Lair of the Frog

By Chaoclypse
Self Published
Level ?

The Lair contains dark, eldritch secrets and way, way, too many frogs. Survive its horrors, and you may eventually be granted audience with the mythical Frog God…

This twelve page digest adventure features a dungeon with twelve rooms and six outdoor locations. And I’m using “locations” very loosely here. Because te designer seems to have forgotten the primary purpose of an adventure. IE: this is garbage.

“Special Thanks to Chris McDowall for his helpful posts and videos on adventure creation.” Ought oh! I don’t know shit about McDowall, I think?, but I do know that endorsement, of Chris, by this designers, is eyebrow raising, after reviewing this adventure.

Because tis Crap. Let us look at the hook. It is, of course, a d6 table. Because the designer does not understand randomness and its purpose in an adventure. Anyway, our hooks are “You love frogs.” or “You hate frogs.”   or “Rumors of treasure.” and so it goes. Yes, I know, we don’t need hooks. But, when offered, we do expect more than this, correct? No? We’ve given up all hope of anything and everything? Nothing makes sense anymore? Everything is meaningless, now, in 2023. Time to talk to Ohm, my friend!

Ok, ok, let’s look at the actual adventure. The one with a content warning for “Body horror, Hallucinogens, Cults”. Let’s see here. We’ve got a short wilderness crawl before getting to the frog lair. It’s six locations, five of which you’ll visit, so, essentially a linear wilderness. Oh. They all fit on one page. Oh. Let’s see, location one is “The border between the outside world and the valley of the frogs. The journey starts perilously, and climbing down the hills is difficult.” Oh, wait, that the adventure summary. The real location is … oh, no, that IS the location. That’s location one. Good luck suckers! “Starts perilously” Fuck off man. Fuck right off. You know its the designers fucking job to define what “start perilously” means, right? Location 5, the Weel. “Well, well well. It’s a well. Those foolish enough to climb inside find …” That’s it. Nothing more. No table of whats inside even. This is utter and complete garbage. I’m fucking insulted, for the fucking hobby, by this “adventure.” 

THe reallair if twelve rooms on four pages. Each room gets lots of space for all of those fucking door/exit descriptions that some of you fuckwits insist is worthwhile. Bask ye heathens in the glow of “Passageway to an intersection leading to four and five.” Yeah, verily, the best of all exit descriptions! Perhaps rivaled only by “Door to four!” Fuck you all.

Our room descriptions have a header, like “Tadpole nest” which is good. The descriptions come in bullets, ose style, which is a decent format. But, the designer doesn’t know how to use them. “Pile of unusually large tadpoles” is not a description for the nest. It brings little to life. Oh, oh, the treasure room! “Piles of green jewels and treasure.” I fucking hate my life. THis is what it has become. This shit. 

You know, there was a chance here. The wandering table, perhaps the only thing in the adventure with ANY decent ideas, has this entry, which is by far the best “Large tadpoles carried in the arms of human-sized bipedal frog” Meh. But, nursing from a human that is carrying it? That would indeed be the body horror and culty shit we were promised? Cause there is no body horror and no cults, from the warning, in this adventure. At all.

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. You get to see that wilderness crawl. No, thats the crawl, not a summary of it.

Posted in Do Not Buy Ever, My Life is a Living Fucking Hell, Reviews | 3 Comments

A Taste of the Goods

By Grant Howitt
Soulmuppet Publishing
Best Left Behind/OSR
Level 1?

The Cryptdiggers are hired to reclaim a wizard’s stolen property: bandits hijacked a shipment of potions to their dilapidated fort half a day’s ride from the city. Retrieving the box of special black-bottled potions is paramount—anything else is simply useful to sell.

This four page adventure is set in a ruined fort (which means a small thirteen room manor?)  There are decent imagery descriptions scattered throughout, but the entire thing is one of the most confusing masses of text I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s also most like the layout was randomized. 

Ok, so, I think some bandits got ahold of some magic potions and drank them. That’s about all I am sure of. Seriously. That’s about it. Cause this thing is a FUCKING MESS. “Layout by Jean Verne.” with three different editors and THIS thing is the result? More on that in a bit.

First we note the nice things. It’s got some ok imagery in the descriptive text. “RUBBISH PILE Rubble and bones, shattered glass and a horse’s yellow-green corpse. Two Dogs gnaw at the horse.” or “FINE BEDROOM Presently damp and grim with plants growing up the walls.” I like the damp and fine combination. It gives the picture of moldy, peeling wallpaper and dripping plaster ceilings. And that’s what good writing should do: provide more than the words on the page. Mouldering tables, scorched tapestries, lumps of meat, “Vomit and filth in the far corner” in a room with two bandits passed out in it. I’m there!

But, the problems here are many.

There’s a map. It has no key. “Dormitories” are shown in the text. Where is it on the map? WHo knows. “Washroom/Chapel” where is it on the map? No idea. Seriously, it’s just a little hand drawn map and there is NO indication, AT ALL, where the various rooms are supposed to be. It’s label after label in the adventure buyt nothing on the map.

