The Forbidden Caverns of Archaia


by Greg “I wrote Barrowmaze” Gillespie
Labyrinth Lord
Level 1-

The lost city of Archaia – an ancient ruin sunken into the earth – lies deep in the badlands. In recent years, caravans from Eastdale have come under attack from orcs, goblins, and worse. Some say these blood-thirsty warbands have made lairs in the deep caves and ruins. Sill others say the ancient halls are filled with magnificent treasures left by the Archaians. Are you brave (or foolish) enough to delve The Forbidden Caverns of Archaia?

This is a 300 page megadungeon, in the form of a Caves of Chaos style ravine. There are about 150 pages of room keys spanning … 50 dungeon complexes? with about a one hundred page appendix detailing monsters, treasure, etc, and about a forty page introduction descripting the region, main town/villages, wanderers, etc. The closest comparison is B2/Caves of Chaos, if there were three times as many caves, the caves were each three times larger, and the evil temple guys were greatly expanded. Much like Stonehell and Barrowmaze, there are very strong maps supporting the exploratory play and a kind of “Generic D&D with just a little extra” vibe to the place. It’s strongest when being specific and breaking the B2 mold and weakest when it emulates the worst parts of B2 … like generic elements and rooms with only humanoid monsters.

I’m going to compare this adventure, repeatedly, to B2/Caves of Chaos. That’s unfair, because it’s more than that. The near universal familiarity with B2, and similarities to this adventure, will give most readers a firmer understanding of what to expect. These days I tend to concentrate on the good parts of an adventure and then detail the bad parts. In this case I’m going to cover things a little more linearly, as they appear in the adventure.

Which means the regional data and town/village data are the first thing I’m going to cover. There’s a little background data and summary data present, but I’m going to ignore that for now. The first forty pages or so are a combination of regional overview, town/village overview, factions and wandering monsters, and a brief word on hex crawl and some related general “dungeon” features. This part is, frankly, boring. It falls in to a kind of Bog Standard Fantasy description category. The towns, villages, and various regional features get about a paragraph each and nothing really stands out. “This village has fewer religious restrictions than the main town.” and “This village has fewer religious restrictions than than that other one.” A dwarf hold with a few dwarves in it. “Men and dwarves get along in this village in order to support each other.” Nearly all of it is generic almost to the abstract. It’s like the adventures that post food prices in their taverns … the detail that is presented is not engaging. “Bob can make quarrels but prefers not to.” Yes, you can use this. But “Bob is vocal about his loathing of crossbow users, although he serves them.” paints a different picture of the establishment that is easier to wrap your head around during play. There’s a new pantheon of deities presented, but they offer little solid quirks on which to hang your hat, mostly just being retheming of the usual suspects. “The Red Thicket” has a bunch of giant trees that live a long time, giant owls, rumors of treants … if you pause and think for a moment then you’ll get the idea. But the writing is so … bland? that it just doesn’t inspire you and make your mind leap and want to run it. It’s not that it’s bad, or that it’s too terribly long, but it’s just so inoffensive and unspecific that it lacks and evocative power without putting in some decent effort.

This sort of aggressive genericism is something I’ve seen before, particularly with regard to regional data and deities, as it is in this. It has a close step-sibling in the “generic room description” that is frequently found in adventure. The bedroom that tells you it has a bed, and a chest with four socks, two pairs of underwear, two pairs of pants and the bed has sheets and a pillow on it. IE: a normal bedroom. Or IE: a normal harvest god. Or IE: a normal medieval village. We’re not paying for that, but rather the new & noteworthy. Actionable, gameable content that drives play.

This is a good segway in to the content of the actual dungeons. There are a lot, around fifty, I’d say. And the maps are, almost always, quite excellent. Lot’s of variety, good terrain features on the maps, nice layouts that support exploration. There is, however, something missing. Content.

Generalizations are a hell of a thing, but my overall impression was not one of excitement. The first major dungeon is the kobold lair. A small sentry room with two kobolds. A small sentry room with four kobolds. A guardroom for the nearby stairwell (4 kobolds.) A small guard chamber (2 kobolds.) The kobolds have grown a shrieker. Another room is “two kobolds.” Each of those is the actual description of a real room, all from one of the room description pages. This is true minimal keying.

There are bits and pieces of actual content. “A large natural column has been modi ed to include a secret door with a small claustrophobic stairwell down to Level 2 (#11)” and “A human skeleton lay prone on the ground half buried in sand It points towards the northwest.” Those begin to show promise, but again are pretty minimal and, while it’s something to work with, could be much more evocative in the same amount of space.

Stonehell was minimal, but supported by the dungeon overviews, something Archaia notable doesn’t have. Stonehell also filled its rooms full of THINGS and interactivity where Archaia just lists monsters. Even the Castle of the Mad Archmage tried for little vignettes. This is closer to the Mad Demigod’s Castle, or B2 proper. I know there’s a market for this in some circles, but I find that style lacking. Just a little more tweaking and something more evocative could be obtained without really loosing the vibe of it being minimal keyed.

There are other things that tick me off, with some organization choices. The Gem shop has a crier that shouts “Gems for gold!” …but that’s not in the keyed description for the village. Instead that bit of info is found in a separate NPC description late on, for the owner of the business. That makes no sense, it’s counter-intuitive. Likewise in one cave a wyvern mommy comes to aid of her young … but you don’t know that by looking at the room description of the young which occurs before mom’s description. SO you encounter the young first, slaughter them, then you go to mom’s room and the DM reads the description and says “oh shit, I guess she’s not coming to their aid now.” It’s not written with play in mind. There’s a reference someplace else to a staff headpiece being needed … but no reference to where it is. As a player I get the staff, figure out I need the headpiece, go home and cast Legend Lore or find object or something, and then the DM fumbles with the 300-page book for an hour trying to find where the thing is.

It’s a lot more aggressively generic than I would like. Book treasure that could be straight out of B2, a weird long description of one orc tribe, meh NPC descriptions, town & regional & god descriptions, perfunctory hooks, lack of location names on the regional map, forcing double lookups.

But the map DOES have a “Forbidden Zone” on it, and a travel time matrix between location is provided. And there are over 100 great “special” entries on the wanderers table and there is at least some mention of tribal factions … even if I don’t think it’s really enough to generate the goal: gameable situations.

And, in spite of my bitching about cross-references, it DOES have good summaries. The book is summarized, the chapters are summarized … you generally know what something is about and what to expect in a section of text, a critical feat in a 300 page booklet.

I think I’m disappointed with what could have been. A hex crawl through a badland, with tribal lairs and lot of other dungeons is a GREAT idea. The maps are WONDERFUL. Portions of the adventure, like the special wanderers are good. The genericism of the supporting information and the very minimally keying of the encounters is disappointing. Sure, there are exceptions, and in particular the non-humanoid lair dungeons are much better.

It’s still an impressive work and I’m keeping it. I’ll even probably stick it on my list, since I’m fond of megadungeons. But it’s almost certainly on the wrong side of a line for me. Which begs the question why I’m not more down on it given my comments. I don’t know. The premise and maps are VERY good.

The PDF is $35 on DriveThru. I can’t find a preview; I wish there was one for, say, the kobold dungeon, along with the map.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/218157/The-Forbidden-Caverns-of-Archaia?src=hottest_filtered

You might be able to poke around on the kickstarter page for more photos and description, but, again, there’s not much description. Although I do think the art piece is pretty indicative of the environment you are getting yourselves in to.

