By Scott Myers
Castles & Crusades
This 33 page adventure features a ten room dungeon with two monsters in it. It is boring.
Ok, it tries in a couple of places. There’s a Tomb Worm that has egg sacks that burst worth with a larvae swarm monster. Gross! One encounter has a zombie with its back legs missing, crawling towards you, eyes glowing yellow. And there’s a ghost child looking for its mommy as a throw away wanderer. That’s it. And even that is not that well done.
The ghost child gets almost nothing to it, which, normally, I’d be fine with. But if you’re going to make something like this, something that stays with the party a bit, then you need to provide a little bit more to it. And this don’t do that.
Ok, so, you start out as caravan guards. Boring. You get paid 20gp for 2 days work. Sweet work if you can get it, I guess. Making bank! Your latest caravan includes a corpse going to the next town for burial. At this point, as a player, I’ve already defiled that corpse, chopped it up, burnt it, etc. But, I guess your players are stupid and wait for it to reanimate and attack. Which it does. Boring. Along the way to the next town you are attacked by 4 skeletons. “Sometime after midnight the PCs are attacked by 4 Armored Skeletons, their eye sockets glow a mysterious yellow.” Can you contain your excitement yet? No? Bored? Yes. That’s after three pages of read aloud and a couple of paragraphs of DM notes. Just “attacked by skeletons in the night.” *Sigh*
Halfway in and you’re attacked by those four skeletons and the corpse you were escorting. You reach a town where the Level 0 innkeeper woman has a ring of invisibility, an amulet of protection and ring of protection. It pays, it seems, to have questionable morals in D&D. I’d stab her.
I guess you go to the dungeon nearby out of the goodness of your heart. The locals don’t really seem to care that the dead are reanimating. No local outage, or worry. Just a “thanks man, for killing that corpse” and off you go to the dungeon, I guess.
The dungeon thankfully does away with the (long) read aloud and has none, but transitions in to boring room descriptions with nothing going on. There’s a combat with a dog and another with that Tomb Worm/Larvae thing. A six hd tomb worm, for a first level party. WIth a 3hd swarm of larvae added on. Uh huh. First level. Right. I’m all for not balancing, but, there’s a limit.
“The first thing you notice in this room … is rather typical. It’s a loose writing style full of this sort of padding. “If you defeat the skeletons then they can be searched …” This is how we get multiple DM text paragraphs for a simple sety up. A joy to wade through. A boring boring boring of boringness.
Why the fuck do I do this? I’m just killing time until I die. There must be something better.
This is $2 at DriveThru. To it’s credit the preview is the entire thing. Check out page fourteen, for that first encounter. The long read-aloud. The simple combat. The lengthy DM notes.
By Rob Alexander
Medium Quality Products
In Claine Forest near Padduck Village there has appeared a pit. No-one knows where it came from, it just did. It is not so deep that you cannot see the bottom, but people fear it and avoid it. No-one who has climbed into it has come back, having been dragged beneath the surface by unseen hands. A necromancer has come to the forest, seeking the pit. She does not quite know what she expects from it, but what she hopes for is protection from death.
This 26 page digest adventure details a search through a forest for a mythical Dead Zone pit. It pours out flavour in nearly every word, creating delicious situations for the party to interact with. And the give-away was this is labeled for levels 2-3. This designer is not on auto-pilot.
We got a village, two rival groups of adventurers, a weird-ass forest, and somewhere in the forest a pit, your final destination. From this, joy is made. Each one of those elements has their component parts well done and, because of this the whole is a wonder. Really, it’s pretty fucking simple. The village has some people in it. They are well done. It has some short rumors. They are well done. The forest has some wanderers. They are well done. The forest has atmosphere. They are well done. The forest has locations. They are well done. The NPC parties have goals and character. They are well done. Thieving everything together is a simple timer. It’s all just basic basic shit. The core elements to an adventure and the core components to those elements. But here, they are well done.
The villagers, and indeed all of the NPC’s, are great. They have some key personality aspects, bulleted for easy finding. 50’s, grey-haired, stooped. Perfect! (and terse!) Has terrifying visions of war and turmoil Takes herbal remedies. A soldier that has seen too much … who gives negative advice to guide you, ultimately, not in to what you are trying to do. A guy who wants to be a soldier but if afraid of leaving the village. Virile. A reputation for bravery … but it all stems from killing a wolf once who was after some sheep. A dude that wears too many plates on his armor. The hangers on for the rival necromancer are not just generic thugs. Oh no! They are all sick, and want a cure from the necromancer. “Threadbase hangers-on, attracted by the promise of cures.” This frucking shit is all based on REAL human needs, wants and desires, not come cartoony generic villain shit. And it SHOWS. You can grok this shit IMMEDIATELY and it resonates so much more because of that. THis is some shit that you can REALLY sink your teeth in to as the DM.
The vibe in the forest is right out those long quiet dreamy shots in Stalker, maybe mashed up with some Blair Witch forest stuff. “Shallow pit full of squirrel, rat, and stoat skeletons. Freaky forest shit, blair witch” Fuck! Yes! More! Please! It’s got this weird vibe to it. One you can’t quite place. But it is one of the most haunting things I’ve seen, without ever really trying to be so. One of the wanderers is a dog “The front “half” is alive but its spine and ribs snake off endlessly out of sight. Follow it, and it will lead you (eventually) to a cold hell where a bird-demon on a rock will offer you 500 xp to murder each of three people who have loving families that depend on them.” So fucking much in such a small package! Oh! Oh! And the fucking “Manimals!” (Props to the 80’s!” demorfed animals with gaping mouths that they pull their jaws and olips back over their heads to swallow big things. Bloated shape, disgusting gait. Sweet!
