DCC #77.5 – The Tower Out of Time

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by Michael Curtis
Goodman Games
DCC RPG
Level 2

From out of the past comes an ancient evil to plague the present! A mystifying tower crowned by a blinding blood-red light has appeared in the forest, arriving as a never-before-seen comet burns in the sky above. Is its arrival a harbinger of terrible times ahead? Only those heroes brave enough to confront what lurks behind the inexplicable walls of the Pharos of Scales can solve the mystery of the tower’s puzzling arrival!

This is a straightforward and pretty linear adventure, exploring a simple tower layout. There’s only so much you can do with a simple tower map. Tower of the Stargazer probably did the best, at least with regards to the map. This adventure attempts to present a wizards tower, from the earliest primordial days of creation. Created by the strange serpent folks of that time, it travels through time in order to arrive at the destination in time in which the master of the tower will arrive back from the stars. (IE: the comet is his ship.)

As such the adventure is trying to create kind of primordial experience, to immerse them in this otherworldliness that existed before the modern DCC era. It starts well enough. A fetid steaming lake of prehistoric origin that has appeared in the forest where no lake should be. A weird tower, twisting up, asymmetrical, with a slumped melted look with its construction seeming to be more related to leather than stone & mortar. Semi-opaque membranes cover certain areas … windows and a door? To get in you must press through a semipermeable membrane that settles for a door. Or slice through it and watch it repair itself. Inside in a kind of arboretum, the air rich & thick, a riot of vibrant green, with some burbling and slurping pool, creating bubbles rising to the fleshy ceiling overhead.

There are a decent number of rooms like this: well described with more than the usual amount of weird flavor present. Ape-things with pulsating fleshy mounds on the back of their necks, humanoids hooked up to bubbling and gurgling tubes to power ancient devices. And there are some stinkers mixed in like “a number of barrels and small boxes stand against the wall”, as well as some, oh, lets say the descriptions of some of the inhabitants, like giant trilobites, antehumans, and green splitters could use some serious work. There are only eight rooms here, and only a couple of magic items, which are, frankly, not that strong. A vial full of a greasy liquid? Eh. It’s got a nice effect anyway.

On another front, I think I have some insight in to ONE of the reasons why I tend to like the Stroh (and sometimes Bittman) adventures more than the Curtis & JoeG ones. It’s the use of the archaic forms of adjectives & adverbs. I’m probably mixing some truth with legend here, but I get the sense that in the time before time, language was a bit looser. For convenience I’ll refer to the tipping point as Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary. A words and structure/grammar became more defined we someone became slaves to the rules. Witness the “Weirdling sun” in Stroh vs the “melted look” of Curtis. To take a hypothetical example: we want to convey the image of an woman floating over the ground. How do we describe this? Does she “float” over the ground? Yes, but that’s boring. We want something more. Something ethereal, unearthly, gossamer, empyrean. How about “shimmer” instead? Better, but not great. Which is why I write reviews instead of adventures. :) Anyway, this more fanciful and archaic language, both in structure and in word choice, communicates the visual image so much more strongly. And that’s what we’re looking for in an adventure: something that can strongly and solidly communicate the author’s vision to the reader.

This is short. It’s an ok but straightforward adventure. Certainly better than most published, but does not reach my lofty platonic idealism.

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DCC #84 – Peril on the Purple Planet

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by Harley Stroh
Goodman Games
DCC RPG
Level 4

The Purple Planet: Where tribes of man-beasts wage an endless war beneath a dying sun. Where mighty death orms rule the wastes, befouled winds whistle through ancient crypts, and forests of fungi flourish in the weirdling light. Where ancient technologies offer life … or a quick death.

Bereft of patron, friend or god, your survival depends on quick wits and a strong blade. Will you and your companions stand as conquerers atop this alien land? Or will you fall beneath the blast of an ink-black death rays, just another corpse left to litter the wastes of the Purple Planet?

One of the best published adventures. Ever. It fits. You need this. Harley Stroh is surely the latest to take up the banner of a race of romantic dreamers.

This is a gonzo sandbox hex crawl under an alien sun, but it would fit in just in an underdark cavern or some such. The party ends up on the purple planet Stargate-style, trapped in a pyramid with bad air. To get home again they need to find a new powerstone to charge the gate. That’s pretty much as simple an appeal to a trope as it gets, and yet it’s done masterfully. The pyramid is simple, two rooms. It’s deadly with stale air. It’s got a withered skeleton king on a throne illuminated with the dying light of the powergem that brought the party through the gate. It’s FLAVORFUL. It put into your head the scene and your mind fills in the rest. This is EXACTLY what the encounter description is supposed to do. Not spoon feed. Not bore you with detail. Not be so generic as to be meaningless. It inspires.

Breaking out of the pyramid you encounter a huge warband/horde of bipedal humanoids charging the pyramid. Eeek! Talk about In Medias Res! Then another war band rises up out of ambush and attacks! Chaos! All Hail Discordia! They fight over banners hung from war lances! War lances which are obviously alien death ray rifles! If they see you on the pyramid they both attack! Helping one side or another can lead them to victory and you can all jointly lot the bodies of your slain foemen and take trophies and feast on strips of raw flesh roughly cut from the bodies! Wait … what? Oh man, if that opening don’t hook you then your soul is dead.

In front of you, splayed out for your viewing pleasure, is the terrain of the plateau you have arrived on. This place has EVERYTHING: Weirdling sun, mushroom forests, stinking lakes, purple mountains majesty, lights, psychos, Furbies, screaming babies in Mozart wigs, sunburned drifters with soap sud beards. By this time you’ve learned you’re REALLY not in Kansas anymore: you might have made some allies, you’ve found an alien death ray rifle, and you know you need a powergem. Let the crawl begin!

The tools you need are here. How far can you travel? How far can you see? Both of those are covered briefly but quite well. That’s the mechanics. And then there’s the flavor. What keeps a hex crawl going is things to do and places to be. Harley adds those with tables. The humanoids have a nice table that can be used to add variety. There’s a GOOD table of random encounters, brief but each with enough detail to run with it. A table for ancient relics. A table for looting ancient cairns. This is the make it or break it part. Yeah, there are fixed encounters to go see. But the adventure builds by the random shit happening in the hex you cross to get from point A to B. Each random encounter, each thing, has a little burst of flavor to drive the thing home. THAT’s a hex crawl. That’s what a lot of the Wilderlands did. That’s what a lot of the HCC encounters do. That’s NOT what Isle of Unknown did. When I talk about wanting to know ‘what are wanderers up to?’ it’s for that reason. Unchock the wheels of the cart and give it a slight shove. Where it goes is then up to the party and the DM running the thing.

