Tower of the Red Angel

by Simon Forester

Self-published

Swords & Wizardry

Levels 1-3

 

Freely distributed on “and the sky full of dust” blog.

 

This is a five or six floor small wizards tower with thirteen or fourteen rooms. It runs a line between some interesting theming/strong flavor and bland and boring. When it brings the theming & flavor it does a good job, but it is inconsistent in delivery, going through stretches without or injecting the boring in situations which could be interesting. It could make a nice hex crawl encounter and has enough going for it to salvage … which could probably be done on the fly.

 

At only four pages, one of which is map and one of which is rumors and set up, this adventure brings the terse. It also delivers some strong flavor. And it also, maddeningly, delivers some strong doses of boring & mundane. I don’t need an action movie in my adventure but I do want to see strong imagery that, as the DM, inspires me. That is the purpose of EVERY published adventure: to inspire the DM. The first page of the adventures is a small collection of bullshit nonsense hooks and great rumors, along with two paragraphs of backstory; one of which could serve as the player intro and one of which serves as the DM intro. I think the introduction is nearly perfect. It does a GREAT job of setting the scene for the adventure and introducing concepts that will be reinforced throughout the adventure. It does this in seven sentences, total: three for the player intro and four for the DM follow-up. They all work well together to form a great baseline that the adventure can build off of. All of those countless frustrated author asshats with their multiple pages of backstory could learn more than little from this adventure. The hooks fall down, falling back to the old “someone hires you”, “you heard the wizard was dead” or “hey look, a tower.” I’m not exaggerating by much. The actual text is “hired by a thief/wizard/greedy merchant to loot the tower, keeping a share of whatever is found.” And that’s the most evocative of them. Better to just say “heres a location to use in a hex crawl campaign” or some such rather than take up valuable space with the hooks, since all they are doing is filling dead space. The rumor table, though, is pretty good. In ten rumors, taking up the whole of one column, you get a nice little picture of the tower and great imagery. “Giant spiders have been seen climbing the tower, disappearing into the entrance at the top.” or rumors of red demon statue on top of the tower, that flies down to grab folk trying to get in. It continues to reinforce some themes of the adventure, in particular: snakes.

 

The second page has the map of the tower.

Six levels all laid out on page, with a small key, with notes on setting the place on fire, and with some decent floor plans showing statues, tables, columns, chairs, and the like. The smaller level maps are JUST on the edge of being too small, another 15% in size and they’d be ok. There is good detail non the maps though, with lots of stairs, and especially balconies. This adventure uses a lot of open spaces and balconies open to below. I love that kind of stuff; it gives the party a good non-linear chance of exploring and using their wits. Combine with actual interesting things IN those areas they can see, it provides some great variety and interest.

 

It takes three columns to describe the keyed entries, from the featureless wall surrounding the tower, to the hostile garden inside the wall with it hidden path, to the various rooms and chambers inside of the tower. The primary strength and weakness of the adventure are here in the rooms. It does a great job of describing a balcony at the top of the tower, looking out over the garden and forest, with an arched entry leading to columned chamber with stairs leading down, the domed ceiling thick with cobwebs, and the columns holding the roof up carved with images of snakes. That’s good imagery. Spiders cocoon a dead thief, with a red marble statues of a faceless angel squatting on the balcony railing. When the adventure is doing things like this it’s at its best. Throwing in strong snake theming and tossing about adjectives and adverbs. It’s a DOMED ceiling THICK with cobwebs. RED marble, FACELESS angel, SQUATing on the RAILing. It’s building up a picture in your mind and the adjectives and adverbs helps that. And then it has a dormitory with a simple guest room with beds, empty shelves and a simple table and stools. Uh … thats not fun. Realistic maybe, but not fun. It builds a picture all right, but one of being lame. It goes back and forth like this, providing some good imagery in some rooms while in others being boring and lame and NOT awesome. The monsters are all unique, which is a plus, but they tend to be things like “giant snake” “winged statues” and “giant spiders.” Even there the things lacks a bit of detail. The hostile plants in the garden get a “Whips/thorns/etc” attack. A couple of better example would have been in order. Some of the treasure is great (a bottle full of diamond dust) while some is almost great (a +1 dagger that looks like a snake fang. Better if it WAS a snakes fang) some is lame (potion of healing.) Other places have things obviously overlook (gold and silver inlay? We pry it off! How much is it worth? Uh .. not listed.)

 

This shows more imagination than most adventures, its just disappointing that it doesn’t hit more consistently. I would have no trouble running it.

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Dungeon Magazine #23

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The Vineyard Vales
by Randy Maxwell
D&D
Level 2-4

This is a Scandinavian/viking themed adventure. The party wanders around the countryside having encounters on the way to/from two adventure sites. The countryside encounter really makes this adventure, and if you read those encounters first (which are at the end of the adventure) and then go back and read the other encounters, you’ll have a much better time in your head figuring out the adventure. Giant locusts are eating the locals crops. There’s no lord, this is an independent freehold, and no one wants to invite a jarl in. The group is hired to go after the locusts while the locals are out battling the locusts. That has a hint of lameness about it; how many times have we read “we can’t be bothered” or “were busy and cant do it” as a lame excuse to get the party involved. And that’s exactly what I thought, but then the wandering encounters do something more. There are some large battles between the locals and the various bad guys. This background scenery adds a lot to the adventure and to the hook. We get to see groups of farmers and locals banding together to protect their lands. Rather than their being some paternalistic “were too weak to defend ourselves” nonsense, there is instead much greater buy in to hook. The group eventually learns some lizard men are behind things. The vibe here though is not the noble savage but rather a kind of cannibal beast-man feel, fitting in well with the lower-tech/lower-fantasy environment. Captives, refugees, burning farmsteads, wandering mercenaries, large pitched battles, all very nice and fitting in well with the lower-tech/magic theme. The first adventure site is nothing special, just a cave with shriekers and a giant toad. The second is a kind of ruined courtyard with a lot of lizard men running around in it. Or, rather, parts of it. It would have been nicer, I think, if the lizard men were out in the compound with guards, cannibal feasts, etc, instead of hold up in buildings lie the barn. But … then you get to burn the barn down and kill the folks running out, so, six of one. The mundane treasure here gets a little love, with silver-inlaid scroll tubes and jeweled dagger sheaths, but then nothing is done with the magic items. The wandering encounters are what really bring this adventure to life and add the flavor.

