The Mines of Wexham

By Gerald D. Seypura PhD
Southerwood Publishing
Champions of ZED
Low Levels

This thing goes by Mines of Wexham and also by Mines of Wexcham. The adventure says Wexcham while most of the marketing/references not in the adventure refer to it as Wexham. I believe the designer has passed away since publishing, and I think I tend to grade on a curve when details like that pop up. Be Warned.

This is a nineteen page adventure in some old caves/mines with small wilderness portion. It has some of the charm and all of the problems that one would expect from an pre-1975 adventure. Minimal keyed in places, weird formatting & layout that do NOT contribute to usability, and, in places, the idiosyncratic encounters of imagination before rules. I’m not sure what the history of this is; it looks like a kickstarter add-on, but I THINK it’s a new adventure, not a find from pre-75.

You get a map that shows the supposed location of a legendary lost mine from an ancient empire. It’s three days by foot or a day and half by ship. EITHER you’re playing the pre-gens provided OR they are a rival NPC party (or, more specifically, YOU’RE the rival party to them!) Anyway, off to the mines you go. The mines are presented on three maps: the ground level, an old troll cave, and the underground mine map proper. The maps are basic but well done, by which I mean they provide the complexity required to run an exploration adventure. Loops, with all three maps connecting, and multiple entrances/exits from the maps lead to an element of mystery, with about 34 locations total across the three maps.

The encounters fall in to three types. First you have the traditional minimal keys. “6 giants rats” with stats, is the total of the encounter description. Two trolls. Four spiders. You get the idea. The second type is that of the “old room.” The old room has something old in it. Duh. 🙂 Some old bones. Some bits of leather. And then when you touch something it disintegrates due to age. These almost always have some sort of clue or minor treasure associated with it. Finally, there are the Type III demons. These are the core rooms with something nontrivial in them. There’s really only one or two of these, and the clues and several minor treasures relate to it. There are ghostly soldiers in the mine (but … not actually undead that can be turned …) They attack those not associated with their old empire. You can find some objects, like armor with insignia, that let you pretend to be old empire soldiers also. Eventually you find a banner which will allow you to command them. The clear presumption is that you will use them to attack … the room with seventy orc warriors in it … Yeah. The last couple of rooms have masses of orcs in them.

The wilderness adventure is laid out on a day by day basis. One day one roll for wandering monsters twice. On day two rolls to hear a howl in the distance. On day three … and so on. If you instead choose to go by ship something similar ensues, except the DM gets to roll every other TURN for monsters … and if you roll a 6 you see a pack of sharks in the water … This is all mixed in with what I presume to be read-aloud, not set apart from the text, and the phrase “How do you wish to proceed.” It all a colossal mess. You can decipher it, but it’s VERY stream of consciousness. The “Wish to proceed”, being used as a section break, tapers off through the adventure, disappearing halfway through the mine room descriptions. To be fair, the nonsense settles down by the time you reach the mapped/keyed encounters with only the introductory pages and wilderness adventure being victim to the issues.

There’s a certain nostalgic charm to this adventure, that kind that comes from the early days. A clumsiness of format/layout combined with the sorts of minimal keying with the sort of embedded-adventure that one would find in B2/Borderlands. The kind that fights you all the way. A good DM can take this and run the hell out of it. But then again a good DM can do that with anything. It’s hard to suggest this, even to the nostalgic crowd. Other older products, like Dungeon of the Bear, conjure much of the same vibe.

It’s on DriveThru.

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Dungeon Magazine #123

Salvage Operation
By Mike Mearls
Level 2

An adventure on a twelve-room wrecked ship, with vermin. Get to the hold, get a crate of loot that you’re paid 200gp for (containing a +5 cloak of protection and several figurines of wondrous power) and then exit the ship while it’s being sunk by a giant squid. The “vermin on a ship” angle is ok, and Mearls read-aloud in this is generally a cut-above the usual Dungeon fare (“Thick webbing coats this room. Bones, shriveled limbs of men and animals, and other gruesome remains dangle from the sticky tangles.”) Still, it has empty skill checks (“If the party doesn’t make the check a random sailor points the fact out.”) and it feels both … empty? And, in spite of the nice-but-not-overdone vermin theme, a little procedural. I really got the sense, in reading this, that it is just a generic adventure formula spiced up a bit. Hook. Slow explore with a couple of monsters. Bad Guy. Dangerous “hidden” area that’s the true location. And then a quick escape! It’s a generic formula and works sometimes, but when you can TELL it’s the generic formula .. .then it loses some luster. It feels constructed rather than imagined.