Posted in No Regerts, Reviews | 6 Comments

Dance of the Medusa

medusa with poison snakes vector in eps10

by Joseph A Mohr
Old School Role Playing
OSRIC
Levels 4-7

In southern Zanzia chaos reigns as a new cult is growing stronger and threatening the powers that be. This cult worships a Snake Godess and her temple is believed to be in the swamps of southern Zanzia. Heros are needed to investigate this cult and temple and put a stop to this threat to the kingdom.

My apologies Joseph Mohr. I just sat in coach on a five hour flight to San Francisco and I feel like I’ve been hit hard lately with unfocused writing.

This temple raid is 31 pages long a describes an evil temple with seventeen rooms on two levels It’s almost entirely a pure hack, although there might be some imposter for at the start to get in. It appears to be boring, large, and uses a writing style that frustrates me to no end. It’s just yet another also-ran obfuscating any good material to come out.

There’s a wand, the description tells us that it appears to be made of stone. A bed appears to be comfortable. A statue appears to that of an adventurer in plate mail. Everything in this adventure Appears To Be. That writing style drives me nuts. It is or it isn’t. These are just weasel words used to pad out an adventure. Unfocused writing. It clogs up the text. It’s the difference between “There is a conformable bed” vs “There is a bed in the room and it appears to be comfortable.” These are miles apart in terms of providing a resource for the DM to use.

The wand “can only be used by magic-users.” Well, yes, that is the normal state of the world. “Listening at the door you hear no sound”. Again, which is what one would expect for an empty room. “There is a door to the west and a passage to the north” … exactly like the map shows. A dresser has normal clothes in it … exactly as one would expect. It has two shirts and one pair of pants and a pair of socks. This is weak writing. Instead of telling us what is new or special or interesting it concentrates on telling us what we would normally expect. Does a room description need to tell us that the sun will rise tomorrow? Does it need to tell us in every empty room that we will hear no sounds when listening at the doors? !!THERES. NO. FUCKING. REASON. FOR. ANY. OF. THIS!! We’re not paying for an adventure in order to be told about the sock & underwear content of drawers, or that there are no orcs, demons, devils, giant rats in the room.

Instead, I went out with a boy who died. Errr, I mean, Instead the descriptions need to concentrate on evocative writing that assist the DM in quickly scanning the text for details ACTUALLY NEEDED during play. You know what’s not evocative? The word “large.” One room, the main temple, has a large alter, a large fountain and a large idol in it. Wonderful. Are they large? Large is boring fucking word. A towering idol, a shadowy alter, a mist-filled fountain, these invoke feelings in the DM which they can then transfer to the players … the goal of evocative room descriptions. (Note, alters should not be vile. Vile is a conclusion. Tell us WHY. Don’t TELL us the alter vile, instead SHOW us why the alter is vile. Fresh babies impaled on candlesticks communicates vile much better than just telling us its vile.)

All of this results in a verbose and boring room text. The aforementioned alter room is one and a half pages long. There’s a column of text to describe a trap where a car falls from the ceiling. A paragraph of text on a needle trap.

“The desk has a drawer to it which is locked and trapped. Should anyone attempt to open the drawer without first unlocking it or removing the trap (or disarming it by pulling the handle and turning it three times clockwise) will be pricked by a poison needle. The person stuck by the needle will need to save versus poison or be paralyzed for ten rounds.”

Again, a long winded winded writing style. The desk is trapped with a poison needle. Save vs paralyzation. Lasts 10 rounds.” Tada!

There is also a room that falls in to a different writing trap. “There is also.” It lists treasure, one item per sentence, and starts each sentence with “there is also. There is a also a jeweled cup work 100gp. There is also a crown worth 10gp. There is also a ….Not to mention the repetition of longer sections of text. We’re told repeatedly that the guard patrols are expecting the king to send someone and thus are super duper alert. We’re told repeatedly (three times, I think) that the blood river is called the blood river because blah blah blah blah blah.

You get a feel for these things after awhile. A long page count with a small number of rooms doesn’t ALWAYS mean an adventure sucks … but it is makes one wary when they see it. The writing style is forgivable since it should improve with time, feedback, and stronger editing. Ideally, this would give the designer more time to concentrate on the actual encounters and constructing more interesting situations and environments.

It’s $3.50 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages but only shows you two pages of actual text, and even that’s general information. Notably, you get to see the first occurrence of the river of blood description, the temple guards, the lich, and what the temple is made of. You’ll get to read those descriptions several more times each before reaching the end.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/222243/Dance-of-the-Medusa

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Dungeon Magazine – Final Retrospective

This will be long. I beg your understanding for my verbosity hypocrisy; this is the product of four years work.

I have now reviewed every adventure in every print issue of Dungeon Magazine. I started in August of 2013, after spending several months locating issues. It was a herculean effort and, several times, it broke me. You have no idea what it’s like to wake up every day and “look forward” to another issue of Dungeon. Or maybe you do. It was hell.

I say “every adventure”, but there were exceptions. I didn’t review solo adventures or significant genre deviations, like Marvel Super Heroes. I did every fantasy adventure and most of the sci-fi ones. I generally reviewed them Wednesday, Thursday, and Fridays, taking notes and then writing the review on Saturday for posting the next Saturday morning on my review website tenfootpole.org.

On my site I generally review OSR adventures, with a few 5e/Pathfinder and other deviations. I’m a fan of the new old school adventures and think the best are much better than the original adventures. I prefer a rules-light approach to D&D and have a fondness for things with folklore elements, fey, barrows, gonzo, and urban adventures … which I usually try to disclose. I’ve reviewed about 1400 D&D/fantasy adventures so far as of October 2017.

I have review standards and strong beliefs on what makes a good adventure. First and foremost it has to be useful to the DM at the table while they running it. This is the primary purpose of every adventure ever written, even if the designer didn’t understand that fact. You can use it as inspiration, steal parts from it, or use it as a doorstop if you want, but, judged as an adventure, it has to be useful at the table. My standards are VERY high.

A large part of being useful at the table is a writing style that allows the DM to scan the text quickly during play and locate information. The characters walk in to a room and the DM must quickly, in just seconds, locate the description, grok it, and relate it to the players. Then as they react the DM must continue scanning and absorbing to react to their actions as guided by the DM text for the room. This almost always means a terse and evocative writing style that’s well organized. After this, we come to creativity, interesting encounters, and all the rest. It can’t be boring. But first, it has to be useful to the DM at the table.

Dungeon Magazine is an abject failure in this regard. It is VERBOSE. Mountains of backstory, mountains of room text. All of it fights the DM running it at the table. If you are including something in the main text then it has to be directly useful for play. If it’s not then it needs to be removed or moved to an appendix where it can be ignored. Dungeon Magazine didn’t do this. It reveled in useless detail. A LONG room description that describes a trophy room, all of the trophies and accomplishments, and then ends “but it was long ago looted and now nothing remains but dust.” Backstory, history, detail that doesn’t apply to play, a verbose writing style … these were the hallmarks of most Dungeon Magazine adventures.

I’ve often pondered why they were so verbose. I’ve settled on the evils of Pay Per Word, that encouraging extra text. I’m not sure of the editing policies, but it would also seem valid to point to a weakness there in the quality of the published material. At some point I may follow up with the editors; I’m curious. I also empathize with their jobs, having to wade through garbage day after day. While my task was voluntary they had the extra pressure of mortgages and kids to raise.