The Pyramid of Jenkel
by Willie Walsh
AD&D
Levels 8-10

Evil demon is luring adventurers to their doom in a village temple. Most of the village is willfully ignoring what is going on. This has A LOT of backstory, three pages worth. It all amounts to a MOSTLY buried clocktower showing up one day in the middle of a village. Hence the “buried pyramid.” The demon at the bottom corrupts a priest and he starts modifying the local festivals to include animal sacrifices … and luring adventurers in to it. He does this by … sending out people in to the wild to spread rumors .. that they believe so detect lies/alignment/blah blah blah don’t work on them. I hate that shit. It’s a weak way for the DM to screw over the party and a crutch for not putting in the design work required to get the hook moving. The village is described in WAY too much detail. Almost every entry seems to give us a short tutorial on how medieval farming practices work. There’s also a nice section how the gatekeeper purchases vegetables from the local general store. WTF? NONE of this is relevant to the adventure. It’s absurd. Underneath the clocktower is a small portion of a ruined city. That could be cool, but there’s too many creatures hanging out in their little houses and not enough “sneaking through he ruined city” going on. There’s an attempt to add color, trolls with livestock and mephits in hawaiian shirts and fedoras, but there’s not enough interactivity to support it. It’s combined with a “bad guy wears a ring lets him control the area the undead can roam in.” LAME. Just do something else. The magic treasure is generic and the mundane treasure little; gems in particular just get generic values. I like the Marlith demon being evil and corrupting the villager thing, but the entire clocktower and ruined city are boring and generic.

Old Sea-Dog
By THomas M. Kane
AD&D
Levels 2-5

This is an absurd adventure, but its got a big chaotic ending. In a port town, a lords prize fighting dog is missing and he needs it back. The party is hired, investigate, find some clues, go to a ship where the dog is, and then all hell breaks loose in three or four way fight on the ship. This may be the closest thing I’ve ever seen to an actual “big crazy pirate ship battle” outside of the movies … and there are no real pirates and the ship is probably at port when it goes down. It doesn’t mess around at the beginning but jumps right in, which is VERY unusual for a Dungeon adventure. It’s got some good city encounters, including a noble lord running down people in the street, good natured constables who shut down investigations, drunks, beggars, and gamblers. There’s a good inn encounter with a couple of loose rumors about the dog which are handled well: a minimum of words and nice little surround of “treat the staff nice/work on their defects” to pump them for information. The ship is built to be snuck on to, by a variety of means/mechanisms, from stealth to social. After that, guards & wards show up and three factions duke it out on the ship. Maybe a little more description of crazy shit to happen on the ship would be nice, but it’s an otherwise great setting for an almost mass combat. Seven pages make a tight little adventure for a great night of play.

Deception Pass
by Rich Stump
AD&D
Levels 7-9

This is a frustrating adventure with some Ogre Magi, in both an ambush and a lair, who are pretending to be someone else. There’s s nice little scene with a town meeting to start the adventure off. The various NPC’s in the town are all there, along with others, and the party just kind of stumble in to it. It feels like a real town meeting in a rough & trouble place, and the various NPCs have more color and personality to them than is usual in a Dungeon Magazine … without it being overboard. The town is a little over-described … I’m not sure I need to know the full story of how The Iron Horse Inn got its name, or that food prices ate 102% of book standard. There are a lot of rumors, which is nice, but they are a little generic and could be beefed up with some more exciting language. “A hermit lives in the wooded vale south of the pass. Don’t disturb him – he owns a powerful magic staff.” That’s too generic for my tastes. I’m looking for a story about crazy old ben who has a lazer staff , or crazy old Ichibod and how he fought off a giant by using his staff to turn him to a manta ray. Effects and color, not flavorless fact. The Magi attack the parties caravan in the pass, but they are all disguised as something else and pretending to be mages, etc. Face magic wands and staves and the like to cover up their powers. To win out the day the party needs to get of the 7 magi down to 2/3 of their HP, which causes them to flee. The lair portion of the adventure then comes in to play, with the lair housing a great number of charmed people/creatures in the service of the Magi. The lair map is moderately interesting but it suffers from the usual lack of a coordinated defense. The Magi are supposed to be super intelligent but instead tend to hang out in a single place and each area ends up being mostly isolated combats from the others. The charmed NPC’s are moderately interesting but they all attack immediately and thus die without that coming in to effect. The rooms in the ruins are not that interesting, being little more than abandoned rooms with dust and broken furniture occupied, maybe, by a charmed person who attacks immediately … in isolation from everyone else. The Ogre Magi, working together, are good opponents, and the concept of the charmed staff could have added a nice touch. The lack of social element and/or the gimmick of them pretending to be other creatures/mages when they attack, feels out of place. The lack of the fantastic in the locations, magic, and treasure, is quite disappointing.

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AFS Magazine #3

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The second adventure in this review is the reason I went out and bought all of the issues of AFS Magazine. You should own AFS #3. Go order it right now. If you don’t you will miss one of the finest visions of D&D published.
Into the Black Kingdoms
by Scott Moberly
AS&SH
Levels 2-5

This is an exploration of a ruined temple in an African/jungle setting. It starts in a rather literary sense: a little backstory in which a friend and sometimes companion of your dead Uncle lies dying in a shabby tent by a greasy campfire. Gripping your shoulder, he tells you a tale. That’s some 20′s lit opening there, instantly recognizable by anyone who has ready Lovecraft, Smith or Howard. He tells a tale, two north of Kulalo, off the Black Coast … ivory trading ships and a jade crocodile with emerald eyes as big as a mans head. All of this is handled in a short DM soliloquy, ending with the parties guide saying, as the soliloquy ends: “This should be the Village Gazabomwe.” More of a con game intro, but, it illustrates at least two great techniques that I find add a LOT to adventures: adjectives & proper names. Which is to say, the party does not approach the Village _OF_ Gazabomwe. It’s Village Gazabomwe. I know, it seems simple, but the archaic use of the proper name summons that ancestral memory deep down in side of you. The ones that hide all of that ancient jungle temple lore. The tyranny of the modern is thrown aside and replaced by the romantic mystery of the dark interior. Second, note the use of adjectives. It’s a GREASY campfire. It’s a SHABBY tent. Tongues are loosened with FORTIFIED wine. Finch does this. Stroh does this. Scott does this. Their adventures are able to much better invoke strong imagery because of their liberal use of the adjective. This allows them to get away with a minimum of words to invoke a particular feel, to implant a seed in the mind much more effectively. And that seed is the critical element for a DM. If they can help me imagine it then I can communicate it to the players.

Enough! There is a small paragraph or so that details the village and the groups interactions with them. Don’t be a dick, bring gifts, and enjoy the party. The ruined temple exterior is described in just a couple of sentences. SCANT ruins of an ANCIENT temple to a NAMELESS god. Heaps of MOLDERING stone BLEACHED white. Searching fins a stone that can be pulled up, resulting in a MUSTY smell of OLD bones and decay. Below, a PITTED grey stone stairway leads to UTTER darkness … Below are eight rooms to the ancient temple ruins. Eight pretty good rooms. African devil fave masks with magic mouths “You have entered sacred grounds” “leave now or die one thousand deaths!” That’s good stuff. There’s a room with an “evil merman” statue and a lever on the wall. Pulling it causes the room to flood with water. Water activate the merman statue. You can push the lever back up. Again, nice combo, nice imagery. The lever, stuck as it is when the room floods, CAN be pushed back up to stop the water, but there’s a hostile merman statue in the room. The treasure is good, a rhino hide bracelet studded with jewels, and the like. The monsters are at least not generic, if not unique. The wight, the former chief of the cult, a ravenous african man with yellow filed teeth, red-rimmed eyes, and dreads, and filthy green cape. That’s a fucking monster right there! Describe him to the party and they’ll be pissing themselves trying to figure out what he is. How much better is that then just saying “a wight lives in this room”. The designer must have a strong vision and must be able to communicate that imagery to the DM. Scott does that.
Hyperborean Laboratories and Cave System
by Benoist Poiré
AS&SH