You’ll be wanting an example? How about an ancient throne room, replete with massive thrones. On the walls surrounding are grizzly trophies from the battles that wage without. Atop each throne is is a massive but spindly android, without a head. At the feat is a sarcophagus, containing the head-in-a-jar of each of each of the Masters. Awakened, the androids try to reach their heads and attach them, or perhaps the heads zoom about the room firing off death ray. Each Master replete with their own personalities and goals. This stuff is GREAT.

If I have a complaint it’s that it is too short. There might be seven fixed locations. Like a greedy boy shoving turkish delight in his mouth I want more More MORE! Is it ACTUALLY too short? Almost certainly not. But it the kind of product that makes you want more. Alien artifacts to play with floating heads in jars that attach to giant android bodies. Smoke monsters. A citadel carried on the backs of slaves. (WTF?!) Giants sandworms to ride. It’s a ripped off mashed-up madhouse of Chaos and it’s wonderful in every way! Three of those locations are the resting places of powergems, one of which you need to go home. Will you brave the slave-toted smoke citadel masters, the fortress of the heads-in-jars masters, or the abyss holding the mother of all sandworms? Factions. Intrigue. Crazy giant worms to ride.

Is your soul dead? No? Then why don’t you own this?

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Dungeon Magazine #43

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Switching to Google Docs for writing. Let’s see if that helps with the auto-correct.

Jacob’s Well
by Randy Maxwell
AD&D
Levels 2-4

1-on-1 adventure. L.A.M.E. But it’s a REALLY good one. Yeah! But it’s Yet Another Adventure Based On The Movie Alien. L.A.M.E. But it’s has some decent atmosphere. Yeah! But it is STILL a Dungeon adventure, meaning the atmosphere is few & far between. L.A.M.E. This is a kind of combination Alien/The Thing adventure for 1 party member. You’re trapped in a border trading post during a blizzard when one of the guests has a slaad hatch out of them. I fucking love Slaad. This thing is organized for shit, laid out over multiple columns, keyed room descriptions and time based events mixed in. There are hints of greatness here, ruined. “Try to build sensation of dread. For example, when the player goes outside they could be buried in snow from a roof snowslide. They hear footsteps stalking closer but can’t see … the NPC coming to save them.” or even “When the NPC give suggestions they should be tailored to their personalities. For example, the orcs will suggest using someone as bait, and not really care about the baits survival.” Hints of greatness. What this adventure needs is MORE of that and less of the senseless exposition it goes into. A simple timeline, with events on it. A simple list of NPC’s, with their personalities. A list of flavor suggestions for building dread. The writer MUST have had a vision for this adventure. The purpose of writing it down in Dungeon is to effectively communicate that vision to us, the readers, so we can recreate it. That’s not done here. That’s too bad, for what little is present is very good. If you wanted to salvage a horror adventure then you could use this one IF you put a lot of work in to it.

Moving Day
by Roger Baker
AD&D
Levels 3-5

Oh Jesus H. Fucking Christ. A magical industry that makes water elemental powered flatboats. That’s right Roger, just strip all of the joy and wonder of magic away and turn it into another fucking steam engine. And you’re transporting cockatrice specimens, among other things, and the adventure is not a farce. New to town, to get the job you need a reference from the guild in question, two from other people, or a reference from the towns wizard’s guild, or a 500-gp bond. All for 50gp. Uh …. What’s the likelihood of any of that? How about we just burn down your fucking boat and make massacring the town the adventure for this evening? SO many adventures, especially in Dungeon, are like torture porn for the DM/players. How much bullshit will the players put up with from the DM in order to play D&D tonight?

There are hints of the hoped-for farce: a wizards convention, loading 500# of cheese on to the barge, and so on. but it doesn’t go there. There are a dozen or so linear encounters. The first few are pretty decent, setting up some classic situations, like riverboat grifters and a union riot. After that it gets a bit rougher as the boat moves on to an underground passage. There’s a trading post with potential, and a couple of encounters with potential, like a lone dwarf who’s lost his friends and kobold bandits, but they tend to lack the color needed. Lots of text here, but you could salvage something worthwhile. If you wanted to work at it.

Mayhem at Midnight
by Trae Stratton
Dragonlance
Levels 4-7

Uh … 1 encounter? You camp in a clearing, get charmed by some lights and fight a tentacle monster. It’s not labeled as a Side Trek, but at four pages maybe even Side Trek has some standards? Although four pages for one encounter seems more than a little excessive. Wait, what am I saying?!?!!? It’s Dungeon Magazine! I’m not even sure why this is labeled as Dragonlance.

King Oleg’s Dilemma
by Lee Sheppard
AD&D
Level 1-4

This adventure revolves around setting up one encounter: a ruined hill fort defended by the party being attacked by some gnolls. There’s a little bit of role-play in town and a couple of encounters before the fort, but the fort encounter is clearly why this was written. Given a ruined fort the party has to hold out against a band of 22 gnolls and a few leader-types. I like these desperate last stand type adventures; there’s a few in the Troll Lords Death in the Treklant series that are nice. For this to work you need an environment dynamic & colorful enough for the party to use their brains to come up with defenses. Given a ruined fort full of stuff, MacGyver/Hannibal your way to survival. To do that you need things to work with. This adventure doesn’t do that. It instead has a small keep in the fort and assumes you’ll be there. Eh. Go buy the Treklant adventures.

Into the Silver Realm
by Steve Kurtz
AD&D
Levels 8-12

I’m not sure it’s actually possible to play this adventure, it’s so complex. Or, rather, the creatures are so complex. Essentially the characters will be invading a Githyanki complex near Neverwinter. Inside they will face about 8 different types of Githyanki opponents, each with a complex array of different powers that the DM must be familiar with. Once this task is done the party must then travel to the astral plane and do it all over again, but this time in a fortress of about 100 Githyanki … each with powers and ability and immunities and strategies to keep track of. OD&D monsters were easy, even the mind flayer. 90% MR and a simple table for mental blast. With the advent of the Splat Book we now have an adventure that needs all the core, plus Complete Psionics, plus Tom of Magic, and also maybe Manual of the Planes and the Outer Planes Appendix to the Monstrous Compendium. And you need to be familiar with all the Githyanki sub-types and their powers.

