The Brigands of Bristleback Burrow

By Brynjar Mar Palsson
Self Published
Shadowdark
Levels 1-3

No amount of coin is worth crossing paths with the Bristlebacks; they’ll rob you of more than your gold.” – Myrtle Salesbury of Salesbury & Sons Caravansary.

This eight page adventure uses three pages to describe twelve rooms. It’s trying hard, and does a decent little job of descriptions and scenes. Situations and interactivity, though, is lacking. Still, a better job than 90% of Shadowdark adventures, at a minimum!

What we’re going for here is a small dungeon with mostly goblins and their minions that has some faction play, again mostly between goblins. Most of the other things you expect from an adventure are at a bare minimum, at best. No hooks. No real marketing. It’s just a dungeon that you’re going in to for some reason. And that’s chill. You know what I like to say, concentrate on the important thing, the dungeon. Everything else is fluff. And that’s what’s going on here. There’s a short (and unremarkable) rumour table and that’s about it. Background is one paragraph of three sentences. Right on man! Then we get a half column on factions and what they do when all hell hell breaks out. Four factions. About half a column. With direction. That’s pretty good from a terseness standpoint. A craven goblin boss with a penchant for cruel punishment. Also, there’s an ambitious and patient doppleganger. Hoy boy! This is how you write an NPC description. Not a fucking paragraph. A few words that inspire and make sense in the context. 

I’m generally satisfied with all of this. Or, would be. They are, I think, a little too eager to recruit any PC they meet to their cause. Basically any goblin who sees the party is going to be all on board. And I’m not sure that’s how this should be handled. The map is small, only twelve rooms, so there’s not much room to breath here. And while the map notes creatures on it, it doesn’t necessarily note factions or numbers. So, what are we doing? Is this an exploratory adventure with subtle faction play? It’s not really large enough and everyone is eager to see you. Is it more of a mass combat/raid thing once you make contact? But the map doesn’t really support that, or the notes. 

And this is, I think, an issue with e adventure. It feels like a kind of 4e/5e mashup. The 4e aspect of combat centric with some “less tactical” 5e stuff. But it doesn’t feel interactive beyond that. And I’m not even sure I’d include NPC discussions with the monsters as an element. It seems like including Talking To The Shopkeeper would be appropriate here. It’s lacking that verve of contestation in the verbal arena, or even much in the way of interactivity beyond just stabbing shit. There are interesting things here, but they are more of an integrated backstory thing (well done) rather than things the party will be directly interacting with in a game way.

But, hey, I’m being an asshole before I’m being nice. There is some really chill stuff in this in terms of scenes and descriptions and the like. Like I said, monsters are noted on the map for reaction purposes. There’s a great monster reference sheet. And the magic? Oh man. The Pact Slate of Beherit: “A broken and chipped stone tablet with infernal writing and streaks of dried blood.” Go ahead, stamp your fingerprint in blood on it! That fucking shit is gold. FUCKING GOLD! Sign me up mom!

And, as the description for the pact-stone might imply, the descriptions in general, and the scenes that they build up, are well done. “Cramped and muddy vermin– infested hallways with the lingering stench of urine and body odor. Goblin voices echo from the gloom as flickering torchlight emanates from intermittent wall sconces.” That’s the general Always On description of the main part of the dungeon and it does a great job of communicating a vibe in a small amount of space. Or. Pillars, strung with 1-3 bodies, each with a sign stating “thief” or “trespasser”, etc. I might go a little harder there, but ok. The terse and colorful NPC description, combined with terse little scenes in the rooms help to do a lot to give the rooms a little life to them. Even if they do end up in combat. 

Formatting it pretty good also. Or, lets say, well thought out. There’s a sentence ot so describing the main thing in the room. What you might notice first. And then a few bolded section headings of other main things, and then some bullets and bolding, with indents, to note other important things. No, dickheads, it’s not the ultra-terse OSE style that you love to bitch about. It’s more verbose than that, with essentially something close to full sentences, if not full sentences. And it does a decent job. 

The rooms, however, tend to be on the more complex side of things. Four or five bolded section headings/bullets, at about a minimum. This contributes to a density of about four rooms a page or so. We’re moving toward set piece room length here, or Main Room vibes. In something something this short it’s not really going to be a problem.

But, the short size of the adventure, is, I assert, a problem. There is no room to breathe here. There’s no room for the faction play to develop in to something meaningful. There’s no room for that interactivity that is the soul of Dungeons and Dragons. Todo those things you need to get to something longer/larger, and THEN we have to look at page after page of four rooms per page. Can you do it? Absolutely. But it’s not gonna be fun. The challenge here is to take that format and really work it. How do you keep the vibrancy of the room, the scene, or situation, while also keeping each and every one of them from running to a quarter page? Errr … I guess that’s my challenge. You can also have a quarter page room. 🙂  

More seriously, the challenge here is the lack of interactivity beyond a lot of combat. Yes, there are factions, but this is a rather simplistic implementation of them. A full dungeon, but this designer, would be an interesting thing to see.

This is free at DriveThru:

https://preview.drivethrurpg.com/en/product/446454/Shadowdark-The-Brigands-of-Bristleback-Burrow?1892600

Posted in Reviews | 2 Comments

The Lost Universe

By Christina Mitchell
NASA
Generic/Universal/Fantasy
Levels 7-10?

A dark mystery has settled over the city of Aldastron on the rogue planet of Exlaris. Researchers dedicated to studying the cosmos have disappeared, and the Hubble Space Telescope has vanished from Earth’s timeline. Only an ambitious crew of adventurers can uncover what was lost. Are you up to the challenge?

This 44 page free adventure from NASA details the hunt for a missing team of researchers. It rivals a Bloodymage adventure for lack of comprehension. Yes, it’s THAT bad.

