Darkmoore Adventure Modules

Steve Jensen
Archaic Adventures
Level 1

The infamous DarkMoore Inn is closed! It appears the entire staff has been kidnapped, with nothing more than a ransom note demanding gold as the only clue. Despite these dire circumstances King Alangar never goes down without a fight and has placed his trust in his newly appointed Captain of the Guard Thaddeus Ugelcort. Thadeus has set up shop around a corner table at the Iron Dragon Inn where he coordinates the business of the day in the King’s absence. Thaddeus believes the hostages will be found by following up on every rumor, examining every rat-hole, and scavenging the entire countryside. The word is out, all you do is show up and talk to Thaddeus and get paid when you complete each task….what are you waiting for?

This 59 page adventure contains 10 “errands” for the party to undertake, all tied around the plot of the missing employees of an inn. The charm of pre-standardized D&D is impacted greatly by the linear nature.

You go to an inn. Captain of the Guard recites a monologue, assigning you a mission/task. You go do it, earning story XP. Repeat. Single column layout. Paragraphs of read-aloud. The village has a giant castle, two inns and one general store … that sells magic items. The king lives in the castle, in the village with one shop, and is trying to raise the ransom for the innkeeper. It all makes absolutely no sense … unless you imagine it was written by someone in jr high who started playing D&D two weeks ago. THEN it makes perfect sense …

Frogmen attack in the swamp. A weird obelisk raises the dead. A demon on chicken legs appears. An idol summons rattlesnakes to attack. I am FASCINATED by non-standard D&D. Those Unbalanced Dice adventures. OD&D stuff. Even the Fight On! #2/Upper Caves things I love … all have a certain non-de-rigueur element to them that emphasizes imagination over book learning. And I fucking love it.

But man … forced combats. One fight involves a lot of backstabs for your level one characters. Story awards instead of gold/monster XP. Instructions to make everyone level two if they are not .. or bump them from level three to four is they are close. The single column and … stream of consciousness? Event-based? Linear time based? “And then happens and then this happens and then this happens” based writing style is hard as hell to follow as the adventure wears on.

This is PWYW on DriveThru, with a suggested price of $7.

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(5e) Orcs in Tarodun’s Tomb

By Kiel Chenier
Zero/Barrier Productions
Levels 1-2

A sepulchral tomb.
Magical tricks and traps.
Brutish orcs guarding a vast underground treasure.

This eighteen page adventure deals with a small eight room tomb that has been invaded by orcs. Compared to other 5 adventures, it’s a masterpiece. Compared to anything actually good, it’s constrained. It does some nice things with layout, but it comes off as dull and uninteresting, with a “find the red key for the red door” fetch quest to finish things off.

The rooms take up about one column per. First comes a little mini-map of the room, and then a bullet point format of the room features. All in a generous easy-on-the-eyes font. I like the bullet point style chosen. Combined with the bolding used it makes it easy to scan and absorb the different aspects to the encounters. Keil has chosen a good format for presenting information. It’s not the only way to do things, but it does work. He’s also got a little bit of order of battle information.

Ok. Nice guy Bryce is done.

The map is constraining & simple. I don’t think the map insets work for this. The descriptions are not quite evocative. There’s not much to fuck with. A prisoner betrays you. Useless information abounds. It’s just not that interesting.

I’ve said in the past that I don’t like Dyson’s maps. I think, though, that it may be I don’t like MOST of his maps. It seems like most adventures that I see that use his maps tend to use the smaller maps. Smaller maps are just not that interesting. There’s not enough space for something to go on. It doesn’t have room to breathe. I recall seeing a couple of larger maps that were ok, but I just don’t think it’s possible to have a good exploration map with eight rooms. I guess that’s not Dyson’s fault, t’s more the people who choose to write an eight room adventure. And for no reason whatsoever let me name drop now. Kiel.

I don’t find the descriptions evocative at all. Just more like facts. “A holy room devoted to the preparation of bodies for the afterlife. Long tables line the walls, covered in an assortment of embalming tools, and full and empty urns.” Or how about “The stone walls and ceiling are painted with detailed frescoes of the elven afterlife, showing the souls of elves rising from their bodies towards the ceiling.” Note, that if an elf sees that last room then they have to make a save or be overcome by the frescoes majesty. That’s a nice effect, but it doesn’t match the boring ass description.

It also engages in the a little bit of extraneous tables & information. It gives names to all of the corpses in one tomb, that has no impact on the game. It’s got a rando orc name generator … because somehow that’s going to be important to the adventure? They attack immediately in, I think, every case?

And of course, the prisoner you rescue turns on you. At this point I just kill all prisoners. It’s easier. I don’t recall the last time I saw prisoners NOT turn on PC’s. That should be the new trope, helpful prisoners.