And, just like that dog wanderer, the encounters are a joy of delicious decision making. Take a stone tomb you run across. “A heavy stone tomb contains an upright glass coffin. A tall man in a dark robe is propped up in there; he has a rather lumpy complexion but is otherwise well-preserved. Behind him are placed a wand, an earthenware bottle, and a leather
money bag.” You want that fucking wand, don’t you? Let me tell you, your fucking MU wants that fucking wand. You’re gonna fuck with it, ain’t you? That’s it! That’s it in a nutshell! The friendly ogre wearing the jeweled crown! You WANT it. Are you willing to tempt fate to get at it? Oh, those are wonderful D&D moments! And the dude? He’s not necessarily evil. Or, at least will attack you outright. Nor, it turns out, the Necromancer. Even if she turns herself in to a lich.
The only caveat here is to somehow communicate to the party ahead of time that hte journey is the destination. The pit is not a dungeon. You don’t go there and THEN do something long. The forest thing IS the adventure, and while the pit is interesting, and things happen there (just like the wish room in Stalker) it’s the overall thing that’s important. A party expecting otherwise would be disappointed … and I thin the adventure could do just a tad more to set that up.
Pay what you fucking want and two fucking dollers. Please! Worth much more than that!
This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $2. The preview is three pages. You get to see a page describing a rival adventuring party, and some wanderers. Maybe one of the forest locations would have been nice also, but you can CLEARLY get an idea as to the quality from those NPC descriptions and wanderers. Not gonzo. Just GUD.
In a secluded corner of the countryside, on top of a hill stands Mount Saint-Mikkel. An ancient power awakened there and since then, the region has been subject to raids by the undead.
You have been assigned to solve the problem… Baron Solreigh was surprisingly honest when he recruited you: if he offers a pouch of gold to whom will end the troubles that afflicts the mount Saint-Mikkel area, it is because it’s very dangerous. He has not received news from any of the two groups of men — one of soldiers, the others composed of its five best knights—he successively sent there. And if he’s going to lose more men, he’d rather they not be his own!
Reports mention an ever-growing troop of the undead swarming the villages around mount Saint-Mikkel—an old priory and pilgrimage destination long declining— leaving only death and ruin in its wake. Listening to the call of adventure and your lust for gold, your group of Adventurers is on its way through the countryside. After a few quiet days, you can finally see the lonely and age-old silhouette of the priory sitting at the top of the hill through the morning mist…
This 26 page adventure uses six pages to describe sixteen linear encounters in a “dungeon” with undead. It’s ok for something linear like this; the encounters don’t overstay their welcome. But, neither are they particularly interesting (with two exceptions.) I wouldn’t Hate Life(™) if given this to run five minutes before a con game. Nor would I EVAR go out of my way to run this though.
For the rest of this review let us assume a minimal level of competency by the designer. Descriptions are not too long, some ok use of bolding, etc. Nothing to write home about or change the existence on earth, but doesn’t make you hate life either. Great, now we can ignore that boring shit (that is usually the easiest to fix, hence my harping on it.) Also, this isn’t really an OSR adventure. It’s written for some French RPG, but essentially converted to 5e while being labeled OSR. The linear nature (and forced combats) would therefore make it more 5e than OSR.
The adventure does two interesting things. First, it occasionally handles a skill check well. In one notable example, you find a cave if you are following footsteps … OR you can make a PER check if you are not. That’s how you handle a skill check in the OSR. If you search you find the fucking trap, otherwise you fling yourself to the fickle hand of fate. There’s also a read-aloud or two that is done right, noting that a roof looks unstable implies donger when exploring the room, for example. Hints in the description to the player are what develops true player skill, not the min/max CharOp bullshit that passes for player skill.
There are also The Knights Who Went Before. You end up meeting three of the five. The first, in a cave, a broken man who you can bring out of his misery, perhaps. The second, a ghost, who tries to possess a party member so he can continue his oath to defeat the evil. The third, currently possessed by The Demon (and thus the big bad) can actually be saved by separating him from a cursed sword, and keeping him separated for an hour or two as he regains his senses. This is so much different than the usual “corrupted forever” or “just fight and stab stuff cause thats the part of the game were in” dreck that usually happens. There’s more nuance here. It FEELS more real because of it. It’s not just a pretext for a combat. That’s good design.
It makes some of the usual mistakes. Long sections of italics in the read-aloud. The read-aloud says things like “you are startled” and “you see”, both using a “you” perspective and telling the players what their characters think/feel instead of writing something that MAKES the players feel that feel. You have to make a STR test to walk up a hill. It uses a fancy illuminated font for the keys in the text, making it harder to find the associated key.
A couple of things of special interest. First, the maps here are … interesting. Rather, they kind of LOOK interesting. There’s a decent overland map (that I think is probably never used?) and a detailed dungeon map. Both of which are essentially illegible. Too dark, not enough detail, or, perhaps, the pertinent detail is lost in the colors. You just can’t make out what is going on, where the cliffs are, etc. Which is too bad, it looks like it could have been an interesting complimentary map. I mean, if it weren’t a linear dungeon.