This is a 40-ish room ancient hyperborean lab complex, part cave and part dungeon. It’s also the reason I bought all of the AFS magazines. More specifically, I saw the map. I’m familiar with Poiré from therpgsite and more specifically his thread where he laid out a megadungeon and detailed one level. The map was wonderful. A full fledged megadungeon level. Not the simple shit that Rappan Athul passes for, or the “fill the graph paper” stuff that Lich Dungeon did. Poiré’s levels ALMOST fill the graph paper, but not with endless repetition and symmetrical designs,. Instead everything seems much more organic and there are significantly more interesting features in the levels, He also uses color to great effect, adds lots of features to the rooms and hallways, and frequently uses passages running above or below others to give a hint of a third dimension. This isn’t Thracia level visibility, but more “a really awesome and complex one level map.” The map alone is worth the price.

One of the seven wonders of the modern world is surely the Internet. With it we are able to communicate with people from all over the world and share our ideas. Because of it we get to see what D&D means to other cultures and the games of people like Melan and Poiré. The aesthetic they bring to the game is new and fresh when compared to the cultural underpinnings that drive the American market we are all familiar with. The hobby needs more of this cross-culturel influence.

What Poiré has done here is create a wonderful OD&D-like dungeon full of the weird and wonderful, but with the underpinnings that somehow … foreign. Everything is just a bit off … in a good way. Imagine a terribly creative person, who has never played D&D before, creating a dungeon. That’s what we have here. The traditional influences are almost not to be found, or at least are not readily apparent. That’s quite remarkable and results in a fabulous experience. Further, each room has two sections “In my Campaign” and “In Your Campaign.” The first describes the room, as a GOOD traditional adventure module would. The second is almost a designers notes section for the room. Ostensibly it gives tips and advice on how you can integrate the room in to your own game. In reality it amounts to a designers notes on the rooms. How to use the room, what its intended to do, and so on. And yet the rooms don’t feel like an academic exercise. They feel organic and work together to provide a unified experience … and that’s what the designers notes communicate, how to achieve that effect. I’m going to give just one example, from early on. A clay pillar stands in the room. It’s slick with moisture. Approaching it and touching it will cause it to animate. Faces appear in the pillar, as if they were just under a thin layer of wet clay. Arms reach out and try to slowly embrace people nearby. They pull the grabbed people and consume them. … It’s a teleporter room. You come out of a similar pillar in another room. Room after room after room is like this.

It seems like all of the rooms describe effects, not rules. I may be mistaken, but I don’t think there’s a single rule anywhere in the adventure. The closest he gets is “I made the monster 5HD in my game.” But there are effects. LOTS of effects. It’s up to you, the DM, to adjudicate these. I think this is absolutely magnificent. I can make a ruling at the table. I can do monster stats on the fly. But the imagination … THAT’S what I’m paying for and that’s what this thing delivers. I can’t emphasize enough how refreshing I find this style. A triumph of the romantic over the mechanical.

I may make three criticisms of the adventure. First, it is sometimes hard to pull out specific parts of rooms. This is typically referred to as a “wall of text” problem but I’m not sure that description is accurate here. Or perhaps it is, but in a very non-traditional way. It is sometimes hard to pick out key portions of the rooms that will need to be referred back to later. One needs to orient oneself to a room when running it. You need to be able to look at a room and instantly tell what is going on in it to run it at the table. The room descriptions here are excellent, they do a great job of conveying a lot of great information but it can be difficult to orient oneself to the room. Traditionally, a highlighter and the margin notes are used to solve this kind of problem at the table. Second, while the rooms tend to have a great deal of interactivity they do not tend to have a lot of loot. I would be hard pressed to recall any loot, magic or mundane, being present. The third criticism is related to the second, although tangentially. Some of the creatures could use a little more in the way of effects. While Poiré generally does a great deal just describing effects and not rules, he sometimes neglects to add effects, to both monsters and the environment. To a certain extent I believe this, as well as the loot, is related to the specific axe he has to grind. He’s used a very non-traditional format and I suspect the lack of description is a part of that. While that generally works fine, and in fact I’ve praised it in the immediately preceding paragraph, it zooms out too far with respect to the creatures, at a minimum. “that shoot poison bumblebees from its mouth”, or something similar, tacked on to the creatures would have added more functionality without destroying the mechanic-less vision.

I don’t usually plug work by people, but Poiré and Ernie Gygax are working on the Hobby Shop Dungeon, appearing in the pages of Gygax magazine, I believe. Considering the quality of this dungeon and his megadungeon thread of therpgsite, I’d recommend checking out the Gygax magazine work with Ernie. I know that his work appearing there is what pushed me in to ordering Gygax magazine.

 

 

A universal translator: infects other cultures with american-standard D&D or enables other cultures to invest american-standard D&D with their own D&D culture?afs3

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AFS Magazine #2

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Cliff Warrens of the Covid Birdmen
by Scott Moberly
OD&D
Levels 2-4

Oh OD&D, is there any version finer? Even when mundane you bring a level of originality that tends to not be present in other versions. I love your weirdness that brings a more fantastic and fairy-tae vibe. I love your unique monsters that no players has ever heard of and causes their characters to feel in terror of the unknown. I love your magic items, unique, mysterious, and with idiosyncratic rules around them. What if the D&D books came with no monster descriptions? What if it came with no list of magic items, or just the 1E DMG artifacts? What if the sample adventures had the party armed with pocket knives, blankets, crowbars, a chicken, and lots and lots of sacks? Imagine playing a game where everything is new and unique and you never know what any creature encountered will do. Where the glorious and fantastic items you find are mysterious and awe-inspiring … treasured by your characters and by the player also. Imagine bravely entering the underworld to wrest the loot from it, knowing full well that everything you meet could kill you in an instant. That’s what OD&D means to me. That’s the world of the awesome and the fantastic and the unknown that I want. That’s my Dungeons & Dragons.

This is a little 9-room cave system. It’s packed full of OD&D weirdness and charm, even if it doesn’t make any sense at times. New monsters, weird stuff, terse descriptions … I’d rather read and review a hundred of these little things, even though it’s not the best example of OD&D greatness, than any other versions opus.

A group of crow-like evil bird-men are terrorizing a town. With a fondness for human flesh and shiny things, they swoop down at night and abduct the good people, who are never seen of again. The major hires the group to go take care of them. A local ships lookout saw some bird-like creatures carrying something large, a body? to some cliffs nearby. I’m not a big fan of “the party gets hired to …” adventures. I find that hook very tiresome and generally the result of someone not trying very hard. Freehold knights, a need to find something, or almost any other hook (EXCEPT CARAVAN GUARDS!) is almost always better. The best kind of hooks motivate the players, not the characters. The buy in from “lets go find that fucker and slit his throat!” is much better than “you get paid 10go for the mission.” I suspect that a lot of designers have a strong central idea (evil bird people!) that they then expand in to an adventure, and that the hook is often the last thing to be done. The adventure’s not done till a good hook is attached.

