Lorn Song of the Bachelor D&D adventure review

By Zedeck Siew
Hydra Cooperative
OSR
Level 4?

Weeds trail the water. The sandbar just off the shore shifts. A reptile rumble, a splash. Now a gaping maw. A roar. Claws splintering wood. The boat capsizes. You are in the river, now. He is the Bachelor: a pale crocodile, as long as five men lying end to end. He swallows hunters, families, trading skiffs. Prospectors fear to go out. Witches mutter. They say he causes landslips. They say he is a god, a curse — an old, old sin, staining the river. They say he has been killed, before. He is pulling you under.

This 48 page digest adventure details a small asian-ish river/jungle region.There are about eight wilderness locations and about eight locations in a mythical ancient-civ cave -like place. Flavorful as all fuck, it is organized well and directs its words toward player interactivity, describing situations for them to interact with. IE: a good adventure.

There’s a vaguely SE asian region, a village next to a river in the jungle. Nothing is specifically asian, that I can recall, although just about everything is evocative of SE Asia. The village has locals in it. There are trees in the jungle that can have their essence harvested to great profit. There’s a company, in the business sense, of foreigners there to trade with, who vaguely exploit the locals (paying 1sp and selling the essence for 5gp.) They may be involved in some shenanigans. The locals just want to get by. Well, except for the faction that hates the company and another, a cult, that worships a god-like crocodile in the river (with some faction overlap between those last two.) Also, there are the ruins of an old pre-human civilization, simian. And the wildlife, some helpful and some deadly. And another faction consisting of intelligent dead people that have been eaten by the god-like croc and are not controlled by parasite catfish. Now, let’s add the party to this collection of open drums of gas! 

This adventure shows how you do it.A region. Factions. People who want things. Things the party might want, including perhaps “doing good.” And all wrapped in a package that is well organized with terse evocative descriptions. 

Organized well. Good use of page breaks, sections breaks, keeping topics to one per page, or making the topics easy to find on the page. Cross-references abound, so if someone or something is referenced in the text there’s a pointer for the DM to go find it if they need to. Descriptions are short and punchy making them easy to scan. 

The writing is evocative. The local wise woman is described as “Wrinkled, fireflies around her, sudden trances.” Or the local boss, with silver body paint, left arm missing and suspicious. These are solid NPC summary descriptions from their summary page. Encounters are things like “Half a boat, stuck on a shoal, perfume spices the wind.” Or another riverside encounter with gore-stained stones and drag-marks slipping in to the water. Or a cave floor, wriggling, a luxury rug of roaches and guano. Deafening chips and chatter, with glass-bead glitter of eyes far above you.Or reflected sunlight on steps rising out the water, leading in to a cave mouth, simian statues overhanging, so worn you think they are stalactites, with the murmur of the waves and a breeze like breathe. Solid, solid descriptions. Again, this follows the less is more philosophy, zapping your brain with imagery and leveraging the DM to fill it in for the party. I won’t say this is the best way to describes locations, but I do think it’s the easiest way to describe things for most designers before they, perhaps, move on to longer descriptions … which may not be better. It also helps control the verbosity that plagues so many adventures.

Interactivity is HIGH. All of those factions, all of that stuff going on. In addition to all of this there is a great little section on randomly generated NPC, which gives them all some sort of interactivity, some way for the party to interact with them, or, perhaps, better said, the party WANTS to interact with them. Other encounters are more in the moment. A group from the company is trying to evict a local widow woman. A group of prospectors in a cabin are haunted/hunted by a local with gleaming amber eyes. He took Ludo yesterday! And tonight Ludo will return … changed.This is shit you can work with as a DM. It begs the party to interact and to get involved. Potential energy abounds!

Magic is new and unique, some flora/fauna based, some old empire based and some just different. Effects described rather than mechanics overly detailed. Monsters seems fresh. Cave crocs crawl on the walls and ceilings. Just enough to invoke some realism … and then just weird enough to make the party scream “What the fuck?!” when shit goes down.

This is $9 at DriveThru. The preview is seven pages. You get to see the titular monster, some good in voice rumors full of local colour, the locale summary and NPC overviews, and some of the random NPC generator, including the interactivity. It’s a pretty decent summary, but would be better with perhaps a wilderness encounter and/or cave encounter also, to give an idea of what those are like.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/295976/Lorn-Song-of-the-Bachelor?1892600

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Level 4, Reviews, The Best | Leave a comment

So You’ve Been Thrown Down a Well

By Madeleiine Ember
Ash Game Design
Troika!
Introductory Levels?

After a long fall, you’ve landed on something soft. A bit squishy and squelchy, really. And moving. Is it… a worm?

This “sixty page” adventure describes an adventure where the party is thrown down a well in to a weird underworld and have to regain the surface./escape. It is uber-weird, as Troika! Tends to be, and mostly linear, as modern adventures tend to be. That aside, a pretty book, it is not very usable, with massive walls of text and formatting transitions that are not amenable to usability. It needs a hard, hard edit and some layout effort … which is saying something because the layout clearly was quite involved … to no good end other than “pretty.”

First, of the 60 pages, about seventeen are devoted to backgrounds, with a decent sized appendix, so you’re actually getting something around ten or so pages of actual adventure, with that involving seven to nine encounter areas. This is a mostly linear adventure, which, in the modern vein, is just something you need to expect. Getting rid of Gold=Xp and exploration elements, modern adventures create small environments for the party to interact with. That’s what modern RPG’s are, and that’s ok, if that’s what you’re looking for. It’s a different genre, I don’t have a problem with that genre when that’s what I’m expecting to get when I buy.