As far as genres, the Oriental Adventures pieces were generally good, especially the earlier ones. They did a great job of capturing a high folklore environment that felt different than standard D&D. I can’t comment on their accuracy vs asian mythology and folklore, or their cultural issues, I don’t know enough. But as folklore-heavy adventure with talking animals and relatable situations then they score high.

The Adventure Paths in Dungeon Magazine were generally dreadful. The Mere of Deadmen series, a proto-adventure path, had a couple of decent ideas and adventures before becoming mired in boringness. The “real” adventure paths have two age-old problems that have yet to be solved: plot & high-levels. I generally found the first couple of adventures in the series interesting, and an occasional idea in later issues. The trek through the jungle after a shipwreck in Tides had some nice set pieces. There was also a great diplomacy idea with demon lords in the same series. D&D does a great job at low levels and high-level adventures have yet to be figured out. Too much gimping of the characters abilities to force them in to what is, essentially, a low level adventure design. Or, just as bad, resorting to defining high-level as “tougher monsters.” The need to drive players through the plot turns the things in to a railroad.

Ah, the linear adventure. Usually with set pieces. When it comes to Combat as War vs Combat as Sport, I’m very much in the War category. Linear adventures, rules mastery, balanced combats … these are not the D&D elements I enjoy. I don’t understand it. The long stat blocks and attempts to build reason in to a dungeon via rules … A magic mouth says a key word that dispels a contingency that holds a stasis that summons a monster. You’re the DM. You can do anything, the rules don’t apply. I can’t imagine how anyone prefers this style. TOlerates maybe, but prefer?

The early adventures tend to be more creative and have more elements to steal. As the issues count up, especially after issue 100, the designs become more linear and more focused on stat blocks. It’s also the case that some famous designers, like Baur, did great work in Dungeon … compared to their modern work.

The Best Dungeon Magazine Adventures
After going through all of the issues reviews I’ve come up with a list of adventures that I think don’t suck. Some are even good. In a stunning coincidence, it has come out to ten. It just turned out that way. Most of these have never shown up on a “best” list before, although a couple will have had a person or two reccomend them in the various “what adventures in Dungeon are good?” forum threads. Thelist will also show the depths of my hypocrisy. In no particular order …

The Spottle Parlor – Levels 2-4, Issue #12, Rick Swan
This is a whimsical little adventure with some strong NPC’s. As a result you get a very nice little evening of gaming driven by the interactions of the NPC’s. It’s really exactly the kind of whimsical feel with strong themes and strong classical archetypes that I groove on. A rich old crippled guy, a well known gambler, invites the group to gamble that evening. They arrive to find a fat cleric, a dumb kid, and a hissing lizard man all sitting around the table. What results is some prelude scene setting and then ten rounds of gaming. It’s characterized by the priest begging for donations for his temple … which he then generally gambles away. The dumb kid has to have EVERYTHING explained to him. The lizard man thinks someone is giving him the evil eye. And the gambler doesn’t seem to care that he’s losing. Then the hobgoblins show for the slaves they pressured the gambler in to. It’s got a long intro but the vibe here is really great and the writing communicates the feel of the NPC’s and the feel of the adventure VERY well. For example, the priest is very high strung and nervous, more so lately because he has only been able to solicit 9cp in a week of trying to raise funds, as charged by his superiors, for a new holy shrine. There’s 11 or 12 ’rounds’ of conversation given, which I all found delightful. There’s even a little section at the end on salvaging the adventure if the PC’s knock it off the rails. The designer is one of the PO’s responsible for one of, if not the, worst product of all time: WG7 Castle Greyhawk. With this adventure he slightly redeems himself.

The Ruins of Nol-Daer – Levels 5-8, Issue #13, Howard McClesky
It’s a three level abandoned/ruined keep now inhabited by a motley assortment of creatures that … and get this … all make sense together. I don’t mean they are fire giants with hell hounds or some such. There is a wide variety of creatures here and their reason for being here, working together or not, seems … realistic? There’s a page or so of bullshit introduction/background that is completely worthless but once past it you get a decently tight adventure, at least for the time it was written in. It’s got some great hooks that are short and yet integrate well in to the adventure. In fact, that’s a good summary. The adventure is full of things that are NOT throw away and fit in well. It has a certain internal logic. The ruined keep has impacted the countryside and there are a variety of places around it that have suffered. Missing livestock, a mining camp having trouble, bandits having trouble when making camp … these backgrounds, rumors, and real events all fit in very naturally. The adventure proper has a great map of a ruined keep and the encounters are full of real gamble material. A tumble down courtyard has a description that centers around the impact of it being tumble down. A monster hides in a room astral projecting … just go ahead and kill it. There’s a NICE magic ring that talks to the party and tries to get them to take it with them. Each of the encounters center around not just some bullshit victorian cataloging of the room contents but in how the players can interact with it or in how he DM can use it to interact with the players. Arrow slits might have things behind them, etc. that the DM can use to increase the players paranoia. That kind of practical advice to use in actually running the game is what sets this apart from the vast majority of dreck.

Ancient Blood – Levels 3-5, Issue #20, Dave Boucher
This one just barely squeeks in. This is an arctic overland expedition followed by the exploration of an old giant fortress. It’s got a strong norse feel to it. The players are hired to deliver a box of dried plants (herbal medicine) to a village about 200 miles away. Once there they see the headman/king get killed by a frost giant ghost. They then travel 300 more miles, hopefully, through arctic conditions to get to an old frost giant fortress to break the ghosts curse. There’s a whole “wilderness survival guide”/”torture the players with bookkeeping for rations, etc” thing going on that I don’t think adds any fun to the adventure at all. I can go to work if I want to find the crossover point to carrying rations/winter supplies to travel speeds. I’ve played Source of the Nile and it isn’t fun. The journey to the village has a nice little wandering monster table that adds some encounter notes/suggestions next to each entry. I like that sort of thing. it prompts the DM to riff off of it and loads their imagination up to run the adventure. Tribesmen are from one of the villages and may travel with the party back. Animals act like animals. These little notes add a lot to the adventure. The programmed encounters, two, are nice also. The party passes by a steaming crack in the ground … who wants to go look! Just that visual imagery of seeing that after a snow adventure is enough to sucker me in. There’s also a nice little encounter with a group of half-ogre trappers. It’s written more like a straight up combat, even though they each get names and some description that would imply there can be a social element. The social path would be much cooler and interesting. The village the group reaches has a nice little “get there in a blizzard and be ushered in to the great house to get stranger out of the storm” thing going on which, again, I think builds a lot of cool things up in my mind as I’m reading, which in turn allows me to communicate the scene and feel better to the party. There’s a page-long read-aloud in the longhouse that night that ends with a railroaded killing of the chief. That’s less cool, but I understand why its there. The group then travels to an old fortress and explores it. Both the journey, a shield-wall, and the fortress proper is full of GREAT imagery. Blood fountains, centuries old sacrifices hung out, and other great little staged scenes. It does have a very ‘desolate beauty’ thing going on, similar to the snowy cabin/forest in Legend, but much better done, with crunchy snow drifts, giants tables, and eerie silence everywhere. It’s got a kind of quiet horror thing going on that only an abandoned and silent place in the snow can deliver, combined with the weird proportions brought by giant sized tables and rooms. A nice nordic gothic feel, if there is such a thing. It’s a little slow for my tastes but beefing it up would ruin the slow burn. If someone can figure out how to solve that paradox then this would be worth running, if the “wilderness torture” game problem could also be solved.

