Dungeon Magazine #33

d33

Origins didn’t have shit in the way of adventures, so I bought a bunch on DriveThru this morning. New content soon!

Warning: the first adventure has a village of clueless morons. I LOVE villages of clueless morons, so the review may be biased. I also like sandbox things like sieges, from the second adventure, and fairy-tale like things, from the last adventure. Those reviews may be a bit more biased than usual.

That Island Charm
By MS Rooney, Patrick Carpenter, Greg Gliedman
AD&D
Levels 7-12

This is an adventure on a deserted island full of castaways who need some help solving an ogre problem. The party ends up wrecked here and the other castaways, from pervious wrecks, attempt to convince the party to go take care of some ogres who are preventing their ship construction efforts. When the party goes to do that, they get charmed by a morkoth and his marid buddy. Oh my god, I love this adventure. The hook is complete BS. From the seedy tavern with the confused barkeep to the railroad to get the ship to crash to the isle, the beginning is BAD. So bad I wonder if it’s intentional. I LOVE the crazy barkeep and bar, only briefly described, even though its a total set up. The journey to the island is lame as it ends in a shipwreck, but, shit, whatever, it gets the party to the isle. Once there they meet a CRAZY band of castaways, whose rough village is plagued by nearby ogres. Their story holds us to no examination. Their ogre defense barrier is a falling down bamboo affair with a gate that takes a STR 15 to push down. Their water source literally springs from out of nowhere. One guys been on the island for years, living in the same hut, only the hut is less than a month old. More and more of hat sort of thing, with the castaways giving the stupidest answers known to man. It’s a complete telegraph that something else is going on AND I LOVE IT. Screaming THIS IS a SET UP at the players and then watching them walk in to it anyway is one of my greatest joys as a DM. There are a couple of potential allies on the island, from an ogre (!) to a rebel elf. Everything kind of centers on a cave with a spiral entrance … a morkoth lair. The marid is a little inexplicable addition. It’s used to do weird stuff and be an agent for the morkoth on the outside but it seems out of place. Something has to keep up appearances, so the designer stuck in a marid. The writing seems tighter than usual for a Dungeon Magazine adventure and it’s good to see something unusual like a morkoth show up. It’s all book treasure, and the adventure is on the short side, but I liked it. In fact, the Moonday Murder Hobos are just setting off to take a sea journey tonight. I might have an island offshore have some smoke coming from it … This is a stupid silly little adventure, and I inexplicably love it. Wasn’t there some crappy bar from a Forgotten Realms document, the Swill & Swipe, or something like that? It served bar rag drinks or something like that. That bar would be perfect. Obviously, I’m excited, and that rarely happens.

The Siege of Kratys Frehold
Ted James, Thomas Zuvich
AD&D
Levels 1-4

This is a sandbox siege, with the PC’s defending a fort. It really quite different than the usual affair in Dungeon. The party ends up in a fort/manor and a large group of orcs attack and lay siege to it. The party gets to control all of the locals, from lord to peasant, and has access top all of the general supplies in the fort in order to fight off the attackers. There’s a timeline presented, some rough orc battle plans, and general plans of the fort and the surrounding lands. There are some battle system rules attached, but they are entirely optional. I like these sorts of “heres a location and heres a goal. Make it happen” kinds of adventures. The players are given a very free hand, controlling all of the NPC’s. Success probably depends on making raids out of the fort and destroying the orcs siege equipment, etc. The general overview map could be more useful for play if it had more features. It is basically a fort on a hill surrounded by trees. Given the (probable) frequency of sally raids a more detailed environment would have been better. Every party should have an opportunity for one of these once in their careers and this one may be nearly as good as the Dogs of War/I series from C&C. A little prep work in maps, character stat cards, etc, could turn this in a VERY memorable game for your party.

Dark Days in Welldale
J Mark Bickering
AD&D
Levels 3-5

A miserable adventure in an annoying cutesy halfling village with no reward to speak of. An invisible dragon has been granting them wishes while pretending to be a well spirit. While he’s away some men locks move in to the well and there are disappearances. All of the halflings are incompetent, grossly cute, and as far as I can tell there is absolutely no reason for a party to do anything other than burn the place down. No, that’s too harsh. Parts of this are interesting. The local lore about the well spirit liking apple pies, and the menlock lair is full of belly-crawling tunnels that force you to fight with a dagger … while they circle around behind you. That makes the lair sounds more awesome than it is. I really do enjoy the non-standard environment of the dirt-floor tunnel belly crawl, but it’s really just a side-view map showing some tunnels with one big dug out area. It’ unclear why I like the stupid villages in the first adventure and loathe the stupid/cute ones in this one. In any event, this could make a nice one-shot with a deceptively hard finish to it. Kick around the village for a bit, putting up with the cute halflings, experience a raid at night and/or search the well, then belly-crawl to the enemy. 13 pages is WAYYYY too much for the adventure though. That, however, seems to be a fact of life if you want to use one of these older adventures.

Alicorn
David Howrey
AD&D
Levels 1-2

This must be a side-trek, since it’s only four pages long. A unicorn has been poisoned and some goblins are hunting it. The wilderness/glade has five encounters, the first being the hook combat and the last being the poisoned unicorn. There’s a camped out gnoll and a couple of flying kobolds. That’s it. It’s clearly a Legend rip, with goblins, unicorns, horns, and poisoned arrows. There’s just not enough to this. Nothing interesting happens in it AT ALL. Even the gnoll just attacks on sight.

Mad Gyoji
Colin Sullivan
AD&D OA
Levels 7-10

The Dungeon Magazine Oriental Adventures have been some of the strongest in the magazine, but this is one of the weaker ones. An evil spirit is killing the village elders, one after another. You have one day before the current one dies to go to an island where a villager was banished years ago and get the curse removed. There are a couple of OA style encounters in the wilderness and then on to the small island, home to many small shrines and a temple with a major treasure in it. This is a major adventure, clocking in at about 20 pages. It’s strongest when playing to the OA/fairy tale vibe and weakest when being a traditional D&D adventure. For example, on the wilderness trail you see a hanged man and his spirit next to the body. If you let him possess you and complete his task (which is quite minor) the spirit is put to rest. Great! Nicely done with a sweet fairy tale vibe in the flavor text used! But then there’s a tasloi village. That takes up a couple of encounters and several pages and feels more like a traditional hack & slash D&D adventure than an OA adventure. It’s out of place. The lengthy description of the village implies a hack fest, but the best option Is probably just to run/sneak through it. That’s followed by a straight-up fight with an Oni on a bridge (from the cover) but that also feels out of place. Most OA Dungeon adventures have treated the creatures like real NPCs, with goals and motivations of their own. In fact, the OA adventures have tended to do that FAR more often and FAR better than the ‘regular’ adventures. But, again, in this encounter the Oni is just there to be killed. The shrine/temple island has a couple of good OA encounters, from a collapsing cliffside to an area infested with leeches and some shrines to be cleaned up. But those are mixed in with a couple of straight-up fights that detract from the … ethereal? Nature of the isle could have otherwise had. The main temple extends this clash. While a couple of the encounters COULD be good, with an opportunity for interaction and choices by the PC’s, instead they all end with “and it attacks.” This gives the party no options beyond hacking things, which may be the most boring option in D&D. Given the emphasis on honor and so on in OA I find the lack of non-violent options strange and out of place. I guess there’s a puzzle or two on the island, or an opportunity for smart play here and there, but they are far outnumbered by the raw combats. In the end I found this to not have a strong OA feel, in spite of the trappings.

Posted in Dungeon Magazine, Reviews | 2 Comments

1A – The Inheritance

1a
By Bob Pennington
Mischief, Inc.
OSR
Introductory to Novice levels

Family friend, and great adventurer Gildas Trahern is dead. The journey to Caer Brennau to attend his funeral was pleasant enough and uneventful, but who could have predicted what would happen next? Raiding goblins, and thieving kobolds are just the beginning, but when the dragon Galversharn attacks it becomes a race against time to return what was stolen before Caer Brennau is razed to its foundations and every last man, woman and child killed in draconic wrath! To save Caer Brennau will take courage, fortitude and wisdom. The path will be long and fraught with much peril. Can a party of strangers work together long enough to complete the tasks before them? Is any inheritance worth all this?

Someone has stolen a dragons egg. You are charged with going to get it back. You talk to some townsfolk and assault two (boring/standard) humanoid lairs. You are also led around by the nose and forced to go from place to place and shoe-horned in to an adventure that has far more in common with the 3e/4e era than it does with more classic/open-ended product. This is a frustrating thing to review. It’s an OSR product. I know because there’s a label right there on the front cover that says “OSR.” It does some things right, like putting in some magic items with a few unique abilities. It MIGHT even have a non-standard monster or two, depending on if you call a kobold sorcerer nonstandard. It also railroads you, leads you around by the nose, includes copies boxed text and has lots of generic magic items, linear dungeon design, boring rooms, NOT ENOUGH TREASURE and a vibe and vocabulary that is much more aligned to the 3e/4e era. I’m not gonna say it’s a conversion, but it FEELS like one. This ISN’T a rip-off adventure, like many of the conversion products are. The designer clearly put some effort in to it. It just doesn’t click and hit the notes an OSR adventure should. Yeah, that’s right, I’m the arbiter of what makes an OSR adventure OSR. Because it’s my review. In the end this is Just Another Adventure, with nothing special to recommend it.

I want to start here with the hook and plot. The entire thing is CRAMMED down the players throat and then they are led about from A to B to C. You’re in a manor home getting your inheritance from a dead wizard when The Authorities walk in and try and arrest you. It’s done in a a very condescending (to the players) “Respect my Authoritay!” kind of manner which, I believe, every player on the face of the planet LOATHES. You are not put in the position of kissing ass. That’s the first act your character takes, kissing ass and licking boots. You HAVE to do it, or you are derailing the railroad. So, as player, do you accept this? You know that’s the way the adventure is but fuck that asshole for making you boot lick as your first act with your character. My players would NOT put up with it. If I were playing I’d choose stabbing the Authority in the throat. It’s the OSR, I’m going to die about 4 times anyway before someone makes it to third level, so what does my nameless/soulless dude have to loose? Not kissing ass? I’ll take it. There’s two NPC’s, one on each side, so there’s a lot of DM going back and forth going on with the characters ALMOST on the sidelines, their fate in the DM’s hands as he rolls d20’s for both sides. Not. Cool. And then there’s the whole “they try to take you prisoner and heal you if you resist” nonsense, since all this crap is just the fucking hook for the adventure and has almost no impact on things. This drives me CRAZY. Your actions have almost no repercussions. Kill the dude, don’t kill the dude, resist, be nice, whatever. You end up in front of the local lord where there is more groveling and boot licking expected. He either puts you in the dungeon or gives you a place to sleep. In either case a dragon attacks in the morning at which time you are released (from jail, the barracks, the dungeon) and forced to confront it. NOTHING you did had ANY impact on the events. That don’t sound like what I know the OSR play style to be. This goes on, with the party being led from place to place to follow the plot to the fort, town, lair 1, lair 2. Contrast this to Scourge of the Demon Wolf. In that adventure the locations were presented as separate and distinct places with relationships to each other, where you could learn about the other locations and rumors and so on. You might think this trivial but I think the distinction is critical. Does this place exist outside the players interactions with it (Demon Wolf) or is it just sitting around waiting for the rumor in site #2 so you can travel to site #3? Major portions of this play out like a movie instead of a Realm of Possibilities. This is perhaps best exemplified by the dragon attack that the players are forced out to deal with (after being treated like shit by everyone.) The dragon gets an entire page write up, but at AC –6 and 112 HP there is no possibility for anything to happen here. It’s just a movie where the dragon roars and prances about and the players force their characters to do what’s expected of them to move the adventure along.

Moving on to the actual encounters, things seem … generic? It’s a guardroom. It’s got some dudes in it. It’s a barracks. It’s got some dudes in it. It’s a storeroom. It’s got some storeroom stuff in it. There’s just not much to the encounters. A couple of the rooms have traps, but this feels much more like a tactical exercise than exploring a real place. I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, especially if the adventure is tactical. But OSR characters tend to be weak and not suited for tactical play at level 1. In most version you are barely more competent than goblins & kobolds, which make up the bulk of the enemies in this adventure. Further, they have some kick ass AC’s and HP’s. But de-emphasizing the exploration element and emphasizing the tactical, in a low-level adventure, you are forcing the group in to a no-win situation. They don’t have the opportunity for those whacky Adventuring Party Plans because everything is just one combat after another. The rooms are fully described … to no effect. Instead of the descriptions focusing on what the party can do and interact with, ACTIONS, then instead focus on trivia. “This is made possible by small bearings in the base” or “the runes on the walls tell of the three people who were buried here, now looted and gone, and have no bearing on the adventure.” Then what’s the point in telling me about it? Because it’s “Realistic?” Seriously? My elf is farting fireballs and you’re focusing on realism? Rooms & encounters need to focus on what’s important to the PLAY and ACTION. Boiling kettles to use in combat. Weird pools to do stuff with and the like. The goal of the designer is to provide that sort of thing to the DM to assist them in running a GREAT game for the players. If all you’re describing is the mundane and normal and you can replace the goblins for bandits, then what’s the point? Why not play Harn? I want to back off just a little from that diatribe to note an exception. There’s a wilderness area outside the first monster lair. Big chasm, a couple of guardhouses/ruins, one good bridge and one broken, an old monastery back in a cliffside overlooking everything (the main lair.) This is pretty nice. What you’ve got here are LOTS of possibilities for assaulting, sneaking, crazy plans, monsters reacting, varying terrain types, etc. There’s a WIDE open list of opportunities for the players to have their characters utilize. The goblins who live here are mostly presented as fodder instead of something more interesting although, eventually, a parlay may be obtained for play more interesting than hacking down goblins. I was MUCH more impressed by this section than the railroad before it or the “epic” plot/railroad after it in the second lair, and it’’s all because of the open-ended nature.