The layout here is PURTY. Landscape design layout, with four column, black and orange backgrounds are striking with an art style reminiscent of ancient vase figures, in the negative space-ish, all in black. It’s drool worthy.

Drool worth and detracting from the usability, though. The white text, in negative, on the black and orange backgrounds make it hard to read. COmbined with the four-column (landscape mode) small text, making it hard to read. There’s a dearth of effective whitespace and section headings, bolding, etc, to help bring to the eye to important details and to help with scanning. There’s an attempt at this, through the use of italics to note another section heading, but the italics, in negative, doesn’t stick out very well. This all leads to a wall of text syndrome. The “Rememberroom” room, on page seven, have two solid columns of text, with only paragraph breaks. This is very ineffectual.

Is it the layout, the writer, the editor, or combination of the above that is responsible for this? A mix of all three? The writing certainly doesn’t help. A lot of if/then statements, some background mixed in, mechanics mixed in … it all combines to make the eyes glaze over. Recall that the most common complaint of adventures is that they are hard to prep and use. The usability. This is the chief barrier that an adventure needs to overcome. It must first succeed in its core mission: being used at the table. The most common complaint about adventure is that they are hard to use at the table. Look, it’s not impossible that the most dazzling adventure ever could be in wall of text/hard to use, but in a world in which people commonly complain about usability, the chief complaint in fact, the primary goal should be to make the damn thing usable at the table. Scalability. Readability. The ability to quickly and easily grok the room and reference the parts of it. It’s not an absolute, a disaster in readability may be worth investing your time in running anyway if its good enough. How many adventures are there like that? Thracia? Maybe one or two others? What’s the excuse, in 2020, to having a wall of text? You don’t know what you don’t know, I guess.

There’s some nice scenery scattered through.  Maze has a little table with the following sentences in it, as example places for the party to visit: “Cavern with stalactites carved as greek statuary.” “a rainbow-lit (by fluorescent mushrooms) waterfall.” , “A gentle brooks that flows with glittering golden water.” There’s no interactivity there, just little single sentences. It’s nice imagery, but it should also serve so purpose. The Ed Greenwood “museum tour” adventures make a similar mistake, but instead of being evocative, as these are, they are pointless interactive 

It’s got interactivity. Things to talks to, a rope bridge to traverse, NPC’s and situations to interact with. But they are a FUCKING PAIN to figure out because of the text issues. If I’m struggling, reading casual with all the time in the world, how can I expect to run the encounter at the table? After two times through the text I’m still struggling to understand the overall situation down below and how the adventure should flow. And in a modern adventure this is NOT a good thing.

A hard edit of the text. Focus the rooms. Work on the usability. Republish.

This is $10 at DriveThru. There’s no preview. $10 adventures without previews make me sad. How can one expect to know what they are buying without a preview? Are we to throw ourselves to the wind and hope for the best? Well, we’ve seen where that gets us …

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/313219/So-Youve-Been-Thrown-Down-A-Well?1892600

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 2 Comments

Willow (adventure review)

By Lazy Litch
Lazy Litches Loot
S&W

Deep in a vast wood, a town called Willow sits beside the Lake of Tears. The lake is framed by weeping willow trees, their vines pouring into the lake’s dark green shores. Willow is not what one would call an upbeat town. The rains here are relentless and the grey skies loom low like a giant cage. Travelers do not linger here long; one night in the Blue Brew Inn is enough to make most jump on the ferry and move on. But recently the ferries have stopped running as something terrible has taken up residence on the river. Meanwhile, the town folk will not talk about the noises echoing up from the staircase that descends below the lake, nor the broken stone circle on the hill at the edge of town. The town’s leader, a witch named Morose Morgan, is a recluse and refuses to leave her island.

This 32 page digest adventure describes a small region and the situation going down in it. IE: it’s a sandbox with people and factions who want things, a timeline, and a part full of gasoline. Its heart is in the right place but it comes off both a little bland and it is trying too hard, all at the same time. I’m not mad at it, but I’m not really chomping to run it either.

The way in and out of the region/village is through the river and people ain’t coming back from that ferry journey. Or, worse, they are coming back floating down the river dead. Thus the party and the villagers are stuck, with food slowly running out. There are six of seven factions running around the region, from wizards, to rat people to crow people ton evil treant to various town characters of local color. They all have a decent little description and some goals clearly laid out, as well as some hints as to what they are likely to do and what they think about the other groups. It’s the essence of a good sandbox: terse groups with things they want and FEELINGS about other groups. 

But the whole things feels “meh.”  Maybe because I just reviewed a similar product, Lorn Song of the Bachelor, and it was REALLY good. But it’s not exactly like this is bad. Ug. This is why I stopped reviewing the same publishers stuff in a raw; product needs its own space.

Ok, so, food is running out. And its disappearing from the storehouse. Where you find a tunnel. That leads to the rat people. Who want something. Which interacts with another faction. Which brings you in contact with another faction. While yet another faction is running around doing their own thing. Actually, they are all kinds of doing thing own things in parallel, with their being a nice sample timeline in the back of the adventure to help guide a DM toward a course of events and inspire without it being a railroad. I really like it when these sample timelines show up. They help bring the factions goals down to earth and ground the adventure for the DM in a way that is not a railroad but rather inspires the DM. Most sandboxy adventures could benefit from this sort of thing.

