By Rodney Nedlose
The Village of Wealton is a peaceful hamlet in the northernmost reaches of the Green Valley. It enjoys natural terrain to isolate them with a swamp to the north, mountains to the east, and an enchanted dark forest to the west. Now strange things have been happening in town, and the farmers and peaceful folk need help! Some think it’s the doing of the local witch-woman, who lives in the swamp. But is there more to this picture than immediately meets the eye?
This 21 page digest describes a fifteen room tower with about four levels. There’s basically nothing going on here. At least nothing that couldn’t be done in a single page. A single digest page. It’s just a padded out almost-empty tower.
As of this writing, Kelsey’s kickstarter is closing in on $1mil. So, a) Congratulations! And b) I’m so jealous! To mollify my feelings I’m reviewing some third party stuff for Shadowdark. It don’t matter how good your game is, someone with more enthusiasm than talent will show up to publish something for it.
So, small idyllic village. Been that way for a long time, even though Evil Undead Kingdom is to the north, separated by a menacing swamp, where the Swamp Witch lives. Some evil shit goes on in the village. Youget sent to the swamp witch. You find her tower. It’s made of obsidian and its been damaged. Inside you fight a couple of shadow-things on some stairs, before fighting a couple more in front of a locked door where the witch is holed up. Also, there’s a wight on the roof. Witch needs her tower repaired to recharge the spell that keeps evil away from everyone. Thus the end of the adventure is the hook for the next part. That’s it. You can now run the adventure. But, Bryce, there are a lot more pages here?! And rooms! You said fifteen rooms! Yeah, man, but, there not adding anything. The rooms take five pages and are full of exciting descriptions like “Hallway from east to west. Foul smell fills the enclosed space” and “The door from the lavatory opes into a hallway” “There is a broken door to the east and a closed door to th west, which is locked” Ok, yeah, so there’s more. But, this, the boring mundanity of life, is AT LEAST 50% of the adventure text. Text explains the mundane. Text repeats. The “really” clean lavatory smells of lilacs and elderberries. Nothing more. We’re told where doors exit to. The witch is withered, 85#, and impossibly old … we’re told several times. Padded out. No real interactivity at all. Just stab a couple of things and break down a door.
There is, I think, a good monster description in the monster stat appendix. For the Hexling: “A whispering, writing shadow that coils and snaps like a whip.” Not bad! The others, though, tell us things like “Shades created by the ritual Mirena performed to ward the southern lands against the Bonecrusher’s hordes.” Great. A backstory but no description to use when the party encounters them.
Just use the four sentence description I provided if you need to. There’s nothing else here. All if bleak. Not dark. That would be scary. Just bleak.
This is $2 at DriveThru. Ain’t no preview. That sucks balls.
By Joseph Mohr
Old School Role Playing
For as long as anyone can remember the ruins stood at the top of the hill overlooking the valley below. They had stood there longer even than the village at the base of the hill. A band of warriors stood in battle there long ago fighting off the Orc invaders who swept through from the wild lands to the east. It was said to have been an epic battle: A last stand of a small group of men against a massive group of invaders. It was the stuff of legends. But that was ages ago. No one now even remembers their names or why they chose to fight when so many others ran before the invading hordes. Now all anyone remembers is that the walls are crumbling and are dangerous. A few children have climbed up to the top of the hill and found themselves trapped in the falling stone walls. Parents in the village are careful now to keep the children away from this dangerous place. What mysteries might be found there? What forgotten treasures might still be left? Brave young adventurers might cut their teeth exploring ruins like these.
This twelve page single-column adventure uses three pages to describe six rooms. It’s the reason I started reviewing. It has the distinction of having a one star rating on DriveThru, Something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.
Mohr just keeps cranking them out. Old School Role Playing! Starter Adventure! Free! All the right words to suck in a new person to the hobby and crush their dreams. When I came back to the oSR< all of the forum people were listing all of these great adventures. Best Ever, they’d say. You get excited. Dreams of all of the great times you’ll have. Laying awake at night. You go grab a few, and then a few more. Paying money for some. Others are free. You take a look at them and you think Is That It? This Is Good? But, everyone is saying how great they are. You shake your head a little. You adjust your expectations a bit, maybe. This must be what a good adventure is? But, of course it’s not. Not even close to being good. It’s just fanboys. And forum friends being supportive of each other. And reviewers softballing shit so they don’t make anyone mad at them.
Note that in the publishers blurb there’s nothing about level ranges. Or on the front cover. Or in the title page. Eventually we get to something buried in the text that says “starter adventure” and “low level characters.” Perfect. We’re starting strong out of the the gate.
There’s a village at the bottom of a hill. On top of the hill is a ruined castle. Like, 100 feet away? No details on the village, which is explicitly called out in the text. Great. Nothing but the village ruin. Got it. And two crocs, with 3HD each, live, like 50 feet from the village. Sure thing. Absolutely.