Frankly, I don’t see how this is possible. Any sane person would use stealth, but even then … Besides, the adventure is boring and lacks any interesting detail. It’s just a ‘sneak through the fortress and don’t trip the generic alarms’ adventure, with nothing fun or interesting or evocative in it.

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DCC #83 – The Chained Coffin

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A whispered voice calls from a coffin bound in chains, urging the heroes into the depths of the Shudder Mountains, a place rife with superstition and forlorn secrets. In the shadowy, pine-grown valleys of the Deep Hollows lurk mysteries of a bygone age and a new evil emerging from the ruins of the past. The adventurers must plumb the mountains’ secluded reaches to root out this rising terror before its power comes to fruition. Standing in their path are cackling witches, subtle devils, lingering spirits, and a foul thing that moves in the night. Can the heroes appease that which lies within the Chained Coffin and thwart the dawn of a new and terrible age?

Yet another breath of fresh air from Goodman/DCC. This is an overland journey through Appalachia, toting a coffin to the big bads ceremony site. It’s got a nice rural/mountain feel to it. Many of the encounters start out with a good premise, but fall down a bit on the specific inspiration and on the environment options. What I mean is that there are strong arch-types presented: the devil at the crossroads, the old Appalachia witch granny, the in-bred family (this time 10 feet tall!), and so on. Those are all very strong platonic models. The SPECIFICS of each could be a bit stronger. Granny’s yard, her porch, inside her home, etc. Curtis takes a good shot at trying to do a nice set up but falls short on the adjectives/adverbs.

I guess this was a kickstarter? Some kind of boxed set? I bought the stand-alone booklet at GenCon/14, so that’s what this review covers. The hook is a simple one: while rolling through some village the party comes upon the bumpkins in a quandary/state. There’s an OBVIOUS dungeon entrance that has been revealed by a landslide. The salt of the earth are in a tizzy. A bit of work uncovers hte door completely, and inside, after dealing with some undead baddies, is a coffin all chained up with symbols of evil on it, and a voice from inside asking for help. I have no idea why this is appealing to me but it SO is. Some combination of in medias res and an OBVIOUS trap/set up. It turns out it’s NOT a trap/set up, but the moment is still the moment and should be quite enjoyable. Just wandering along and something else happens nearby. The idea that the world is alive around the players. Also, an unnatural love for villagers who are morons. ALL of that contributes to my love of the set up here. Combine that with coffin gimmick (including evil looking coffin handout!) and oh man! There’s nothing more fun than putting something obviously bad in front of a persons face and giving a hook in which the PLAYERS want to pursue it. In this case the coffin ISNT evil, but there will be so tense minutes in which the party debate that fact and those moments will be DELICIOUS. Curtis may have some description issues but he can do a good hook when he wants to (Court of Chaos, this) and a bad one when he doesn’t (Android Underlords.)

From there the party has a kind of time limit. The coffin-dweller needs to be taken to a ceremony site in the mountains to stop the big bad from becoming a chaos knight type thing. But he can’t leave the coffin. Nice gimmick that should lead to TONS of fun. :) “Why you boys toting around that coffin chained up and covered in evil holy symbols?” “Hey, what’s going on out there? I can’t see, I’m locked up in here, remember? What did you say? Flagon? Why are we hiding from a flagon? HEY! WHY ARE WE HIDING FROM A FLAGON?” (No, there’s no flagon, but you get the idea.) There’s also a time limit. From the time the party hits the village at the base of the mountains, they have 7 days to get to the ceremony site. If they are a distrustful sort and check out the coffin-dwellers story, to confirm he’s a good guy, they loose a d3 worth of days. Very nice. Choices and risk are at the heart of good play. The little mountain village is a joy as well. I wouldn’t call it even “briefly described” in any meaningful sense, but in spite of that you get a STRONG feeling of what it’s like. This comes from two parts. First, there’s an Appalachia song in an inn (lyrics related to the adventure) as well as some general descriptions that immediately cement and bring to mind the rural mountain vibe. Secondly, there’s a GREAT rumor table. FOr inspiration, it’s wonderful. Each entry strongly brings to mind a little scene to run it. Sure, you can read it verboten, but instead why not have the party overhear two farmers buying 100# of yeast and some copper line talking about the troll scat near the river banks, and how ain’t no one ever seen nothing more yet. Fantasy, strongly rooted in familiar tropes and archetypes, but NOT the generic tolkein-esque settings that so many rely on … that’s a VERY strong point of these DCC adventures. ‘Appendix N’ is great, most DCC falls in to that category, but this adventure shows that they can branch out from N and still pay respects to the non-tolkein fantasy & folklore that Appendix N represented. This is SUCH a breath of fresh air. And not just generic fantasy with Lovecraft thrown on top. Rooted in the american myths but STILL clearly fantasy. My heroes have always been John Henry & Pecos Bill.

I’d like to touch on the overland a bit here, to add emphasis to the above points. They are all quite strongly rooted in americana. In generic-land there’s the grave of a bard who used to travel the mountain valley. In americana there’s a fiddler with a drawl and a magic fiddle, just yearning to be rosin’d up again. The context is SO important to imagination. That’s what all of the waiting line theming at DIsney is for. The 1E DMG has a bag of beans. But put the same thing in field of giant crops and a little boy and it transforms. 5-6 minutes of thought and you get something more. There’s a crossroads where you can sell your soul. There’s a mountain granny. There’s the Bigginty’s farm, a family of hill giants. A ghost in a rural cabin who wants you to get rid of other ghosts. Each of these is a strong theme that you can play off of well. They also JUST miss the mark of being rock-star level. Granny’s hard has “numerous animal skulls, bleached by the sun and weatherworn, dangle from nearby tree branches or stand impaled on tall stakes around the cabin.” That’s pretty good. That’s not rock-star though. The problem (I’m conjecturing here) is the lack of specificity. We get a GROUP description. That group description is ok. But it’s not singular, and because it’s not singular it …. is dull in the mind? Curtis has tried to describe a scene and in doing so described a group of skulls. I would suggest that a much more powerful image could be obtained by concentrating on something specific and THEN going to the scene. A lone coyote skull, bits of stringy flesh & sinew hanging from it, bleached by the sun and surrounded by flies, hanging from a rough jute web from a a fallen-down fence-post. IDK, I suck. But something specific, and THEN go to the group thing. As it is, it’s good.

