Sulphur & Snuff, D&D adventure review

By Rook
Self Published
Levels 1-3

A wicked theatre, a blue-skinned vizier, an imprisoned demon, evil noblemen and lots of torture, mutilation and cannibalism (and more within!). Sulphur and Snuff – A Devilish Performance  …

This eleven page landscape adventure features about twenty rooms in a debauched theater in a city. It successfully creates the debauched theater environment, but, is more locale than adventure. A certain degree of motivation is missing.

The closest analog I have for this adventures design is the one page dungeon contest. If you took a bunch of the better one page dungeons and strung them together in to one project then you’d have something like this. One page dungeons are interesting because of how they force the designer in to new and more interesting choices and really focus the efforts. And they suck because they are artificially limited by what you can fit on one page … and they can slip, far too easily, in to pretentiousness over delivering the goods. You have things like Stonhell or The Fall of WhiteCliff which take one pages and fit them together to form something more. This adventure is like that.

You get a one page overview map and a page or so of overview information integrated in to it, along with a page or so of “what does eating a demon organ do to you?”, “things people are talking about” and random people walking around the theater tables, etc, as well as monster stats all located in the rear. Then you get little mini-maps, each with three or four locations on them, blown up, with the text for the locations on the page surround it. The map, proper, has some color on it, noting doorway types, as well as some icons in the room, Blue Medusa style, to help trigger the DM in to what is in the room and how to run it, as well as what might be in the next room and splashing over in to this one. It’s an effective layout style for this sort of thing.

The rooms, themselves are written fairly well, both in terms of evocative writing that helps the room/situation spring to mind as well as presenting situations that are going to be interesting to interact with. The situations are familiar enough that the DM can grasp them, or, perhaps, the writing is good enough that the situations SEEM familiar enough to grasp and run with them … which would be either good writing or good design or both. Outside the theater, for example, we get a throng of locals fended off by two theatre guards in half plate. Prove your worth to get by them; 25gp. Or, the first real room, the foyer. Dimly lit, deep red carpets stretching out over the floor, walls lined with dripping black wax candles, a woman with a noble accent heard arguing with a clerk in a barred window, another guard trying and failing to hide a large streak of blood on the floor. You know this. You know these situations. Either because they are familiar to you or because the writing has CAUSED them to become familiar to you, you know them. They are inside of your head. You know how to run them. You know the attitudes to take. And if you know this then you can relate it to the players. And that is the entire fucking point of the entire exercise. Decent writings, good situations, they combine to form something greater than the sum of their parts. 

Blah blah blah blah blah blah. There’s more of the same. A pusher in the alley, bored and jaded nobility. Secret torture club. A demon on stage in a magic circle that is also being tortured for the delight of the social circle milling about in the main theater.

There are some challenges here though.
First, your gonna need a place to set this that has a fuck ton of jaded nobles. This place is stuffed like Biohock is full of rich assholes. But while BioSHock could put all the assholes in the world in their libertarian utopia, you’ve only got one city/kingdom to work with here. 

Second, there is some issue with the point of the adventure, and I think the designer recognizes it. They talk about it being a heist, a kidnapping rescue, etc, and not a dungeoncrawl break down the door, kill, loot, repeat adventure. But, then, we get to the SUPPORT of those other play styles. Lets say you wander about until you find the torture room or the treasury. Ok. The entire thing is written in a kind of a non-committal style, at least with regard to how things can/should go down. We get a very neutral description of a place with few comments on what can happen when the party fucks up or how to support those heist/rescue play styles. There are no real personalities to the NPC’s, or many “named” NPC’s, for that matter. The reaction to violence is given about three words … there’s just not enough here to support play beyond “go in to room and look around a have some fun isolated in this room.” It needs more … interconnectedness. 

“A languid, alabaster noblewoman reclines in a basin of blood. It seeps onto the floor as she

rises to meet the players. She is the Baroness Melvelia. She is a detached gossip and for d4 HP worth of fresh blood she will answer one question the PC’s might have about the adventure. She apathetically and effectively knows everything and will answer truthfully.” Well, Hello there! …. in my best Jerry Lewis … “Hey Laaaaaady!” How much do you really want to get your questions answered? Man, do you invite a woman like this to your parties? I mean, she’s interesting to have around, but you’ve got to get those blood stains out of the carpet and the apathy … ug, what a let down when you’ve got the tunes pumping!

This is free at the designers blog. I’d check it out.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, No Regerts, Reviews | 3 Comments

The Spire of Quetzel, Forbidden Lands adventure anthology

By Chris McDowall, Patrick Stuart, Ben Milton, Karl Stjernberg
Free league Publishing
Forbidden Lands

Wind dies. Pale grass grows in spirals. Lichen forms blurred iridescent sigils on cracked stone. Black trees curl their trunks and crook their branches as if bowing. The Spire is driven through the skin of the world like a pin through curling paper. With every step toward the tower, it writhes and warps like a hallucination. It seems infinitely tall, like something in a dream. There is one silver door, marked with a pavonated eye in iridescent blue and green.

Forbidden Lands is some Modipheus RPG that tries to emulate OSR play, I think. I don’t know. What I do know is that they snagged a lot of Name Brand designers to write a volume of adventures for their game. That’s one way to get a decent base of adventures for your new game!

I don’t usually review anthology stuff, collections of adventures from many designers. I never feel like I give any one adventure enough attention and so I do a disservice to them all. In addition, you’ve got the issue of “How Much Did The Publisher Fuck With Their Creations” to deal with. But, I think I’ve found a new work method that might help me do better reviews of these anthology things. So, off we go!

Adventure 1 – The Spire of Quetzel – Patrick Stuart

This thing is 23 pages long and describes about ten locations in about eight pages, with the rest being monster descriptions,  events, etc. Locations can be a bit of a misnomer; while some of the keyed locations are “normal” rooms, as one expects, others are more situations. “You are in a huge maze” or “you are in a huge greenhouse.” Patrick is a very good writer and uses language quite effectively to paint dreamlike images for the DM that I find quite evocative. His situation/encounters are also highly interactive. This feels like a process done right: imagined and then put down with mechanics as an afterthought, instead of mechanics driving the system. “I need a CR5 encounter” is the bane of adventure design.

Looking at those last two senses of the introduction gives a good summary of the descriptive style “With every step toward the tower, it writhes and warps like a hallucination. It seems infinitely tall, like something in a dream. There is one silver door, marked with a pavonated eye in iridescent blue and green.” This is an adventuring site, no doubt about it! This is what you yearn for! Adventure awaits! Not just some bullshit dry location, but someplace WONDROUS. And an eye, pavonated like a peacock feather. Note the relationship to the queens name: Quetzal. And then, the first encounter, a couple of bird creatures, peacocks crossed with archaeopteryx and Birds of Paradise. Demons. I, dummy that I am, still did not get it. Not until I saw an art piece. They are Vrocks. This is a strength is a good designer and Patrick does it wonderfully. Not just a Vrock.  Not just a bird demon. No, he creates a description that causes you to totally rethink your preconceived notions of what a Vrock is. Turcotte did this with his devils and undead in his Jarls adventures on Dragonsfoot. It’s not a class of creature. It’s not a demon, or a vrock, or a bird demon. It’s not some genetic classification of monster. These are Grumis and Nachtrapp, weird creepy intelligent old men in brilliant giant peacock bird-creature form. Through specificity the soul of an encounter is gained.

