The Tomb of the Sea Kings

tsk

by Lawson Bennett & Jimm Johnson
Scribes of Sparn
D&D
Levels 5+

After a successful plunder of the Urchinn Isles, a well deserved night of drinking is in order, during such you trade stories with a local “antique dealer” who tells of a well-financed acquaintance who is organizing an archeological dig. The “antique dealer” goes on to explain that his friend has unearthed a forgotten portal which accesses the island tomb of the ancient Sea Kings (guarded by legendary beasts, of course). The treasures are said to be plentiful and there is rumor that a peculiar magic sword was swept up from the depths to find its resting place in the halls of Blackstone Island.

Oh, where to begin? Vampire Queen? Tegal? T&T adventures? This adventure harkens back to the early days when the dungeon was challenge to be overcome by the players using their characters. Juvenile. Amateurish. And packing more imagination than a thousand modern products. Content is king and I’ll take a dozen Sea Kings before I resort to a lame trope-based generic fantasy suck-fest that passes for mainstream adventures. The encounters are held together on tenuously, things show up for no discernable reason (other than ‘it would be fun to have …’?) and you have to stretch to make it work. IE: It’s a funhouse. And it’s GLORIOUS.

It starts with a lame “archeologist has a mission for you” nonsense. The barest and thinnest of hooks. You are taken to the dungeon via teleportation, a common theme in these early-style dungeons. It then vaults itself into funhouse majesty. Trapps doors shoot black seagulls at you, cursing with a Deck of Many Thing-type table. The traps, some of them anyway, have warnings. People with holes burned in their chests in front of doors mean “Look Out!” I LOVE this type of stuff. “Never give the suckers an even break” is NOT a tenant of the old school. Instead you show them what will happen. You telegraph it. If the players are even casually interested they will notice the clue. And then they’ll trip it anyway. It’s WONDERFUL in actual play. Not enough adventures tempt the players. The players are where its at. It’s where the action is. it’s where the zany plans are.

There’s this weird mix of the sublime and the amateurish in this. Black seagulll curses? Great! But then there are plaques that if you remove from the walls they summon ghosts. Throwing in a couple of words about “howling Indiana Jones style winds as the plaques are removed” would have added so much more to what is otherwise a pretty bland description of the encounter room/area. This sort of thing is present in almost all of the rooms. There’s some terrifically wonderful content. If it’s rooted in anything then it’s closer to the ‘classics’ than it is modern fantasy trope. But they fall a little flat in the … evocative? category. Just a few extra choice adjectives/adverbs would have really brought the environment to life. Still, the content is fresh enough … The tricks and traps are strong in this one, with almost every room a puzzle if you take quite the broad definition of the phrase.

The treasure is a mixed bag. The magic items are nice and non-standard. A candle that burns for 1,000 years. Sweet! A gypsy locket that protects (to some random extent) against life draining. Nice! Magic swords with extra effects. This is all in line with the magic items from the earliest versions of the game, before they became codified, lame, and boring. There’s a lack of mundane treasure, or rather perhaps interesting mundane treasure. There’s a lot of “roll for treasure type H” or “roll for type A” present. I’m a pretty big opponent to that type of thing. It’s supposed to be aplay aid. How about aiding play then?

How about it. The center page it a pull out. It has the map and a listing of all of the monster stats for the two levels. Wonder of wonders! A fucking product that helps the DM run the adventure at the table! A map for your screen? Quick reference for monster stats? Holy Cow! The designer may have actually ran a game at the table before! Now, they do refer you external wandering monster tables … which could have easily been included on the map/stat list …

This is one of the best funhouse adventures I’ve seen. It’s also one of the more imaginative products that I’ve seen. I’m sure the two go hand in hand. This older style is wonderfully imaginative and I’m in love with it. It requires a suspension of disbelief that seems to be frowned upon in today’s environment. I don’t know why. Why is your pointy-eared elf shooting fireballs “better” than a red velvet “Do Not Enter” rope in a dungeon corridor? Somehow we lost the fun. Not the silly, but the fun. It got turned into drama and seriousness, all the while forgetting that the entire base was mud.

A challenge for the PLAYERS awaits! Enter The Tomb of the Sea Kings if you dare!

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Cave of the Cybersteed

cs
by Raul De La Garza III
Metamorphosis Alpha / Mutant Future

In the quiet and unsuspecting village of Ek-Wyne, the residents go about their daily and mundane tasks not realizing that a terror from above has come to call. One by one the frightened mutant inhabitants disappear in a flash of light. Will those who remain pick up the pieces and carry on or will they seek out and discover who or what is behind this sinister act?

First: Gorgeous Cybersteed art on the cover!

Vaguely generic and maddeningly short on detail, this is more of an adventure outline. The party are all mutated horses. One night, in lightning and thunder, villagers start disappearing in bright flashes of light. This is followed up by some wolf-people on motorcycles raiding the village and stealing away villagers in their cargo trucks. Following the motorcycle tracks back leads to a small 30-room cave complex. This is the home to the wolf-people raiders and a processing center to turn the horsies in to cybersteeds.