There’s no personality attached to the town, the mayor, the ship, or anything else in the set up. That’s disappointing as well, although there IS a rumor table. In fact, I think the rumor table is a good example of how personality adds to an adventure. The table has a lot of the usual rumors “some is tricking us” , “its the mayor to get power”,”a demon is loose”, and so on. Where it really shines though is when it adds personality “i hear they have a taste for plump women. I best keep my sister indoors.” That’s good. That’s got style. More rumors should be like that. Local nonsense with fluff. Can you imagine a group of murder hobos soliciting plump hookers for a day or so to use as bait, based on that rumor? THAT’S going to be a fun night of D&D!

The cave system is just a little hand-drawn map with none rooms. Some generic scribblings on a page with no elevation, features, or wandering monsters. There’s a way to hook in a larger dungeon, but otherwise it’s not memorable. The nine encounters, over two pages (Yes! Three pages total! Take that Dungeon Magazine!) One of the first rooms has the flickering torchlight reveal, just at its edge, the figure of a woman with black hair in a grey cloak. It’s an insane sea hag. And the room has a confusion effect on it from a previous wizard occupant. And there’s mad scrawling on the wall form the old wizard, when this place was use by him. It is delivered much better in the adventure. The very next room has four of the evil bird men guard a huge repulsive mass of filthy feathers, the immobile bird-man queen mother. Slop pails of intestines, filthy straw nests, and a fear effect that causes people to run to the cave mouth and throw themselves off the cliff, hoping to end it all. Great Stuff! Nothing at all generic about that. It’s this sort of thing that I love in an adventure. Embrace the idea fully and go with it. No second chances, no falterings. “Yeah, I did it. So what?”

The monsters here are a weird mix. One the one hand you’ve the evil crow-like bird men and their bulbous queen. GREAT imagery on them and their queen, some harpy-lite powers, and a style to them “fondness for human flesh” that is delivered without a great number of words. But there’s also the hag, and a troll … and you can talk to the troll! I LOVE it when the monsters talk to the players. Yeah yeah, I could make any monster talk to the party, but I could also write my own adventure. Far too often designers turn to “they attack”, as if the adventure is an us vs. them of the DM against the players. Instead the monsters in OD&D tend to take on a more realistic tone, which combined with more their fantastic nature delivers a different kind of play experience. And you can always shiv them in the kidneys and take their loot if you decide you have to have that jewel they are carrying around … ;)

The treasure disappoints. Generic treasure and generic jewels to be found in the evil bird man lair. There’s no excuse for that, especially since last issue AND this issue have articles/lists of better treasure. Mundane treasures much better described and interesting than those in the adventure, and minor magical items that deliver much more flavor and originality than a carpet of flying ever will.

Again, a special call-out to those treasure articles. The descriptions could be more interesting but they are certainly going in the right direction.

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Dungeon Magazine #22

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This is not a strong review. One adventure is a joke adventure, one is a 1-on-1 adventure, and one features tinker gnomes. I don’t need D&D to be serious, but I do need it to not suck.

Once upon a time when I was young I saved up my money and went to the game store. In front of me was WG7 – Castle Greyhawk. I was so excited. Perhaps this was my personal Loss of Innocence. I don’t know, but I do know that joke adventures are hard to pull off. A lot of what I do with these reviews is motivated by combatting the bullshit synopsis that publishers use to market their games. Yeah, I want quality, or at least my definition if it. Yeah, I get to feed the habit by buying RPG products and tell myself its ok since I review them. But I try hard to tell people what the adventure is ABOUT, so you can figure out if it fits your needs and your definition of quality.

I won’t hit that high mark in this review.
The Dark Forest
by Daniel Salas
AD&D
Levels 2-3

This is an adventure in a little seven room cave system. It is certainly the best adventure in this issue and tries a couple of things that are unusual for Dungeon. It starts with the group coming up behind a small trade caravan is four wagons and over a hundred guards. They are attacked by flinds, and in the process the caravan makes peaceful contact with the party. The wagons are each independent and at night approach the party to sell things (at least the ones who are merchants.) Finally the group is approached by one of them who wants to hire the party to go get some red fungus from a cave nearby. The caravan reacts realistically, the party are not guards, the merchants have some flavor to them and actually DO have things to sell the party. Not just generic “healing potion” or “+1 ring”, but paintings and books and the like. Even the hiring of the party for the mission is worked out in a fashion that is not just a throw-away. It all works together. The cave system has a dwarf maze that is handled in a a non-standard, abstracted way. Room 2 is at LEAST 6000′ feet long, and maze-like. The party eventually stumbles on a group of mycanoids. THAT ARE NOT HOSTILE! They actually talk to the party! The group can negotiate with them to get the fungus. This leads to a ceremony in a fungus garden, and then a spore-circle ceremony that MAY leave everyone a coma … or gifted with healing potions that infect the party with weird fungal infections … BAD ASS! There’s eventually a big combat with a flind group and the mycanoids. This is a small adventure and doesn’t have much in the way of treasure of unusual things, and it has, of course, the endless text of the time. The beginning is strong, as is the mycanoid sections and the abstracted maze is at least an interesting mechanic. The middle portion is weak, with the party just kind of hanging out in the (uninteresting) fungus garden for a few hours while (boring) wandering monsters happen. Generic wandering monsters. But, it tires.

 

The Leopard Men
by David Howery
AD&D
Levels 8-10

This is a small swamp journey the end in a raid on an evil temple. The hook is nicely morally ambiguous. A big shot in a jungle trading post wants the party to take care of The Leopard Men, an evil cult that is subjugating the various native tribes. It’s a win-win-win: the big shot gets to open up trade with the locals, the locals get to trade for things they want, and the big shot gets to loot the leopard men temple which is stuffed FULL of loot from decades of tribute from the locals. This sort of moral ambiguity makes the set up quite a bit more interesting to game through than a simple morality play would be. The journey through the swamp is lame, although I found the imagery of water fowl and crane nicely evocative. The swamp wanderers are just generic and the programmed encounters are all hostile. Instead of the bullywugs or lizard men or cannibals being social encounters that COULD end up in combat instead they are just boring old “they attack!” encounters. This in spite of the fact that all of the groups are natural enemies of the leopard men cult and hate them. Being allied with cannibals would be much more fun to role-play through the rest of the adventure. The leopard men are all monks and their temple is a boring and mundane affair. “This room has several meditation mats on the floor and bundles of sleeping blankets stacked by the east wall. A scarred dummy stands in a corner.” Not exactly a paragon if interesting. The read-aloud doesn’t mention it, but there are 19 leopard-men in the room. That’s 19 chances to add some individuality to what’s going on, none of which is realized. There’s a garbage chute with a black pudding at the bottom. My own personal sign of a crappy adventure is the presence of spheres of annihilation, black puddings, etc, located in the bottom of drains and waste chutes. As soon as I see that I have a pretty good idea that the adventure will suck. There’s not really much in the way of an organized defense and in spite of having named NPC leaders, nothing is done with them. It would have been nicer to see hunting parties or tactics or an organized defense or some kind of weird jungle temple effects … but alas it is not to be.