Those demons also highlight the interactivity of the adventure. They guard a staircase. (Specifically, a spire of gilded bone leading up, with a keening wind echoing down and a pale light gleaming from above, with long-dead bodies strewn across the floor and hung like pennants on the walls. Tell me you can’t see that in your head are not excited to run it!) Anyway, those bird demons. They guard it, but they don’t want to. You cna talk to them. There are a lit of bulleted talking points for them, making them easy to run. They have a neato little entry describing their personalities, voices of hoarse whispers laughter of a goat coughing, non stop talking from them, the tone never changing, speaking as if discussing a minor poet in a library, no matter the intensity of the situation, never verbally upset. That’s a fucking NPC you can run!

There’s this kind of art nouveau quality to the descriptions, and they extend to the magic items, like The Feathered Blade: a dagger, it’s handle of lapis lazuli, carved in the shape of an eyes, it’s blade one metallic silver feather. If you wound a flying creature with it then it steals the ability to fly from it and grants it to you for a day. Neato! Fuck your “there’s a +1 dagger here.” 

On the negative side, there’s quite a bit of long italics sections, generally for the room overviews. I assume this was the publisher “helping.” M<aybe some house style? It sucks because it’s hard to read long sections of italics. The monsters also appear in the end of the adventure. Generally, I’d be ok with this, but, given that they are so unique, with their personalities built in, you really need them “in” the room page to be able to run the adventure well without page flipping or some such. The formatting feels … I don’t know … normal? SOme of the rooms, particularly the “situation” rooms, are complicated and the text is pushing the limits by what can be accomplished for easy running in a “normal” paragraph layout style. (I wonder if this is digest form? Maybe that’s a contributor also?) It all feels very awkward. THis is exacerbated by some mistakes in the layout with line spacing and paragraphs and mushing things together so they appear to be a part of a subheading rather than, for example, general notes on a location. It feels like the vodka soda of layouts. Basic.

The Bright Vault – Chris McDowall

This sixteen page adventure describes a 24 room dungeon with three monsters in it. It’s high concept and empty and the kind of adventure that makes me feel like I’ve wasted my life when played.

Which is, perhaps, a bit harsh, but true. There is some sharp dividing line for me in adventures. Well, at least one anyway. On one side you have these sorts of exploratory adventures. There are things to do and places to go and loot to steal. It feels like you have a purpose in being there, if only to snag some phat loot. We might also include many plot adventures in this category, seeing as you have something to do in them. And then you’ve got the other side of the line. The museum adventure. You go some place and look around. It doesn’t feel like there’s much else to do in the adventure, or, rather, there’s not much purpose in doing anything. These feel, I don’t know, pretentious? Empty? Hollow? Like, what the fuck is the point of this place? There were a couple of adventures in Raggis Grand Adventure Plan that fit in to this, as well as some Ed Greenwood adventures and a host of indie game adventures. And, this one.

So, 24 room dungeon. It has three demon spawn siblings in it. There’s a bodyless aura-thing protector spirit there interacting with you also. One room is a treasure vault, but the aura-thing will only let you take one item. That’s the adventure. Three child-like demon-spawn, mostly innocent in nature, and an aura-spirit that lies to you and them to keep them inside the place. I guess you can kill the demon spawn, but why? Why even go in? Why even interact with anything? 

A lot of rooms are empty, or might as well be. You go in a room and the aura-spirit says “this room is blah blah blah” and then uses the [mural, fire, whatever] to test the party and question them and find out more about them. Ug. At least, the first third of the rooms has specific cues for te aura to talk to the party, I guess because there are “Faces” on the doors to allow for that. But, given that the aura is meant to tempt and lie, especially to the spawn, then it seems … disconnected? 

So, central conceit: poor.

And then there’s room descriptions like “A large wicker basket fills the room, thinly lined with straw.” and “A dusty library filled with even more dusty books.” Masterpieces of evocative writing, to be sure. This is augmented by one of my favorite design choices: I couldn’t be bothered. “Roll 2d4 precious treasures and 1d6 valuable treasures to be placed here.” *sigh* Just put the fucking god damned things in man! The randomness doesn’t nothing to enhance the adventure and all you’re doing is shoving more work off on to the DM. 

The Hexenwald – Ben Milton

This eleven page “adventure” is less adventure and more “five witches in the forest you can talk to.” As such, there’s little to say about it as an adventure.

Bens writing is inconsistent, with some stellar descriptions like “The path north into the Hexenwald ends at a wide pond, buzzing with insects and covered in green scum.” Buzzing insects and green scum add a lot to the visuals of that description. In other places though we get things like “A wooden hut stands on stilts in the middle of a wide still pond.” The vodka soda of descriptions for a witches hut.

The witches themselves get about a column or so of description each, with their personalities and their relationships to the others. Frankly, this is a textbooks example of how something like a mind map could be useful for showing complex interpersonal relationships at a glance. Otherwise, you’ll be digging through the text trying to ferret out their relationships to each other. 

There is a little section at the end that relates events and/or quests that the withes can give the party, mostly against another of the five witches. This, then, could be thought of as the adventure. Here are some places. Here are some people. Here are some things that could happen. I get it, and it’s one way to do it, but I think that the adventure aspects could have been done better and have been brought to the forefront. 

There are some decent ideas, generally one per witch, in this. A hut full of lit candles everywhere, with runs inscribed glowing on them. Put one out and a smoke servant appears. Nice!

Graveyard of Thunder – Karl Stjernberg

This thirteen page adventure details a small eleven encounter cave with The Last Thunder Lizard in it, dying. IE: elephant graveyard/whatever that episode of the D&D cartoon was. Along the way you get a lizardman Last Guardian Of The Caves and an orc chief looking for the Phat Loot. Some nice elements here.

Big field. Mesahill in the middle. Lightning striking all around a a section of it, centered on the hill. I’m in, cause if that ain’t a great big pointy arrow I don’t know what is! And, that’s a strength of this adventure: bringing the wonder and some situations that are interesting without being explicit set pieces. Beyond the lightning field, I’d like to call out a couple of notable standouts.

Encounter one is outside the cave/hill, and, infant, outside the lightning field proper. Some tents just outside of it, with Mr. Orcy McOrcerson camped out, with his men. He heard about this place and wants the loot. He will tail the party, and/or “lead” and expedition the way Kuz did in to the Tomb of Horrors. The orcs hosw up a few more times in the caves, as warning corpses or abandoned scouts. However, they are really a missed opportunity. There was a chance here for an obsessed orc leader, KHAN!!!-style wanting to get in and squandering his meager resources of bodies. Instead we just get a couple of words on them and no real sense of how they could be used to better effect than they are. 

There’s also, in more than one place/manner, some good tension building. In one place you find a body with dart in its neck … a good clue for the party AND building tension for whats to come. In another there’s this cast off line (two, I think, in separate places) about hissing in the darkness to scare off adventurers. Again, the hissing is a missed opportunity and the ability to leverage that in to a full on tension building adventure is missing.