Up the hill and in to the ruin. Which has three rooms. Fight two goblin lookouts. Then fight like 2d4+2 goblins inside the room they are guarding. There’s also a giant spider in a ruined tower. Which you already know if you’ve ever played D&D before. There is ALWAYS a giant spiderman the ruined tower. Let’s see, you get a magic battle axe, a magic ring, like four magic potions and about 500gp in loot. Off to your next adventure1
“Bryce, you always swear off Mohr” I know, I know. Dude has some kind of genius level marketing skills. Between covers and marketing descriptions.
This is just junk. A quick write up that no doubt took an hour, seemingly, and he pushed out. It’s
This is free at DriveThru. The preview is six pages, which lets you see like four of the encounters. Good luck with those.
The Pile is a lone hill which overlooks the forest village of Naofahill, which lies on the far eastern border of the free nation of Dùn Bhriste. Locals believe powerful magical wards still guard the place and they avoid going there, believing it to be cursed. Recent earth tremors have opened the place up to exploration, and a pair adventurers went there to explore, and they were never heard from again. Their kin, the local village blacksmith, has offered you a sizeable reward for finding them, if you dare!
This twenty page adventure features a ruined castle with about fourteen rooms. Column long rooms. Page long rooms. A page and a half long room. Sometimes, Ithaca looks pretty nice …
I got a guy I know. Last year he organized a big group camping trip. Bought out the campground. At the end, the owner said “I’m never doing this again if I have to talk to that guy again.” A year passes. The campground has some bigger issues, with code enforcement. Owner gets things open again. The guy I know contacts owner and tries to rent out the campground again. Dude says “Sure, I’m sure it wasn’t as bad as I remember.” Three days later he gets reminded just how bad it was. Enter Starry Knight Press.
Cracking this open is a weird experience. First, it starts immediately. Like, G1 immediately. A little intro, an overview of the outside, and room one, all in the first column. That’s fucking weird, right? No long bloated backstory? But, then, you notice the font. It’s TINY. Really, small. It’s a fucking PDF with no real limit on page count, but the font size is still small? And it’s some weird font choice. Almost, but not quite, italics. The entire text. Essentially, italics. In a small size. And random words seem to be bolded in the text. In the description of the courtyard the word “courtyard” is bolded. Multiple times. For no real reason. It’s like the designer is actively working AGAINST comprehension., taking a list of everything that makes something more readable/scannable and turning it on its head so it works against that purpose. It’s fucking weird.
Speaking of weird, every room here is about a column long. At least. Many of them are a page long. One is at least a page and half long. Of small font. In italics. With random bolded words. And you’re supposed to be able to run this?
And it’s padded the fuck out. “There does not appear to be anything of value here.” or maybe “As discussed above, recent earth tremors caused parts of this tower and nearby curtain wall to collapse. If the rubble is examined by the players then …”Backstory. Explanations. Justifications. If/then clauses. This thing is like a textbook in how to not write something. Except, assigning it to the students would get you nowhere because they would not be able to suffer through it, and thus not learn any of the lessons.
It’s truly, truly bad.
When you complete the adventure you’re gonna get about 6000gp in loot. Meaning XP. Jesus h fucking Christ.
I had sworn off Starry Knight. I was doing good. I had forgotten. I had told myself that surely the designer has gotten better. Time healed my wounds. But Starry Knight remains eternal, pumping out the substandard product, month after month, without seeming improvement.
This is $7.50 at DriveThru. There is no full size preview 🙁
By Chance Dudinack, Joel Hines, Glynn Seal, Sam Sorensen, Logan Stahl
The adventure begins in the pirate haven of Port Fortune, a rowdy town in the tropical archipelago of the Salamander Islands. Here a mysterious undersea mountain has risen fourth from the abyss, beckoning treasure hunters to explore the forgotten depths of the Black Crag.
This 98 page digest adventure features a bunch of islands in an archipelago and a central four level cave/dungeon with, I don’t know … eightish rooms? It’s got mirth mixed in with the danger, of the absurdist type that I enjoy in an adventure. Lots of variety and things to explore.
An archipelago, slightly circular. An island in the middle, The Black Crag, that has surfaced, once again, from the depths of the sea. And a fuck ton of pirates that have set up shop on a nearby island, creating a little pirate town. You’ve got a home base, a bunch of side shit to explore, and the main deal: the legendary treasure rumoured to reside on the Black Crag.
It’s pirates. Rrrrrrr! I’m not in to pirates or sailing; maybe that’s a midwest thing?
There’s a little pirate town full of hookers and blow and other things that pirates want and need. It’s oriented, to a great degree, to the things that party will be interested in during their travels. There’s a dude with a boat. There’s a bar and inn. A cleric in a temple. An exotic good dealer. All of the things in the town are related, somewhat, to what an adventuring party might to looking for. And, then, each has a little quirk to them to bring them alive. And, sometimes, a relationship to another person in town that will also be described. We’re not just listing businesses because they should be there. This isn’t some appeal to simulationism that many fall in to, or to realism. The town is focused on the things the party needs. Not completely, but, to such a degree that it makes sense. It (and, in general, EVERYTHING in an adventure) only exists to be interacted with by the party. Thus we need to only include things that the party will interact with, generally. Let’s say the party comes back from the dungeon with some loot. They will want to sell some of it. So, something like a fence is appropriate to include. But, he cant be oriented TOWARD the party, he has to exist outside of this. The fact that he DOES exist, in the adventure, is because the party will need him, but hes not written in any way oriented toward the party., Give him a couple of quirks. Maybe include a subplot with the local dairyman farm … now you can include the dairy farm also. I wouldn’t go too much deeper than this. But, I think you get it. This is how you do a town. SOme things exist, in keyed format, because of the party but not oriented toward them. And that’s what this adventure does with its pirate town. The local MU runs a lighthouse. The cleric is a n00b with a blackeye. The innkeep drugs people. The governor is a pirate. All existing because those are places the party will want, but they are written outside of the party.