Crypt of Crimson Stars
By Andy Collins & James Wyatt
Level 6

This looks like it could be the opening for another adventure path. You’re hired for 2000gp to go get a dragonshard from a crypt. Tribal halflings rising velociraptors guard the tomb and must be killed. Lip service is paid to bargaining with them, but you can’t actually get anything out of it except “we delay the combat until you come out of the crypt.” Then you get to “explore” a three room crypt. At least it’s only eight pages for three rooms?

The Amarantha Agenda
By Phillip Larwood
Level 13

Nine pages for one encounter. An evil druid & her tree have taken over an elven outpost and destroyed a nearby city. You get sent to figure out why the outpost didn’t warn the city of the attack, and find/kill the evil druid.

Quicksilver Hourglass
By Anson Caralya
Level 30

The world is ending and you need to stop it. I only hold back a *yawn* because at level 30 “the world is ending” seems like an ok thing to me. This is a dungeon crawl full of combats full of the usual “you can’t skip the encounter” movement/passwall/teleport gimps and ends with a potential 750hp combat with a god. It takes care of the “1 combat work day” thing by aging the party while they are inside “the hourglass”, forcing them to get their asses in gear or die of old age while they long rest. Some of the monsters in this are conceptually nice. “The sphere of Ruined Bodies” and giant undead heads. Otherwise it’s just combat tactics porn, room after room., with a decent little story behind it of a god committing suicide. Too bad that little story/epic premise was wasted in this hack-fest.

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Tukram’s Tomb

By Davide Pignedoli
OSR/Crying Blades
Level 1

The…village is abandoned, and within one hour walks from the tomb. There is not much left: the wooden houses have rotten and collapsed, and only a few stone buildings still sort of stand. There’s nothing to loot, there’s no food, no tools, no riches. Centuries have passed since when the village was abandoned, and anything value has been already taken by others.

This is a sixteen room twenty-eight page tomb of a barbarian. It is, generally, a tomb full of traps with a couple of undead or statue encounters,and leans heavily to the “quiet exploration” side of the D&D adventure spectrum. It’s overly verbose writing style combined with a conversational organization style leads to difficulty in finding information.

There are lots of pages in this but the actual content is a bit light for a sixteen room tomb. A rumor table, a random villager table, and a brief wilderness monster table make up the first twelve pages, interspersed with a generous amount of public domain art. The rumor table is nothing special, and the random NPC table seems a bit out of place. The wilderness monster table has a few entries and each one has a bit more to it, by way of an extra sentence, than a pure listing of monster stats. The vampire tree holds the corpse of a old victim. The fairy demands gold coins and favors one PC. The lone wolf is lonely and scrawny. These extra little bits help, I think, a DM create a nice little scene around the monster with minimal effort. There’s also a ruined village provided, on a page, with no map. It’s basically a ruined tower next to a graveyard and some random dead show up at night. It’s long for what it is but it’s still a nice little encounter.

The tomb is based on a real map and is almost entirely of the trap/trick variety. There are a variety of classic tropes, including a balanced scale trick, the old spikes from the ceiling, creatures that follow you out of the tomb (if you loot) for revenge, and an exit tunnel that collapses if you loot the main tomb, forcing you to dig out. I like the encounters. Many are pretty classic tropes and those are always winners. In addition, it includes little map snippets on most pages to help orient the DM to nearby rooms/encounters. That’s nice … but probably a little unneeded for a dungeon this small … IE: the whole map fits on one page and is easy to follow.

The whole thing has a very slow feel to it. Imagine a slow and careful “real life” exploration of a tomb filled with traps and the like. That’s the vibe this adventure puts out, probably because of the lack of any pressure. There are not really any creatures around to pressure decisions or a slow careful exploration.