I’d also like to give a nice nod to Curtis explicitly covering travel times. ow many hexes per day on the map, in which circumstances, and tying it to the timeline of the adventure. A surprising number of adventures relay on time limits or travel and DON’T do this. It takes like 3 sentences and keeps me from having to go look stuff up and work out te scale. Thanks.

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The Android Underlords

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by Michael Curtis
Metamorphosis Alpha
Goodman Games
Some Experience

The Knower of All Things has been kidnapped! Mysterious agents have abducted the village shaman in the dead of night, leaving a hideous trail in their wake. Now it is up to the brave and strongest members of the tribe to rescue the shaman before he falls victim to his captors’ nefarious plans. Before their journey is through, the village heroes will find themselves in an undreamt-of place, battling faceless foes. Is your mutant up to the challenge?

Be aware: I LUV post-apoc and want to have millions & billions of its babies. This is a decent little adventure that reminds me of the SAMURAI base in Legion of Gold.

The village elder has been kidnapped by something and the party is sent to bring him back. They follow the slime trail to an entrance to metal caves under the ground and follow it further to a small android base where they vivisect people … Ouchies! The hook here is lame, as most hooks are. Rescue mission. Ho hum. Never seen that before. Just a MODICUM of effort could bring a lot to this. Go ahead, steal the hook from THE STARLOST and make the party heretics. Idk. Just about anything else. (EXCEPT caravan guards! NO caravan guards!) There’s a little bit of investigation in the village, followed by an encounter before the party reaches the metal caves. I’m struck by two things in this part section. First, the overland encounter reminds me of a Jim Ward encounter. Some giant bugs are slurping the slime in the trail. Spook them and they attack. If THEY get surprise they chitter at the party as a warning. Smart parties prevail. The investigation portion could have sacrificed a few background/introduction sentences for the names/personalities of a couple of the village elders. Bobs an asshole with elephantiasis and Fred hated the elder and is both rash AND has full body psoriasis. Making the beginning of the adventure seem less throw away would be a great thing and it wouldn’t take much work MICHAEL CURTIS.

The second part of the adventure is inside the metal caves. There’s a short journey through them on a SPECTACULAR map. It reminds me of one of those 2-page pull-out maps from comics of a Secret Volcano Lair or Miraclemans Olympus. Or, maybe, of my first love: the North America and Pittsburgh map from the (2E?) Gamma World boxed set. Weird annotations on a large map, only VERY small portion of which is used for the actual adventure (remember, you’re following the slime trail.) THIS is the kind of inspiring content the mind years for. What is that? What’s going on over there? True Humans?! What are they doing there?!? It’s a world of mystery and wonder just begging the DM to bring it to life. There are only two encounters described. One is a run-away game of Simon that again reminds me of Jim Ward: don’t touch NOTHIN! The other one delights me: mutant talking cockroaches. I’m no sure if its the junk-bots (ad-bots?) from the Transformers cartoon or talking cockroaches from other media, but I just LOVE he concept of a tribe of talking cockroaches, especially when they are not immediate dicks, and these guys are not immediate dicks. That’s the kind of “following the premise to its logical conclusion” that I like to see. Elves that are more than just humans with point ears, and mutant creatures who are more than the sum of their tropes.

The base is near the roaches, and the roaches may be of help getting in. Inside there’s a three-story vat complex with catwalks making up most of the surface area and a couple of rooms hanging off of it. The central catwalk/vat area leaves a lot of room for hiding, chasing, sneaking, etc, and I really like that sort of thing as the central point of the map that the rest of the rooms are built around. That’s the kind of multi-level environment that I think really opens up play options for the characters. The actual encounters in this area are more typical of the room/encounter construct found in most adventures. The rooms got a monster and the monster probably attacks. There might be something strange in the room. Mutant bugs/slime and androids limit the options a bit, especially since many of them are located in rooms that don’t really off much in the way of “fun” combats. Giant thug bugs on the underside of the catwalks being a noticable exception. There is a great mechanic introduced for the fire suppression system in this area, and several monsters which may cause the party to want to use heat attacks. That’s a nice set up and once the party learns about it it should put them in a tight spot as they worry about how to KILL IT WITH FIRE!, or better yet, use the fire suppression system to their own advantage.

There’s not going to any awards won here, but it is a nice solid MA/GW adventure. The main adventure should give you enough for a night or two of great play. The expanded map for the metal caves is just a nice little bonus.

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Dungeon Magazine #42

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Whistledown’s Mantrap
by Bradley Schell
AD&D
Levels 3-4

From the Oxford Unabridged:
Dungeon Magazine Side-Treks – Using two pages to describe an encounter that should take 4 sentences. See also: Dungeon Magazine in general.

A dryad with a mantrap plant has a charmed male companion. That’s the entire content of the two pages. Nothing else interesting.

The Lady of the Mists
by Peter Aberg
AD&D
Levels 6-8

Most D&D backttory, especially in Dungeon, is crap. This one isn’t. Oh, it’s long and a pain in the ass and not relevent to running the adventure, but it DOES touch on some larger, weighty issues. I like the way this starts, with the party essentially in the middle of a city during a minor coup as the secret police are beaten and, I imagine, the citizens at the barricades are working with the rulers to dismantle the giant propaganda posters of the past. Images of the Arab Spring, with the people in the midst of the jubilance that only the hope of change can bring. The read-aloud for the village the party journeys to is actually GOOD, and the various elements/advice (buried in the surrounding verbosity) are good. “The sails are useless when you near the isle; the winds never blow there.” and “Beware the lake monster”, which doesn’t actually exist. The picture painted in the back story, and at the village, is one of melancholy, that is then juxtapositioned with the euphoria of the revolution. It’s the vibe that Ravenloft tries for and so often fails at. There’s also some bits & pieces of good imagery, such as the winds/sailing thing, and a skeleton in armor with bits of rotting flesh poking out. I do a terrible job transcribing these vibes, but the adventure does a good job … when it does it. This is NOT a terrible adventure. A slow, melancholy feel, but not terrible. It IS verbose, which was the style at the time, but it does a lot right, like telegraphing that a flesh-to-stone monster is coming, and adding small flavorful details in fast bursts.