Then there’s the handwaving. I saw this in the context of the page count. Six pages for the adventure, recall. And yet certain parts of the adventure are handwaved, essentially everything but the room keys proper. Asking around in villages gets you that undead block the road and that there are mines under the monastery that you can use to get in. It’s literally handled in one sentence, also verbatim for what I typed there. And there’s nothing about the region around the monastery, the undead on the road, etc. If your party wants to try that there’s nothing there to support the DM. GO DOWN THE LINEAR DUNGEON BECAUSE THATS WHAT THE dESIGNER WANTED YOU TO DO. A page, to cover rumors in the village and/or the region around the monastery, the undead attacks, etc, would have been great. Just a fucking page, for context. To add something for the DM to run and support them. But, no.
So, is it offensive? Well, no, not overly so. Is it something that I would ever want to run in a million years? No. Not at all. The knight thing can be stolen for a better adventure, but that’s about it.
This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $1. The preview is ten pages and you get to see the map and the first three or four rooms. This gives yo ua good idea of what you are buying, so, a good preview. Take a look at that map; looks interesting, right? And the formatting of the room keys is ok also.
By Désirée Nordlund
The party enters a castle that at first seems to be abandoned. But something is not right. It is empty and cold but clean and cared for. The princess has been turned into a beast. The spell will not be broken until a special crystal is placed in the highest tower. If that is done, it is proof that the princess learned to ask for help. The crystal is found on the other side of a portal, guarded by a dragon that should not be awoken.
This eighteen page adventure attempts to present a strongly evocative fairy tale vibe. Rather, it comes out as an outline of an adventure, abstracted, rather than an adventure, leaning on the excuse of “it’s a system agnostic adventure.” Weak writing and a dearth of encounters lead to a snoozefest.
Reading just the publishers blurb you can see the hows and whys of me selecting this adventure for review. It’s got a fairy tale like thing going on, at least from that description. The classic elements of an abandoned castle, princess, highest tower, crystals, and dragons. What’s not to love! I am a fan of the classics, well done! But this ain’t it.
There’s a lot going on wrong here in this adventure. There’s a kind of genre mismatch in places, with the adventure never really committing to the fairy-tale/mythic vibe and waffling back to a traditional D&D like vibe at times. While attempting evocative writing, or at least stating it is trying to do that, it instead comes across as somewhat boring writing, lacking evocative descriptions (for the most part) and a writing style that makes me think the designer might be some kind of fiction writer, confused to the current genre they are working in. And then there’s the adventure proper, the encounters and the like. This being a “generic” adventure for “all systems” there are no stats, which is almost always a mistake. Not much meaningful interactivity is present.
The interactivity here is either missing or wrong. We get, maybe, one combat, maybe two, and little else beyond that. A crawl through some flytrap like plants, a talk with The Beast from Beauty fame, and a talk, maybe, with a farmer. Perhaps a trek up in the snow. (More on that later.) “This place is dark and you need to find your way through it” or “It looks scary but s harmless” is not interactivity. It COULD be interactivity, but, as presented, it’s just an OUTLINE of an adventure. A generic framework. There is not enough specificity to ground it down to an actual adventure. Further, There are a couple of times where interactivity is actual missing that should be there. The Beast who can only be killed by stabbing her in the heart. How do we know that? Were there clues to discover in an empty castle? No. It’s just a note for the DM.
There’s an appeal of genericism here that is unwarranted. It’s almost always unwarranted. You are rewarded with things “like pearls and diamonds as a thank you.” No. No we are not. We’re awarded with something SPECIFIC. Something that does the work for the DM, inspires them to run a great game. And generic text like “like pearls and diamonds” does not do that. Nor does things like “its really cold out” or “you could get exhausted” as the extent of the mechanics. This is done in order to keep the adventure generic/system neutral, but to what end? Just stat it for 5e, or OSR, or write the fucking thing for Polaris, a system that this adventure is SCREAMING for. Bad DM’s won’t use this adventure and good ones will restart it/run it on the fly. But, what you WILL get is the specificity to tie things down to the ground. To be concrete.
“You walk along …” or “You walk up to the gate …” or “You see …” betray a writing style that is focused on some kind of novel experience. Adventure writing is not novel writing and, I think, few of the skills translate well. Adventure writing is TECHNICAL writing. You must have a text that is completely optimized for running it at the table. And, a part of the optimization is to have a terse and evocative descriptive style. Chaos, that is perfectly organized, as I like to say. But that’s not the writing here. It’s clearly meant to be a kind of scripted plot, with moments outlined, and it’s written as such. But the correct framework, even for a story based adventure (as opposed to a traditional 5e plot one or OSR exploratory one) is not that. You need to present situations, interactive ones, things that the players canmake interesting decisions about.
And the embedded URL’s don’t work, just three days after publishing this on DriveThru. And the directions in the text for room layout are inconsistent, with gates SE and NE being interchanged.
One quick note about ESL. I get the sense this is a Scandanavian-native speaker. I’m pretty generous with ignoring language issues as long as meaning comes across, and it does. And their English is better than my Scandanavian (hmmm, is that insulting, to lump each country in to the generic “Scando” group?) The language issues are probably not an issue in this adventure, at least where meaning is concerned. A quick english language check by an english editor could have been in order, though. More importantly, are the evocative language issues related to the ESL thing? If so, it would be the VERY first time I have seen that … so I’m inclined to say no. But, it really just isn’t that evocative.
This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages, that show the main adventure text, the start of the adventure. So, it’s a good preview. Note the main hall description, for both good (fairytale!) and ill (evocative writing.)
