The Things Lost to Time

By James Andrews
Stormforge Productions
Levels 1-3

Deep in a mine is an ancient vessel. Something so ancient, it sunk under the stone like mud. A vessel alien to this world, yet here longer than most of human history. Can the players harvest its strange technological bits before being disintegrated by deadly lasers? Or will they be enslaved by the odd pink aliens which have been unleashed on the world?

This 22 page adventure details a 22 room spaceship buried in a mine. The miners are now undead cyber-zombies, the aliens floating balls of tentacles, and there’s a crazed robot to avoid. But, treasure is abstracted, the rooms all need a second pass for logic and to clean up unneeded text. Still, there’s a good cat and mouse idea here.

The (rather loose) hook has some miners having disappeared and not come back, except for one with tales of a metal demon and hellfire. The actual mines are quite small, just a couple of room, before the spaceship begins. It’s a collection of obvious obstacles, like a laser screen doorway to be crawled between, alien tentacle blobs, abstracted treasure, and a killer robot to be avoided.

The patrol bot is the most interesting part. It roams about the hallways, on a loop. If it catches someone it most likely kills them, then takes them to medbay to convert to a cyber zombie. There are guidelines for hiding form it, how hard is searches, vents on the map to crawl through to avoid it, and how it escalates its searches over time in response to interactions with the party. It’s an interesting aspect of the adventure to put on some pressure AND it supports the DM with the maps, guidelines, etc to help them accomplish it.

The rest of the adventure is uninspiring.

There are annotations missing form the map. The robot does something at points A and B, but they are not on the map. Some of the traps are Bad Traps. While searching the lockers in a room one explodes and you take damage. It’s kind of the same as a rando pit in a corridor … just take damage and move on with the adventure. There’s no interactivity with that.

Each room starts with a DM overview and then some bad read-aloud. The overviews are mostly not needed at ALL . The room titled “4. Medical Room” tells us that “this room is the equivalent of an alien medical bay.” Well, yes, could have guessed that. It’s almost all unneeded text. The read aloud if overblown imagery at times, and leaves out details at others. It’s not really evocative at all. The med bay, for example, have absolutely no mention of creatures, until you get far down in the room description where it say “Creatures: 4 cyber-zombies.” Wouldn’t that be mentioned in the read aloud? What are they doing? Just standing there? Do they attack? Whatever the designer was going for doesn’t really come across.

For those in search of tech, you shall despair. It’s all abstracted in to “bits” worth 1sp each.

It comes off as just a generic, abstracted spaceship. IN fact, the surviving miner even calls it a ship. I managed to run S3 once for three sessions and the party still hadn’t figured out it was a ship. This aint that, and not even a glowing red laser fence can save it.

This is free at DriveThru. There’s no preview (although I guess you don’t need one if its free) and the level isn’t included in the text description, although it is on the cover if you blow it up to look at.

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Treachery Isle

By Kingtycoon Methuselah
Game of the North
OSR (LotFP?)
Level 4-5?

Nothing is what it seems and no one can be trusted on Cormorant Isle!  And yet you find that you must rely on dangerous strangers if you hope to leave the Isle alive.  Who are these tricksters and what is the secret that they will kill to keep hidden?

This 73 page adventure contains about ten adventure locales on an shipwreck island, each with about ten or so locations. Imaginative, this thing is VERY hard to decipher. Fonts, layout, rules, phrasing … I actually had a very real headache after the first two pages. I’m going to count this one as a ‘Failure to Review’ … I just don’t think I got it.

I usually review an electronic copy. This one I had to resort to printing out, which yields something a little easier on the eyes. As I noted, it gives me a headache. The format is three-column. The read-aloud font is a kind of dark magenta or brown, with a grey background, in italics.  There are weird section breaks that are not obvious. You’ll be reading a paragraph and the words will just stop mid-sentence. That’s your clue that the section below is a major new section break and you should continue reading from the top of the next column to finish the paragraph you are in … an invisible section break. Except when there actually IS a formatting error and the paragraph just ends WITHOUT it continuing in another column. “The heretic has “ … clearly is meant to convey something, but it just stops right there. The tables presented look like screenshots, with a font, background, color that over the line on readability. You CAN make it out, but for your eye health you should not.  This 24 pages of the adventure, proper, actually failed to print the first time I tried. There is something STRANGE going on, none of which lends a hand to comprehension … at the table or not.

The game system is … not mentioned? “OSR.” A scale walls test is mentioned as a “d6 scale walls test.” Like, that’s the check, as in game system, or you need to make d6 attempts at a check? Other sections reference Search result 1, search result 2, search result 3, and so on.  I have no idea. Things kind of LOOK like D&D. Each NPC and creature gets their own full page character sheet (with something called “Primary Mode” with a symbol in it?) and a “Phys/Men” trail score … but it also has HP, AC, HD, Mv, Init and so on. I just … I don’t know …

The writing is … abstracted? Obtuse? Both? Your ship needs provisions, there’s an island ahead. Through the spyglass you see a battle taking place on the beach. Three ships are burning. You see the last combatant drowning the second to last under the waves.

Huh? Battle between who? The people on the ship? There’s no detail, in the read-aloud or DM notes, of what the fuck just happened, or enough context to infer. This lack of context to infer what is going on is a major, major issue throughout the adventure.

This is in spite of a summary, which comes at the end of the keyed encounters on page 25 or so, that tells the referee what is going on. I note that reading that summary sheds VERY little light on the goings on.