Let’s talk treasure. The adventure starts with the characters each getting a magic item as part of the inheritance. Something generic, like a +1 sword, but then with JUST a little extra, like, oh, allows you to use a cure light once a day, or something like that. Each also generally has a nice little backstory to go along with It. I generally prefer my magic items even more non-standard than the ones listed, but big props for adding the extra flair to each. This happens at least twice more in the adventure, including one opportunity in which the party is rewarded for exploring. And then there’s the rest. +1 shield. +1 sword. +1 arrows. BLECH. Just generic book items without souls. It’s magic. It’s supposed to be weird and whimsical, full of wonder! +1 sword. Uh … there’s a disconnect somewhere. Then there’s the coinage. I didn’t add up all the loot, but it seems light to me. VERY light. Coins=XP in most OSR games. The loot is worth more than hacking, which is why “grab the loot” is more important than “be a hero.” The risk/reward ration seems WAY off in this thing.

Finally, let me note that the second humanoid lair map is TERRIBLE. It’s just linear. Ok, two lines. You go down the halls/rooms in door 1 or the halls/rooms in door 2. This is not a style that jives with the low-powered characters of the OSR. You need room to maneuver. Ambush and be ambushed. Head em off at the pass. Hide in the cracks. Sneak around. All this does it force you in to one encounter after another. There’s is a nice order of battle, for both monster lairs, which I always love to see, but it’s anemic here. Oh boy, more monsters in front of us. While on this lets’ talk about the Forms Being Obeyed. Obligatory introduction is present. Obligatory “describe the monster stats” is present, in spades. Obligatory “convert this to your games stats” is present, in multiple places, too many times. Also present: Obligatory Trade Dress. There’s supposed to be an epic kind of feel to this, but the creatures in the lairs are not telegraphed enough for it. You need some foreshadowing, some hints, that what is coming up is scary. Otherwise the Kobold Sorcerer, and his nefarious plans, are just another Lareth. And just another Lareth is what they are in this adventure.

Posted in Reviews | 6 Comments

Dungeon Magazine #32

d32
My in-laws are downsizing their home and my wife had a yard sale to help them sell their excess. At the end of setup I was (passive-aggressivly) throwing stuff in to a wheelbarrow to take down to the from of the driveway where I dumped it out in a large “$1” pile. I was struck by this. All their life, all they held on to and saved, treated like crap and sold for a $1 each. Most of which didn’t sell. Visions of vast quantities of consumer goods, pristine, going straight from the assembly line to the landfill. I can’t help but draw comparisons to how I feel about the RPG market. Free to not, is this the BEST thing that could be put out? If not, then why do it? Or why keep it if you already have it?

Enough pontificating, time to return to my hypocrisy. I’ve been out of new product to review for awhile. I’ll be hitting Origins this weekend to grab some new review material and buy A LOT of old 4e product to celebrate, in my own special way, the wonderful return of Dungeons & Dragons

The Wayward Wood
By Leonard Wilson
AD&D
Levels 6-9

This is an adventure in a forest with three (four? Five?) waring groups. And the forest is walking. It tries REALLY hard and has some great elements but could have used a really good edit. A couple of jr. druids contact the party in order to solve the problem with their forest. You see, it’s gotten up and is now walking away. Right at the village the party is in. It will be there in 3 days. It seems the head druid is way for a few weeks and some trolls have wandered in. A group of firbolg have been fighting them, and using fire to kill them. A group of truants don’t like fire and so are having the woods walk away to get away from it. The idea is that the party meets the truants or firbolg, gets them to ally, and then everyone goes and massacres the trolls. The adventure has set encounters, timed encounters, which is nice to see, and I REALLY like the Walking Wood idea. It brings THE FANTASTIC and WONDER to the adventure, something sorely missing in the vast majority of product. It’s also nice to see LARGE numbers of enemies. The trolls number in the 30’s, all in 1 group essentially, and the firbolg and treats have large numbers also. That pretty much forces the creative players play that I enjoy so much. This is a very nice idea and is right on the edge of being recommended. There’s a nice climactic battle at the inn that the DM is encouraged to force in to play, but the rest of the encounters, well, there just are not very many of them. The walking wood is actually a very boring place. Trolls, treants, and the firbolg are about it. Essentially you wander around all day until you have a timed encounter at night, when you get to actually start the adventure. There’s nothing here NOT related to main plot … and very little related to the main plot, and that’s disappointing. So while the set up might be a nice one, it’s far too long with not nearly enough variety to make it on to my list.

Hermes’ Bridge
By Timothy Leech
AD&D
Levels 7-10

This is a small 10-room ‘dungeon’ on a bridge over a river. It starts strong, but ends boring. And by ‘starts strong’ I mean ‘has one good encounter.’ There’s this troll standing on the bridge (Yeah! Classic troll bridge!), but he keeps running over deeper on to the bridge and sticking his hand in an urn. When he does so a statue comes to life and whomps him, at which time the troll runs back and heals, with the statue not following. EXCELLENT! I love it! And then the troll sees the party and immediately attacks. L A M E! This was SUCH a great opportunity for some role-play between the troll and party! The mindlessness by which most encounters are written in adventures is BORING. The most boring thing a monster can do is attack. The best thing a monster can do if be friendly … while carrying a big and obvious bag of loot … and turning its back to the party a lot. I like combat, but its the easy solution and the one that can be universally appealed to at a later date. Start things off with the troll making an ally and then see how long the party will work with it, or tolerate it. The adventure tries to bring a few other elements, like a healing pool, athena owl, and the like, but it ends up just being room after boring room of monsters. Giant spiders here. Garygoyles there. Nothing interesting to play with. :(

Changeling
By R. Nathaniel Waldbauer
AD&D
Levels 8-10

A side-trek, so essentially a 2-pager. This time the party hears about a white dragon that has just shown up. Turns out it’s an albino red dragon. With no treasure. Lame screw job. I’ll never understand why this sort of thing became popular. All it does it encourage the party to be paranoid, which slows things down. This is different than a mimic or trapper. Those are one-shot ‘gotchas.’, almost traps. This is just an intentional screw-job. LAME.

Pearlman’s Curiosity
By Willie Walsh
AD&D
Levels 1-4

A mystery in a small village with almost/no combat. The party is hired to deliver a crate to wizard in a nearby town, but then the crate goes missing. The group gets to investigate several locations, with one leading to the next leading to the next. There are extensive rumors, clues, and the like presented throughout. Complicating everything is the presence of a nibolg, with the chaos that entails. The village could really use more life to it, things going on other than the adventure and more NPC’s in the village to interact with and get rumors from. There are a lot of rumors … but not a lot of colorful characters to get them from. Further, the amount of text and lack of an overview makes deciphering the entire adventure a chore for the DM. These things are supposed to be play aids but instead generally are a lot of word to prep to run. There might be something to this to you photocopied it and took a pair of scissors and highlighter to it. Do you want to put that much work in to a first level adventure with no combat?

Is there an Elf in the House?
By Rafael Fay & Dan DeFazio
AD&D
Levels 3-5

A murder mystery in a country mansion. And, of course, there’s a Ring of Impersonation and a Ring of Silence involved. When you have to gimp the party through the use of shit like this, that’s a sign you’ve not created a good adventure. There’s a lot of things going on in the mansion: the main murder plot, a secondary murder plot, a group of NPC’s adventurers staying as guests, the host is ill, there’s a ghost, a bricked up room, hidden skeletons and, of course, the servants. All set in a 50-ish room mansion which is overly described. The amount of weird stuff/subplots is a really good thing; I love a complex inter-personal environment. The format used here, which is the traditional keyed room format, really does not fit this sort of adventure. You get a massive wall of text and need to try and hunt down things which makes running this sort of thing a prep nightmare. Better would be a list of NPC personalities/goals, a timeline, and a minimal room key. IE: reference material. This is one of those adventures that I wish I had the time to rewrite in an updated format. Maybe one day I will.

Ghost Dance
By David Howery
AD&D
Levels 4-7

This is centered around an American Indian/plains culture with the party coming in to save the poor natives. There’s A LOT of background information on the natives and there’s a LONG section at the end which is almost devoid of player interaction. Neither of those are good things. The middle is filled with a relatively simple straight-line adventure, so this seems to be mostly an exercise in exploding the players to plains Indian culture. Kill some marauders. Visit a friendly village. Kill the chief and a small handful of warriors at an evil village. Then you get to watch the movie. Seriously, that’s just about the extent of the adventure. The ELEVEN page adventure. There’s a lot of cultural baggage here, from the Ghost Dance to war shirts and holy lances, from the AmerIn culture. There’s not a lot of noble savage; the only hint is them giving you a box of shiny round disks that outsiders treasure and they do not. There just isn’t anything decent about this adventure to justify the page count. I think you kill something like 14 dudes in 2 encounters and then the adventure is over. I’m not looking for a high body count, but I am looking for some type of content past the 2-3 encounters presented in this.

Posted in Dungeon Magazine, Reviews | 4 Comments

Dungeon Magazine #31

d31

“Hey Bryce, your review today seems shorter than usual.”

Yeah. After reading the first adventure, and on the heels of the last issue, I was going to title this “Dungeon Magazine: We’re no longer picking submissions for inclusion at random.” Then I read the others. A cold mess and a railroad. Oh boy.

Beyond the Glittering Veil
By Steve Kurtz
AD&D (Psionics)
Levels 3-6

This is a nice little adventure in an abandoned city full of undead. As was the style at the time, it’s got WAY too much text and backstory and it goes over the psionics rules in detail, all of which detracts from the adventure. It’s got a nice little ‘village in trouble’ introduction with some good NPC’s to interact with and a realistic set up. It then launches in to the core of the adventure. The party goes through a teleported to a weird alien-like city. Therein they meet some of the intelligent undead inhabitants and a wizard. Some of them are friendly, some could be friendly, and, of course, there’s a big bad guy. This thing has two components that make it worth checking out and maybe running. First, it’s got great NPC’s. Some of them have a little too much text describing them, but they all seem to be real people (even the monster NPC’s) and a purpose behind them. They respond intelligently, and not just in a “they attack!” manner. It’s got a great locale, in a pyramid that houses a city, and the entire thing feels like a real place. While the hook is a little hokey, with a wizard going missing and a friend looking for him and hidden psionic powers (that have almost no impact on the adventure) there’s also a nice bit about how the village reacts. Not the usual sheep! The description of an undead attack on the village, and the realistic way in which the undead react to Turn, struck me as very nice also. Nice, solid advice with some good imagery associated with it. A kind of mix of realism and fantasy and flavor that makes you want to run ALL of your undead that way. These sorts of bits are scattered throughout the adventure and they contribute a great deal towards the positive feelings I have. The MASSIVE amounts of text makes this hard to recommend very highly, but if you treat this kind of a short story, to take inspiration from while jotting down notes, you’d have a great adventure.

Telar in Norbia
By Willie Walsh
AD&D
Levels 6-8

This is a desert adventure in some ruins. Someone has gone missing from one tribe and you’re sent to find them. Turns out they’ve been abducted by some Set cultists and an evil efretti. This thing is dense and doesn’t have enough summary. There’s not a really great way to tell how everything works together in the abandoned city and the cultists don’t have any notes on how they respond. This thing is just a mess, with monsters, cultists, intelligent, beasts, many many sub-areas… there might be something here but I can’t figure out what is going on. The ruined city is just a mass of encounters that don’t seem to fit together in any way other than “we’re in a desert!” The compound of the ruined city has a bunch of buildings and each building gets it’s own little mini-encounters/dungeon set up … but they don’t really work together or fit together … or at least it’s not obvious how they do so to me after three readings. I know there’s this amulet, and guardian who used to be someone important, and an efretti … but that’s about all I can make out.

A Local Legend
By Greg Rick & Bradley Schell
AD&D
Levels 1-2

This is a slow little adventure about a village with a local legend. Every nine years a spirit takes 3 young men. There’s a village with a great map, but only a VERY small number of the villagers are described. This turns the adventure in to a kind of railroad. Where NPC1 leads you to #2 and then #3 and then to the monster. The lair is only three rooms and while it has a great entrance mechanism (boulders shoved aside give the creature warning) there’s not really enough in it past that to sustain play. The hook here is pretty good, or perhaps I mean the introduction. There’s an inn, fully booked, a farmer takes you home to stay with him, and his neighbors son gets killed that night. It’s a nice kind of bonding sort of thing to get the players involved with the guy and interested in him when his neighbor starts having trouble. It’s handled much better than most adventures, and doesn’t SEEM forced, even though it’s obviously contrived by the designer. The inclusion of a wise woman with local knowledge of the legends and lans is a nice touch, but could have perhaps used a bit more flavor; the wise woman eventually tells you where the lair is. REALLY not much to this one, but still very nice. It reminds me a bit of the troll home in 100 Bushels of Rye, one of my favorites.

Bane of the Shadowborn
By William W. Conners
AD&D-Ravenloft
Levels 6-9

Do you like gladiator movies? Err … I mean railroads? This is a stupid fucking railroad. Worse than that, it’s ALMOSt like you’re watching a movie. Not quite as bad as some of the 3e/4e movies, but pretty damn close. The party gets teleported to Ravenloft, to a manor home. Instead os exploring and having fun, a good spirit and bad spirit lead you around and fuck with you and drop hints in your lap and railroad you to a finale. It’s about 80 bajillion pages long and you can’t do anything but “enjoy” the scenery. It might as well be scene based for all the “exploration” and “choices” you get to make. “You have done well my chosen ones” and “Lady Shadowborn, in an attempt to warn the party of the dangers ahead” and “Ebonbane has decided to put on a show here for the explorers” and “Ebonbane then beings to taunt the party” and …. You get the idea. The rooms are an excuse for the NPC’s to screw with the party, for good or ill. And of course it’s all combined with that dripping melodrama that is Ravenloft Boxed Text from this era. I get what they are trying to do here: two spirits duking it out, but it’s done in such a heavy handed style, which is then combined with enough WALL OF TEXT to rival anything in China, that all it ends up being is a mass of text that doesn’t work together and random shit being inflicted on the party. And not in a good way. Not in a ‘neutral’ way that OD&D works with, but in Deus Ex kind of way that repulses me.