Incident at Strathern Point – Levels 8-10, Issue #21, Matthew Maaske
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, it’s 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.

Mightier than the Sword – Levels 1-4, Issue #29, Willie Walsh
This adventure is absurd, in every wonderful sense of that word. You know how good it is? I LOVED THE BACKSTORY! I HATE long backstories, but I LOVED this one. One of the things I like about D&D adventures is when the players come up with crazy ideas on how to do something and we get to watch the comedy/tragedy that unfolds as they implement their zany plan. In the same genre is the adventure where the characters are the straight men. There’s some kind of zaniness going on around the characters and the players are trying to wade through it all. This is, probably, one of the few ways to do humor in D&D, and I LOVE IT. Everything in this adventure is completely plausible and makes sense. And when you take it as a whole, as an outsider, you’ll be left saying: What the FUCK is going on here? Are you people INSANE?! This is a faction adventure. And therefore an adventure with NPC’s . These are very good things to have in an adventure. The players and their characters will always interact with the world around them, especially in a village adventure like this, and having strongly imagined NPC’s goes a VERY long way to brining an adventure to life.
[Pontification OFF]
In a small town one of the scribes has invented … a metal nib for the end of a quill. The guild of scribes now hates him. The ink makers love him. The Goose Breeders Association hates him. The paper manufacturers are in both camps. The druids hate him. Essentially, everyone in this small town has an opinion, entirely plausible. And then the scribe turns up dead. The council, divided in to the two camps, seeks an independent prosecutor to investigate. Oh, and there’s a Committee on Public Recriminations running around also. And in to this quite plausible and quite absurd set up the party is tossed. And it’s wonderful. There are mobs laying wreaths and jumping to conclusions, the competent, the incompetent, random wanderers … in fact, lets talk about the wanderers. There’s a small overland adventure to get to the village. The party is accompanied by the messenger who delivered to them the offer. Except there are two, one from each faction, and they hate each other and compete to see who’s better and yet won’t go so far as to kill each other. It’s brilliant! And then the wanderers come in to play. There are 8 or so of these and each has a little set up to riff off of. One is with a normal hedgehog. If asked, via a Speak spell, he comes down completely neutral on the issue of the quill nibs, as long as hedgehog quills are not in consideration. THIS IS BRILLIANT. EVERYONE should have an opinion! (Not all do, but as the DM I’ll sure as fuck riff on that one things and turn EVERYONE in to having an opinion!!!) This thing suffers a bit from ’the style at the time’ issues. A summary of NPC’s would have been useful and some of the text gets a bit long. But, the adventure is GOLD! If you need to suffer through one old adventure with too much text this year then THIS is the one. Walsh was a prolific contributor to Dungeon and, more often than not, his adventures had something decent in them.

Thiondar’s Legacy – Levels 8-12, Issue#30, Steven Kurtz
This thing could almost be a completely stand-along product. Look, I’m about to talk smack about this, because it deserves it, but at the core of this is Something Good. You need to decide if its worth salvaging. I think it is. In fact, I don’t even think the salvage job is that severe. I would suggest, however, that you work this adventure in. You need to start dropping hints LONG before the players hit this thing. The College, the legends, etc. This is going to work best when it’s NOT dropped in out of the blue.

The backstory here is LONG. I mean REALLY long. You know the Unseen University, in Discworld? There’s a magi college with that kind of vibe. There’s a kind of power struggle and one of the magi, to be a dick, exercises his Right of Inventory. One every hundred years he can force an Grand Inventory to be done, which everyone hates because it’s a pain in the ass. In it, they find a magic shield with something unusual about it, which leads then to hire adventurers. That’s backstory one. Backstory two is about the guy who owned the shield. Backstory three is about the guy who the guy that owned the shield was trying to find. Way WAY too much backstory … but … more than enough also for you to slip in to your campaign, and, overtime, build these three places/people up. It would be like Obama, Putin, and Thatcher showed up one day, told you the illuminati were real, they were in it, King Arthur was real (like, not some pict/roman dude, but like really real, all the legends are real!), as was excalibur, and, oh yeah, we think we know where he’s buried. Could you go check it out? Yeah, you can keep the sword. Holy Shit!

There’s a valley adventure that’s … Good! Giant sheep on the hillsides! A misty steamy valley with a river in it! Stone Giants … who are not dicks! They talk to you! Hey have a captured bard playing music for them! You move on, to the dungeon, on a raft. And then something really cool happens. There’s this concept in the OSR of the dungeon as the Mythic Underworld. An important part of this is that the entrance MUST be significant. Or, maybe, that it has to feel like crossing the threshold is significant. This does that. You’re poling your raft down this river, across a lake and discover … a large stone arch that the water flows through. This is it. This is the place you’re looking for. As is so often the case, my own words can’t describe the brilliant SIMPLE imagery that is conveyed. But it works. You are not in the realm of THE OTHER. You poke around, find some signs that others are here, and then get TOTALLY fucked over by the king of the mushrooms. Who isn’t. I usually don’t care about spoilers, but this time I’ll be nice. There’s a hole intelligent set up here when you meet the mushroom king that leads to some great roleplaying. It’s social, or can be. And I LOVE it. You move on to find an eternal warrior you can put to rest. And then on to a HUGE steamy jungle cavern. And then on to a tower. It’s like it never stops! And there’s are NPC’s hanging around! REAL people with real problems and real emotions and they are wonderful and they are dicks and are complex but you can grasp them easily and run them well.

You know Dungeon published a couple of adventures with that stupid red dragon, Scorch of whatever he was called. They were supposed to be EPIC and Mighty and Majestic. They tried too hard and they sucked. This one though, this one FEELS epic. You feel immersed in it and you feel like something awesome is going on and that you’re a part of it and most importantly that you are DOING things and making a difference. I can’t recall, just now, another adventure that has given me this EPIC level feel. Ever.

You’re gonna need to take a read-through this before you run it, but I don’t think you’ll need to do much more to run it. For all of it’s text and wordiness, as was the style at the time, the ideas cement themselves in to your head. Dave Bowman write a wordy encounter with an old hill giant who likes to eat crab legs. Old Bae. It was quite long, for Bowman. The core of what it is is still fresh in my mind as if I had just read it. This adventure is like that one encounter: it stays with you. I think that’s pretty much the definition of Well Written.

Dovedale – Levels 1-3, Issue #46, Ted James & Thomas Zuvich
Danger! Folklore! Danger! I Love this stuff to an unnatural degree! The village stream has run dry, causing the villagers crops to have issues. They want you to fix it. The cause of the problems is a small band of goblins who have captured the stream’s source, a nixie, in order for the chief to better catch a giant talking fish. You see, he’s an avid fisherman. One of the rumors says a local ran across him one afternoon and they chatted while both fished and shared a beer.

OMG! I LUV this shit. A talking fish, a talking owl, and a talking giant rat are a part of the adventure; the local ‘kings’ of the animals. The goblin chief being an avid fisherman is great … as is the STUNNING gold and ruby fly he is tying in his fly vice to help him catch the talking fish. The goblins are old style. Stinkfoot (who has stinky feet), Swoop (who rides a giant bat), fishbelly (who can swim) and so on. One of them resembles a local boy and likes to go into the village and play pranks, and the local boy gets in trouble instead of him. It’s laid out well (especially considering the year), has a decent number of NPC’s, and the text is relatively terse and evocative. It’s the OLD folklore goblins rather than the generic sword-bair goblins that D&D usually presents. This adventure gets a hearty Thumbs Up from me …. uh … I’m not sure … this may be the first one in Dungeon I’ve ever done that for, without reservations?