Did I mention that there’s an Exquisite Corpse label on a Lulu product? My eyebrows are raised.

“But Bryce, you haven’t actually reviewed the adventure yet!” Correct. There’s a witch, riding a giant sword, over a beach throwing fireballs to set ships on fire. There’s an illusion of a bonfire. It’s also a teleporter to other, REAL fires. Uh, there are knights, and places, and some Lashan, and a witch and … I have no fucking clue what is going on in this adventure.

I fail. The weekend is coming. I’m going to try again.

Ok, weekend over. Tuesday now. I’ve been through the adventure three more times and feel that I now grasp it, although I’m not sure enough to run it.

Your ship needs provisions so you land on the island, seeing the end of a battle of knights, one drowning another in the surf. Landing, there’s recruitment attempt by the knight to his cause. His group (they have a camp farther in) is here to find and rescue a woman, kept by another group of knights. There’s a small castle that you and they can rush. (From this point out they serve as a kind of greek chorus, getting killed, etc as you explore the island.) You could, also, join up with the other group of knights or do something else … at least that’s what the text tells us, although its not exactly well supported. Somewhere in this the islands witch shows up and burns down your ship, trapping you. From the castle, ruined and full of bodies, you see a tower. Exploring the tower lets you see four other areas, each with some tie to an element. Getting through those MIGHT get off the island. Along the way is a kind of animalistic dragon with mimcry in a lava cave, some leshen, children in masks (another chous, or a sorts, maybe) the witch, and so on.

It’s got strong allegorical ties then most adventures (ie: >0) and some great language in it. Buried behind text that is THICK to get through. A highlighter won’t work in this one.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a suggested price of $7. The preview is six pages. The last four pages show the first encounter sections. I encourage you to TRY and read page three.

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(5e) Crimson Harvest

By Andy Tam
Self Published
Level 4

… The agricultural exports that once brought it wealth and decadence has since all but withered to naught. A group of intrepid adventurers has taken on the task the escort a vital cache of grains to the ailing town, but what seem to be a simple run-of-the-mill escort job takes a sinister turn for the worse. Ultimately embroiling all involved into a spiral of decay and madness…

This 58 page adventure features a cult in a village and about sixty locations in the manor home/dungeon.There are hints of an adventure in this, but it’s written like a linear plot based thing rather than a normal adventure. The benefit of the doubt would seem to indicate a lack of understanding of how to design a non-linear adventure.

Digging around on DMGuild, I was struck that everything there is either A) not an adventure, B) Some AL nonsense, C) Connected to the latest book. I went out of my way to find something relatively independent and came to this. The baddie here is a Warlock, in service to her patron. Nice! Reminds me of the days when druids were baddies. There’s also a civil war going on, with the village in question being majorly impacted. Muddy fields, bodies face down in the dirt, spilled blood, starving and desperate people … that’s pretty cool. I mean, it’s just gonna be used as a throwaway once this adventure is over, but what if it weren’t? Nice campaign regional.

This thing also tries. It’s got an encounter on the way to the village with an old woman trader doing some profiteering, a source of information, who also steals from the party at night. And it tries to add atmosphere, mostly by having a section at the start called “Atmosphere” with some bullet point ideas. And the entire concept of a village, starving during a civil war making civil hands unclean, desperate people, bodies down in the mud, a good ol’ hanging tree ala Witcher 3 (who also tried and failed at wartime) … ah, warms my DM heart. As does a certain brevity in combat encounters; only a few sentences each, on average!

Oh, and then there’s this bit right up near the top of the adventure, one of the few few words …

“Crimson Harvest is a dark fantasy story presented in the form of a Dungeons & Dragons adventure …”

Ok, no, it’s not as bad as those words would imply. But, man, seeing that can cause your heart to shudder.

The hook has the baddies luring the party to town. Lure adventure suck. They are right up there with Challenge/Test adventures. Then the guy who hires you will commit suicide rather than be captured, if you attack him. This is not going well. Really? He kills himself? He’s bought in that deep? And still passes for normal, enough to put one over on the party? Just let the fucking party capture him, who cares? Besides, the hooks are all lame anyway. Hired or assigned a mission or Yet Another Missing Loved One. My next PC is going to home from an extended close-knit family of about 600 relatives, just to mock all these lame ass Loved One hooks.

The read aloud is extensive. Extensive read-aloud should never be included. Can I say that categorically? Are there exceptions? I don’t know. But it’s close enough to the truth to say it categorically. Plus, it waxes poetic and flowery and presumes to tell you your character’s actions and feelings. Find some vials? The read aloud tells you open them and sniff. Uh huh.

And that atmosphere that I mentioned had bullets? It’s mostly generalized and abstracted, giving you little concrete or inspiring to work with.

But that’s all minor nits compared to the major failures, on two key points. First, it fails utterly in some pretty basic design issues. Like it wants to split the party. This is a fucking disaster for DM’s, because it ALWAYS leaves a group of your players bored and disengaged. The only way this works is if have the ability to regroup almost immediately, and that don’t happen here. It also REALLY hates maps. Which is to say it loves them too much, in the wrong way. Clearly someone put some effort in to making battlemaps for everything, nice and colorful and detailed. But the main DM map is a zoomed out version, hard to read. And basic information like “how many villagers attack the party in the tavern?” are left unanswered because the information is not in the text OR on the map, as the adventure indicates it should be. So you can’t run it, by design, unless you use the battle maps which tell you the enemy count and location … and then the information isn’t on the maps? And, if it IS there, and I missed it, then it’s not clear enough. There’s this weird abstraction of detail, like in a tower with a boy. There’s no map, I think, but the locations are numbered like there is one. But they are weird, like #1 is  painting and #2 are the aforementioned glass vials and #3 is a chest, like there’s a map somewhere of a big room with numbers on it. Feel free to stretch your legs and try new things in design, but you should also make sure they work.