The dungeon has two key issues that make it hard to recommend. They are both related to the actual writing. It’s long. Quite long. There is quite a bit of conversation DM advice integrated in to the text. In addition, there’s a lot of very specific descriptions about how the traps and effects are meant to work. The “spikes from the ceiling” trap gets over a column of text to describe it. Triggering it, the pressure plate, and multiple technical facts about the trap. There are not enough spikes to prevent passage. The spikes don’t go all the way to the walls. One person walking slowly won’t trigger it. The spikes don’t return to the roof as long as there is pressure. Except the description provided is MUCH longer than my summary. The writing is, in effect, ONE dm’s description of how they interpreted a ‘spikes from the ceiling’ trap. Rather than giving a few guidelines and letting the running DM handle the details the details are instead spelled out. This significantly lengthens the text and, I think, makes it harder for a DM to run it since they must dig through all of the text. I’m not saying that the text should be “Spikes come from the ceiling” and nothing more. I’m instead saying that it is the role of the designer to provide JUST enough detail to get the flavor of the trap across to the DM … who can then fill in the rest. This sort of thing is not isolated and happens a lot.

Secondly, the conversational style of the adventure leads to a weird organization style. The details of each room tend to be spread out over multiple paragraphs. What do you see when you enter the room? I don’t know, let me dig through the next five paragraphs and find out … It likes the effects were placed before the cause. In one room the treasure chest and mural on the wall, the fact that they exist, is placed after two paragraphs of text that detail how to dig through the coins in the chest and how the coins get in to the chest. Not ideal for finding information as you run the game.

It’s a slow adventure. You could hire a team of villagers and just dig the place out from the roof (it’s a barrow type place under a small hill) and get all of the secrets, avoid most of the traps, and PROFIT!

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The Night Wolf Inn

By Anthony Huso
Self Published
All Levels

Once, a designer told me: “More is better, right? I mean, better to have it and not need it!” Not, I reply, when it makes the design difficult to actually use.

It is an Inn, a tavern, and a universe unto itself—a place of powerful dweomers, secret doors, lost gods, hidden dimensions and dangerous artifacts. Behind the sand box experience is a back story & a mystery. Players never need solve this mystery, but it is the glue that holds the experience together.

You are warned: This is a difficult review of a difficult product.

This 190 page supplement, found on Lulu, describes an interdimensional inn. It can serve as a kind of “home base” for a party. Over time, as the inn reveals its secrets, it becomes both a tool for generating adventure seeds and, ultimately, maybe, the outline of a TRUE high-level AD&D adventure. One of the few, ever. And I don’t mean “Q1” hight level, I mean REALLY high level.

The inn is extra-dimensional and the entrances/exits are in several locations at once. Further, there are multiple exits to other planes. The rooms, both common and private, number about a hundred, and include about a twenty “other plane” areas, similar to what’s found behind the doors in Q1, but expanded a bit more. The rooms range from about a half page to around a page each and take up about a hundred pages of text, the rest being monsters, backgrounds, NPC’s, and explanations.

The inn can serve as a home base for adventurers, ven across campaigns from one to another. It’s a nice adventurers locale and place to take your hat off and engage in that carousing table, perhaps. But, it also is exotic enough to serve as a location to pick up hooks from other patrons in the inn. An overheard snippet of conversation, and so forth. But … it can also serve up hooks more explicitly. You can join the inns adventuring guild, which obligates you to performing some services for the inn. Why are you going on the adventure? Because it’s time for your two weeks a year of obligation, that’s why! In this way the inn is a decent home base for adventurers. The various rooms have enough quirks to keep the players a little interested, in a kind of Disney Adventurers Club kind of way. The rocking chairs on the porch continue to rock. The cigar box never empties, and so on. Of all of the extra-dimensional inns and home bases that I’ve seen/reviewed this is probably the best. (And I only say probably because I can’t remember them all!) It reminds me a bit of that Dave Bowman tavern/inn in the Darkness Beneath. The Deep Caves, maybe, was the level? But wait! There’s more!