The whole things comes off as a very journeyman effort. Good usability, like moving from the general description in the read aloud to the specific in the DM text, is done well. But in other places there are large gaps, like the absolute lack of any monster descriptions. Instead we get their history and backstory, when we should be getting a decent little one or two line description by which to make the party shit themselves.


Anthologies are a mixed bag. They seem like a good thing, but seldom are, due to inconsistency in either writing, design, or tone. There’s some House Style bullshit going on, like the italics for read aloud and shoving the monster stats, etc in the rear of the adventure. A little too rigid if you ask me. And you are, since you’re reading this. Still at $10, you might get a good adventure out of it.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages and show you fuck ll, except for the last page, which is the first location key for Patricks adventure. From it you can glean the encounter/formatting style. Very poor preview.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 12 Comments

Star Spire and The Bruja, The Beast, and The Barrow, dungeons & dragons adventure reviews

By Gus L
Ratking Productions
Levels 1-2

1. The desert night is shattered by the fall of a crystal shard, a sky tomb filled with treasures from beyond the fixed stars and ready to plunder. 2. Curse and disease are endemic ailments of the adventuring life, and finding reliable treatment is never an easy task in the wastelands of the Crystal Frontier, but Marble Eye, the witch of Pickbone Mound is said to have the panacea for everything.  He’ll take all your hard earned plunder, but like all witches the canny old bale worker would rather make a deal and there’s something in the tombs beneath his cursed hut that needs attention.

These two adventures have seven pages total, five of which are the adventures proper. One is set in a crashed crystal meteor, an exploration adventure, and the other in a barrow tomb, given the task to bring a pig to a certain room in it by a wizard you seek a boon from. They are evocatively imagined, interactive, and close enough on usability to meet the needs of something that is only 2-3 pages long. IMAGINED rather than plodded, I would summarize.

I’m trying to not review short one to three page things; they just don’t seem to hit very often and make too many sacrifices. But, there are exceptions, and, by combining two from the same designer then there are some interesting things to say about what’s going on. And there’s are interesting.

Gus isn’t fucking around. There’s a cover and then a short sentence or two of background and then the room keys, spread out over the remaining pages. No real filler, except for some artwork that is stylized and interesting. (As an aside: … and, interesting color choices also. The art style and color choices certainly work together well to create something different without falling over the edge to pretentious.) 

The intros here are short but imply things. The things implied are further adventure and how to integrate it in to your campaign. Recognizing the limitations of the page count, the intro does double duty, setting up the adventure in such a way that the DM can expand on it. “Across the dizzying gulfs you watch it fall, a streak of burning pink that blots the fixed star and drowns the nebula of the night in its blaze. The impact echoes, only a few miles to the east, a cacophony that banishes sleep, and now at dawn you stand above the crater which cracks and pops as the sand cools to crazed glass around a bent spire of tomb crystal, ready for the plunder.”  Flowery language aside (this is the intro/background/inspiration section, and that’s all there is, where it is generally allowed) you can see how you, as the DM, might integrate this event in to your campaign. And so it is with the second adventure also. These very brief set ups with things implied for the DM to integrate them in to the game. No pages and pages and pages of backstory. “Hey, here’s this thing. And here, be inspired to integrate it in to your game.” That’s the way you do a fucking background!

Both adventures have around eight encounter locations in them, and both have a couple of encounters “outside” the dungeon before you get to the “inside” portions. In the Star Spire it is a group of bandits who ride up and then the burning sands and getting in to the thing. In the Barrow/Brujah, it is the wizards hut, and his yard/fence. Both serve as a kind of front yard to the adventure, and things that can hang on and provide more than a brief hit for the actual encounter. “The Innocents”, a group of big, dumb farm boys led by Bruno, a scruffy veteran brigand, “friends” of Graf  the duelist, just having arrived on lathered horses. Greedy and murderous, but cowards. Perfect! Perfect! The party has to deal with them before they go in. Maybe they are still there when they come out, weakened. And, then, note the name drop of Graf … a hook to integrate in to a follow up game. The adventure just drops this shit in over and over again, allowing the DM to build it in to more than the words on the page. That’s good design.

And note the writing. Lathered horses. Big dumb farm boys. Streaks of BURNING pink and a cacophony of sound. Sand cooling to crazed glass. This is good writing. The scenes spring to mind. You can immediately both imagine it … and, there are great black chunks in your imagining that your mind races to fill in. And it doesn’t feel fake. It doesn’t feel like someone just said “let me open the thesaurus and fill in an [adjective/adverb] before each noun.” They feel IMAGINED rather than workmanlike. And the adventure delivers on this time and again.

Let’s look at how Gus handles magic items. “A gleaming copper spear”, engraved with its name Biter. Sweet! A brief description but one that stands out in a sea of “+1 sword” magic items. You WANT to know more about it. It strikes as a magical weapon, but is cursed to inflict damage to the wilder on a fumble … and maybe kill them if thrown. Cursed backbiter! Essentially, the one from the 1DMG, but brought to life! Another one “drinks the blood of those it stabs”. It’s +1 and gives the wielder 1hp. That one line though, “drinks the blood of those it stabs”! … that gives the DM something to work with! Short, but leads to more. This Is The Way. That Vampire Doctor Spam man approves! 

The adventures, proper, are quite good. There are things to steal, pry out of walls, people to talk to and make deals with and, of course, horrible monsters with GREAT descriptions. 

There are a couple of areas that could be better. In places the map legends run in to the “hard to read” territory. Black text on a dried blood oval, while evocative, is just a few shades too far over the line for my eyes. And the text is pushing the limits of use in places. The descriptions ARE short, they have to be since the entire thing is only a few pages long They are using a paragraph style with bolded keywords. They start off well, with obvious things first and more full descriptions kind of mixed in. A mural with horses, for example, to give my synopsis of a much better written description. This allows the DM to say “there’s a mural on the walls” and then follow up with what’s on it when the players start investigating. There’s a limit to how much you can do with this style and still have it be easily usable during play. I’m not saying the descriptions are over the line, but, they are getting a bit close. Triple column, some fancy fonts for room numbers … the eyes start to wander. I suspect that the lengths here are just about as far as this style of organization can take an adventure. More and you need to switch and/or stick in some extra helping boxes, etc, to make things clearer.

GREAT fucking adventure for only a dollar. I wish more adventures were like this. If things were at least this good then I wouldn’t be reviewing adventures. Imaginate the fuck out of it, indeed!

These are $1 each at DriveThru. The preview shows you everything, so you can see what you are getting in to. Perfect.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, The Best | 20 Comments

Maize & Monsters, Dungeons and Dragons adventure review

By Tom Knauss
Frog God Games
Levels 4-6

Maize and Monsters is an adventure, that exposes the adventurers to the grim reality that time sometimes exacerbates old wounds rather than healing them. A recent murder in the village of Pilhua proves to be far more than a simple crime of passion as the seeds for this killing were sown during a previous, unsolved mystery that still haunts some residents within the settlement. The characters must wade through a list of suspects and motives that lead them to discover the ugly truth about a heinous crime that spawned a greater evil than even its perpetrators could ever imagine.