And there’s no magical treasure? What’s up with that? This dude was an ancient elven hero. And his “hoard” is 200gp in a chest, some small silver statues, a picture, and a couple of books. Nice hoard? More like “stash in my mattress” maybe?

Let’s talk 5e. Compared to just about every other 5e adventure on earth, this thing is magnificent. It’s clear and gets in and out fast. But that’s more commentary of the state of the 5e dreck.

There’s just not much going on here. The map doesn’t allow for it. The room count doesn’t allow for it. The encounters that do exist are pretty simple and straightforward. Yeah, at one point a dead due bangs on the inside of his coffin and asks to be let out. That’s about the only standout.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages and shows you next to nothing. You do get to see the hooks on the last page. The first one, with the elf prince trapped in his castle, could be nice if expanded upon.

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Crypt of the Dog Witch

By Thom Wilson
Levels 1-2

The god Lupaarus has returned to the peaceful land of Otium, bringing hordes of canine creatures down on the unprepared farmers and unprotected lands. The key to stopping the onslaught is for brave heroes to find the five artifacts of Lupaarus before his minions do—the first of which is guarded by the Dog Witch! Can the adventurers make it to the crypt before their foes?

This sixteen page adventure describes a nineteen room crypt full of undead. Unfocused text and uninteresting encounters combine to form a rather forgettable start to the five adventure arc that this is the first of.

“Roll as often as you want for wanderers.” Why does that phrase piss me off so much? I think maybe it betrays a style of play that does not have a neutral DM.I expect the DM to be an impartial arbiter of the game world … while working to ensure I have fun. To that end I expect them to set up the world rules ands then follow them. Wanderers on a 1d6 every day, or three times a day, or 12 times a day, sets up a system that the DM follows. It’s random, and from such things good times are had as the DM and players experience the game world together, it’s ups and downs. But “roll when you want” betrays a different style. One in which the DM controls the world. They are not the JUDGE of the actions but rather the instigator of the actions. To that belongs the realm of the adversarial DM … something I LOATHE beyond words. (and it could be 4e’s focus on tactical mini’s play is adversarial, and thus a reason I hate 4e.)

Anyway, in a call back to B2, a certain keep in a borderlands area is suffering increasing raids by dog-like creatures. Portents of the doom of an evil dog god returning. The party is sent out to recover the first of five magical gem thingies so the world of man can dismiss the dog deity. The first is twelve days away, in a temple/crypt. The background is mostly abstracted, but the “pseudo-invasion” thing is something interesting that I like in those scandinavian the Dragon” adventures and I like it here, abstracted to hell and back or no. It’s an interesting thing to chuck in to a beginning campaign and help provides a lot of pretext for monsters, troops, etc.

The map here is not so bad. Nineteen rooms is larger than most and several of the areas have smaller loops in them. There’s also a nice bit or two in the encounters, with a red font dripping healing liquid and so on. There are also some Dm Tips scattered throughout. These generally convey the intent of the encounter/thing, That’s nice … almost an explanation of why it is like it is, or what the designer is trying to do with the encounter. Of course, it could also be written better … This concludes “positive Bryce.”

I found the adventure boring. It’s mostly just another site stuffed full of boring undead who attack. Six skeletons who attack. Thouls who attack. Ghoul who attacks. This is combined with a relatively boring adventuring environment. The high priest was trapped in his bedroom for ever and turned in to a ghoul. But that’s it. There’s no flavor beyond that. No insane scribblings, or torn up room. Just that he was trapped in his bedroom and turned in to a ghoul. BORING. Likewise skeletons rise up and attack. The rooms are devoid of joy.

Not to mention its padded out. The text for the ghoul room is:
The former high priest, second-in- command to the priestess, remained behind to help protect the crypt from looters. Unfortunately, he has been trapped in his bedchambers the entire time, becoming a long ago. …A residual spell—cast by the priest before he died—still hangs on the foul creature …

Note the embedded background and the explanation for WHY something is. Removing that gives you enough room to add some colour to the room. Which it, and the rest of the rooms, sorely need.

Undead are sometimes found outside of the room they are in … but by the time you read the room the party is already there, meaning no chance they were outside,. Unless you read ahead with your precog. Or note it on the map while using our highlighter? Or, maybe the designer puts that on map FOR YOU? Alas, no. *YAWN* Room three, a storeroom, tells us that “Food and supplies were once stocked behind this locked door. The charac- ters will find most everything deterio- rated or rotted.” Great, two sentences when you could have told us that with the room title.ARG! But, hey, at least there are +1 weapons to be found …

This is $1 at DriveThru. The preview is sixteen pages. I encourage you to review room one on document page three, or room eight, on page six, and supply your own critique.

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The Forbidden Barrow

By Nickolas Brown
Five Cataclysms
Level 1-3

This is a Forbidden Barrow, where a corrupt, assassinated King and his aides are entombed, sealed off such that the world may forget them.