I try to start reviews by saying something good about an adventure. No matter how slight, they usually have something that stands out. An encounter. A nice NPC. Something. Not this one. There is nothing here. Well, ok, there are some appendices on vacuum energy and red/blue shifts that you could  read instead of a wikipedia article. Other than that …

The framing here is that you are people at Goddard, and make D&D characters, and are then transported in to those characters in a fantasy world. “It’s the Dungeons & Dragons ride!” Once in your new fantasy world city, you find out some people are missing. And get escorted by the town guard to their boss who wants you to find them. You then do the usual things or asking around, getting in a bar fight, and going to some ruins to follow an elf .. who turns out to be a green dragon. Yeah, you found the researchers! Do you want to stay in the new world or go back home?

The issues here are tha the designers don’t know anything about designing a D&D adventure. I’m not even talking about the “design” of the adventure, the plot, and how the dungeon foreshadows and such. I think I’m pretty fucking generous in those regards You’re not gonna make it in to The Best with a generic adventure, but I’m not going to hate my fucking life. This thing, though … oh boy. The basic design mistakes, formatting an adventure and what to include and why, the lack of knowledge here is, I assert, with our dear departed mage of blood. And, even when this adventure puts critical blocking elements behind skill checks, I’m not going to bitch about that. Should you do it? No. Does it show a fundamental lack of knowledge? Yes. But the DM makes the show go on. No, we’re gonna ignore ALL of those, and every other bad design decision like that. Fuck the interactivity. Fuck the evocative text. No, we’re giving this an adventure a pass on ALL of those. Yeah, none of them are present, but let’s ignore all of that.

You know what? I’m even going to ignore the NPC descriptions. Their long backstories. The trivialities that don’t matter. Their blandness. The mountains of text used to describe them. No. Let’s instead focus on one thing and one thing only in this one: wall of text.

This thing is absolutely ABSURD when it comes to wall of text. You know even the bible, in that whole begatting section, it has breaks. Some genius in the 1500’s stuck in chapters and verse to break up the text. But this thing? Yeeesh ..

Yes, it has some paragraph breaks. And some offset boxes. But, man, a single page may have, like four paragraphs on it. And those paragraphs ARE the adventure. They are full of “if the players do this then this happens” and long sections of skill checks and combats, with little to no bolding or other ways to break up the text and draw the DMs attention to things. 

Now, you’re gonna go download this and look at it and say “Brycy boy, this doesn’t look so bad!” and you’d be right. It doesn’t LOOK bad. But I would assert that the worst formatting CoC or Vampire adventure is more comprehensible than the text in this thing. I find it hard to believe ANYONE ran this adventure from this text. Took the booklet, without having written it or worked it in layout for two weeks, and sat down to read it to try and run a game from it. And I’m not talking on the fly. Just, read it to eventually run a game from it. I can’t believe that ANYONE did that. Look man, I know the OSR is on the forefront of this shit, but this is, I don’t know, a throwback doesn’t even come in to play. It’s SOmekind of throwback formatting/wall of text combined with layout that doesn’t know what its purpose it combined with the style and substance (or lack thereof) that tends to be in the forefront of modern playstyles. 

And no maps. Oh no. Instead we get things like this “The staircase, if your players choose to descend, goes down to a tunnel below that is far more easily passable than the area they just came through. As they reach the base of the stairs there is a landing with two arches, one is covered with a wall of blue flame and the other a wall of red flame.” Obviously a red shift/blue shift puzzle. But I swear to god, no map and attempting to describe the shit in text? “If they choose to descend.” No, they sit the fuck around with their thumbs up their asses. “If the characters choose to breathe.” might as well be the text. 

I understand that certain things have to be done. I assume we’re targeting new people, and such, and thus we can allow some of that “go to section B” stuff. But the rest? Absolutely not. When people bitch that adventures are hard to run they are talking about shit like this. The purpose of an adventure is to be run and if people look at this and don’t even try then it is failing to enable its primary purpose. 

It’s free, from NASA:

https://science.nasa.gov/mission/hubble/multimedia/online-activities/the-lost-universe/

Posted in Do Not Buy Ever, Reviews | 9 Comments

Into the Sapphire Mines

By reddJack
Self Published
EZd6

A complete one-shot adventure for the EZD6 system that sees players exploring an abandoned mine that uncovers a sprawling underground tunnel system filled with goblins and an ancient colony of crystalline arachnids.

This nineteen page adventure details a trip in to some “Sapphire Mines”, that contain no Sapphires. It’s an exercise in random locations and experimental layout. Neither of which ends up being as effective as was intended. Onward, to die rolling!

Page eight of this adventure is the critical one. Before this page we get a little blurb on the mine entrance, and some pages describing the goblin tribes (and factions) and the Sapphire Spiders (bestiary) and some backstory. But page eight is where the adventure comes together. You see, their’s this little four section flowchat and six entry random table for “what room do you encounter next.” Antechamber, goblin warrens, the back entrance to the goblin warrens, crystal cavern, underground oasis, or the Spider Queen room. And the little four entry flowchart tells us to roll for the room layout (three types) and then for what “danger” there is in the current tunnel, and then for a tunnel encounter, and then roll for the next main room type. IE: random AND linear. Oh, also, don’t step on the sand/loose earth or you will summon a worm/spider. Zzzz….

So, the designer is looking to set up this thing where a couple of goblin factions live in a cave/mine, that is also inhabited by these mutant spiders. The spiders have a queen and also some elf dude is who is the spider ally/leader/something like that. So you’ve got this band of goblins allied to the elf/spiders and another that is “free” goblins, currently out of power and being repressed. And you roll on the table and randomly wander around until you get bored and go home. I guess. I don’t know. There’s not much point here. Oh, look, our first room was the queens chamber. Themes the breaks of randomness. And how can you have an expressive faction play environment with six rooms? You can’t. And thus all of that text on the factions is relatively meaningless. 

The magic items get some decent description an are sufficiently unique. The room descriptions, and even the monster descriptions, are sorely lacking though. Bland, when they do exist, “Wolf-sized spider covered in crystalline carapace that shines like a moonlit pool. Agile and venomous.” Meh. Hippo sized spider that swims through soft earth. Meh. There’s not much here.