This 27 page adventure uses about fourteen ages to describe an investigation, a couple of combats, and a small corn maze in a mesoamerican village. There is SOMETHING going on, but it is hidden behind so much Wall of Text as to be nigh incomprehensible. Combined with some “Now It Is Fight Time” logic, it screams j’accuse! at the Frogs. 

Good stuff: there’s a lot going on. Two dudes kill their skeezy drug peddler and bury him in a cornfield. Two teens, making, out see it, and get killed also. One Year Later (a magic number, to be sure, and thus I approve) you get an evil corn stalk monster killing someone in the night. That dudes wife is a little skeezy … a red herring. You get a widow making monsters attacking the mayor for not trying hard enough to find the murderers. You get the dead dealer causing problems as a wight, the two kids turning a corn field in to an evil corn maze … a fuck ton going on here. I’m not entirely sure it all fits together well, due to issues explained later, but it COULD. And an adventure with a lot going on can be a GREAT adventure. 

It also separates out just about every NPC you could talk to in their own little box, and tried to use some bullets or italics to draw attention to different facts and so on. Likewise, there’s an adventure synopsis right up front to help the DM get oriented … and without it I’d be even more lost than I already am. So, it’s got a good basic outline, and knows what to do. It just fails in doing any of it.

First, this is a Frog God adventure. That means that it is a disaster. While an “editor” is attached, it’s clear that person did close to nothing. There’ no level range on the cover or in the product description. They did nothing to catch the inconsistencies in format (more on that later) or evidently made any effort at all to clarify text. The Frogs are, as with nearly all multi-author publishers, incompetent. Your mileage with a multi-author publisher is going to come from the designer, with the publisher only detracting from value as a product. For the DESIGNER it probably means a wider audience, since there’s some staying power and name recognition in the publishers name. For the consumer, though, you’re only going to get the designers vision fucked with at worst and unguided at best. The larger the publisher the more evident the issue, it seems. We’d all like to THINK they provide value. But, the designers name holds more value, ultimately. And fifteen fucking dollers for a PDF? The chutzpah! (Thanks Paranoia! I owe my vocab to you and the orphan example!) 

The mesoamerican setting doesn’t help. Adding to the confusion is the proper noun and vocabulary issue. This isn’t unique to this adventure, but can be found in the bullshit proper names in Forgotten Realms or in Vengers Apostrophe-land setting. If you have to put the translation next to the noun, every time, in order for someone to follow the adventure then you’ve failed. It’s not that Different is Bad, but rather that you have to recognize that you’ve got a job to do to help people along, so the burden on design and organization is even greater. Further, there’s no real cultural issues in this adventure. There’s nothing to say “this is a mesoamerican adventure” other than the usage of the proper nouns and different weapon nakes, etc. 

The NPC’s are a nightmare to follow and therefore run. The entire first section is supposed to be talking with people to investigate the village issues. Each NPC gets a couple of paragraphs, at least, of small dense text follow by wither italics or bullet points. The italics is better done. A keyword or two in italics “Her affairs” followed by information she relates. This is good! Well, not the multi-paragraph intro. That’s terrible to scan and comprehend, but the italics keyword with follow up information is great! Other NPC’s though, get a bullet break out. With no keywords. Both formats are, inexplicably, used, with the bullets being far weaker because of the lack of a heading to let you know what that bullet is about.

And the wall of text. Oh my sweet Jesus, the wall of text. Small font, tight,  and MOUNTAINS of it with only paragraph breaks. This combined with the lack of a good “flow” in the adventure, particularly the investigation part, leads to you both WANTING to know what’s going on and how to run it as well as wanting to stab your own eyes out. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to follow. Information is hidden in there, information you need, but you’re not going to find it without taking multiple minutes to read it … while at the table.

And then there’s the D&D part. Or, rather, I should say, what modern designers seem to think of as the D&D part: the fighting. “NOW IT IS TIME TO HAVE AN ENCOUNTER SO YOU FIGHT NOW” Or , maybe it’s a Frog’s thing. I don’t know. It sucks. You’re doing this investigation. It’s got this creepy cornfield. There’s this element of horror implied. And then “Three zombies walk out of the cornfield and attack.” That’s it. That’s how the primary motivators of the adventure show up. “Animated goll corpses loiter” is the read-aloud, I think. Specifically “The stench of death accompanies a withering, desiccated corpse wielding a vicious macuahuitl wrapped in leathery, decaying flesh in its bony hands. A team of animated gnoll corpses loiter around him as the obviously undead abomination shambles forward to slay the living and add its victims to its swelling ranks.” This is supposed to be a highlight. No creepy village vibe at night. No slowly increasing terror. No. Just they walk out of the cornfield and attack. It’s fucking lame. It takes all of the atmosphere and just fucking tanks it. Huts ablaze? Shows everywhere? Screams? No. They just walk out and attack the party. 

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Frogs are a rip off. I like reviewing new designers, but, fuck man. I guess, maybe, I expect more from a publisher? I don’t know why. I already know most adventure are crap. (By definition? If all adventures were The Best, would standards then be raised to make 90% of The Best crap? Hmmmm…)

Reviews of longer and multi-designer products coming soon … I think I’ve found a way to make them work.

This is $15 at DriveThru. The previews is three pages, showing you only one page of text, which is just background text. Shitty shitty preview.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 7 Comments

Zaratazarat’s Manse, D&D adventure review

By Nobboc
The Merry Mushmen
Levels 1-2

Zaratazarat is a mage of dubious reputation and average power. He lives a solitary life in the Fevoriz Marshes, inside a bleak rocky hill he made his abode in. Zaratazarat spent most of his life constructing a summoning platform named Ragga Gyxy’s Random Encounter Table after his inventor. The wizard was going to raise an army of monsters for his own nefarious purpose. He recently completed the construction and was ready to welcome (and bind to his service) the first summoned monsters. But when the fist d4+2 goblins appeared, the overwhelmingly enthusiastic wizard stammered… The goblins knocked him out, argued for a while about what to do with him, and finally left him when an angry ogre appeared on the Table. Since then, Zaratazarat has been hiding and trying to survive in his own lair. The Table is regularly spitting out monsters: most of them try to escape and run back home, or take the opportunity to loot or eat whatever they can…

This ten page adventure features a 24 room dungeon a two story wizards tower. Good formatting and interesting situations aboud, with the evocative writing suffering a bit. Still, I’ll take it over overwritten every day of the week.

What we’re looking at here is a kind of offset two column production. One column takes up about two thirds of the page, the right side, and contains the room key information. The left column, making up about a third of the page, contains the monster stats for the areas on the right. The monsters stats are in a lighter font that could, frankly be in a bit darker font, but its good enough. The keyed locations follow a decent layout formatting. The rooms tend to start with a brief descriptor like “crammed storeroom” or “cluttered library.” I like this sort of overloaded room title stuff. It orients the DM immediately to the type of room to come and puts them in the right frame of mind to receive the description information following. You’re already thinking about a cluttered library and imagining it when you start to scan the description and I believe that helps to leverage the description to more than it is. This is followed by a short description and then a little table of who’s in the room. Basically, you roll a d6 on a little two or three line table to see whats going on in the room. Monster names are bolded to help you scan quickly. This is followed by a little section of “follow up” information. A series of underlined words like “Books – Mundane topics. And then a description of them with more information for the DM. or “Gems – 1 hour of work. 40gp of gems per worker.” Gems (or books) having been mentioned in the room description. IE: it goes from general room description in the intro to a well laid out and easily scannable DM text information section. It’s easy to scan and well laid out, a terse format that can work well and works well here. 