(It’s it 9am and I am drinking single malt, but I also seem to be making more mistakes than usual this morning. My apologies.)

This fourteen page adventure describes a tomb complex with about 25 rooms. Single-column, it gets a little hack-y towards the end. In spite of that it shows promise. Thought was given to formatting (in spit of the single column) and it does nice things with both the description and the monsters. I’d say it’s a fairly standard tomb explore, better than 90% of those written. Dude has potential.

What if you were competent, but just didn’t care … or maybe you got stuck on a problem (like … how to layout two-column.) That’s this adventure. It’s single column formatting is frustrating, but the rest of it is at least at a talented amateur level of quality. Not outstanding, but clearly better than the masses of dreck pumped out. The descriptions are one of two sentences, with a word of two bolded in them. The bolding is also a heading for follow-up information. Thus we get a very short, potentially evocative, description that has bolded references to follow-up text for the DM. This is a pretty good format. It’s easy to scan and locate information, because pf the bolding and the paragraph separation, while putting first things first. IE: the information the DM immediately needs. IE: the description. The room one description is:
01: A decrepit stairway winds downwards about 100’. The stairs are as stone slabs set into the walls, many of them crumbling or broken away. If you’re not careful, you could lose your footing.

The next heading, separated by a line of whitespace, is …
“Careful – (It takes a full turn to …”

Thus we get a short little description first, the first thing the DM needs for the room, in this case. Then a pointer to follow-up information.

The descriptions could be a little stronger. There is clearly an attempt to do something interesting, but I think it falls down and/or is not as strong as it could be. Once you’ve got a decent draft it can be rough to go back and spend 15-30 minutes on each room description, but it can really pay off. It’s the kind of perfectionism that bumps an ok description in to a great evocative one. In this case, tnone-careful people can fall down the stairs, taking from 1d6 to 10d6 damage … maybe warranting a few different word choices up front to better communicate the nature of the stairs.

I like the monsters in this, or some of them at least. A gibbering ghost, an acidic convulsing mound of skeletons. Someone tried a bit harder than usual. New creatures put the fear of the unknown in to the players, and in a gold=xp/exploration game that’s a key element. Then again “an armed and armored wight with a greatsword!” is not the soul of evocative writing, nor is “charred skeleton.” A word or two extra, with better word choice, again would have added a lot. There’s also some unusual attack modes, like a skeleton that writes in a book and the party takes the damage he describes. Nifty.

The encounters are above average, for the most part. It’s range of the old tropes and a few new things. The crumbling bridge is a classic, and I seem to never get tired of it. (Nor to players? I don’t know why.) As the tombs of the evil bads, propre, are reached it does degenerate a bit in to a hack-a-thon. A couple attack immediately, others have to clamber up. This is in contrast to the beginning sections where the party usually has to fuck with something before they stir up the undead. It IS the big bad though, so, perhaps we can be forgiven. The skeleton forces do get a little same-y after awhile, even though they all tend to have unique powers. “Another skeleton?”

This does raise an interesting point: how to judge an attack on a pre-animated undead. You know the mummy is gonna rise/the skeleton guard will animate. You launch a premeditated attack. How to adjudicate it? I tend to allow the party to disrupt the undead ahead of time,

It’s a decent little adventure if you are looking for something mostly straightforward and simple but with creatures that are non-standard. A little work on the writing to make it more evocative and the single-column nature would make it better. Throwing in more twists and a slightly more neutral adventuring environment (which I think speaks to creativity and a different mindset) would have made it even better. Still in all, better than most.

This is $2 at DriveThru. Alas, there is no preview. Bad publisher! No cookie for you!

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(Pathfinder) Haunting of Harrowstone

By: Michael Kortes
Level 1

When Harrowstone Prison burned to the ground, prisoners, guards, and a host of vicious madmen met a terrifying end. In the years since, the nearby town of Ravengro has shunned the fire-scarred ruins, telling tales of unquiet spirits that wander abandoned cellblocks. But when a mysterious evil disturbs Harrowstone’s tenuous spiritual balance, a ghostly prison riot commences that threatens to consume the nearby village in madness and flames. Can the adventurers discover the secrets of Harrowstone and quell a rebellion of the dead? Or will they be the spirit-prison’s next inmates?

This is a ONE HUNDRED page adventure that describes a forty-ish room multi-level ruined prison full of ghosts, along with the nearby town and a few downtime events. The encounters are interesting and it has a ghostly vibe somewhere between The Haunted Mansion and creepy-as-fuck Inn of Lost Heroes … which makes it a better ghost adventure than most. The atmosphere and encounters are ruined, though, by the UTTERLY incomprehensible wall of text issues and lack of any sensible formatting. Rewritten in 20 pages this would be pretty decent but as is I don’t even think a highlighter could make it runnable.