And the text is mostly just a confusing mass. “You can squeeze through the burned out rooms damaged wall” one of the rooms tells us. Uh … ok. Where is that? Why is it in this room? 

Perhaps my favorite is this text. We just got a description of the ARea, telling us about a nest in the rafters and ruined stone overgrown with moss. Nothing specific. And then we get the rubbish pile, that I quoted above, that ends with “A wagon marked with the wizards sigil is parked nearby.” Sure. Better, I think, to put that in the area description instead of a random rubbish pile description, but, whatever. Then comes this gem:

“STORE To the south, D6 unopened potions were removed from straw-filled transport crates. To the north, a bandit— who recently drank the Red Gem and Flame potions—is having a paranoid fireside conversation with a friend’s corpse. He is scared the wizard sent someone to retrieve the potions and kill them. The roof was repaired using the gateway door.”

TO the south of fucking what? The store? What store? There’s no store been mentioned. And there’s nothing on the map to indicate a store. The roof? What roof? The one to the store? WHat fucking gateway? What gateway are you referring to? WHy do I care about the roof repair? This entire thing just appears out of nowhere. I promise you I am not leaving out context. It’s patchy rain and pigeons fluitterring” in the Area description, with no overview, and then the rubbish pile and then this. 

The trend continues throughout the adventure. Just random references to other places. Three editors. Three fucking editors. A layout person. FOR FOUR FUCKING PAGES. And you can’t do something coherent with this?

I have absolutely no fucking idea at all what is going on in this adventure. Bandits drink potions and get sick and mutate, I think. But, more than that, the wheres and overall context of the fort/manor? No clue. I am completely fucking lost. 

Whatever fucking idea these people had failed miserably. No order of battle. Nothing to make a whole of the individual parts. I get the feeling there is something here … hence the great imagery, but it’s so addled that me and my sixth grade education can’t figure it out. Back to being a double nought spy I guess!

This is $3 at the publishers webstore. No preview. WHich is a good thing because $3 for four pages would probably mean I wouldn’t buy it.

Posted in Reviews | 6 Comments

Blub-Glub Pit

By Tiagp da Paz and Iago Ferreira
Level ?

In the middle of a forest, which grew where an old city perished in ruins, a pit of stone resists time. Vines slowly wrap it while its dark and wet interior hides the savagery and devotion of fish-like humanoids. Mud and mucus mix chaotically!” Grab your torches and come to explore this dank and dark dungeon!

This 22 page digest adventure features a kua-toa themed dungeon with about eleven(?) rooms. I don’t know what to make of it. I’d say it leans to the bad art-punk style of things, expect it actually has a keyed dungeon with “Descriptions.”I might call it an art-forward project, except it’s low on art.

Based on the cover I had high hopes. The canonical dungeon, for me, is a hole in the ground that some losers go in to explore/loot the mythic underworld. Which is probably why I like that first level of The Darkness Beneath so much. Anyway, that cover brings it, doesn’t it? The rest, though, is just bad. All parts of it.

The map is bad. Well, I mean, it’s got that isometric thing going on, which I like. SHowing elevation changes with a couple of steep muddy slopes in the dungeon. But, beyond that, it’s not keyed traditionally. And, while I don’t have a problem with that, in theory, I do have a problem with this in practice. It’s grouped in to a number of zones, six I think. Each zone has a mini-map noting rooms in it. So, we’re flipping to the correct zone, on the correct page (which is cross-referenced, thank Blibdoolpoolp. But, then, we get a weird mix of keying. SOme rooms are Room A, Room B, Room C. Not my favorite, since “Room A – Mucky & slime guard chamber” brings more descriptive text to the table than “Room A”. And, then, it goes on to call some rooms “Kitchen” or Guard Room. This kind of shit drives me crazy. I don’t want to have to hunt to find the room/feature I’m looking for while the party explores. So, you can do it, but you have to do it in such a way that I’m not killing time during play trying to find the fucking room the party is appraching. I HATE it when the adventure forces the DM to have “Dead air time” hunting for information. The end all be all of dungeon keying is not the traditional room/key, but, fuck, it also works well and if you’re gonna do something different then don’t lose what traditional keying brings to the table during actual play.

It uses randomness badly. Our hooks, genetic as can be, are presented as a table. Why? You really want me to roll on it for a hook? Sure, I can pick, as most sane people will, if they use the designers hooks, but why a random table for them? It smacks of a lack of understanding of what randomness is used for in play. And don’t get me started on the fucking treasure table. When you make it to the final room/temple then the DM gets to roll on a random tables for what treasure is on the alter.  “2d8 luxury objects, like chalices and mirrors” Fucking great. Wonderful. You do know that the purpose of a published adventure is to bring things to the DM that they can’t do on their own? To save time? To think about it and agonize over it before hand so that, during the play, the DM is able to present the party with something that they actually care about? That would seem to get at the core purpose of an adventure: assisting the DM. But, again, no, Roll on a table for a random treasure item. O can’t express enough how much I hate this. It’s a complete and total lack of understanding of what the purpose of a published adventure is. 