By Jon Paget
Jon Pagat Roleplay
Levels 1-12 (scales)
My New Years resolution is to only review good adventures! Let’s go! 🙂
News has got out about a tomb of unknown origin that has been found in the wilds. The explorer sent members of their expedition to alert the city authorities. That was two days ago, and there has been no sighting or word from them since.
This twelve page adventure features a dungeon with …, I don’t know, twelve rooms? There’s no maps, its detail is abstracted, and the text disorganized to a more unusual degree than most. Perhaps, as the poster says, the purpose of your life is to serve as an example to others?
This is my first review of the new year, because I write a couple of weeks in advance. There seems to be a dearth of true OSR material lately, and the ones on my list are over a hundred pages long, on average, which takes some intestinal fortitude to bite off. I’m working on the longer ones though. (I’m looking at you MontiDots …) Two adventures popped up on my radar though, and looked interesting for different reasons. It was either that, of a wild west adventure. Be thankful. Anyway, a quick glance at the DriveThru page of this and it looked like there was something going on. I was wrong. Very wrong.
It’s easy to identify the WURST adventures. But, what lies in the middle? Or, rather, what lies between the worst adventures and the usual middling dreck that clogs up the 4’s and 5’s on a ten point scale? What does a 2-3 look like? It looks like this. It looks like something that clearly had a logical mind behind it but for which all the wrong choices were made. When made on purpose they can be the result of a creator vision, on the way to some place new. Or, you can make the wrong decisions because you don’t know better or because they are expedient.
There’s no map to this. A couple of the rooms have simple colored boxes with some number labels in them, but, they do little, and don’t represent a map of the entire complex. This means that a significant portion of the text is taken up with the designer trying to describe, textually, where each room lies in relation to each other. Tried and Dies, says Indy. The text gets confusing, as you try to make out where each room lies and how they lie in relation to each other. And this text gets in the way of the text that actually DOES matter to the adventure, the text that describes and relates the room you are in. It obfuscates that text, making comprehension harder for the DM. All of which could be solved by including a simple dungeon map. If you don’t want to learn a dungeon mapping program then just hand draw something and take a photo with your phone. Dungeon maps exist for a reason. They convey information quickly and easily. I seldom think in black and white, in spite of my usual hyperbole to the contrary, but in this case THEY ARE THE CORRECT WAY TO PRESENT THE INFORMATION. You don’t NEED a map, for every place, but with ANY complexity at all you almost certainly do. Just use a fucking map people!
A substantial amount of the detail in this is abstracted. Abstraction is almost never the right thing to do in an adventure. A perfect example of this is the intro: “News has got out about a tomb of unknown origin that has been found in the wilds. The explorer sent members of their expedition to alert the city authorities. That was two days ago, and there has been no sighting or word from them since.” Note that news has got out. The City Authorities. The explorer. This extends to the fact based descriptions. “Two dead bodies” and “they belong to the previous expedition” is the extent of the description. The tomb belongs to a witch, a DC check tells us, bu no name of her or hint of her atrocities. A book with a bookmark on a table, with no hint of what it is. The key to a good description IS its specificity. It’s the soul of a narrative, after all. And it’s not verbosity that’s important. That’s a different trap. The key is to write a description that is specific, evocative, and short. None of which happens in this adventure in any area of it.
Including the area, the entire third level, in which the players make up challenges for each other. *groan*
Further, the rooms descriptions are not organized and coherent. In one place were told that mist from a teapot needs to be stopped. But, later, when we actually get the description for the teapot room, there’s no mist mentioned at all, coming from the teapot or not. In fact, the mist is NEVER mentioned, except that it needs to be stopped to avoid the “scares tactics” going on. A grate on the floor is never mentioned, until you make a good DC check. And DC checks. Ug. This is a classic example of how NOT to do them. A DC check allows the players to determine what’s going on, to find details, instead of the details just being in the room and the DM allowing them to be found, with the DC checks as a fall back. Just roll the fucking dice and concentrate on your fucking build so the DM can spoon feed you detail. I will allow that some misanthropic segment of society thinks that is a fun way to play D&D, I just don’t want any fucking thing to do with them and reject any sense that is anything cloe to mainstream desires. It’s fucking lame and empty.
The centerpiece of interactivity is a room with thirteen objects in it. Interacting with any of them will cause something negative to happen. There’s no treasure. No boons. No learning. Just if you fuck with anything then it’s save time. Ed Greenwood approves, but I do not.
This is $5 at DriveThru. There’s no preview. Why would there be?
By Andrew Marrington
Grimm Aramil Publishing
Low to medium levels
Command is given, we must obey, and quite forget old Christmas day: Kill a thousand men, or a Town regain, we will give thanks and praise amain The wine pot shall clinke, we will feast and drinke And then strange motions will abound Yet let’s be content, and the times lament, you see the world turn’d upside down.
This 37 page encounter represents a zombie attack on a village. Err, sorry, that’s the genre. It’s actually one encounter, a roundhead attack on a small village on Christmas day. Same thing though, conceptually. A new low in adventure design!
The village has about fourteen locations in it. There are 53 troopers in the roundhead unit, one of which gets a name and backstory and the rest are just 1st level fighting men. They show up in the village and start looting the houses, because they are puritans the villagers are feasting and drinking. What do you do, Mr and/or Mrs Party Member? If you fight them/drive them off then a second group shows up, and then a third, for a full on assault/murderfest, rather than Ye Old Looting the first group was planning on.