Posted in Dungeon Magazine, Reviews | Leave a comment

GL1 – The Nameless Dungeon

gl1

Chris Gonnerman
BFRPG
BFRPG
Levels 1-3

One day you are walking down a road, minding your own business, and the next thing you know goblins are hunting you in a forgotten dungeon …

I hate this adventure. More than usual. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because the weekend is over, or my wife is busy, or I had a bad day at work, my fucking cat is trying to drink my 8am PBR. Maybe. I think, though, it serves as an excellent example of how things fail. Gygax wrote a lot of bad shit. Good DM’s are not always great writers. You have to translate your vision in to the written form for the adventure to be a success. In so many of the things I review I don’t think the vision gets translated. Somehow the great play experiences don’t materialize as a component of the adventure. The DM must add color and bring the adventure to life. But the published adventure must inspire the DM to do that. That’s the fucking point of the published adventure. I don’t know who Gonnerman is.rpggeek implies he has something to do with BFRPG. I’ve never seen it but I think people like it. I’m sure he’s probably a nice guy. He certainly has had the wherewithal to get off his ass and do thing, which I can respect. But this adventure? It’s boring as fuck. Welcome, my friends, to Dwimmermount Part 2.

The adventure is simple: your group is attacked by goblins in a forest, repeatedly, until you chase them. Then you fall through the forest floor and in to the dungeon. The goblins chase you in. This is a three level dungeon with 90 some rooms. Usually multiple levels and a lot of rooms is good sign. Not this time. Sometimes you can tell a lot from a map. Does it look generic & boring or does it looks like someone was excited to drawn it? Does it inspire you, the DM, to ask “Oooh!! What’s in THAT room?” or do you look at it and say “Meh.”Yeah, it’s got some loops. There’s an example or two of same-level stairs. Otherwise, it just looks like a contrivance. There’s nothing to inspire. The wandering table is similar. Just a list. It DOES provide a nice monster stat summary, but otherwise it’s just a list. And not a good list either. Lots of poison and AC3/HD4 monsters on the level 1 list. That’s not cool. The adventure notes that the ants (the AC3/HD4 creatures) are a kind of intelligence test for the PLAYERS. Do they charge in and die or find a better way. While, generally, I agree, that has two problems in this case. First, you put them on the wanderers table in addition to lair’ing them. That makes the parties death random, just as the Save or Die monsters on Level 1 do. Second, how do the players know? Have they memorize the BFRPG monster manual? A troll, a giant, a dragon, these are things the players will recognize. They’ll say “Oh Shit!” and run away. Great! But a group of 10 orcs, one of whom is AC-10 with 99HD and doing 1-100 damage on each hit is unfair, especially at level 1. Player knowledge is to be encouraged, but you can’t subvert that by then using things the players know nothing about and not giving any clues to them that it’s coming. That turns things in to an arbitrary killer DM game. No one wants to play that kind of game.

The encounters, through, are the real problem. They have the same kind of “maximally boring” thing that Dwimmermount has (had?) Every room description starts out with … a description of the room dimensions and where the doors are. You know, the thing the map shows? The fucking PURPOSE of the map? Yeah, that’s it. It described right there as the first couple of lines in each room. Joy. What follows is some boring read-aloud. Well, sometimes. Sometimes there isn’t read-aloud. What’s the point of this? Are you holding my hand or not? Then, there will be something in the room that is boring as fuck and has way too many words to describe. The room is dark. The room has a monster (another paragraph! Yeah!) The room has a feature that you can’t interact with. The room has a feature you can interact with, but to no effect. There is nothing in the room descriptions to catch the DM’s imagination. It’s all BLAND. There is nothing in the rooms to interact with, meaningfully, for the players. For example, the continual darkness room. There’s nothing to it. It’s just dark. Or, the room with the “Slow Mirror” that shows the room as it was one hour ago. Except that the fucking room is empty. What is shows is maybe a random monster poking its head and then moving on. It’s not just fucking boring it’s a waste of time as the players try to figure out what’s going on. What’s going on? Nothing.

It’s as if you took a minimally keyed dungeon, like Mad Archmage, and then expanded the descriptions IN THE MOST BORING WAY POSSIBLE. This looks like Stating Facts. “The room is 20 foot by 20 foot with a 10 foot high ceiling. The walls are grey fitted stone and are slightly slick with moisture. In the center of the room is table. It has four legs and a flat surface on top. The legs are in good shape but are plain and the tables surface shows signs of use, with some minor cuts and scrapes on it.” Yeah, it’s fucking description. It’s a description of nothing. How does that room support play? How does it inspire the DM? There’s room after room after room like that in this adventure … just like in the original Dwimmermount draft.

I like the Internet. You can find some great D&D shit on it. But you gotta wade through the crap to find it. This is part of the 99% of everything published for D&D that is crap. These sorts of well-meaning products are a dime a dozen in the OSR. That’s too bad. But what do I know, I’m drinking PBR at 8am on a Monday.

Posted in Reviews, The Worst EVAR? | Leave a comment

Dungeon Magazine #30

d30

… And a Dozen Eggs
By Randy Maxwell
AD&D
Levels 1-3

Fucking. Sewers. I LOATHE sewers. Actually, I just recently reviewed a 1-pager in sewers that was good. This ain’t that. This is the sort of the adventure that makes you think: Fucking. Sewers. Dinosaurs eggs fell in to the sewers from a magic shop and hatched. They ate some sewer workers. There’s a bounty for bringing them back, dead or alive. it’s not much; I’d recommend you go find something fun to do instead that pays better, like interviewing to be an assistant crack whore trainee. This has a big map of the sewers, done in line style with no detail, and three pre-set encounters. The idea is that you wander around down here FOR MONTHS until you find all the dinos. Doesn’t that sound like fun? Wandering around for months? Yes? No. The 20-entry wandering table is just a list of monsters with stats. Nothing more. Rot Grubs. Common Rats. Giant Rats. Razors so you can slit your own throats to make it end. No, sorry, just kidding about that last one. There’s once good mechanic here and that’s that the dinos grow and the longer it takes the bigger they get. Other than that …. MONTHS in the sewers, drawn as a line map, with 20 boring old book-standard monsters listed as wanderers, and 3 pre-sets? No Thank You.

Elminster’s Back Door
By Ed Greenwood
AD&D
Any Level

This is an Ed Greenwood adventure. Ed, and sometime Jim Ward, like adventures where you can be of any level. That means PLAYER skill, not character skill, determines the outcomes. That’s very nice, in theory. In practice though Ed has created one of the most boring adventures ever. Your best best is … not do anything. Seriously, just stand there, walk around, search without touching anything. You Win! This is, as the title suggests, the backdoor to Eliminsters Tower. If you are a nice guy and mean him well you make it through ok. If you are a greedy dick you die. That makes sense. It’s also BORING. GO in a room. See something creepy/cool/interesting. Ignore it and go in the next room. It’s like you’re stuck in a cab touring London all day on the highway. “Look kids! Big Ben! Parliament!” and then on to the next sight. The interesting shit is VERY nice. A bunch of eyes floating on the ceiling, or blue hands reaching out of walls holding magic items and supplies. Very cool. Now, ignore it and move on. It’s like its the ultimate temptation. Is temptation good? Absolutely! I LOVE to put friendly/neutral monsters in my adventure, who are more than willing to talk to the players. And then I let them wear a 10,000 go platinum crown and make then turn their backs a lot. Temptation is great! But it has to be spread around. Room after room after room of the same thing is BORING. All you’re allowed to do is look at it and not touch. If you touch then Something Bad Happens. Iron golem kills you. Stone Golem kills you. Whatever. The effects are cooler than Tower of the Stargazer, but the interactivity is just not present at all.

Ghazal
By David Howery
AD&D
Levels 6-8

A trip to free a prisoner help in a wasteland fortress by some nomads. “Some of the role-playing in this adventure hinges on the character’ views on sex roles. If the character group is largely male, this could be fairly entertaining.” Uh … As far I can tell, this refers to the country you are in, for about 5 minutes, being ruled by a Queen instead of a King. Once you get the mission from her this strong warning doesn’t seem to apply anymore. I know nostalgia is rosy but I have a hard time believing this was thing back in 1991. Anyway, too much backstory revels that nomads have captured a diplomat and you need to do a prison break. You make it past an ambush, break in, free the prisoner and run. It’s more than a little bland. There are things here that I like, a lot. Most of the guards are F1’s and there’s not a lot of bullshit “they always” this or “permanent anti-magic” that. It’s just a place, with guards, that you break in to. A Caper! Except … it’s not written that way. We need schedules! Patrol routes! How the dudes inside react when the alarm is raised! An order of battle! When do they release the Death Dogs to roam the halls? None of that is here. Instead, it’s boring room after boring room with too much description tell us what the room was once used for, or how its not being used right now, or yet another explanation of how the jailer is not a nice guy. That. Doesn’t. Support. Play. I’m also more than a little tired of seeing “the guards fight to the death.” This time the lame ass excuse is that its a cultural thing, and how they show their manliness. Take a cue from Ramses 2 boys: march back in town and say you won. There might be one more interesting thing here, and the adventure calls it out explicitly. There are a lot of prisoners/slaves in this fortress. You’re after one. You can escape with one (the place is hard to sneak in/out of, which is cool.) What about everyone else? Leave them chained? Free them, knowing they will probably be torn apart by the guards and their guard dogs? Quick note: Spartacus didn’t turn out too well for that slave army.

A Wrastle with Bertrum
By Willie Walsh
AD&D
Levels 2+

This is a little bar brawl, that complete complete with an insert for floor plans and cardboard stand figures. It’s also ALMOST too good to use the way the designer intends. There’s this seedy bar. It hosts wrestling matches. The champion is the bouncer, who’s also a half-troll. The prize is something like 2k in gold. You’ve got the bar owner, the bouncer, normal peasant scum, other wrestlers, and then three groups who want to STEAL the prize. Dwarven bandits infiltrating the crowd. A group of halfling bandits who raid the place, CLAIMING to be the feared dwarves bandits. (Nice on!) And finally, a wizard who needs to cash. All hell then breaks loose. This is written as a bar room brawl, a one shot. And I guess it works for that. There’s just SO much more you do with this place. A little extra detail on the NPC’s and you would have had a legendary tavern location! But that’s not what the designer was setting out to do. But if he’d done it … but he didn’t, and didn’t want to … but if he did! So, this works, although there’s WAY too much text for the content.

Thiondar’s Legacy
By Steven Kurtz
AD&D
Levels 8-12

Uh …. This is an adventure. I mean … Uh … Wow! Dungeon Magazine actually published an adventure! This thing could almost be a completely stand-along product. Look, I’m about to talk smack about this, because it deserves it, but at the core of this is Something Good. You need to decide if its worth salvaging. I think it is. In fact, I don’t even think the salvage job is that severe. I would suggest, however, that you work this adventure n. You need to start dropping hints LONG before the players hit this thing. The College, the legends, etc. This is going to work best when it’s NOT dropped in out of the blue.

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

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

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

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

Posted in Dungeon Magazine, Reviews | 5 Comments

S3 – Edge of Shadow

s3

By Bill Barsh
Pacesetter Games & Simulations
OSRIC
Levels 3-5

With the rescue of Prince Thrommel, a new enemy has been revealed. A mysterious and dangerous organization is growing in power. Simply known as the Slave Lords, they raid with impunity. Entire villages have disappeared and fear is on the rise. Little is known about these Slave Lords, but now, just outside the vile city of Highport, you have learned of a hidden base.

Oh, what could have been …

This is a little intro adventure that links up Hommlet to the Slavers series. The idea is that the players free Thrommel from slavers (in an earlier adventure) and he tasks them, as a kind of mercenary/secret agents/commandos, to run point. In fact, there’s some really good stuff in the DM background about double agents, secret meetings, contacts and introductions, that feel right out of the Danger International games I used to play in high school. Our games always ended with us assaulting the Evil Bad Guy base (in retrospect: why the fuck did we do this by ourselves?), and the bilk of this adventure is the assault on the bad guy base. A mostly boring assault with a couple of set pieces and little else of interest.

Let’s cover that intro. There’s a great little introduction about Thrommel tasking the characters, and them having the name of a guy in a village who will introduce them to a fisherman who knows where the base is and he’s all “I want to help you!” because his sisters sons have been taken and …. Well, that’s about it. That same information is repeated three of four times. The DM background. The players introduction. The actual encounters. The additional text in later two sections don’t add anything to the basic set up offered in the DM background. In fact, the DM background tends to be better because it’s clearer and terser. Instead of repeating information a little more could have been added around the evil city of Highport (which has almost nothing describing it) and showing why it’s evil, and doing a little cloak and dagger stuff, even if just as background, that would set up a tense spy/infiltration mission once the players get to the fisherman. Instead, its all skipped over and we cut straight to the first room where the fisherman is a double agent … he’s an assassin and it’s an ambush! Cool! And he jumps off the boat and runs across the water using his ring of water walking! Uh …. Not cool. That smacks too much of Things Working Out Just Right to me, and I hate those kinds of set ups. Instead he could have jumped in the water and swam away, or something else. “But, but, there are sharks in the water!” Then don’t put sharks in the water. Or just hint that there are big fish. That would freak the PLAYERS out and lead to a much more interesting situation.