This is supported by a nice little NPC generator table, as well as several pirate bands briefly described, for meeting in bars and on the water. Rumour table, mostly in voice, and wanderer table with some subtables to get them engaged in activities in various local conditions. More than enough to riff on. Maps are clean and easy to read and have a little visual interest. Thus, all of the foundational things are present. Mundane and magical treasure with some interesting three and four word descriptions complete the picture. Not just jewelry, but a mermaid broach of alabaster shell.
There are 22 island locations scattered around the archipelago, including the pirate town and main cave/dungeon. The tropes are all present. A cyclops. Mermaids. Sirens. Skeleton pirates. Volcano island and great white shark. They are not done in a perfunctory manner, each having a little bit of detail. Enough to run them in a full manner without droning on and on or forgoing the specificity that can bring an encounter to life. It’s a tight line to walk, with enough words to bing something to life and make it interactive without droning on, and a good job is done here.
The individual encounters are evocative enough. “Light pours in from a hole in the ceiling. A layer of dust settles over the remains of the domed roof, now a jumbled mess in the corner of the room.” or “Reeks of dead fish. A hairy giant lounges on a mound of seaweed, stuffing fistfuls of fish into his mouth before tossing bare fishbones over his shoulder.” These are things you can recognize from our shared cultural heritage. It allows you to riff on the description and expand on it, the scene coming ahead in your head. Which is what good writing in an adventure description should do.
Our main dungeon has several levels, about four, with about twenty or so rooms per level. You got eel people running around doing bad things, their enemies popping up, the ghost/skeleton pirates thrown in, and of course the Under Da Sea vermin and animals. Complimenting this are some “Ancients”, which are usually robots and a few other sciu-fi-ish adjacent things … but not too much of it for those of you who hate gonzo. There’s a surprisingly large and decent variety of interaction for some sea caves. Passages to crawl through or scale, spiny sea urchins in the way. Door puzzles to fuck with … hiding large amounts of treasure. And little mini-missions inside the place for those looking to make friends … like dead pirate skulls … It’s a nice job.
For the pirate and sea loving amongst you this should be a purchase. It’s well written, has great interactivity, is well supported with resources for the DM to use during play. It’s a decent adventure, with secrets slowly being revealed over time, peeling off onion layers.
This is $15 at DriveThru. The preview is 35 pages. More than enough to make a good decision about the product.
By Luiz Eduardo Ricon
Everybody knows Brumeer, the dwarf, a locally renowned merchant. When a farmer named Arcbold failed to meet him at the market square, he hires the PCs to find out what has happened to his friend. The answer might not be pleasant, or safe…
This eighteen page digest adventure has a couple of encounters in a farm overrun with vermin. It’s got some ok sentences here and there, describing things, but it’s also just a straight forward plot adventure with little going on.
I play about twice a week, some times a little more if I join an online game. And, you know, I’ve REALLY been wanting to take my games to the next level. So, imagine my delight when this thing popped up, promising just that: to take my games to the next level!
Ok, so, Genero the Dwarf hires the party to go kind Archie the farmer. He bought a bunch of vegetables from him and he hasn’t delivered. He’s giving you 10 GP to go do it.
So, lets pause the fuck a moment here. TEN GP! Fuck yeah I’ll go do it! The little orphan scamp will do it for 1. Fuck man, the widow Merry will do it for half that! Ten fucking GP! How the fuck much is a carrott going for? Remember the early days of panic buying when they announced the shutdowns and the milk, eggs, and meat sold out? Maybe this is some kind of reverse thing? All the veg has sold out and rough greenery is now 10gp a bundle? Or, is this like a Chinese peaches thing where rutabagas keep the black death away? Fuck man, let’s all become farmers! Fucking WAYYYYY better than going down in to a dark hole in the ground with a fucking torch. Have you heard about what goes on down there? No fucking way I’m getting my brain sucked out! Who has cabbage seeds? Or, hey, maybe it’s something else? Maybe this is a drug deal? LIke, it’s actually meth and not veg, but Genero cant really hire you to go get his meth, right? That makes sense. 10gp. Fuck, man…
Good things first. Dude can write up a scene when he wants to. “Covered in cobwebs and hay, his skin turned gray and his hollow eyes and gaping mouth producing a cascade of tiny spiders crawling over his body or tangling up and down in silk threads.” This, my friends, is a ghoul. What a delight! Good description and good job taking a creature that you create and then just saying yeah, stats as a ghoul. I mean, it is a ghoul, not stats as a ghoul, but still, you know what I mean. This is going to be a freaky ass encounter for the party. VERY nice job. Likewise, the farmers house is covered in webs inside with hundreds of spiders of all shapes and sizes crawling over the walls. You had to be there. It’s good in the descriptions. The entire adventure is full of small vermin as window dressing, and its not always handled well. It frequently isn’t. But when he tries he does a great job. In addition, dude telegraphs a future encounter. Outside you find a goat in a giant spider cocoon. It’s still barely alive. WHich telegraphs that someone inside, in the spider webs, might still be alive also. Brings it to the front of the parties minds so they don’t just burn the place down. Good design there.