You now have almost all the information that the adventure provides, in a far shorter form than the sixteen-ish pages that this module takes. The adventure mashes up new-school “scene based” play with a location-based “old school” wolf base. The first scene is the night horsie abduction. This is a typical example of the epidemic of bad scene-based modern events. Bright lights, horsies disappearing, and no chance for doing anything that could impact events. The purpose of this scene is to give the characters something to do: they need to rescue some of their horsie friends. The railroad aspect of this first scene ensures that at least SOME of their friends will be captured. “Allow the PC’s to attempt to prevent their own or another horsies disappearance” is about the extent of the guidance provided. Not much scenery, not much flavor.

Scene The Second is about a wolfoid raid on the village. They ride motorcycles and have a horsie wagon to carry away captives. Again, not much flavor provided, but at least now the party has motorcycle tracks to use to find the base and, perhaps, their missing friends. I really can’t emphasize enough how little there is to these first two scenes. The description is little more than “some wolves on motorcycle, armed with stun lances, show up and raid the village for horsies. Maybe there’s a running battle on the road if the party capture some motorcycles.” It’s presented as a part of the larger railroad, so, naughty on the designer, but it’s also refreshing, in a madding sort of manner. It’s entirely open in implementation … mostly because there’s no detail. I like an encounter to have some flavor, which is really not present here, but also to have this sort of open-ended nature. “Hey, this is what he wolfoids want to do and here’s a couple of ideas.” I’m not sure what’s wrong here, if it’s the lack of flavor or what, but it’s almost like the whole thing is coming from an oblique angle. Maybe it’s that it’s a brief idea, but presented over two paragraphs? When those two paragraphs could have been used to provide additional flavor?

The wolfoid base has 30 rooms, with some pigoids present as well as a couple of robots. One of the robots operates on captured horsies and converts them to cybersteeds, before they are teleported away. You now know everything interesting the 30 room descriptions provided.

The main problem is that the rooms are mundanely described. Instead of concentrating on what’s new, unique, interesting, or gameable, it insteads concentrates on the mundane and boring. `Things are so loose that the wolfoid leader, while mentioned, I think twice, is never given a location.

Metamorphosis Alpha adventures are few and far between. Someone needs to do a good one one day.

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Dungeon Magazine #50

d50
The Vaka’s Curse
by Ted James & Thomas Zuvich
AD&D
Levels 2-4

An evil guy is cursed to remain in a ship’s figurehead, and becomes a shadow slowly draining those on the ship, year after year. This is a nice little concept, It could be shortened A LOT without losing anything and in that form could serve as a nice Side Trek or maybe an “Adventure Complication.” I like my adventures best when hook after hook after complication after complication is piled up to create a nice living environment. This little thing could easily be tacked on to any existing sea voyage Going to the Isle of Dread, are you? Or maybe one of those viking adventures? Why not add Yet Another Complication to the (usually miserably inadequate and uninteresting) sea voyage that’s presented in the adventure? Just take the core of this and drop it right in to the NEXT shipboard voyage or shipboard adventure. Having a whole lot going on is a great way to build a realistic environment.

Back to the Beach
by Willie Walsh
AD&D
Levels 1-2

The party is recruited to rid the beach of some giant crabs. The twist, if the party discovers it, is that the crabs are intelligent. You can meet a few interesting NPC’s along the way, and the various crab-men have individual personalities, which is a nice bit of extra detail for the DM to run with. I like this one. The brief portion of the town hook/recruitment could use a bit more in the way of interesting content, and the crab men could have an interesting item or two for the party, but, in the end, it’s a nice little adventure. The monsters don’t attack on sight, which means the adventure immediately has more possibilities. Long-term allies? More hooks in the future? This would make a nice little hex-crawl adventure or a hanger-on to a home base that the PC’s have nearby.

Hmmm, 2 decent ones in a row? What’s issue #50 coming to!