This leads in to one of the two or three big set pieces of the adventure. Orcs & Hobs fire flaming arrows form the dock and assault the characters as they try to do something. It also shows a flaw: the two leaders, an orc and a hob, are given little backgrounds and names. But, they are doomed to die. The irony here is that this adventure follows from Hommlet and this very situation is sometimes known as ‘Lareth Syndrome’. This is where you have some super-interesting evil guy somewhere in the adventure, who has set everything up, who the party stumbles upon and stabs. There’s no tension and no build up. Because the first time you meet Lareth he’s just some dude behind a door in the last room of the dungeon, you never learn WHY he’s evil. You never see any sign of what he’s done. Maybe he rants a bit that he’s the big cheese in charge, maybe not. It always ends the same: the characters stab him, yawn, and loot the bodies. Instead, these people need a build up. Rumors around town. Heads on posts and warning signs with his name on it. Minions who mention him in threats or something else. Then, when the EHP is introduced, you have some proper quaking-in-the-boots, or even a better motivation to stab him. The orc and hob have this problem. They are just standing there, waiting to be stabbed, with no set up, instead of having a nice little section in town, or the village that mentions how terrible they are, or their names whispered in fear/awe, or anything like that. The set piece is ok, but the flavor is not.

The encounters here are almost all “you see a dude. He tries to stab you.” That’s too bad. Several of the encounters imply that the party could try and impersonate evil mercenaries, or slaves, or sneak around, or something like that. But they all end with “and the dude doesn’t fall for it and attacks.” Rather than the location feeling like a real place that has a life of its own that the players can interact with and in some cases take advantage of, instead this feels like a set up. It’s written anticipating that the party will come through. Not because of the ambush but because of deck being stacked BY THE DESIGNER. That’s a major turn off for me. I like to see an adventure location that exists outside of the characters and then reacts to them, rather than a location written with the characters in mind. It’s the difference between “the guard questions people who enter”, with the guard having motivations and goals, and “the guard attacks players who enter.” In the later, the fix is in. There are MANY places in this adventure where there could be a great opportunity to try The Bold Lie: I’m Supposed to Be Here. But in every case it’s foiled by the designer saying “They attack!” Can I run it the other way? The Correct Way? Sure, but I believe adventures teach people, the DM and the players, how to play by reinforcing things, and I don’t want to see bad ideas reinforced. I want situations for the party to react to, not a pre-ordained course of action. There’s another section, related, where the party can free some slaves. Some evil slaves. And they betray the party. Lame. The party should be rewarded for their actions and betrayal is not it. Evil is not Stupid. This is a fine opportunity lost to make the parties lives more interesting with some evil henchmen. Think of the RP! Oh, wait, they betray the party at the first opportunity. Gee, haven’t see that before. Why rescue people? Just fucking kill every NPC you meet; it’s safer that way.

There are a few other points I could make. The upper level doesn’t really encourage its exploration because of the orientation of the great halls and corridors. Some of the descriptive text and imagery is good, especially the parts around the captured slaves, but in other places it resorts to the usual Too Much Text syndrome. Too Much Text is the rule rather than he exception in this case. There’s a good monster/trap thing in a treasure room that has to do with the treasure animating; it’s got a very OD&D/weird vibe in that place. The slave auction, proper, is an opportunity lost. Slave, buyers, and guards should be running amok, in a scene of mass chaos. Instead it’s just presented as a normal combat. Peek our interest! Add Color! Personalize it without railroading!

Posted in Reviews | 5 Comments

Dungeon Magazine #29

d29

I drink heavily in order to forget previous issues of Dungeon Magazine. This makes me prone to saying things like “This is the BEST ADVENTURE EVER in Dungeon Magazine!” My humbleness is matched only by my propensity for hyperbole. The last adventure in this, from Willie Walsh, is VERY good. I’m as surprised in saying that as you are in reading it, if you’ve been following along.

Nymph’s Reward
Jeff Fairbourn
AD&D
Levels 4-5

This is a wilderness/cave exploration mission to find a potion for a nymph. She wants you to go to this cave full of orcs/ogres and get this potion to save her nymph sister, who has been cursed. The wilderness has three of four adventures and the cave has another twenty or so encounters. When the party comes back they find out (probably) that the nymph is actually a hag and the potion lets her regain her true form. There’s soooo much going on in this adventure, from a design standpoint, that I don’t really understand. You meet some Harpers in the woods. They are powerful and if you mess with them then you get your ass kicked after the adventure by a different group of Harpers. Why? Why not make them weak and give them some great treasure to loot? Put the big red shiny button in front of the players. The potion turns out to be a potion of magic resistance … but it only works on the hag. Why? Why not let the players use it if they want to? It’s not going to unbalance things. After the party gets the potion for the hag she attacks them. Why? They did a great job for her! WOuldn’t the game be much more fun if the party had this kind of amoral/evil associate they could go visit from time to time? Just like with theHarpers … why not give the players a choice and tempt them instead of deciding why they HSOULD do and enforcing it through the rules of the adventure? Everything in this adventure sucks. Monsters attack out of spite, even though they should have other motivations. The treasure is all book item items, and boring old +1 swords and shields at that. This should be a great little place of ruff & ready dudes, a bro-house now that the master is away. Wrestle some orcs and kick back, maybe! The adventure is SOOOO much more limiting the way it is written.

Ex Libris
Randy Maxwell
AD&D
Levels 5-8

This is an exploration of an old library to recover books. It has a gimmick; the library is made up of rooms that slide around like one of those sliding tiles puzzles, you know, the ones with the empty tile spot that you slide the other tiles around? Same thing, but the rooms of the library slide around without the control of the party and they are trapped until they find out how to control it. The tiles were included as a supplement to the magazine. (Mine were partially cut out and missing two.) This has two sections: one in the buildings outside the library and one in the sliding library section. The mundane section is boring and has some hevuvas running around doing “evil things” such as “praying in a mocking way” and the like. Uh … show, don’t tell. Maybe it’s a problem with the Standards people, but I hate being told something is evil. Show me. Put some heads on stakes. Flay someone, still alive. The reaction of the PLAYERS will be better. Then again, we’re in the 2E demon-but-not-really-called-that era, so this may be a Standards thing. Idk, all I know is it sucks. Lots of long descriptions of mundane rooms with nothing interesting going on. There ARE some special mechanics listed, such as “scrambling out of a pool of water when being attacked by dismembered hands” and other sorts of things. I like these sorts of things, as long as they don’t take up too much space. They get a little long in this adventure, but I appreciate the idea. The moving rooms section is LAME. You have this very cool mechanic but it’s not taken advantage of. Instead you get a bunch of books, most of which are cursed in some way to summon monsters or kill you. And yet you need to open the books to find the puzzle solution to get out of the library. Maybe I’m being too harsh. It just seems VERY repetitive. Find book, open book, kill summoned creature. Move on. Certainly there is some room there to come up with some interesting tactics to minimize things, but 15 rooms full of this overstays its welcome. It needs other hooks. It doesn’t have them.

Through the Night
Leonard Wilson
AD&D
Levels 1-2

A twofer sidetrack about an abandoned inn an an invisible stalker roaming around it. It’s not really anything at all. Just one boring & mundane room description after another with no interesting going on, and then an invisible stalker.

’Til Death Do Us Part
J. Mark Bicking
AD&D
Levels 8-10

FUCK! After reviewing that Willie Walsh adventure I have no patience for this or Ex Libris. A ghost and a Groaning Spirit live in an abbey, according to the WAYYYYYYY too long backstory that attempts to justify every detail of everything. They ambush travelers and have a trap set up so that a mezzoloth is let out of an Iron Flask when a door is opened. This is just one of the numerous death trap adventures where everything is set up and the dice loaded against the party. “They anticipated …” this and “they have prepared …” that. It’s nothing more than an 11-room eight page 4e encounter. There’s a metric shit ton of justifications for what is going on: the pits were dug by Justin when he was soul jarred” or “the magic webs are another one of Justins creations before he was killed” and so on. Just let magic be magic. You don’t need to explain magic, Mr. Technocracy. I DESPISE these sort of set-up adventures. There are a couple of interesting treasures. A cursed scroll that causes you to grow an extra head that babbles gibberish all the time, and a music box that, when played, causes all to hear it to covet it. Also, a human skull hanging from a thick iron chain, a Greenstone amulet. These are all great. If the adventure, encounters, and rooms had detail like this then I would be lauding the adventure instead of damning it. The ghost used a wish spell to attach the Iron Flash to the back of a door. Seriously? You think that’s fun and/or interesting? That’s lazy.

Mightier than the Sword
Willie Walsh
AD&D
Levels 1-4

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

Posted in Dungeon Magazine, Reviews | 3 Comments

The One Page Dungeon Contest – The Complete 2013 Collection

2013
Peanut butter one page time!
Peanut butter one page time!
Peanut butter one page!
Peanut butter one page!

The winning entries this year are all pretty strong, with many of them usable & interesting right off the page. The others are of various qualities, however this is, without a doubt, one of my must-keeps every year. I buy a lot but I keep almost none of it. I keep the one-page collections. They are an excellent collection of adventures and idea seeds to riff off of and steal from, if not use outright. This 2013 collection also include the winning entries from 2010 and 2011, which I’m not reviewing because OH MY GOD this is a lot of work.

Some recurring themes in my commentary this year: you need good descriptions in these things to bring them to life. Not long descriptions but EVOCATIVE descriptions. Also, no more “you fell unconscious and wake up in a cell” bullshit and no more “you seek shelter from a storm” bullshit. Put some fucking effort in it people!

Only Acrobats Need Apply
By Andrew & Heleen Durston

This is a cute little “flee across the rooftops” mini-game sort of thing. The map represents the rooftop/overhead view of several blocks of a town. You start on the rooftops of one corner and have to get to the other far corner to escape, while the streets are full of guards and a mob looking for you. It consist mostly of jumping and balancing DC checks, with some weird things like some clandestine meetings to spice things up. This is actually a pretty nice little idea for a game that could be used pretty much as is. The DC checks range from 5-25, and are probably 5 too high in most places unless everyone ranked all the time in jumping. The concept is a nice one though, it just needs a little more to handle the core issue: someone fails. That is the issue with most of these sorts of skill challenge things. Everyone has to make multiple rolls and has to be successful every time. Failure indicated 4d6 damage from a fall and then having to deal with the mob/guards. One fall, maybe two, could create some tense play with hiding and getting back on top, etc. I don’t have an answer. It’s great that you made them do 8 DC 30 checks to swing over the lava. Lots of tension. Now what happens when they fail? Fix this and it would be Highly Recommended.

Arena of Blood
By bygrinstow

This map details the holding pens, cells, etc under an arena. It’s inhabited by cultists who channel the spilt blood in to a special room to reawaken their reaver god. Nice concept, especially the ‘blood stream’ aspect. The execution of the concept is less than stellar. Generic cultists and generic traps combined with too much repetition deliver a boring vibe that is inconsistent with the flavor text of the corrupt city and the reaver god. The content must inspire, and the core of the keying here does not.

Iron Cloud
By Caelum Roberts

Gonzo to the bone and with more soul than 90% of the stuff I’ve ever reviewed. This may be the platonic ideal of terse & flavorful descriptions. It’s a floating could-like airship drifting over the land, with ropes and cables hanging from the underside. Inside is a huge assortment of fun. Robot dragons who think they are real and thirst for flesh. Heads who want to be placed back on bodies. Cavemen who worship robots. Here’s one of the rooms: “flying vampire squids: drain magic Bones jewels, armor, and a lazer mace.” or “Orgotron the robot overlord – grafts robot parts on to creatures to control them.” or “Rocket knights. Friendly, Evil. Turn in to rockets 1/day. Leader has a vibro-axe.” Holy shit! If you can’t do something with that stuff then you shouldn’t be running D&D! Each one gives you an immediate vibe of the thing, the room, and how to run it. Friendly/evil rocket knights? It’s obvious they are in some kind of man-cave rec room! Maybe with Bro Power! Orgotron?!!? Who wants a spleen! The text in this exemplifies the ability of good minimalist design to contain rich and flavorful content. It’s not just the gonzo, it’s the potential energy present. Highly Recommended.

Down Among the Dead
By Daniel O’Donnell

Another fine entry that details a sea temple to a god of death. It makes a great impression and is themed very strongly, with tides, stilts, chained dead, pickled nobles in barrels, a hermit, giant sea animal head to enter through, and the whole thing set in a wrecked ship. The magic items are themed well: shark-teeth armor and coins to place over the eyes of the living to make them appear dead…. that’s much better than a Feign Death scroll. This is another one that you could use out of the box with no prep. A bell, tarnished green. If rung underwater sea creatures will gather and sing the secrets of the deep to those underwater. This FEELS like a fantasy temple to a god of the sea dead and not one of those generic High Fantasy temples that are so common in supplements. Where Iron Cloud was an exercise in beauty and flavor minimally provided, this instead has the several sentences per entry that work seamlessly with the art and map to provide an awesome experience. Terse but not minimal. Highly Recommended.

The Brittlestone Parapets
By Gus L.

This is an ancient battleground of two arch-mages who conducted some extended warfare with each other. It reeks of the weird and magical, from weird looking owl bears rooting around for magical refuse to eat to an army of skeletons looking for a new (temporary?) master. It ends up in a swamp corrupted by the magical energies, and the corrupt villagers who live there as bandits. In one paragraph Gus brings to life the villagers and gives fire to enough imagination to run quite a few little mini-encounters in just that one section. Everything in this contributes to the vibe of a magic-littered WW1 trench warfare feel. Highly Recommended.