 
Tomb It May Concern
by Randy Maxwell
AD&D
Levels 4-6

This is a one-on-one adventure for a paladin. A paladin with amnesia. *groan* It’s a quest to find his warhorse, which turns out to be a little amulet that can turn in to a horse. In a little nine-room tomb. Full of undead. I can think of few things more boring. There’s a room, some pretext of a boring description and then endless paragraphs describing the skeletons or zombies. Everything immediately attacks. The rooms get boring little descriptions like “full of ruined sofas and tapestries.” A kind of generic decay description that infests the fantasy adventure market. “This was once the lair’s armor but holds little more than dust now.” Then why did you put it in the adventure? Because a room with dust is fun? Because you are constructing a realistic view of what an abandoned room would look like? Because that’s fun? The was the hobby strays from its task is amazing. We’re here to have fun. PUT SOMETHING IN THE FUCKING ROOM! Something that the group can interact with. Something that does something. The Evil Bad Guy knows the paladin is in his tomb “but waits here to see if the person entering his lair is a worthy opponent.” I am so sick of that lame excuse. It was tired and lame in 1980, 1990, 2000, 2010, and it’s tired and lame now. The evil undead bad guy attacks immediately and unceasingly. There’s a surprise. There’s nothing here.

 

Unchained!
by Bruce Norman
AD&D DL
Levels 6-10

LOATHE.
Dragonlance. Tinker gnomes. Gully dwarves. Are you still reading? Why? Why would you keep reading after I disclosed all of that? In this adventure you wander through a forest trying to kill a clockwork dragon possessed by an evil dragon spirit. The party gets techno items from the gnomes, which turns the adventure in to more of a trip to R&E in Paranoia than a D&D adventure. Dead knight bodies, a pissy wounded copper dragon, a gully dwarf village. This is just an utter piece of shit. Wander the forest in the company of a gully dwarf guide while doing nothing but encountering boring patrols and lame wandering encounters. An NPC mage shows up, crazy, who is mildly amusing. It’s not enough. This thing is 14 pages long and has six encounters. The designer tries to interject some flavor by giving some of the wanderers some personality but there’s no way its going to come through in the brief combats that happen. This adventure is an exercise in how much torture the players can take from the designer & DM. Gully Dwarves! Bullshit tinker gnome crap! Oh boy, what FUN! I can’t wit to try on the iron man armor that malfunctions! Returning the dead bodies of the knights gets you some recognition from their order, which is a nice touch. The NPC mage was previously driven mad by the tinker gnomes, so, maybe, a better way to run the adventure would be to ally with him and wipe out the tinker gnomes and gully dwarves. Murder Hobos …. HO! Sic semper evello mortem Kender!

Holy shit! That’s a great campaign idea! Mashup the necromongers from Riddick with the BEST D&D game world, Spelljammer! The party roams the D&D universe wiping out the most annoying people. Think of the pure unadulterated JOY of wiping out gully dwarves, tinker gnomes, and kender! Dragonlance would be like El Dorado, the culmination and reward for all he hard work cleansing the other planets! Too much, you think?

 

Rank Amateurs
by John Terra
D&D
Levels 1-3

Hey, John Terra, FUCK. YOU. ASSHOLE. The designer, John Terra, contributed to one of the worst RPG products of all time: WG7 Castle Greyhawk. In this pile of steaming crap he has the players taking on the role of the humanoids. They go to a humanoid inn, explore some ruins, and go to a town on a mission is diplomacy. And almost everyone talks in a new gersey/ganster accent; how fun! This is a joke adventure. I like humor in my adventures but I don’t like adventures written by people who don’t like D&D. Bar fights, drinking contests, more bar fights, follow the marked trail, explore some ruins with the bugbear ghosts that talk in the same lame jersey slang. There is a nice skeleton pit where they claw and grab at ankles and a hill giant NPC to make friends with. Once the group gets to town the townspeople attack and you get to cut your way back to the gates.

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AFS Magazine #1

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Captain Zhudo and the Last Crown of Atlantis
by Fingolwyn & Scott Moberly
AS&SH
Levels 5-8

This is a small ten room dungeon set in an ancient hyperborian base. It’s shot, at about five pages, and the designer tries to bring some interesting content. Ultimately though the simple design and lack of interesting features unravels the attempts.

Oh caravan guard hooks, how I loathe thee. You can try and pretty it up with mastodon pelts and costume jewelry but ultimately it remains a crappy hook idea for low levels through high levels. The idea is that while traveling the party is attacked by a group of weird stag-men and, in tracking them back, discover their atlantean lair. There must be about 80 bajizillion ways for that to happen … but this adventure chose “7th level caravan guards.” It’s a complete throw-away except for the two little bits that are MAJORLY interesting: the mastodon pelts and the costume jewelry. That’s some good detail right there! With that I can build on something! My mind whirls! The nature of the expedition immediately becomes clear: diseased pelts and beads for the peoples of the region. And the fine cloth? That’s for a local ‘king’ … who’s not gonna come after the trader after he gets such a nice gift. Even a few small interesting details can rocket a DM to great heights. So while the caravan guard hook is a lame one it has JUST enough to build something around it. I need more though. more More MORE! Alas, more of this is what the adventure delivers; the boringly mundane surrounded by JUST enough interesting tidbits to elevate just a little.

The Ziege-men, the chief villains, walk about erect on hoofed goat legs with devil horns and dark grey fur patches. That’s pretty sweet! Sure, they are just re-skinned humanoids, but that’s all humanoids are. Smashed in doubledoor lead in to a hillside, rubble strewn everywhere. Inside is … boring room after boring room. Well, no. But not exactly great rooms either. You have to really work at it. There’s just enough description in the rooms to add a little detail but not really enough for it to take hold in my mind. A sea-green frayed rug, large and oval, covering most of the floor. Vaulted ceiling with missing chandelier, Arched doorway and verdigris stained double doors., a trapdoor with brass rungs leading down … almost there. Individually the descriptions seem to be good the entire thing just doesn’t gel together for some reason. Maybe there’s a central focus that is missing? I don’t know, but it seems to happen a lot in many of the rooms. The rooms somehow don’t seem real, or alive.

The monsters here are unique, which I love. From the ziege-men to a crystal ape construct, the there’s nothing boring about the monsters. Or the treasure for that matter. Loot painting, coins with weird designs, platinum thimbles, the treasure all delivers that extra little bit of description that I crave in an adventure. Far too often designers just rely on boring old shit, like “jewelry worth 5,000 gp.” That always pisses me off; I’m paying the designer to provide the imagination that I can riff off of and a generic description just doesn’t cut it. The noteworthy magic item, the Crown of Atlantis, also delivers in the magic item arena. Nothing generic about that item! There is a trident and magic helm that tend to the mundane but even they get a little of description. There’s a decent trap room with an Eye of Death, a kind of metallic orb that zaps people, which is pretty good as well. The adventure is missing a better order-of-battle for the creatures. Intelligent monsters should react intelligently.