Let’s see … hooks … “Your former patron referred you to this town.” Who, exactly, is that written for? The DM? Then why use ‘your?’ It’s so aggressively generic. Abstracted to a point of uselessness. One of the wanderers is “A bard offers news of the road.” Well? What fucking news of the road is he offering? Nothing. At the end you need to return a magic rock to the place where the farmer found it, in the swamp … two hours away. With no directions. And nothing to go on except MAYBE a word that “Archie found it in the swamp.” But the adventure is written like you walk right there. It makes no sense. And, sometimes, the descriptions go a little overboard. Cocoons “hang like dreadful ornaments.” Oh come on mman. That’s just purple prose. We don’t say htat to players and if aimed at the DM there are much more effective ways to communicate the vibe.
So, show up and kill some orcs. Then kill some giant rats. Then some more rats. And then a ghoul. And then a giant spider. IDK, maybe I forgot another round of giant rats in there somewhere. There’s your adventure, in eighteen pages.
If this were paired WAY down, and the descriptions beefed up, and it was in a magazine as a side-trek then it might be ok. That’s a lot of if’s.
This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is eight pages. You get to see the intro/hooks, wanderers, and orc encounter at the farm. Then entire adventure is like this, so, good preview from that sense.
Generic/Universal ... or 5e?
Welcome to Muffelton. A frontier town in a land that has finally calmed down a little after having been ravaged by disease and civil war for decades. Established 8 years ago, Muffelton has been going strong as a waypoint for adventurers, colonisers and explorers. Unfortunately, disaster has struck. Two of muffelton’s villagers have died in the last 2 weeks and the cause of death is unclear. Your players have come to investigate the deaths and find the cause and if necessary bring the guilty party to justice.
Drive a G.T.O.
Eighteen fucking pages for a fucking town with two fucking deaths. It’s a crap fucking adventure with a fucking MAGNIFICENT premise and some relatable realism. More of that and less of the crap, along with some massive editing would have created something everyone would play. But, also, you’ll know all you need to after this review. Also, it says it’s fucking generic/universal in DriveThru but has 5e on the fucking cover.
Well, I’m just a modern guy
Ok, so, you read the fucking intro, right? Small outpost of eighteen buildings. Two people dead in the last two weeks. Oh’s No’s! Let us Do Good! Ok ok ok, I’m going to spoil this for this. AFter this statement you don’t need the adventure. Which means you should buy it just to not be a fuckface. In the center of town there’s a well. (Hot Tip: never mention to the party that there’s well. It’s suspect #1, even before the decrepit house or apothecary. Of course the town has a well. Duh!) At the bottom of the well is … a devil. Who listens to wishes, and then sends up a contract and quill and grants the wish! And the, due to a small clause at he bottom, you die a day later. Absolutely! For fucking sure! OF COURSE there’s a devil at the bottom of the wishing well granting wishes. OF COURSE. I fucking love it man! It’s the kind of gleeful fun that I love out of my fucking games!
With the liquor and drugs! With the liquor and drugs!
Look man, I don’t know. I don’t know if dude is a genius who is leveraging the tropes of folklore and eight thousand years of shared cultural heritage to create relatable experience or if its just enough monkeys at enough keyboards. Results matter and this fucking thing has a devil at the bottom of a well signing contracts and granting wishes!
I’m through sleeping on the sidewalk!
We’ve got some good shit going on in this. We’ve got a halfling innkeep called Don Dinglebeard. Absolutely. The guards at the gate have one young kid who strictly follows the rules and hassles the players and one experienced one who rolls her eyes and give you a “Dont be bad” when you enter. With me adding a sly grim while fingering a crusty bloody knife 🙂 There is, for sure, a cultist in the inn. You can find a book in his room “Demetrius’ Syllabus of Devils: a Guide to Powerful F(r)iends.” Absolutely! A red herring has a giant in a cave nearby … with love issues, and a note in the text that says “This is where we are now. A frost giant completely in tears, trying to drink away his sorrows, hiding in a cave.” Got it? A slyness to the writing, a commentary. And, there’s a fluffy silver cat in the adventure that, if I were playing this, I would absolutely steal and keep as the party mascot. There is absolutely nothing special about it. Well, it died and came back to life. “Smokey (if talked to using speak with animals only remembers seeing a fiery light, heat and flames before waking up suddenly in the middle of the house. He remembers being sick and falling asleep a long time ago. Smokey is a very striking fluffy silver cat.” MINE! Smokey is a good kitty, right?!