In the end, there is a story going on in this adventure. The party get to witness parts of it. It’s not a railroad though. There are not a sequence of events that MUST happen in order for something else to happen and the party just happens to bear witness. This is a major sin and is something that so many 90’s, 00’, and modern adventures are guilty of. “Witness to history”, so to speak. No, in this adventure the action is over. The party is chasing something else, tangential, and stumbles upon the story, discovering it as they go along. In this way I might compare it to something like Tegal or Shadowbrook: a kind of house/manor environment you wander through discovering weird things, except in this one you also looking for someone, driving your exploration, and you discover bits of what has happened.

This is worth reading, and maybe worth salvaging.

Izek’s Slumber
by Gary Lai
AD&D
Levels 12-14

Another 2 1/2 pages to describe a single encounter. How the fuck they got away with this I know not, but evidentially it was one of their most features, according to the letter column. A MU14 and his 7 zombies are confused & disoriented, looking for someone who does not exist and reacting negatively to uncooperative witnesses. Fight or Negotiate?

Ransom
by David Howrey
D&D
Levels 3-5

Deliver some ransom money. This has a decent back story/setup (and at one page is the sole of terseness, by Dungeon standards.) Border fief, questionable births, and an evil advisor all make for a decent set up … that will never see the light of day because the dude is just going to pay the party to deliver cash to the kidnappers. The kidnappers have decent flavor & personalities … which will never see the light of day and they exist to say about 4 sentences, total, and then get cut down. And of course, the ransom is in a chest that can’t be opened, at all, by anyone but the target, otherwise the adventure twist would be ruined.

IF you have this issue then you might read one for some inspiration i both the back story and kidnappers. You could build something decent using those two points as foundations. But I wouldn’t go out of my way unless you have some morbid curiosity with things that only MOSTLY suck in Dungeon Magazine.

Legacy of the Liosalfar
by Chris Hind
AD&D
Level 1

Fairy Tale Alert! The party are poor village bumpkins sent to find the miller, who has disappeared with the coinage needed to buy seed for the crops. What ensues is a series of faerie adventures, in the older sense of the word. Ravens that speak in a squakish common, mud-people taking exception to being trodden upon, sprites with sleep arrows, a talking spider, a riddler gnome, and the Feast … always a feast.This is a pretty straightforward adventure with not a lot of detail. The encounters are all classic faerie encounters and ould be plucked out and/or used if you added s a bit more detail. Only one or two of the talking creatures you meet have any personality. This is a TRAVESTY; they should all have some pit of personality. The mystical element of the faeire could also be played up a bit more. Combined with the lack of personality for the players village … this is just a generic encounter-fest with a low-level faerie theme. And while I’marracted to fairy tale stories I’m not THAT attracted to them. Still … it does have faeries …

The Price of Revenge
by Steve Kurtz
Ravenloft
Levels 4-7

A fairly normal Ravenloft adventure. Mists take you somewhere new, freaky little kid, small town investigation, curse, kill the vampires. The predictability here is the worst part. The freaky little girl is nice & freaky. The town portion is just a pretext to meet the vampires-in-disguise and get the gypsy mission. Then you kill the vampires. The basics of this are classic, and therefore not bad in and of itself, but the whole thing is so … telegraphed? Mists! Watch our for vampires & werewolves! White Death? Must be vampires. Look, the only two people who have any detail ar the mayor and his wife the doctor, that’s weird, eh? The pseudo-slavic post-renaissance town vibe is done well, but the DREAD isn’t very present. It all feels like an homage to the original Ravenloft adventure. If you were in to a straightforward-ish classic Ravenloft railroad with no particular interesting detail or dread, then this is the adventure for you!

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DCC #82.5 Dragora’s Dungeon

825
by Harley Stroh
Goodman Games
DCC
Level 1

Eons past the fabled sorcerer-kings of Parhok perished in a rain of eldritch fire. But legends hold that one tribe survived the apocalypse, fleeing with their slaves to a hidden city, where the greatest enchanters of all time could sleep away the centuries, and awaken in a future age as rulers of a ruined land. Now once more the forbidden spells of the Parhok threaten the good folk of the Known Realms. A kingdom lies ensorcelled, a royal family ensnared by the forgotten dweomers of a long-dead race. When the best attempts of seers and diviners have failed, it falls to the heroes to save the kingdom. Have the sorcerer-kings risen to reclaim their bejeweled thrones? Or has a more sinister power bent their ancient magics to its sinister will? Only the most courageous and cunning of heroes will emerge victorious from Dragora’s Dungeon.

This is weird. This doesn’t seem like a DCC RPG adventure. It’s written more like one of the older DCC 3.5 adventures. The cover even looks nonstandard, showing some heavy metal cheesecake instead of the usual appendix N gonzo. The back-end is stronger than the front. It’s worth skipping.

Uh, the royal family is under a sleep spell and you chase an ape-man for four days, in to a portal. It takes ou to a steaming jungle with an ape-man city. You have a fie time, ala D3 – Vault of Drow, and kill the bad guys. Uh, the HEAD bad-guys.

This is one weird adventure. And I don’t mean weird in a good way. It’s completely unlike any of the newer DCC RPG adventures and resembles something closer to the suck-fest that was the old DCC 3.5 line. It makes me wonder if DCC is taking the line in a different direction? As if Goodman suddenly said “Hey, all those awesome adventures we’ve been doing? Let’s do some suck-ass ones instead!” I mean, the departure is really strange. The number of elements it shares with the recent batch is almost zero. There’s an interesting magic item or two, and the city portion has some decent random encounters, but it’s otherwise a fairly normal adventure with none of the joie de vivre in the adventure, the locales, the descriptions, or almost anything else.

A couple of things about the beginning stand out … as bad. After the initial ‘hook’ the party has to chase a single ape-man through the countryside for four days until you get to something interesting. That seems … excessive? given the weakness of the hook. The inn you are in falls under a slumber spell, the party stops an assassin ape-man who takes off on a run, escaping, and learns from the others at the inn that the royal family is under a similar sleep spell. Which is evidentially enough to get you to chase a guy for four days?