A special call out to the map. It tries to be three-dimensional, or at least tries to add a few degrees of dimension. The rooms all have elevation markings on them and several rooms have elevation features or are below other rooms. That’s a nice touch, even if I don’t understand the elevation markings enough to determine what they mean. Or maybe that +05 (bar overhead) is a typo? Anyway, rooms under other rooms and elevation markings a great first touch. Slope markings and other elevation changes (Rappan Athuk “Down the Well (3b?)) comes to mind.

I don’t normally review non-adventures, and this the rest of the issue is mostly off limits for me. Let me call out for special mention though the list of 100 mundane treasures. All treasure should have this much description. Just go to a random generator and generate some lists to print out for reference. Awesome Is as Awesome Does.

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EW1 – Voyage of the Stag Party

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by Phil Naumann, Shawn Podgurski, Chad Troutman
for Floyd Global Industries
3e/d20
Levels 3-5

On the trail of glory the hardy adventurers track stolen treasure on land and sea. Their fates hang in the balance: will they find their fortunes or only their doom?

This is an adventure to an island fortress with bandits. It’s highly liner, loosely organized, full of charming art, and is a novelty item in support of a bands album (Sybris) , a 45 of which comes packaged with the adventure. While produced in conjunction with Three Floyds Brewing, it does not come packaged with any tasty brews. This thing is a hot mess and has little to recommend it other than the novelty. Some of the bits DO have great flavor, but its generally dumped together in a way that can’t be realized.

The opening read-aloud for this is half a page long, describing the party entering the town of Humboldt. “The next major building is the inn and tavern. This two-story building …” and on it goes. There’s no DM description of the town, just the massive read-aloud that is what has come to be expected. So much so that things get a little PoMo when the adventure, in a later part, states something to the effect of “players expect an encounter when read aloud shows up, so here’s some read-aloud to mix things up a bit!” Let’s examine the fundamental issue here: if it’s lame, then why do it? Because you are such an awesome (and misunderstood!) writer that you must prove to the world how flowing and evocative your prose it? That will show those 23 publishing houses that rejected your manuscript! Or, maybe, (like in this case?) because that’s all you know. The slavish devotion to form. The read-alouds here are extensive and lots of important information is imparted in them. This sort of marriage of the text makes it rough on you if you DON’T want to use the read-aloud. You have to be familiar with it in order to do your own thing, which is super-annoying.

The fun doesn’t stop there though. Recall how I mentioned things were a bit loose? At the end of the half-page read-aloud, which serves as both the players and DM’s description of the town, it easy “Also if asked the party can add 7sp each from the goblins that were slain.” Just out of nowhere that shows up. No mention of goblins at all to that point. There ARE goblins later in the adventure, but rather than mention the bounty there it’s added out of nowhere here at the end of the introductory read-aloud. This is quite a good example of the organization method, and the problem with it. I’m pretty sure that this section was tacked on after the adventure was written, and the goblin encounter, and then, in a kind of stream of consciousness style, the bounty tacked on. A bounty of 7sp per. So … the bounty is useless. It’s not enough for the characters to care about and the players don’t care cause gold != XP in 3e … so, 7sp per is just … meaningless detail? What follows this is a description of a warehouse that every effort known to DM-kind is listed in order to keep the players from investigating. If you’re going to spend all that effort in telling the DM how to keep the players out of it then why put it in? Seriously, this isn’t like an adventure or something around the warehouse, or traps to support play, it’s more like “don’t let the players go here ever.” type stuff. Half the town shows up to defend the warehouse if its attacked, and attempts to enter it are met with extreme force.

Somehow the party ends up at the Mutiny and Mollusk inn, a colorful place, where they are hired to go get some guys golden boots. The tavern has character. It takes a page to deliver it, but, still, it’s there. Legless storyteller beggars, horrible horrible barmaids, despicable insular locals, and Wrecker the Drunk Monk the bartender. They all have levels, and the whole “evil monk bartender” thing sounds more like a DM power fantasy. Again, perhaps a symptom of not knowing any better? All of this culminates in a goblin attack on a beach, which is used to deliver a soliloquy from a goblin captive. His half page read-aloud leads to the next part, the titular Voyage of the Stag Party, the ship that takes the party to the island. The ship show sup out of nowhere. “Make it clear to the party that they cant go overland to the island, it’s too far.” IE: go get a ship. And the ship put in front of them is The Stag Party. There’s a Lacedon attack thrown in before you get to the island. The island has two paths. One has a great encounter with some witch sisters. Like everything else in this adventure it’s got TOTAL bullshit mixed in with the good parts. A couple of crazy old wise woman witches out in the woods no an island is a great encounter, especially as written with their zombie and gimp “helpers”. The whole “leave your weapons out in the barrel by the door dearies” thing is too much and no self-respecting murder hobo would do anything at that point but burn the place down and loot the embers. There’s also a whole “they attack in the middle of the night” thing which is lame also. I have no understanding why or when monsters became just something to attack and/or double-cross the players. It’s far more interesting for play to have a couple of crazy old bats on an isolated island that the party can turn to for information/help in exchange for absurd requests, like, “sure, bring us 3 baby eyeballs … NOT BLUE!”

The castle/bandit hideout on the island has about a dozen encounters. They suck. Straight forward 3e set-piece encounters. The guys have names, they have personalities, I want to know more about them and how to use them. They are SUPER interesting monsters/NPC’s, just from the BS names and shit. But they attack immediately. Their names, their hopes and dreams, they are all lost. It’s a hell of thing killing a man. You take away everything he’s been and everything he’s gonna be. Look kids, I love killing people. Nothing makes me happier than stringing up a halfling NPC or setting a goblin on fire. But if you’re gonna give me names and personalities and goals then you need to add a social element so that comes out. Otherwise just make them generic, and take up a lot less space, and let me hack down the door, er, creatures. I WANT the social option, but don’t tease me with it. Give me enough to run a social option and then the characters can talk OR hack. Or, my favorite, talk and THEN double-cross the monsters and hack them down! The castle is nothing but boring rooms with things to hack. Lame. And then the whole adventure ends in a double-cross by the hiring NPC who isn’t the NPC anymore but an impostor! HA! Third act! My ass.

Bits of this are really good. There’s a joy of D&D seen in this, and a non-generic vibe that is great. Someone had a strong vision. But it’s put together like crap and is then further hampered by the lame 3e conventions or NPC levels, read-aloud, and set-piece hack the monster shit. There may be more going on here, but it’s so disorganized and the ideas presented so haphazardly that its hard to get the big picture of the adventure. And not in the good, old school charming way that Walking Wet or similar things are disorganized. I think the town makes its living off smuggling, for example, but that never really comes across well. In other words the core of the ideas of seldom presented and instead we go immediately to the detail. The flavor in the detail is good, but you never really have a great idea of the core concepts so its hard to run it as anything other than the linear thing it is.