And the descriptions. Ug. “Room A – Serves as the kua-toas hunting weapons storage.” Well fucking thanks for that. I am inspired. That will result in a great description from me, the DM, to my players. Or, how about “Kitchen – In this part of the cave, the Blub-Glub cook their food. What is gathered from the hunting is taken to the kitchen and properly prepared.” Yes, you did just describe the purpose of a kitchen. It’s like saying “Bedroom – This is where people sleep.” What the fuck is the fucking point of this? 

And it’s all generic. “Moderately difficult to fall down the slope.” Just sta the fucking thing for B/X or Labyrinth Lord. We all know how to convert the fucking thing. 

Yeah, it looks like a dungeon. It has a key and descriptions. And that’s about the fuck all it is. It’s like people have never ever seen a real fucking adventure before.

This is $2.50 at DriveThru. The preview is nine pages. You really only get to see the suck ass hooks table and a mini-map. Good luck with figuring out if you want to buy it based on that. And this review.

Posted in Reviews | 7 Comments

Altogether in Cahoots

By Steve Jensen
Archaic Adventures
Level ?

An illegal brothel in Havaroon City has burnt to the ground, conceivably along with the brothel’s greatest patron “Count Edmund Druet” who is missing and soon to be an embarrassment to the King’s Court. There are those that blame the courtesens for starting the fire, while others believe something more sinister is afoot. Investigators wanted…

This forty page adventure is a missing persons investigation in a burnt down brothel. I question why I care that it is basically boring and moderately incoherent.

Count Fancypants is missing. He frequented this fancy brothel (no relation.) It burnt down yesterday. It would be an embarrassment if he died there. Brothels are officially illegal in the city, so the police(!) can’t investigate … because that would be admitting they exist. So the party get involved with a fixer of the king. That part is pretty good. It’s the kind of fucked up nonsense that society actually runs on. From here on, though, it’s all nonsense. And not in the good way that I like.

The DM is to hand the party a witness sheet for each person in the brothel. The cook, the madam, and a few of the girls. FUll background bio’s and their sworn testimony about the arson. (That’s a little too much civilization for my tastes … unless we’re in Evil Elflandia, which we’re not.) Anyway, you get to then go question the witnesses, who will only give their additional information if you ask the exact right question. There’s a thread about one of the girls having a dude in her room … maybe Count Fancypants? No, an abusive ex-husband. A newspaper reporter is running around reporting everything the party does/find/leaks, so, that’s a check on the old Fire & Torture party method of investigation,, I guess. He’s not really supported, at all, in the text though in any meaningful way. Meh.

Anyway, there’s two ways to solve the mystery. Method one involves one of the party members being handsome, so the selkie, pretending to be one of the girls, takes a liking to them and tries to drown them in the lake. Which should lead the party to Count Fancypants’ body. The other method involves some weird convoluted lie detection scheme and finding discrepancies in her story with another girl, in a tertiary manner. And then not falling for her 21 year old “I guess it could have been Frank, I don’t know, I am confused. This is all so confusing.”

Did I mention the three page read-aloud at the start? It’s hard to get excited about anything that follows after a shit–fest like that.

It’s just crap. Everything is crap. Info scattered all over the place. A convoluted story to break apart. A deus ex resolution. Nothing to help the DM run it, in the way of formatting or quirks. It’s just drudgery. That’s what I like in my D&D games. Drudgery.

There’s nothing really here. Things like this sap my will to live. My will to write. My will to game. My will to hang out in the lake with seven naked chicks, drinking. When your creation does that to someone then you really know you’ve failed.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a suggested price of $3. The preview is ten pages. You get to see a couple of the NPC Bio sheets that the party will get. Joy.

Posted in Do Not Buy Ever, Reviews | 10 Comments

The Tower of the Twisted Mage

By Hexplore Publishing
Hexplore Publishing
Level 1

Orin, the Wizard is missing. And his apprentice is hiring adventurers to go look for him in his last known whereabouts: The infamous Tower of Zaradon, the Twisted Mage.

This 28 page adventure features a “tower” with four levels and about sixteen rooms, using about nine pages to do so. So generic that I had to check, multiple times, to ensure I had not reviewed it previously. It’s throw-away garbage.

You see a dude in the market place looking around. I hope you go talk to him because if you don’t then there’s no adventure to be had! An apprentice, named either Kendrick or Cedrick (both names are used for him … and not on purpose …) wants you to go to this tower that his master was exploring and never came back from. Why doesn’t he? Well, gentle reader, you see, this is just a garbage adventure. In a garbage adventure we don’t bother even mentioning such things. But, whatever. 