The main feature of the adventure is the layout. We’re being interesting with it, to help make all of the information readily accessible. I’m a big proponent of the formatting lending itself to those concepts. Further, I think that you must ruthlessly violate your own formatting guidelines when appropriate. Every situation you are trying to get across is different, with different goals, and thus the formatting for everything should be specific to that. This is more than just using a different format for the social town vs the room/key dungeon. Does the tavern need a different format than the general store? If so, then we don’t try to pigeonhole one in to the other. But, also … we do not want to tall in to the trap of listing lighting, door, lock, walls, ceiling, floor, sound, tase and smell in every room description at the top of them. We note things when appropriate. What I’m saying here is that there should be a general formatting style that you use throughout your adventure. Some standards. And, then, as exceptions arise, you tailor your formatting for them to those exceptions. But there should generally be some common standards. If EVERYTHING is different on every page then you face some serious cognitive dissonance, as the DM, in trying to context shift to the new formatting. What am I supposed to pay attention to on THIS page? 

And this is going to a problem here. Every page has a wildly different format. Yes, even the room pages. You’ll get to dig through all of everything fresh and new each and every time. Good luck with that. Just as with the adventures that list the lighting, door, and floor and walls and smells and noises for each room, this adventure has taken a principal to an extreme. Yeah, sure, lighting in a room is good to know. But, also, maybe we can assume most rooms are dark if in fact 90% of the rooms are dark? A format used excessively. And, with this, perhaps not EVERYTHING in the adventure requires a totally new format? Is there so much variation thats the case? (And if so … why?)

Plus, you know, no sapphires.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages. Which in this case is enough, if you know already that everything is going to be like that.

https://preview.drivethrurpg.com/en/product/464682/into-the-sapphire-mines-an-ezd6-one-shot-adventure?1892600

Posted in Reviews | 21 Comments

Awake in the Night Sky

By Ben Gibson
Coldlight Press
Starfinder
Level 3 (ending at level 6)


> Why am I here? Where is here?

>Power core lost. They took it. They took my eyes.

>Agents to sleep. Batteries low, shutting down.

>Drifting now. Listen. Wait.

>Awake in the night sky I wait for those who will follow.

>I will be free.

This 24 page Space /SciFi adventure features the party tracking down information and then exploring a derelict ship now controlled by an emerging AI. It’s got that Ben Gibson WIDE scope, which also means it’s more of an abstracted outline than reveling in the specifics. 

We’ve got this ship that an ai has emerged on. Other ships shoot at it and abandon it, lifeless. An escape pod gets loose with a dude in it that is devoted to the AI, taken over by it. He lands on a planet. A hermit there find his pod, and him. He hides the pod, recognizing the AI threat, and turns the dude, a clone, over to his clone family that squats in a portion of a space station a couple of systems away. You’re hired to infiltrate the dock the clones are squatting in to find the location of the life pod, to track it back to the location of the derelict ship … to salvage it. Or let the AI free. Or bow up the ship. There are several people with agendas that you could get involved with. I think we can all see the three acts here: space station dock, life pod planet, and derelict ship. And it makes sense then, I guess, that you are popping from level three to level six at the end of the adventure.

SciFI is hard, I think. Everyone is running around with level 36 wizard abilities. ANything and everything could happen. And the worlds seldom feel “lived in.” Let’s add in to this the scope of a Ben Gibson adventure. He tends to write some rather sandboxy things, with general places and situations described and then the DM left to take the party through them, using the bits and pieces provided as some guidelines for the adventure. This leaves specifics in the lurch, for most parts of it other than major NPC’s/rivals and the final dungeoncrawl in the derelict ship … which gets a traditional room/key but isn’t going to win any awards for “Avoiding Abstracted & Generic SciFi Ship Descriptions.” 

The first act is the infiltration of an abandoned dicking pad section of a colossal space station. It’s controlled by The Eddies, a clone family that look and think like Eddy. Very nice detail there; scifi elements, a but of humor, a bit of advantage. Good Job. This might be similar to a typical raid mission in D&D. You try to find a way in. This is a little handwavey for me in this adventure. Several options are mentioned but I think I continue to butt up against the possibilities inherent in SciFi. Once inside you bribe people or avoid bots or fight them and the clones until you find the information you are looking for. Which could be from the compromised clone. You could also get hired by another clone to find/do something about the derelict ship. Descriptions are on the terse side and there’s some variety here. That’s going to be a theme throughout the adventure; good variety. People to talk to, competing agendas, and sometimes a green slime in a biohazard locked room or a mini black hole in the physics test lab. The third act is going to be a variation on the first one. Instead of a raid you are, possibly, exploring the derelict ship. More NPC”s inthe forms of frozen crew or androids, along with booths and hostile fungi. With a hostile AI always lurking, wanting to get back to your ship and out to the wider galaxy. A fact that you may not be aware of. Again, good variety of interactivity, with some “air gapped” ad “compromised” computers providing some puzzle-like things in order to get the ship back online, if you wish. And, again, a kind of cold scifi room description … which is less description and more “here whats going on in the room thats weird.” Note, again, how I summarized this as an outline lacking specificity? “A simple conference room, on the whiteboard was written “What is going on with them?” , erased, but still barely visible.”

The second act is full of factions, on a planet. You’re there looking for the clones life pod, hidden by a hermit. There are a couple of settlements and, like, six factions? All looking for the life pod. And some willing to gut you and some willing to be truthful with you. This is a VERY handwavey section, with the DM needing to improvise almost everything, from locations to possabilities. The factions make it fun, but, also, it’s VERY loose.

Ben does a pretty good job with writing tersely, when it comes to the actual play parts. You get some longer descriptions for things like factions, to explain motivations and how to play them. And there is almost no specifics.  A typical room descrciption might be: “Logistics Office: This tight office has a single dead man within; Jerl Knobbs, the chief bosun, was hiding from the fighting outside before the missile strikes and resultant vacuum breach. He suffocated to death, not before severing the office’s connections to the mainframe.” So, not much description and a focus on whats going on. Along with some wrong cross-references here and there, which are frustrating. 

It’s an abstracted SciFI adventure. Aren’t’ ALL scifi adventures abstracted? Is it possible to write one that is not? I shouldn’t review them until I figure out how to review them.