The second major issues is the entire adventure. Or, rather, how it designed. It’s clear that the designer is going for a kind of open ended sort of thing, something akin to a sandbox/independent location that the party find themselves in. But I don’t think they know how to do it.

There’s a strong bend to the writing that is linear and plot based. This then this and then this … not quite that but about as close and you can without having scenes. The militia, as cult members, are stationed outside the manor home to keep the party out. There’s a strong element of capturing the party or directing them to certain hidden entrances. If this adventure is The Wicker Man then everyone in the village is right on the edge of clubbing the party over the head. It doesn’t come off as much as a village with a problem but rather a kind of armed camp ready to assault the party, turning the adventure in to a hack fest almost immediately. The maps have a strong linear dungeon bend to them rather than presenting the place as a “normal” manor house. Look, I hate simulationist stuff as much as I hate linear stuff, but this is clearly close to the plot side of the spectrum, too much for its own good.

Getting out of the 5e echo chamber and seeing examples of good adventures would go a long way to helping the designers next effort. Pruning back the prescriptive writing elements and either returning to traditional map/key or putting more work in to the color battle maps actually helping the DM.

This is $3 at DMsguild. There’s no preview. Andy, go create a preview that shows a few encounters so people know what they are buying!

Posted in Reviews | 14 Comments

Behind the Walls

  • By John Large
  • Monkeyblood Design
  • Swords & Wizardry
  • Levels 1-4

Ebeneezer Garbett, a local farmer from the mushroom-filled valley village of Otterdale, returned to the hamlet with tales of riches he had found. Now, no-one has seen him since, and he villagers are becoming ill with a strange fungal infection.

This 49 page adventure has the party getting to trouble with a fungus creature in a small village. A good overview and some evocative writing is buried in text that could use some better organization to tighten up the important bits to make them stand out. A nice open-ended adventure, small, but with repercussions ala LotFP.

John hangs out at reddicediaries, his blog, and published Murder Knights of Corvendark, a nice weird little adventure that needed a bit more. This adventure feels smaller and more intimate, in spite of the page count. Set in his Miderlands, a kind of England-ish setting, this one one is right on the border with his version of Scotland. Some farmer found some Goman gold after some heavy rain, now he’s disappeared, people are dying from a sickness, and an adventuring company (! Not adventurers! A company! I love the nod to mercenary that makes this more dirt-farmer than the magical ren-faire connotations that Adventurer has!) that looked in to the coins has disappeared.

Certain elements of this harken back to The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with a fungus creature, interconnected colony creatures, and some explicit notes to make it more Pod Person like. It’s not overdone and it related to Thing and Body Snatchers in the way that they are folklore; not really gonzo explicit but more remembrances of a theme that influences how you, as DM or player, relate to the content. That’s the kind of stuff I like, the leveraging of other themes or content to bring more than the writing itself does.

The ending of this has, probably, the giant fungus creature dragging itself up from its small underground vault and heading toward the village, probably caused by or at least witnessed by the party. This feels like an adventure climax without it feeling forced, and it a kind of gentler LotFP apocalyptic ending if the creature escapes. This harkens back to Rients and his Broodmother advice or really fucking up your campaign world, and the explicit advice (in a paragraph) handles the guidelines on the greater world well if the party Oops it up. Plague masks, movements of people to drier areas less likely to fungus up … it’s good imagery.

And there’s a decent amount of good imagery in this combined with JUST enough nods to realism that it feels real, without slipping in to simulationist nonsense. The rumor tables are in voice, which adds richness to the NPC’s. There’s a feast getting ready to go off in the village, in celebration of the new found wealth flowing in from the farmer and adventuring company. A locale of humid mists, lanterns during the day, a valley alive with encounters. Tendrils growing through a door to the creature on the other side and ancient metal weapons missing their wood … it having been absorbed by the fungus creature. A little adventure overview in the beginning kind of ties everything together and orients the D on what’s to come. The fungus creature has bits of bone, gold, skulls, etc visible on its surface as it attacks while its minions try to infect rather than kill. A richness of detail in combat AND outside of combat.

But …

The art and maps, while well done from an imagery standpoint, suffer from usability issues .. .mainly the numbered locations fading in to the map. Pretty map, but I don’t want to fight it to find the numbers.

I can also complain about several smaller things. A location, seen from far off, isn’t really dealt with until you’re right up on it. ANY time the party is outside the designer needs to pay attention to what they see in the distance. It’s that Fallout 4 thin of seeing a red glow in the night that draws you to go explore there. “Oh, uh, yeah, I know it’s night and everything, but, everything is on fire.” Well, how about telling us that as we approach  instead of hiding it in the room 3 description? [That’s not an example from this adventure. In this one I’m talking about a prominent jagged outcropping that isn’t dealt with, well, from a visibility standpoint until your on top of it.] Further, the main farmstead is covered in two separate description locations in different parts of the book, NPC cross-references are haphazard, at best, and an NPC summary sheet, with location, personality, sickness, etc, is sorely missing. The investigation portion is largely social, and social adventures need different resources than room/key exploration adventure sections. The wanderers could really use some personality also. They are a cut above minimal, but not by much. A little personality in the NPC or situations would bring them to life.