You walk down a country road to get to the tower. On the road you have an exciting encounter from a table! Just one though … from the table of eight. So, let’s see … “A tree has fallen across the path, blocking the way forward. The players must find a way to remove the obstacle or go around it.” Joy! Wonder! Excitement! I’m so glad I’m playing D&D tonight! I had been looking forward to it all week! Our boots might get muddy! Ohs nos! Look, if you’re just gonna force one encounter then don’t use a fucking table. A table was used for wanderers, if the PC”s are dawdling, or exploring, or some such. Not for a programmed encounter. Instead of saying “A group of bandits has set up a makeshift roadblock. They demand that the players pay a toll to pass.” then write a short paragraph about the Murphy Boys Independant Tax Agency.” 

Congrats. You made it to the tower. You may now enjoy majestic room descriptions that say things like a LARGE room” a room with “HIGH ceilings.” Don’t fucking do this. I know you think you’re doing right, but stickin gin an adjective. But, maybe, pick a better one? Large and high have little meaning. Use a thesaurus. Conjure an image in your mind. Describe that. Ceiling tower overhead. Or loom overhead, or stretch in to the shadows above. Don’t fucking say high. The purpose of a room description is to inspire the DM. To conjure an image in their heads that they can riff on for the players benefit. Large don’t do that.

And, maybe, watch your rooms text for padding also. Telling us that the room has two doors, as the maps clearly fucking shows, and has no encounters or traps in it is not helpful text in the room description. What’s the fucking point? You think there might be some, that the designer left out? Why? Why the fuck say there are no traps or encounters in the room? You don’t even consistently do it for all the rooms with no encounters or traps! “After defeating the rats, the players may find some treasure scattered among the bones.” Why? Just why?! That sentence does nothing. N O T H I N G. Oh oh oh, and then it sticks the door descriptions IN THE NEXT ROOM. So if the door from room one to room two is described, you know where it is described at? In room two. Room one tells us there IS a door, but the actual description is in room two. Now, I know my readers, you’re thinking “that could be ok”. Maybe. But what if room two is a corridor. It makes no fucking sense at all. 

My favorite, absolute favorite, encounter that I may have even seen in my entire worthless piece of shit life, is the mirror maze in this adventure. “To go forward, the PCs must pass three Wisdom saves. Failing any of the saves forces a restart. If they pass all three, they reach the end of the maze”. Tedium. Just an exercise in tedium. Just like the fallen log encounter. Tedium. Nothing but tedium. Tired of reading the fucking word tedium yet? Too fucking bad. I had to deal with this adventure. 

When you leave the tower you meet 1d6 rival adventurers. That’s all you get. Nothing more. 

There is NOTHING here. The same room concept, a room with a stone pedestal in the center with a glowing crystal on it, appears twice. Not for thematic reasons. Not for puzzle reasons. Just because. It’s the most basic of descriptions. Dull and boring. Padded text. Unimaginative encounters. Tedious play. No specifics to bring something alive. 

This then is the curse of man. To be forced to create only to spew shit eternally.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is eight pages. Because of all of the advert padding you don’t actually get to see any rooms. Shitty preview.

Is it possible to live a simple life without flax seed and hemp indoctrination?

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 22 Comments

The Caper of Lanjin Kettlespin

By Malrex
The Merciless Merchants
For Gold & Glory
Levels 1-3

War in the tunnels below the dwarven city of Axeholme has kept the city guard busy. This caused the Constable to close down the Axeholme Museum in frustration and until further notice!! Why? Due to ‘hauntings’! Rumors have spread through the streets that locals have witnessed strange lights, noises, and normal objects that move on their own accord! Sounds like the usual to a group of adventurers such as yourselves. The Constable seeks adventurers to figure out the mystery of these hauntings….and you are hoping the reward will just be some of that sweet, sweet dwarven beer! 

This 21 page adventure details a three level dwarf museum with about 35 rooms. It’s probably fine. But I hate dwarf adventures and I hate museum adventures. Yes, I am a hater. The worst thing I’ve seen from MM, and Mr Bad King? Probably.

Let’s see here, plant room? Check. Statues that come to life? Check. Things coming out of paintings? Check. Animated things? Check. Earth plane creatures? Check. Some kind of forge thing? Check. Some kind of mine thing? Check. “Bryce, stop being so cynical!” Well, stop making it so easy! Sure, a museum is going to have those things. Sure a dwarf adventure is going to have those things. Just like an exploratory adventure will have a secret door and a chasm room. 

But I don’t care. I hate the implications. Museums. Phooey! And the dwarves here are nothing but a pretext. It could be a human museumfor all the theming. Yeah yeah. Bar in the museum. Mining exhibit. Whatever the nature of dwarves is, it’s not present in the adventure. And if you figure out what the nature of dwarves is let me know. That does seem to be the problem with all these dwarf adventures. No one seems to know what the vibe is. Including me? Anyway, museums suck in D&D, just like archeologists do. There are, of course, the required continual light lamps throughout the museum. Joy. Did I mention the legendary gnomish artist thing? No? I’m just ranting and rambling at the beginning of a review? 