When you finally get somewhere you face … a roadblock. At the end of the small dungeon/temple complex is a room with an altar. The altar needs a key to open a portal to take you to next location. There’s no indication of this … just if you search you see a small indentation in the altar. The key is at the VERY beginning of the dungeon complex, under some ruble that you have to explicitly search and make a non-trivial check (DC:15) to find. See?!?! It’s bizarre. It’s like Stroh has forgotten everything that makes a sucky adventure a sucky adventure. Then there’s this weird ziggurat room that has a bunch of hokey rube goldberg set-piece stuff. A net, with a globe, full of ‘dragonstings’, triggered by an imp, who’s invisible. It doesn’t make sense! Why is he doing this? When did Harley start hating freedom/beating his wife?

The descriptions are generally shitty. Green serpents. Seriously? You have ape-men and snakes and a bazillion years of fiction with leering idols and damsels in distress and all you can come up with a green coiled serpent? Uh … derp? The city of the ape-men is eventually found, and it has some Vault of Drow stuff going on. A couple of factions, some interesting ‘what do you find when you are running around/hiding’ tables. The entries are a mixture of good stuff and not so good stuff. I like Mad Wraiths who whisper insane secrets to you, shrines weeping oil that enchants weapons, and the sacrificial square with the KINGMAKER spear in the stone in the middle (I’m a sucker for the classics.) The whole section is a little light on details, and in particular how the two big baddies interact. There’s a general vibe of two factions who are loyal and one which is not, but a few details about how the rulers interact, and a few more personalities. The magic items, good though they are, don’t make up for the logistical mess in the inside. Added to this are the questionable choices about … balance. I don’t usually mention this, but there are several parts in the adventure where the party appears to be forced in to certain actions to face overwhelming odds … at first level. And then, of course, there’s the dragon the cheesecake from the cover tucked in to the last pages of the adventure.

This entire thing is just bizarre. It doesn’t seem like DCC AT ALL. It’s completely different in flavor and tone and quality. there might be a decent adventure in this, but you’re gonna have to tear AT LEAST the city part completely apart and rebuild it, adding A LOT of additional work to get it to make sense and be in a position where you can run it.

Is it worth it? Well… there’s something there in the city part, and in the overall plot. But man, I gotta think there are easier ways to get there.

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DCC #80 – Intrigue at the Court of Chaos

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by Michael Curtis
Goodman Games
DCC
Level 1

At the mercy of Chaos! Abducted by the Court of Chaos, the adventurers face hard choices if they want to return home. The Host of Chaos desires a legendary artifact held by the Scions of Law and need patsies to retrieve it. Faced with an eternity of servitude, the party must sneak into the Plane of Law and steal the Yokeless Egg from under its guardians’ watch. But not all is what it appears when the Court of Chaos is concerned and serving the Host may destroy the party from within. Can they survive the Intrigue At the Court of Chaos?

This adventure tackles some hard gameplay subjects and does so well-enough that I consider it a keeper. Intra-party conflict is hard, but it’s pulled off well here. The party treats with powerful forces; again done well-enough. It has a kind of “proving grounds” dungeon behind it … usually something I loathe but it fits in ok here. Finally. it also deals with planer adventure to the “good” locales, which it misses the mark with. It’s wordy, especially with read-aloud, and the freakishness usually present in DCC is not to the degree I’d like to see it. Then again, I don’t ANYONE has ever done a good adventure on the planes of Law.

Your level-1 party is summoned to the Courts of Chaos. They have a mission for you: grab a spark of chaos from where it’s being held on the planes of Law. After some intrigue in the Court of Chaos you go to the Planes of Law, solve a few puzzle rooms, and head back to the Courts with the fallout of deals made, or not made, earlier.

The Court of Chaos is done pretty well. The Lords of Chaos are sufficiently freaky, but the bystanders in the court could use a little more work to communicate their freaky nature. Chaos & Misshapen are generally as well as the descriptions go for the “commoners” of the Court. It was a pretty good opportunity to throw in some delegations ala Flash Gordon Ming Throne Room. After the party gets the mission described the fun begins. They have to decide if they’ll go on the mission, and get a private suite to do so in. During this time one of the Lords of Chaos appears to each party member and offers them special rewards if, when they come back, they give the egg/chaos to THEM instead of the entire Court. There’s a whole section on advice for the various Lords and how to run this. It includes the class “take each player out of the room separately” DM technique, as well as the advice that you should take the LEAST trustworthy player out and just have a talk with them; don’t offer them anything. The way the players interact with each other after they have all been out should be DELICIOUS, especially for the poor untrustworthy player. “No, really, no one offered me anything!” Thus the seeds of mistrust are sown for the rest of the adventure. This is the best kind of motivation; it motivates and manipulates the PLAYERS as well as the characters. Intra-party conflict is usually a terrible thing. It’s one of those few things that most DM’s come down HARD on. It’s taken head-on in this adventure, and I think it’s done very well. You’re just level-1, so there’s not as much investure. Further, it’s the Courts of Chaos; OF COURSE it’s going to happen. It’s in your face, and yet … the betrayal, if it comes, probably doesn’t happen till the very end. The potential betrayal is right in EVERYONES face, right at the start, not a sudden knife-turn out of nowhere with no particular motivations beyond “I’m evil.” or the dreaded worst phrase in RPGing “thats what my character would do.” As the adventure points out: everyone has the entire adventure to both fret and to prepare.

The ability of DCC to confront these tropes in fresh ways os one of the best aspects of its published adventures. At level-1 you’re treating with the Lords of Chaos. That’s not something other systems tend to take on. (Again, this is pointed out explicitly in the introduction, but I, being far wiser than your average bear, have noticed it previously.) At the end you get a boon from the Lords of Chaos. How cool is that? These are the things that make your character stand out and that make campaigns memorable.