This is $4.60 at DriveThru. The preview is nine pages, more than enough to get a sense of the general and room writing styles.

https://preview.drivethrurpg.com/en/product/359726/awake-in-the-night-sky?1892600

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Scorchfire

By Malrex
The Merciless Merchants
OSR
Levels 7-9

Your party successfully emerges from whatever dark hole you were conquering (or fleeing from) to be greeted by fire-swept terrain; a burning hell! A wildfire leaves a blackened and charred landscape. Ash storms blanket the smoldering remnants of charred trees and smoke blurs vision. Is the nearby town unscathed? Any survivors? Is there safe passage through the raging inferno? The adventure isn’t over….it just begun.

This eighteen page adventure is an escort mission, a bunch of level 0 villagers, through a wildfire. And, strangely, I don’t hate it even though it’s an escort mission. It’s decent enough for what it is, with a variety of situations to bemuse the party. Where bemuse is defined as “two of the villagers just got eaten by giant gar. Do you want to continue down the river?” 

You’re on your way out of the dungeon. Oops, everything is burnt.And the sky is all hazy? The heavy smell of smoke in the air? There’s been/is a wildfire! That’s a cute little element to spring on the party when coming out of a dungeon. It has shades of Ye Olde Bandits hitting the party when they come out of the dungeon. But with some variety. I like the setup! Making your way back to the nearby town/village/settlement, you find it totally burnt. And with some refugees. Twelves, in fact, all briefly summarized in a little table for the DM’s easy reference. Like Palisa, who wis unhinged and manic and will drown herself if not watched. And while not mentioned, this easily lends itself to a bunch of dead kids. Which is what a good idea in an adventure should do: lead the DM to places to springboard to easily. So, you’ve got all these refugees … let’s think of as, perhaps, Hit Points, and you want to get them to the next settlement. There’s two main roads, which they want to take. Also, they are a pain in the ass. “We should go to the river so we don’t get burned!” “I can’t swim!” “The road is quicker…who knows what’s off the road!” “Who put these guys in charge anyways?” Perfect! The designer communicates wonderfully the chaos in any group. If it were me I’d kill off everyone expressing an opinion and only take the sheep, but, hey, that’s Captain Pragmatic speaking. O, it’s an escort mission, but, you’re kind of high level at this point and the concept is fun. The stakes are low, it’s just some human villagers lives, and the situations are kind of fun … but in more of a dark comedy way than a humorous way.

The monsters are generally either pissed off because of the fire or having a great time because of it. A fire giant couple in a great mood, but missing their pet Sparky. Or Cave bears in a creek … who have burnt paws. Fire demons and the like, or a desperate Dryad and some pixies trying to protect her tree. There’s a little wanderer table, that has a lot of environmental things on it, like the fire shifting directions, or a mudslide from the rain and so on. It’s clear that Malrex researched wildfires and the “oh, that makes sense!” nature of the associated impacts. It’s got some great little things on it to help spice things up. It’s not not entirely clear to me how the fire shifts. I think one more sentence would have addressed it, but I THINK that the areas marked “scorched” on the map (most of the map …) shift a hex when the fire moves south? But, also, not real rules about a wildfire being IN your hex. So, a couple of interesting misses from this standpoint, but overall its a great way to cover the impact of the fire without doing the whole “make a saving through every turn” (read that in a whiny voice) thing that a lot of adventures do with environmental impacts.

Magic items have good descriptions, some little follow up hooks with them in some cases and nonstandard effects in some cases. Which is exactly how i like my magic items. 

With regard to the actual encounters, along the roads for the most part, there is some decent variety to them. We meet Orias the druid who, like all druids, is an asshole. Fire replenishes the forest, and so on. Yeah yeah, he treats and burns and shit, but, if it were me I’d be having the townfolk passive-aggressive, or even aggressive with him. Which, again, is what a good encounter description should do: springboard ideas. We’ve got slavers looking for new slaves and a decent will o’wisp encounter … everything old is new again when you’re escorting those level 0’s. There’s also some decent opportunities to pick up followers. One or two of the townfolk, a pixie in the druid grove, and so on, if the party is nice to them, etc. That’s a good touch and brings in the elements of high level play that are missing from a lot of adventures. 

The writing is decent, not too long and with good enough descriptions in most places. I’m not super duper excited about it, or the encounters, but also I recognize that they are WAY above average for the vast majority of adventures. You can scan them quickly and the core of them is always pretty good. I just wish they were perhaps a little more evocative, both in the encounter and the writing of it. 

This is a hard one to rate. The situation is fun, interesting, and is something that it is uncommon. And fun IS the reason for playing D&D. So, suck it up and take a Best … because a good idea is still a good idea in Brycelandia.

This is $4.25 at DriveThru. The preview is eight pages. You get a really good idea of the encounters and tables presented as to what the adventure is about, its tone and so on. Great preview!

https://preview.drivethrurpg.com/en/product/252309/scorchfire?1892600

Also, I bought Castle Oldskull: Bears. The blurb made me think it was going to be a kind of pamphlet on the mythic underpinnings of bears. In folklore, history and the like. Thus if you want to write an adventure about bears, or have a bear appear in your adventure then you could consult it and get some ideas of the various cultural symbolisms of bears and leverage that. That’s pretty cool! But, also, that’s not what this is. It’s about bears in this particular fantasy world, some ice bear variants, dwarf berserkers and so on. I shall keep searching for my shining city on a hill!

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Level 8, Reviews, The Best | 12 Comments

The Folio #8 – The Patina Court

By Scott Taylor
Art of the Genre
1e/5e
Levels 1-3

Valoria, jewel of the world of Mythras…  This ancient and fabled city is home to more than fifty thousand inhabitants, but little does that matter to the downtrodden who find refuge in the Patina Court.  Once a place of high magic, now little more than a forgotten slum, this neighborhood holds more adventure and mystery than one might think.  Can your players discover all its secrets?  Will they be able to face the challenges of refuse strewn cellars, newly haunted crypts, and enchanted wizard towers?  Only time, ingenuity, and dice will tell.