Ok, so, the dwarf museum is haunted. Everyone is too busy so you get to go look in to it. What does haunted mean? No clue. Nothing provided. The curator opens the doors for you. What can the curator tell you? No clue. Nothing provided. Yeah, sure, you don’t have to. But, also, one fucking sentence would be nice. One sentence to communicate the curators vibe? Nope. I guess the intro says the constable is looking for volunteers, and the intro in the adventure says Balgor the curator is looking for volunteers. Whatever. There’s 35 rooms. Lets get in to it. Oh, shit, I forgot. You get 300gp each and please don’t steal.

Room one. Giant closed doors with a dwarf face on eit. Got it. Room two. Statues. One of them comes alive. Starting strong, I guess. “Three dwarven statues and one gnome statue stand in alcoves lining the walls, each graffitied with colorful war paint. The statues are expertly crafted with name plates. Each statue holds the tools of their particular trade.” *YAWN* Room three, Foyer, with “gigantic thich multi-hued glowing crysta;s emerging from the ceiling, floor, and walls.” *yawn*. Room four, Trophies. Statues of monsters. That have … come to life. Seven kobolds, five goblins and an ogre. Enjoy. Room five, mining exhibit. “Various sized lanterns hang from the walls emitting a glow on stone tablets of cartographic information. Wheelbarrows are half-filled with bits of golden and copper ore chunks and in-between piles of rubble. A few empty bird cages, expertly crafted hang from the north wall.”

Is this what you want from D&D?

The adventure is not badly done. You can understand what is written and follow along. I just have no idea WHY you would to do so. For a generic description? For seeing a trope that has been done a hundred, if not thousand, times before done in exactly the same way it was done those previous times? For a plot driven by a gnome illusionists search fo a book of literature about his dad. A BOOK OF LITERATURE?!  

I fucking hate magical society adventures. Just as I hate hell and all Montagues. 

Enjoy this, plebiscite. I trust you’re all comfy on your tacky sofas from Rooms-to-Go, lots of nibbles close at hand? Well, tuck in! And why not smoke between gobbles? Yes, go for the gusto America!

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is fourteen pages, so you get to see everything. There’s no faulting that! Just the way things should be.

It’s Tuesday, as I write this. I leave Thursday night to go live on a commune.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 28 Comments

Milk and Blood

By John Cunningham
SBM Press
OSR & Dark Albion
Levels 1-2

… in the village of Bacton in Herefordshire in 15th Century England, but can easily translate into any fanasy setting. The PCs are called upon to investigate the disappearance of a child amidst a rising tide of pranks and odd goings-on that has caused the local priest to beg for help.

This eleven page adventure details a small “investigation” in a village with an imp in it. Oops, gave it away. Now you wont be able to enjoy this outline of an idea for an adventure.

Well to do chick wants to marry a petty aristo kid. But her parents die, so shes sent to the country to live with granpappy orchard man, who is a bit of an ignorant lout. And now shes too low to marry the aristo, so, to improve the orchard she gets the local wisewoman to tell her how to summon brownie, and is wanted against mixing in blood to the milk becauseit will summon too powerful an entity. She wants a great orchard, so she adds some blood and get, unknown to her, an imp. Who is doing shit around the village. And eventually convinces her to get it a baby for its more powerful blood. Oops. 

The editing here is not great. The opening paragraph is immediately duplicated as the second paragraph. The imp is noted as a Imp of Desire. And then an Imp of Conceit. These are, of course, minor issues, and only stand out as witness to the more serious affair.

It’s an outline. You get a VERY basic list of major NPC’s. With descriptions that focus on background rather than the bits you need to run them. Griff and acerbic. Clever and oddly charismatic. I’m a fan of these sorts of quick hit descriptions for an NPC, but these don’t cut it. They are too abstracted and need supported by more, and I don’t mean their character history.
And then, as the main part of the adventure, you get a list, in bullet form, that takes up about two pages. This is, essentially, a list of 24 things that the party can learn as they investigate the village and ask about after the missing child. It is, essentially, a rumor list. Mixed in to it, though, are a few things to learn is you talk to NPC Frank, Sur, or Mary. And they all start with “If you talk to Sue then you will earn that … “ or something like that. Obviously, not the best presentation for information. You can’t make the DM hunt for things. It should be easy to locate the specific NPC and what they know. 

And, I should note, most of the rumors are from a rando villager. As in “There’s a Full Moon in a few nights, best to be indoors that night if you know what’s good for you!” or “Another villager complains their cow has run dry.” We don’t get these villagers. Just the core NPC’s. 

