get underground. But the impact is lost because the vision is hidden behind a writing style that is … unfocused? unedited? Conversational? Not to the point. And because of that you have to fight the text to get to the creepiness and then its watered down through the effort to uncover it.
This comes from several different sins, almost all a form of padding. The first is drawing conclusions. The read-aloud at one point, in the middle of a paragraph of it, tells us “Centered in the glade is a ghastly sight.” This sentence is a conclusion. You See A Ghastly Sight. This is TELLING the players to be afraid. This is not a good thing. Instead we should be SHOWING the players and, hopefully, we do it in such a manner that they say to themselves “Man, what a ghastly sight! I’m freaked out!” So, sin one, we’re told what to think instead of being shown something for us to draw our own conclusions. To be fair, the text does then describe what we see. Which means that the entire sentence quoted is also redundant. It serves no purpose other than to clog up the text. The read-alouds can get long, also. Our WOTC friends published that famous article noting that no one pays attention after three sentences, and yet we get long sections that take up almost an entire column. Worse, it’s written in a first person style, so there’s a lot of “you push through the roots” and “you see a “ text. I’m NOT a fan of that style of read-aloud, the kind of assumed action dialog.
The DM notes do not fare much better. Long and full of both repetitive elements and overly descriptive mechanics. The “you approach the hill/tree” encounter has four paragraphs. The first two completely duplicate the information on the map, describing where the next room is, textually, and giving dimensions. Almost all of it is unneeded. A pool is described as “… appears to become very swamp-like …” No. It does not “appear.” It is. And swamp-like is more of an overly abstract term. Bog? Peat? Watery with trees sticking out? But, the mechanics are what I really want to focus on. “From either side of the pool or even standing above the mound the entrance door is incredibly well camouflaged.” This is a sentence justifying what is to come in the next one. It’s not really need. “The door is well camouflaged” would do the same thing. But then, you need to be within a maximum of 10 feet and make a DC25 check to find the door, increasing to DC30 with subsequent rolls as disbelief sets in. Thats a lot of words for something very simple. (Plus, its a roll to continue. What happens if we don’t find the door? I guess the adventure is over?) Finally, there’s a lot of if/then statements. IF the adventurers do X THEN this thing happens. Again, that’s just padding begging to be rewritten in a more direct fashion.
[And, as a nitpick, it uses boring words in places. Tall, heavy, long, big … these are all words that should be replaced with more descriptive ones,]
There’s a lot of maps provided, and I especially like the cross-section ones and the way they help communicate the room flow. I wish, though, that more information would have been on them. There’s a column or so o text near the beginning that describes a lot of terrain features, in the rain, in root rooms, etc. Those could have been placed on the map, making them less confusing and easier to find than continually flipping back to the terrain section at the beginning.
I note, also, that the adventure suffers from a “Why do that?” problem. Why go inside the tree? Creepy tree. Creepy setting. Tree clearly evil. Burn/chop it down. Yes, it’s raining. Yes, if you chop it down the evil dudes come out. But, still, seems much safer than going inside. And yet the premise is that the party goes inside. And past a big trapped front door at that. A little more incitement to explore would have been nice to see.
There’s some creepy stuff lurking in this, but its all obfuscated by the over-use of mechanics and padding/ineffective text.
Also, let’s all welcome Glen to the blog. He sent me a note saying how much he was enjoying reading it, and noting he had written this adventure. I repaid his kindness with this review.And here I am claiming that the only meaning to life is our interactions with others. Bah!
This is $2 on dmsguild. The preview shows you some stats and the terrain features … Which makes it seem more like a 4e adventure than a 5e one. Showing the meat of the adventure, so we can get an idea what to expect, would have been better.