It’s also very weird that the fungus is mentioned, in one place, as being highly flammable, but fire is not mentioned as a weapon against the fungus creature or its minions.

The major flaw, though, and what keeps this from a Best Of list, is the mixing of interesting details in to long text blocks. There are some great details in this but they are lost in the text presented. The descriptions and flavor are rich and, while not Failed Novelist long, picking up the pertinent details out of the text blocks is is not easy. The mist in the valley. The mold and mushrooms everywhere. The lamps lit in the day … these deserve bullet points or bolding in their paragraphs. The idea is that the DM reads it once before play and then, during play their attention is drawn to the bullets or bolding and they say “oh, yeah, that thing …” and they include it in their description to the players. This happens over and over again. I would say that it has the scenes set well, for the initial read through, but doesn’t support the DM well, at all, during actual play. Bolding, bullets, summary sheets. What do I, the DM, need RIGHT NOW as I’m running it, and can I find it easy?

This is $5 at DriveThru. The only preview is a “Quick” one, meaning you don’t get a chance to see the content at all, just a hint of the (quite nice) layout. [And rare shout out by me to the person who did the interior layout and art. I know nothing about thatshit, but it looks nice.]

Posted in No Regerts, Reviews | 8 Comments

Cowpie Mushrooms

  • By Martin O
  • Goodberry Monthly blog
  • OSR
  • Low Levels

Inspired by real life events! About mushrooms that grow on cow shit! It has cows and doggos in it!

This eight page heist adventure outline is about harvesting mushrooms that grow on cow shit … from farms with uncooperative farmers. Generally well organized, it gets in and out fast with a good  focus on gameable information rather than trivia. A little more lead in and a map would have made this super great, instead of just good. It’s a silly fucking heist, but, the best D&D is Heist D&D, a sandbox area and some stupid fucking plans created by the party. It’s hard to not like heist D&D.

This is really a kind of outline of an adventure. It gives you a brief one page overview of the goals (stealing mushrooms to sell to a rich asshole) and a little background and then launches in to descriptions of the three farms. The descriptions are focused on the task at hand: stealing the mushrooms. You get three power curves: a senile farmer with two cows, a farmer with about two dozen cows and dogs, and a farmer with forty cows and a military background and large family.

The elements present include a local sheriff, about an hour away, who hassles the party a bit in town and warns them about lynch mobs. Note what this does, giving the party two important bits of information. Not only do they have to worry about the farmers, but now they have to worry about the sheriff getting sent for and the local mob militia. But … they also know he’s about an hour away … both of which can now factor in to their plans.

The farms are tersly described. The house and farm, proper, is just a blow off in a sentence or two. The focus is on the people and NPC’s. How they react to both an up-front appeal “let us collect the mushrooms” and how they react to trespassers at night. A schedule for each farm, letting the party know who is where, and brief but sticky personality quirks. You get dogs who go for the face or crotch combined with sweet little quiet bulldogs. You get suspicious teenagers along with a little kid who loves candy and another who loves adventurers.

Note how good things are mixed in the bad. There are things to take advantage of, and things to watch for. The adventure locales are a collection of elements good and bad, for the party to build their plan and attempt to execute.

Bolding is used to good effect to call out certain sections of text, helping the DM locate important bits. The personalities are terse, in just a couple of words per, but stick well. Arthritic beagle, a dog that barks incessantly but it the sweetest dog ever. You know how to run this once you read it. The vision is communicated well.

On the downside …

There’s no map of the farms. Yes, I know, I sound like an ass. But a decent map of the farms and/or surrounding lands would have allowed more caper play, sneaking behind hedgerows and setting fire to things and the like.

There’s also a more that could be done with the summaries. The dogs have a personality summary on one page and a stat summary on another page. A little combined action would have been nice, but it’s not a deal breaker, since the adventure IS only eight pages long.

The map is, I think, a part of a larger problem. The focus is on the three fams and everything outside of that is handled in just a paragraph or two. Just a TAD more in the way of the region/local village/buyer assholes, would have provided a more solid grounding for kicking the adventure off. As is, we’re just told the buyer is a rich asshole. That’s enough to run him for me, but adding another one or two buyers, and maybe the BAREST of villagers/towns nearby, and a little regions map (without more detail) would have provided the DM just a few more tools to kick the thing off and run some of the more interesting complications.

Everything drives the action. All of the details are focused on the task on hand. The words are all meaningful to the adventure. It’s a rare adventure that can do that. This is a nice little adventure.

This is free over at the Goodberry Monthly blog.

Posted in Level 1, No Regerts, Reviews | 5 Comments

Praise the Fallen

There were those demented powers that wanted to return all to naught, to become one with the Ever Slumbering Void.  Pantheons collided and the heavens shattered with war. Untold cosmic powers were lost without their names ever spoken by mortal tongues.  Countless legions fell. Defeated in their gambit of annihilation, they scattered across the universe. Several of the Fallen, fell to this world, forever imprisoned at their point of impact…

This sixteen page adventure describes a thirty room dungeon, home to a cult trying to resurrect the fallen angel that crashed there in eons past. Decent usability at the table and a kind of … starkness (in a good way) of the cult and temple remind me a bit of the starkness of the old Tharizdun adventure (WG4?) mashed up a bit with Death Frost Doom to add a bit of local color.