The adventure is one of those “proving grounds” things. You do room 1, then 2, then 3. I hate those. Yes, it makes sense sometimes, and it does here as well, so I’m giving it a SLIGHT pass … but it feels so … I don’t know. Lazy & railroady are not the right words. Maybe Done to Death? Each room in the main location on the Planes of Law is a little puzzle-thing. Prove you’re a servant of Law by X, then Y, then Z. Sometimes you get to combat if you fail. This is where the wordiness of the adventure gets to you. The text in the adventure up to this point, while long, isn’t really needed during play. You get the idea of what’s going on and the tone and how to run it and you don’t really need to refer to it during play. But the “test” rooms are things you need to reference during play. The real-aloud tends to be longish and the rooms are puzzle-things, so there’s a decent amount of text. This could use some work.

They are not particularly evocative rooms either. Adventures on the planes of Law iis something that I don’t think anyone has mastered yet in an adventure. Celestial Ox, crystal humanoids, angles and blinding light. None of it is very interesting. I guess our fertile imaginations dwell much more in the nether regions while the good remains unknowable in our psyche?

It’s all generally straight-forward. The puzzle-room aspect is something I like, but I generally like it when it’s NOT an explicit puzzle-room adventure. The descriptions and so on are generally just ok. A cut-above the usually but no to the usually DCC level. The core premise though is WONDERFUL. The intrigue and the Court of Chaos start strong and the impact resonates through the erst of the adventure, touching everything. THAT’S what makes this a GREAT adventure. Treating with Chaos gods at level-1, and the fun that ensues …

Intra-party conflict may not be your thing. It’s not my thing. But this adventure is the exception to the rule.

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Dungeon Magazine #41

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Remember folks: I’m partial to fairy tales, so read the last review with that in mind.

Deadly Treasure
Cody Hedberg
AD&D
Levels 10+

Elaborate Funhouse. A wizard has built himself a tomb, buried himself in it, died, and then invited you to explore/plunder it. This contains one of my favorite design elements ever: the tomb builder cast multiple wishes so detection spells and teleport-ish spells would not work. Maybe … youdidn’t mean to write a level 10+ adventure? Maybe you meant to write a level 5 adventure, before adventurers get those abilities in quantity? Maybe? No? You’re just a sucky DM who imposes rules arbitrarily on the players in order to force them to suffer through your ‘adventure?’ Ok, just clearing that up. Longtime readers may recall my frequent references to the Technocracy in the Mage rpg, or also my use of the lyric “I touch roses.” An attempt to explain a mystery, by definition, destroys the mystery. Imagination & wonder resist definition by their very nature. But that didn’t stop Cody. He’s desgined a tomb under the assumption that the only valid way to do something in D&D is what is published in the rules. The first room is an elaborate trap that sprinkles some beans, from a bag of beans, with water. This include soil in the room, the buried beans, and a giant cauldron with holes in it to act as a watering can, and the adventurers dumping water i to it when they open the manhole cover at the bottom of a well. That’s some serious Rube Goldberging just to get some magical shit to happen in the room. I’m gonna confess: this is the first dungeon EVER that I could not get through. I could only read about half of it before I just couldn’t take it anymore.

The Well of Lord Barcus
Roger Baker
AD&D
Levels 2-5

I don’t usually review side-treks, but this one has a decent idea. There’s a wishing well that grants ill-luck to those who loot it. A thief did, and died nearby after a comedic accident. His ghost wants you to return the stolen loot to the well so his soul can be freed. That’s it. Nice premise, but there’s no climax/payoff. “Uh, ok. *plop plop plop*. Done!” I REALLY like the idea of the setup but it needs some kind of zany complication, or any complication for that matter.

A Way With Words
Tim Beach & Teeuwynn Woodruff
D&D
Levels 1-3

Uh, fight some kobolds for a book? I actually went back to look at the cover and editors introduction to make sure tat this issue wasn’t the April 1st edition. Meet a gnome who’s writing a book about the divergence of dwarfish & gnomish poetry. He’s gnome-like (IE: odious) Meet the bard/woman who stole the book the gnome needs to complete his own book. She’s weepy. Get fucked over by vampire moss and cross in a river, then fight some kobolds who shout love poetry from the book, thinking they are magic spells, and throw sand packets at the party ala LARPing. “Lightning Bolt! Lightning Bolt!” except it’s “Feel my wrath like a scalding bath!” or Homicide?! Foul brutish beast!.” IE: it’s a comedy adventure. Those are hard to pull off. I find the gnome shit odious, in general, and surprisingly enough I find it odious in this adventure. The weepy bard girl is kind could be fun, just like the Romantic tavern-wench in issue #40 was. Kobolds shouting love poetry seems like something for a level-5 party encountering a kobold band. I hold a special loathing in my heart for the crocodile encounter. They look like logs and the party is encouraged to cross the river by jumping on them. If they party is not morons and look at the logs the DM’s instrctions imply that he should say “its really a log”, because the first of the three “logs” IS , actually, a log, with the other two being crocs. That BS. That’s killer asshole DM shit. If the party asks you tell them. You don’t play 20 questions. You don’t make them guess the EXACTLY correct words to use to get the right answer. That sends a bad message, not only about play style but about the dickishness and adversarial nature of the DM. Bullshit I Say! Bullshit.

Mammoth Problems
Lawrence M. Kapture
Spelljammer
Levels 8-10

Exploring a derelict Spelljammer ship. (Are ALL Spelljammer adventures exploring a derelict ship?) This adventure is only 9 pages long for 21-ish encounter descriptions, which makes it one of the tersest Dungeon adventures ever published, especially after the endless backstory is ignored. You explore the derelict ship, get some hit & run undead tactics from some spectre-like undead, and fight some skeletons they’ve animated. It’s not a particularly good adventure, but then again it’s not particularly poorly written either. I’d give it a solid C-, with little to recommend it … which will in turn place it on the short list of “Best Dungeon Adventures Ever.” Seriously, it’s not AWESOME, and my standard is AWESOME, but if you just wanted a nice little thing to insert in a Spelljammer game then I’d reccomend this to you. It doesn’t activly offend, it’s just not very interesting.

Hopeful Dawn
Gary Lai
AD&D
Levels 3-6

A good idea poorly executed. The local temple has folks in town stirred up and on Halloween the local thieves guild takes advantage by dressing up as demons and openly ransacking people’s homes. The party track them back to their headquarters and deals with them. I’ve been partial to the Raiders in Town trope for awhile now, and it picked up during Hoard of the Dragon Queen. This one is done OK, but its pretty clear that the raiders are NOT demons, almost immediately. The clues are also pretty blatant as to what is going on and where the headquarters are. Finally, there’s a group of paladins running around chasing them. Pompous, of course, and they don’t seem to realize that they are thieves and not actually demons. This thing also comes in at 20-ish pages long, FAR longer than it needs to be. The thieves all have multi-paragraphdescriptions, almost none of which will never come up in play. You now know enough about their adventure to run your own better than the one written in the magazine.