On top of that are the consequences for what’s going on. We get a couple of paragraphs describing complications. “they must realize that if Annes dies or is executed for witchcraft the High Sheriff will be angered, as will the Talbots when Humphrey holds them to blame.” Will they, though? Has the adventure done ANYTHING to help the DM communicate this AT ALL? No. Gonna blame the wise woman? She aligned with the House of York. Ok. And? I get it, War of the Roses, but, …. And? How does the party know this? How are the consequences made clear to the party? 

I could be missing something here. The main rulebook for Dark ALbion could have a great villager generator and make it clear all the consequences. But, even if it does, that’s no excuse for the information presented in this adventure. It is a rough outline of an adventure. A rumor table. A list of bullets that an adventure would then be designed around. It’s missing EVERYTHIGN that a modern adventure should have, meaning, supporting the DM in the play of the game. Theres none of that here.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. You get to see all of the major NPC”s and all of the adventure bullet points. ALl that’s missing is that short consequences section … Good preview.–Blood–an-OSR-and-Dark-Albion-Adventure-12-Level?1892600

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

Odious Uplands

By Jason Sholtis
Hydra Cooperative
Level ... 1-?

SO YOU SURVIVED OPERATION UNFATHOMABLE? The Odious Uplands await! You and your brave companions, fresh from their terrible sojourn into the Underworld emerge into the untamed wilds of Stonespear Province, crushed for an eon beneath towering glaciers until a sudden thaw, and bathed in the dim radiance and ineffable influence of the Chaos Aurora! A land home to all manner of unique megafauna, vicious saber-toothed apes, Woolly Neanderthal rangers, scarcely describable entities staggering forth from the Underworld, and of course other adventurers seeking their fortunes.

This 170 page setting/hexcrawl features a home base as well as “upper mastodonia”; a weirdo OD&D locale that tends towards the primitive, imagined as only Sholtis could. Evocative beyond reproach, if you can hang with the Dungeon Dozen and handle some sticky descriptions then you’ve got a winner here. 

I should mention, up front, that I like this designers work. I think his website, Dungeon Dozen, is one of the best D&D resources available. Operation Unfathomable is one of my very favorite adventures. It’s one of the few I own in hardcopy. It is the ONLY adventure I have ever gifted someone. I like his brand of genre.

We have to cover the weirdness thing first, since I feel like that’s going to be the thing that the stick-up-their-asses crowd focuses on. There’s always been weirdness in D&D. From your black monoliths and fish-people, to Wilderlands to ASE1. Scholtis leans weird. Not gonzo. Weird. Yup, there’s a dude riding a giant preying mantis. If you’ve got giant preying mantii then it makes sense that someone would eventually ride one, correct? (Not shown: the 100,000 idiots who tried, failed, and died) And, perhaps, that “Not shown” is the key to this. We’re not talking about a magical ren faire. No Continual Light street lights and blackhole garbage disposals. It’s not commoditized. Life is still strange and risky. As if the conditions in the dungeon, which might give you a +1 STR or might turn your head in to an insects, are shown, in society. Yup, there’s the dude at the bar with the insect head. No, we don’t ask about that. But it’s all firmly rooted in the normal world. There’s a lot of weirdness floating around, but the world is not weird … even though it is. A part of this is the relatable conditions that Sholtis works in. You can understand what’s going on. One dude thinks that the local indigenous people, hippy cavemen are “better people than humans (he’s not wrong!) and resents them accordingly.” Comeone now. That’s one of the most human things I’ve seen written down about human nature and it’s in a D&D adventure. The adventure, most of the NPC motivations, and monsters for that matter, make sense. Things are relatable, even though weird. It’s not generic. It’s not abstract. It’s relatable. 

Present, here, is a town. A starting base. Fort Enterprise. The last of civilization, slightly outside the bounds of the civilized lands, in the wild north. Run by a King Conan, barbarian gone to lard, but still believing in the nurturing power of the wildlands. Ready to tame the surrounding lands of monsters. And make some loot. And a bunch of degenerates hanging about ready to farm, fish, timer, and exploit the environment. You’ve got a great home base. It’s absolutely an adventurers town. Weirdo wizards. Weird tax rules. Idiosyncratic clerics. People (and giant slugs …) out to make a buck. That slug? An effete emissary from the underworld, a trader, hole up out of sight as a guest in the Governor/Barbarians manor. Yup, an effete slug trader hawking underworld ale. Did I mention that the God-Kings emissary in town is a lich? Just there to make sure the Gvernor/Barbarian pays his taxes. Yup, the empire has Citizen Lich’s. And more than a couple are present in town. As is a local troop of the empires soldiers, looking for miscreants outside of town, searching people, especially adventurers, confiscating interesting things found. Gotta keep the party on their toes and this does that. A shanty town, a lake full of monsters. A couple of godlings hanging around. This club has it all! A great starter town. And EVERYTHING aimed at interacting with the party and inciting adventures and presenting great situations to explore with them. Rocking place.