There was this old 3e supplement from an indie called The Void that I bought at a local indy game store that is now closed. It represented something outside of law and chaos, and in fact as you progressed down the prestige classes offered you lost an axis from your alignment. It had a decent idea, presenting the void as something outside of the normal game. This adventure isn’t exactly that, since it has a fallen angel, but it does capture a bit of that otherness/void/nothing feel. There was a certain starkness, a coldness, from WG4, and this has a lot of that same vibe going on, but in this case it’s brought a little more to life with more modern use than WG4 had. I guess because there IS a cult in this place.

I should mention the layout first since its something I’ve only seen once or twice before. You you took a dungeon map of thirty rooms and divided it up in to sections of four or five rooms each, and then put a mini-map of those four rooms on a single page and all of the room descriptions for the same page, then you have an idea of the layout. Reminiscent of parts of Blue Medusa, and several “a bunch of one page dungeons make up the campaign” adventures, I seem to recall only one or two other adventures also having this exact same layout. It works pretty well, forcing the room descriptions to be short. There does seem to be an unnatural mania, though, with keeping the room numbers off of the map that I don’t understand at all. Both the main map and the mini-maps don’t have any rooms numbers on them all, in spire of the individual rooms being numbered. There are just arrows drawn from the text sections to the point on the map. Arrows that sometimes don’t come through well. It doesn’t seem easy to know which part of the booklet to run to to find the next section of the dungeon the party moved in to, or at least not as intuitive as it should be. The decision to leave room numbers off doesn’t seem to have another purpose, and detracts from ease of use.

The encounters are suitably creepy. “There are 4 statues of angels in various stages of anguish. Each statue has a kneeler in front of it. NE angel is reaching back toward heaven as he falls, his wings distingigrating.” [three more one sentence statue descriptions] [A one sentence description of what happens when someone of law, chaos, neutral kneels on the kneeler.] [The mini-map also has a short one-sentence text box pointing to each statue, describing an item that the statue can give.]

First, excellent layout. What’s the first thing the DM needs when the players enter the room? It’s the first sentence of the room description! Then, the obvious follow question from the players is answered: whats each statue doing? Then a short listing of the interactive effects, based on alignment, with the boons cleverly noted by the other text boxes. There are both good and bad things that can happen to the party, which is good design. If only bad things ever happen when you play with the dungeons toys then you will no longer play with the toys, which doesn’t make ANYONE happy. Tying it to alignment, in this case, isn’t exactly my favorite tactic, but, finally, a use for that Undetectable Alignment spell that doesn’t involve an NPC using it to trick the party, maybe?  Note also the wording. Anguish. A kneeler. Wings disintegrating, not to mention the imagery of an anguished angel rach back to heaven as it falls, with its overloaded cultural attachment that we all have. This is a good room description. Oh, also, if you fuck up in this room then the doors to the dungeon lock and the only way to unlock them is to sacrifice someone while saying “Praise [angel name], the Fallen.” Sweet! And we know this because of the trance someone goes in to when they fail their save which causes the effect. There were consequences for your action, the DM notified you of it, and there’s now this kind of … timer? that hangs over the adventure: how do we get out? Again, good design. You communicate things to the party, raising the stakes.

Another room has a statue (yeah, a number of statues in this one …) reach out as if you grasp a persons hand. Do you? Huh? Well? It looks inviting … The DM knows its a set up. The party knows. The DM knows the party knows and they know he knows. Delightful anticipation and tension, a hallmark of good D&D!

Nice magic items, wanderers doing things, same level depth transitions, in media res stuff, like a little girl about to get sacrificed. Lots of good stuff going on in here, including some prisoners to rescue and some friends to potentially make. A nice ally to the cult, the Phaen Witch, not really a member but more of an independent agent, also shows up, rising up out of the floor in places and times. Good imagery, good NPC vision.

The text description style gets a little much in places, and something as simple as a bolded black dot, between different text sections in a room, would have gone a long way to help in a couple of the longer rooms. And the layout style, while forcing a sparness, doesn’t benefit a few things, such as “2 Swords of Light.” Those probably could have used another couple of words of description. It also makes an appeal to rolling your own magic items and treasure in places. Again, sparness is appreciated, but not to the extent it sacrifices to abstraction. An appendix is a wonderful thing, the adventure could stick room treasure there and still maintain its dedication to the format its chosen. There’s also a kind of “Hey, you just stumbled on to the the ritual that JUST completed to bring the angel back to life!” Yeah, ok, I get what the designer is trying to do. Trying just a little too hard, I think. Maybe a mechanic to push the ritual forward instead of an ex machina would have been in order? The hook here is also not really present. Just a map with a note about it being the location of a fallen angel. So, bring your own hook and place your own reason for the party wanting to be here. “Treasure” ,meaning XP, is the usual reason for OSR adventurers, but the implication is there that there is some GOOD to be done, which, tonally, doesn’t really match an OSR motivation. Making the Fallen Angel an oracle, or you need its dust, or something like that, maybe.

I will mention also, the art style, something I usually don’t care about. Most adventure art doesn’t really contribute to the adventure. It’s just a picture. In rare cases it can really contribute to the vibe the adventure is going for or help communicate something like the horror of a monster. The art here is all a kind of black and white, maybe with negative images? (I don’t know shit about art.) What I DO know is that it does a great job in helping set the mood for the DM on the starkness of the VOID imagery that runs throughout the adventure.

