The Palace of the King Under the Water

By W. R. Beatty
Rosethorn Publishing
Levels …? Mid to high?

Long forgotten by the people of the Rosewood Highlands, these ruins, now called Blackfalls Hall, have become the palace of the mysterious King Under the Water. […] What does the King Under the Water want? What is he hiding? Who will brave the depths of Blackfalls Hall to discover its secrets and treasures?

This 59 page adventures describes a multi-level complex of humanoids dominated by an evil king. With about 120 rooms, it is the real deal when it comes to multi-level dungeons. Fleshed out and fully realized, it has great variety and a … continuity? to it. Also, the editor was on LSD. I want to say something like “this is a nightmare of epic proportions” but that would be a great exaggeration. It’s disorganized with the DM text being all over the place, making it hard to parse at the table. For some reason I’m reminded of Dark Tower … great, but not simple to use. Or maybe Yrchyn the Tyrant from Usherwood … fully realized.

This thing don’t fuck around. It has a short background on page four and starts the keys on page five. Page 45 ends the keys and starts with the maps, monsters, magic items, AND A MONSTER SUMMARY SHEET!!!! The entire thing might have two pages of background info; that half page at the beginning and one page at the end describing rumors, hooks, and factions. The font is small and the information DENSE. It’s been a long long time since something like this popped by.

By my count there are seven levels, with varied map styles. Dungeons, grottos, outdoor cliff dwellings with an isometric view to help you understand it … perfect. The maps are Dyson. I know a lot of people love Dyson maps but I’m cooler on them. The ones I’ve seen generally tend to be small, almost like lair maps, with varying degrees of interesting features. Some of these are larger, to the point of being full on exploratory maps with many loops. Magic items contain a decent amount of uniques, especially with swords. For example, Bitter Root, the longsword, +2 can only penetrate magical armor, useless against non-magical armor though still cuts flesh.

Multiple prisoners to rescue, factions and machinations, up to and including the False King and the True King of the halls. Garran Ocar, High Priest of the Flood makes an appearance. Who the fuck is he? Hell if I know, but that name, oh man! Well, yes, I do know, he was drowned and raised by the true king. That’s the sort of detail that just oozes flavor. An old bitter ghost has cursed the place and now long-time residents are obsessed with birds (a part of it used to be a temple to a bird god.) This opens up some bird theming for the goblins, including riding giant vultures in places … like a cave mouth overlooking a high cliff, and a shamen that may jump out of window to be at one with the bird gods. There’s a kind of interconnectedness that runs throughout the place, with multiple themes. PERFECT for D&D exploration! Players love that kind of shit, and so do I as a DM.
Now, let’s talk about why this wonderful piece of work would be a nightmare to run. Room 1:

“The path up the cliff side is winding and treacherous, following a series of switchbacks, ending at the bottom of a series of buildings clinging to the cliffs on the western side of the waterfall. The entrance is about 50’ above the great pool below. The door here is thick oak, reinforced with iron bands and painted red and blue (the royal plumage of the Birdmen).”

That’s not a bad initial description. It even establishes some mythology with the red/blue stuff. We’ll give this paragraph MOSTLY a pass, since it’s really “the outside.”

Paragraph two …

“The door is locked. Inside the 15×20 foot room are 7 Goblin Guards and a Bird Shaman, called “The Sky Watch” by the other denizens. Normally they simply sit at tables playing dice or complaining. If alerted, one will climb the spindly winding stairs to the next levels to alert the garrison guard while the remaining six stand against the wall on either side of the door to ambush anyone who comes through while the Shaman casts darkness which covers the whole room.”

I’m gonna be an ass here. The locked door sentence belongs in the first paragraph. That describes the exterior and the lock is the exterior. In fact, that entire first paragraph could/should be a preamble before the keys start, but, whatever. Anyway, locked door goes OUTSIDE, where the information on outside is. Once INSIDE The room then you can start with those details.

Room dimensions in text are almost always bullshit. That’s what the map is for. Start strong, with the first thing. “7 goblin guard and a bird shamen dice & complain at a table. If alerted the Sky Watch will …” That’s direct. It’s targeted at play.