Old Man Katan and the Mushroom Band
Ted James & Thomas Zuvich
AD&D
Levels 1-6

This is presented as a joke adventure, but I would instead say that it’s charming … or portions of it are anyway. An old swamp hermit is being annoyed by singing mushrooms. They are actually saving his life from giant mosquitoes but he doesn’t know that. The mosquitoes are being controlled by a child-like bog monster deep in the swamps. The hermit offers the use of his boat to explore/figure out whats going on … but the boat is actually a tame mimic, unknown to everyone. The singing mushrooms and the boat/mimic (which essentially just means the boat can act a bit on its own to liven things up and freak the players out) are the jokey parts. I guess the hermit falls in to this category also, as he talks about assassins/hitmen, etc. Anyway, most of the adventure is straightforward. The problem with this is that it did’t go far enough. The WIll o’ Wisp should have been written as a very spooky encounter, and the other encounters tending toward the kind of charming fairy tale feel. They tend to be a bit mundane, unfortunately. There’s certainly some room for run & interesting play with the mushrooms, the hermit, his giant cat, and the boat … but the rest of the adventure feels much more mundane and of a different tone than these first four elements. That’s unfortunate.

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The Devil’s Spine

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by Monte Cook
Monte Cook Games
Numenera
First Tier

It begins simply enough. Doesn’t it always? A nobleman’s estate needs tending in his absence. But what secrets lurk in its shadows? What deals has this man made with whispered voices in that darkness? And once such a discovery is made, can it be undone?

Mechanistic and dull, this adventure is overly specific in areas that will only slightly impact the gameplay and far far too minimal in actual game-able contact. The result is a ham-handed set up with mountains of text about things are that are only slightly relevant with game-able content almost an after-thought. There are actually four adventures/episodes in this booklet. Adventure 1 is the get infected/hook. Adventure 2 is “wipe out giant virus hive mind”. Adventure 3 is “loot the trapped tomb” and adventure 4 is “under the sea castle explore.”

I LUV Gamma World and want to have millions & millions of its babies. I have only slightly less love for every other post-apoc game every written, up to and including Morrow Project. It will always be my first love. And just like Erica, from high school 30 hears ago, it shall remain unfulfilled. The trappings are here in the art, and in the various found objects and the environments. Most of it, though, lacks soul. It’s presented without the love that a dreamer would have. Short, punchy descriptions that fire your imagination … are seldom found. Instead we get history and backstory and details layered on detail of things that won’t matter. Assumptions have been made by the writer but not communicated, although you can kind of see them sideways in the implicit choices made in what do describe and how. Sure, the party doesn’t HAVE to do X, but all of the writing is focused that way. But the up front doesn’t present it in that manner. There are 3 main interstates between Indy & DC. Let me explain in detail the third and most non-obvious one …. but you see, it’s not explicitly presented that way. Maddenning and frustrating.

Baron von Butthump finds a horrid creature under his house and makes an obscene deal with it. Then he goes away with his trusted servants and hires some strangers (the party) to look after his house. Uh … ok “Hey, don’t go in the basement; my secret alter to Mamon and doomsday device I’m planning on taking over the world with is down there. Back in a month! Have fun in the pool … and don’t forget to water the plants!” Improbable setup leads to the party finding the secret basement and … getting infected with spine parasites that will kill them in 3 months! Yeah you! Mommy parasite will remove them for you, but you need to go on three quests for her to do it. Two to get the surgery tools and one strictly for her. The whole “if you bring me the tools then I’ll do it for you, and in return I want you to do Y” is pretty ok with me. What’s not ok is the transparent set up. If my DM pulled this shit on me I’m sure I would not come back, unless it were a friend and even then I can’t see anyone I game with not groaning. “Ok, ok, you want us to go on the fucking adventure. I got it. And you ‘persuaded” us by infecting us with a lethal disease. How about our characters just die and we start new ones?” The BEST hooks motivate the PLAYERS, not the characters. 5 minutes after character creation you have a disease that will kill you in three months? Ok, I roll up a new character, Traveller style.

This reminds me of another major major flaw: the railroading. Not in the traditional sense of do A, then B, then C. There’s some of that in this adventure but I’m instead referring to how the NPC’s interact with the party. EVERYONE has motivation which is mighty convenient. The naga thing has a bunch of eggs and the party gets infected with them. She’s super-worried about them, and thus struck the deal with Baron von Butthump to feed people to her/them. Super protective. But also doesn’t give a shit about the them and is willing to remove the parasites, her children, form the characters. This is explicitly said in the adventure. Her motivations are exactly what they need to be to force the adventure a certain way. Likewise there’s a lot of “they always attack everyone until dead” motivations, and super-powerful creatures who love talking to the players. The entire thing is just one big set-up, a play within a play for the benefit of manipulating the characters in to the adventure the writer THINKS they should have.

The writing is dull and uninspired. There’s no verve or zest in the descriptions. Mechanistic and going through the motions. It stands in great contract to the imagery invoked in Manor of the Black Manse. Short, punchy, vivid. Instead there’s lots of repeat text. The entire thing strikes me as some cross between the Similarion and “let me tell you about the adventure I ran last week …” It’s conversational. It’s full of dull things. It’s not focused on the one thing it NEEDS to be: a tool to help the DM run a game. It meanders. That kind of nonsense is prefect for a fluff book. It’s perfect for the fluff in the main rules/setting guide. The adventure is a tool for the DM to help them run a game for his players.

This makes you work, hard, to do that. This isn’t about leading the DM around by the nose, and it’s not about spelling out everything for the DM or the fact that a good DM could salvage it. This is about your buddy online talking to you about the game he ran last week vs. a product that helps YOU run a game for YOUR players. This product is not focused like a laser on doing that.

It’s not worth it. I love the objects, the artifacts, the art. But it’s not worth it.

(Oh, and those virus creates are stupid dull. It’s a fucking virus creature and you make it looks like a generic featureless humanoid green blob?)

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