But that’s an issue also; I’m a fan of just about everything this adventure does, at least in principal. The NPC summaries are pretty good, short, with wants and goals and what they are doing now. The local wise woman of this fishing village solves all disputes by gutting a fish and reading its entrails. She cannot be fooled, and only comes ashore to perform rituals. This is all pretty solid stuff to hang your hat on as a DM. The same can be said for the locations. And the various encounters. 

But it all feels a little flat. My notes say “trying too hard?” but I’m don’t think that’s it. The genre here is a little off center, with rat people and crow-people, a little “odd world”-ey, but I don’t think that’s it either. It’s hard to say it’s generic, or abstracted content because it does engage in being specific. It just feels like it’s missing something. Like there something missing that ties everything together … even though there is. Or something is missing that will bring the villages, regions and NPC’s to life … even though I could normally point to the descriptions, etc and say “this is what you should generally be doing.” 

You could take this and run it, fairly well. I just have absolutely no interest in doing so at all. Maybe because, at heart, it’s a “you’re trapped and fetch quest for food” sort of thing? I don’t know. I seriously have no idea. 

Can you do everything right and still not do good? Sure, of course. But I’m not even sure this adventure does that. Not succeed. Maybe I just don’t like it? Is that possible? It’s got lots of stuff I like. 

No, it’s missing something. Maybe some organization? A summary? Something to tie everything together and make it feel alive? Maybe that’s it, it doesn’t feel alive. Not in some gaxian verisimilitude kind of way. In some other way. It feels so … unmotivated?

Look, I’m gonna Regert this. No, I’m not gonna regret this. Fuck I don’t want to run this. I have no desire. Is that a Regert? Or do i want to run Regerts I just don’t want to put the effort in with Regerts? 

Who fucking knows. Why does an adventure cause such an existential crisis in me? It’s not the adventure it’s what is symbolizes, something new under the sun, a way of not being good that you seldom, if ever encounter. Reall? It’s not good? Or it’s truly just something that doesn’t meet your tastes? What tastes? It’s got stuff I like! Yeah, but you don’t like it ergo it must have something you don’t like, something large enough to be substantial enough for you to not like the whole. Well My Smrty, if that were the case then I could point to it, if it were that substantial, right? And I can’t, right? Ergo FUCK YOU I’m right and you’re wrong. I forget, which side of us is talking and what is this sides opinion supposed to be? I don’t know. Nothing has meaning anymore. The adventure, right? No dumbass, its the Corona, as always, you know that, you’re just saying the adventure to make a funny and it’s not, not even in the meta. Lighten up dude, its just afucking adventure and a joke. Well I don’t like this. I like knowing. But this felt like a chore. Like, maybe, going through the motions. Maybe going through the motions and hiding behind the Art Punk aesthetic. You like that aesthetic. Do I? Really? Or have I just like a bunch of products that HAD that aesthetic? When are going to go correct those aesthetic misspellings. Now. They seemed to have thought about shit and grokked the knowing of it. Because they didn’t suck donkey balls. Like this one? It doesn’t suck donkey balls. It’s good then? I don’t know if its good. Isn’t that the entire point of the fucking blog? To fucking know? It’s a process dipshit. And this is just one more element of that process. And now throw in the truth shit. Quaint. Resting your head on the desk won’t help. No, nor will another cup of thai iced coffee, sin ice. Ok, we’re gonna finish this thing up.  You can come back every day for the next three days, or even ten, to figure it out. Cause this aint working.

No Regerts. Maybe?

This is $7 at DriveThru. The preview is seven pages. It don’t show you shit except some art, maps, and a “How to play D&D” page. Bullshit preview. Show us some real pages, some encounters, locales, people. Give us an idea of the writing to expect inside.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/316522/Willow?1892600

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

Fires Under Ynys Werth

By Deven Ozturk
Deren Games
Legends of Avallen
Introductory Adventure

As a new draftee into the local guard, you are called on to investigate the otherworldly happenings that have your community on edge. Will you take this chance to rise up from your humble origins and begin your legend?

This thirty page adventure uses about fifteen pages to describe three scenes in which the party goes through the motions of an adventure. 70% of this is read-aloud. It has an interesting map layout, but is nigh unusable due to the text … which is exactly the opposite of what it was going for.

This is the introductory adventure for a new RPG. I’m guessing, based on the way the text is presented, that it’s meant for new RPG players, perhaps riffing on the success of the actual play videos that seem popular right now. Thus there are rules summaries, sections introducing players to mechanics, pages of up front advice for the DM to tell them how to be a DM, and so on. I’m going to skip all of that. 

The adventure, proper, is essentially three scenes, once you get your “introduce your next characters” scene out of the way. You find an inn on fire and rescue people. You interview some people in town, and you fight an imp in a building. It takes roughly fifteen pages for all of that to happen and nearly all of it, let’s say 70%, is in italicized read-aloud. It’s also offset in blue background boxes. Long sections of italics are impossible to read. The eyestrain is terrible, and yet adventure after adventure uses this. Why? Because they say another adventure do it. And thus someone elses new adventure will also do this. It is a never ending nightmare. I understand the desire to make the read-aloud standout, but this adventure also does that in a more effective manner: by using a blue background box. Of course, 70% of the adventure is blue background box, but … whatever.