This 32 page adventure presents a small district in a town, a kind of home base district, and three short adventures in it. The few short building descriptions aren’t too bad, but the adventures are almost generic and lack any sort of depth or interest to them. 

We’re going for a Starting Home Base vibe here, except its in one district of a larger city. You’re advised to start the characters off almost broke, with just like 2gp each, in order to prompt them to adventure. The designer explicitly invokes the old Conan is Always Broke theme, and it’s not bad as a starting gimmick. The starting district has a few interesting quirks to it, the exact thing it should have, for a DM to use to leverage during their game. We’ve got a low-rent hostel, run by an ex-guardman, who carries around a cudgel and isn’t afraid to use it. Great! Thats the kind of flophouse I want in my game for my first levels! Lots of good ways to improve little scenes; maybe he’s a cheery guy to the paying guests but the party sees him kicking out someone who hasn’t paid, as their introduction. A juxtaposition! And there’s a tavern that serves the leftovers from a nicer place … and a popular outhouse out back where you can return their somewhat rancid fare. And, we’ve even got an nic little built in enemy, The Teller Gang, These are the local toughs, there to cause trouble, do a protection racket, and generally be foils for your beginning characters. Again, great opportunities here for inserting little scenes and interactions with the party. They are all written, relatively terse, and in such as way that they are an inspiration to a DM. And this is what you want with these kind of NPC’s and locales in town, things that inspire the DM to drop in little bits and pieces and interactions. This is one of the stronger parts of the booklet. I would say Not So Strong To Warrant A Purchase On This Alone … except … I love stealing shit for my cities and the hostel, tavern and maybe even the gang are stealable. So, sure, I might buy it just because I want to steal those parts for my game, without the district as a whole. 

We then start to fall down. A lot. The three little adventure provided are meant to be used with Dwarven Forge, which alone implies they will not be too large. And they are not, just a coupe of rooms in each, maybe seven or so at most. We get an adventure in the basement of the tavern, hunting rats, errr, giant ants. A trope so tropey as to be a meme. And really perfunctory. There’s almost not detail down there. Oh, there’s read-aloud, in the much hated and should never be used second-person format. But the rooms proper are really just an excuse, in each, to fight a giant ant or two. Nothing more. “Your light source bounces oddly off heaps and stacks Almost inch by inch, you plow, pull, tumble, and climb farther back into the monstrosity that is the Rancid Cellar.” Ok sure. 

And the treasure provided is NOT 1e. The final boss in one of them, a 6HD (!) crypt thing, has 47 silver pieces. In another place you find a single gold and pearl earring. There is almost n treasure at all in this, which begs the question: how do you level? Or, even, pay the rent in the hostel for another night. 

There are skill checks, like making four charisma checks to get some rumors to find out where to go next. Blech! I hate it when the roleplaying elements are reduced to simple die rolls. This is the heart of the game! Not cool man.

In the Crypt adventure you know that two gravediggers went missing. In one room you find two fresh zombies. But there are not details given. Just two fresh zombies and some advice to conduct a jump scare. This is a MAJOR missed opportunity. Those dudes should have names. They were the Maltese Falcon f the adventure. But, we’re not even really told it IS the two gravediggers, there’s just the implication that they are since the zombies are fresh. We really need a beter description of them, other than “fresh zombie” and something else. A family, or some mystery or something to springboard more play off of. It’s like the adventures, proper, are divorced from the town above them, as if they have no relation to them. Instead they should be integrated in to the town, and used to bolster, further, the town play.  

Obviously, I’m not a fan of the adventures, although some of the town locations are decent for stealing. (And, as always, I’m enamored with town play, so keep that in mind.) And, not really a 1e adventure but a 5e, I’d say.

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. That’s not much, but you do get to see the hostel and a couple of NPC’s. Check em out!

https://preview.drivethrurpg.com/en/product/188423/The-Folio-8-1E–5E-Format-DF1?1892600

Hey, yo, I also snagged Highdark Hall. It’s not an adventure, but rather a manor home/estate for a gothic roleplaying game. Think Jane Eyre the RPG … except this is just a location to use in any period RPG. It’s got a GRET floorplan, lots of people, including the servants, an estate to go with the hall, and a lot of rumours. It could be used either for more fantastic games, with some spell slinging occults, or cultists, or in a more mundane fashion as well. If you wanted a supplement that detailed a country manor for a period game then I’d give it a look. It’s pretty well done, as a resource for a a place to run adventures IN.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 1 Comment

Escape from Miklagard

By The Fictionaut
Stellagama Publishing
OSE
Level 1?!

The largest metropolis in the continent is burning! The emperor amassed the largest mercenary army seen in history without the funds to maintain it, and now companies of sellswords unleash their wrath and greed upon the city. Whatever the reasons that lured you to the Great City, you now must escape before ending as a corpse littered on the streets, enslaved by opportunists, or worse; and if that wasn’t enough a host of frost giant Vikings is approaching the city with ill intentions!

This 75 page product details the party escaping a city under siege. It is a toolkit, not an adventure. The generators are bland while the specifics are quite interesting, if long winded and a little … Ironclaw? I dub thee Not An Adventure.

The greatest city on the planet is burning and under siege and in civil war. Toss in a bunch of looting. Toss din an imperial army. Toss in a fuckton of mercenary factions, including a fuck ton of neighborhood watches. Oh, also, Frost Giant Vikings are about to land and destroy everything. You should be leaving now …

A buried little piece of text tell you that you have about encounters, on average before you get to the city gates to escape, so you’ll be doing seven-ish things if you are just moving toward them. There is a random table to roll on to see what you encounter. This can, for the most part, be pretty mundane. You meet looting mercenaries, or the neighborhood watch, or an army patrol, or a trap set by a former resident, or something like that. There are not many details, at least not many in the way of specifics to help bring the encounter to life.It’s the kind of abstracted stuff that is hard to work with. When it DOES get specific, in a few special locations, it can get pretty interesting. “Some fools thought it was a good idea to defile a crypt, angering restless spirits which now run rampant on the streets. In most cases, these will be intelligent wights who fight as the legionaries of eras pasts” I fucking love some chaos and this thing can bring that. We’ve got some dudes in church doing some sacrificing, or taking it over in the name of new gods, or some gladiators/athletes trapped in a sauna … but ready to join up and help you rumble. This is all great. Specific, without necessarily being too long winded. You really get the idea the designer was trying to get across to you, the vibe of the encounter. And that allows you to run it pretty well. And when the adventure is doing this it’s great. There’s a list of potential rival adventurers in the back that is stellar. Exactly the kind of thing you want to hang your hat on. And there are notable places around town … with a lot of platinum, that are interesting as well … although perhaps out of place in the sheer length of the descriptions and the cumbersome way that would cause the adventure to run.