I’m reviewing this old Pathfinder adventure from 2011 because my son is running it for his friends. He starts Purdue in a week and I’ll miss him, weakening my resolve when he suggested I review it.

“Welcome to You Are Doom” says Killface, the introductory chapter header. The first hint of trouble is when the writer poses the question “Can a hoor adventure also be a PATHFINDER adventure?” If you have to ask the question then you know what’s to come … trouble. And trouble it is, in the form of “let me explain EVERYTHING to you.”

This thing is one hundred pages long. The appendix starts on page 65, with the ten pages before that being the town. The dungeon starts on page 28, once the events, preamble,hook are done. That leaves about thirty five pages for forty rooms. Why use one word when eighteen will do? Why format your adventure using bullets, tabs, whitespace and bolding when instead you can bury the important bits inside all of those extra words? I’ll dump in a couple of example in the end, but it’s same history, padding, and other nonsense that most adventures fall into, making it unusable at the table.

What’s a shame here is that there is some good content buried in the muck. The town text is padded out to all hell and back, but mixed in there is GOLD. The mangy stray dog that is the town’s mascot. The chili cook-off/peasant wedding community center (bingo anyone?) But all of that is mixed in a lot of garbage. The town square has a gazebo and the dog and takes two long paragraphs to describe. Likewise the notice boards take about the same amount of space, if not more, and that’s without telling you what the notices are! The fucking general store takes the amount of space to say they don’t sell weapons or armor. FOCUS. Yes, a tidbit of detail is great if it helps makes the place memorable to the PC’s or impacts gameplay, but that’s a fucking TIDBIT, not a paragraph.

Oops, off track. Nice magic items like a Ouiji board, are ruined by a half column of text to describe them. A ghost has two pages of backstory inserted in to the main text. The opening dialogue punishes you for listening to it. You actually NEED to interrupt. How many times has a bad DM said to me “let me finish the dialogue”? ENough for me that I just let them finish it. It’s like asking people for attack rolls and then punishing them for doing it.

The opening scene is a great example of the agony of this adventure. You’re pallbearers carrying a casket. Locals show up to start trouble. If you put the casket down the dialogue ends and combat starts. There’s are chances to drop the coffin, spilling the body (Yeah! Cool!) The locals attack with weapons … but to subdue. Killing them REALLY fucks you over in town. They steal the body if you drop the casket. (Nice!) All of the cool things are ruined by punishing the PC’s for the set up the designer is giving them. “READ MY MIND” he seems to be saying. That’s not good design. Columns of read-aloud, mountains of DM text unorganized, shitty design … it all hides a potential combat while carrying a casket, dropping the body and the locals running away with it. That’s GOLD. But it has to be ruined. By “Pathfinder shit.”

I love the ghosts in this. I love the weird shit they do. The Splatter Man is a great enemy and he’s even foreshadowed by some of the very creepy events that go on in town during downtime. There’s even a nod to investigation with a page devoted to finding out more by asking around, making skill checks, etc.

Here’s the text of one of the rooms:
The guards used this large room as a holding pen whenever new prisoners arrived at Harrowstone. Here, the guards searched the prisoners for hidden items and dressed them in their new clothes, all while a guard sergeant carefully explained Harrowstone’s rules to the new “guests.” Once this procedure was complete, the guards led the prisoners one by one to area S6 to be branded, and thence on to their cells.

Creature: Psychic echoes of shame and anger fill this room—as the PCs enter, have them make Perception checks. Whoever rolls the highest hears a faint sobbing and the clanking rattle of chains, while at the same time being filled with a momentary sensation of hopelessness and the strange feeling of heavy manacles clamping over her wrists. These sensations pass quickly, but as soon as they do, the spirits of the prison cause a set of manacle chains to rise up, animate, and attack. Although there are several sets of old manacles scattered through this room, only one set rises as an animated object.

Note the first paragraph is all bullshit. It adds NOTHING to the adventure. The second is poorly written and padded to fuck and back but delivers a nice creepy little encounter with animated shackles THAT MAKE SENSE.

That’s a fairly typical description, lots of useless stuff hiding something a little above average. Was is bad before it was submitted? Did Paizo ruin it? Was Pay Per Word the cause?

The PDF is $14 at Paizo. I guess they need the padding to justify the price? I don’t see a preview available.

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Undead Island

By Jamie Pierson
Cyclops Games
Swords & Wizardry
Levels 1-3

Will the heroes have what it takes to head to the island that has been given the name “Undead Island”? Will they be brave enough to handle what challenges come before them? Find out in this adventure!

This twenty page single-column adventure features a six room dungeon. The designer doesn’t understand how to write an adventure or what Swords & Wizardry is.

Sunday evening ennui? Post-convention blues? Lets fight that by getting a Swords & Wizardry adventure! Oh … wait …. It turns out my life is a living hell.