This continues the Lamentations tradition of No Good Outcomes. Either you let the village get looted in the first place, in which case there is no “adventure”, or you have to kill 54 troppers and hide their bodies, as well as everyone in their baggage train, in order to hide the evidence of the killings, or else the entire army visits their wrath on the village. I’m not sure how I feel about the No Good Outcomes stuff, it can be fun sometimes but is a little grimdarm for the beer & pretzels D&D I prefer. But, what the fuck, I’ll place it in the PLUS category since some thought went in to it and evidence of design is short and far between these days in adventures. Also, each house has two lines at the bottom of it, one showing what can be looted from it and another showing what the household is willing to part with as a bribe to make the soldiers go away. Good touch that, and opens things up to nice roleplaying in the bribery/looting phase.
This is just some toughs showing up in the village. There’s a die drop mechanism for where they go first, that’s not bad, but after that it’s just the scenario playing out. Each household/building gets a full history/backstory treatment, with complete ethnographic studies of each person in the person. None of which is likely to come up in play and none of which enhances the adventure.
And that’s what this is: 37 pages of padded out material representing, maybe, if it were done right, about three pages of adventure, if every person in the village got a decent description that mattered in actual play. Lisps, peg legs, clinging to mommies skirt tails, etc. The emphasis is not n the actual play though. It’s not on stuff to fortify and/or route the roundheads/ Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven style. Instead we get things like: “The original church dates from the 14th century and was made of wood – this forms the nave of the existing church. Two brick aisles were added to either side late in the 16th century. Most recently, a modest wooden belltower/vestibule has been added in the last few decades as the new entrance into the church.
The chancel has been redecorated in a more lavish style as part of the Laudian campaign of beautification.” Or, as an NPC, we get things like: “ Christopher Brown, age 39, is the village baker. His father was the village baker before him. His younger brother, Luke, left the village nearly twenty years ago with the intention to join the navy, and never returned – Christopher has never heard from him since.”
How either of those enhance the adventure, during actual play, is beyond me. Well, they don’t, of course. Because the designer doesn’t know the difference between “this is what all adventures do” and “this is what makes a good adventure.” Even, considering it’s just a zombie attack, err, roundhead attack, it provides NOTHING to enhance it during actual play.
There is this mighty disconnect in adventure design. People want to share, but they have no idea how to do it. Pathetic earthlings, filing themselves out in to the void! They must write to get better, and we must suffer through their writings until they do get better. If they ever do. I just wish they would do more homework up front to learn how to do a good adventure.
This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is seven pages. The last two show you two of the village building descriptions and some NPC descriptions. Unbeknownst to you, this is the core of the adventure text. So, it’s a good preview, you just don’t know it’s previewing.
At the eastern village of Vorudislav, the adventurers are commissioned by a local logger who was expecting a shipment of wollahogs from the Ivanov farm, a day’s journey to the north west. As the adventurers head toward out in the direction of the farm, they discover a terrible fate that befell Jonas Ivanov and his hogs…and a sleeping threat to the people of Vorudislav.
Yeah, I know. Two 5e reviews in a row. I’ll get back to the OSR in the next one. I saw this new one by Travis and, since he’s pumped out about ten thousand adventures since the last one I reviewed, I was hopeful that things had improved.Let’s see, a good summary would be …
This 26 page adventure uses three pages to describe a six room cave. I am such a fucking idiot.
Ok, level 6’s, you are being sent to a farm by a logger. It’s day away and some hogs are late that were supposed to be delivered. Your reward is 2gp. If you bargain and roll a 20+ then you can also have 20 arrows, but without the quiver. Look, I know the power curve in 5e is different, but isn’t this a little ridiculous? Why is the party even considering this? I guess 2gp is generous for walking a day to check on some hog delivery, in certain economic conditions in which gold inflation from adventuring parties has not hit hard yet. But, the party? “Check on some hog delivery for 2 gp.” Seriously? I guess, if you want to play D&D tonight then you’ll do it.
You get to the farm, I guess. The farm is never mentioned again after the intro except to say “when the party arrives …” They seen a tall black obelisk and a cave 50’ up in a cliffside. There’s blood on the snow. There’s absolutely NO mention of a farm or anything like that. But, I guess this is the farm? At first I thought the farm was in the cave and then I thought “how the fuck does he get his hogs 50’ up the cliff?” But, no, that’s not the case. As best I can figure, there IS a farm, completely unmentioned after the intro, located near the obelisk. And the cave had 2 ghouls in it that never bothered the farmer or his hogs, I guess. Anyway, the cave has some oozes in it. They attack you and try to drag your body up the cliff, 50’.
Let us pause here.
That part of the adventure did not have to suck. About this time I got a real heavy The Thing picture in my mind. “That is not a dog!” Imagine an ooze not as The Blob, but as The Thing oozes. And someone stuck in one, being dragged up the cliff side to the dark cave opening. That would be some scary shit! And later, inside, at the final room of the cave, #5, you have “an Ice Warden completing it’s host imprint on Joan [(the farmer)].” That’s CLEARLY something out of The Thing. Oh man, I love the thing. The imagery or the oozes in it, the paranoia, it’s fucking great!
But that’s not what this is. This is a dumb three page combat adventure. Absolutely NOTHING is done to play up ANY evocative aspect. Even though a significant part of the page count (not taken up by pregens) is monster stats, there are NO monster descriptions. Not even in the monster description section. There is NOTHING to spark the DMs imagination, for them to riff off of. Not a single word AT ALL. It’s just a monster. It’s just something to stab because it’s the stabbing time of the adventure now. You get quite verbose 5e monster stats, with all powers mechanically described, but nothing that would lead to the wonder and joy of a D&D experience. No opportunities to play up the mimic nature of the Ice Warden (whatever the fuck it is). No paranoia. No good descriptions of pseudopods or what the “imprinting” means/looks like. There is just nothing at all there.