Anyway, you have no soul if you don’t like this. I’m just saying. You suck if you don’t like this. You don’t want to suck, do you?

Peer Amid the Waters – Levels 1-2, Issue #78, Johnathan Richards
WoW! This is a good adventure! And I don’t even mean it on the “by Dungeon Magazine standards” grading curve! It’s actually good! I’m serious! Ready? I’m totally serious here, it’s good EVEN CONSIDERING WHAT I AM ABOUT TO WRITE. First, keep in mind it’s for level 1’s. And has what feels like an endless and boring backstory. And a hook that feels like it’s about 10 pages long … all to keep the party from killing some asshat nixies. And then consider it’s underwater. And has two mummies. (got magic weapons?) And an undead leopard. (more magic weapons needed!) And all of the room descriptions are like half a page long and full of shit no one cares about. AND ITS GOOD! I know! Level 1? Underwater? Ha! A million loaned things for the arty, right? Right? No! Nixie kisses! It’s wonderful! All is right in the world, it fits perfectly! And an egyptian tomb to explore? (a teleport circle opened a portal underwater to the tomb.) Lame … except … it’s an alien environment,, and totally bizarre to find out of nowhere! Mystery! Wonder! And combined with the already alien environment of underwater, it works great! And the DM Torture Porn of Underwater Adventuring is toned down to be just the good parts that are fun and enhance the adventure! How is that? Light sources halved … so the descriptions play on that … shadows and chaos suddenly appearing in your (very) restrictive magic 10’ light circle! And not immediately attacking you! Lungs full of water and can’t cast? How about an air pocket under an overturned boat? Or a glob of air stuck to a diving beetle? Perfect! Mummies? That’s easy! The folks who you are in search of almost killed it AND it’s got a CLEARLY magic sword sticking out of its back while it’s engaged in a fight with the diving beetle! The undead kitty is torn between protecting the tomb and curling up n a ball every round, because it’s a cat in water! Treasure chamber problems? The party has enough time to grab some loot before the teleport circle starts to disappear! This things MASTERFUL in it’s design It exploits the FUN inherent in the situations. I LOVE it when I expect something to suck ass and it turns out wonderful! WAAAYYYYYYY too much text in this, but fuck it. Get a highlighter and go to town! All Hail Discordia!

Depths of Rage – Level 3, Issue #83, JD Walker
This was a favorite of mine when it was originally published. I think it has stood up.

A week ago the local DCC mob went all funnel up in the local goblin caves … and no one came out as first level … or came back at all. Full of old people, women, and children, the party is encouraged to take a shot … and lured by a magic sword the goblin leader has. This intro is pretty abstract in the adventure and could use just a bit more colour.

The caves are multi-level, with bridges, chasms, chimneys, multiple ledges, cramped corridors, short 5’ ceilings full of smoke from torches, and other cave features. And then suddenly some crazed goblins come screaming out the darkness! There’s some nonsense about how they are barbarians, but it’s TOTALLY that cave scene in 13th Warrior (and fuck you if you don’t like 13th warrior! It’s one of the two best D&D movies EVAR!) Primitive cannibal goblins, fetishes all over the place shoved in the cracks & crevices, war paint, howling goblins, tight and evocative setting. I fucking love this cave! And THEN the place changes. After killing the leader there’s an earthquake the caves change, with new challenges to overcome! There’s even some faction play thrown in, with the bitter shamen being discovered (maybe) early on, and he’s willing to sell out the chief, as well as an NPC ranger. The read-aloud, while not imaginative, is mercifully short. The DM text, while not terse by my standards, is not the usual completely over-prescriptive text usually found in Dungeon, except maybe in its description of the cave features, which goes on for two pages. The reaction section, to the parties intrusion, could also be beefed up a little. A gross shamen bowl full of blood that’s Bulls Strength? Sign me up! I WAS disappointed that the magic sword is only a +2 longsword. 🙁 LAME!

Shut-In – Level 2, Issue #128, F. Wesley Schneider & James L. Sutter
Danger: I LUV a good urban adventure. This is a DELIGHTFUL adventure! It’s a little mystery/guard mission in an old lady’s house and is about 20 times more Ravenloft than almost all of the Ravenloft adventures. The Swan Street Slicer has escaped! On the way to jail, the mute halfling’s jail wagon was in an accident and he’s escaped! The guard is frantic, as is the entire town! Extra guards are everywhere! The party (hired? Hastily deputized?) is given the task of guarding the house of an old lady, her family having been one of the last victims. This is a nice hook. Hysteria in the city is fun, and its a good pretext as to why the guardsmen aren’t doing the guarding. They ARE, but EVERYONE/PLACE needs guards. It’s all hands on deck! So the party is in the old lady’s house, guarding it/her and her daughter. The NPC’s in this are wonderful. A bitter old woman in a wheelchair. Her lovely daughter, no longer engaged since her fiance was murdered by the slicer. A halfing butler who is best described as ‘simple.’ Strong NPC personalities to interact with. Then there are the people who come to visit, PERFECTLY described. “Nina’s dim-witted but good-natured nephew.” or “a greasy but ambitious banker” and so on. In one fucking sentence for each NPC this adventure does what so many others can’t seem to do: focus on the NPC description on interactivity. Who the fuck cares what your special snowflakes eye color is? What we need to know is how to play them when the party comes to interact. There’s a great little table included for the old woman and her daugher on how the parties interactions with them will impact their attitudes/diplomacy checks. And, even better, the table notes WHERE YOU CAN FIND THINGS! Giving the daughter some letters from her dead fiance will give you some positive modifier, but the table also tells you that they are in room six! Oh the humanity! A writer who actually makes things easier for the DM! The NPC’s, the house, what’s actually going on, the window dressing, t all contributes to a wonderfully creepy vibe. As time passes the party will do that thing that brings joy to the hearts of players and DM’s. They’ll say something like “Ohhh! It’s her! I know it’s her! Ohhh! I know it!” This sort of build up, starting out slightly irregular and building until the party snap in to action, is wonderful. “Telegraphed” isn’t quite the right word, but the mix of horror, with the … levity? Anticipation? From the players is great. The maps are way too small, and you’re going to STILL need a highlighter for the rooms. They are shorter than usual for Dungeon, but still need a bit of help.

Other Decent Adventures
I wrote six articles, each covering 25 issues, summarizing the adventures I thought were decent or had something interesting about them. Frankly, I think they are far weaker than the good modern OSR adventures (a list of which I keep on tenfootpole.org) but, if you’re looking to explore Dungeon Magazine then these would be a good place to start. The summary lists an be found at:
http://tenfootpole.org/ironspike/?cat=5

Other Best Of Lists & Special Merit
Kingdom of Ghouls, Issue #70, is generally much loved. Ghouls is quite lengthy but presents a weird world that is fully realized and coherent. It’s quite good, but generally makes a lot of Best Of lists so I didn’t include it in mine. It’s part of how Baur made his reputation and stands in stark contrast to his more recent works. Ssscaly Thingsss, in the same issues, is pretty good also.

Mud Sorcerer’s Tomb, from Issue #37, is also a favorite of many folks. In the same category as “Tomb of Horrors” but MUCH less arbitrary. ToH spawned a thousand terrible imitators and taught many people the wrong way to design/run a dungeon. If they had instead imitated Mud Sorcorer then the sun would be shining a little brighter. AGain, it’s not on my list because it’s on EVERYONE’s list.

