by Simon Forester
Swords & Wizardry
Freely distributed on “and the sky full of dust” blog.
This is a five or six floor small wizards tower with thirteen or fourteen rooms. It runs a line between some interesting theming/strong flavor and bland and boring. When it brings the theming & flavor it does a good job, but it is inconsistent in delivery, going through stretches without or injecting the boring in situations which could be interesting. It could make a nice hex crawl encounter and has enough going for it to salvage … which could probably be done on the fly.
At only four pages, one of which is map and one of which is rumors and set up, this adventure brings the terse. It also delivers some strong flavor. And it also, maddeningly, delivers some strong doses of boring & mundane. I don’t need an action movie in my adventure but I do want to see strong imagery that, as the DM, inspires me. That is the purpose of EVERY published adventure: to inspire the DM. The first page of the adventures is a small collection of bullshit nonsense hooks and great rumors, along with two paragraphs of backstory; one of which could serve as the player intro and one of which serves as the DM intro. I think the introduction is nearly perfect. It does a GREAT job of setting the scene for the adventure and introducing concepts that will be reinforced throughout the adventure. It does this in seven sentences, total: three for the player intro and four for the DM follow-up. They all work well together to form a great baseline that the adventure can build off of. All of those countless frustrated author asshats with their multiple pages of backstory could learn more than little from this adventure. The hooks fall down, falling back to the old “someone hires you”, “you heard the wizard was dead” or “hey look, a tower.” I’m not exaggerating by much. The actual text is “hired by a thief/wizard/greedy merchant to loot the tower, keeping a share of whatever is found.” And that’s the most evocative of them. Better to just say “heres a location to use in a hex crawl campaign” or some such rather than take up valuable space with the hooks, since all they are doing is filling dead space. The rumor table, though, is pretty good. In ten rumors, taking up the whole of one column, you get a nice little picture of the tower and great imagery. “Giant spiders have been seen climbing the tower, disappearing into the entrance at the top.” or rumors of red demon statue on top of the tower, that flies down to grab folk trying to get in. It continues to reinforce some themes of the adventure, in particular: snakes.
The second page has the map of the tower.
Six levels all laid out on page, with a small key, with notes on setting the place on fire, and with some decent floor plans showing statues, tables, columns, chairs, and the like. The smaller level maps are JUST on the edge of being too small, another 15% in size and they’d be ok. There is good detail non the maps though, with lots of stairs, and especially balconies. This adventure uses a lot of open spaces and balconies open to below. I love that kind of stuff; it gives the party a good non-linear chance of exploring and using their wits. Combine with actual interesting things IN those areas they can see, it provides some great variety and interest.
It takes three columns to describe the keyed entries, from the featureless wall surrounding the tower, to the hostile garden inside the wall with it hidden path, to the various rooms and chambers inside of the tower. The primary strength and weakness of the adventure are here in the rooms. It does a great job of describing a balcony at the top of the tower, looking out over the garden and forest, with an arched entry leading to columned chamber with stairs leading down, the domed ceiling thick with cobwebs, and the columns holding the roof up carved with images of snakes. That’s good imagery. Spiders cocoon a dead thief, with a red marble statues of a faceless angel squatting on the balcony railing. When the adventure is doing things like this it’s at its best. Throwing in strong snake theming and tossing about adjectives and adverbs. It’s a DOMED ceiling THICK with cobwebs. RED marble, FACELESS angel, SQUATing on the RAILing. It’s building up a picture in your mind and the adjectives and adverbs helps that. And then it has a dormitory with a simple guest room with beds, empty shelves and a simple table and stools. Uh … thats not fun. Realistic maybe, but not fun. It builds a picture all right, but one of being lame. It goes back and forth like this, providing some good imagery in some rooms while in others being boring and lame and NOT awesome. The monsters are all unique, which is a plus, but they tend to be things like “giant snake” “winged statues” and “giant spiders.” Even there the things lacks a bit of detail. The hostile plants in the garden get a “Whips/thorns/etc” attack. A couple of better example would have been in order. Some of the treasure is great (a bottle full of diamond dust) while some is almost great (a +1 dagger that looks like a snake fang. Better if it WAS a snakes fang) some is lame (potion of healing.) Other places have things obviously overlook (gold and silver inlay? We pry it off! How much is it worth? Uh .. not listed.)
This shows more imagination than most adventures, its just disappointing that it doesn’t hit more consistently. I would have no trouble running it.