So the random encounters, that make up the bulk of the adventure, I think, are quite abstracted, in general, unless you get the specials. And then it’s also abstracted but more interesting than “a faction looting homes.” But, man, this thing …

The city has 117 harbors. (There’s no map, this is a pointcrawl, in that you’re having sevenish encounters on the table. I think it’s like rolld 2d6 for the number of encounters it takes to get to a gate.) There’s not much details on the various districts, except to note that one of them is inhabited by mimics, and people keep them as pets also. Yes, it’s one of those. As far as decadent capitol of a great empire goes, I’m kind of ok with it here. A monkey man is The Last Legionnaire or the former empire, come from far away to beg the new empire for help in their desperate final days … but caught up in politics. Not bad. There are a lot of weirdo creatures though, so be warned.

But, back to the lack of focus. The party doesn’t know how long till the frist giants get there. Or how long it will take to get out of the city. WHich makes planning hard. It’s a timer, but not exactly a timer and I’m not sure how I feel about this, from a pacing and fairness standpoint. 

The various factions also have a tiered escalation list. From they don’t know about you to the cops stopping you, to them hunting you, to them putting a big reward on your head. I like this, and I like it existing the chaos of the city. I just don’t see it working well in 7-ish encounters.

And that’s the problem with most of this. I just don’t see it working. There’s is A LOT of content. And it’s abstracted. I you’re not going to get to … 90% of it? 95% of it? As a generic city thing it might be ok … if the city were in perpetual chaos. But as a ESCAPE the city thing? Most of it is not being used. And all of that mountains upon mountains of backstory and motivations are lost. 

Is this a city supplement? Or a escape the city supplement? It doesn’t seem like the designer quite had the focus to decide. Adding more specifics  to, say, a dozen or so encounters, in a true pointcrawl/map style, would have been better, I think. Then you might get something like Slumbering Ursine. But, as this is, it’s a toolkit. And this in spite of the blurb right up front that says “Our goals are primarily to publish enjoyable and immediately playable supplements, settings, rulesets, and adventures for our fellow players and referees.” Not this time, I think. 

Here’s an example of one of those abstracted encounters: “Panicked riding mounts or beasts from a menagerie escape from their enclosure and run amok in their frenetic attempts to achieve freedom or survive. If the PCs do not want to be trampled, they must make a Breath Weapon Saving Throw, and if someone fails, they will take 2d8 points of damage. In case of success the Referee must roll 1d6 to see which kind of creature they do engage or if they have to fight at all: 1d6 (1-2=No beasts to fight; 3= 1d4-1 Basilisk; 4= 1 Grisly Bear; 5=1d4 Flame Lizard; 6= 1d6 Terror Bird).”

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is nine pages. There’s not really anything in that to help you make a purchasing decision, at all.

https://preview.drivethrurpg.com/en/product/455885/escape-from-miklagard?1892600

I also bought “25 Apparitions, Spirits, and Hauntings”. It was just a generic monster manual of ghosts and one page of generic Whats haunted and why. I was hoping for some tragic unique stuff, but instead got genericism.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 5 Comments

Slave-drones of the Fantas-ti-Plex

By Steve Bean
Shield of Faith Studios
DCC/Unamerican - and a major reskin at that
Level 0

WELCOME TO THE FANTAS-TI-PLEX! A lovely underground dystopian complex ruled by the ever beneficent Autocrat. Here all drones live in peace and prosperity, because the Autocrat says so. I mean, why would any of the drones doubt him, EVER. It is a perfect place to barely live and no one would EVER want to leave, right?

As I work through my wishlist you gotta take the bad lumps to get to the things you were hoping for …

This forty page adventure attempts to marry Paranoia to … Logans Run? Or MCC/DCC? Bureaucracy, a surveillance state, that Paranoia vibe, combined with some post-apoc vibes. It’s also VERY loosy goosy with what’s going on, to the extent that one might argue that there is NOT an adventure here, but rather a few ideas that the DM could use to string together to make an adventure. And that’s on purpose.

Logan’s Run! That’s my fav of all time! “There is no sanctuary!” is a mantra for all time! And Paranoia! That was a great game! And post-apoc! I love post apoc! And DCC is great! I’m gonna love this! Well … there’s not much, if any, Logan’s Run. I guess you’re inside and there are clones. But, that kind of describes Paranoia. And this is absolutely a reskinned Paranoia, with mutants, secret societies, and that Brazilesque bureaucracy. It’s an overseer now, instead of Friend Computer. But the chants, tone, and demeanor are all Paranoia. The system is DCC< with the clones taking the place instead of multiple level 0 funnel characters. And, once you break out of the complex that is definitely not Alpha, you get to a post-apoc world, all THX-1138 style, and thus you’re now in the Unamerican setting. I’m not going to cover much of the tone or the reskin. It’s the same tone as the early Paranoia adventures, or just a tad more to the Zany side of things.

The start is full of mountains of read-aloud in italics. A mighty disgorgement of information. That no sane player is going to sit through or pay attention to. But, that’s not the worst of things.