There’s a decent List of Lists at Nerdvore:
http://www.nerdovore.com/2016/12/the-best-dungeon-magazine-adventure.html

Posted in Dungeon Magazine, Reviews | 18 Comments

Call of the Werewolf


By Joseph A. Mohr
Self Published
OSRIC
Levels 4-7

Call of the Werewolf is a Free OSRIC adventure for characters of 4th to 7th level of experience. The adventurers arrive at a small village along the Blood River and discover that a Werewolf is terrorizing the locals. Brave adventurers are needed to solve the mystery of who the werewolf is and these adventurers must put a stop to this fiend once and for all.

This 43 page adventure, a light investigation and assault, details a small village and the manor home of a local lord. The village is suffering from attacks on its livestock. Clues lead back to the local lord, and werewolves. The investigation is quite simple, the text repetitive and unfocused. There’s some delight in the encounters, from mimics, to dazzling chandeliers, moving armor and paintings and the like. Those parts are charming and remind you of the reasons the classics are the classics. If you were desperate for an adventure this would be ok, and if the manor/dungeon were in Dungeon Magazine it would be Best Buy in that periodical. It’s got a decent classic vibe.

I HAVE to talk about the investigation first. I have to. It’s absurd. It’s so absurd that I luv Luv LUV it! When the players first walk up, at dusk, a few villagers are talking, having a heated discussion. They split up with one, the mayor, talking to you. Moments later there are sounds of someone being attacked by wolves. “IF the party helps then …” sez the text … but imagine for a moment if they DIDNT. They are trying to hold a conversation with a guy, who it turns out is the mahoy, while someone is being torn limb from limb by a pack of wolves just around the corner. Scream, maybe some viscera flying around the corner, all while the mayor looks on normally and tries to hold a conversation with some murder hobos … Classic D&D! A good DM troll and DM response to it. 🙂

Anyway, the entire investigation is like that. “Yes, our livestock is being attacked, No, we don’t know why/who …” with a wolf attack right next to it. Gee, think it might be wolves? “Our local lord? He lies in that big mansion over there. No, he doesn’t come out much.” Bad guy alert! Bad guy alert! The wolves all wear gold medallions with a big “M” on them … so do the local lords servants. And his name is Lord Medgar. And one of the wolves in the pack turns in to a werewolf to run away. Gee .. I wonder what is going on in this village? Now, players being players, they will miss the most obvious clues, but, geez man, this is so bad I’d play it comedically.

I already mentioned that the manor/dungeon has some classic elements. A nice mimic, a chandelier that dazzles. Animated armor. Fountains to drink from. I love that shit.

If this were well written then it would be a mildly interesting adventure with classic elements. But it’s not. It’s 43 pages of two-column for a small village, manor, and dungeon under it. That means unfocused writing.

I use that term a lot, lately anyway. I use it to describe a beginners/amateurs writing style. Someone has an idea and they put it down on paper without really understand how adventure writing should work. It could be formatting (which this adventure doesn’t have much of a problem with) or the lack of organization like summaries, overviews, and appendices, which this adventure could do better at, but isn’t terrible at, making an effort at some summaries. Frequently it comes from not understanding the purpose of the adventure and how the room keys, in particular, work toward that.

The purpose of the adventure is for the DM to run the game. It must help the DM run the game at the table. In the case of the room keys this means presenting information in such a way that it’s trivial for the DM to scan the text, describe the room, and respond as the party interacts with it. This is no trivial feat. You have to describe the room in such a way that it lodges in the DM’s head and they grok it, able to fill in details as needed. When they search the chest you need to make it easy for the DM to find that text and run the trap/treasure. Indents, bolding, bullets, italics, and a host of other techniques can be used to help with this, but evocative writing and editing can help even more. That room description has to be evocative. You get, maybe, two sentences to describe the room to the DM and lodge it in their head. “Large” and “Red” are not good descriptions, they are boring. But you can’t go on forever about the cavernous room with towering rust-colored banners. You can’t use a paragraph to describe a chest of drawers and the mundane items in it, or the mundane items in a kitchen or pantry. It’s not worth it. Focus on what makes this DIFFERENT than a normal pantry and gloss over the rest.

Here’s some text from a room:
The door to this room is unlocked. Anyone listening at the door to this room will hear nothing from inside. This room appears to be empty. It is also quite dusty and does not appear to have been cleaned in over a century. The dust here is thick. Awaiting the adventurers in this room is a particularly nasty and violent trap.

Six sentences to tell us it’s empty and dusty. In a well written room we know it’s empty. We know that you can’t hear anything because we know instantly at a glance that there is nothing to hear. We know there’s a trap because the trap is described. “Awaiting adventurers” and “nasty and violent” serve no purpose other than to clog up the room description.

In another location we’re told there’s a statue and that those statues usually have large gem eyes and ivory horns. Great! But then it says “Not this one.” Uh, so then what was the point? To bore the DM to death? It’s not a detail that’s needed and so thus it makes the DMs job harder. No, more is not better. It’s not better to have it and not need it. Put your shit in a god damn appendix if you insist.

While I’ve concentrated on room/key, I’d like to note that format is NOT appropriate for some things. The village in this adventure, for the investigation, is presented in room/key format. That’s TERRIBLE! This is a social environment, the personages are buried in their respective rooms with no reference. Their personalities and goals and what they know. You meet a guy on the street? Let me flip through the adventure and find the room key he’s in so I can figure out his personality and what he knows … is that how to run an adventure? Obviously not. A little table, with villagers names, the house they live in, and a fast personality and/or fact about them lets the DM run the adventure is a much smoother format.

This is free on DriveThru. The preview is six pages. Most of it is useless, but you do get to see the opening scene. I like the villagers discussion, even if I do think it could be written better/shorter. At least you get to see the whole gold medallion/wolf attack/werewolf thing. 🙂
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/222818/Call-of-the-Werewolf

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The Lost Colony

By Sean Liddle
Anti-Photon Publishing
System – Unknown
Level – Unknown

You and your friends are in deep trouble. Children of respected knights of the realm, you’ve been slacking away and causing trouble. Thankfully the King and his people respect your families and you haven’t been banished, or worse. Now you must travel down the southern coast to investigate a long standing rumor of a missing shipload of treasure from one hundred years past. You will visit hidden port towns, island enclaves and see sights you’d never see from your boring northern stone city. Pirates, sea monsters, a mystery to solve and wealth to retrieve for your king and country to help fund a coming war against the Drow. It’s time to search for the Lost Colony.

This 43 page adventure involves a sea voyage to various ports while looking for a lost treasure of old. It is linear and almost incoherent in its stream of consciousness style.

There are no stats. There are no credits. There is no game system mentioned. There is no introduction to speak of, other than a “this is the first in a line of adventures and we will expand some areas in others.” Everything is in a single column. A cursive font is used in places, making vast portions nearly unreadable. Other interesting font choices seem to fight the reader to be clear. All of these choices combine to make it VERY hard to read the adventure, let alone use it at the table.