Or, no, not. The read-aloud is so long because it’s literally EVERY word the DM says. Including DM words to the PC like “ok, now introduce your characters” or “make a strength test,” All of this is mixed in to the read-aloud text. I get it, new players, new DM’s, but this the way you run that railroad. Not f you ever want anyone t ride on it.

Further, it fails as good read-aloud. The scene setting is not evocative at all, concentrating instead of mundanity. Ir further tells the party what they think “You feel relief when you see …” This isn’t an adventure that the party participates in, it’s one in which they watch it. That’s not interactivity. That’s Giovanni. I’m not making this up, about 70% of the text is read-aloud.

Further, the adventure, scene based and with only three, with those read-aloud issues, doesn’t really present an interactive element for the party. Oh, sure, you get to kind of decide what you want to do in the inn, but it FEELS like the party is just going through the motions. “Oh, now is the time in which I get to roll a die and determine if I can open the window.” and so on. Observers in a choose your adventure movie with maybe three opportunities to click “left of right” to determine your choices.

NPC summaries easy to read and have a nice section on mannerisms and appearance. They are about three times longer, in general, than they need to be, but the mannerisms and looks tend to be shorter and have something you, as the DM, can work with. Trim th fat and keep the good stuff. 

The maps, also, are doing something interesting. Imagine a battle map, but with little text boxes around the border with arrows pointing to specific portions of the map, with notes on how to run that element. A kind of shorthand summary of what can be done, or pertinent facts for that thing. It’s a nifty idea that recalls The Fall of WhiteCliff (WhiteChapel?) and takes a nod from one of the better elements of one page adventures. As a summary, and reference, it does a good job.

But, thirty pages for three scenes? 70% read-aloud? NPC’s in their own adventure with limited interactivity? This is just too much of a “now, on to the next scene I have written for you!” for me.

This is free at DriveThru, as is the rules summary for the game.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/316923/Legends-of-Avallen–Free-Introductory-Adventure-Chapter-I?1892600

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(5e) Hatred in Strale D&D Adventure Review

By Joe Raso
Self-published
5e
Levels 1-3

The characters stumble upon the survivors of a doomed expedition and learn of a shipwreck that may still hold items of great value. Can they overcome an abomination that now claims the vessel, or will they fall victim to the Hatred in Strale.

This 25 page “adventure” details three combats in two locations. Padded to all hell and back, it’s just an excuse to have a couple of combats, 4e style. Some days, it just don’t pay to get out out of bed and be excited about the world we live in.

“Operative of the Vigils of Vesh obtained credible intelligence suggesting Calastian agents were actively searching the Gifts of the Gods archipelago for a titan artifact of incredible power. The Semanye Vigil in Durrover organized …”  Those are some of the first words of this adventure and just reading them makes me groan out loud.

Why? Because this adventure has three fights in two locations. It advertises itself as having 25 pages, but half of those are appendix. So, about eleven pages of adventure. Plus, you know, two or three in the beginning for intro/title page/cover. So eight pages of adventure. It’s possible, however unlikely, that this adventure is going to cover a bunch of political intrigue in eight pages and really involve the party in it. It’s much more likely, though, that it will involve three rando combats and a whole of lot of backstory telling the DM what a particular rock on the side of the road happens to be there. Guess which this does?

This is classic bad design & writing. The vast VAST majority of the text deals with information that is not actionable in the adventure by the party. Machinations, reasons, explanation as to why a certain thing is the way it is. The backstory. The reason. The explanation. “This portion of the beach has always been plagued by giant crabs.” *sigh* Every thing must justify itself, it seems. 

This is why people hate RPG adventures. This is why they say they don’t use them. This is why they say they are hard to use. Most adventures fail in their most fundamental aspect: helping the DM run it at the table. And you don’t do that by padding the adventure out with text. The adventure text needs to focus on the content that the party will interact with. This is almost ALWAYS direct interaction, and not passive or “might happen” bullshit. The content needs to be focused on that which supports actual play, with nearly all the rest cut or placed in an appendix where it can safely ignored during play. 

If this happened in this adventure, all of the useless backstory/explanation garbage moved to an appendix,  the actual adventure would take a page, maybe two. You see three drunk human in an alley about to kill a Yuan-ti. You talk to someone in a tavern to get assigned your quest. You fight some crabs on a beach and an octopus under the boat on the beach. None of the combats are that involved. Maybe the beach has some rough terrain, that’s it. The locations are not richly detailed. They are not evocative. They are not interesting in any way, just a beach, an alley, “a shipwreck.” Nothing to inspire or for the DM to use as a springboard for their imagination. 

You’

Re told something like six times that the humans in the alley are drunk xenophobes and the aggressors. I guess Yuan-ti are good now? Or they are not yuan-ti in this world? Whatever. To the adventures credit it does let you ignore the fight, help the drunks, or help the yuan-ti. Errr, “snake man.” And, the quest assigned in the tavern also doesn’t assume you saved them. It’s a little too “if this then that” in terms of writing, literally saying that several times, but maybe that’s just a preference. It feels forced and mechanistic instead of natural. Natural inspires. Mechanics bore. 

On the walk from the tavern to the beach there is a trail. It takes a page to say that the party could encounter someone there to fight if the DM wants them to. The fight with the drunks in the alley takes THREE PAGES. Three fucking pages. For three drunks. 