The room contents are interesting and interactive. They fall in to two general type: stuff in the room and who’s in the room. The stuff are things like gemstones in the walls to pry out (noisily, one presumes …) and books to read and search, lab gear, boxes to open, etc. The WHO, from the tables are always little vignettes, terse described. Giant rats nibbling on a barely alive goblin. A dwarf slowly crawling towards you, covered in green slime. A Bugbear with his head stuffed in a keg of honey or a jolly dwarf stocking up on booze. Little situations built in to the rooms. Treasure tends to be unique magic items ( a pipe that lights on command!) or things like silver nail clippers. IE: something different and special on both counts.

You also get a little timeline for exploring the tower, just a way to push things forward in town if the party dallies a long time over multiple days. Town, pepper, has a few businesses detailed, mostly the sheriff and the tavern, to bring if to life with some terse and interesting descriptions. They are memorable places and NPC’s, and don’t overstay their welcomes. Just a brief hit that is memorable enough for the DM to expand upon. The map is clear and easily read, with atmospheric notes written on it to remind the DM. The color coding of some of the locked doors could be a little more noticeable at a glance, but it’s still mostly ok.

It’s a good little adventure that, every once in awhile, slips beyond suspension of disbelief … like the town ritual of the old and sick voluntarily going out to the dock to be eaten by a giant tentacle in the lake as the rest of the town looks on and cheers. Yeah, it’s a fun little thing, but it’s also pushing things just a little too far in to gonzo territory. I guess a wizard with a summoning portal might already be there, but, it seems just a little out of place. I guess I would keep it in the product, since its easy enough to ignore and DOES add local color for those who care. It just sticks out, tonaly.

So, decent adventure.

But …

The encounter descriptions are not a home run. “Comfortable Lounge” has the following description for the room. “4 comfy armchairs. Floating silver bowl. Circular rug.” This isn’t bad, especially in light of the “comfortable lounge” preamble, which places the descriptive words in context, adding an implicit “comfortable” and “lounge” framing to all of them. But, also, not going out of its way to be very evocative. In the austere waiting hall we get “Greenish marble column in the centre, 8 chairs, coat and hat rack.” So, very workmanlike. Very austere, if you will, descriptive text. Andrew Eldritch and I want More. So while the encounters have have something in them interactive to build upon, the framing for the DM is, I would say, rather weak. More than the non-existent that you get from  most adventures, even the overwritten ones, but lacking still.

Really good effort here and the only weak part is, I think, the hardest part of adventure writing: the evocative writing.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggest price of $1. There’s no full size preview. This makes me sad. 🙁

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, No Regerts, Reviews | 9 Comments

Down and Out in a Schleswig Sanatorium, Mork Borg adventure review

By Rugose Kohn
Self Published
OSR/Mork Borg
Level 1?

The Schleswig Sanatorium; home to members of the criminally insane, the disturbed, and the wretched of Schleswig. King Fathmu is fond of stocking its beds with rivals, family members, and rival family members. A place of utter despair, anyone unlucky enough to find themselves a guest, the gods have certainly deserted them. The outside is unassuming enough. A three story brick building. Leaded windows with ornate wrought iron bars. A stout solid-wood door. The inside is another matter entirely. Recently the staff has all been murdered by a patient gone rogue. That suits the King’s ends well enough, so no one has bothered to check on things recently.  That brings us to you. What exactly ARE you doing here? 11 pages of mayhem to help you figure it all out…

This fourteen page adventure is for Mork Borg. That’s all you really need to know. 

Well, I didn’t shoot a man in Reno just to see him die, but I did buy this when I saw it pop in my feed … and that it was for Mork Borg. “What a train wreck this will be!” I thought. I was not disappointed. Mork Borg. Mork Borg is that neighbor you have in your lower middle class neighborhood, the one that is a working artist. Nice guy, sits in their garage all day painting/using their pneumatic hammer to sculpt stone statues out of giant limestone blocks. Clearly gonna die of heart disease in a few years. But, hey, cool dude! It feels like DCC and Mork Borg are kissing cousins. Where DCC is very artist forward across most aspects of the game ecosystem, it still has a nice retirement fund socked away. Mork Borg feels like its artist led and it blew its retirement fund on hookers & blow … not for it, but for a community project. I love our art punk friends. I just wish to fuck they would follow through. And that is the problem here.

This is fourteen pages. fourteen digest pages, so they are small. Last page and first two are the cover nonsense stuff. That leaves us thirteen. One for the map. That’s twelve. Five pages for the monsters stats/appendix, about one per page. Three pages of hooks and random tables. That leave us three for the actual adventure. About eleven rooms. So we aee, already, that the content to bullshit ratio is skewed. Yes, digital pages are free and so it should mean that you can pump out as many appendix pages as you want. In theory. In practice, a low adventure to bullshit ratio means the content is generally lacking. 

We get a point crawl map here for the hospital. Each room, laid out in effective bullet point manner, generally has a few patients in it as well as a gruesomely killed staff member. That’s about it. One room has a washing machine monster. Another has a dude trying to sacrifice a small child, that might open a portal to the land of the dead. Oh, and the records room has d3 scrolls in it. You can now run the adventure because that’s all there is.

It’s using random tables to generate dormitory rooms and the patients. What they are doing and how crazy they are. This is, I think, a bad use of tables. “Tables are retro man! They are cool!” Yes, both are true, and tables can be put to good use. But, not for generating static content. Just create the damn rooms and stick them in. There’s no reason here for the rooms and patients to be random other than because the designer thought a table would be cool. It’s not. It’s lame when they are used like this.

The hooks are the usual nonsense. You woke up here. You are hired to go find someone. You heard there is treasure in the basement. Nothing of consequence, no specificity to hang your hat on.

The gruesomeness here is the selling point. “Edgy, man!” Dude with a table leg stuck through his head. Dead orderlies with their intestines intertwined. Patient hacking a dead orderly in to mincemeat long after they are dead. The specificity is good here even if it is tropy.

The main issue is … so what? The adventure doesn’t really have a purpose. “Go find treasure” or “Get my kid/your friend/whoever out” Meh. You walk in to a room, see crazy people, not the person you are looking for, and go to the next room. Nothing really interesting happens … aside from the crazy people interactions. And they don’t really have a purpose behind them. Not a part of the whole, so to speak, and so they are trivialities. I guess you’re meant to stumble on the Land of the Dead thing and do something about it. Yawn. Ok. I guess so. Why, again? It just feels empty. There’s nothing in it for the party, either in terms of loot or … development? It’s just some task to mindlessly perform. 

Someone had an idea. They write up a bunch of content around a washing machine monster and the land of the dead stuff in an insane asylum. But it never went beyond that initial concept. It was never fleshed out in a whole idea, put together, in a meaningful way. Oh, the adventure is coherent, all right. Most art punk stuff is. But it doesn’t FIT. It’s like the last step, the context for the players, if never completed. 