The Giant’s Dollhouse
By Jens Thuresson

Nice concept by poor execution. Giant uses a magic staff to turn people to stone to populate his huge dollhouse, which is carved in to the side of a mountain. That’s about the extent of the adventure. There are some NPC personalities … but you won’t interact with them until the end since they are stone. The interior doesn’t have any description at all to speak of. The core concept is a very fairy tale, which I love, and the giant, the mountain dollhouse, the magic staff with two crystals are all very good ideas. But they need to go somewhere and the dollhouse needs some more around to make it work. Maybe some notes about the giant interacting with it, or more room contents to mess with and get in to trouble with. Some way to bring the people back and hide with them in the house while escaping, etc.

Into the Demon Idol
By Jobe Bitteman

You know the idol on the cover of the 1E DMG, that the adventurers are prying the gens out of while dealing with the dead lizard men? Well, that’s the demon idol mentioned in this adventure. it’s a small mini-dungeon inside the idol, which is actually one of those construct things you can get inside of and control. The vertical nature of the map, both inside the idol and down in to the caves underneath, is a welcoming and refreshing change the normal. This nature is emphasized with broken ladders and a hand cranked winch lowering a rope in to the floor. As per usual, you have to repair the idol and feed it mined gems, found underneath. One of the nice differences between the 1-pagers and the old Dungeon adventures is that the 1-pagers aren’t afraid of giving the party a nice item to use, like a demon idol that shoots ruby death rays. Gelatinous humanoids, damned cultists, cinder beasts, tortured souls and the like are decent encounters. There’s soothing missing from this adventure and I can’t quite say what. The first three rooms, which are inside the idol, seem a bit … bland. The cave rooms underneath seem a bit better but still lack a bit? Maybe “cinder beast” and “Gelatinous Humanoids “ are more fantastic than a Tortured Soul? This one needs just a little more spark in it to bring it fully to life.

The Burial Mound of Gillard Wolfclan
By Josh Burnett

A basic little multi-level dunegoncrawl whose charm lies in its basic/simple/stick-figure aesthetic. Nine rooms in three levels. It’s got some evil dudes who are potential allies, some pretty decent named NPC’s. I have no idea why I get off so much on trap doors and ladders and holes with rope in them, but they are in this as well and I love it. This has decent variety but the … bland aesthetic of most of it leaves much to be desired. It needs some more descriptive words around the environment in order to give it as much life as the NPC’s. Gillard, Hogor, Skizle, Blehk have life. The environment … not so much.

Girly Girl Dungeon
By Kaylee Thumann

“An adventure for 1st level girls or 5th level boys” just about sums this one up. Women have a certain way about them when they are I groups and low-level success in this adventure depends on the behaviors they tend to exhibit. “No, you’re not fat! You’re beautiful!” When one of them is down, for example. That sort of “What would my wife do?” philosophy will get you a LONG way in this adventure, as you dance with people you don’t want to, console those with low esteem and so on. In essence, it’s a social puzzle adventure with combat as an option in all of the rooms. It marries the theme to the adventure in a way that I have rarely (If ever?) seen before. I’d recommend reading this even if you don’t want to run it, if only as an example of how to integrate puzzles and realistic behaviors/actions in to a fantasy game. Highly Recommended.

A Stolen Spring
By LSF

This is a little six room dungeon under the town well. It’s a pretty straight-forward adventure. People in town are getting sick and there are six of so clues/rumors offered, all relevant to the adventure. The map is purty, though linear (it IS a stream, after all.) There are really only two interesting things: a huge stone poisoning the well, the removal of which is left as an exercise for the reader, and an enigmatic shrine with scales of justice unbalanced. You could steal this as a kind of kick off for a campaign or some such. The encounters here, what few there are, are interesting enough to work with I guess. The adventure seems ‘off’ and I think that might be the small size of it. I wanted to call it plain, in spite of a body plugging up the stream and fungus infested goblins. All I can think of is that the small size is contributing to my ‘off’ vibe. This one is interesting enough to read and think about, even if I can’t recommend it.

The Wizard in the Woods is up to Something (Maybe)
By Matthew W. Schmeer

A minimally keyed dungeon in flowchart form. Weird power levels here. There are caves full of cave gnomes, an 18th level MU, and a shit-ton of succubi. I’s all themed around the Petty Goddess of Sexual Fear, so lots of references to white stick fluid references on features pants. The minimal keying amounts to things like “18 caves gnomes” and the like, so we’re talking Palace of the Vampire Queen minimal keying, or worse. There are occasional bursts of flavor, like the entrance: “large empty chamber, lit by ambient light from thousands of small holes in the ceiling.” This needed fewer rooms (there are 43) and a four or five words more per room to impart some additional flavor. Your Milage May Vary on the (light) Petty Goddess of Sexual Fear theming. I don’t think care, except to say that it was generally uninteresting. Some more stuff like “2 harpies, 1 cup” or a goat see reference could have done wonders for this.

Court of the King of No Men
By Misha Favorov

Perhaps the platonic ideal of one-pagers. This follows the traditional format/template but adds a very interesting touch to what would otherwise be a normal dungeon crawl. The four NPC”s are PERFECT for the dungeon; if every dungeon had NPC’s this strong then I’d be out of a job. The addition of them, and their one sentence description, adds SO MUCH to the dungeon. You’ve got the new god, the old god, the rebel beast man, and the faithful gremlin servant of the old god. In 22 encounters the designer manages to paint a fairly complete and ‘believable picture of a fantastic situation with beast-men, mad revelers, bridges over wine rivers, and competing factions. Combined with the new creatures and the new magic items, this is another GReAT example of how a tersely described product can bring tons of flavor to the game, empowering the DM to fill in the rest. NOT verbose, but does a better job of communicating the flavor than any random 20 boxed-test/expansively described adventures. Highly Recommended.

Something Happened At The Temple Near Glourm
By Ramsey Hong

Another good terse adventure but this time with non-traditional keying. Each level is described by the names of the rooms, and only the room name and interesting facts are described, in a kind of free text/conversational format. It works … probably. It’s awful close to violating my “must not obfuscate/must help the DM run it” rules. The (terse) descriptive test is excellent. The basement is described as “Its noticeably hotter and drier on this floor. Theres a sulfurous odor in the air.” That’s a GREAT general description of the level. The various rooms all get the same sort of terse but descriptive text. “Meeting room” Ok, now I know it’s a meeting room; I can fill some shit in for that out of my own head. It goes on to ONLY mention how this meeting room differs, the mess and the body on the table. Perfect descriptions. Highly recommended, but you are going to have to take a highlighter to it and go over it several times because of the non-traditional keying.

Citadel of the Severed Hand
By Rob S

A little adventure in an orc fort and caverns. There are at least three factions here which allow for some pretty strong RPG play in addition to the usual exploration and combat encounters. The various encounters have some good descriptive text: “Kitchen & Larder. … Bodies strung up with bowls collecting blood. Large beetles pinned to table with knives, some still squirming & fluttering wings.” I know how to describe a kitchen, so telling me that it’s a kitchen takes care of all the mundane nonsense. Then the designer told me what was interesting in this kitchen … and did it in a couple of GREAT flavorful sentences. I can run that room with minimal brainpower; its perfect. Hands nailed to doors, amputee slaves, weird magic helms, mushroom men … Recommended.

Devil’s Acre
By Roger SG Sorolla

A high-concept thing where the party protects a praying dude while waves of devils attack all night long. Based around the 7 deadly sins, many of the waves have themes. One or two are interesting, like the I’mp cooks with a firehose of dinner they fire at the party. Lust is pathetic: the praying guys greatest desire shows up and it attempts to tempt him … really? We’re being attacked by devils all night long, how is this anything other than everyone in party putting the smack down on ANYTHING that walks up all night long? The last night has a lot of true devils attacking … true devils are powerful. I’m not sure how anyone lives through this. The theme is too straight-forwardly applied and encounters too much the same for my tastes.

The Baleful Spring
By S.J. Harris

This is in the traditional 1-page format and is of a small river fort with a ship nearby. Lizardmen are raiding villages and the party sent to stop it. The Lizardmen say the people in the fort are charming them (and are possible allies? I like the possibility of monster allies! Think of all the fun RP’s a LG character while your Lizardmen allies eat people in combat, zombielike!) The for itself is not too exciting, with a couple of exceptions. First, there’s an implication that The Party IS Supposed To Be There … lots’ of people hesitate or shout warnings or assume the party are new recruits. More nice RP opportunities. There’s also nice tapestry that you can stare in to and get a magic sword from. Would have been cooler if you reached in to grab it instead of it appearing in your hands, but, small diff. The rest of the adventure is a bit … mundane. If you were running a low-magic or low-monster campaign, or something gritty, then this would fit in well. I like the RP, I like the human opponents and the eleven asshats, I just like a little more weird and fantastic in my adventures … stuff like that tapestry. Still, a fine adventure. Recommended.

Church of Consumption – By Simon Forster
Cute adventure about a church of gluttony. Nice theme & atmosphere. Shotgun shack map, totally linear. Simon could learn a thing or two about descriptions from a couple of others. He does a description of a storeroom that’s … A typical storeroom. That’s wasted. The whole “morbidly obese priests” thing is nice, as is the gullivered god that the cult is snacking on, as are the ghouls (who might even be allies!) The map in interesting, visually, but I suspect lacks during gameplay, and the theme of eating the dead god, giant meat grinders, obese priests, etc, is great also, but the execution lacks a bit. I’m pretty sure it’s The Description Problem I mentioned above. A good example is the cultists cave. It looks interesting, but we don’t really get anything interesting to work with from the text. It somehow feels incomplete, or maybe rushed? IDK. I thin it’s the strength of the theme combined with the lackluster descriptive text that is making me say that.

A Living-Dead Nightmare — Cristian Aviles
I have NO FUCKING CLUE what is supposed to go on here. It’s like the ravings of a madman. Maybe a non-native speaker? Anyway, this is a confusing mess. A BRILLIANT confusing mess. This is why I love the one page contests. You could take all the shit in this one page and build a pretty bitching campaign around it. Black demon. White Demon. Werewolf fort. Mother turned succubus. Lich killer-of-mothers-children. Forest of the dead. Bell of doom. Cave of Despair. Weird ass rogue archers ‘protectors’ of the town. Crazy beggar. That would be a bunch of bad ass stuff to sprinkle in a starting region around the home base.

Assault on the Goblin Hold — Scott Slomiany
A gimmicky little choose your own adventure solo thing. You need to cut it out, fold it, and make some more cuts. You end up with something similar to the BASIC program I wrote in 7th grade computer lab at Forest Manor. You’re gonna have to put some work in to this to assemble, but if you’re in to solo things then I suggest you do so. It’s a cute little thing, especially if you don’t spoil the adventure by reading ahead. It does start off with the goblins stealing a baby and a drunk guard, both of which are nice, strong, and classic elements that resonate well. Might be a nice 1-on-1 with a SO or kid also. Recommended, in those circumstances.

Bloodbath at Camp Terrahorra — Steve Johnson
Summer camp counselors and a maniac killer. Not really thing to this at all, just a map and some generic rules for when the killer shows up. That’s disappointing. It does make me think though that you could get away with a little story game set around the same concept. Something like Shab al-Hiri with fixed scenes, or something else with a DM and a lot of good tropes/NPC’s to mix in. You could have a pretty fun Total Drama Island light RPG with the killer mixed in. Someone go write it and do a decent job with NPC’s, scenes, random killer motivations/generation, and lots and lots of ideas for what happens. Everyone is familiar with the camp counselor horror/maniac thing; it would be a blast!

Brewer’s Backwoods — Doc Brewer
Hey! A hex crawl! I love those! 240ish hexes and about 34 encounters is a coverage of 12%. The encounters range from good to sucky … or from NOD/Wilderland to Isle of Unknown. Good hexes are “island of cursed souls WHO RISE AFTER MIDNIGHT” or “Nesting grounds of fearsome Hodag, WHOS EGGS ARE PRICELESS.” Note the inclusion of the adventure, which I’ve hi lighted for you in CAPS. Poorer ones don’t have the adventure included: “What lies behind the misty waterfall” or “A baneful aura lurks in this comet blast zone.” Interesting places, but they need the extra phrase to encourage ACTION. The wandering table provided has a lot of made up shit on shit & words on it, which appeals to my FUCK YOU, YOU FUCKING VICTORIAN CATALOGUERS! sensibilities. Haint. Glawackus, and squonks inhabit these woods, along with a shit ton of other stuff and more mundane things, like sneaky outlaws and laconic loggers. Again, note the adjective. More descriptions should do that. Would be better if ALL the wanderers were to something … Hex Crawls almost always end up on my Recommended list.

By Esophagus Brood — Dyson Logos
A return to the purple worm corpse. Not really a map in this one, but some great imagery. Worm-infested ents are great, and the man-eating apes work REALLY well (as opposed to the boring old Carnivorous Apes.) It’s got a decent little bit of an approach game, as the characters are assaulted from above while trying to gain the entrance of the worms mouth. Fetid worms erupting from walls, and a bad guy out of a bad Hentai tentacle video. This does a good job of setting the mood and brining the flavor through the use of the right adjectives and adverbs, which is the KEY element in being able to deliver good content in a terse format. Not much of an adventure, but one of the best (and shortest) D&D side-treks ever written.

Clown Robot Doctor Apocalypse — Dustin Brandt
Some kind of weird maze of catwalks, moving walkways and the like, straight out of every “city guts” section of every dystopian movie ever made. I was on the quiz team in high school. My specialty was Dystopian Societies. I FUCKING LOVE THIS ADVENTURE! The map conjures up the images of all those scenes and the hooks are all tied to the specific adventure locations within the “maze.” The creatures and wanderers are all nice, although the wanderers are, exclusively, in the “ROBOT THAT GONNA FUCK YOU UP” category. SOOOO worth it if you will ever play a sci-fi game in your life. Recommended. And a hearty “Fuck You!” to the judges for not recognizing your genius Dustin!