There are about forty or so described location scattered around the Upper Mastadonia map, along with numerous other “generic sites”, meaning “you find a corpse here” or “you find a fungal thing here.” Something akin to the “pit traps” on a map, these have tables that you can use to expand on the encounter, providing for a constant background of themes popping up. Some of those fourty or so locations are also mini-dungeons or a few rooms. 

Sholtis writes ‘sticky’ descriptions. The locales are memorable. You ran riff on the information present, make it your own, expand on it. You understand what the core concept is and have enough to run with it. Evocative. It’s really quite a skill to be able to produce locale after locale like this. But, that should be no surprise given the Dungeon Dozen. What they are not are terse. We’re looking a couple of paragraphs for most places with some bullet points. This is augmented by offset boxes and other formatting, that helps bring clarity to specific things, but, I’m talking about the main concept/description/idea. The communication of that core overview. The one that I say is sticky and helps you run the area. Yeah … that one is a little long. This is a prime case of needing a highlighter. You’re gonna need to read everything, at least once, in prep and then maybe highlight about two words in each area. That, combined with the art, should let you recall enough to run the place almost on the fly. Sure, you might miss a detail or two, but the locales really are pretty sticky. The dungeons, and other locations, tend to fare a bit better in terms of “easier to scan”, but the scannability is an issue in most areas and with most people, places and things. We’re not talking pages and pages of text here. But there will absolutely be agame pause while you absorb for a couple of minutes.

Otherwise, great setting. Lots going on. Lots of ways for the party to get in to trouble. Perfect for making friends, and pitting them against each other for fun and profit. Really a great setting if you can roll with the given genre. It’s not gonzo. It’s not ASE1. But it’s more than, sy, Xyntillian.

This is $15 at DriveThru. The preview is seven pages. And it suuuuuucccccckkkkkkkssss! Showing you nothing of import. The art, though, implies whats to come.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews, The Best | 36 Comments

Hard Ticket to Lud

By Noora Rose
Monkey's Paw Games
Level 1

In the Long-Ago, this was not a marsh but a rugged mountain, ruled by a fierce people of stone with singular, burning eyes. The remains of their Empire lie scattered about the marsh, in places called taboo by the Luds.

This 42 page adventure is a hex crawl with about eighteen hexes detailed. The hexes are decent enough situations. There is a distinct lack of adventure motivation, though, and a descriptive style that meanders a little too much for my tastes. It’s a decent idea for an adventure that is not executed as well as it could be.

Ok, so, You’re staying a little village town one night and it gets attacked by four titans. This is a level one adventure, so, they are more environmental than creature. Anyway, they destroy the place. Ok. So. Now what? *twiddles thumbs* Oh, they attacked another place in the swamp also and destroyed it. Ok. And ….? I guess the party looks in to things on their own or some such? There’s really no motivation for the party to do anything in this adventure, and there’s no advice to the DM to get things moving or the party involved. What’s actually happening is that an escalade slave was in town with an artifact and the titans are showing up to get it back. The dude wanders the hex map and the titans show up wherever he is to destroy it. There’s supposed to be, I think, this great refugee clogged area, in a swamp, and so on. 

Each location has a little blurb about it. They are generally decent with some situation going on interesting enough for the party to interact or poke around in, for the most part. There are a few too many “ruined city” locales with rado destroyed building searches, but, whatever. Those are always a pain to handle well and never are anyway, in any adventure. Wanna get rich in the OSR? Figure that out and make $5. Anyway, each location finishes up with two little sections: one details what is going on if the escaped slave is there and the other details what happened/location changes if the titans have been through. Nice enough. The dude wanders around randomly but the text tells us that “there’s always some clue as to which way he went.” Which is hanging statement if I’ve ever read one. There is no advice to the DM to keep these clues  fresh and interesting. So, good luck.

The rumor table is ok, as if the wanderers table, who are doing things. Good things? Meh. “A swirling, buzzing cloud of mosquitoes. Perched over a corpse.” Ok, sure.. Not really a situation. The NPCs present are fairly well described. Some sentences that give their appearance and motivations/quicks  pretty well. Something short to hang your hat on when running them. Three asshole soldiers from a nearby Baddy Empire will  “At the first sign of trouble all three will don conical bronze helms with chain veils and flee, stabbing anyone who steps in their way” Yeah, I can run that. And, all of the descriptions in the adventure are fairly well done. They do have enough specificity to start brining the area to life without really going on too long. 

But there’s a caveat to that statement. ALl of the descriptions are also too long. Padded out. How can it be both? Well if you just deleted the padding then you’d have a pretty focused and decent description. “There are ancient etchings upon the dolmens, their meaning lost to the elements and the Long-Ago, but each standing stone bears a small stone votive-bowl at the base” So, if I just deleted the “their meaning lost to the elements and the Long-Ago,” then it would be a decent description. Terse, with some decent specificity. Dolmens. Moss-covered. The etchings are ancient. Stone votive-bowls. Not bad. Not rock star, but not bad. 