Someone had an idea. They then padded their idea out to 25 pages. That is never a good thing. If this had made the ship, the cliffs, the beach more interesting. Added A LOT more political intrigue to the town, made it a boiling epicenter of anti-slavers and slavers, repercussions for everything you do … then it would have, perhaps, managed its 25 pages better.

As is, this is just more padded out garage that is overwritten and yet also somehow manages to not actually inspire or provide any content to speak of. 

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is all 25 pages of the adventure. Bravo! I salute you! This is what most designers and publishers should do. Let us see what we are buying beforehand so we can make an intelligent purchasing decision. Pages five, six, and seven of the preview detail the fight with the three drunks. They are representative of the adventure content and worth checking out in a kind of NTSB investigation sense. 

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/314381/Hatred-In-Strale?1892600

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

Scents & Sensibilities

By Scott Swift, Skater Green, Matt Finch
Frog God Games
S&W
Levels 1-3 3-5? Who knows?

The adventure begins with the characters encountering Fumario, a perfume-dealer who travels among strange worlds and even other planes of existence. His manufactory travels with him, and the characters (as heroes do) stumble into a bizarre encounter with him. Fumario’s methods and motivations are inexplicable, but this is usually the case with supernatural patrons…

This eighteen page adventure uses four pages to describe one encounter. And that’s with a column of read-aloud. 18 pages for a side-trek may be a new low in adventure design. 

This is bullshit all around. Three authors’ names attached to an eighteen page adventure that actually is only four pages long of adventure content. The level range on the cover says 1-3 while the level range inside is 3-5; typical Frog God carelessness. And, of course, no actual treasure to speak of so FUCK YOU if you wanted XP. Why the fuck do I continue to do this?

Your in town. You see a weirdo. A column of read-aloud later he gives you a magic stick that will tell you, in two days time, that something will stink, and you should bring it back to the weird guy. In two days time it activates and you hear someone yelling for help; a farmer with four giant boars in his field that stink. This is your adventure. Four 7HD pigs.

The pretext here is so thin as to be ludicrous … and not in a good way. NPC gives you something and says that something will happen soon, wait for it. I mean, come on, that’s it? And one encounter with some big pigs on a farm that have some stinking cloud abilities. I guess there’s a little tack on that has the party transporting the pigs back to town, and if the pigs are captured/alive then there could be some amusement there. But the adventure offers very little in the way of guidance on either capture or on the transport. Oh, it pretends to; there are lots of words, but it doesn’t do anything other than tell you the pigs are drunk on fermented fruit and the gate guards won’t let live pigs in. This is not support for the DM. This is padding.

I chuckled once. Weird dude has a weird-o-attractor that attracts “violent people who are short on money and prone to walk in to risky situations without making adequate plant, then play it by ear. Yup, still seems to be working!” A little meta is always fun.

But, look, eighteen pages for this? It ends on page eight and the rest of the adventure is just padded out with a long description of the Stank Hogs, NPC stats and so on. Jesus man, is there any doubt why I always seem grumpy? 

The farm where the adventure takes place on is full of things like “You can’t do that” and “The pigs notice you sneaking if you try” and other BS. No, they don’t. They may have an increased likelihood of noticing you, but they don’t notice you. Just like they don’t notice you when you sneak through the woods. They have a decreased likelihood, if this was well written. The Farm isn’t really well described at all, at least not in a way that supports the adventure, or the supposed subtext of you supposed to be trying to capture the hogs. 

Eighteen pages to say there are four pigs on a farm with no treasure.

Frog God Games: churning out content for suckers, because it seems to be working so why stop?

And yet, there is always hope. Like, maybe I’ll get hit by a car today.

This is $8 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages long. It shows you the weird hook guy and the farmer yelling for help. Just, … it’s more of the same after that, I guess. Lots of words not really doing anything.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/316407/Scents–Sensibilities-SW?1892600

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 23 Comments

Isle of the Angry Apes

By Ken Spencer
Frog God Games
S&W
Levels 5-8

Wow, those apes are angry! […] Yet, as the months have passed the Sleeping Fire has corrupted the grey apes. No longer content to simply tend weedy gardens, they have taken to raiding shipping far and wide, taking loot for their own use, prisoners to work as slaves, and sacrifices for the Sleeping Fire. No longer castaway soldiers, they are becoming fiendish warriors and loyal servants of an evil flame that longs to awaken. Its heat burns in their veins and clouds their minds, and these piratical apes are so very angry.

This 28 page adventure describes an island with some ape pirates and a “dead” fire god. It clearly had ideas about what it wanted to be when it grew up, but they don’t mesh together, its not a good site-based location, the organization is poor, and it suffers from the Frog’s usual lack of anything resembling “care” when it comes to mistakes. 

So, island with a volcano on it. Barren landscape, scrub, rando lava/steam eruptions from all over the island. And a jungle. And it’s got intelligent apes on it. And they are pirates. And they use viking longships. And the volcano has a “dead” fire god in the temple in it and there’s a group of fire plane people hanging out there. Nice ideas. I can see where they are going.

But then comes the execution. Everything is just so … meh. “Ape City” has about five buildings, barracks and slave pens and the Home Of the Pirate King, essentially a six room hut that is described as “each room decorated with the best items taken from ships the apes have captured.” Well, colour me impressed! I can see now where all my advice on specificity and mapping has been in vain! There’s just nothing there, in spite of the description being a column long. Just stick in trivia, and explanations and call it a day! There’s no soul to this, or to any other area in the adventure. Just these abstractions of description.