No more beating my brains!
But, man, this is a shit adventure. There’s no key for the dungeon under the well, just descriptions like “the room foff the main room” and shit like that. The town is keyed with numbers, which is absurd. Towns like this should be keyed, sure, but with names. People don’t say Go To Building 15. They say Go To Marths the Tailor. The entire town is a magical ren faire of every rac ein the book … which is easily ignored. Everyone has a fucking potion for sale, which, again, we can ignore. Long italics read-aloud, whic his a nono for readability purposes. The entire thing is written as a a “first this happens and then this happens” format, in long-form paragraph. Bullets, when they appear, have a bolded word in them but also start with a lot of padded text. You don’t do this. It’s reference material. You lead with the strong thing so I can know what I’m looking at in two words.
But, also …
Colonizers? That must be mentioned about a dozen times. Didn’t dude get the memo? The fucking thing is padded out EVERYWHERE. “Don’t tell your players this at all, but this is what is actually going on:” No fucking shit Sherlock. And the local hunter has seen a lot more devils in the woods lately … oh come the fuck on! Why the fuck are you spoiling the fucking adventure?! And, there are A LOT of devils in this? Named devil dude has a bunch of other devils “working for him” in the dungeon/woods, etc. Thats fucking lame. Thats not how a fucking devil works. Figure it the fuck out man. Thats not Devil In A Well Granting Wishes energy. And he doesnt act like a devil, nor do all of the other devils, except for the central premise. It’s just another stat block to stab, as fas as the adventure is concerned. Absolutely Not! This is a cunning opponent. He doesn’t wait to get stabbed unless warned by his spine devil guards. Fuck that shit.
There’s a lot wrong with this. A lot. Is it a hill giant or a frost giant in the cave? The text mentions both. There’s a couple of pages of summary in the back of the adventure which is ACTUALLY the adventure. A summary of clues and moticvatins and such. Info that doesnt really appear elsewhere, or, which only matters, in context, with information found in the town building keys. I suspected, before I got to this section, tha the entire adventure could be done in a couple of pages, and, it turns out, I was right. Those are really the only things that matter. There’s a NPC summary in the back also that has good intentions but sucks ass in practice.
Focus on the important shit, not the backstory. Put important htings first. Edit THE FUCK out of it. Make it terse. Learn how to format an adventure for scanability and running it at the table. Focus on the key shit. The rest of it pretty much don’t matter. Sure, throw in something fun, but stay focused. You do NOT roll a DC18 check to find a book when searching. You put the fucking book in the mattress and let people find it who look in the mattress OR roll an 18 to search. Even then, though, rolling a skill like this sucks shit and takes the fun out of D&D.
Please write “I will learn how to actually write an adventure” 1,000 times on the chalkboard before the next one.
In the borderlands of a dying empire, in the Duchy of Gauvadan, the village of Braildorn now cowers in fear. This is the birthplace of the Blood Treatment: a miraculous Panacea created by the arcane scholars of Liardnia University with otherworldly influence. However, the days of prosperity and miracles would end soon. With the mysterious fall of the University, came a curse: The surrounding forest, once blessed by the fey, was transfigured into a cursed and dangerous swamp. People now are disappearing in the dead of night, and the noble house is the prime suspect to be behind everything, arousing anti-empire separatist sentiment. In these dangerous times, only one question remains: What will you do?
This 48 page adventure (riffing on Bloodborne) uses around eleven pages to describe about fifty rooms in a three level mansion in a “gothic with some firearms” setting. The writing is terse and well formatted. It does not make me hate my life. It also brings me no joy, lacking interactivity and evocative descriptions and scenarios.
Ok, so, I feel like maybe I need a new category: “Obviously, you tried.” Because dude tried. There is a certain “spirit of the OSR” present in this adventure, a kind of kit-bashing that was prevalent in the early OSR days. Dude has grabbed some house rules from other OSR products, and, perhaps, even some room ideas. The map is easy to read and there are AT LEAST four ways from the first floor to the second in the mansion. The keys start with a bolded room name “Living Room” and are followed by a short description and then some bullets for things going on in the room. The mansion tropes are here. Body in the chimney. Dude tried.
There are a couple of things that are pulling this adventure down. Well, more than a couple, but two major ones. There need to be more cross-references in the text to make locations data, especially named NPCs, easier. The rumors are pretty generic, like “The house is now haunted because a wizard did it.” and so on. And the layout, the size of the map, is relatively small, at twenty rooms for each of the main levels. It’s just hard to get a really good environment going with that without some really good situations. The major issues, however, are interactivity and descriptions.