This is just some sloppy ass work, padded beyond belief with pages of the mechanically monster stats and pregens. And the pregens don’t even have good personality notes, the way CoC pregens would at a convention one shot. “There’s something weird about Barry, you just can’t put your finger on it …” “It’s because I’m poor issn’t it?! That’s why you don’t like me?!” … says the The Thing imposter luring the party to the ice cave lair … THAT would have been good pregens.
Just more garbage.
This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages. That drow chick on the cover has nothing to do with the adventure, at all. No ide why it’s there. You don’t really get to see anything of the adventure. Cause then there’s no fucking way yo uwould buy it, would you?
By J. Evans Payne
Infinium Game Studio
A simple farmstead is comprised of a small family of halflings. But when one sister runs away from home and a second goes missing, the third and only remaining child ventures forth to discover what happened to her siblings. Alone and wracked with guilt and worry, the farm matriarch turns cruel and abusive, and the father seeks comfort in delving ever deeper into the caverns and tunnels underneath the farmhouse… until one day, drawn to the burgeoning evil of the corrupted psyches of the grief-stricken parents, terror and gore seizes what was once a simple farm.
This 154 page adventure uses about forty pages to describe about ninety rooms in a multi-story farmhouse, plug three levels of caves underneath. It has a good idea in it, but otherwise is a testament to overproduction, padding and D&D as discrete boxed elements during play.
I promise you, I do not buy adventures based on their potential to be a trainwreck. Except for this one. 154 pages for a one session adventure?! Count me in! And, even then, I though, hmmm, I could see how you could it … it would be interesting if x, y, and z …
Twenty pages of intro/explanation, backstory, and How To Play D&D start us off, followed by forty pages of the keyed descriptions and then around eighty pages of mostly monster stats, with a few “this is my cool new rule addendum” pages. Certainly, an average of two rooms per page is not as bad as some adventures. While the read-aloud here is long and bad, as is usual for these adventures using a lot of “you see” and so on, it is not the usual overwritten dross that plagues the industry, for once. But, more on that later. First, let’s talk about what this adventure does right.
In short: it tries to present a larger context for some elements. And succeeds, kind of. These larger contexts are nothing new. We’ve seen pages and pages of backstory before in adventures. When they are good they don’t get in the way and you can ignore them. When they are bad they embed information you need to run the information and thus you are forced to read them and glean information from them. In common, though, is their inability to impact the actual as it is being run. At most, all of this “used to be” and “what has come before” can supply a sages information or what can be gleaned from a divination spell. But, in terms of driving the adventure? No.
And the attempt here doesn’t really drive adventure during play either. At least, not in the play that would be considered the main adventure in the product. I’m generally a fan of the Conclusions or Follow Up sections that some adventures have. These are usually short sections that detail potential consequences to the parties actions in the adventure. They help integrate the adventure in to the game world and provide a degree of continuity. Almost the other side of the Hooks sections that most adventures (including this one) do so poorly. This adventure is trying to provide some consequences also. In particular, there are three sisters who the party could, at one point stumble across and those could be tied back in to this adventure as the party relates the tale of the farmhouse to them, be they explicitly looking for them or just trip over them. Their fates are briefly detailed in a few paragraphs and the consequences are, rather poorly, integrated in to the adventure text rather than being outlined at the end. This is poor, making the information harder to find in the future when you want to rereference it at a later date. But, the idea is a decent one and, in particular, the very humanistic stakes. It’s not a zombie plague overrunning the land, but rather “hey, here’s what happened to your family.”
The rest of this thing, though, is the usual trainwreck.
Long read-aloud is present, as well as the inappropriate usage of text like “you feel …” and “you see …” that is not worded in the correct person. But, that’s not what you’re going to notice.
What you’re going to notice is the rainbow that puked all over the text.
Everything here is color coded. Every section heading, every box, every trap, every table. All boxed off with their own different background color. What you get is a series of colored boxes, each bull of their own text. The idea is to make it easy for the DM to find things, I’m sure. In practice though the pages are far FAR too busy. Boxing text, offsetting text, the good use of whitespace, and some occasional background color is fine. But this shows when this sort of thing is taken to an extreme. It’s distracting and leads to much more confusion than it solves.
As an adventure, it mostly fails at being interesting.
Random monsters are rolled for every 10 minutes in the basement. They just attack. And even at the MOST generous, they occur on a 4 in 6 chance every ten minutes, AT THE MOST GENEROUS. What’s worse though is this kind of “boxed off “effect of the adventure. It’s like there are very clearly distinct elements to the adventure. First you explore a room and then you are attacked by monsters, and there is no overlap in styles. A kulk and two skeleton rogues attack.” That’s it. No elements to the attack, no dropping from ceilings or clawing their way out of the walls. A room with urns and Crawling Hands does not have them coming out of the grave earth. It just says they are there and they attack, only later mentioning the urns. Because it is Fighting Tima and you don’t have descriptive elements in Fighting Time, obviously. Duh! And page after page of uninteresting empty rooms in the farmhouse proper, just looting stuff and nothing more. And the monsters are just an assortment. Zombies. Ghouls, Skulks, Dark Stalkers. No rhyme or reason to them being there. Because they are just there for Fighting Time, rather than being integrated in to the adventure.