And it’s the “more” that really sets this one apart from the est of the field. There’s this concept of Hidden Depth in dungeons/adventures. Theming of levels may be the most superficial hidden depth. After that might come slightly more complex hidden depth, in the form of a puzzle or some such to a different area. The NE corner has a statue that gives a clue to how to open a secret door in the SE corner of the dungeon, for example. At a step up form there is the infamous Kuntz hidden depth, which is how the term is usually used. A rose in one room has a dungeon on each of its petals that can only be accessed through some complex ritual, and so forth. And then, there’s something like happens in this adventure.

Paying attention pays rewards. As the characters use the inn they will inevitably discover more and more of its secrets. They will, perhaps, be drawn to the noise they hear coming from upstairs over the veranda and one day investigate. Or sneak in to the obviously open secret door behind the bar. There’s a LOT. Almost every single room has some sort of secret, and most have several. Some are simple. Some are clues to other areas. Some are devilishly complex. There is A LOT to explore … and a lot to get in to trouble with. The inn can kill, easily, even a high level character. Ultimately the most complex and in-depth of the secrets are related to the inns creation and its owner “The Master.” He’s lost something and most of the inn contains clues to finding it. Thus the ENTIRE thing is almost like an adventure outline. Various things within the inn may lead to other adventures. This entire section if both an outline and highlight specific. What you need to achieve is highly specific, particularly as it relates to things WITHIN the inn, but parts outside of the inn are more of a sketched outline of goals and objectives. And it can all be pursued, or not, pretty much at the leisure of the players. Thus the diversions and interesting little bits of the inn, a place to goof off between adventures, can become the main focus after a while … if the party is inclined to do so. As an inn, this is great. The party will visit time as again, as their home base, giving the various aspects the ability to stretch their legs over time and be integrated in to the game.

There is a lot of mystery and wonder to be found in the inn, both important to a location like this. Various aspects of it, the imagination behind it, feel very OD&D. That sense of the unknown and the non-standard is to be found in abundance in this. Wall panels that turn in to seven thousand vipers. A secret room that turns you in to a skeleton for a thousand years … which only a day for the other party members. The designer makes the imagination and the non-standard. It is this idiosyncratic nature that gives the inn a vibe of both a real place and a place thar the adventurers will want to return to.

And yet …

This is HOPELESSLY an AD&D adventure. While it does have that sense of imagination and wonder that is hallmark, I think, of the early OD&D days it also is quite purposefully presenting it as an AD&D adventure. Mechanically. The impacts and results and details are all VERY mechanically dense, in the 1E sense rather than the 3.5e sense. Mechanics are described. In detail. This is supplemented by a verbose writing style and a use of whitespace that I think sometimes works against readability. All of these, together, are the reason for the half page to full page room descriptions in the adventure. The third room, the coatroom, is 10×20 feet. It takes over a page to describe. This isn’t because of he read-aloud but rather because of the (loose) writing style and need to describe the rooms mechanics to the DM. This is, I think, because of the authorial vision. Not just a need to describe the mechanics but to get the intent of the author across. I get this. I think it’s interesting to know what the author intends. I also think that the verbosity that incurs from this makes the product hard to use.

The read-aloud is also a bit of a let down. For the aforementioned coatroom we get: “A dim hall set with two doors and an open archway has been fitted with numerous racks and hooks for coats, scarves and the like. There are two taxidermy umbrella stands made of elephant feet. They appear ghastly in the faint rays streaming from a small rose window in the south wall.” This is all very fact based. It’s also very straightforward without invoking the sense of wonder and awe that exist in many of these rooms. We know what a coat room looks like. The umbrella stands come off a bit flat. It’s not that it’s bad, but rather that it’s not very inspiring to the DM … for a location, the inn, that is very much mysterious and inspiring.

This is the sort of book that you need to use as a reference at the table, that you can mark up. Making notes in it, adventure after adventure, on what has happened and what the party has done inside. This is one of those products that you dream of finding. While at a con, digging through old boxes of adventures for $5 each, you come across this thing and know instantly you have found something special. A work of madness and genius. It just desperately needs a second edit pass. Given that major edit you would have something quite interesting indeed, from both content and usability. It’s maddening. It’s frustrating. It needs more NPC’s wandering through to dump in on return visits. I will also never give this adventure/supplement up. It can be the cornerstone and foundation of your game for years and years to come, providing your players something familiar and stable .. and yet filled with mystery … if you can exhume it form the density of words.

