By Kiera Kaine Pig Faced Games Heroes & Hatchets Level 1-
South of the Grey Mountains lies the sleepy coastal plain of Bridgely Vale. Its ancient roadways, forests and settlements are seldom frequented by travellers these days. Only the harbour town of Bridgely sees much activity, as a transportation hub for the silver mined in prosperous Farely to the north. However, the land holds many secrets: forgotten ruins, hidden caves and lurking ne’er-do-wells. For those with a taste for adventure, it may be closer than first appears…
This 72 page adventure details a small region and six or so dungeons, using about fifty pages for them. The dungeons are not bad, from an interactivity standpoint, and have some interesting NPC’s in them, but the entire text is so busy it’s hard to focus on the rooms at hand.
I’m going to skip over the region and town portion of this. It’s just fairly generic fantasy trope stuff, with too much information on the NPC’s and businesses. There are exceptions to this, including a guy who “proudly sells his Gastronic Neuronic Tonic for 10 silver. It is bright green and glows in the dark. He won’t reveal any ingredients, only that they are ‘natural’.” That’s a decent little NPC’ tidbit. And, that’s par for the NPC’s found in the dungeons. They are usually interesting in some way or another and facilitate dialog well, with negotiation being possible here and there. I’m down for that. They are usually too wordy, but, then again, the entire thing is too wordy.
The product has “adventures” and “dungeons.” The adventures are pretty poor. The first involves killing a dog. That’s exciting, eh? Oh, wait, no, you can’t kill it, or you don’t get the reward. It’s fucking posossed, man! There’s also a little fight on a derelict ship that’s got some bogus rules like “if you fail your dex check by 5 you crash through to a lower deck/into the ocean. That’s a lot of fail for a routine check! Anyway, there are three or four little adventures that are all pretty poor. At one point you have to search a forest for a druid, and the DM is told they won’t find the druid unless they take pity on them. Hmmm … I see issues there.
This is the major problem with the first part of the product. It’s uselessly padded out. “Izzi’s real name is Jemma. She is an orphan and despite being regularly teased about her timid and somewhat dreamy nature, she is a hard worker and treated kindly by the patrons. She secretly dreams of better things and is intelligent but entirely uneducated.” Great. Nothing of use in that description. “Sylvia agrees to help in any way she can, although she is tired and upset and won’t fight” … so, she doesn’t actually help? In a section on captured bandits you are trying to get information from: “The constabulary, sheriff or magistrate will not stand for any form of torture” Fire & torture man. Fire & torture. Actuallly, I’m being a little unfair on that last one. The captured bandits are decent, pleading to lesser crimes, or they were just camping out, etc. Maybe they could use a brief personality, each, but otherwise it’s not bad.
The dungeon are a different matter. The maps are done in some colorful cartography tool and, while they show terrain and light (yeah!) they are pretty busy overall. This makes grokking them a little hard. And, there’s no grid, so get out your tape measure.
The interactivity in them, though, is far far better than the adventures. Almost as if there were separate authors. There’s shit to talk to (a decent amount, actually) and maybe barter with or negotiate with. There’s statues to fuck with, fungi to eat, and so on. And some terrain features, like ledges and logs to cross over chasms on. It’s a decent amount of variety. The maps are a little small, maybe ten rooms to a level, which limits things more than a little. Somehow strung together though it would be a decent little dungeon.
There’s a small read-aloud for each room. They can sometimes get just to the edge of being too long, but never fully go there, which is a good thing. The read-aloud is more than a little boring, using “dirty cage” and “small bell” for example. Actually, here’s the full read-aloud for that room: “Fixed to the wall opposite the door is a large fountain, artfully carved to look like a seashell with the figure of a mermaid spewing clear water into a basin. A jumbled assortment of supplies are stored here. A dirty cage sits in one corner, inside of which hangs a small bell.” That’s not the worlds worst read-aloud. You can see that the designer is trying to do a good job. It doesn’t get purple, and is focused, generally, on the interactive elements the party would want to mess with. Which is what it should do. There’s a miss or two that stand out in the text, like not mentioning skeletons in alcoves in a crypt room, but the overall content is not bad. I can take quite a bit of exception with the evocative nature of the writing though. It just doesn’t grab you. It comes across, I think, as more of a mechanical effort in writing. On the one hand, I don’t want to knock that, You SHOULD work your descriptions alot. And the evocative writing element is, I think, one of the hardest parts of putting an adventure down on paper. The ability to transmit a vision is a hard thing to master. And yet, it’s 2022 and there’s A LOT of adventure competition out there; workmanlike content is only going to get you so far.
The worst part is the rooms, proper, and specifically the DM text. It’s pretty common for a room to take up a full column of text. Some of this is from a stat block format that lists creature abilities out in a 3e/4e like format, with full text. That takes a lot of space and I can’t imagine digging through that in the middle of a combat. But, also, the DM text proper is long and … meandering?
One of the shorter rooms DM text reads “The room is home to two devil mice. The kobolds
have been trying to tame them to be guard animals, with little success so far (their current feast is the last kobold trainer). The tapestry either confirms what the characters already know of the surrounding area or it could contain some clues to further adventures as the GM sees fit, especially since it was made many years ago.” We’ll ignore the “DM fill in the details portion; that’s just bad. But note how the feasting devil mice are referred to. It’s almost an aside, and buried in the text. With some embedded background. Better something like “two wire-haired coal black vermin with glowing crimson eyes rip and tear and a bloody body” or some such. (I just did that on the fly, don’t be mean to me.) That gets you what you want, some detail on the monster and what they are doing in a manner that communicates the scene. As written it’s almost clinical; a travelog. And not a very exciting one.
This happens in every room in the adventure. Far, far, far too much text and written in this sort of oblique way that makes it hard to reference during play. It needs to be trimmed. It needs to be worked. You want a direct writing style. A trend towards terseness. Only the information that’s relevant to the adventure at hand. None of this “was once” shit that permeates the text.
Work that fucking text until you are fucking sick of it and never want to see it again. And then work it some more!
You could suffer through this, I guess, for the content. It’s not altogether bad content, the dungeons proper anyway. But why? There are better choices.
This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is a poor one, only showing you four pages and only general regional fantasy garbage trope stuff. We need to see some rooms, some parts of the adventures, to make an informed buying decision.