This is free at their blog. It’s an interesting thing. You should pick it up AND encourage the designer to make more. Oh, and !!!ALSO TELL THEM TO STICK A LEVEL ON IT NEXT TIME!!! Grrrr… pet peeve …

Posted in Level 3, No Regerts, Reviews | 6 Comments

The Charnel Pits of Reynaldo Lazendry

  • By Jeremy Reaban
  • Self published
  • OSR
  • Levels 2-4

After 200 years, a bold band of adventurers plunded the first level of the dungeons beneath the ruined tower of Reynaldo Lazendry. What horrors await upon the second level of the insane mage?

This fifteen page adventure describes level two of Jeremy’s dungeon, with 56 rooms and a Frakenstein/revivification theme. It’s inconsistent and, it seems, jeremy’s heart just isn’t in it.

I’m always happy to see large dungeons, even when they arrive in installment plan mode, like this one. Big dungeons, exploratory things, are what the game was designed around and really show off the strengths of D&D. The mechanics of the game, at least up until 1e, work well with what large dungeons have to offer. To that end, the map here is an excellent exploratory map, with loops and moderate complexity that really allows the game to show off how it works. Loops, bypassing, dark corridors that anything could be lurking down … it’s all present here.

The theme here of a Frankenstein lab level, with some Herbery West thrown in, is a good one. It allows for a lot of room for weird effects. Stitch some new abominations together, give some severed body parts life, and fill in a lot with creepy things floating in strange liquids in jars. This is expanded upon with other moments, like couches whose seats can be searched for loose coins. If you accept that every waterfall needs a cave behind it then you must also accept that couches need to have things in the cushions. Life has a logic to it and D&D should play to that logic. Players LUV it when their theories and logic make good.

But, all os not good in Charnel Pit land. For every washroom with buckets full of weird eyes and baby shoggoths with attachment issues there are also fifteen rooms where not much effort was put. The food storage room, two, tell us the door is hard to break through but can be picked … and nothing at all about the room other than that. Normal food? Body parts? Anything evocative at all? No. Still, room four, the morgue, tell us that it is as cold as the food storage room. So … it’s the same temp as every other room in the dungeon, because the food storage room told us nothing. Room seven tells us, exhaustively, how many wigs are present of each color even though it has no bearing on the adventure?

The rooms are focused on history and backstory rather than interactivity. The Torture pits tells us that “Twelve of these pits contain people who Lazendry brought back from the dead using the revivification process but were incomplete or somehow not right as referred to by ancient wizards as liveliest awfulness.” So rather than focus on the occupants ,the sights and the smells and how the party might interact with them, we instead get a brief bit of history, justifying why the creatures are here. They are here because we’re playing D&D tonight. Or, we want to anyway.

Monsters, especially in something inspired by Lovecraft, should be awful. In this they are … present? We get descriptions like “strange pre-human beings not unlike ogres with very large mouths” or “appear to be a misshapen human shaped mass of flesh, often with bones exposed and large gaping maws. They are ferociously hungry, even though they don’t need to eat.” You can see hints in these descriptions of something better, but its abstracted to the point of providing little of concrete value to inspire.

Jeremy has a style that he likes to write in, and I don’t always agree with his choices, but in this adventure he seems to be slipping even from that. It feels more like a first draft, or rough notes, than it does a complete adventure. Still, coming from Jeremy, that makes it better than most.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $.50. The preview shows you the entire adventure, something I wish more designers would do. From it you can tell exactly what you are buying before you buy it. Note page three, the first page of rooms, for some of the writing style issues, and then page four and page ten for some light humor and heavier monster descriptions.–The-Charnel-Pits-of-Reynaldo-Lazendry

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Hanson’s Gap

  • By Frank Schmidt
  • Adventures in Filbar
  • OSR
  • Level 1

This eleven page adventure presents nine encounters, in linear order, as the party passes through a mountain pass. Single column. Linear. Read-aloud telling the players what their characters feel. Forced combat. It feels thrown together.

I don’t know what to do. I told myself I was going to find the joy in D&D adventures. Concentrate on the positive, and just mention the negative off hand. And then, this adventure was the very next one I encountered.

So, I like the cover. I used to draw little stick figure army man battle scenes when I was little and have had a fondness for them every since. Man, I used to love those little plastic army men and their playsets. And the name is nice: Murder Hobo Inc. I’ve used the Murder Hobo idea as a kind of crutch for getting the party together. Never having seen each other before, they instantly recognize their bond with one another as fellow murder hobos. Those daring few willing to live life on the edge and with gusto!

And the party has a map of the countryside showing a safe long journey around the mountains to their destination city, and a little mountain pass that’s MUCH shorter with a skull and crossbones on it. What ho! No self respecting player would ignore telegraphing like that! Adventure awaits! It’s charming.

There are several elements to the encounters that also fall in to this charming category. Berry bushes with fruit that heals, for example. Far too often adventures only include bad things. Everything you mess with is dangerous and kills you, so the party learns to not mess with things. Interactivity drives D&D, and learning to NOT interact is not the lesson we want to teach. Likewise there are some hippogriff chicks to capture. With a sale price listed, I’d be much more interested in training them, and would have appreciated some advice in relation to that. Finally, there’s this tree with some bodies hung up in it, swaying. This imagery has always appealed to me as a DM. Scarecrows, warnings, etc, always give a kind of warning, a message to the players. His serves to both set the mood, providing some subtle subconscious atmosphere, as well as providing an explicit warning to the players: dangers ahead, be on guard!