Combat Duality — Jon Picardi
A genero puzzle/combat room. It’s one of those sliding tiles games, where there are 9 tile positions and only 8 squares and you slide the tiles around to unmix them. But this time the tiles are whole rooms and there are two monsters in each room. One represents virtue and one represents vice, each having some special combat power. The virtue/vice monsters could have used a description. That, and a bit of a throw-away description for each room would have transported this from generic-land to something to fro in a game as a puzzle room. Maybe one room is full of bookcases and another full of fine china/glassware. You know, things that could cause the room to be INTERESTING when the party has an encounter in it. A combat with Pride in a room full of swinging meathooks full of sides of cattle? But Jon didn’t do that. Jon thinks its our job to do that. It’s not our job Jon, it’s your job.

Dinner at the In-Laws — Jim McGarva
Hey, Morningstar! THIS is the way you do shit! You get to wander around the in-laws house, having adventures. Those adventures will lower or raise your tolerance level, your perceived sociability, and impact your stomach capacity and spousal anger levels. You get to negotiate chatty aunts, asshole father-in-laws, the neighbors kids, your spouse, and sullen teens. Nice degree of humor, a situation most of us can relate to, and still manages to be a great game. I have no fucking clue who I could play this with … but I want to!

Dragon’s Den — Greg Haugh
I’m pretty sure Greg is trolling the contest, so bad is this adventure. 11-ish rooms, most with some bullshit name and bullshit ‘test’. “The Cavern of Strength Is filled with stones on the strongest can move past.” Ooohhhhh! Come up with that on your own did you Greg? “Reward is based on choices of players: Hammer of strength or Cloak of Acrobatics.” Room after room of this shit, in exactly the same format. Nice job Greg, you made Going to 11 monotonous. People who hate D&D should not write adventures for the game. Go pound a copy of Fiasco up your ass in your cave so the rest of us can have funs with our friends.

Echoes of Empire — Joe Pruitt
This is a mini-game hex crawl where you try to gather some troops to fight off the evil empire army showing up at your door in 12 days time. You start with a bag of gold, a couple of troops, and being told there are four villages nearby. They got 99 problems … uh … including the empire army. Go solve their problem and they donate troops. Or … make an alliance/pay off the people they have a problem with, piss off the villagers, but get some elven archers, or a dragon, or some zombie hordes! Decision & choices and role-playing opportunities and a little Armies Smash mini-mass combat thing at the end with the Empire … there’s more than enough goodies in this to fill a nice evening of gaming. I usually don’t go for 1-on-1 games, but this one is a good one. Recommended.

Escape from the City of Madness — Ed Nicholson
This adventure in the sewers sucks a fuck ton less than almost every other sewer adventure I’ve ever seen. I can’t recall a better one, but I’ve gotten black-out drunk a lot from doing Dungeon reviews, so I may be forgetting one. Anyway, this one rocks because SOMETHING IS GOING ON.It’s set in a totalitarian city so the city guards are called Stormtroopers. It’s right out of some WW2 film or maybe the Necromungers in the city in Riddick. You’ve been hidden by a baker in a secret room in his shop, and you hear the Stormtroopers drag him away for questioning! I have no idea why this resonates so much. The rest has you breaking open a crack to escape, the crack leading to the sewers, and stumbling across shit in them. A dead guy under a huge stone. Two dude who tunnel through a wall near you, just breaking out of the gulag. The bottom of the main Execution Pit in the main punishment courtyard as they are tossing down prisoners in to the a big spider web a few feet below you in the sewers … and oh shit! The baker is one of them! And then theres a bunch of traditional fantasy stuff also, almost all of it well done. There’s a setting implied here, told through the encounters. Perfect! The map in this sucks shit, but the vibe is great. Highly Recommended.

Faery Ring to Alpha Ari — Paul Gorman
Faeries AND a space station! Be still my lonely heart! A fairy ring sends to you a space station where you encounter the usual assortment of robots, weird gardens, lack of gravity, hentai monsters, and so on. There’s an extra element of antsy here, with healing pools, tiny villages, pixies in space suits (all dead) and so on. I think its a passable adventure with enough interesting going on to take a look. Some of it could use a little more detail (Hedge Maze, I’m looking at you) and I don’t feel the wanderers do the adventure justice (oh boy, rats. Joy.) but overall I think it’s a nice little environment. Could use a little more to play with, maybe, and the fungus needs some differentiation other than color, but not bad. I’d put this on the edge of being Recommended.

Games People Play — Eric Harshbarger
Fractal adventure. Explore an old 14-room house on a sea cliff, collecting gems, until you meet the Lich owner who takes you down to the living room to play some D&D, where your characters roll up characters who play in the adventure you just played, and so on. Mostly uninteresting, although the NPC’s are pretty nice. You meet a guy carrying a body, with blood on this hand and his dagger missing. The body is that of a ghost you find a different room and in still a different room you find a body with a dagger in its chest. That kind of In Media Res really gets me off and it’s done well here. There’s just not enough flavor for me to sustain this as a DM.

Golden Triangle — Dylan Hartwell
A kind of mini-game of low-class arena combat. It’s pretty mechanical, and those parts suck. The descriptive parts are worth stealing though. Half-hearted crowds, bored guards, haggard wizards … This is defiantly the ‘F’ list for the Kumite leagues. But 80% of the page is covered with a useless map and some boring tables about who you fight and what you get to fight with. This needed a shit-ton less of that and more adjectives & adverbs, and more interesting entires on the tables. “A codfish” would be a good thing to find in the weapon chest. “Orphan with rag doll” would be a great opponent. Do more of that and less boring.

Great Library Of Hypatia — ProBono
Rought roh raggy! The great temple is on fire! Looters from the marketplace are all over picking up goodies while priests from the temple scurry about protecting their stuff. And, of course, the place is on fire. It’s a great set up with a lot of potential but is presented as “random occupants + random loot” in each room. That doesn’t do this justice. I can deal with generic Scum but the Rabble Rousers that you encounter, who summon more scum, are just screaming for extra detail and the generic “gold plates” treasure is lame. I would TOTALLY throw in some price temple stuff instead of just generic “gold plate” treasure. I really think the random element should shave been abandoned and it keyed traditionally with a brief sentence for a rabble rouser and some decent treasure. The concept it good enough that its almost worth it to flesh it out on your own. Almost.

Hall of Five Elements — Justin Peeples
Oh boy, an elemental-themed puzzle adventure! And it’s symmetrical! Let me file it right here NEXT TO THE FIVE MILLION OTHER CRAPPY ADVENTURES THAT HAVE DONE THE SAME THING. Do you want five or six elemental themed puzzles generically presented with a generic hook/introduction? Then this is the adventure for you! Seriously kids, give your fucking adventure some soul! Make the rooms interesting! And no, massive text blocks describing the puzzle/trap do not count as soul. If you can’t make a memorable room in the first three sentences then try again. You can fill the rest with your mechanics, but the initial description has to be interesting & wonderful. It has to make me want to run the room and be excited about it.

Hobrock — Lee Mohnkern
This is a hobgoblin fort. I like monster lairs. Humans/humanoids hiding out in their bandit HQ, guard patrols, watchtowers … all cool. But not in this one. This sucks the life out of things. A good monster fort exists kind of out of time. It’s described as a place, with a routine, and who lives their and what they are doing. It should NOT center around the party. You should find dudes dozing, or shooting dice, or sleeping, or whatever. The boss, especially a smart one like a hob, should have some plan for invasion. This one further goes off the rails by describing what mundane contents of the rooms. Don’t do that. Name the room “Armoury” and then describe why the room is special. Everyone can fill in the mundane, your job as the designer is to go beyond that. This doesn’t do that. The leader hangs out in his own room “preferring to face the party on his own terms.” and the guards react stupid. LAME-O!

Island Grave of Alsiaurignis — Giuseppe Rotondo
A FANTASTIC LOCATION that falls down. Applesauce (which I’m going to use instead of the title, since I don’t care to remember to spell it every time I type it) was the mother of magic before she died. She was a dragon. When she died her bones were turned to gold. The island has wild pack dragons on it and flying around it. Snow apes live on the island in great numbers (which is now covered in snow) and there are great caves full of their bones. Her bones lie in an island in the center of a volcano, along with some generic loot. You can loot her, or bring her back to life. She doesn’t sound like too much of a dick, can identify items ad teach you spells! This adventure flirts with greatness. it’s got a good idea (the mother of magic) and a nice idea for a location (island, volcano) and even a nice twist (wanna bring her back?!) but fails on the execution. Too much space is spent on getting to the island and the guards and the dragon patrols and the … well … everything that is NOT interesting. The items, cult, totems, volcano and the ilk needed more, or the island needed more fantasy. Mother of Magic, remember?! Her island/tomb should be CrAzY! You need to channel your inner Zarathustra to fill the place with flavor & imagery (IE: adjective & adverbs) to bring the place ALIVE! Instead we learn that 1d6-2 dragons patrol the skies over the seas with a 36% chance for detection and this is modified by .02% if you keep to the … oh fuck it. When you have a choice of being mechanistic or romantic then choose to be the romantic dreamer in your writing. Quick Silver Boychild.

Key of Dissension — Adam Taylor
I have absolutely no fucking idea what this is. Some kind of mini-game/wargame? It’s got a map but the map doesn’t seem to relate to anything in the text except some of the symbols are the same? You Go through six encounters per plevel, for ten levels, according to the text. Then you fight the guardian and win? There’s some kind of movement mechanic/action mechanic/combat mechanic thingies but I have no idea how they work. But then again I have a degree in Logic. Hang on, let me drop some acid. Nope. Still no idea. This is cool:Puzzle room: DM may insert a puzzle or just have the players pick a number to see if they go on to the next lane. Uh …. ? It notes that the ghouls can be easily killed … but they have half the HP of the characters? Seriously man, this is your intervention: get off the drugs. I know good drug-feuled work. This ain’t it … it’s just unintelligible. And, gentle, readers, don’t go looking for this to take joy in weird stuff. It nonsensical, but not in a good way.

Kibhur’s Dungeon — C. Martins
Eight linear encounters in a puzzle dungeon, based around a Rubik’s Cube. I like riddle props. A couple of the rooms are incomprehensible to me. I have no idea how the chess puzzle works, and the illusion puzzle seems a bit arbitrary for a trap. There’s good use of illustrations … or, rather, I feel like there should be if I could understand the damn puzzles. As puzzle/riddle dungeons go this is one of the better ones. Or would be if it were more comprehensible. The treasures are a bit generic, if that: “reward them with a nice treasure.” Sorry buckaroo, I expect you to do that work for me when I’m turning to a work that is supposed to do that work for me. Sidenote: there’s an amusing typo. When you play a harp the minotaur does not turn Harmless, he instead turns armless. I like the armless thing better. :) If I wanted a riddle/puzzle thing I’d use this.

Kingfisher — Nick Wedig
Espionage mission that tries too hard with presentation. Are you doing an art project or creating an advent? Pick One. Small building map, barebones outline, and three/four NPC’s presented. it’s supposed to be a secret fetch quest type thing, maybe with some bribery. I used to play a lot of Danger International in high school. You know how we handled this shit? We assaulted from three sides and shot the fuckers in the head, took the laptop, and escaped. What’s the scene in ‘Bastards? “You’ll be court martialed!” *thinks* “Nah. I’ll be chewed out. I been chewed out before.” Bare bare bones adventure.

La Bassee — Jason Morningstar
You know how to tell this one sucks? It’s got Morningstars name on it. I like The Roach, but man, this is just some kind of art high school school senior project. Yes, I’m using that as an insult. It’s my universal stand in for Style over Substance, and the style sucks. You’re traumatized soldiers in France, returning to the scene of your WW1 battles. You travel back in time/memories blah blah blah “a company of men travel down this road for the first time to the sound of the guns in the distance. Only memories come back.” or something. Gag Puke. It’s a fucking rpg not psychotherapy. Pretentious high concept shit.

Lost Banner — Philipp Hajek
There’s some good imagination here but it’s disconnected in places. Nice backstory about knights, bandits, and a gargoyle, and the monsters in the adventure make sense from that standpoint. I particularly like the zombie hunting dog. The carpet trap is nice, and the rotting stairs/escape from the zombie dog thing is good also. But then some of the items are disconnected. A random table to find what’s in a chest? Couldn’t that space have been used better? Or the whole “rocking chair friends” things; I just don’t get it. Also, the wardrobe; the magical effect seems out of place, even though I do like the butterfly brooch. A little less mechanistic and a little more Fantastic would have helped this. Either go for rotted house or magic house, or even both, but be consistent in the rooms and theme each one a bit better. The ending with the gargoyle is very nice; the monster makes sense.

Memento Mori — Jeff McKelley
Uh … I don’t know? An old house/dungeon what housed a family who worshiped the Old Ones. Fish people stuff in the intro, and a bunch of shit that feels like it should fit together in to a puzzle (mostly because the text says so) but I have NO idea what the puzzle is. The various locations don’t really have anything interesting going on, the original sin of adventures. It’s just a bunch of throw off crap (13 portraits hang on the walls of the gallery” without anything to put it all together or tie the rooms to each other.

Midnight At Halcyons Coven — Marten Zabel
A modern super-villian lair, but this time it’s cultists in an old missile silo. You’re trapped and trying to escape, bout two hours before the cult completes the ceremony that destroys the world. The base is described as a PLACE, with routines and guards and a timeline, just exactly the way a setting/location should be described for an adventure like this. The base is a mix of the mundane and the supernatural, which, again, fits well. This needs one more STRONG edit to prune back the wording … but not for the usual reasons. The font size is too small to read. I don’t usually complain about such presentation-layer things, except when they get in the way and get in the way they do here. A final strong edit should have helped. The, uh, supernatural hungry thing (spoilers!) is described twice. Library, lab, kitchen, mess, barracks could have all lost at least one sentence and maybe more without impacting the adventure in a negative way. The resulting increase in space would allow a larger font, which is my only complaint. Recommended.