And anything actually interesting id buried in what amounts to a wall of text. Paragraph after paragraph with backstory and explanations of the history of the island and the thing and why things are they way they are. The best example is probably The Beach. It has six or so longships all piled up on it. And each one get a decently long description if its backstory and who it belonged to and other trivia associated with it. But there’s no purpose to it. There’s also a slave hut and a guard hut, which at least provides some interactivity, and one ship has a couple of wraiths, but that’s it. It takes a page and a half to describe all of this nonsense … to no point. It’s just writing for the sake of writing. You know, writing in order to be read instead of writing in order to be used: Sin #1.

There’s this time travel thing that’s supposed to go on, with three different time periods. It’s mentioned twice in the DM notes in the beginning and then that’s it. No other details of guidance or inspiration at any point during the adventure. Why? Was it cut in editing? 

Speaking of … the Frogs do it again! Location after location is not shown on the DM’s map. Merman cave. Jungle. About a half dozen other locations. None of this shows on the map. The fucking island is only 3 miles across … maybe show it and/or provide an overview of what the island looks like/major locations and the like? No. Just slog through paragraph after paragraph. 

You’re level 5-8? Enjoy tha 5k treasure in the evil temple. And maybe another 5k from the pirate king. I don’t know, I guess that’s enough. It seems super low to me though, for level 8’s.

I guess, once upon a time, the Frogs put out good stuff? Now it just feels like someone is going through the motion. Be it the house style, or layout, or editing, or just bad wiring, the mistakes, the adventures just feel unusable. That’s the reputation that ALL adventures have: unusable. And they have that for a good reason. Example 1: this adventure. I’m not going to slog through the fucking walls of text in order dig for the info I want/need. I’m not going to try and make sense of what is supposed to be going on. I’m going to instead toss this in the junk heap and run something else that IS written well.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages, which is a travesty for a $10 adventure. It shows you nothing of the writing. Your best bet is to dig in to the backstory on page two and let that be your guide as to what to expect in the adventure. 

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/316395/Isle-of-the-Angry-Apes-SW?1892600

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

(5e/OSR) The Obsidian Keep

By Joseph Robert Lewis
Dungeon Age Adventures
OSR/5e
Levels 1-3

Last month, a fleet of holy warships sailed out to destroy the evil sorcerers of the Obsidian Keep. The fleet never returned. Today there is a call for righteous heroes (or brave treasure hunters) to find the fleet, rescue the sailors, recover lost treasures, and discover the fate of the cruel masters of the Obsidian Keep!

This 35 page adventure is good.

What, you want fucking more? Ug. Ok.

This 35 page adventure is REALLY good. 

Still not good enough? FINE!

Tremble! Tremble in the presence of Joseph Robert Lewis. You are not worthy! None of us are worthy. Fuck you Joseph Rober Lewis! Fuck you for writing this! Now, for the rest of our days we will all live in this shadow of this work. Now, every fucking adventure I review, every fucking adventure I ever pull out to run at a con has to be measured against this one. What kind of life is that? What terrible future lies ahead for us all, knowing that this exists? This fucking thing is CLEAN. Clean, and sharper than the sharpest scalpel. It’s as close to pick and run as you can get, I think. 

Good enough now?

Obsidian Keep, Evil Duke 7 Duchess live their and raid the sea lanes. Empire sends ships to destroy it. They don’t come back. Terrible storm. Now word from anyone. Now, it’s two weeks later. 

This has four separate sections: the harbor, the beach area, the grounds of the keep, and the keep proper. Let’s say that each one has about fifteen encounter locations. Each section has a little overview to start, easy to scan. Each section has i’s own full page map, easy to read. The layout is three-column, with good use of bolding, underlining, bullets, indents and whitespace. You can tell IMMEDIATELY that this is easy to use. I mean that. Glancing at it you’re like “well, this is obvious.”  The formatting here is SO good that it it appears simple. Trivial even. And yet … A general read-aloud overview, with sections underlined. The underlined wors lead you to bullets, with bolding. It’s all super easy to find the information you need and the writing is terse, easy to scan and easy to hold in your head. There are boxed offsets and … ?vertical lines? That serve to further organize text. It’s crazy how usable this is. Monster stats for that section are at the end of that section. Magic items appear in offset boxes and again at the end for ease of reference. Maps are clean, easy to read and reference (and generally non-linear, since only the keep is constrained by walls.)

The first three parts serve as a gateway to each other and to the keep proper. You see things. You hear things. You are slowly getting closer and closer to the thing in the distance: the Obsidian keep. Entrance to the Mythic Fucking Underworld indeed! Maybe it needs just a little mist (well, in the three outdoor areas) with things barely visible in it and sounds … but I’ll give that a pass. Cause its obvious you should do that.

You find survivors in the harbor, of the shipwrecks. They want rescued. You gonna do that? How bigs the rowboat *the designer tells you) You gonna take them back to your main ship, anchored in the distance? Gonna risk more wandering encounters for that? And the people on the beach, gonna do that also? Fucking wanderers are great. A sailor on flotsam, paddling toward you, calling for help, a shark fin circling him… desperate sailors. Creatures seen but disappearing again in the water. These are SUPER brief. One sentence. Sometimes two. But evocative as all fuck and each DOING SOMETHING. Building dread. Actionable situations. Lots and lots of things to talk to. Clues to other areas. Interesting situations. 

NPC’s are brief, just a few words, but memorable. 