And it would have done that here had it appeared BEFORE the dangerous encounters, instead of after them. 🙁

I can take barbs because of my taxonomy, but it comes from ruined expectations. This adventure is labeled “OSR.” Look, I know that no one can agree what it means, either literally, in the case of the ‘R’ or figuratively in what it espouses. But this isn’t OSR. Some will argue that yes, it is, because it chooses to label itself OSR. And by that it loses all definition and we are admitting that everything is meaningless. ‘I liked it.’ becomes the rule of the day, of life. You can have no expectations. Of anything. And that should be ok.

Agony and Ecstasy. To live free from expectations, and thus also the disappointment that it can bring. A utopian vision that each of us is charged with, to create our own brave new world. Of course, reality that is that we subject ourselves to the petty tyrannies of life all day long, for our filthy lucre, to hand over to someone else in exchange for a car, that arrives without wheels, an engine, and looks strangely like a bag of imitation doritos (empty), for the low low price of $36,400, financed at 7% over 96 months.

The adventure starts by telling us it is linear, literally, it tells us it is linear. The party must walk in the trail and cannot climb the walls or avoid the encounters as presented. The encounters are forced fights, with little more to them (with exceptions) other than “roll for initiative.” One encounter, the DM is encouraged to rearrange the adventure to make the betrayal of the party more effective. The read-aloud tells the players how their characters feel. And it asks for a DC14 medicine check in one place. What then? And streamed on Twich!

What then?

This is $1 at DriveThru. The preview is two pages. The second page shows an encounter, representative of the typical encounter. The first page, second paragraph of the “DM Background” section. Last sentence. Linear Adventure.–0-Hansons-Gap

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(5e) The Mad Mage of Xen’drik

By Travis Legge

  • Self Published
  • 5e
  • Tier 2

Deep in the jungles of Xen’drik, embedded in the side of a mountain stands the tower of the Mad Mage Xeffon. Though his various servants can be found flowing in and out of the tower on a daily basis, the elusive wizard has not been seen in many years. Some say he no longer lives, while others postulate that he is locked up in his laboratory, tinkering with magics that could alter the face of Eberron!

This eighteen page adventure is in an eight level wizards tower with seventeen rooms. It is the usual drivil that one comes to expect of the D&D marketplace, bereft of value. I guess I deserve it for looking outside the Adept box.

Imagine my surprise in buying an adventure and finding this tasty tidbit: “This is not an adventure. It’s barely a supplement. Really, it is a toolkit which I built to use on my stream and I am sharing now with you.” Then why is it in the adventure section? Why isn’t it in the “fluff supplement” section? Because it won’t sell as well? Because people won’t mistakenly buy it then? Regardless of Bryce puffery, it IS an adventure. Travis, it appears, thinks he needs a plot to have an adventure. Adventure Location is fine, and most times tacking on a fetch quest plot makes the thing worse instead of better.

Anyway …

The map is garbage. I had to blow it up to twice normal size to make it even partially legible. Maps are not art, they are play aids. They can be pretty, but not at the expense of legibility. Screwy number fonts and a greyscale map that’s too tiny to read/use/interpret does not help the DM run the adventure.

The blurb mentions “flowing inside and out of the tower” which implies an outdoor portion, but that’s not there. This is JUST a description of the towers eight floors. The only view in to the area around the tower is the picture of it on the map. There IS no surrounding context. It’s just eight levels of a tower. Not even a description of the outside of the tower. Barely a supplement indeed!

The rooms, proper, are boring and disorganized. A neat barracks room stuffed full of lizard-people. Well-kept rooms with beds made and personal items in footlockers … is that how you picture a kobold lair? I recall making a similar complaint in some official WOTC drow barracks. Either make the kobolds kobold like or put in humans. You dilute the meaning of kobold when they are used as a substitute for human foes. Oh, you were just building an encounter and wanted something of the appropriate hit die? That’s a terrible idea and also explains why this adventure is so generic and bland. There’s almost nothing wizard-like in this tower. It’s all boring blandness. And what there is is described in a manner that makes you fall asleep. Not evocative writing at all. There’s no burning passion behind wanting to run this, based on the writing.

The room organization suffers also. There’s a writing style were you put an overview first and follow up with more detail. There’s another style where you give no thought to how the DM needs the information and just throw all the words you can think of down on the page and expect the DM to read and memorize the entire adventure for immediate recall. You can guess where this one falls …

A very basic example is the first floor. The description goes: “This floor is used as the latrine for every inhabitant of the tower, including the ogres. The sewage covers the entire floor, roughly four feet deep. There is a potpourri odor thanks to a minor illusion on the area, but it barely penetrates the sewage stench. The room is dimly lit due to several dancing lights throughout the area.” Note the first sentence. It explains the floor, providing justification for what follows. It’s not needed, at least not as the first sentence. Far more important are the next three. The floor is flooded, it smells, and there are lights. THAT’S what the party is looking to know right off the bat, and therefore what the DM needs immediately. This is a great example because it’s easily understood and a terrible example because it IS just one sentence.

Transitioning though, to room seven as an example, yields more fruit. Paragraph one: you see light and here’s a bunch of mechanics. Paragraph two, there are are some big rocks in a circle and here’s some mechanics. Paragraph three, there’s three monsters in the room and here’s some mechanics. The DM needs to read three paragraphs in order to present the room to the party the first time. No. A well written room allow the DM to glance down and in half a second relate the room to the party.

There are a heavenly host of other issues. Treasure is abstracted away, destroying yet more wonder to the game. The history of rooms are in their descriptions sometimes, providing nothing but padding.