The Object of Desire
by Gary O’Connell & Lucya Szachnowski
D&D
Levels 5-8

An epic adventure … with a very rare thing: a third act! A silly premise, transporting a princess to her wedding, turns in to the inevitable rescue mission to save the princess from a beholder. This then segs into the third act: defeating the evil wizard who has cursed a sulten, transforming him into the beholder. It’s the third act here that saves this adventure. The beginning is the usual hackney’d Princess Escort mission, complete with an asshole Vizier tagalong. The princess is, of course, kidnapped. There’s a nice little beggar encounter in the beginning with a cryptic admonishment/prophecy (depending on the parties actions.) What I found interesting was that the same phrase is used regardless of the parties actions, only the delivery tone is different. I’m a sucker for the classics and rather than a quantum railroad this seems more like clever writing. The kidnapping proper is stupid and sets up one of those “doing everything possible in the rules/fiat to keep the PC’s from knowing what happened” instead of just writing it better. You see, the beholder comes on to the transport ship, but there’s a blinding light, etc, that keeps everyone from knowing they face they beholder. It would be much simpler to have the princess TK’d through a portal or something. I hate it when the DM/adventure gimps the party. The beholder lair is nothing special and is full of bad encounters. No challenge, bad writing and advice (why give advice on turning ghouls reactions if the cleric will D the ghoul on anything but a minimal result?) There’s also a puzzle with a “correct” solution instead of leaving the thing open ended. “Blow chalk on the ink to read the indentations!” Uh huh. That’s kind of a stretch. Nice solution, but a stretch. There is a section that COULD have been nice. The party meets some “Desert Ghosts” … but they are not actually undead. Never encountering them before, or knowing their name, they are unlikely to be treated as undead. But if they had heard rumors of “Desert Ghosts” and descriptions and THEN encountered them? A lost opportunity for misdirection.

The third act has a much different style. Here the adventure enters the realm of true fantasy. Magic flames of immortality, effreet, horribly wounded NPC who is still alive and functioning without pause, a magic peach tree … The elements of this are quite nice and the location, or at least the events, FEEL like an endgame location. I would only have two complaints. First, the efreet doesn’t grant a wish. That’s lame. For some reason writers are stingy with wishes and they shouldn’t be. Giving them to the party allows the DM to fudge without remorse … after all the party now has wishes to undue things. Finally, and most importantly, the party is most likely undercut in the end. The boss is an M19. If he defeats the party then the beholder sultan shows us in some deus ex and anti-magics everything, accidentally, and saves the party, defeating the MU, etc. LAME. Better to ding the MU a bit in levels and make this a tough, but honest, fight. Then the parties victory is their own instead of the DM’s magic NPC pet showing up. It’s that kind of shit that makes me HATE NPC’s when I’m a player.

A much nicer adventure than most. I’d have no problem putting an hour or two in to this and fix it up for play … a rarity for Dungeon.

Felkovic’s Cat
by Paul F. Culotta
AD&D
Levels 6-9

Transported to Ravenloft, kill the evil vampire Baron. Heard that one before? Ravenloft adventures are a one-trick pony: one is all you get before the party kills all Barons, Mayors, etc, on sight. The only difference is that this time you get to keep the domain and rule it as it is transported back to the “normal” world, once you defeat the evil vampire Baron. This starts with opening fiction, always a bad sign. The villagers are ruled over from Castle Pantara, which is in the shape of a cat, and whose guards are called the Black leopards, and their currency is called Pantherheads and Catseyes. Comic Book much? Two pages of backstory, forced & railroaded into picking up a status at the start so you can go on the adventure, “moralistic” approaches to killing villagers attacking you … (You can’t kill the people the trying to kill you? Seriously?) There’s not enough to do in the village/town, which probably doesn’t matter because anyone with half a brain will go to Caster Panther and kill everyone in sight. So, it’s a hackfest with a bunch of … Werepanthers! Bet ya didn’t see that one coming, eh? Hack the werepanthers. Hack four vampires. Done. Lazy, lazy writing, relying on lazy tropes presented in comic book complexity and no charm or depth or detail. On the plus side it does have a Bag of Cats (kind of like a bag of beans) and it does tell you what everyone in the castle is/goes when under attack. That’s something not nearly enough adventures have.

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Gleams of the Livid Plaque

gleams
by Paul Keigh
Psychedelic Fantasies
D&D

The third installment of Paul Keigh’s “Procedurally generated weird place” feels just that: procedurally generated.

Go read the review of the first adventure in this series:
http://tenfootpole.org/ironspike/?p=2633

Then go read the review of the second in this line:
http://tenfootpole.org/ironspike/?p=2649

Before even cracking this open I knew what to expect: weird environment with 100 rooms, procedurally generated content, and a host of alien creates inside including some explorers from another dimension. And sure enough, that’s what was inside.

So, pretty much exactly the same as the other adventures, from a high-level standpoint. I like these alien environments, and in particular the treasure/object lists that are included. In addition, the greater location of this one is a nice touch. The dungeon is a collection of plaque bubbles and they hang off the side of … something. This is kind of an interesting concept and harkens back to the Bottle City. In particular I like the concept that th eliving plaque bubbles hand down the side of a pit that leads to the base of the world/bottomless world pit. There are some more munadne options as well, a creatures gullet, a cliff, sinkhole, lava tube, etc, but I really like THE FANTASTIC that “the bottomless pit to the base of the world” represents. D&D should have fantastic locales, beyond the norm.

Feel ripped off by the review? Well … I’m keeping this adventure, because of it’s role as a curiosity. Things are getting a little too generic in their weirdness for me to recommend this to others. I still think the second in the series, Lucid, is the more approachable for most DM’s.

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Proteus Sinking

psj

by Bjorn Warmedal
Psychedelic Fantasies
D&D
Levels 1-3

Recall: I like gonzo and spaceships full of slime people is certainly gonzo.