The record that it comes with (or maybe, the adventure comes with the record?) is some ambient stuff. It sounds like an Enya-lite ambient 1990′s indie band with the usually winey/airy female vocals added on top. It’s not too bad for background music at a Natalie Merchant concert.

Hey guys, try again. Good color but less linear and be clearer. Make your magic items and treasure and monsters unique. We all like shivving bar maids in the throat, but give us the option to talk to her before we do it and then abuse the corpse.

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Dungeon Magazine #21

d21

I drank most of a 5th of Black Bush in 3 hours yesterday; this is not my finest work.

The Cauldron of Plenty
by Willie Walsh
AD&D
Levels 2-4

This is a celtic-themed adventure in a giants cave. There are four or five pages of backstory that amount to the characters needs to grab a magic food kettle from a giant in order to feast the kings warband so they’ll go raiding. There’s a good celtic theming in this, and while the cave is small and straightforward in its layout (about 18 rooms) the adventure does do a good job with the monster. Namely, you can talk to some of the monsters.The wandering table, in particular, for the wilderness areas has a good little sentence or two after each encounter listing which adds quite a bit to the encounters. Goblins are looking for a lair, ghouls with a grievance against their former lord, and ogre looking for a goat or fox to eat. Some of the encounters are ruined by “they attack immediately!” in the case of the ghouls or “they try to get close to the party to attack” in the case of the goblins. But the additional detail there is more than enough to NOT run the encounter that way and that’s invaluable. The actual encounters in the cave run to mundane, which is too bad. There a cave with a waterfall in it, but its completely wasted, there’s nothing to it. So why is it in the adventure? Everything should contribute to the adventure, and this doesn’t, nor do many of the other rooms in the caves. Some of the rooms have a bit of nice window-dressing (a collection of helmets, some quite dented!) and a nice tea storage room. Those are both nice bits of flavor, but they don’t save the rooms from the mundane that infect them. The treasures and magic items are not very interesting, for the most part. A wizards lair provides a bit of variety in treasure but “jewelry to value of 3000gp” is not trying at all. There is some nonsense about bargaining withe the giant, and percentages of success, but the real is on one of the solutions mentioned: getting the giant to join the kings warband in exchange for the cauldron. Double-win for the king and win for the giant, a perfect solution!

 

The Bane of Elfswood
by Stephen J. Smith
D&D
Levels 15-18(!!)

This is a trip through a forest to hunt undead. The high-level challenge comes simply by making the undead 12HD. That’s a pretty simplistic way to create a high level adventure. The idea is that the group wanders around the forest, having wandering encounters, and then eventually the primary undead picks up their trail and attacks them. The wandering encounters are generally not great, just a simple list of monsters, almost all of which seem out of place for an elf-protected wood A gargantuan orc is presented as a straight-up combat instead of the cool roleplay experience it could be. Two other wandering encounters involve a band of trader sprites and a pixie wandering hermit. The hermit is particularly irritating since he talks in riddles and doesn’t give the whole story of the forest. There are a small handful of programmed hex encounters, six I believe, with the only interesting one being a group of ogres lynching one of their own for cowardice. It’s presented as a combat, which is too bad because it has endless social opportunities, if only the encounter offered more detail in that area. There’s not much to like in this one, it being just a straight-forward undead hack where the undead are wandering a forest.

 

Jammin’
by James M. Ward
AD&D SJ
(Any Level)

Spelljammer Alert! Speljammer Alert! Spelljammer is, of course, one of the best campaign worlds ever published. And this one by Ward! Note the Ward influence immediately: it’s any level. This in spite of the fact that the party will face hordes of weird creatures. This is an Old School attitude. Load up on chickens and blankets, it’s time to go plundering! This isn’t really a Spelljammer adventure. It’s the exploration of a Spelljammer ship that has crashed on the PC’s world, and thus perhaps GIVES them a Spelljammer ship to play with. Ward is the soul of brevity: only two pages of background before the adventure begins! The party is hired by a of a thief to go check out the ship and turn over a finders fee to the rogue (classical usage of the term) and the a couple of thieves guilds. The ship is 22-ish encounters with … the undead! So many of these adventures would be so much better with an elevator pitch right up front to get you in the mood while reading. Ghost ship, tattered sails, skeletons around, spectre captain whose goal is to wipe out all life in the universe. If you went in knowing that then the adventure makes A LOT more sense. The captain floats around and keeps an eye on the party: fleeting shapes just out of vision, ghostly faces in walls, the usual ghostly stuff. Then when he thinks he knows who he is dealing with, he comes at them. Supplementing the spectre are a bunch of “balls of bones”; a rally clever way to store and launch your crew at another ship, IMHO. They are stacked up and just WAITING for someone to mess with them so the whole pile comes down and they reanimate. There’s great magic items in the adventure, like a book that you can shove food in to and pull food out of, and ghostly wheelocks (which I don’t usually get in to, but they work well here) and a small amount of backstory in a BRIEF ships journey to give a little background. I usually HATE logs & journals and diaries, find them just a cheap way to communicate things. A ships log makes sense though, and, besides, doesn’t really play much part in the adventure, just being a cute add-on for players who are interested in discovery. I note that the ship crashed because of a lack of magic items items for the furnace, yet the ship seemed stuffed with magic. Go Figure. Oh, and the helm on this ship is a Black Dragon throne/recliner thing with the furnace in fact of that. I imagine the dragons eyes glowing when the thing is fired up! Who WOUND”T want that? You’d have to be crazy! That’s the key to a good item, it makes the party drool over it and thing “Awesome!”. Sword, +1 doesn’t do that. Ring of Feather Falling doesn’t do that. Black Dragon throne with glowing red eyes DOES it. Nice job on this adventure.

 

Incident at Strathern Point
by Matthew Maaske
AD&D
Levels 8-10

This is an adventure at an abandoned river trading station, that turns out to have some demons in residence. It’s got a nice realistic looking map and a grim and gritty feel. The demons, four of them, are well described with lots of variation to their features. The layout of the station has lots of interesting features to get in to trouble with: a barrel ramp, rough cut steps outside, a couple of towers to fall of of, and a barge to end up on. I really like this, you can just imagine PC’s getting trapped in a tower, leaping off of it, being assaulted by barrels, and slipping on the rough stairs as they run. The variety of terrain and features in the map bring a nice little tactical feel to it while still feeling VERY realistic of a river trading station. More so than most of the adventures, this one feels real, hence the grim and gritty vibe. It deals with death, trauma, demons, domestic abuse, and revenge in a really good way. This FEELS like a demon-haunted adventure. It’s wordy and the treasure count seems low to me, but it delivers. It would work well in either Harn or 2E, which I think speaks well to its design. The best encounters kind of stick with you. You read them one, maybe twice, and they are completely internalized. You need not hardly refer to the encounters again during play, its like you wrote it yourself. This entire adventure is like that. Read it once, maybe twice, and just run it with the map and maybe some creature stats. That’s all you need.
The Chest of the Aloeids
by Craig Barrett
AD&D
Levels 6-8