There’s supposed to be this small town, they want you to go kill the undead on a nearby island. You wander the island, find a dungeon, adventure inside, and kill the big bad.

The town doesn’t really exist. Port town, rough docks, one inn. Those are your details … GO! Oh, wait, no, there are shitty NPC descriptions. (Most) NPC descriptions needs to do two things: have one small memorable thing about them and drive the adventure forward. If they don’t drive the adventure then they shouldn’t be described. If it’s more than one thing, and that thing isn’t immediately apparent, it (usually) shouldn’t be in the adventure. We don’t need to know the tavern keepers maiden name. Or how she got her name. Or any fuckign thing else. Anything more is some mastabatory failed novilist bullshit. Such as this gem:
Helga Gemeyes: Helga Gemeyes (formally Irontoe) was given her new last name from the locals because her deep blue eyes remind everyone of gems. A lovable lass, but takes no gruff from nobody! She owns and operates The Sea Maidens Tail all on her own. She has a reputation for being easy on the eyes (for a dwarf) and rough on the wicked. If she doesn’t like the way you’re acting in her establishment, you can expect to be thrown out by Helga herself!

The island is a hex crawl. Well, rather, we’re told to treat it like a hex crawl. There’s no map and we’re told “For this section of the adventure, you can just simply treat it as a hex crawl until you feel it is time for the characters to reach the destination.” No.

That’s not how older styles of D&D work. A forced fight on the dicks. Forced fights in the dungeons. “Throw monsters at them.” No. Not in S&W.

I understand people differ with me on this point. If you publish a Fiasco playset and label is “5e D&D!” then I don’t think you’ve published 5e adventure. If you publish a Boot Hill adventure and all of the stats use traveller and its in space and it has nothing to do with a western, or even the themes used in westerns, then it’s not a Boot Hill adventure. “But, it’s a fantasy adventure and everything is stat’d for S&W!” Yeah, I agree, it’s closer to the line. But … forced fights are not S&W. No treasure to speak of are not a Gold=XP game. Linear dungeon. This all reflects, on a basic level, a lack of understanding of the play style that S&W is.

Or how to write. At one point we’re told that a stone circle “has never been known to be here before.” Who knows that? The characters are from out of town. There are no NPC’s with them. What’s the point? Or, this little gem of a read-aloud:
“The door creaks as you pull it open from the strange stone floor. A wave of heat rushes past you, making you sweat and your eyes narrow. As you descend a stairway, the heat increases drastically. What have you gotten yourselves in to?”

Nope. You don’t write read-aloud like that. You neither dictate actions or what they think/feel. In one room there’s a box with a key in it that you need. You don’t know what the box contains or that you need it. But there’s a 5HD mummy in the room. I guess you are supposed to grab the box and run out. But how do you decide to do this? By magically knowing whats in the box?

This is as bad, if not worse, than the usual 5e dreck.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages and shows you nothing.

Posted in "DO NOT BUY EVER", Do Not Buy, Do Not Buy Ever, Reviews, The Worst EVAR? | 13 Comments

Writing with Style: An Editors advice for RPG Writers.

By Ray Vallese
Rogue Genius Games

Writing With Style: An Editor’s Advice for RPG Writers presents 45 pages of concise tips on simple ways to make your roleplaying game writing cleaner and clearer. This guide doesn’t show you how to structure adventures, build stat blocks, or create worlds. Instead, Ray Vallese looks at some of the most common and easily fixable grammar and style issues he’s encountered in over twenty years of editing RPGs.

Yeah, it’s not a review of a D&D adventure. I know, I only do adventure reviews. Bare with me. (That one’s just for you Ray!) I’ve been on a kick lately, that I’m sure is showing up in my reviews, that these things are padded out with loose, sloppy writing. It’s almost all I can see anymore and it sticks out like a glaring neon sign. I’ve been surveying books on how to write adventures and came across this one. It’s pretty good for what it is. It’s also the only thing in the How to Write Adventures category that I’d recommend.

This doesn’t tell you how to write adventures. Instead it’s focused on the craft of writing proper, from an editor viewpoint. It’s a small manual of style focused on RPG’s. Most of the 46 pages contain quite good advice on the techniques for writing clearer RPG supplements. Given my sworn blood-oath against Samuel Johnson and the Chicago manual of Style, this is quite the feat.

Laying out my core philosophy, the adventure book is a tool to help the DM run the adventure at the table. To do this I assert two primary conceits: it must be perfectly organized and writing must be evocative. A core part of being perfectly organized is scannability … the ability of a DM to glance at the page and immediately find what they need … locate it on the page and absorb it. The majority of Ray’s booklet of advice will directly impact the scalability of an adventure, and in particular less padding and a more active voice.