Of the eight Psychedelic Fantasies adventures this may be the weakest. It’s still better than most of the dreck published. It reminds me of Tegal, Vampire Queen, and perhaps most closely: Dungeon of the Bear. Random-ish things in rooms with a paragraph or so for each, that work out to be puzzles … if you have a broad definition of the word puzzle.

The adventure details the goings-on in a spaceship crashed in a swamp. The encounters fall into three broad categories. First, there are the inhabitants of the ship. There’s not really much direction given here, and most of them are in one room having a disco party. Secondly there are the weird levels, buttons, boxes, and pipes of the ship that fill most of the rooms. Finally there are several rooms that have things from outside the ship in them, tentacles from the swamp and the like. Most of the rooms fall into the second category: weird ship stuff.

Like Dungeon of the Bear, this adventure lacks evocative descriptions. The room descriptions are focused and not full of extraneous information (Yeah!) but they are not exactly powerfully written either. I’m not sure what the issue is. Passive descriptive text or some other problem. The imagery around the rooms is not very evocative though and that’s an issue for something that you need to fill to run well. I’m looking for a description to cement itself in my mind and be a springboard to further description that my own brain can fill in. The description needs to plant a seed that I can expand on. I just don’t get that here. It’s all slightly … bland. The core of the room encounters are fine, I guess. But they don’t come across as interesting, exciting, and something you want to run and experience.

I’m sure many folks will latch on to the Disco Room. It’s a room full of slime people drinking, dancing, and looking slightly depressed. As if they are trying desperately to fight off the melancholy by going through the motions. This room is desperate for MORE. Examples, a random table, 12 personalities that are a shade of “melancholy.” Alas, nothing of the like will be found.

PF has committed itself to bare bones presentation. I would suggest that may be a mistake in certain situations. In this adventure we get a map of ship that’s clearly been done in some line-drawing application. Boring, bland, and communicating nothing except where the walls are, it’s crying out for more. A little tentacle drawn in. A water notation. SOMETHING.

Maps is maps, and the DM still does need to bring all adventures to life, but the purpose of the product is to help the DM do that. This one doesn’t do as good a job of that as I’d like. It’s right on the edge of my “keep it or burn it” threshold.

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Dungeon Magazine #49

d49
A cover painting of a poisoned flute? Oh, this should be gooooood …

The Dark Place
by Lee Sheppard
AD&D
Levels 5-7

A Predator-clone so clone-like that it suggests you watch the movie! I kind of enjoyed the backstory, for once. It could have been cut WAY down, but a demon that stops fearing the townfolk and attacks day & night, picking them off, paints a nice image. It is,of course, completely irrelevant to any actual play, but any port in a storm. Anyway … while reprovirioning a ship there’s an abandoned town run across and a demon playing Predator with hit & run attacks. The party finds a missing sailor, who, while a COMPLETE coward, tried to convince the party to be brave and save the first mate or the ship’s captain will be mad at them. The juxtaposition between the sailors words and actions seem lost on the man. The hit and run attacks then start. In another stunning example of middle-class morality, you get more XP for letting an undead possess you and less-than-book-value if you kill it. Lovely. Finally, the backstory is told through a found journal entry. Here’s a tip: if you have to tell your story through a journal/diary/etc, then you haven’t done a good job with the adventure and need to edit it again.

I really want to bitch about one thing though: the purpose of the adventure vs the content provided. THINK. What is the purpose of your adventure? Your content should match that. In both this adventure and in another recent Dungeon one (the middle-eastern one with the guy coming out of the paint and killing people) this problem is quite noticeable. In both the room descriptions are presented as “normal.” IE: too much text telling you irrelevant things; aka the style of the time. Instead the text should be used to … support the adventure! Stunning thought, I know. In this adventure the demon is supposed to be doing hit & runs on the party. The text for the rooms should be supporting that. Instead of giving us a long paragraphs on describing a well in the parade grounds it should instead be loading us up with ideas. It hides in the well, ready to yank someone in looking over the edge, and things like that. This one tip would save a billion trees and immeasurably improve almost every adventure ever published. Figure out what your adventure is supposed to be doing and use the text to support it. Really THINK.

Two for the Road
by Tony Quirk
AD&D
Levels 2-5

DM torture porn. The party buys a wagon that has two gremlins hiding in it that the DM can use to torment the party. The DM is encouraged to make the wagon buying seem normal, ignoring the fact that ANYTHING the DM says in D&D is immediately taken as significant.

Lenny O’Brien’s Pot O’Gold
by J. Lee Cunningham
AD&D
Levels 3-6

Jesus Fuck, two and half pages of backstory for four pages of adventure! That must be a new Dungeon record. Leprechaun steals from party to lure them to a locale and trick them into killing some mudmen that have his pot of gold. Annoying fey (“Oh boy! Kender!” has never been uttered, ever, in the history of RPG’s) and DM fiat combine to provide a frustrating experience for the players. I love fey. The backstory here is not bad, especially if shortened to two paragraphs. This isn’t a fey adventure though; it’s more DM torture porn. Adversarial with none of the heart and soul of a fey adventure.