The writing is mostly stream of consciousness. Linear, events, and encounters all mixed together in single paragraphs, without a traditional room/key format. It’s as if this is an outline, or you were sitting in a bar after three drinks and describing an adventure. The first 28 pages are the sea voyage and the various ports visited, rumor tables, and merchants to visit, along with a couple of encounters that the DM can use to “keep the adventurers on their toes.” Like giant Crabs coming out of the water and snagging a womans children. Multiple paragraph read-alouds, you visit three or four cities and then end up in a forest on page 28, ending on page 33 before the maps start. The main encounter, a dwarf vault, is on one page in paragraph/conversational form.

I don’t even know where to start with this. It is as incoherent as it can possible be and still be legible. This needs a formatting, bad, for readability purposes. Once that’s done then the conversational writing style could be addressed.

This is $1.75 at DriveThru. The preview is perfect, showing the first six pages. The cursive font. The long read alouds. The stream of consciousness writing on page five for the events. It’s quite representative for what you are getting. I encourage you to check it out.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/181092/Southern-Coast-Adventures-LC-1–The-Lost-Colony

Posted in Reviews, The Worst EVAR? | 8 Comments

Dungeon Magazine Summary: Issues 126-150

Again, if I don’t list an issue it’s because there was nothing too notable about it.

Dungeon 128
Shut-In is a delightful little urban adventure. Guarding a little old ladies house, the thing has more atmosphere than, say, every Ravenloft adventure ever, combined. The Swan Street Slicer. Mute halfling. A town working itself in to a frenzy over the escaped murderer. A bitter old woman in a wheelchair. Good stuff. This thing would have me, as a player, bouncing up and down in my chair in anticipation.

Dungeon 129
Murder in Oakbridge is a murder mystery that, while overwrought with text, gets most of the organization right for an adventure of this type.

Dungeon 130
Within the Circle has a nice intro & wilderness section, but fails utterly in the dungeon that’s supposed to be the focus.

Dungeon 133
Ill Made Graves has a viking theme and “feels” right. Lots of callbacks to classic tropes, like chucking things in lava crows, shattered remains of a dead kings magic sword …

Dungeon 134
Home Under the Range is a farce about herding giant beetles, cattle-style, through the underdark. Linear set pieces, but short and allows for stupid plans to be designed and executed.

Dungeon 136
Both Tensions Rising and And Madness Followed have good things to reccomend them, from factions to sandbox play, but ruin it with WAY too much text. More than usual. Which is saying something.

Dungeon 139
Urban Decay has a gritty vibe going on with meat pies made of rats. It’s event/lair based but has some nice gritty urban imagery.

Dungeon 140
The Fall of Graymalkin Academy is kind of like the Battle of Hogwarts, with factions. Nice magic school vibe, but could be rewritten to provide a more evocative atmosphere.

Dungeon 142
I was fond of Masque of Dreams, a ball that gets attacked, but it needs more structure to make it worthwhile.

If you like set-pieces then Here There Be Monsters has some good classic trope ones. It’s linear as all hell, but good for that.

Dungeon 144
Lightless Depths had a great alternative underdark thing going on, but was IMPOSSIBLY long otherwise.

Dungeon 145
The Distraction wants to be a sandbox but fails in almost every way.

Dungeon 146
Escape the Meenlock Prison is only interesting in that is crosses a line, morally. You’re hired to go to a black prison and escort two prisoners to another location. Weird.

Dungeon 147
The Aundairian Job is a sandbox bank heist. It’s a little moderny for my tastes, but that can be handled with some on the fly retheming.

Dungeon 148
Automatic Hound has a nice meta thing going with villagers and roleplaying. Too long, but done right this could be a great difficult social adventure with an almost LotFP ending.

Dungeon 149
The concept in War of the Wielded is nice: it takes intelligent swords to their logical extreme. Linear, but factions of intelligent swords engaged in a centuries long war with wielders as pawns is a great idea.

Twisted Night has some good imagery and a nice horror vibe. Needs a rework to make it coherent.

Dungeon 150
Kill Bargle is a nice exploration dungeon, which makes sense because it’s essentially a dungeon taken from the early days of D&D.

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Tomb at the Dragon’s Spine


By Scott Taylor
Art of the Genre
1e/5e
Levels 1-3

While crossing the deadly ‘Dragon’s Spine’ of the island’s interior, the party encounters a darkness at the heights. Within the ancient stones the tomb of one of the last sea dwarf master masons rests. Has the corruption of the island reached the tomb? Only exploration will reveal the truth, and the treasure.

This nine page dwarf tomb has twelve rooms in simple layout. There’s some effort to create an evocative atmosphere that doesn’t quite reach my, quite high, expectations. There’s also some above average effort to have unique treasure. This could be quite a bit shorter, with good editing. It’s not a throw-away but also doesn’t really strike hot. It would probably be fine for most people, if a little staid.

I want to talk some about the atmosphere the adventure is trying to create. Here’s some intro text, describing the mountain area where the tomb resides:
“There is a presence here, not something palpable, but an ancient aftereffect that pervades the very stonework of the hills. Crumbling stairs, moss- covered arches, and cleverly disguised passes around perilous rock faces and towering waterfalls seem to greet you at every turn. One thing is clear, whoever created this pass knew the subtleties of stone and kept their secrets well.”

You can clearly see where the designer is trying to go. I’d divide the description to two parts: impressions and conclusions. The first and last sentence fall in to the conclusions while the middle falls, for the most part, in to the description category. It’s that middle section that I like the most. Adventures are, I think, more successful when they concentrate on the impressions rather than the feelings. A good impression/description will create and communicate the feeling, without having to resort to saying it outright. Those bookend sentences almost fall in to the trap of starting with “You feel …” and I think that’s weak writing. Crumbling steps, moss-covered arches, hidden passes … those help communicate the conclusions.

Another example:
“Frost holds heavy to the dark earth along the bluffs to the east. There, amid a collection of tumbledown stone, the remains of several ancient plinths stand at odd angles. Somewhere beyond, a darkness lurks in the mists that collect amongst the stone.” Again, conclusions bookend a pretty strong impression. The first and last are, perhaps, trying too hard. I love the tumbledown stone and fallen plinths.Frost and mist can work well, along with the inky black opening, but the overly poetic language gets in the way of those impressions.

One chamber has pinprick holes in the ceiling letting in light, which is great imagery, but is surrounded by the drudgery of dimensions and the mundane. “A large forge, cold from ages of disuse … again, trying too hard. The adventure is best when giving those impressions and letting the mundane fall by the wayside.

Most of the rooms fall in to a page of bolded/read-aloud and then a couple of paragraphs of DM notes. The bolded read-aloud has the filler text, as does the DM notes. It flirts in to the realm of the conversational. “The trap cannot be disarmed but can be avoided” is the sort of detail that acts as filler, mundane details not needed that hides the better DM notes and evocative text.

The encounters proper are ok. There’s a trick or two, such as a stat-raising/lowering fountain. SOME of the treasure is good, like a lantern that doesn’t go out when submerged or a jade necklace that allows dimension door once a day. Then it falls down with simple things like +1 mace or +1 chainmail.

It’s a small simple tomb that’s supposed to be evocative and communicate a scary/abandoned vibe. The extra text detracts from that, impeding scanning and making one fight for the good bits.

It’s $2 on Drive Thru. The preview is six pages and shows you almost all of the tomb text. You can see good example of the text in rooms four and five.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/216048/The-Folio-146-Tomb-at-the-Dragons-Spine-MiniAdventure-WS16

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The Temple of Drawoh Rock


By CS Barnhart
Mad Martian Games
OSR
Level 1

The Temple of Drawoh Rock is an adventure module for 1st level characters exploring the Ice Kingdoms. As warriors of Thane Ornulf the characters will sail the Atalac Sea, explore the Gate Isles, and raid the Monastery of Jove. But what starts out as a simple plan to rob some peaceful monks turns into a harrowing adventure as the adventurers cross paths with the machinations of a deadly sorcerer.