I fumble with this terminology in my reviews. I know it when I see sentences padded with text. I know that a sentence would be clearer if it were rearranged. It’s obvious to me what the mistakes are. Then I fumble around with the terminology. I throw around the term “passive voice” since I don’t know any better. Ray knows better. He knows what the issues are called and he knows what they look like and how to fix them.

One of the early insightful things he says is about Expletive Constructions. He points out that these are filler phrases like “there is “ and “there are” that add no meaning to a sentence. Joy! Look! Someone knows that sentences should have meaning! Ray has an example: “There is an old wise man who watches over the children.” which he converts to “An old wise man watches over the children.”

This sort of padding comes up time and again in the adventures I review, and Rays addresses it time and again in his book. “You find yourself drawn to beauty” as opposed to you are drawn to beauty” in the section on “Find yourself.” Future vs Present Tense, my old friend passive voice, and a host of other examples.

Ray, being a scholar and a gentleman, also knows that the rules can be broken for effect AND points you at additional resources to get answers from!

Ray’s book is not perfect. He drifts in to editor minutia in places. I don’t care about editor minutia … that’s what you pay your editor for. 😉 He also forgets his audience in places.

The most glaring example of this is the way he has the book organized. Following his own advice on alphabetical organization … he organizes the topics alphabetically by topic. WRONG! I’m sure this like a logical way, to an editor, however I suspect most readers are not going to know what “Expletive Constructions” are, and therefore don’t know to look there. Further, the topic headings tend to be a bit … generic? “Human” or “Great” or “Power.” These are meaningless topic headings. Because of this the book comes off like a bunch of rando topics mixed up. One moment it’s a topic related to padding and another its the correct usage of player vs character. Rays advice naturally falls in to certain categories and I suspect his points would be better made and/or reinforced if the book were organized that way. A section on padding, a section on proper terminology, etc.

This isn’t a book on evocative writing, or even adventure organization topics like the use of white space or bullets. He does touch briefly, in an off-hand way, on those but not to any real extent. Here’s an example from a section on stacked modifiers (IE: adjectives & adverbs) that I think can illustrate the power of the english language:
Before: Its body is thin, scaly, and wormlike.
After: Its wormlike body is thin and scaly.

It’s not perfect. Some of the advice is suspect, but it does strike a decisive blow in the war against padding and bloat. Little anecdotal in presentation, but solid advice for trimming your writing and making sentences that scan easier and have more impact through being more direct.

It’s easy to recommend this. Now the challenge becomes figuring out how to get it in to the hands of every hack distributing on Drivethru.

This is $5 at DriveThru.

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(5e) Giantslayer

By M. T. Black & Richard Jansen-Parkes
Self Published
Levels 1-2

Yegor Bonecruncher is the most ferocious hill giant in the land. When he begins terrorising the small village of Frickley, the inhabitants have only one hope – the legendary warrior, Jahia Giantslayer. The PCs undertake a dangerous trek through the High Forest to find her, battling wild fey magic all the way. But can Jahia live up to her own legend?

This fourteen page adventure features the party taking a (very short) wilderness journey to find a retired adventurer, in order to fight a hill giant.You get two or three fights, plus the hill giant fight, in addition to a couple of persuade rolls. It’s (generally) not offensive. The publishers blurb notes that the designer is critically acclaimed. That’s one strike against it out of the gate.

Rather than focusing on the absurd power creep in 5e, I will instead note that a portion of this adventure focuses on getting the villagers to stay and fight instead of running away. Abstracted, the giant will start down 36HP if they do, and then their arrows will do 15 points a round to him. (I guess no firing in to melee penalties in 5e?) Getting the farmers to stay knocks the giant down 30 hp and getting the hunters to stay knocks him down by about 15 points a round. Best case, that leaves him about 30 hp to go. No unreasonable for a party of 1’s, especially if the retired adventurer is recruited, since she absorbs one giant attack a round for four rounds and does a further 15 points a round to him. This reveals two things. First, this is really a social adventure. Recruiting the farmers and hunters, as well as the adventurer, is critical to the success of the adventure. There are some throw-away words to getting the villagers to help, but I felt that the text could have been clearer on this point … the party needs to understand the importance of getting them to help, otherwise they can’t make meaningful decisions about it. Yes, it IS mentioned, but it feels abstracted when first brought up. Second, it harkens back to the time when you bought hirelings and henchmen with you to the dungeon. Getting a big ass group together to fight the monsters does more damage to them and makes it less likely YOU will be targeted. No one ever brings enough people with them, and abstracted hirelinelig/henchmen in combat rules should be a thing.

Suggested hooks are: your father dies and you go back home to your village. Ug. All adventurers are orphans for a reason, so the DM can’t fuck with their families. This is a perfect example of bad hook writing. Multiple half-column read-alouds make me grown out loud on the quality of the writing. Overwrought. “… where farmers and hunters share gossip over a flagon or two or ale and the odd bowl of mutton stew.” It’s a fucking generic fantasy inn. You’ve done nothing to it to make it interesting. Just say its a fucking inn and don’t make us wade through the failed novelist text. And you know, there’s nothing like intro read-aloud text that has the words “Suddenly you hear shouts up ahead …” Every. Fucking. Time. It’s like there’s a template these people use called “Bad 5e Adventure Writing.”