North of Narborel
by Christopher Perkins & Bob Waldbauer
AD&D
Levels 4-7

Two full columns of read-aloud start us off on the right foot. The party is hired to investigate some missing ships/suspected pirates. It leads to a battle on a ship at dock, a brief sea journey, and a small eight-ish room cave complex; the pirate HQ. The port town descriptions are a bit above average, but don’t really impact the adventure very much. Generic port town or the port town this adventure takes place in? Decision time, authors! The town portion does have a bit of a sandbox feel, and it quite open ended in the solutions available to solve the town portion. That’s very nice. Perhaps frustrating for less creative parties, and thus some DM advice could have sprinkled in. Town leads to caves adventure in the pirate base, and most likely a big battle and some chasing through the caves. The cave maps are above average, and can provide a good non-linear environment for this sort of thing. Overall, not bad. It lacks colour, but most things do.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
by Bradley Schell
AD&D
Levels 1-2 (One PC)

This is one of those “you are the subject of a monster summoning spell” adventures. One PC keeps getting sucked back in by a certain wizard, compelled to obey. A little of this goes a long way, and it’s hard to work the rest of the party in. As a running gag it could be good, with the PC trying to ferret out where/who the wizard is so they can encourage them to stop. But again, a little goes a long way in the “compelled/annoyed” category. See Also: Leprechaun adventure.

Castle of the Blind Sun
by Todd Baughman, Paul D. Culotta, Shari Culotta
AD&D
Levels 10-15

Some people love this one but I don’t get it. The party is forced into helping an elf maiden, finds a wizards tower, hits a town, goes up a mountain, and then explores a small castle. There is nothing remarkable about this adventure. Well, ok, no. It does recommend some musical pieces to accompany some of the scenes. Evidently, it was an experiment. Some artist was complaining that words came first and then the art. Why not the other way around? Art, then the adventure text!

Layers and layers of text pound you into submission. The setup/hook is a total railroad job where a group of 15th level adventurers are expected to be caught with their pants down. You’re forced to trust the NPC … it goes on and on. One of the worst hooks I’ve ever seen. At least “caravan guard” doesn’t insult our intelligence. The main villain is a 15th level bard … who defrauds people 50gp at a time. Uh … The castle was magically built for a different bard, a blind one. It features intelligent flesh golem butlers who lie down to rest, magic kitchens, and gelatinous cube garbage disposals. Reams of text. No charm. Nothing interesting. I suspect not even a challenge for four 15th level party members. Gee, hmmm, a sucky high-level adventure. That’s a new one.

There’s a Demotivator that goes “Mistakes – Perhaps the purpose of your life is to serve as a warning to others.”

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Streams of the Lucid Crack

pf6

by Paul Keigh
Psychedelic Fantasies
D&D
Mid-levels?

Uh … so …

Go read the review of Dreams of the Lurid Sac. http://tenfootpole.org/ironspike/?p=2633

Got it? Ok. This is a less procedural and more accessible version of Lurid Sac. IE: Paul Keigh has sold out. No, no no. Just kidding. He has, perhaps, slowed down his opiate use just a tad, and as a result this adventure is more approachable than Lurid. It presents the same kind of alien environment that Lurid did, albeit in a different form. Both are populated with a host of strange creatures and have large random portions to them. Lucid Crack is less procedural/randomly generated than Lurid Crack is. This is Spire of Iron & Crystal turned up to 12. Just as with the other PF adventures, this could be dropped into almost any type of RPG or campaign and would fit well. Strange, isn’t it? You have to go back to the roots of D&D and by throwing away all convention you finally get to true Universal RPG Supplement products that don’t suck.

There’s this underground complex. The rooms are all made up of 3-d diamond-like “cells”, with an exit on each of the 3 walls. The floor is the same depth below the door as the ceiling is above each. IE: the “doors” are way above the floor. All of the surfaces are covered in cryptic writing. There’s a scree slopes that leads down into the complex. There’s a huge gaping wound of ruined earth running through it. Uh … there’s a great, and growing, deep deep pit in the middle of the complex. Most rooms have some magma wells in the bottom and those have steam in them. THe various rooms have “gardens” in some of them. There are a dozen types of weird-ass creatures roaming about, doing various things. I’m sure I’ve left out about two dozen other things. Summary: It’s a weird ass place that’s been impacted by by several events which are probably not related to each other. I’d like to note that this fact (several events/history) is one of the defining features of several great adventures. From Many Gates of the Gann, to Spawning Grounds of the Crab-men, and maybe even Barrier Peaks, the Bowman map/adventure creation tutorial, and How to Host a Dungeon, the history of place and the impacts of time are some of the defining characteristics of these great adventure locales.