The descriptions here are terse … and minimal. Nothing wrong with terse, that’s what they should be. But, also, they are minimal. We don’t really get the flavour of the room. The pantry says that it has naked walls with shelves full of rotten ingredients, and also kitchen and dining tools. Sure. That’s a pantry in a haunted house. We’re starting off pretty well with “naked walls”, but then it drags to just a standard description of a pantry. Peeling wallpaper. A jumble of collapsed shelves. The smell of old cinnamon. . A jumble of beaten up pots? We’re really looking to bring this room alive, and it’s just not going there. The kitchen next doors has “A central cooking table with a mutilated corpse in it, and 5 Ghouls in chef’s garb using rusty tools to prepare the meat and hurl it into a boiling suspicious soup.” So, the same kitchen in just about every haunted house adventure. A boiling soup can be great, but suspicious is a conclusion rather than a description. Mutilated is a little abstract for the horror that the kitchen scene is supposed to be conveying, and our ghoul friends are rather perfunctory with no description to speak of at all. The place abounds in “religious frescoes” with little more to go on. And by “little” I mean “nothing”. The rest of the adventure is more of the same. A degree of writing that is is trying, but the words choice, or the ability to convey the imagined room via the written room, in order to convey it to the DM, just isn’t getting there at all.
Interactivity is about the same. We’ve seen the ghouls in the kitchen. The rest of the rooms pretty much fall in to this same category. You can stab things, of course. And there are, to it’s credit, a decent number of things to talk to, especially among the servants. The interactivity, though, is fairly lacking. You get a body in a carpet of smoothing, the kitchen ghouls, a poltergeist playing a piano to summon specters (at level one!) and so on. Thus, our interactivity is somewhat related to combat, and generally to how combat starts. That’s not bad, in and of itself, but it’s lack of interactivity beyond this that drags the place down. We want things to investigate, leverage, figure out, discover, and so on. A challenge beyond merely what’s on the character sheet.
This is, at its heart, a pretty standard haunted mansion adventure. We’ve got the undead running around, a couple of barely functioning servants, a ghost butler, dead-ish family members, and so on. Shadowbrook and Xyntillian remain the gold standard in this genre, towering above everything else. This is an also ran, but a good first effort for the designer!
This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is 24 pages … more than enough to get a sense of the product and the the rooms. So, good
The Merciless Merchants
Gold & Glory
Starvation is upon two barbarian clans. Hope for survival rides on a scout’s report of sighting a dead Solifugas, a colossal ice worm. Hunting bands are set out to collect meat for survival but none have returned. You have been tasked to find them and bring back meat for the clan to survive the winter. But winter has been harsh and merciless this year, and other humanoids are rushing for the food source. And how did this giant worm die? What lays below the Glacier of the Mammoth?
This 41 page adventure features a multi-level tomb and glacier with around eighty rooms. And multiple factions. A little light on the non-puzzle non-npc interactivity for my tastes, but, if you’re in to old D&D adventures, like G2 or such, then this is your happy place.
Yeah, ok, so, GIANT worm dies running IN to cliffside. Inside is an old tomb. Humanoid bands show up to “mine” the meat. Other things show up to eat the humanoids. Human clan members, refugees from a failed meat gathering expedition, are trapped inside. So, if you don’t do the initial “go find the missing clan members” hook then, as just your average hobos, you can find the trapped clan members inside the worm/cliff and gather meat, etc, to the great delight of the nomads back home. Interesting way to handle a variety of hook conditions.
I seem all over the place with this review. Let me back up. A cliff side has a tomb in it. It’s full of undead with a couple of main warring factions, feuding brothers. And, then, a few NPCish undead hanging around with goals related to the main undead factions. Notably mom and also dad. And then some more undead just going about their business doing their own undead things. And, then, out of the blue, a GIANT worm runs in to the cliffside. Like, IN to the cliffside, penetrating it, before dying. It’s the middle of winter and everyone wants fresh meat, right? So humanoids start to show up. Bugbears and goblins. And, then also, ice trolls and insect creatures. And, then, some shit shows up to eat all of the humanoids, like yetis. And, then, humans tribesmen show up to gather meat, and get slaughtered with a few trapped inside. Yeah! Insert party here.
I must say, when looking at the map I literally exclaimed “Holy Fuck!” It seems the designer has stepped up their mapping game, between this and Dragons Gullet. Nice map, with a central “worm’ corridor down the middle and caves and tomb room mini-complexs/zones hanging off of it. I’d light to see some monsters noted on the map, as well as noise, for DM ease, but otherwise a pretty decent and interesting map. There are a few rooms with reacting monsters and/or major/loud noises though and its a shame that’s not shown on the map or noted better in the text … in the adjoining rooms.
Interactivity is … interesting. It’s mostly combat. By far. With a heavy dose of talking to folks, potentially. I think just about everyone CAN be talked to. There’s a decent number of people asking you to surrender (only to eat you later) and at least SOME more interesting things … generally of the Please Go Kill Them For Us variety. But, still, it’s in there.
The writing here is journeyman. “The walls, floor, and even ceiling glow an eerie blue from the cold ice that forms the cavern. The upper half of an orc corpse is encased in a block of ice and lays in the center of the cavern, only traces of blood staining the floor. The bottom half is nowhere to be found. Several other figures are scattered about, in various positions and are encased in blocks of ice, with a few fallen over” I can quibble a lot with that. Yeah, it’s decent enough, for the DM. It’s also padded out in a weird way and lacks a certain joie d’vivre. It’ll do … it’s just not doing a lot.