Just another adventure by someone who doesn’t know how to write an adventure. I always applaud people’s effort to publish, I just wish they took more time to understand how to do it instead of leaving it to the rest of us to pick up the $2 bag.

This is $2 at DMSGuild. The preview is six pages and shows you the first ten or so rooms. That’s a good preview, doing what a preview should do, letting you know in advance of what you are buying. Check out Floor one and room seven for the examples I provided of misorganized text.

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Dead Planet

By Donn Stroud, FM Geist, Sean McCoy
Tuesday Knight Games

There is a planet that no ship escapes. A place where death calls like a beacon amongst the waves of the living. This is the DEAD PLANET.

This 52 page adventure for spaceman games presents a small series of “one page” dungeons, ala Stonehell, all related to a theme: being trapped in orbit around a certain planet. Colorful and evocative, runnable, with a hefty portion of the writing directed at actual play, it walks the line of performance art without getting too much up its own ass so as to be unrunnable. I often say that sci-fi is my favorite but I don’t know how to run it. I can run this.

Well hell, I don’t know where to start. This thing uses the same format as Stonehell, or The Fall of Whitecliff. There’s a general description of an area, heavy on text, that supplements a “one page dungeon.” The idea is that you read the background text and then you can run that portion of the adventure from the one page. The extra text is inspiration, background, things half-remembered and maybe a back reference for when you are running the one-pager. Stonehell did this in a format that was quite regimented and therefore easy to follow. Whitecliff did this in a more loose format, formatting things depending on the circumstances of the one-pager, social, dungeon, etc. This thing walks to the line of usability/performance art, looks down at, and does a jig on it with its tongue hanging out waggling, eyes all googley, while flipping the world off with both hands. It’s gets about as close as you can to the usability/art line. Garish colors, different fonts, immersive quotes, page backgrounds … it reminds me of Black Sun Deathcrawl or #WeAllLiveOnPunjar in places. But, at its heart, it’s using the Stonehell format. Buying in to that, as I did in my Stonehell & Whitecliff reviews, means accepting the overview text and its relationship to the adventure at the table.

So, your ship gets sucked to this system and can’t jump out. There’s this planet, a moon, and a FUCKTON of derelict ships in orbit. That means there’s a section that describes the nearest derelict ship, a derelict ship generator system, a couple of one pagers about the moon, and a couple of one-pages describing the planet, including a kind of hex crawl.

This seems the correct place to mention a cult of survivors on the moon, cannibals, who ritually cul off parts of themselves for social status to feed the tribe, who also have a giant ship harpoon that shoot at ships to drag them down the moon. So, yeah, that’s kind of tone this thing has.

It does a lot right in terms of presenting information to the DM. Monsters generally lead their descriptions with the most important bits. Here’s a Glow Skull: “Brittle hyaline globes filled with phosphorescent liquid. Inside the globe, an internal skull can be seen moving within the green glow of the liquid.” That’s the first two of three sentences. It’s exactly what you need, as a DM, in order to run them.

SImilarly, the adventure provides the resources the DM needs when and where they need it. On the moon crawl there’s a short section called “how far can you walk?” There’s a timeline next to the section where the party has options on how to proceed. Huts on a plan? There a little table called “I search the bone hut.” How about that cannibal base? There’s a table focused on looting it. There’s a nice NPC summary sheet, with their quirks and goals easily seen, and thus easy for the DM to roleplay them. The emphasis on interactivity with the party, and resources to support that, is quite high. It’s almost like they thought about it and had that in mind when writing/designing/laying it out.

Did I mention the cross-references? Extensive page references exist in this. If it mentions another location, or person, or something then it also puts the page number next to it so you know where to go look for more info. That’s VERY good. In fact, one of the first such sections is “how do we get out of this system?” along with page references to the ways mentioned. Players love using scanners and sensors. The descriptions tell you what they say!

On that point, they don’t REALLY tell you what to say, the text in the sensors section gives you a general overview, allowing the DM to fill in what the characters actually get. Rather than prescriptive, it allows the DM to riff, with all the good that implies.

I like an adventure with some social elements. Hacking things is boring and its much more fun to talk to someone before you cut them down. This has that. Citing, again, the cannibal moonbase, they talk to you and ask you to surrender. Doing so brings a whole fuckton of interaction possibilities on the base. And … FACTION PLAY! That’s right, talking means you find different people with different goals and can support one side versus another and so on. This offers SO much more richer gameplay than just rolling to hit.

It’s open ended, non-linear, and fuck ton of good times.

Which is not to say it’s perfect. Like I said, it fucks with the Art School line a little much. I’m not willing to say it strays over, but it does it enough that I raise an eyebrow and I’m certain its going to be a bit much for some folk.

Likewise not every descriptions is a good one, leading with the most important stuff. Not every monster leads with the description, some rooms lead with a history, and a decent portion of other things are NOT oriented toward actual play. This is generally around the random tables used for treasure and ship generation, but not always.

This is $8 at DriveThru. The preview shows you the first “one page” dungeon, (a derelict ship, the closest one) proper, as well as the derelict ship generator. It may have been better to show the support pages for the dungeon in question, so as to get a better idea of how the various pages and sections work together, instead of half of one section and a general rando table.

The print copy is $15 at:

Oh, and I don’t know how I missed this my entire life [Ed: i do Bryce. You don’t pay the fuck attention.], but there’s this website called that sells print copies of this, and like a hundred other kick ass RPG things. This has GOT to be related to one of those metal-head DCC guys/artists.

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