Remember that Lurid Sac review I made you read? For our purposes today you can consider everything in it as also applying to this adventure. Yeah, it’s a cop-out for me to say that. But it also allows me to touch on the differences without having to go explain Lurid Sac all over again. I was barely able to do that the first time. In short: this is a hardcore location-based adventure, ala those awesome MERP supplements from long-ago, but describing an alien environment. The players, through their exploration add the adventure.

Lucid Crack is quite a bit more approachable than Lurid Sac. The transition from a biological environment to a cave-like environment somehow make the comprehension of the product easier. Perhaps because the biological component is removed or because we’re used to dealing with caves & dungeons. Don’t get me wrong, this is a VERY non-traditional cave/dungeon and has more in common with the biological Lurid Sac than it ever would any cave/dungeon, but the cementing of the ideas through a more traditional environment translates into something a little easier to comprehend.

Two other things also contribute to this more approachable nature. There’s a little more purpose in this adventure, it seems. There are some creatures hanging out inside that have a direction relationship to the environment, the purpose behind it. This adds something to the adventure, but describing what is hard. A purpose perhaps? While Lurid Sac simply felt like it existed, this place feels a little more … purpose-driven. That extra little bit, like the non-organic walls, allows you something to hang your hat on and ground you in what’s to come. It’s a bit like someone pushing you at the top of the sledding hill: just a bit goes a long way. Similarly, the side-effect of the environment gives you a good hook. The rooms contains knowledge. By remaining in them you can learn things. (Knowledge skills! Yeah!) But they also learn from the occupants. They encode the knowledge of those that visit. I’m sure you can see how this leads to adventure. Voldemort visits to learn some hidden knowledge and then the party shows up to learn things leaked from Voldie’s head … and then you have to interact with the “owners” to figure out where (and even more to figure out there ARE owners!) and then you need to go do other things for them before they reveal the secrets, etc. It fits in almost any campaign. Again, just a little bit more to get the DM started leads to endless possibilities. These are the little bits of data that I’m always talking about wanting in an adventure. Just some throwaway comments, a couple of sentences, about the knowledge thing, leads you, the DM, to build and build and build on it. It’s a jump-start. It’s what every adventure should provide, time and time again, in it’s pages.

I’ve got one suggestion for improvement, and it’s related to the creatures. The various creatures in both Lucid and Lurid have names that are … almost random? When combined with the hard-core new creatures things can get a bit confusing. I’m pretty sure Psychadelic is committed to now/low art, to keep costs down, so relieving the issue with some line drawings seems out. Somehow clarifying the creature names and their relation to who they are and what they do needs to happen. What’s a Waarfa? Or A Drevod? Or any of the other 10 or so similar random assortments of letters? How do you ties those letters back to what they do and what they look like? I think 1 creature type sticks out to me, and I’m still not sure I can describe it in any way other than its purpose. This is a problem.

Paul’s adventures (Lurid & Lucid) are not the usual 0-work things. You need to read, think about, and plan and note-take a bit. I’m usually not very happy about that in an adventure. These are SO out there that they get a pass. Also, they cost $3. You won’t invest $3 in some of the most unusual D&D content ever published? Really?

Churl.

(Is “Philistine” still acceptable to use?)

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The Harvester From Outer Space

pf5
by Yves Geens
Psychedelic Fantasies
D&D
Fuck it if I know the level. 4-ish?

From the introduction …
As the PCs are camped out one night during their travels, they are caught in a bright tractor beam and with the deafening noise of blaring horns steadily pulled up into the ship …

She’s sweet brown sugar with a touch of spice!

Uh, I mean; this is a couple of levels of an overrun alien space, ala Metamorphosis Alpha. I’m totally in love with that genre, so I’m predisposed to liking this. It could be a drop in for almost any game system, but MA & Gamma World are both lacking a lot of content. It’s the usual Psychedelic Fantasies fare, meaning it focuses on the new & imaginative. Geoff’s PF line is really one of the best lines being actively published.

The adventure is a little ham-handed: you get tractored-beamed up to the ship and need to find the escape. After that, though, the goodness begins. Even if you’re not into Sci Fi in your D&D, this adventure presents itself well.

There’s a type of adventure writing, exemplified in some of the earlier TSR D&D modules, in which the adventure is explained through the room keys. In other words, as you travel through the keys it becomes more and more apparent what the deal is the dungeon. The summary is kind of built in to the descriptions by using the text. It’s nothing overt; you just learn more as more of the “picture” is revealed. This allowed those adventures to have, generally, quite short introductions/backgrounds. This adventure does that as well. The entire front-end is only a half page, and then the keys start. The party appears in room 1 and room 2 tells us that guards, “cronies of new boss Borzum, make money on the side by robbing new arrivals.” We now know that there’s some kind of boss/dictator thing going on, power just changed hands, and things are a bit rough and chaotic. From one short sentence a picture emerges and we view every other room from now on through the light cast by this second room. This is excellent design! No preaching, or monologues, or endless exposition. Just a short little sentence that communicates more to the DM than a page of backstory could. It empowers the DM’s imagination rather than forcing it to conform. This continues throughout the adventure, setting up several situations.