This is a linear adventure in ancient Greece. The players get transported there, back in time, and go on an adventure to save Hermes before he became a full god and ensure the gives the lyre to Apollo. The characters see an omen. From that point on they are led around by the nose, told to go from a to b to c, and have the adventures at each location before moving on. It’s not that he individual encounters are good or bad, its that the characters are led around by the nose to most of them. Getting off the railroad means fighting your way through hordes of centaurs. Go to a oracle shrine nearby to get your omen read, get transported to ancient Greece, meet a hunter, who directs you to a village, who sends you to a beekeeper, who takes you to a caste. They all have a decently Greek feel to them, but in total it doesn’t feel like Greece, or even a region. It just feels like a set of disconnected events. The citadel of the Cyclopes, the finale, may be the worst. It’s got a map and lots of rooms but just has a general description. The players are meant to find Hermes and then they get to watch him run around a play a joke on the cyclops. Whoop-de-doo. I love being a spectator when I ‘play’ D&D. Too many of the encounters are too tough for he party and yet presented like violence is the answer. I must say though the rewards are good. It works out to be a kind of wish for each character, but takes the form of a kind of cell phone to Hermes. You got him out of trouble so he’ll show up and get you out of trouble. I like those sorts of things. I don’t think players gets wishes frequently enough, especially when they come so strongly flavored.

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DCC #79.5 – Tower of the Black Pearl

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by Harley Stroh
Goodman Games
DCC RPG
Level 1

Once every decade, the tides of the Empyrean Ocean recede far enough to reveal the highest eaves of a mysterious undersea tower. Long ago this was an eldritch fastness of Sezrekan the Elder, the most wicked wizard ever to plague the Known World, but now the tower is known simply as the final resting place of the fabled Black Pearl – an artifact rumored to bring doom upon all who dare to posses it. Tonight the moon nearly fills the sky, and the tides have already begun to recede. Adventurers have eight short hours to explore the tower before the dark waters return. The fabled Black Pearl will be theirs for the taking…if they can survive the Pearl’s curse.

This is a moderately interesting exploration of a wizards tower in search of The Black Pearl. As such, it’s full of freaky wizard shit and a throw-away group of rival adventurers. It’s got a linear map but, as with most of the new DCC, is still pretty interesting. Not the best Stroh has ever done but still better than most adventures.

Sezrekan is one of the awesomely powerful patrons from the DCC core book. Seems he left his mortal remains in a tower off the coast. Once every decade, for one night, the sea recedes enough for people to gain entry to it. Inside is the fabled Black Pearl and whatever other aweseominities that Sezrekan had in life. The hooks provided are pretty lame, from being hired to finding a map. “Vecna’s tower is offshore” should be MORE than enough hook to get any self-respecting player in to this adventure!

The tower is purely a linear affair. While there’s no seawater inside there is also no alternate routes. The core concept it a teleportation arch that you have to get working to get to the final tomb/pearl location. Getting there and looting the pearl causes the tower to flood, ending the adventure. Arrayed against the party are some pirates running around the first half of the tower, also looking for the pearl, a couple of golem/construct-like things, and the weirdness of the tower proper. The pirates and “fetishes’ are not super interesting. The tower, however, is.

One room is full of candles, and a book. Each cable represents the life of one lawful hero. Put out the candle and end the life. Relight an out candle and bring them back from the dead. Neato! There’s also a rickety bridge over a lake, and a straight-out-of-Charon ferryman. Portals activated with blood and unique magic items round things out., along with some traps that don’t seem overly-grimtooth but are still varied and interesting enough to engage. Like the room full of poisonous sea snakes! How ya gonna deal with that Mr. Adventurer?! It’s up to you, no real solution is offered, which is just exactly the way it should be.

Stroh does a good job with the room descriptions. The encounters, the non-monster ones anyway, are varied and interesting. At least one of the pirate encounters is a good one (sneaking up on drunk pirates) while the others are just the standard filler combat encounters. It’s a decent enough adventure to keep.

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Adventure Number Ten

10

by James Edward Raggi, IV
Lamentations of the Flame Princess
Lamentations of the Flame Princess
Pretentious bullshit

You will die.
You will be afraid and you will be in pain.
Everything you do in life is but an effort to distract yourself from this inescapable truth.
There is only one way to foil Fate’s cruel plan for you.
Choose the method yourself.
Make it happen.
Now.

Fucking Christ Raggi. This is what passes for product? “Hey y’all, check it out! I shit in this envelope! it’s a pretty cool statement about the juxtaposition of contemporary RPG content over form. I call it ‘Poopy.’ Who wants to buy it for 10 euro?” Ok, that’s not Raggi. That was me after seeing an Ai Weiwei exhibit. Still, there’s a lot in common between the two.

The back of the book says something like “Don’t review this. Don’t discuss it online. Don’t mail me what happened. It is poison I am expelling from my system.” Uh-huh. Oh oh oh, and it goes on to say something about how life is pain and we’re all just waiting to die and how we all look down on those who CHOOSE to take control and end their lives and how Raggi was a cutter. Seriously man? Look dude, just go buy a sports car and a copy of Epicurus the Sage.

There are sixty-ish vignettes, one per page, that make up the “adventure.” Each one is a kind of little vignette that the party will go through. There is no “winning” (remember, “life is pain”) instead there is only surviving and ending the vignette so you can go on to the next one. How about a sample of this brilliance? A kid runs up the players and says his mom is going in to labor. If the players ignore him then the woman and neonate die and the father & sons (currently away from home) are experienced retired soldiers who hunt the party down. If they help the woman then she & baby still die (stillborn) and the father & sons still hunt the party down, but are just villagers. If they save the mother the baby still dies and the villagers hunt the party down, thinking that the healing they used on the mother sucked the life out of the baby. Page after page after page of this shit. All of the groups money is actually copper pieces. Their henchman beats and rapes a young woman at an inn, is killed, and the party held responsible. It’s just scenario after scenario in which the fix is in.

It’s hard to figure out what is really going on here. A few of the vignettes are interesting (a woman shows up with a small baby claiming its one of the characters. It happens in every village. The character doesn’t recall the tryst. No one is lying.) but its just a lie. The core problem with this is that it’s a misrepresentation of what it is. It’s not an adventure. I’d argue it’s not a supplement. It’s some kind of a work of fiction or something. Just nonsense put on a page. The present King of France is bald.

Listen, the LotFP rules are pretty nice. Nice class differentiation. Nice magic system. Nice encumbrance system. I liked Stargazer and Death Frost Doom. How about putting out something decent for a change instead of the pretentious performance art crap you’re releasing? You know, you need to do that occasionally in order to keep the suckers biting. This is the worst kind of dreck. Some kind of Forge nonsense where we all explore our feelings around being molested as children that is being marketed as an adventure. Bullshit.

I’m gonna go watch Empire of the Sun videos now. They are four orders of magnitude more D&D than this shit pile.

Posted in Reviews, The Worst EVAR? | 5 Comments