The writing is clean, terse, and evocative. “A mass of tiny legs and tails wriggles on the surface, but makes no progress in any direction.” or A“n overturned hull rests above the waves on a rocky point. From a square hole in one side, a woman sits fishing.” or “Five harbor sharks thrash just below the surface. A few logs and a yellow jacket bob away. The frothing waves are red.” Terse. Packed up. Pretty good writing and descriptions. 

Magic items are well described in just a sentence or two and generally unique. “MARINER’S LANTERN The dim red glow from this magic lantern offers little light, but it clears away fog for 100 feet in all directions.” Yes, please!

My complaint, here, is that after all of the lead in the keep proper is short, with only about seven rooms, in a row. Very good rooms, but a bit anticlimactic after the journey to get there. This thing could support a sequel, concentrating and expanding on just the keep. 

Like all of The Best, I do a shitty job describing it and why it is The Best. Yeah, the keep could be better. Yeah, I can quibble with word choices and suggest even more in the way of evocative writing. But, come on man, it’s immediately obvious, from every aspect, that this is a good adventure. Not just Acceptable (9/10) but Good.

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is sixteen pages and shows you some of everything. Perfect preview. And this thing is only $3? Jesus Christ, how much fucking money have I wasted in my life on adventures that were NOT this?

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/316699/The-Obsidian-Keep-A-Dungeon-Age-Adventure-5e-and-OSR-versions?1892600

Posted in 5e, Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews, The Best | 10 Comments

Gatehouse on Cormac’s Crag

By Dave Bezio
Dave Bezio's Grey Area Games
S&W
Levels 1-3

The dilapidated keep on a windswept cliff has long been shunned by the local…so of course, that’s where you are headed!  Uncover secrets and explore the unknown as you attempt to rescue 3 helpless maidens.

This forty page adventure details a dungeon with seven levels and 135 rooms. A good attention to the basics keeps this from running away with itself. It does tend to the “plain” side of the house, though, in terms of writing.

First, do no harm. Is that were the mantra of adventure writers then we’d all be in much better shape as a hobbyist looking at products for our use. This adventure gets that right. It’s not stellar, but, it also doesn’t fuck up. And “Not A Fuck Up” is a pretty good place to be.

This adventure is doing everything at an … acceptable? Level. It has a small village with terse little descriptions that are littered with potentially interesting things and brief little snippets of NPC’s that a DM can take and run with. It’s got a rumor table and henchmen table, as well as some small wilderness wandering monster tables that embed a bit of detail. None of this is bad. None of this is overwritten. It not exactly forthcoming in providing detail that excites the DM, but its doing a great job of batting average, over and over and over again. In practice this looks like “The smith Bjorg is a crotchety loner who has noticed that the McDugals have been acting a bit funny since marrying the 3 old crones from outside the village.” We get a smith. He’s crotchety and a loner. His name is Bjorg. All of those are things the DM can work with. And then get a little bit of intrigue with the 3 old crones comment. This isn’t fuckign rocket science. Bezio knows that less is better than more and he uses the less to great effect, empowering these short little descriptions with what both the DM needs to run the NPC and to empower some action further on … and note it’s done by having the villagers have relationships with each other. One mentions the other.

The rooms are much the same. They tend to be very basic and just a little bit above minimalism. This isn’t the minimalism of the Vampire Queen or that of expanded minimalism but rather that of some of the beter adventures that use minimalism. Just like with the smith description, the rooms provide JUST a little more than minimal, and not in the “expanded minimalism” manner. It’s not droning on about some backstory. What there is is embedded in the room description much in the same way Gygax did in his better writing. The story builds as the adventure unfolds through the room descriptions.

And getting to that, there’s an interconnected nature to the rooms. While the levels have themes (kobolds, goblins, wizard, temple, etc) they also have a interconnected nature. Clues for one area in another. The map has a cross-section and several levels have multiple entrances/exits. You can bypass levels and there are hidden levels with good map detail. Some levels open up and others tend to only have ten or so rooms. You can get yourself in to trouble by going deeper and skipping levels. This is a part of what I mean by “design” when I use that term specifically as the seldom-mentioned fourth-pillar, alongside interactivity, evocative writing, and ease of use.

Speaking of evocative writing … well, this don’t do that. “A chipped statue of a maiden stands in one corner of this room (worthless.) Ok, so, it’s short and easy to scan. That’s good. But it’s not exactly making me excited about running the room. Ratlings play a game involving human teeth and a sharp stick. This gets to the better part of the description in the B2 Keep on the Borderlands, where orcs shoot dice. But the adventure is almost never rising beyond that. A storeroom with empty barrels and smashed crates. Book treasure. 3 tapestries (100gp each.)  These are all very basic details. 

Art is charming as are names for folk like Pepsy Tallfeller the halfling and Erikk the Crass the dwarf. There are good level overviews.

I can quibble with other details in this adventure. Creature reactions for a level are in their room rather than the (summary) overviews of the levels. Not ideal. A room or two has some background information first, prior to the meat of the room, increasing scanning time.

There is design here. That is good. But I don’t see myself excited to run this the way I am other adventures. The rooms don’t fill me with glee. This isn’t about rooms being exciting set pieces but rather the writing being such that I WANT to run the room, tha the description springs to mind and my brain takes over and runs with it, filling in the details. Others will no doubt disagree, but, in spire of the design present, I’m going to regret this. Stronger descriptions, without many more words, would easily bump this for me in to something of the Best. It’s 2020; we can do better than the best of the stuff stuff. (Although this blog seems to prove, day in and day out, that, no, most people can’t get even close to the best of the old quality.)