THEN comes the third paragraph …

“Each Goblin wears leather armor with a blue waterdrop symbol crudely painted on the chest, fights with a shortsword and a dagger and has 1d4 sp and 1d10 brilliantly colored bird feathers in a leather belt pouch. The Bird Shaman is covered head to toe in blue and red feathers. In addition to his spells, he wields the Staff of the Air (Stinking Cloud 2x/day, Predict Weather 3x/day, Air Blast 4x/day). Air Blast pushes an ogre sized volume of air (3’x5’x8’) at an extremely rapid speed, pushing up to 600 pounds of weight 4d6 feet (save for half distance). Air Blast does no damage.”

It is at this point I think the description is really off the rails. There’s really two things going on here. First is the description. Blue waterdrop and covered head to toe. Very nice, Probably belongs after the “complain at a table” since it’s something the party sees immediately. The leather/shortsword stuff, as well as the Staff of Air, probably belong in the monster stats, which is paragraph four, or even putting the staff in the magic item appendix, maybe with a page number reference. “Staff of Air (p44)”

(paragraph four)
Goblin Guards (7): hp 2,2,5,7,4,8
Bird Shaman: hp 9
Spells: Fly, Feather Fall,
Bird Form (limited polymorph self)

This sort of muddling of information happens not only within room but between rooms as well. Information from one room is referenced in another, obliquely. “They will release their pet.” pet? What pet? Oh, that’s in a different keyed entry. A reference to that entry, “rm 7b”, would help immensely. This is pervasive throughout the adventure, even if it can be excused a bit in the Cliff Dwellings section because of the way the buildings kind of all run together.

This is a great multi-level dungeon. I just wish it were edited better for use at the table. It’s a hard sell to slog through things. Something like 15 adventures made my Best Of list in the last year. That’s more than one a month. Why would I suffer? It’s time like these I have No Regerts.

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. The last half shows the keys, with room on, the bird shamen, on page four. Check out those last three pages for a great example of what you’re getting. A great preview.

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7 Responses to The Palace of the King Under the Water

  1. It continually amazes me how many RPG writers refuse to hire an editor or even have a few of their friends check for readability. Best thing is to give a copy to a few strangers and ask them to run it and give feedback. It’s too bad that an adventure can have great content, but it’s strangled by incompetent presentation.

    • I agree with you….but it’s actually more difficult than you might think. That saying, ‘you got to spend money to make money’ doesn’t necessarily apply to OSR adventure writing. Asking help from strangers can feel like talking to a brick wall. Maybe I need better (more) friends.

      • I’ve been professionally editing for many years now and have done my share of editorial work on RPGs. The saying “you have to spend money to make money” does, indeed, apply to OSR adventure writing, except that expectations need to be tempered. No one is going to become rich from roleplaying outside of the major companies. It’s a break-even prospect, at best. I know, having fronted my own money for a project. Yet I still paid for editorial work (even though I am, as I said, an editor). I’ve found that asking help from strangers involves opening your wallet, with the expectation that the goal is to break even on the project. And I know plenty of people who are willing to read through a project and provide feedback. Just go on the google+ roleplaying community or facebook and ask! People, I’ve found, are happy to be a part of the project, especially if their name is listed in the thanks/credits. People in the gaming community are very giving, in my experience.

        • Oswald says:

          With my own projects, I’ve found that artwork costs money but just spending a day or two googling basic guides to layout and design, then taking notes can put you above even professional products when it comes to useability at the table. I bought some books on layout and design lately which should improv my next stuff even more.

        • I always put my scenarios out for playtesting on Dragonsfoot. In addition to finding the errors in the paragraphs the Author has read too many times, they find all the holes in playing the thing. My biggest gripe about OSR products is that too many just don’t appear to have been play-tested.

        • Hey Forrest, please email me.

          I have an adventure I could use some editing help on if you are interested.

  2. squeen says:

    I think Byrce was a bit too harsh in this case. I picked it up based on the review, and I didn’t have big issues with the editing. The maps are good, and the writing is fairly terse. Info is just a bit more scattered than one might like, but this is honestly on-par with most of the “good” products out there. The author (WR Beatty) clearly is TRYING to help the DM run the adventure, and there’s a quiet humility to the writing. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath-water here. Does OSR have so many great creative minds that it can toss them aside in a cavalier fashion?

    What is exceptional here is the originality and quality of the content. Considering the very reasonable price for this and the (free!) Northern Tier hexcrawl, this is an amazing first-publication effort by the author. The world-context and vibe is fresh without being gonzo, non-European, or extremely “adult arts-y”.

    I am honestly excited to see what else WR Beatty might create.

    (…and you know, you can hire Bryce for creative input/feedback as well.)

    @Bryce: YOu are a blog-writing machine. Thanks!

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