The rooms are imaginative and there are many memorable characters for the party to interact with. “Glorp’s Pad” houses a blob-like thing that loves to have his photo taken with visitors; photos of Glorp with other aliens cover the walls. He sells people jars of his own slime. How can you not love that? Imagine the difference if this were one of the endless number of schlock “standard” adventures. “The slime attacks!” Oh, that’s original. Slime that attacks. *YAWN* You know what’s more fun than a, ogre wearing a 10,000gp crown attacking the party? An ogre with a 10,000 gp crown NOT attacking the party. Every time the party meets this potential friend they are going to be thinking “man, if we had that crown we could pop a level, for sure!” THAT’S fun. The monsters and treasures are unique and wonderful, as they are in all Psychedelic Fantasies adventures. I’d go on about them but it feels like a broken record. It’s one of the core design principals of PF and it’s one of the reasons that the line is better than almost everything else. It brings the mystery and wonder that is missing from the book-standard stuff. The wanderers do things, and the room descriptions are tight enough to use during play while being vivid enough to spur the DM’s imagination: eight or nine keyed encounters per page, including monster stats.

My criticisms may be two small ones. First, it’s 2015. It’s time that the maps were better. I don’t give a crap about art, I want data. Put more data on the maps. I guarantee you I am printing out the map and putting it on my screen. What else can you put on it? Wanderers? Monster tear sheet? Second, there are factions here, at least implicitly. A little more work could have gone in to this aspect. It’s pretty clear that the minor godling and the crime lord/boss may be on different sides, as well as others. A few extra words, at the beginning or in the text, would have done a lot more to build up the real “living town” aspect of the adventure. After all, that’s kind of what this place is akin to. It’s an abandoned ruin that some folks have set up a town in. That’s means it’s a social adventure, and social adventures require a little more in the way of interaction.

Those are not anything other than minor nits compared to the content you get for $3 From the odious potion maker to the gregarious alien who wants to take selfies with you, this thing is a joy. A bit haphazard, but still a joy. Content is king.

I think PF has something like six or seven adventures in the line now. You could buy them all for about $20. It will be one of the best $20 you’ve ever spent on RPG material.

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Dungeon Magazine #48

d48

To Bite The Moon
by Lisa Smedman
AD&D
Levels 9-12

This is a weird little adventure. In a gnoll cave, with 70-some odd gnolls, the party is turned in to gnolls by a wish. There’s then a little straight-forward cave system. The cave adventure has a nice three-levels-on-one-page map with ten rooms, but the encounters are generally nothing to speak of at all. There’s some snake skins and a lavender mold which is nice, but otherwise it’s just “3 giants in the room” or “a cave fisher.” The noteworthy part of this adventure is that the party is turned in to gnolls in the first room. This is a bit of a railroad, but it’s also presented in such a way that it’s actually the hook … and the hook is always allowed a bit more leeway. There’s a bit if roleplay around this, as the tribe interacts with the party, but it’s otherwise not really a part of the adventure. I find this quite odd. It’s almost like a random event, but presented like it’s one of the chief components of the adventure. Half-measures and potentials not realized.

The Oracle at Sumbar
by Paul D. Culotta
AD&D
Levels 3-6

This is a strange little thing. It’s wordy, convoluted, straightforward, and weirdly enjoyable. Dungeon is full of exposition, every adventure being more wordy, by far, than it need be. This one goes even further though. And yet it’s focused. You’re implored to help a woman with a debt by selling a book for her. Each of the potential places you might stop is detailed. One of them leads to an Oracle. Hiring a ship takes you to the oracle and then on to the treasure of a pirate king. There is the usual “you were tailed and now they pop up at the end.” There is a great deal of advice given. There are a great number of … paths? explored. There’s a great number of small interesting things going on, It is a very richly environment that is painted.That rich environment is always what I’m after, however I’m generally looking for a much terser application of the principal. Given a good read-through I think you could run this WITHOUT extensive notes prepared in advance, or maybe not even a highlighter. This speaks to the skill of the writing, particularly given how wordy it is.

Them Apples
by Christopher Perkins
D&D
Levels 1-3

This is trying to set up a little fairy tale/folklore adventure. Halfling apple trees are poisoned. The cure was stolen by a giant. What follows is supposed to be a charming little adventure, with giant wives & daughters, giant wooden spoons. What we actually get is a standard little giant house layout with the usual things in it. The problem here is that it’s presented as a straightforward “explore the house” adventure when in fact it’s not. While the chief giant is an erudite fellow not inclined to violence, and the other giant women strike generally to subdue, it has no … charm? It’s clear what is SUPPOSED to happen, but it’s all up to the DM to make it happen. Hmmm, that didn’t come out right. The adventure, as written, has a certain tone to it. If you’re familiar enough with folklore you can ignore the presented tone and mold this in to a good adventure.