Also: Nice cover!

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Dungeon Magazine #122

Final Resting Place
By Michael Kortes
Level 3

This is a strange kind of befuddled adventure. A lone adventurer died killing a mind flayer deep underground. The newly freed trogs slaves rever his body as a hero and want to give his body a hero’s sendoff: cremation. His kid wants you to go to the underdark and get his body to bury next to his dead wife. The 10 or so encounters to the trog cave are all rubble, shaft to negotiate and so on, which really only come in to play as set piece locations to use while the party is fleeing with the body. The cavern they live in is mostly empty, making a commando stealth raid mostly out of the question. It’s also all combat, with not even a word of advice to negotiation … just hack them down. There’s a weird faction in the trogs described, with chief and sub-chief, but there’s no opportunity to take advantage because of the HACK nature. And EVERYTHING is under a DC10 search check for a secret door … adventure blocks, even at DC10, are never a good thing. A more varied cavern, some roleplay with the trogs … that would have been much better.

Fiendish Footprints
By Tito Leati
Level 6

A frustrating twelve room linear dungeoncrawl in three parts. You meet elves, some of who wish to avenge their dead father and want to come with the party to kill hobgoblins. There’s a nice “cursed wood” pretext to keep the elf warband from assisting en masse. This entire section of elves and forest is much longer than it needs to be, but it does present some interesting visuals with burning bodies and a gay elven camp after a battle. The dungeon has two parts: hobgoblin lair and then the sealed off portion with a few vampires … and the magic item from the adventure title. The dungeon presents some interesting scenes, particularly with a creature reaching up out of the well to drag a victim in to it. This “hiding in a hole” thing comes in three separate flavors, each with slight variations, and is a nice little addition. The dungeon, while linear, does have three separate entrances for clever players to find. It also places A LOT of the adventure behind choke point DC checks. To find the location of the wood from the hook, to be allowed to talk to the elves. To find the trap door in the ruins that hides the dungeon. These are (mostly) trivial … but choke point DC checks are NEVER a good thing, in spite of the advice to “get the players rolling dice.” The hobgoblin portion of the dungeon is better than the vampire portion, with more interesting things going on. If you can get past the linear nature then its not too bad …

Root of Evil
By Mike Mearls
Level 18

A true piece of shit from Mearls. A giant tree grows in a city and destroys it. The party enters the tree and has six combat encounters. “Linear” doesn’t begin to describe this, the tree moves its internal passageways so the party MUST have all five encounters. While the tree moves the environment around to make the combats harder. Thus this “adventure” is nothing more than a D&D Miniatures ”campaign.” The destroyed city is given nothing, so it really is just the six encounters in the tree. It DOES offer up the Broodmother Skyfortress type destruction of a campaign city, and the plea for help from the Pelor cleric is nice, but the COMPLETE lack of pretext and bold-faced turning of D&D in to tactics porn and calling it an “adventure”? Fuck. You.

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The Drow Undercity of Death

By Eldrad
Back to the Dungeon RPG

Labeled “mature”, this third installment of the Black Stairs megadungeon comes in at 28 pages for 128(!) rooms. It’s an art project, or madness, or some combination of the two that produces something greater than the whole. Linear. Minimally keyed. It relies more on concepts than anything else. And that works. Sometimes. There’s something charming about the high concept rooms mixed together to form this very classic feeling dungeon environment. Until you reach the drow city. Then it falls apart.

Thirs is the third installment in this series, and I’ve GOT to stop coming in during the middle of these series. “The Black Stairs” sounds familiar, but I don’t think I’ve reviewed either the first or second level. Anyway, this is all single column with a stark typeface and a writing style I KNOW I’ve seen before.