This is a sixteen page viking themed adventure about a raid on a monastery. The monastery is relatively small, at 11 rooms, but there is a sea voyage. It flirts with providing an evocative atmosphere, but ultimately fails to deliver on an evocative environment

This flirts with a viking theme. You’re all drafted to join your first raid , pretending to be a different viking group. There’s a sea voyage and then you end up at the island only to find the monastery empty, obviously having been raided recently. What follow is a slow forlorn explore with a slightly creepy vibe and a few monsters bursting out. There may be something like eleven rooms total and four or five monster encounters, mostly with ghoul-like monks.

The ship voyage has a nice wandering/events table with things like rocks with visible pearls … guarded by mermaids. Storm effects, and so on. The monastery text, while long-ish and unfocused, does present a kind of creepy ass vibe

You have to work for it though. The monastery isle is explained in the text, but a little simple overview map would have done wonders for it. There’s no shipmates presented, and only a throwaway reference, in about 3 words buried in text, of the leader of the expedition. But we do get a long paragraph describing the layout of the monastery … which is just describing what is on the map right above it. “At the far end is the alter (a) and to the north (b) and south (c) are two wings.” It goes on and on instead of concentrating on an evocative atmosphere. There’s a lot of art and large text … I’d estimate that only two or maybe three pages are the adventure proper.

This needs slightly more detail for the ship crew and leader, and a paring down of the text about the raid, the background, the boring minutia of the room descriptions. The treasure is generic. Religous artifacts, scraping away gold … there’s no specificity. I’m not looking for paragraphs, or even sentences, but SOMETHING is needed.

I’m being a little harsh on this. Most rooms are a paragraph or so, and it DOES provide a nice creepy vibe. It also feels overly sparse for the amount of text there is. One of the rooms is:

Much like the north wing, the south wing is a ten foot deep and twenty foot wide area that branches out from the nave. This area is the choir and has been built for acoustics. From this point, singing echoes throughout the nave and monastery as a whole.”

I think I’m turned off by the sparseness of the voyage/crew/island and the large amount of art … it feels like the things is SERIOUSLY padded out to make it to sixteen pages. That and the relatively abstracted treasure. But then it does things like say that if you scrape the gold off the altar then the potions and scrolls inside the temple don’t work for you … you’ve angered the god of the temple. That’s great stuff. And the bad guy sorcerer is nowhere to be seen,

This feels like a good adventure plagued by the need for a little more support in the crew and leader, and some better treasure. It also feels … incomplete. Anti-climactic, I guess. I’m not looking for a boss fight but it somehow feels unsatisfying. Maybe it’s the low treasure? I don’t know. It’s quiet, which is ok, but feels too sparse for what it is. I’m intrigued by it.

I don’t know. This review sucks.

It’s PWYW at DriveThru, currently at a suggested $1. The preview is seven pages and show you the wandering table, at the end, which I think it well done, as well as the long-ish intro. It does give a good viking vibe … but goes on and glosses over ship life too much.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/218033/Ice-Kingdoms-The-Temple-of-Drawoh-Rock

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Dungeon Magazine Summary: Issues 101-125

A reminder: if I don’t list an issue then it doesn’t have enough redeeming qualities for me to mention it. I didn’t accidentally skip them.

Dungeon 104
Dragon Hunters has some nice faction play in it and perhaps some murky morality (in a fun way, not a punitive way) that need some work to get some good use out of it. Quite above average for Dungeon.

Dungeon 105
Racing the Snake is NOT what I am looking for in an adventure, but if you want linear set pieces then you could do A LOT worse than this one.

Dungeon 112
Maure Castle, updated to the new rules. The layout is terrible and Kuntz needs an editor with a spine. It’s also classic D&D exploration, which is quite rare.

Dungeon 114
Mad God’s Key is a plot based adventure AND it doesn’t suck AND it’s in Dungeon! Very flavorful and good imagery throughout and worth digging through the text.

Dungeon 115
Raiders of the Black Ice has a great variety of encounters and good winter vibe.

Dungeon 117
Touch of the Abyss and Fallen Angel both have some high points, but both suffer one or two good ideas that are not followed through on.

Dungeon 118
Unfamiliar Ground is a linear crawl, but its has some good weird stuff and order of battle for enemies.

Dungeon 121
Fiend’s Embrace features a ruined castle in a cold swamp and is quite a bit more evocative than most Dungeon adventures.

Dungeon 122
Fiendish Footprints has some linear elements, but also has a multi-entrance dungeon and interesting scenes/encounters in that linear environment.

Dungeon 124
More Maure Castle, with the usual Kuntz faults. But the “highlight” is The Whispering Cairn, the AGe of Worms kickoff. Not a bad little dungeon, for a plot thing.

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The Wicked Woeful Web


By Thom Wilson
ThrowiGames
Swords & Wizardry
Levels 1-2

The monks of Esherten have always used trained spiders to protect their crops from the nearby giant fly hives. That was until several days ago, when the always obedient arachnids left the small settlement and disappeared into the Woeful Forest. The giant flies, attracted to the Flame Flower nectar grown in the village, have found the crop unprotected. Monks and villagers are growing weary from their constant battle with the insects. They need help! Who can help them bring back their trained guards?

This is a seventeen page adventure fighting giant flies and spiders. There is some fine imagery in this that really sparks the imagination. Then there’s the other 99.9% of the text which is unfocused and hides the evocative bits, turning a nine room adventure in to seventeen pages.

A village grows a rare flower and nearby monks raise giant spiders to protect the crops from giant flies that like to feed on/destroy them. But the spiders have recently disappeared, migrating to a nearby forest. The primary adventure is a four room cave with a giant evil spider in it. The secondary adventure is a giant fly lair with five rooms.

There great imagery in this. Massive tiny spider migrations, as the evil spider calls them to her, ala Harry potter. You notice, by sense and/or smell something foul and ancient within a cave. Tiny spiders swarm over the remains of a fallen dear. Hundreds of deformed egg sacks hang from the ceiling and cling to the wall of a chamber. Very nice! It implants a strong mental image in your head and allows your brain to fill in the blanks, exactly the sort of evocative writing we’re looking for. But that’s generally one sentence in a column of text. Otherwise the writing is long and generally unfocused … hence the column of text per room. It’s padded out with trivia and detail that is not likely to come up in the adventure.

Then it leaves out things. Room c2 has spiders in it. The text says they will will attack. Unless they are the spiders from the monastery in which case they won’t attack. Are they spiders from the monastery? Are they mixed? No idea. And then the treasure … most of the mundane treasure is just generic coins and the magic treasure is “Dagger of Sharpness, +1 damage.” Lacking detail where it needs it and full of detail where it doesn’t.

Sometimes I find no redeeming qualities in an adventure and, after a couple from the same publisher, write them off and avoid that stuff for a couple of years. This does not fall in to that category; the imagery in this is quite good in places. What it needs is A LOT more thought on the writing, a focus on the purpose of the writing and how it relates to the room. That’s a “second draft” topic in my mind, and fixable and more easily learned than other adventure issues.

This is $1.50 on DriveThru. There’s no preview.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/221048/The-Wicked-Woeful-Web

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