Better, would have been cutting all of the “challenge level” stuff that bulks up the text and instead just saying something like “They crawl from the urns and skitter up the walls to the ceiling” or some such. This is the extra little bit that an adventure SHOULD provide in order to load the DM with ideas. No, none of this “a good DM could …” nonsense. It’s the adventure designers job to provide these extra bits of evocative flavour. Not spoon feeding. Not going overboard, but little extra bits. What does the creature look like? Who knows, they are just a Skulk and two skeleton rogues in this.
A failure. Not of epic proportions, but at least ina new way; death by overproduction. Cutting all of this extra shit and just concentrating on the adventure at hand AND DoING A GOOD JOB OF IT. First, do the basics right.
This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is twenty pages and shows you nothing. Pages fifteen and sixteen hint at the color box bombing, but it’s far worse in in the actual encounter rooms. A good preview would have shown up pages that actually contained a room or two, so we could judge for ourselves if we wanted to buy the adventure.
By Brad Kerr
"Low Levels" (2? Maybe?
Enter a garden of earthly delights. The sun has stopped setting over the king’s favorite garden. It seemed like a harmless curiosity at first but the animals have turned violent and strange alien beings have appeared. The duke has placed a bounty for enterprising sell-swords to end the curse of endless daylight.
This 34 page adventure details about twenty hexes in a walled off garden, along with two “dungeons” (a cave under a well and a hedge maze) of about ten rooms each. The writing is well organized and the situations imaginative, with no “right” way to proceed. A remarkable little gem.
This blog focuses a lot on design. Not out of choice. I would love to just DISCOVER great little adventures and be delighted by them. That seldom happens and, as a result of the origin story, I devolve in to discussing design issues because the vast VAST majority of adventures are ruined by simple things that are seen over and over and over again. But this adventure? It’s exactly the kind of thing you are looking for. Some dude just shows up and drops a bomb of an adventure.
The setting here is a garden area a couple of miles on a side, surrounded by a wall. There’s the usual things inside, a hedge maze, fountains, rose garden, etc. It’s pushing the edge of the mythological Land of Knights from romantic fiction, much in the same way that Gone FIshin did, although to a lesser degree. While Fishin was squarely in the Folklore category of setting, this could just be “real”, or at the hyper-real of some D&D settings. And then, to that, you add in the fantastic elements. It FEELS like someplace else, because of the descriptions, the writing, and the situations placed in front of the party.
And the situation is NOT linear. You can explore, return to locations, see what
S going on in the next hex … and be seen by the denizens. There’s a monstrously large rat prowling around, always a threat to the party, to keep them on their toes. You discover things, both from the main plot and from what feels like a dozen different little situations going on. And this is in light of most hexes just having one or two things going on. For example, one hex is idyllic hills. With carnivorous deer, bloody mouthed (from that fabulous cover!) But … there’s also a dead body, partially eaten by the deer. With possessions and a note, that leads to other mysteries. Other mysteries that could turn very very poorly for the party AFTER the adventure is over.
This is a not-so-whimsical Alice in Wonderland setting, with weirdos, dead bodies, a giant rat and what feels like a thousand other things prowling around and to investigate. The backstory, the only part of an adventure meant to be actually read, is actually engaging, revealing human foibles and people doing their best. The room/hex formats are generally on the shorter side, without being terse, with good use of bolding, summaries, section headings and the like. Perhaps it tends to the longish side, but not to the extreme to make it unrunnable.
And yet …
The hex map has little art pieces to show you whats in the hex/remind you. Important, because you can see and be seen from adjacent hexes, for the most part. Those little diagrams could be a little clearer. For while the hedge maze is easy to remember, a few other things, like the corpse pile, could be better, particularly when there are things to see, smell, hear, chase.
Some rooms have a “secret” in them and that is generally related through italics to the DM. Several sentences of italics. Like the DM text, in general, this tends to the long side but doesn’t go off the rails. In both cases, though, alternative formatting choices would have been clearer.
And, treasure is a bit light, with some “intentional” handwaving in a major treasure room coming to mind. No No No. Stick in the treasure, dude! Made it complete! Just as, for example, a table of “things found on bodies” or a couple of sample “adventuring parties” would have made the wandering monster table complete, instead of asking the DM to prep ahead of time. Do the work, so we don’t have to. Put the imagination seeds in for us, so we can build upon them during play, as you have for the rest of the adventure.
Still, an excellent adventure; the exact kind you hope to stumble upon when making purchasing decisions. Better than most of he Best Of on this blog. I’m excited to run this.
This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages, showing you the (somewhat incomplete) wandering table as well as three of the hexes on the last page. They are excellent example of the writing you are to encounter, with a little whimsy, a little snark to the DM, and a lot of interesting shit/situations to handle.
The last bastion of light and hope in a mist-covered accursed land, the Occluded Valley is threatened by an ancient colossus. Can a stalwart group of adventurers traverse the divided valley and scale the Colossus before it leaves annihilation in its wake?
This 116 page adventure has the party travelling a valley to gather the components for a ritual to stop a giant marauding colossus. It uses its page count well, using the space to provide clarity to the content. A decent enough format combines with passable descriptions to produce chapter two of an ongoing 5e adventure path … that doesn’t suck.
Another place another train another bottle in the brain another girl another fight another drive all night!