The adventure has some great room ideas. Ideas are presented starkly and left to the DM. One line from room six reads “The hallway ends with a Stone Face with Huge Jasper Jeweled Eyes worth …” and then the pit trap when the face is touched. A different room presents “A gigantic ruined gate blocks off the other side of the cavern. Glowing lichens on the ceiling above give a dim eerie light. It’s architecture and style is unknown and it is VERY OLD.” and then goes on detail two columns full of rats nests. All three of those are great brief concepts for things to build a room around. And everything is left for the DM, for better or worse. “The door is ornate and evil looking.” Well … ok. I would normally make a “show, don’t tell” statement about that. It’s all very stark and there’s something VERY charming about the randomness of finding a gate with glowing lichen in the middle of a cave room, deep underground. It FEELS mysterious and wondrous, because there is so much for the mind to fill in.

I can deal with the minimalism, for the most part, because of the high hit rate on concepts. But then it breaks down. Bad. The drow city, once reached through the caves (the city is about 35 rooms, I’d guess) is full on D3 mode. House Demon has 10 male drow and 13 female drow and a female drow cleric leading them. [treasure list] The iconic rooms stop and it devolves in to just facts without charm.

The treasure is quite weird. Long lists that look randomly rolled that go on forever. “… Statuette-10 gp, Necklace-300 gp, Anklet-50 gp, Ring-200 gp, Orb-1800 gp, Bracelet-40 gp, Brooch-900 gp, Chain-300 gp …” That’s about 10% of the treasure in one room listing. Generic and nonsensical. But then, early on, you get a Ring of Three Wishes, with details on recharging it and who wants it and complications and so on. It’s great!

And then there’s the map. While there are holes with ropes and different ways up and down on the maps to create a decently diverse dimensionality, they are, essentially, linear. Leave one room, go down a short hall, enter another room. The maps, handdrawn, are also quite difficult to read at times. I’m looking at you keys 2&3 and 9&10 on map 3a! Further, sometimes the numbers don’t actually appear in rooms. This is an issue in “corridor mazes” when you’re trying to figure out just what is a passage and what is a wall.

This is a stark vision. When it’s good then it’s terse and wonderful. And when it’s bad it’s very bad. In one product you can find both the best and the worst aspects of minimal design. I would steal like a mofo from it and stick it in to a better map.

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Escape from the Astral Spellhold

By Christian Kessler
Any Level

You know what “Any Level” means, don’t you? PUZZLES! Well … kind of.

This twenty page digest adventure describes a small wizard’s tower with about nine rooms in it, in pointcrawl style, along with a couple of pages about a city you could locate it in. It does a decent job of describing a freaky wizard tower, although treasure is a little light.

This reminds me of Korgoth of Barbaria. The wizard is out of town, the party finds out and decides to raid his tower for loot. Or maybe, for the higher level party, they try to kill him. In both hooks the rooms are written in a way that combat is not INSTANT and is rather dependent on how far the party pushes their luck … for certain definitions of that phrase.

The room descriptions are, mechanically, an interesting choice. Each key element of the room is bolded and has its own paragraph. Functionally, this gives you a quick way to get the high-level objects in the room called out easily for you, the DM, and then the couple of extra sentences (the “paragraph” I mentioned) provides the details on those. The lab has 4 mannikins, an alchemy workbench, a tinkering workbench, and a dissection table. A couple f extra sentences describe each. For the dissection table it’s: “A thin white sheet covers an inert flesh golem with the top of its skull removed. There is a steel skullplate next to the body, and a pair of copper wires sticking out of the base of its skull and connecting it to a box with a (broken) switch on the wall.” It’s an interesting way to communicate the room and works fairly well. I think it breaks down a bit in that its very fact based descriptions rather than evocative impressions. Both can work well to create scenes in the DM’s head, but more descriptive words/less fact-based (grammar school noun/verb?) does a better job, IMO.

The actual contents of the rooms gives the party something to play with or talk to in almost every case. They are, true to description, pretty level-neutral. A couple of the puzzles rely on some external (player) knowledge (a knight chess puzzle, for example) but in general they are a nice combination of pretext and a difficulty that is enough to give a sense of accomplishment without being maddening. Also, there’s a built in clue system in the library where the book ladder can answer questions by directing folks to passages in certain volumes. It’s always a good thing when interesting play in the dungeon can lead to discovers and problem-solving in the dungeon.