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages. You get to see the map (note the stairs up/down label paradox), the intro, and the edgy “what are the patients doing” table. A page of encounters would have been nice also.

Finally, a note about hypocrisy. We are all hypocrites. You cannot survive in the world without being one. Our designer notes “While I support making this your own at the table, don’t use this content for racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or discriminatory games of any kind. I ain’t down with that.” Then, proceeding to make an adventure that leverages caricatures of mental illness? Touché sir! I salute you! Still, better than that adventure with the halfling plantation owners and the “indentured servants.”

Speaking of hypocrites, I’m now attending several old man meetups, in a socially distanced manner of course. Full of old white dudes, just like me! My new t-short came in today, that I’m wearing to all of our future “JACKED UP TRUCCCKKKSSS!!” and HAMM meetups:

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 91 Comments

Tower to the Abyss, Dungeons & Dragons adventure review

By Tyler Lee
Self published
Level 3

Players take on the roll of adventurers hired by the nearby village to investigate the recent disapearances and monster sightings around the nearby military outpost. Reckless magical research has thrown Kalem’s Tower into chaos as demons and devils pour out from the abyss. Players must use their wits, their skills, and every magical item at their disposal to survive the tower and close the portal to the chaotic hellscape.

This thiry page adventure adventure uses ten pages to describe a wizards tower with, I don’t know, twenty rooms? It’s the usual 5e fare; I’m only reviewing it because someone requested it.

Some VERY VERY BAD PERSON asked that I review this. I had turned a corner. No longer reviewing 5e shovelware. Just reviewing OSR and DCC shovelware. I was there man! Happy! And then someone says “Hey, it’s just one drink man.” … that’s how EVerything’s Gone Green (Cicada Mix) gets put on repeat for four or five days. Seems like I’ve been here before.

In this adventure you start at Level 3. By the end you are level 8. In, I don’t know, three hours or so? Mearls once said that people should level, like, every session. I got his logic in what he was saying for that playstyle, but this seems fucking excessive. You reach level four after fighting like four bandits and two imps. Yeah! Level!

The things a mess. A month ago people in the village stopped hearing from the tower nearby that guards their village. It’s mile away. A FUCKING MILE AWAY. No one has gone there for a month. It’s mile away. What the fuck man? I get it, it’s just the fucking fluff, but, still, put some fucking effort in! 

Besides which this whole “we haven’t heard from X in awhile, go investigate” is the new fucking caravan guards. It’s fucking everywhere. Jesus H Fucking Christ make a fucking effort people! At least the caravan guard thing was just to get to the village and then you could go fuck up the dungeon. This whole “go investigate” shit is boring.  I’m hesitant to assign blame, but this whole thing FEELS like a computer RPG close. Questgiver tells you to go do something and then you collect the keys (literally in this case) to close the portals, fighting the bosses as you go. This is just about the lowest effort you canmake in designing an adventure. I don’t know, maybe one of those fucking Trtaining Grounds adventure also. I loaaaathe life. This is how NE starts out. Every NE lich you meet was a fucking optimist worn down by life.

To get to the tower you need to wander through the forest. There’s a map, but as far as I can tell  there is not path/road, etc. Or hexes, etc. Just numbers thrown out in the “map.” The first is with some dead villagers in the forest. Dead bodies. Except you have to roll to see/find them. What the fuck is the point of this? Why would you hide this content? The entire encounter is meant to foreshadow, to raise tension, to put a feeling in to the players. But not if you don’t make the skill check! You just wander on by if you don’t, missing all of that. BAD DESIGN. The entire fucking point is to make things serious to the players, to let them know what is goingon, to set the scene for THE FEELS later. But not if you don’t make your fucking roll. I fucking swear. It’s the same with spotting some dretch on a ridgeline. The fucking purpose is to scare the fuckers … to what end does NOT scaring the fuckers work? 

There’s an encounter with bandits. The leader pretends to be camping waiting for friends. Then 1d6 bandits walk out of the woods and attack. It takes two fucking paragrapghs to describe this. Two. For something that is, literally, “she pretends to be camping and waiting for her friends.” That’s what, ten words? THATS THE FUCKING ADVENTURE! That’s the part you should be spending your fucking word count on. But no, not here. 

Ok, so, you can go to the courtyard to start the adventure or to the battlements to start the adventure. You’re never given the choice. I guess you just wander to one or the other. Again, bad design. CHoices only matter is they are meaningful and the players know they are making them. Then they can be DELICIOUS. But if you DONT KNOW you are making the choice then its the same as not having a choice. 

I don’t know. The read-aloud runs in to the DM text. Or it’s not boxed properly, only partially boxed. Whatever the cause, there is read-aloud masquerading as DM text or DM text in the voice of read-aloud. “People here would do the player harm …” I think you mean the characters. 

The actual text of the adventure is just paragraph after paragraph of infor dump with little fucking formatting. IE: the WOTC way. You can’t follow it, it’s hard to scan and look things up, it’s full of extraneous things. The usual bad writing. In the actual tower you get to fight monsters to get the keys to unlock the next section to fight more monsters to get the yellow key so you can unlock the yellow door and fight more monsters to get the red key to …. You get it. 

Who the fuck wanted me to review this?

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages and doesn’t really show you any of the adventure, just the summary. You do get to see, on the last page, an example of the read-aloud and DM text in the same voice. Weird. Formatting fuck up, I guess? Not proof read?

Posted in 5e, Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 7 Comments

The Laboratory of Melifex the Mad, DCC adventure review

By Stuart C Killian
FSH Professional Ltd.
Level 2

The city of Pinecliffe has tolerated the presence of Melifex the Mage for years, but his corruption and increasingly unusual experiments eventually had him driven out of town and to a secluded tower on the ridge overlooking the city. Now, no one has heard from Melifex “the Mad” for two months, and the city is becoming worried. Did Melifex die from his corruption or has he unleashed a sinister force that could destroy the land! Answers, adventure, and priceless magical treasure await the party brave enough to find out.

This thirty seven page adventure uses twelve pages to describe an eight room dungeon. It makes me loathe my life. 

This is my usual “oh my god why do I do this. Hey, I’ve got a Pateron, why not drop me some cash so my life can be a little less meaningless and I can buy some whiskey and cigars.” section.

“Hey, Bryce, you should review more DCC adventures!” they said cheerfully. “That 5e stuff is garbage” they said. “I can sometimes salvage stuff from DCC adventures” they said. Yeah. You people know who you are. I’m looking at you. Glaring, actually. 