WHat we have here is a bit of a poser. This thing is not my style. But, as in G2, it is well done. Perhaps more so than G2. The dungeon concept, that of a giant worm penetrating a dungeon, has been done a couple of times before and is done here well with an interesting map. The supporting humanoid factions/zone is interesting, as it the undead faction play and their “normal life” shit. Creature encounters have a little bit to them, like the ice trolls playing the “thrown the goblin off the cliff” game. Yet, this feels a little too much of a hack for my tastes in dungeons. It’s a pretty decent hack, with descriptions that wont win an award but do not offend too much. The mix, though, feels off to me, for my own tastes in D&D. Malrex is a solid producer of dungeons, though.
This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is the entire thing, because Malrex is a stand up dude.
By Gabor Lux
First Hungarian D20 Society
South of the dark walls of Mur, an overgrown forest lies between two mountain ranges. Its namesake, the immortal beast Gornate, noted for his thirty-six eyes and a peculiar taste for collecting human spinal columns, has made no sign of his presence in many years. Even so, the woodlands hide numerous dangers. Robber bands, man-eating beasts, abandoned manor houses and mysterious ruins dot a land divided by rivers and mountain ridges. The people of the city rarely venture into the forest, but recently, three notabilities have expressed an interest in sponsoring a hazardous, but lucrative expedition. While serving three masters may be too much for a single adventure, a resourceful and lucky company could return rich from… The Forest of Gornate!
This 36 page digest contains a forest with about 45 locations and a couple of small sites with about fortish locations to explore. Terse and evocative, it does things right.
What is a wilderness adventure? Hexcrawl? Pointcrawl? Some combination of the two? We’ve got a map with some distances noted between adventuring locales. So, wilderness pointcrawl? Sure.
Lux the Gaborian does something very well: he can edit himself. This is, almost certainly, the single most useful skill one can have as an adventure writer. As we look through our standards, we see that evocative writing is key to making the adventure/room/encounter come to life in the DMs mind, so they can then engage in the process of riffing on it to bring it to an even more fully realized environment. Ah, but to do this well? Do we write paragraph after paragraph to describe the encounter? We could … and then we must pay a lot of attention to formatting, so as to allow the DM the ability to quickly scan the encounter and locate needed information. However, there is another way. To write tersly. Brevity being the soul of wit, the challenge then becomes to write an evocative encounter, tersly, full of interactivity and/or potential energy. No small feat that. And to get there it requires the ability to edit. To look at what you’ve written and throw parts of it out. To be able to say “That thing I wrote sucks” and improve it. Picking better words. Riffing on yourself. And thusly we arrive at the pinnacle of adventure design: the terse and evocative sentence full of potential energy. This IS the best way to do things. And also the hardest, by far.
Looking at our Gornattian Forest we see an almost LACK of formatting. Each encounter location gets a small name, with which to frame what is to come. Then a couple of sentences, perhaps with some bolding to call out as few choice words, like bas-relief or some such, so as to ensure the DM focuses on that. A primary stat block that is generally on one line. The formatting here is suited to the terse descriptions, bringing additional clarity, without having to resort to the full existential crisis brought on by longer descriptions.
Speaking of evocative writing, in the context of the titular forest monster of legend, Gornate, “only his thirty-six eyes and a peculiar taste for collecting human spinal columns are noted in legend.” Note the specificity here. Slightly absurdist, as local legends can be. But, specific. Not abstracted. Not “a horrible monster” or “it does terrible things to people.” But specific. Something that few adventures do and yet bring the adventure to life in magical ways. “The armour and weapons of the armoury have been ruined by seeping water, and everything is covered by mud; however, an old, pincushion-like suit of armour is riddled with 18 crossbow bolts +1” Not just a quiver of bolts. Not just laying in a just. Pincuishoned out of a suit of armor. Absolutely. This is how you write a description. This is how you bring a room to life.
Wanderers generally have something going for them. An attitude. A description. Something, with few exceptions. Rumors vary in quality based on how close to the forest you are, using a table and varying dice to roll on it, a concise trick. Cross-references aplenty abound.
Interactivity is great. Dilapidated houses hide treasure in their rafters … if the place doesn’t collapse first. This is is a trap. Or, rather, is just a thing that happens and is handled like a trap. There are lots of people to talk to in the first, and interact with, on your way to find [whatever it is you are looking for.]And there is a potential energy in the descriptions, the way a good hex crawl description is written. We get a general situation described to us, in such a way that we can riff on it and bring it to life. The writing leverages the reader, the DM, to provide more than what is on the written page. “Hidden trail: This route crosses a range of cliffs dotted with weeds and hardy shrubs. 6 wolves live beneath a stone ledge, who scurry off if approached boldly.” A trail, hidden. Along a cliffside, wandering down it. A couple of shrubs. There’s more to this, a second and third sentence. 3, to bring this encounter hidden depth and more interest.