Eventually the wizard returns. This is, I think, a problem. Or may be, anyway. There’s an escalation die mechanic (a great mechanic! And great use here!) that determines when the wizard returns. Every turn the die is rolled. It turns out the party is trapped in the tower and most of the tower needs to be explored (and a puzzle solved, I believe) in order to find the way out. Further, a major (only?) clue is in a room with a dragon that has a 25% chance of waking up every turn. Now, both the wizard and the dragon have a reaction table, so party destruction is not guaranteed, but it is pretty likely, to the point of “almost certain.” This is the weirdest part of the adventure. While most of the adventure is, in fact, pretty level neutra, the exit and/or wizard return are almost certain combats with very powerful opponents. Running would not be an option since the party is trapped in the tower. These two parts need a reworking, as well, perhaps, as some allusion to the wizard returning, which I don’t believe is ever socialized with the party. Treasure is also quite light, with only a few objects to loot. A few more integrated objects, such as perhaps making the vivisection table skull bolts platinum or some such, would have brought out that murder-hobo “unbolt it and take it” propensity.

These adventures are the most heartbreaking for me. This adventure does not suck. It is not bad. This is a decent adventure. It’s just not a great adventure. What’s holding it back is, mostly, the language and vividness of the scenes it paints. A reworking of the text would push it over the top. These sorts of journeyman works get a deal from my reviews. If all adventures were as good as this one then I wouldn’t be writing reviews.

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Dungeon Magazine #121

Fiend’s Embrace
By Stephen Greer
Level 4

This is a journey through a swamp and small 27 room ruined castle exploration. It’s a fetch quest, to retrieve a cloak. The wilderness portion is through a dreadful swamp-like environment, during a cold spell. Both it and the castle are more evocative than the usual Dungeon Magazine dreck. The ruined castle has weak walls & floors, flooded areas, some open/balcony areas, and a rival NPC party. This suffers from the usual “DM word bloat” but “ruined castle in a chilly swamp” is a pretty classic trope and executed ok in this one. The chilly elements could be brought out a little more, the read-aloud is a little dull (but generally short) and the DM text is way too long. But you do get some good imagery in this one. That’s not a recommendation, unless you’re desperate.

The Styles
By Richard Pett
Level 9

Meh. The party is hired to look in to a guy who was framed as being a serial killer. The trail leads to a warehouse, and then a water temple and water worship area. The adventure pays lip service to multiple motivations, allowing hooks for the party to be hired or be do-gooders, a nice nod to assisting the DM even if they are more than a little bland. Likewise it addresses burning down a warehouse, just as G1 addressed burning down the Steading … always a nice addition where PC parties are concerned. It tries to provide an atmospheric setting but it engages in telling instead of showing. The city quarter is depressing. Great. What’s that mean? Contrast that with Deep Carbon’s SHOWING you WHY the place is depressing. It also engages in the practice of mixing important clues/facts in to walls of text during the investigation portion, and makes the jump that the party will follow-up on the Tharizdun cult (parts three & four of the adventure) after fulfilling their hook obligations in parts one and two. The concepts here had potential but execution is WAY off.

Secrets of the Arch Wood
By Skip WIlliams
Level 13

You’re hired to investigate an estate in the woods. The worst kind of dreck: tactics/mechanics porn. Reams and reams of Break DC’s and long-winded tactics passages for combats. I note that there’s a section on some Forgotten Realms spell that prevents teleportation and divination from working. Such shitty creativity that player gimping has been memorialized as official Forgotten Realms cannon!

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The Watchtower in the Wood

By Travis Legge
Aegis Studios
Level 1-3

In this adventure, the characters venture forth from the safety of the Isle of Hope, seeking to bring order to the Plains of Marrow. The adventure offers options for the characters to begin in various areas on the Isle of Hope, but regardless of the path taken, the party eventually makes their way to the haunted lands of the Plains of Marrow. After crossing the harrowing and chaotic lands (and fighting off some of the dark denizens) of the Plains of Marrow, the characters come across a small wooded area. A small stone fort with a lone watchtower stands in a clearing among the trees. Within this camp, the characters will find adventure, drama, and their first dharmachackra!