“You know, they’re right!” I said to myself. I was just talking to someone about how I’m a sucker for marketing, reveling in it. Swallowing wholesale the constructed reality I quickly assemble in order to justify the asserted reality that the marketing vomits up. I mean, I basically sopped reviewing DCC because they *tend* to be linear. Look, I know this is the way people play D&D. I’m ok with people playing D&D like that. They’ve been playing stuff like this, in home games, forever. Very loose plot, a little lair dungeon. Since the 80’s at least. *I* think it can be a substandard experience to a more free form game, but, I’m not gonna shit on someone elses fun. I mean, drinking pretzels and eating beer with a little escapism is the ultimate point of it all, right? I do, however, find the more free form stuff more satisfying, and encourage people to go down that path when they are ready and want to. But, I digress. I stopped reviewing DCC because the adventures were linear. “Hypocrite!” my own inner judge says. “5e adventures tend to be linear as all fuck and you review them all the fucking time!” Hmmm, inner judge is correct. A little brutal in its assessments sometimes, but ultimately correct. And, these other folks want me to review more DCC. I DO like DCC. I think it’s the perfect system for that linear beer & pretzels D&D experience that 99% of the people on the planet want. It encourages the stupid shit happening at the table that makes for an enjoyable time and the inevoatable boring-to-everyone-else “let me tell you what happened last night at D&D!” stories. So. More DCC reviews.

Yeah, yeah, I’m getting to the review. 

And, you know, I AM a sucker for small press and indie works. It’s the romantic idealist in me. A small designer, slaving away, creating an uncompromising product that adheres to their own vision. None of this corporate garbage. None of this publishing guidelines. None of this THE MAN telling you what to do and the money men ruining Don Quixote! Hmmm, I may be projecting there. 

Oh course, none of this is true. Well, ok, it COULD be true and there are examples of it being true. In reality its just someone sitting around pounding out something. Hopefully because they are excited about it and not because of money. I WANT them to be excited and to share their vision with us. I want to be excited with them.

Instead I get The Laboratory of Melifex the Mad.

So, I’m trying to cut 80/20 aluminum for my truck camper build. And I’m programming my Baofeng, amused at the antics of the virtual Hardees coffee club on the airwaves. Maybe I should do forty spanish lessons today instead of twenty? That would let me put off writing about Melifex some more. Downtown, the Air War over Hanoi is a nightmare. I could read those rules. And there’s always Federation and Empire. Maybe a computer game? Hitman 3? Dark Souls? Nuclear Throne or Crossroads inn? Crusader Kings? WW2 squad tactics running on WIn95? Staring out the window drooling mindlessly for hours on end? ANYTHING to keep from writing this “review.” 

That’s what this did to me. ALl I want to do is ANYTHING other than write this review. It’s just another crap product. It doesn’t matter if it’s DCC, or 5e, or OSR. It’s just another crap product. And I get to find something to say about it. I could rant at it. Let The Feels out all stream of consciousness style. But it has sapped all of my energy. My will to live. And yet, I must. I must, I must. I must increase my bust. And, I can’t do what what I really want. I really just want to say “it sucks.” A two word review and leave it at that and move the fuck on with my life. But oh no, mr inner judge is back. “You need to write more asshole. Writing more is training. Also, you feel obligated to [I fucking HATE feeling obligated] This is only review this product is likely to get. The designer deserves some feedback. What the fuck, you have something actually MEANINGUL to do? You know that’s not true, Mr Camus.” And do, instead, I go to the store and make Rio Grande Egg Puffs so I don’t have to say the same shit I always say. [Whipping meringue and deep frying at 7am in the morning for breakfast is not something I can get into.  The onion & adobo sauce is great but, again, not something to be cooking this early. Tomorrow I’ll be making home made cottage cheese on the stove for breakfast, because I never learn.]

The read aloud is in italics. There are COLUMNS of it. Routinely, column of read aloud. Now I get to explain why both of those are bad. For, like, the three thousandth time. But it doesn’t matter. THIS designer hasn’t read those three thousand explanations. This is the first time they are reading about it. AAnd, no, I won’t take a shortcut and link to  an article explaining why. That is pragmatism and pragmatism seldom leads to anything interesting. Ug, there’s mr inner judge again, noting that this Life Less Ordinary shit is what leads to this and mr I don’t define myself with labels, aren’t you just doing that with your turn left when everyone else turns right identity? Self reinforcing bullshit.

So, italics are bad because they are hard to read. Long sections of italics I mean. And read-aloud should be kept to a couple of sentences, if you choose to use it. Players generally don’t pay attention after that. There have been a couple of studies on both topics, so it’s not me spouting off. 

The adventure is clearly meant to go a certain way. You have the plot imagioned in your head and, the final fight/encounter with the dragon, reinforces that. You have these cool moments in your head, both with the setup and with the conclusion of the adventure. That is wrong. This indicates an over-investment in the adventure on your part. You’re trying to force outcomes. Instead of this just write it in such a way that an adventure can flow from it, rather than trying to force an outcome to the adventure that you think will be cool, or result in a cool moment, etc. The DM text is too long also. It shouldn’t take a column to explain a room. You don’t need to tell us that the +1 Gallant Longsword is described later on in the adventure in the appendix. You don’t need to tell us that the +1 shield is undamaged. That’s like saying that the air in your house right now is breathable. Yes, of course, we assume that. This pads out your word count and a padded DM text makes it harder for the DM to find the information that IS important to running the room. 

That’s enough. That’s all I can muster. The usual stuff. My will to live is gone. I’m off to take twenty spanish lessons and a couple of HAM practice tests. I will now be flooded with messages from HAMs telling me that my Baofeng sucks and I should …. You should prepare yourselves, though, as I will then thoroughly, and quite undeservedly, destroy you with Socratic methods around Use Cases. If I’m bored and drunk. Or, I will politely ask for more information and engage you in conversation. Am I just humoring you to be polite, or am I actually interested? Can both be true at the same time? Everyone is self-centered. It is the acknowledgement of that basic fact and the attempt to move beyond it that defines not being self-centered, not actually not being self-centered. At least, that’s the lies I’m framing for myself to live with my hypocrisy today.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. There are no encounters shown, so It’s a bad preview. You do get to see some of the italics read-aloud, and DM text, so, just pretend that all of the pages for the preview are the text for one of the rooms. That’s hyperbolic, but it will still leave you will the feelings of …despair? Ennui? Resignment? That I got from the room encounters.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 20 Comments

The Inverted Pyramid, D&D adventure review

By Gustavo Tertoleone
Black Dog
Level ?

The Inverted Pyramid, a dungeon located in Thebes, Egypt. The place was built as a gigantic tomb to hide secrets and technologies from the Ancient race who had enslaved humanity millenia ago.

This 35 page adventure uses nineteen pages to detail a four level twenty room egyptian themed dungeon … with grey alien/ancient astronaut themes. It’s definitely not dry, with decent, if predictable, interactivity. Language use and organization though suffer. 

This could be thought of as just another egyptian temple themed adventure. But, then, there’s the grey aliens aspect to it. That makes things … strange. Interactivity in this one tends to the better side of the spectrum and that is, in part, thanks to the presence of the alien theming. There are alien devices and pools and statues to mess with, things to open up and puzzles to solve. Oh so many puzzles to solve.