So, you’re in this pseudo-ravenloft setting with an evil vampire chick in the background. You come to this mostly peaceful valley only to find a giant mountain in the distance suddenly get up and start walking towards the only town. Druid chick tells you that you got ten days till it reaches it, and to stop it you have to do the blahblahblah ritual on top of it … and to do THAT you have to gather the four keys to time, or black ravens, or whatever. Then with the power of HEART you’ll … oh, no, that’s Captain Planet. Anyway, run around the valley collecting stuff (the valley conveniently has just about the exact number of locations in it as major components …) and do your Shadow of Colossus-type climb to stop the thing … hopefully BEFORE it destroys the town … and then the druids lair: the Rock Needle.
You see, the valley is protecting from vampires chicks evil getting in by the eastern and western beacons, the western one being the druid chicks stone needle. The eastern one went dead last year and now evil is creeping in. Oh, and the elves in the valley are wild ones. And no ones heard from the dwarves in their (23 room dungeon) fortress for awhile.
Up front: the design here is pretty good. The page count is long but that’s mostly because of the good use of white space and organizing the text. There is a decent number of page cross-references. NPC descriptions are short and well done, like a smith “stooped over, toughened skin pocked with old scars. Wheezes when he talks.” Good things you can hang your hat on to run. There’s an EXCELLENT timeline sidebar with travel times and so on, as well as a time tracker, to help the DM run the thing. There’s no right path, although there is an expected path. There’s a nice little section on consequences to the parties actions at the end. This is a good adventure. So, of course, I’m going to ignore all of the good things and nitpick it to death. Because if it’s one thing I know, maybe I’m just like my mother … Actually, no, it’s not that she’s never satisfied. I’m estranged because of her religious beliefs. But, anyway, the point is, there are at least three people writing good 5e adventures: this dude, MT Black, and Kelsey Dionne. But, anyway, back to my other point: if it’s not the best Deep Fried Deviled Egg you’ve ever had in your life (Boone’s Tavern, Berea) then what’s the point? Quick! To the Unrealistic Expectations-mobile!
I’m a dick: Sit locations A & B are missing from the valley map. Yu can figure it out. I don’t want to figure it out; I want it on the map.
The wanderers are pretty decent. “Ettin sleeping around a campfire; one of the heads is awake.” or “Ogre zombie bursts from a ruined cottage.” These are certainly better than the usual dreck one would expect in an adventure. I feel, like, though, that there could be just two or three more words. Perhaps its the implied “and attacks!” aspect, or, more specifically, the lack of motivation/action/potential energy in the encounters. I know, I know “bursts form ruined cottage” sounds like action. But I think it could be better. Another encounter has a dying hill giant swarmed by undead … and I think it needs something like “with blah blah blah wisdom” or something. They need just a little extra OOMPH. An extra descriptor, an extra action. Just a little more. “A green hag lures you in to the darkness with whispers.” You’re almost there man! You’re almost over the next hurdle!
The setting is a mixed bag. Up front we get a one page intro to the realm and the major players … none of whom, not even the general realm, appear in this adventure. (It is, after all, a protected vale.) There is an oblique reference to The Evil One by the Evil High Priest, and the Elf Queen chick might mention a wizard to you. And, of course, the humans fled in to the vale to get away from Evil Vampire Chick. I’m doing the setting a disservice by the flippant comparisons to Ravenloft, but “Evil vampire in charge of everything” has precedent. The setting is ALMOST good. And by Good I mean “REALLY good.” Things are hinted at. There’s just the barest glimpse of a larger world. Generally, this is good, but I think that the adventure needs a little more. Maybe there’s a setting guide I’m unaware of? The villagers could use a little more “fled from the evil queen” in them, their rumors and stories. The larger evil could use a little bump, maybe. And there’s NOTHING about the world outside the vale except for “under control of evil chick.” A little more. Just a little more. Another page. A few more rumors, and the setting would on the way to a home run.
The party is on a timer. The timer mechanic is well laid out. How long travel takes. How long the various adventure sites can take. How long a long rest takes. There is, however, one thing missing, I think. The party knows the monster is on its way but they don’t really know how much time they have. Or how long travel takes. This is, I think, a rather large mistake. Without knowing how long they have, or how long things take, they are left, I think, with throwing their hands up in the air. Timers work better when people know they have one and can make decisions around expiring the timer. Do we long rest or not? Do we take the morally problematic expedient route or the longer harder one? The work around this aspect could be better.
The format, for its worth, falls down in place. The read-alou/dsummary might mention, for example, a sheltered pond and charred remains … only to have the text mention a shimmering pool and burned remains. When using the bold/follow-up mechanism it is, I think, critical to keep the words consistent. It’s a cross-reference and that works better when the words don’t change, cognitavilly, at least.
Finally, the text can be disconnected in places. A prime example of this is the first collectible: the Earthen Willstone. The text just suddenly, out of nowhere, mentioned it, as a major section heading, with a couple of bullets on it. Then, elsewhere, there is a table listing the collectibles, with the WIllstone mentioned. There is a place for telling the story through the text, instead of in summaries, background, etc, but care must be taken to ensure that random fats don’t just pop up in the middle of nowhere. This is a common issue in the adventure.
Finally, I mentioned again the evocative text. And/or lack thereof. The text descriptions, while not exactly bland, do skew to the more nondescript side of the spectrum. Evocative writing is hard, and the designers efforts are not yet up to High Brycian standards.
This is $11 ast DriveThru. The preview is thirty pages(!). In fact, the first two pages show the example of the Earthen WIllstone that I mentioned. These first two pages are an excellent preview of the adventure. They show the read-aloud, the format, with all the good and ill to its style, including the “timer” column. GREAT preview.