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is eight pages. You get to see the village description, rumors, level overviews and wilderness wanderer tables. That’s a decent selection. It would have been better, though, to also include a page or so of dungeon descriptions. The title page/intro pages do little to add to the value of the preview but a few pages of dungeon rooms would. 

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/315159/Gatehouse-on-Cormacs-Crag?1892600

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, No Regerts, Reviews | 16 Comments

City of Solstice: Evil Streets Home Invasion

By Charles Rice
Apocalyptic Games
OSRIC Level 1

You patrol the streets of the Gentry Quarter, a once-prosperous neighborhood, now a ramshackle mess of tenements, crime, and homelessness. Last night a tenement housing the working poor was the site of a massacre. Was this some dark sacrifice by the Star Society, or the work of a deranged lunatic acting on deadly desires no sane man can comprehend? From your base on the Wary Cog you have been dispatched to investigate this brutal mass murder and bring the perpetrators to justice. You are members of the Vigilant, a thoroughly corrupted effigy of a once proud guild, charged with keeping order in a chaotic city of 100,000 souls. You are not adventurers. But you have a duty.

This fifteen page city adventure details fourteen-ish linear events where the party take the role of the city guard in a corrupt locale. Great concept, some good local color, but the linearity and railroad nature, along with game design issues, make me question the way delivery on the premise is attempted. Setting? Yes. Adventure? No. Warning: I LUV me some city adventures.

The setting is one in which the party represents the city watch, or a small part of it anyway. Everyone in power has been killed recently, the city is controlled by the underworld criminals, there’s an old inept figurehead in progress, and the guard is corrupt and relies on press gangs to enforce and bulk up numbers when they need them. Great fucking environment for a game. You’ve got a boss, to give you assignments, and who takes bribes and lets people you catch go. You’re assigned gear at the beginning, blood-stained leather armor with arrow foles in it, falling apart, etc. Perfect setting of the tone. Your fat,overweight, corrupt guard sergeant wades in the the crowd, at one point, swinging his sap to crack a few skulls. There’s police and then there’s little people, as the movie says. The adventure does a great job, over and over again, in re enforcing this kind of environment. Corruption. Moral decay? Or maybe endemic crime just under the barest of pretexts of control? I don’t know. The irony of this being released, right now, is not lost on me. It’s also interesting, I think, in that the party is put out there, with no enforced morality, and just have to engage. They could be corrupt or they could change the system, I guess. Or try anyway. That’s a good job. Hmmm, I said “setting” earlier. I’m not sure that’s the right word. There might be a seperate setting book, I don’t know. There’s not much setting in this so I can’t really say the setting is good. Maybe I mean “the tone is interesting.” You get just enough background and flavour to get you in to the tone of the adventure and setting, but there’s really not much background data at all on the city. Which is fine, I guess, even if there is a separate setting book … or even if there isn’t. The tone makes the entire thing easy to understand where to take things, even if there are not supporting resources for the DM.

NPC descriptions are good. Short. A burst of memorable description, one sentence of background and one or two of attitude/motivations. Easy to scan, sticky. Easy to run NPC’s. Exactly what is called for in an adventure. The IDEA for an adventure, a bronx slumlord killing his tenants and burning down buildings so he can rebuild and remodel and flip for profits, is a pretty classic one, as anyone aware of Bronx documentaries can attest. 

But the entire execution of this adventure is FUCKED.

It’s a scene based railroad with the party going from scene to scene and interacting with it before the next scene happens. There no investigation as much as their is being told where to go. For the first “clue” I’m fine with that. The boss/sergeant tells you, with his experience, who may be involved based on the MO. But when that happens repeatedly, it makes one question why the party is even involved at all. Why play the adventure if the choices are thus limited? A sandbox environment in a fleshed out neighborhood this is not. One sergeant clue? Good kick off. Multiple? Nope. 

And then there are scene transitions that make no sense. You’re in “dingy central park” one moment and in another you’re walking down a busy city street, with no idea of how the transition happened. It doesn’t make sense. There wasn’t a clue leading you to the next scene. Its just you’re in the street now. In the street scene some dudes release a monster to attack you, in the crowded city streets. And they run away. And there are chase rules. But, presumably, they get a ten minute head start as the party fights a 3HD giant lizard? The chase rules make no sense to me. I mean, the actual advice on running the chase are good, but it doesn’t seem like it would get there given the headstart the dudes get? I don’t know, maybe they hang around until the party kill their monster and THEN the chase starts? Scene transitions don’t make sense in this adventure.

I’m also not sure of the actual game mechanics. Low trease in a gold=xp game is rough. You do get double XP for capturing people, and are paid off for killing people and monsters. Both of these are nice ideas, in concept, but the overall issue of handling the GOLD=XP issue isn’t really address. Low money, low magic, I’m good with. But you then need to balance it, XP wise. There is one story reward, 200XP, maybe, but I’m not sure the balance is there.

So, good setting idea. Good adventure concept. Good NPC descriptions. Poorly executed with some raised eyebrows about the mechanics of the game system decisions. 

This is $2 at DriveThru. There is no preview. Or level indication on the cover or in the description. Basic basic flaws, those are. 

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/314802/City-of-Solstice-Evil-Streets-Home-Invasion?1892600

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 9 Comments