Melody
By Leonard Wilson & Ann Wilson
AD&D
Levels 6-8

Uh … a small tower with some orogs and ettins in it. The hook is that the party is lured there by an enchanting song. It’s a harpy polymorphed into an elf as a child and raised with no understanding of her past. This is clearly the most interesting part of the adventure. As a nice way to introduce a long-term NPC quest-object it would be great … if a little long. The core adventure is just a throw-away while the “further adventures with the harpy” section contains mostly generalities. Had it instead laid out some specifics then you’d have great advice for taking the elf/harpy NPC and integrating it well and fully into your campaign: lots of hooks, lots of adventures and quest ideas. Instead we get sentence after sentence reinforcing that her voice is enchanting. Ug. And people say _I_ beat flog my grounded horses!

Sleeping Dragon
by Bill Slavicsek
AD&D
Level 6 Dragon

1-on-1 with a Dragon PC.

Honor Lost, Honor Regained
by Paul Hamilton Beattle Jr
AD&D
Levels 4-6

The party must escort a fallen paladin, who’s afraid of spiders, in to a cave with spiders and a drider. That’s it. There’s nothing to do. You get to help a pompous ass. Yeah you! The cave has 5 encounters. All straight-forward spiders. Zzzz……

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Dreams of the Lurid Sac

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by Paul Keigh
Psychedelic Fantasies
D&D

Uh … I don’t know if I can review this.

This is a site based adventure with no overarching objectives or hooks. It’s just a place for you to dump into your game. I’m not sure, but I don’t think it’s breaking any new ground in any particular area. What it IS doing though is being committed to a vision. This thing has a core concept and it is FOCUSED on it. Elements of this adventure have been found in other adventures in bits & pieces, but no other adventure has, I believe, put them all together in one shell.

You’re adventuring inside of a creature, the titular Lurid Sac. Remember Fantastic Voyage? The interior sets looked … alien? Weird fibers, colors, flows, creatures. Well that’s what’s going on here. Most of the “adventuring inside a create” things I’ve seen have been half-efforts. There are doors, or stairways built in, or something like that. None of that is in this one. No stairs or doors or comforts of home brought in by travellers. This is a truly alien environment … exactly the way an alien environment should be.

Imagine a hundred overlapping bubbles, on maybe three layers. That’s the map. Where they touch you can massage the membranes to get through. Some of the bubbles have special purposes: the cortex, the mouth, the neck, the “sponges” that allow access to the outside, and so on. The rest of the bubbles are procedurally generated, as are the contents. There are random monsters, events, contents, humours … you get the idea. Most of it is simply enough to handle in practice.

Hmmm, that’s a description and not a review. Ok, review. First, the environment is truly alien. You’re gonna be confronted with having to understanding it, from what’s written, and in relaying it to the players. It should be worth it though; I’m not sure I’ve seen something so alien and so … committed, even with all the bizarro stuff I’ve seen in the 1-page contests and the weirder Finch stuff. This is good. Strange pools of humors, veins of humors, bulging membranes, this should all provide a unique experience for your players.

The creatures, while procedurally generated, are well done. They are, of course, unique. This is a feature of all creatures in Psychedelic Fantasies modules. While procedurally generated, each one DOES have 6 or so activities they could be engaged in. This is PERFECT. It takes, literally, 2 extra lines of text and provides the EXACT sort of springboard the DM can combine with the procedurally generated room in order to run the adventure. PERFECT. I say again: PERFECT. This is a monster table done right. There are also factions, with faction based rewards. The Lurid Sav vs. The Invasives, with the parasites running around on their own. GREAT for launching mini-missions within the environment.

I could go on. I could go on a Lot. This is a fully realized place that, while procedurally generated, brings more … bizarro? than a hundred other products. I’m generally down on procedurally generated stuff, but I’ll take this one.

This IS going to take some work to prep for. A few rolls ahead of time, some monster reference sheets/photocopies/printouts and the like will reduce the page-turning during play. It’s also going to take a STRONG read to wrap your mind around it. That could point to the need for better organization, although how I’m uncertain. The crossover potential, from Rifts to any sci-fi or modern day game, is huge. How many adventures can truly say that?

Like I said earlier, the only new ground here is the commitment to the vision. Because of that there is no letting up; this is a relentless view of an alien environment. If you can handle that then this is a must buy. It’s what, $3? You won’t spend $3 on one of the most bizarro environments I’ve seen in nearly 500 reviews?

You know, when I go to cons I sometimes dig through the used/old book boxes in the dealer hall. I’m looking for some forgotten gem. Something different, something special. A forgotten work of genius. This is that thing I’m looking for. When someone picks this 30 years from now they are stare in disbelief as they page through the thing. This is thick and dense the way Thracia or Dark Tower is. It’s alien in a way I’ve never fully seen before. It’s got the uniqueness in creatures and treasure that Psychadelic is known for. The ONLY downside is the procedural nature, and even that has had the rough edges filed off and made easy for the DM.

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