That is a good thing and a bad thing. These sorts of tomb adventure, especially egyptian ones, seem to be trap and puzzle heavy and this one is no exception. Most traps are hallway ones, which I have an aversion to. I think they slow down the game. But, whatever, you’re free to your own (wrong) opinion. But, when too many puzzles and traps are in an adventure then I think the adventure suffers. “Oh, it’s one of THOSE adventures …” IN particular, there are riddle puzzles in this thing. Riddle puzzles that I would say are out of place and break the tone of the adventure. It makes it seem more like a published adventure than an adventure locale to explore. The very first room is a  door with a picture of Ra and Amon on it. Where their staves meet there is an indentation. There is a riddle present. “Feed me and I live. water me and I die. what am I”. You put some fire in the alcove, 5th element style, and the doors open. It’s not bad. But, also, it IS bad. The riddle explicit aspect, here and in other places, is more in place in a fun house dungeon rather than … whatever this is. It’s the explicitness of it. The funhouse nature and the mismatch in tones.

But in other places things fit in well, well, as well as a spaceship egyptian themed adventure can. Pools to play with. A monster, a kind of mashup of body parts from different creatures (what’s that called again?) is in a room. It has a monstrous number of hit points. The wall of the room are covered with tiny little bits of papyrus, with writing on them. Hitting the monster causes some of the runes to flash or glow. It’s a puzzle that just LOOKS like a fight!

There was a little intro that was nice also, describing (if it can be called that) the area above the dungeon. It’s devoid of physical description, but it does have some notes about potentially putting in bandits or grave robbers or something. Which got me thinking. What about grave robbers. Kind of friendly. Kind of rivals. More opportunistic than anything else. That could have been a fun little thing to have. 

Other areas have a room with mummies hung upside down, hung in chains. Freeing them causes them to return to life … rejuvenate, and potentially be longer term campaign enemies. Nice! Likewise a room full of mummies. Just normal ummies. But you FEEL like they are all watching you as you move about. Paranoia! I love it!

But …

The writing can be, let us say, overwrought. 

“The forgotten chambers resting below the desert were kept in the dark for millennia, glancing the light only when groups of brave thieves dared to enter this place in search for treasures.” Is this Poe, or a Hammer production of Poe? Likewise “so macabre that any heart will start racing as soon as the characters’ eyes meet the gaze of the monster.” Uh huh. Padding. Commentary. Writing for the DM as reader rather than the DM as DM.

In other places the writing can be downright confusing, like “[the dungeon is] accessed by moving the three main stone pillars in the center of the ruins closer to each other, uniting them as one single pillar.” You move a pillar? That’s all there is, no map, no better description. I’m not really sure what I should be putting in there. In other places there’s a kind of shorthand used that does the DM no favors “This room has the exactly same details as the room 9 and its entrance can be found in the exact same way, “ 

These issues hint at the issue of organization of the text which, as is usual, is present. It looks like this is a English as a Second Language design, but, I don’t really think that’s the cause of the confusion. The designer is imagining the fuck out of things, they just don’t know how to get it down on paper correctly and are, in places, a little too hackney for the adventures own good.

Also, you can get five spaceships, that fully recharge in sunlight and shoot 3 times a round for 2d10 damage and move at 300 miles per hour and … you get the idea. 

This is $5 at DriveThru.The preview is four pages, all actual dungeon rooms. That’s great! Good preview!  That first page of it is a good example of the rather lengthy DM text that is all over the adventure.–Adventure-1?1892600

The same designer has a zine: “Vomitations of the Grotesque Princess is an infamous zine from Brazil” says the author. It is 11 pages, costs $5, and its lead article is “A Brief Text on Existentialism.” I admire this persons moxie!

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | Leave a comment

Barrow of Sorn, D&D adventure review

By Mason Waaler
Self Published
Levels 1-2

The final resting place of Sorn is a crumbling ruin; a barrow mound of piled stone and dirt. A forgotten tomb from a previous age. Locals are wary of it, their dreams haunted by a stone coffin and a skeletal king.

This twelve page adventure features a twenty room “tomb” dungeon. It’s got some decent writing in it which takes more of the more tried & true tropes and uses them in a decent way.It fumbles about from time to time but is, generally, a decent tomb dungeon. I generally start with the positive, but I’d like to start with the negatives on this one, understanding, that, I’m going to give this one a light recommendation. 

The read-aloud is in italics. I LOATHE long sections of italics. It’s hard to read. Also, I’m not sure it’s read-aloud. It’s formatted kind of like it’s read-aloud, but it might just be a DM overview of the room. I say this because many rooms start with “Dry, Cold, dusty” or “Empty & Cold” or some other really brief hit of an idea. This makes sense for DM information and is a little weird for read-aloud. So, I’m gonna call this “Read-aloud”, for convenience purposes, but I’m pretty sure it’s just an overview of the scene aimed at the DM.

So, anyway, italics. It also seems to be trying too hard in places. “Chiseled ruins mar the floor …” Ok, so, yeah, mar is a word and it is better than nothing. “Three pillars guiard the western wall and three guard the eastern.” Yeah, I get it. I get what the designer is trying to do, and I’m happy they are trying. I do, however, take exception with the specific word choices. It doesn’t look effortless. It instead looks contrived. “Loom over the western wall” or “tower” or something else would have probably been a better choice. This is a common problem in this adventure. Yeah, I’m a fucking asshole. But, it is absolutely coming across as contrived rather than evocativly imagined.  On the right track though, absolutely. DM text can also get a bit long in places and has bouts of “[the skeletons] are implacable, unfeeling, and dedi? cated in a way only the dead can be.” Which, to be fair, is true and cool, but I’m not sure adds a lot. An off hand comment here and there is fine though.

On the plus side, it gets most things right. For example, wanderers are doing something. A spider is dragging a corpse along in a web. A red wraith weeps smoke. Similarly, the monsters themselves get great little descriptions. A wraith made of crimson smoke and a shadowed cowl. Gleaming green-black glaives. Howling, whirling and quick. Or skeletons with red script spiraling across their brows. Spiraling, isn’t that a great word?And crimson? In contrast to the “Read aloud” the monster descriptions are great and don’t seem forced at all. And, the magic items are sufficiently different to be interesting!

Other details are great as well. Those dreams of a skeletal lord in a casket? The local “wearily remark …” when questioned. It’s fucking great! You IMMEDIATELY get the sense that they have lived through this shit forever and are both tired of it and tired of explaining it to n00bs. The crypt proper? It belongs to the King of Ghosts, from when the Last Lich ruled the world. Nifty mythology! Barely glowing runes CRACK when you kill something like skeletal guards, providing a nice cause/effect thing for the party to observe. Wraiths flows from ruins. A mosaic on a wall has an eye made of an emerald … with a button behind it. It’s this kind of stuff that really marks some high points of the adventure. Parts of it make sense and FEEL imagined rather than constructed. And that’s a sign of good design. Likewise the sulky ghost who refuses to talk to you if you break in to the room where his body is stored … that you should do in order to free his soul. (For certain definitions of “should.”) 

There’s a little too much “emerging from hidden alcoves” in parts of the adventure. There’s also some conclusions thrown about instead of descriptions, like a mural depicting a wight beheading a kneeling man. This should be a description, not a conclusion. 

A decent adventure. It’s not going to win any awards, I don’t think, but it does bring a certain competence to the table. There are things to improve upon, but there usually are. 

This s $1 at DriveThru. The preview is the entire thing, so, Nice Preview! You get to know exactly the sort of content you are buying! Check out the new magic items on the last page, like The Wraithstone. Or, check out page six of the preview, the first page of keyed entries, for a sample of the room. Nice job!

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