Beyond all of this garbage is some dubious advice out roleplaying. Yes, it does mention that you should have the players roleplay their persuade attempts instead of just rolling the die. I fondly recall DM’s a 4e con game once where, when I asked this, one of the players said ‘Ug, your one of THOSE dm’s …” Yes, I am; we’re playing D&D and not Warhammer minis. In spite of this advice, though, the designer then goes about fucking things up. You MUST persuade. You can’t bribe, or intimidate, or do other things. Those are all auto-fails. Bull. Shit. First, I’m not sure its ever ok to have hidden rules. “Haha! Jokes on you! I had hidden rules and you fail now because you didn’t read my mind!” But, more than that, Fuck you for deciding in advance how the party has to play this out. Let me intimidate or bribe people. What fucking difference does it make? It’s not your fucking story, it’s the players. If they want to bribe people then who cares? Just tell them the farmer is very proud, give them disadvantage maybe, or adjust the combat potential at the end with some morale pretext.

But, all is not bleak. The main NPC”s have some summary boxes that are easy to find. WAY too long, but still, I appreciate the effort. Less text than a half-column each would have made it easier to roleplay the major players all at once and keep track of them. So, hearts in the right place, just totally fucked by implementation. There are nice notes though, like a farmer embellishing a story and his brother vouching for him that give the DM good cues on adding flavor to the otherwise boring overwrought text. Likewise an encounter or two have some interesting things going on, like a harpy luring the party up a boulder to fall to their deaths.

The hook doesn’t really finish till page six (unless you count the village asd the adventure, which you could, given the persuade rolls.) There’s only a couple of wilderness encounters, since the hermits hut for the adventurer is only a couple of hours away. Those tend to be half page affairs, for simple things like “a fallen log” or “crossing a river on slippery stones.”

This is, essentially, an adventure written for ten years olds. It’s not meant to be, but its so simplistic to give that effect. I don’t mind basic, and its short and simple enough that you can almost keep the entire thing in your head … for better or worse.

This isn’t a terrible adventure. Most of the bullshit can be ignored. Some additional text to liven up the final fight would have been a good addition, but, whatever. It’s $2 and its not the great steaming pile of shit most 5e adventures seem to be.

This is $2 at DMsguild. The preview is only two pages long. You get to see the long read-aloud as well as the “start the adventurers off immediately with a fight!” bullshit and how its implemented THIS time.

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(DCC) Unseen Vaults of the Optic Experiment

By Johan Noor
Stockholm Kartel
Level 3

Gruzx the Ever Watching – the infamous villain of the lands – has vanished. Howls and cries seem to come from the old tomb. And now everyone is complaining about bad eyesight? Best tie your shoes and grab your sword, for things are about to get messy!

This twenty page adventure features an eleven room dungeon straight out of the Weird Fantasy genre. More DCC-ish than LotFP torture, it has shapeless monsters, interdimensional beings, and spooky ghosts. Terse and evocative, it only sometimes engages in text padding. It’s a nice little dungeon.

The conceit here is that the baddies are researching true vision, so everything is a little off, visually. Blurry and so on, which allows for your other senses to kick in. This allows for a very read-aloud that is just an impression. Here’s one: “Cold metal, dust and sound of chains, stench of a sweaty fat man. Mad howls.” That, my friends, is the room with The Evil One in it. You know, He Must Not Be Named, etc? It’s a cute twist and a way to reference a former baddie in the campaign/world.

Further, he’d really like to be freed and could reward you. Also, the baddies need help with their True Sight and would be happy to reward you for that. Also, there’s a vampire ghost who could probably set up up with a nice keep in the ghoul lands. Also the spirits of the people in the tomb (this is a former tomb complex) are pissed at all the intrusions and may team up with you. It’s not exactly factions, and it would be hard to call any of them “good” or “not hostile”, but there are certainly opportunities to talk to just about everything in the adventure that has a brain. I SO get off on this shit. Adventures are SO much more interesting when you can talk to a creature. Sure, go ahead and stab it because its evil or you want the treasure, but talking adds delicious temptation and if that’s not the soul of DM pleasure then I don’t know what is.

The map is ok. Simple, but with notations on it. There are two versions and, IMO, the art heavy one is better than the computer generated one. Both have quite clear text and notations on them to give the DM hints of what’s to come . I really appreciate this, it helps with look-ahead environmental stuff, like sounds, light, etc.