It’s a decent wilderness play area. Some woodland encounters. Some more in depth encounters. Several features to explore. A few different things going on in the forest. And the locals, the human populace, integrate well in to the environment, in a realistic way. More top notch stuff from Gabor Lux, and easily dropped in to your home game. It’s gpoing to become a staple of my Dungeonland west march.
This is $6.50 at DriveThru. The preview is eleven pages, showing you the map and the first fourteen encounters in the forest. A good preview.
By Michael Robinson
Embark on an unforgettable journey to the mysterious Isle of Beauty, a land brimming with all manner of fantastical creatures and beasts, including succubi, nymphs, sirens, a fearsome kraken, playful fairies, and alluring mermaids. Explore its many wonders, including the towering Witch’s Tower, the remnants of a once-great sorcerer’s tower now in ruins, and the hidden underwater lair of the mermaids. You have been hired by a wealthy merchant, desperate to uncover the truth behind the legend of the Isle of Beauty, a place said to hold the key to immortality. The quest for the artifact is no easy feat, and you’ll need to navigate the treacherous terrain of the island, facing its numerous dangers head-on.
This 63 page adventure uses 26 pages to describe about forty hex crawl locations on an island. It’s generic garbage, with no specificity to speak of. And, almost certainly, automated in production.
Look, this thing is crap. It uses three pages to describe about forty hexes, and has a couple of locations that take up the rest of the twenty pages it uses. There’s no specificity to speak of. None. Even more so than usual in a shit adventure. It is AGGRESSIVELY abstract. “Beachcombers: The adventurers encounter a group of friendly beachcombers who live on the island and know its secrets. They can offer information and assistance to the adventurers in exchange for help with their daily tasks” or “Succubus Lair: The adventurers find a cave that serves as the lair of a succubus, a powerful and seductive demon who preys on sailors and travelers. She will try to charm and lure the adventurers into her trap, but they can also try to defeat her and take her treasure.” So, absolutely nothing there. It IS going in the right direction. This is more than the Isle of the Unknown hex craw nonsense. There IS a situation going on. But, there is nothing there for a DM to really gloom on to and use as a springboard to the encounter. And, I note this absolute GEM of a sentence in one of the hex descriptions: “These
beautiful and graceful creatures can be friendly or hostile, depending on the adventurers’ actions.” Got it? Nothing but padding. Abstracted. Garbage.
There are about twenty pages devoted to a couple of locations on the island … a couple of dungeon type places. These have boxed text full of “you see” and “you enter hesitantly …” We all know that’s bad, right? And then there’s some DM text. Except, it’s ALSO written like read-aloud, with some “As you explore the room, you will encounter some of the twisted experiments of the witch who resides in the tower. These creatures will not hesitate to attack, and they are immune to normal weapons. You will need to use your magic or wit to defeat them.” SUper bizarre wording for DM text, right? And, then, you get a section labeled “For the DM”. Hmmm, something fishy is going on here
Did I mention that there are a dozen or more pages devoted to Midi the Succubus? The most powerful Succubus on the island (there are, actually, quite a few …) You remember Midi, right? She’s the designers mastabatory fantasy that shoed up in another of his products, The Isle of the Succubus. I guess she’s on this island now, but as an also-ran. Fuck, maybe this is a reworking of that adventure? Who knows. I will continue to assert, though, that you should disguise your included sexual fantasies (Mintotaur bartender adventure, I’m looking at you!) enough for good taste.
But, on to the fun: I’m more than a little suspicious that an AI was involved. In multiple manners. Most of the art included looks a little too good. Except for the Midi shit, which absolutely looks hand drawn. The rest though looks computer generated. It’s got some of that really good oil painting look that is a tip off to me. I could be wrong. I don’t think so.
And the writing. It’s a little too much the same for each entry. The cadence of what is described when. The way things are described. The use of “you” in the DM text descriptions. A little too similar for a person to have generated it.
I don’t really give a shit, one way or another. I REALLY don’t give a fuck about AI art for these commercial uses. And, even for my house, I guess. If the fucking AI can make me feel something then good for it. Most art for adventure sis just filler and doesn’t actually contribute to the adventure. We will politely say that the designer and artist failed to communicate well.
And as for the writing … again I don’t give a shit. A person, an AI, or a thousand monkeys, it doesn’t fucking matter to me. I am looking for quality. And if the machines can do it better than the fuckwits then I pledge my undying loyalty to my new AI overlords.
Going further down our utopian timeline, we get to a point where the machines CAN do this effectively. Commercial art and commercial writing, at least. We then ask ourselves about Man as a creative entity. If the machines can create then what purpose does mans own creativity fill? Perhaps, then, this will be the time when the shovelware ends. Or, at least, the human shovelware ends. Perhaps the designers will actually give a shit about their works. Create for their own personal fulfillment. Producing works of quality based on their own visions. Spending some time to figure out what works and doesn’t, freed from the burden of the production line. Ulysses, instead of Microwave instructions.
Or, they’ll just keep turning out crap.
This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages and shows you nothing. SHitty preview. Also, it has one review … ONE STAR! Maybe the world IS a better place?