Miscegenation of the Ancients — Eero Tuovinen
Too high concept for it’s own good. Let’s go adventuring in Noah’s Ark! It’s got three levels, but no map is provided. The vast majority of this is devoted to a kind of “ark generator” which describes the features you find when you explore the ark, the and the hybrid creatures that inhabit it. These sections, the majority of the adventure, are soulless. Then it hit some Nietzsche level shit, with is super-fab! “ The remaind of the Gibborim Hoard that financed…” “the hoard is the patrimony of the tenth patriarch and consists solely of Nephilim-struck antediluvian gold” and “The bones of the First Man are on this floor, seeping myth and bestowing resistance to original sin.” That shit Is bad ass! It’s too bad it’s buried in mechanical soulless crap. :(

Old Guard Tower — Aaron Frost and Mundi King
This has a little 3d tower cross-section you can print on card stock and then use as terrain. That’s cool. The adventure, though, is boring as all fuck. “Third Floor: Two orcs rummage through tower supplies.” Good thing you told me that. There’s a whole “light the watchtower fire and defend the tower from the orcs until rescue comes” thing going on, along with a gargoyle ally, but three’s just not enough interesting content here to make this worthwhile. It needs some more gonzo/weird/or interesting stuff going on in the tower, or more opportunities during the assault or defense to add drama.

Prehistoric Kickboxing Killer Turkeys — Jacob Wood
You are hungry dinosaurs who enter a cave looking for food. You die of boredom. The end. I’m not sure how you can take such a find]e premise and ruin it, but Jacob does. Oh, look, rats you can eat! Oh, and a river that takes up too much text space because of the need to explain how everything works! And … a cavewoman and caveman! Who are instantly awake and attack! YAWN There’s no life or soul in this, just a Ha Ha, look at me, you’re dinosaurs and you go in to eat people Ha Ha thing going on. “You see, it’s a commentary on the social, with the juxtaposition between ‘ blah blah blah. It’s lame when art school kids do it, it’s lame when Ai Weiwei does it, and it’s lame when you do it Jacob. Put up or shut up. Unfortunately, neither is done here. You need to provide some content and something interesting going on for the players to interact with. A river ain’t it.

Surface — Leslie J. Furlong
Not really a dungeon, more of a poem in a non-traditional format. And because I’m a critic and artists LUV critics: Reading through it does deliver the tension that is relieved when you break out to the light of the surface. This is a nice piece of creative work. The whole “you sense, you feel you smell” thing is a little hokey, but the repetition of the elements does serve to reinforce the vibe created which is then busted when you reach the surface in a wonderful tension breaking scene. I wonder if the repetition could have been left out and the same effect obtained? Or if the bolding in the Surface breakout section was necessary? I think I’m saying that because I read this as an adventure, to begin with, and the sense thing was a turn off. Rereading it as a poem probably alleviates those comments/concearns. Recommended, but again, it’s a shot poem and not an adventure. :)

Techno Bandit HQ — Robert Render
Uh … Mega-generic adventure. Non-english speaker or troll? Just a list of rooms and how many bandits are in each room, with no context to the entire thing. “2-3 bandits, -2 because of their welding masks” … That kind of shit is good, but completely out of context. I’m really at a loss here. Uh … if there’s a vision then it wasn’t communicated. Maybe an intro/backstory would help?

Temple of the Demon Speakers — Andreas Folkesten
This has a spark in one or two places but is of lackluster quality overall. An old temple with bandits hiding in it. The party is sent to take care of the bandits … will they explore further?!? It has “sheep women”, a maze you can walk to summon a demon to do your bidding, and an amulet that lets you speak to demons in your dreams … but no health/spell recovery when you do it. All nice. But the rest is a little generic. “They did evil things” is not good. TELL me about the evil things they did. Show, don’t tell. It’s also too generic in places: “The liquid in the pool does dangerous things.” Again, show me, or provide some imagery/flavor. I still can’t figure out what a sheep-woman is. Rule 34? I don’t know. Anyway, nice hook to the adventure in hunting bandits leading to temple exploration, but “EVIL TEMPLE” should never be allowed to be typed again. “Temple of virgin impalement.” or “temple of dog/human caterpillars” does a much better job of not imposing labels … and still totally getting your point across.

Ten Minute Dungeon — Donny Sanchez
Donny used a weird font for this adventure, which made it very hard to read. I decided to not review it because the font was impossible to read. Donny & I are the logical end of the choices we’ve made in our pasts.

The Black School — Fco. Javier Barrera
An old school of magic that has a passage to The Evil Ones prison. The school of magic portion of this is not very interesting/mostly boring with few if any fantastic elements or interesting things going on. There is a nice “familiars soul trapped in a gem” thing, but you have to swallow the gem for the effects. Dungeon of the Bear did this also, if I recall. Who the fuck the swallows gems? Did I miss that meme/fairy tale? Anyway, nice little headmaster/ghost thing going on, and the antechamber of the evil one has some nice imagery you can work with. There’s also a nice NPC outside the tomb (you’re #2 on the scene!) which some decent motivations for exploring. If the school had been better this would have been a strong adventure.

The Blackacre Heist — Roland Volz
A modern heist/espionage adventure. Six possible Evil Bad Guys/motivations and six possible variations presented, along with a basic floor plan of the top level. So, not an adventure, just a collection of ideas. Maybe you want to use this to build a Shadowrun adventure off of, or something similar. The variations and motivations are quite nice, but there’s not really enough meat here to go forward. It’s all background no substance.

The Broken Ring — Michael Llaneza
In this pretentious piece of crap Llaneza condescends to tell us how to run a space station adventure. The sad part is that once their head comes out other ass the designer actually does provide some decent imagery. “The detritus of a child’s birthday party drifts lonely n the dark.” Solid Gold, as is the the of the half dozen or so ‘Impressions’ thrown in as an afterthought. The rest if just a list of questions like “why are the characters here” and “how wrong is their intel” combined with suggestions like “blind them with science” and “make them sweat to work it out” and some other environmental advice like “get them lost” and “cut off their escape.” Everyone, please, in unison tilt back your head slightly and look down your nose and repeat in a nasally academic manner “My intent was to teach how to design an adventure and give the storyteller the tools they need to develop their own stories.” Did you make it the entire way without throwing up a little in your mouth? I didn’t. :(

The Devil’s Cell — Matt Mueller
As a fantasy adventurer you should always carry a good supply of wet weather gear. That way you will never be driven to seek shelter in The Old Tower/Ruin/Hamlet/Hovel. No good ever comes form that. Likewise, as a Modern-era player you should always have a suicide tooth so the next time you wake up in a prison cell is no/little memory of what has happened, you end the suffering immediately. What follows is ALWAYS a fucked-up piece of shit. This time you’re in an empty prison and “the creature” roams about. You go on fetch quest after fetch quest to get a key to open a box that has a key to another box that has a key to BLECH. Lame. The only good moment in this is finding a body with a shiv in it that you can pull out to use. Otherwise the environments are devoid of anything interesting to interact with. There’s more than enough space left over to have provided some more cool scenes, etc. I would put this solidly in the ‘I had an idea’ stage of development. The designer should have spent a lot more time on it ad finished it.

The Diamond of Hishep-Ratep — Heikki Hallamaa
This might be another side-trek appropriate adventure. It describes a small tomb under a fountain wherein a legendary figure, and big ass honking diamond, are buried. It’s got a nice ‘tree root horror’ thing going on, with both a root abomination and some ‘root-infested prophets in caskets’ stuff going on. It tries to use a little Persian backstory, but nothing persian comes across. It also tries to add a central focus on some water, but not much comes through with that. “Most of the room is full of water” is not amazing adventure design. But overall this works. The imagery around the prophets and last room with the root thing is great, as is the kind of overall “try grove, fountain, statue, tomb” thing going on. IE: the elements seem to match and tie back in to each other, which develops a kind of continuity through the back references that I think allows a player imagination to play with. Nice job on this. Or, maybe, I just liked the concept of an alien prophet/alien world teleport. But a 6-month trip COULD punish instead of reward. Recommended.

The Eternal Maze of the Minotaur — Ken Gatzemeyer
Generic random crap. Wander the random dungeon having random encounters until the DM rolls a ‘1’ enough times for you get to the key to get out. It devotes half a page to a generic background “ohs no! you’re betrayed and captured and escape through the sewers to the maze!” Here’s an idea that, in retrospect, I’m sure you will agree with Ken: take that half page and do something interesting with it in your adventure. Make the tables more colorful. Add detail. Turn it in to something other than a generic dice-rolling random crap-fest.

The Halls of Power — Michael Getridge
Oh! Someone had an idea! Which is great! Except you then have to flesh OUT the idea, which hasn’t been done here! It’s a schematic! For a high voltage circuit! To get the EMMc stones! Get it?! The room are devoid of interesting shit/descriptions! Burnout! Look man, you should have played up with techno aspect more. Nice descriptions for the hallways, mercs, rooms, resistors, etc. Terse & evocative descriptions are the key to success. Flavor without verbosity. The Fantastic without a Wall of Text.

The Issue of Blipdoolpoolp — Erik-Karl Read
A pretty standard low tide/high tide sea cave dungeon. It’s got a decent vertical element to it, which I always enjoy. Only about 1/5th of the adventure is devoted to the keys, with th rest being some EHP descriptions, rumors, background, how the tide works, etc. Almost all of the non-eyed information is lackluster and adds little. The keyed encounters are mostly the same, with a couple of exceptions. There’s a nice collapsed cistern that acts as a blowhole, with fetid smells and the sea coming out of it. Otherwise it’s just your standard fish-men & brood stuff, with not much interesting content.

The Jester’s Tomb — Dan Roy aka Bogie
Yet another puzzle dungeon. Eleven rooms of arbitrary not-fun. If you’re going to put puzzles and traps in as a main feature then you need to give hints. This mostly fails at that. You get maybe 1, that the jester liked silver, which helps in one room. Otherwise its arbitrary. The third person to enter is teleported naked to a guard room. Gee, fun for them for the rest of the night. Turn thew handle right and die, turn it left and solve the puzzle. Ok, so, the party should rig something up if they don’t know the answer, but, its more fun for players if they think all the hard work they put in to thinking will pay off. Give them the rope to hang themselves or climb up to the treasure vault!

The Lost Temple of Tyrandraxu — Joshua J. Laboskie
Yet Another Generic Ruined Temple. Yet more room descriptions that waste time telling me what the map already says. The overall mythology is nice: loch king rules land, ram headed god comes down, rips off horn to feed the people, then kills loch king. (which is a perfect excuse for … a horn of plenty!) There’s also a nice fire trap that can bypassed by purifying oneself, but no clue that you SHOULD do that. Finally, there’s a nice little room complex section with a monster in it. I first saw this, or recognized it anyway, in a 4e product … Shadowfell? And it struck me as interesting there and it strikes me as interesting in this. Many products will toss in a monster and saw it wanders through Z, Y, X, but putting it in an environment in which it’s contained, interesting, and yet doesn’t seem forced is something else. Some extra effort in descriptive language would have made a large impact in this.

The Mad Riddlers Halls — Christian Hollnbuchner
Another linear riddle dungeon. Where Kibhur used the environment in the riddles to great effect, this one instead has the traditional “there’s a locked door that only opens when you solve the riddle” trope. Guess which one is better! That’s right, NOT the bullshit/arbitrary/door locked one. Otherwise it’s got five pretty common riddles/puzzles to overcome. Significantly bland and it uses a fuck-deup hard to read font to boot! Oh Boy! You can’t make me work to read your adventure; I’m not going to do it voluntarily. The goal is to HELP the DM, not make it a pain in the ass for them. Standard “step on the letters on the floor” puzzle. Standard “guess the riddle” puzzle, etc. :(

The Misty Pond — Mike Monaco
I usually want to see some flavor text in an adventure encounter. There are rare instances in which longer descriptions work other rare instances in which a militant minimalism works. This is an example of the later. In two small paragraphs Mike lays out the background. Eight sentences. That’s it. That provides the lens through which the rest of the adventure is then viewed and allows the minimalist descriptions to work. How minimalist? How about “ Flail Snail.” or “6 giant ants. They can walk on water.” That is the sum total of two of the encounters. And yet they work. Just those words, when combined with the intro and the small “environment” section gets your imagination worked up enough to run the rest of the adventure and fill in the details. The “who can walk on water” thing is GENIUS. Everyone knows water bugs and has chased them in creeks as a kid. [Trivia: in Indy the creeks serve as overflow runoff for the sewers during the rainy season. Yeah for picking up gold balls and hunting crawfish in the shit streams!] Anyway, the “rooms” make sense. The monsters make more sense than in the vast majority of shit I see. The troll and undead remind me of the ones in Fallen Jarl, which is certainly one of the best portrayals of the dead in fantasy adventures. My only complaint is the treasure and MAYBE the flowers. The treasure needs a description and the flowers could use a random table or something. But, still, Highly Recommended.

The Parched Throat — Intrepid Eddie
Someone’s been watching In Search Of. This is an Oak Island knock-off which works. There’s a deep pit, filled with dirt, wood log floors, a giant bronze floor, and so on. The various levels have quite a few different things going on, including a nice death trap at the end. The McGuffin is at the bottom. This would be a nice little location for players searching for artifact destroyers, or some other legendary thingy. It’s kind of a mini tomb of horrors, but without the nonsense found in all the clones of ToH. It’s got a nice puzzle aspect to it, and, played in a very open-ended way (ala the real history of Oak Island) would be a wonderful location to drop in to a game.