Another 24 page adventure that should be a page. Whatever vision was trying to be communicated didn’t make it. Sixteen pages of introduction and wandering monster tables, supplemented by six pages of appendix filler leaves us with two pages for the adventure proper. Which is one encounter. I like the cover, but for some reason it reminds me of FATAL.

This is an adventure for some new setting, Choe Pho, so I’m going to assume that the base setting book has the details that are missing from the adventure. You’re in this city and you’re travelling to the Plains of Marrow … “to bring order to it.” You can go North to get there, through the mountains, or south through the forests, east through the grasslands or west through the desert. And there you find a dharmachackra. None of that is described in this adventure and, frankly, I’m a little curious how you can go any direction and get the same place. At least I assume it’s a world feature and not a crutch. We’ll assume it’s all in the setting book.

The adventure consist of a wandering monster table for each of the cardinal directions. The direction descriptions are essentially all the same, with desert adjectives replaced with mountain or forest adjectives. Settlements, tribespeople. All generic. There’s a paragraph or two for each entry on the four wandering tables, which all reduce to “it’s a creature.” There’s not really anything interesting in any of them. The Plains of Marrow are covered in fog and all of the monsters on the table are undead. If you roll a certain encounter then you find the watchtower. Or, if two days pass you also find it. So … no maps in this one. Just an abstracted “encounter wandering monsters until you find the tower after a set time period.”

The watchtower is populated by a couple of furry goblinoid creatures. They are getting attacked by undead every two minutes. The chief wears a necklace that’s attracting the undead. There are little to no details on the titular watchtower.

There’s nothing in this adventure. Some wandering monster tables and an abstracted watchtower. Nothing remotely evocative or interesting to be found.

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Winds of the Ice Forest

By James V. West
Random Order Creations
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 1-3

You enter the dreaded Ice Forest where the ancient path leading through can change with the wind. What perils will you face before nding the way to the other side?

This 24 page “adventure” is a series of random encounters that a party has in a snowy forest … that acts as a labyrinth. Some ok magic items and eerie dead bodies can’t save a glorified wandering monster table.

The icy forest is cursed and people get lost in it. You need to make the correct path choice 13 times to get out .. which means making a 50/50 dice roll at each path split. There’s no map, this is all abstracted. Each time you go down a path there’s a chance to encounter one of the fourteen table entries. There’s also a chance that you’ll encounter an ice igloo that serves as a safe house to rest in … and keep evil creatures 20’ away. The combination of game-ist safe igloos and “just roll the dice until you succeed 13 times” is just too much for me. It all feels like a waste of time. Inexplicably, you can’t leave the paths. Recall, there’s no map, it’s all abstracted, but there is a mechanism for punishing players with being crushed by moving trees if they leave the path. This makes no sense. Who cares if they leave the path, it’s not like doing so will shorten their 13 choices?

The hooks involve going in to find a treasure, escorting a box through the forest, and taking a short-cut to deliver medicine. There are two common elements to each: why am I going in the cursed forest and then Here’s A Thing To Help Make The Right Path Choice. The “going in” reasons are generally pretty weak. Having to go in and find an object is an ok reason, and the need for a speedy short-cut to deliver medicine is a pretty good one. The others just offer no motivation at all for going through the wood instead of around it. That entire section could use a rethink. The Path Chooser objects, specific to each hook, are generally ok, ranging from a bag of path-picking frogs to a magic lantern. I would probably mix & match to find a hook that I think would appeal to MY party, with a bag of frogs for path-picking from a different hook.

The real problem is the encounters. They feel, for the most part, like generic wandering monster encounters. Monsters show up and attack. Joy. There’s not really even much of a “frozen forest” vibe going on, at least not one that comes through with the writing. The encounters that DO spark the imagination are the ones that play well on the ice forest theme. These ALL involve frozen dead bodies. Wherever ter is a frozen body the text handles it well. Without a frozen body in the encounter it just comes across as Yet Another Wandering Monster. That’s quite disappointing. Alas, the titular “Winds” are not to be found.

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