There are five locations here. Which means there are five scenes, of sorts  … including the traditional briefing room scene. But, more than that, those five scenes, which are actually locations, take place on about six pages of text. The rest of the forty pages is taken up with the Paranoia setting reskin, mutations, secret societies, etc. Those locations present a short scene. A set up/environment, if you will, for other things to take place. You are characters in a game show at one point. These little scenes … I hesitate to call them scenes. They are more Places Where Things Can Happen, serve as a backdrop. A few pages of the adventure contain Things That Can Happen, or, perhaps more accurately, Zany Robot and Friend Computer Things That Can Happen. They are some rough guidelines for how to use the various robot types, and such, to cause problems for the characters. Thus if you are in the SToreroom location then the DM can theme the Filebot to that location, and if you are in the Game SHow location then you can theme it to that location. Not much guidance on the theming aspect, by the way. This is how we get to, say, fifteen pages of “Adventure” in a forty page booklet that allows for about six pages of Location. 

So, you are almost exclusively doing improv. And, yes, there’s a bit of improv in every adventure. But as the main treat? With, of course, lots of advice to drop things in when there is a lull or stop when things get tiresome. This is an activity, not a game. And, as such, I deem thee Not An RPG Adventure. 

I will note that, in the first real location, you get some clones bound up with duct tape to chairs in front of monitors. One has a live grenade wedged in him. One is an annoying shit. One is competent, and one is an imposter robot. Cure little setup, and one of the most solid of the bunch.

I understand that I am working on razor thin definitions of Game, but, I leave unanswered the elephant: Can Paranoia be a game, and, thusly, do I judge harshly on criteria unbecoming? Nay, nay! I say! For even in an activity we can ground our scenes more and make them more use friendly. 

This is $4 at DriveThru. No preview. SUCK!

https://preview.drivethrurpg.com/en/product/256922/slave-drones-of-the-fantas-ti-plex-dcc?1892600

Yo, I also picked up “Outlying Farms”, a supplement about farms you might encounter. Two pages. Twelve farms/families. They come in a very terse outline, which is exactly how they should come. I wouldn’t buy it; there’s just no content here that I would find useful.

Lerana Scissorfinger
(she, felter, 40 yrs old)
AC: 9, HP: 3, Dmg: 1d4
Possessions: scissors, felt, 2d5 hats, pouch, 36 cp
Traits: sassy, fashionable, disorganized, tired
Motivations: sell hats, “they are a sign of station!”
Backstory: never married, always wanted to move
to Illis but it seemed impossible, will pay for escort
Family: Grigin (dog 6) & Nord (dog 3)

Posted in Reviews | 17 Comments

A Dish That Serves No One

By Thom Wilson
ThrowiGames
Gamma World 1e
Beginning Characters

A settlement built upon the ruins of a military installation has recently come under bombardment from space junk falling from the sky. Almost daily, giant chunks of twisted and broken metal and parts of large vessels fall from the sky near or onto the settlement! Many people have been injured or have died. The village  elders do not want to leave as they have finally established a productive farm near a drinkable water supply. What is even more strange, however, is that a large object on the roof of a plateau building nearby has begun moving recently, often several times a day. Are these two things related? Is the impenetrable plateau structure the source of the falling debris?

This thirty page adventure presents a five-ish level complex with about seventy rooms. A simple map and straightforward exploration combine with a play style I find a bit off putting. It’s perhaps most reminiscent of exploring all of those empty rooms in Barrier Peaks … even though most of the rooms are not empty.

Gamma World is my favorite. You thought I had strong opinions on D&D? Ha! MA, 1e, 2e, 3e … all great. A glorious glorious mess. You’ve been warned.

We’ve got a village at the base of a mesa. Up top is a ancient complex that no one has explored. A couple of weeks ago the big circle thing on its roof started moving and now junk from the sky keeps falling on the village. Go investigate and make it stop. There’s always a bit of metagaming in tech adventures, the party figuring out what something is is fun … up to a point. And metagaming to get ahead IS a tried and true part of RPG’s. So, you need to get inside and stop the sat dish from recalling broken spaceships back to the site. This means working your way up through the mesa, all five levels of it.

This thing has the Loot table that I love so much, a few pages of random shit for the party to find when searching. I swear to god, a Gamma World adventure without one of those is not a Gamma World adventure. It should be mandatory in every adventure, it adds so much fun to the thing.

The map, also, has a few interesting things about it. There are a couple of stairwells and an elevator shaft (although, sadly, no mention of climbing the shaft, an obvious miss there …) that are arranged in such a way that there are a couple of sub-basement levels that are not obvious unless you are in the right location. That sort of hidden space, and the verticality of it, is quite the nice little feature. There’s also a couple of quite obvious secret doors in to the mesa. “Heres a big blank wall in the mesa. I wonder what could be there?” It’s a little too mechanistic for me; no real description of HOW the doors are hidden, or rubble piles or anything Just a blank mesa wall with a secret door in it. Meh. I should note, also, while on the map, tha the adventure starts slow, with few creatures, and a good looting will turn up many weapons to help with the upper levels of the complex. So, some pacing there.

The rest of this, though, is not to my liking. 

The agreed-upon-conventions are not quit ein place, in terms of style. We’ve got mentions of manned laser turrets in the village. The guards all walk around with slug throwers, and they do a “serum test” with you to see if you are lying/good people or not. Meh. I like my base Gamma World a little more primitive. You might be ok with it, and that’s fine. But, also, the read-aloud refers to thing like dimmed emergency lighting and terminals. Again, not quite the vibe I’m going for, although I do acknowledge the balance between mystery and just getting on with things.

The read-aloud is in italics, which is never a good thing for extended reading. EVen though it’s also in a shaded box. Why both? Just pick the shaded box. And it over-reveals, noting things in the read-aloud that are best saved for the back and forth between DM and players as they investigate. That’s a core feature of RPG’s and read-alouds that over-reveal destory this key aspect of the game.

We also get pretty minimal description here. Things like “Four beds with adjoining desks are found within” or, on a good day “Rusty metal stairs end in a large, open space that is completely dark. The area is well below the surface and is fairly chilly and damp.” Kind of cold. And not in a good way, I’d assert. They lack that vibe that I’m going for. ANY vibe.