The Revelry at Pickett Castle — Alex Cirsova
Nice concept but very incomplete and needs more cowbell. You arrive at a castle to find it overtaken by monsters: a flesh golen, a wolf man, some vampires, zombies and ghouls. They are all dancing to a record player. The guy in the lab says his assistant has been captured and could you please remove the monsters? The only direct allusion to The Monster Mash is the name Pickett, in the title. It feels incomplete because there doesn’t seem to be any way to get the misters to leave, other than smash the music … which is suicide. I suspect Boris has something to do with it or I’m forgetting some lyric from the song. Anyway, two ghouls making out in a bedroom “Do you mind?” and some zombies passing a joint in the other bedroom were welcome additions. There needed to be a few more details like this and a little less “generic undead monster in the woods.”

The Sea Tower — Scott W Roberts
Uh … Vague description of an adventuring environment. Writing “its a giant dyson sphere with various decks and each section is different” is not an adventure. Writing a table to populate the various decks that says “1. Plants 2. Aliens 3. People 4. Machines” is not an adventure. I’m quite disappointed by the lack of detail and the generic description of an environment. “Its a planet. It has land masses and seas. You can have adventures on the planet with stuff.” Uh …. Ok. If you say so.

The Subterranean Maze of Aarthal — Nicolas Senac
Another maze with another minotaur. This one emphasizes the lack of light and food. There may be some language issues … walls carved with vultures all have very expensive gem eyes? Or maybe just the various statues are of vultures with gem eyes? Anyway, minor point/mistake. The rooms are scattered with gear and equipment and a monster or two. There’s some weird random teleported thing going on but the main problem is that rooms are … that’s right! Devoid of good descriptions. There’s just some generic contents listed, as if one took the random tables in the back of the 1E DMG and rolled on them. The spark and joy of the adventure is not presented.

The Tavern at the Edge of the World — Jim Pacek
Uh … maybe I’m missing something here. It’s a tavern. Small. Pretty boring descriptions. Nothing of note or of interesting in the place. Yes, that’s right, I’m calling the magic genie who lives in the oven and makes food “boring & uninteresting.” You know why? Because it’s written as being boring and uninteresting. Where’s the romance? Where’s the wonder? Where’s the fantastic. Fuck, where is The Edge of the World? It’s not even implied anywhere in here. You gotta breathe life in to this shit in order to inspire the DM running it. This is just static words on a page. Chrome Leather Lover.

The Witch’s Hut — Kevin Flynn
This thing tries too hard. It’s a witch hut with a single room, but a couple of portals to other places. It tries overly hard to force certain behaviors. For example, the hut reflects all spells 100%. You can’t see inside the hut. You have to go through the door one at a time. None of that is really necessary though. Inside are four things: a bed, a chair, a fireplace, and a cupboard. You could let the players burn the fucking place and just keep those four things intact … AS IF BY MAGIC. See? Simple. The exterior of the hut has some good flavor around it and springs to mind, in the middle of bog, in a low section, brambles grown up and mixed in as an upside-down birds nest. The descriptive text then falls down once you go inside and in two of the three extra-dimensional sub-areas. It also uses “discs” as magic tokens … that’s generic and lame. Internal organs, or torcs, or something else could have added a lot of flavor.

Thoorsten’s Treasure — Leicester
A wizard tomb/lair. Or, shall I say … A MOTHER FUCKING SORCERER! This brings the silly/gonzo shit I like, especially for sorcerers. Most of the map is kind of non-sensical and doesn’t really mean anything, except for the ‘gotcha!’ pattern in the last room. The encounters are silly and magical. A horde of magical boots attack. Bureaucratic homunculi abound, asking for id’s and pushing paperwork. Lots of wasted space in this one but what is present is GOLD.

Tower of the Toad Lord — John Hazen
Sigh. Ruined sunken tower in a swamp. It’s boring. How do you make shit like this boring? By describing the obvious, that’s how! “A door to the sat and stairs to the west are in this 30’ square room.” No fucking shit Sherlock, the fucking map told me that. YOU’VE managed to waste my time, make the text harder to read/find the important parts, and turn me off thanks to your shit description of the mundane details shown on the fucking map. “The kitchen has a fireplace.” ARGGGG!!!!!!!! Spend your fucking text points describing the great and fantastic parts of the room. You know that cursed guy downstairs, you know, the only good part of this adventure? Maybe DO SOME MORE SHIT LIKE THAT INSTEAD OF TELLING ME HOW BIG THE FUCKING ROOM IS!!! Why people think that BORING is acceptable is beyond me. Maybe they have no examples to work from. IDK. It sucks. Dream Devil Dancer.

Trouble’s Root — Fraser Nelund
Boring stupid dungeon of boringness. Themed around two rapscallion brothers … who turn to arming hobgoblins & ogres so they can massacre human villages. That’s literally how the thing is presented: wayward youth … who turn to massacring their own. Could have used JUST a bit more there. But that’s not why this sucks. No, this sucks because it’s mundane. The dungeon has little to nothing fantastic or interesting about it. Just a collection of mundane rooms who’s mundane contents are described. You don’t need to tell me what’s in a kitchen, or armory, or workshop. I know that. I can describe that. Just put in a room name. “Kitchen.” Now, tell me what’s different or new or exciting or fantastic about this place! What what’s it special? Why was it important enough for you waste a map location on? Why was it important enough to include? This doesn’t do that. It just describes what’s in the kitchen. Or armory. Or workshop. Lame.

Vault of Vintage — Barry Pace
Linear adventure in a 6 room wine cellar. 4 evil faeries, a sediment ooze, and a wine troll. The platinum cork screw and wine stoppers of healing are nice treasures, but the adventure just seems to wry commentary on wine culture. And not a clever one at that. The same & usual generic language. The troll gets a description (Great!) and the sediment ooze has some flavor (grape pulp and leftover yeast) but everything else is generic. Evil Faeries and Generic environments & language do not provide the flavor or help or inspiration a DM is looking for.

Vertigo — Rodney Sloan
Battle above the clouds, so to speak, on high towers in the city. If you think “Vornheim” before reading this then you’ll get a good vibe off of it. Needs more though. The Rogue Mage needs 0E type spells, and the minotaur needs to catching some rays and drinking beer and pissed at being interrupted, and so on. I like the “rooftops” chase thumbing and I like fantastic elements more than I like the ones in “Acrobats only need apply”, but the lack of … interesting things? Makes this overly bland. Crashing through a skylight? Great! “generic “blast” spell? Not so great. How about Shingle Blasts or something like that? And the archers really need to be in church steeples, etc. Lacking the extra bits of details needed to make it super fab.

Posted in Reviews | 5 Comments

Dungeon Magazine #28

d28

Spelljammer baby! Kick! ASS!

Also, Steve Stolph, from Medina Ohio, wants to know why an NPC Druid in a previous Dungeon adventure has a spell that is not on the list of allowed Druid spells. Published adventures set an example for people and for many will be how they learn to play. OD&D NPC wizards shot lazer beams from their nipples and summoned blue cloud of sparkly shrinking dust. Rules are for players. Judges judge.

Sometimes I want to retire from my job and make a career of rewriting these adventures to make them actually useful. This issue shows hope. Photocopy or cut/paste would do wonders for several of the adventures herein.

[b]The Pipes of Doom
Kristofer Wade
AD&D/Battlesystem
Levels 6-10[/b]

This little railroad is composed of 7 encounters, all in a row, squeezed in between two Battlesystem battles. Evil Iggy has a little mashed-up evil army composed of a dozen different creature types and is attacking the little Hamlet of Pigstye. The party is recruited to help and lead the good guys army. The first day they loose, badly, because a lich employed by Evil Iggy has some magic bagpipes. That night the bagpipes are stolen by from Korred. The party is sent in to get the pipes so they can’t be used again. You then suffer through 5 unavoidable and boring fights (werewolves, trolls, owl bears, dragon, manticore) before some elves lead to the Korrad. There they laugh at you while fucking with you. Evil heroes attack, you defeat them, and are given the pipes as a reward. On the next days battle the party has a better chance thanks to the artifact not being in Evil Iggy’s army.

This thing rubs me raw on so many levels. The first Battlesystem battle is irrelevant; it’s just a plot hook to show off the pipes. The mashed-up army of ogres, orcs, loch, drow, fire giant, humans, demons is something I have ALWAYS hated. You have to stretch pretty far to come up with a backstory to make it all work. The railroaded encounters in the woods are just there to drain resources. They are not interesting at all and offer little more then “they attack.” Then of course the Korrad and their arrogance/laughter at the party. That’s right, I enjoy having my 10th level PC laughed at because of some DM bullshit. And of course, they are actually good guys because they fight to capture instead of kill. “Why do you interrupt our dancing?” Because you, Mr Korrad, like all the Kender and Dragonborn and Gnomes before you, deserve death. Oh, and the pipes, of course, can’t be used by the party. Why the hell would you ever want to give something powerful to the party, heaven forbid. Ug. The only positive trait I found here was one of the kneaders of the good army is evil. Something similar was done in Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle and I liked it then as well. The portrayal of competent, evil, and non-phychotic leadership is few & far between in D&D and the game could use more of it.

[b]Manden’s Meathooks
Allen Varney
D&D
Levels 4-6[/b]

Two pages describing a straightforward ambush by brigands who use a Hurricane Lamp. You need two pages for that?

[b]Sleepless
Michael Shel
AD&D
Levels 9-12[/b]

This is an exploration/fetch quest inside a keep with about eight levels and fifths rooms. What makes it interesting is … the faction play! There are a ton of NPC’s running around the place and then four OTHER groups show up. You see, the arch-mage that lived here died. Kind of. And he sold his soul to multiple parties in exchange for power. And then he died. But his soul didn’t show up. So the buyers and/or their agents show up in the castle to see what’s up and collect. And his castle is stuffed full of his apprentices and staff. AND the party are lied to to get them in to the adventure. And the Soul Patrols are lied to. We end up with something that FEELS very social but can turn in to an explosion at any moment. The designer gets usability to a large degree. The NPC’s are detailed in a table THAT ALSO NOTES WHERE THEY CAN BE FOUND IN THE KEYED ENTRIES. The Soul Patrols have personalities, as do the apprentices and the castle rooms have a bit of flair to them … some of them anyway. Hell even the hook is good: while passing by at night the party sees a tower of the castle erupt in eldritch green flame and then sees a body hanging from the window. Which then falls to the ground as the party approaches. There’s no way in fucking hell ANYBODY is going to ignore that hook, no matter how jaded the player. And that is the key to a good hook: an appeal to the player rather than the character. My chief complaint would be that too much space is spent describing the mundane portions of the castle. No one needs a paragraph to describe a normal hallway. One of the NPC’s also wears one of those annoying “can’t detect my lie/read my mind” things, in order to launch the adventure. I REALLY hate that kind of thing, and there’s several “can’t passwall and can’t teleport” sorts of things going on with the castle walls, another axe of mine. Lowering the power level would have taken care of that nicely. There’s a lot of crap in Dungeon that is not worth looking at or saving. This is not one of those. At a minimum you could steal the hook, NPC’s, floor plan ,and visitors easily enough, in about 5 minutes, and then maybe spend some time with some quick notes on the castle and you’d have a pretty good adventure. “Ah, yes Sirs, excuse me. A Mr. Demon Prince of Layer 546 is here. He says he has come calling about the soul? Would it be too much trouble for me to ask of you …?”

[b]Night of Fear
Mark Lucas
D&D
Level 1[/b]

Doppleganger in an inn. 13 people in the inn and the ganger wants to take the place of one and not kill TOO many of the others. He’s tired of traveling and thinks taking over an inn would be a swell idea, but he needs those employees intact so he doesn’t actually have to work! This is too long for what it is. The NPC’s should be laid out in a table with less emphasis on stats and gear and more on quick personality reference, for use during play by the ref. There is a nice little table of “stupid things the NPC’s say after each murder.” which I think would be VERY helpful during a game. It’s presented as the typical keyed encounter setting but, again, it would have been much better with a very minimally keyed map. A cute trick of using animals to detect the ganger is presented, but otherwise I don’t need an exhaustive list of the contents of a serving girls room in order to run this.

[b]Visitors from Above
Shonn Everett
AD&D Spelljammer
Levels 4-8[/b]

This is … strange. While listed as a Spelljammer adventure it’s really just a plain jane adventure and a couple of Spelljammer ships on the ground that COULD be explored. It takes almost 6 pages of background and (boring) fluff before something happens. The party sees a falling star, follows it, finds a dwarf you tells them his buddies were captured by pirates. The players follow, assault a ship and then go to some mines where the leaders are, along with the dwarf captives. When the adventure is over you get to go to a big dwarf spell jammer base in space and maybe be given a small ship. The layout of the adventure is horrible and it’s far too verbose in most places. We get a list of the pirate crew but then have to fight the text to see where they are located on the ship. Compare to the Sleepless adventure in this issue where it summarized the NPC’s and in the same table told you were they were located. The ship is extensively keyed, but not really to any good effect. It’s got Brown Mold freezers and black pudding garbage disposals ad the like, which I generally find abhor ant. But the mind flayer ‘home canning of brains’ WAS a nice little touch, in the freezer. The patrols of guards and the like were great, as are the siege weaponry on the ship, but the breakdown in the exhaustive detail provided of the interior. The second half of the adventure is in some old mines to free the dwarves. It’s got a nice isometric map and while the encounters are not all that exciting the thee-dimensional nature of the map does a lot to save this portion. It’s combined with a homicidal mage with some fly and invisibility spells and an entire table of suggested tactics for the mage to screw with the party. This is one of the better “hit & run” mage adventures I’ve seen. The environment is varied enough, and the scenario not totally gimpy and set up, that its believable while still having a lot of interesting opportunities. There’s also, notably, a non-standard magic item that is both powerful and cursed … but maybe not enough to make the party throw it away. That sort of Deal with Devil kind of item is exactly the sort of thing that should be in D&D adventures. The artifacts in the 1e DMG were cool because of those small enigmatic backstories AND the cursed nature of the items.

Posted in Dungeon Magazine, Reviews | 2 Comments