When omens portend ill fortune for the city, the priests call upon a Dragonboat Festival: a racing competition gathering swift boatmen from all over the continent. Their ancient chants call forth the powers of the undying, waking the Flower Liches from their distant graves. For a week, the liches roam the city freely, and oversee the race, taking the losing crews as tributes and sacrifices. Once the Dragonboat Festival is finished and the liches disappear, the city’s prosperity is magically replenished, and all the monetary wealth the citizenry had before the festival — player characters included — is doubled.
This 95 page digest adventure describes the events & notable locations in a fanciful asian city in which a festival is occurring. Flavorful, evocative and interesting but not quite all there in meshing all together well. A better D3 than D3, it revels a bit too much in places. You gotta put some work in to get past some of organization choices, but it is almost certainly worth it.
Ok, so a freaky deaky city. Imagine the underground parts of Big Trouble in Little CHina, but a full fledged location/city with normal city life thrown in. Add to that the Dragonboat Festival taking place, a boat race ruled over by actual liches with flower themes. That fair Verona is our setting. On top of that we add a some servants reporting ghosts in their ladies house … until the next day when they laugh it off. Finally, there seems to be an unrelated subplot with a weird suicide. Add to that some weird wandering town encounters and throw in some players character. I like town adventures and I like adventures with a lot going on. This has both.
This thing revels in its encounters and descriptions. “Maids & knaves wearing reggedy outfits” is the description of the servants in a house. “Smiling fat mandarin wearing imposing brocade robes and a tall pointed gold hat.” is that of one of the lords of the manor. The descriptions are short, punchy, and leverage iconic imagery to provide more than the literal text of the words.
And of the encounters, a Penanggalan has been hunted down, its body dead, only its head and entrails floating above the street, dripping acid blood and causing fear like a crazed childs lost balloon. Or drunk officials dropping paperwork or some import. These are wandering tables I can support: just enough extra text, a sentence or two, to add flavor to the encounter. The Penanggalan conjures images of a mob of peasants, scared, ineffective, in the streets, chaos, etc … none of which is mentioned but where my mind wandered given that little bit extra provided.
Animal people, like bullywugs and a bespectacled praying mantis person, add to the exotic vibe. The description of the liches themselves, at the festival conjures a scene of horror and revulsion and wonder. It’s all cranked up to 11. What are the wandering mercenaries armed with? Bohemian Ear Spoons, of course!
There’s a nice little mini-game for the boat races, proper, with directions and advice followed by examples to help sort things out. There are page references in the text, so when the Chancellor is mentioned its followed by a page number to go look them up. There are summaries provided to orient the DM to what’s coming. One creature, when killed, turns in to an obsidian flower that you can then use to summon it to help you, Figurine style. Flower Lices of the Dragon Boat Festival goes that extra little bit and it shows.
You know, I rail about gimping the characters in some reviews. During the race a lich erases spells from the casters mind, and they use a wand of magic detection to take away magic items. I thought “oh boy, here we go! Thanks Kabuki!” But then … “if you smuggle magic past the liches then its considered fair game.” Suddenly this “gimp” is turned on its head. It gets turned in to a “how can we cheat to win and not get caught?” Not a gimp, but a pretext to spur on crazy ideas and plans … that being at the core of some of the finest D&D moments in actual play, I think.
Still, there are a few things that could be done better. The equipment list is a little exhaustive, IMO, taking up three pages. Some of the more exotic fare could be kept but I question the wisdom of including book equipment on the list.
There’s some little effort to create rival teams with character but this is mostly just “they are lizardmen” or “goblins” sort of thing. A team name name and/or a little more in the rivalry department would have punched the the rival teams up a bit.
The location descriptions use an interesting format. There’s a small (but legible) map as well as a minimal key: just the room name and what creatures are there. Then there’s a page or so of text that describes the location and what’s going on in a free form style. It refers back to room numbers, etc, but it’s not in a room/key format, not quite stream of consciousness but more conversational. I’m not sure about this choice. You have to really read and grok the content and I’m more of a scan guy, at the table. It feels like highlighter fodder.
This feeds in to the general text length, which is up there. Big fonts and wide margins make it easy to read, and its organized quote well, so its not quite the chore that 96 pages might otherwise imply.
Finally, while labeled as a sandbox, I think it could use a little more pretext to get things going. You could be in the city to compete in the boat race (for the prizes, as a adventure goal for something else your DM has cooked up), or investigate the house servants. Those are two obvious hooks in the city, beyond “you’re in town and this is going on.” It feels, though, like the servant mystery and the other subplot could use a little more integration. Or maybe I’ve been reviewing too many linear lead-you-by-the-nose adventures.
This is $5 at DriveThru. You’d be a fool to not grab it at this price. The preview shows you the first six pages … probably the least flavorful six pages of the entire adventure.