There’s also some misses in the descriptions, with several trapdoors in the floor, in the upper levels, leading to the lower levels, that you explored first probably … only those hatches are not mentioned in the lower levels. And, there are choices to be made that are not quite kosher. At one point you can cut the power to the base. And if you do so then all of the space junk then falls on the village. But that seems like a valid solution, yeah? Cutting power? But, no, you have to get to the top level man room and use the terminal there. There’s no indication that cutting the power will fuck you over. It’s just one of those hidden choices that seems random, or like a good thing, that has catastrophic consequences. And, sure, you can do that. But, also, informed decisions are the best decisions. It makes the players feel like they have a horse in the race.

And, the entire thing just feels … empty. Kind of like those endless rooms on the first level of Barrier Peaks. Now, I don’t mean that’s what is going on. But that’s what it FEELS like. You’ve got each level shaped like a square with rooms along the outside walls, and then a small “center square” of rooms also. And you just go from door to door and open it and search an empty room and get some loot. And maybe make a save vs poison. Or maybe fight a plant/amoeba. It doesn’t feel so much like an exploration. There are no factions. It just feels like monotony. Room after room after room. Open door. Search room. Next room. Now, I realize that IS the main loop of many RPG’s. But, also, there are other things in other games. Some exploration of the complex layout. Factions. Tricks, traps, puzzles and so on. But no here. Just room after room. And, yes, there’s some loot in some of them. And sometimes a monster. And it doesn’t really have much rhyme or reason to it. Just room after room after room. Imagine a long hallway in an office building. And scattered along it are office doors on the right and left side. And behind each is an office. Essentially the same, but with some minor variation. Let’s say there are a hundred doors in that hallway. And some of the rooms might have a little loot. And some might have a surprise plant monster also or a slime that suddenly drops from an otherwise normal looking ceiling. And start exploring those offices, room after room after room. How do you decide which door to open? You don’t, really. You just pick one. And that’s what the vibe going on here. The endlessness of the Severance complex, without the subtext.

This is $3.50 at DriveThru. The preview is sox pages. So you get to see a little of the village but not the complex. It should have shown some of the complex also.

https://preview.drivethrurpg.com/en/product/244906/ntx4-a-dish-that-serves-no-one?1892600

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The Burning Firmament

By Dave Chenault
Troll Lord Games
Castles & Crusades
Levels 4-6

Goblins have fallen upon the town of Oorerestberg, besieging the walls and gate. And in the chaos and fear Gisella von Gripp, a druid of some renown, calls for aid in securing a wonderous books of potions. This to keep it from the goblins and others she deems unfit!

This 23 page adventure describes three scenes: a quick explore of a simple tower in a town under siege, a chase through town once the attackers are in, and then a finale in a ruined monastery outside of town. It’s the Trolls usual style, which just means info dumps of text in paragraph form with victorian inventories and perfunctory descriptions. In a 23 page adventure.

The Trolls are who they are. As is Northwind. I like to poke my head in sometimes to see what’s up; a good adventure CAN transcend publisher idiosyncrasies. But those are few and far between and remain so.

Ok, you’re in a town. It’s under siege by goblins about to break in. While running through a square someone else, running also, stops you and says she needs to grab a prayer book from that tower right there to bring to her master defending the walls. If you refuse she uses her Cloak of Charm Humanoids on you. That’s nice, eh? I don’t like it when things are that convenient. It reminds me of all of those DUngeon mystery adventure where the villain has sixteen magic items in order to prevent you from casting the first level spell you need to discover them. Anyway, you go in with her or perhaps after her when an old servant inside comes out yelling Thief! Thief! You go through some boring rooms, maybe get attacked by a pet mimic (again, ug!) and then discover shes escaped with the book. You chase her through the streets, having five encounters from a random table. The encounters have nothing to them other than “2d6 goblins” or “1d10 townfolk.” EVerything else is left up to the keeper, even though this would have been better handled by just stating out some encounters for the party to have. Why make this random? It’s not a wanderer, meant to push the party, it’s just that five of these WILL happen. Why not just describe them in a way that makes sense and brings some life to the adventure? Anyway, you come to the gate out and there COULD be a mass battle, and it COULD include some townfolk you might have picked up from the two suggested static encounters. Kind of nice there as they huddle close to the party, the kids get in the way of your feet they are so close, the men try to help and get slaughtered, the women don’t try to help and get slaughtered. No good deed, eh? Would have been nice if the townfolk had a little character. But there’s none provided, they are generic. You get outside and track her through some snow, that is now falling, to a ruined monastery nearby. Stabstab stab, the end.

Along the way we get EXTENSIVE backgrounds. Otherwise how are filling those 23 pages? The thief  gets several paragraphs of backstory. This is one: “Gisella is a worshipper of Toden, long ago disparaged in this area. She has been tasked by her superiors with coming to this area and reestablishing Toden’s influence. She has been here for a decade or more and has had little success in doing so. She has intended to leave for quite some time and now, with the city about to be slaughtered and potentially herself along with it has finally decided to leave.” Yeah, nothing there that is gameable. Wasted effort.

Our room descriptions frequently will be in Victorian inventory style. Here’s one he paragraphs hat describes the basement: “The basement contains, 3 chairs, a broken table, a brass candelabra, some sheets, a clothes rack, some pans, a pile of broken glass, an old rug, 4 lanterns and a lamp. There are 10 boxes of various sizes. Half are open and none locked. They contain sheets, cloths, winter clothes, incense burners, vials of oil, candles and candle holders, a sheaf of clean papers, dried inks, pans, rotten fruit and other assorted used or forgotten household items.” None of that is useful. None of that is important. None of that contributes to a feeling of realism. It’s just tedium. 

And our rooms generally start with some kind of backstory. Again, not in any way gameable or relevant to whats happening NOW: “This room was once used for study and prayer. When located, everything in it was piled in the center and burned or dragged outside and burned, thus very little remains. However, years ago a deeneert made his home here and left some treasure when he went off on a hunt. The demon was subsequently killed.” There’s no real formatting other than paragraph breaks and some indenting for read-aloud. Other than that, its just paragraph after paragraph of long form text for you to wade through while running the adventure.

The trolls are who they are at this point. You should know what to expect by now.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. You do get a good sense of what to expect from it, so it’s a good preview.


https://preview.drivethrurpg.com/en/product/240689/castles-crusades-the-burning-firmament?1892600

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 8 Comments