And thus it is with just about everything in this. It’s ok. Those wanderers are better than most adventures use, but really still not great. The hex descriptions are ok, better than a decent number of adventure in giving us situations for the party to work through or use to their advantage. But, still, padded out and you have to dig through them to run them, as with the NPC’s. Monster descriptions are almost there, almost giving a description of the monster instead of their society, etc. Everything int he adventure is almost where. 

Just like the core concept idea. Sure, you’re chasing this dude through the swamps, I guess, while the four titans follow behind with their destruction. But there’s no real motivation to do so. Why not just move on? And if it is a more typical hex crawl, with just the slave and titans as window dressing … I don’t know. It doesn’t seem like there’s enough here to take advantage of. 

I think the entire thing just needed a little bit more work. A little bit more trimming/focus. A little bit more on the chase/motivations, and the window dressing of the refugees. A little bit more, in just about every single aspect of the adventure. It is interesting to see, though, something come so close in so many different areas.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is ten pages. You get to see the first hex location, Lud proper, but it’s not really a great indication of the hex situations to come. The descriptive style, both positive and negative, are fully on display though.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 10 Comments

A Green and Dead Sea

By John Battle
Self Published
Level ? Fuck you for wanting a level, plebiscite!

The curse left behind by the shells of gods has turned the canopy of this forest into a fungal carpet. It’s tangled so thick that it can be skiffed across like a green and dead sea, on wood and steel barges, frigates, and scooters. Bismark’s Guild of Hooligans has spare cash to throw to adventurers who climb down below the canopy and pilfer the pre-war tech that’s probably still down there.

This thirteen page hexcrawl in a post-apoc/fantasy/bio/retro setting is the usual for this style: more ideas than adventure and a lack of understanding of what “Situations” means.

How disappointing. I reviewed a decent adventure by this designer a few weeks ago. It was artpunky, but, was substantially longer and with more substance. A rarity among the artpunk crowd. So I sought out another one. That was a mistake. 

So, hex crawl. Three hexes “on top of the trees” and five underneath it that have encounters. A small rando table for each that has Other Things that happen while traveling. Bismarck has an airship, there are biotech giant mech wreckage (“the gods”, I think?) and so on. Kind of an interesting setting; maybe a little anime for my tastes with the appeal to Bismark and airships, but, sure, I could do this. 

The descriptions suck. “A sac of lifeforce wrapped in now-sentient fungus which fights to protect itself.” Great. I am inspired. Can we pulsate? Can it be ghostly lifeforce? A translucent purple sac? A fungus full of fave with only mouths? I don’t know. SOMETHING?  Everything is like this. This is the core conceit of these types of adventures. Just toss out an idea of something and put all of the work on the DM. This fucking shit does this enough that I hesitate to even call them adventures. “99 adventure ideas within a fungus forest” might be a better idea. Except there are far fewer than 99 ideas.

Stats are few and far between. That lifeforce fungus shit gets some. 5HD. But thats the heart of the adventure. The Big Bad. Most things don’t get stats. And most treasure is not detailed. You do get a treasure table at the end, ala the Gamma World junk tables. “A broken AI chip.” Wonderful.

As with most of these, it’s just ideas. It doesn’t understand the difference between an idea and a situation. “A still living war machine is impaled on a fungal thorn tree, made of red, bleeding fungus and 6ft spikes. Its battery can charge two disintegration rays.” Great. “Spiced Pear Pirates are arming a car-sized bomb to blow a hole in the canopy.” Wonderful. These are, I admit, wanderers, but, the hex locations have much the same energy. 

You need to do a mission for someone, in one of the hexes. You need a pre-war cape, the blood of a god, a vial of time and the “final’ mushroom. I get that a large part of D&D is improv. A large part is people making shit up. But, too much reliance on this and you fall in to story game territory. That’s not OSR D&D. Let’s look at this comment, in the description for the sinkhole that leads you from the upper canopy to the ground beneath things “I don’t know how they could get down this, so just ask them how they’d like to avoid being crushed by the sands and what they plan to do about the fall. They’ll think of something.” Or this commentary for a treasure item “The sand is crystalized Time and can be used for many interesting purposes (I’m sure).” 

I get shit sometimes for wanting things a little more loosy goosy and less mechanistic, but this is just insanity. This is just the typical artpunk collection of ideas. This is a story game. Perhaps, I guess, this is what happens when the OSR won. The story gamers, the people who hate the D&D mechanics, are still around. They just call themselves D&D players and continue to play, and produce, story games. 

Quite the disappointment.

And, to out ArtPunk friends … be happy that you have an identity. From high fantasy railroads in 2e to 1e stick-in-the-ass, to the sublime perfection of B/X and the New SHovelWare of The Hotness, at least you got a brand also. 

This is $5 at DriveThru. There’s no preview. Of course. No doubt there are Communty Copies on itch or something like that. I don’t know. I don’t really give a fuck.

Posted in ArtPunk Shovelware, Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 19 Comments