The writing is pretty short and easy to read and scan. It DOES engage in fapping about though. Histories and purposes that get in the way. Here’s the intro to room one: “When the Freak Freaks turned the old tomb into their laboratory, the dead spirits were enraged and confused.
All their frustration and despair merged to form a shapeless, ghastly being – an emotion brought to unlife: Despair in ghostly form.” Or a section describing what the freaks do with their barrels full of vampire ashes. We don’t really need that shit.

It also engages in a secret door description fetish. I usually see this sort of thing with traps. Someone thinks they need to exhaustively describe how the trap works, and goes on for paragraphs doing so. Secret Door Fetish is a related DSM, but focuses on how to open the secret door. I don’t mind a little detail, a curtain, a paper-mache wall, etc. But let’s not go overboard. Hearing a click in another room, or down the hall, is a nice effect but … “Push one of the many stones in the northern wall, followed by pressing another stone only a meter away. An audible Click! is heard. You can now push the secret door on the southern wall – a heavy, cumber­some slab of stone …” goes a little too far for my tastes.

The treasure can bring the freaky, like a skull that can scout ahead for you, but lies frequently. (Mort?)

It’s a decent little adventure. A little short for my tastes.

This is $5 at Lulu. It being Lulu, there is. Of course, no preview.

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The Barbarian King

The Gabor Lux
First Hungarian d20 Society
Levels 4-6

The Barbarian King pits the company against the ruined empire of the mountain barbarians… and the evil that still slumbers therein! This gloomy wilderness and dungeon scenario features deals with malevolent and ultra-powerful spirits, the burial places of a now defeated people, shadowy hosts and deadly traps.

This 24 page adventure details a small valley and the tomb of a … barbarian king. 🙂 It’s got a GREAT vibe going on, and Gabor takes things just a little bit further than usual for an adventure, thinking about things just enough more to make things make sense. It’s a good adventure.

It FEELS like some bronze-age shits got their asses kicked. I just saved an article about battlefields from (Encounter magazine?) so this stuff is on my mind lately, The valley where this adventure takes place was where the barbarians were wiped out. As such it’s got a good “old battlefield” vibe going on, with old fortifications, monuments, and the like scattered throughout. All shows the impact of time, with signs of damage and looting. You get a good vibe off of the descriptions and there’s a sort of abandoned melancholy feeling that hangs over things. That’s quite an accomplishment and gets to the sort of writing I’m looking for .. .writing that conjures something inside of the DM that they can then leverage to expand upon the encounters.

Statues of the victors god, now run down, available with boons if the party restore them. That should be a go to every time you see a shrine … the same way there should be a cave behind every waterfall. I’m fond of the way the mechanics are handled, with subtle healing, protection from evil spirits roaming the valley, and even a raise dead once the valley is cleansed. It makes sense. These are the gods of the people who cleansed the valley in the first place. Of course they have an interest in things. IMO, there’s not enough of this in modern D&D. Cast a bless, clean up a temple, or defile an evil one and get some pseudo-mechanical benefits … even if its just a vision or clue.

There’s a village of passive-aggressive shits in the valley. Former slaves, in denial that the barbarians were wiped out. It’s handled VERY well and you get an immediate sense of who they are and how they react to the party. Hate & fear, for illogical reasons. IE: they are humans not exactly acting rationally. Again, it makes sense. Gabor has put just an iota more throught in to the place than is usual for an adventure and because of that it is so much richer a play environment. It’s what you WANT from a village instead of the generic fantasy crap you always get in adventures.

Steep canyon walls, rushing river, broken down bridges and fords, mists hanging around at all hours, only burning off for a few hours in the early afternoon … Im in luv with this place.

I frequently harp on short & terse, well-organized descriptions. I think that advice works best for most people. But there are other ways. The sticky description, and so on. Melan does a good job building up a vibe, sentence after sentence, and providing descriptions that FEEL right. His use of paragraph breaks and bolding complete an eneoucnter style that’s easy to follow.

The single column gets old after awhile, I think it makes my eyes tired following it. The text can get long in places but its organized quite well, with bolding and bullet points and the paragraphs arranged in a way that puts immediate information up front and detail information in paragraphs following. IE: the right way. Or, maybe, “one of the right ways.”

The tomb, proper, is stuffed full of undead. FULL OF UNDEAD. Treasure seems quite light (unless I missed something?) for an adventure of this level.

I like the appeal to one-shot mechanics. Menhirs with runes on them can give you a temporary one-time spell boost. The temple restoration thing. It’s not all book mechanics and from that standpoint the adventure feels more … natural?

Oh, great, and now I discover I’ve already reviewed this, in another form, when was it appeared in Fight On! This must be the third or fourth time I’ve double bought something by accident. Ug. Also, I now call Gabor Lux “The Gabor Lux” because I think it’s fun. Idk, go figure.

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is ok. The last page gives you a good example of the writing style. It shows a flavorful and evocative style without resorting to the brutally terse style hat I usually expose.

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