The Ruins of Quinstead

By Roland O’Connell
Gamer's Group Publications
Levels 1-12

Gordax “The Terrible” is gone but, the ruins of his cursed castle remain. The last band of adventurers to enter the ruins met a horrible fate. Can you discover the truth of the ruins? Can you discover the treasure of Gordax?

This 46 page adventure, from … 1989? Features 76 rooms in a three level dungeon. You got nostalgia for older adventures? This will cure it. Almost exclusively stabbin with interactivity essentially “find the blue key” spread out in padded text. 

Well, back in 89 SOMEONE didn’t like T$R very much! According to the adventure intro “As an avid supporter of the fantasy role playing games, I became discouraged by the lack of quality in the modules I was purchasing.” Ha! So dude went all Role Aids and did a whole “Zealots and damage points” reskin of AD&D and published this thing. A glorious mess of a thing, with the emphasis on mess rather than glorious. I salute you, Roland O’Connell, for bringing your vision to life and publishing! A fine example of Direct Action! If you want better D&D adventures then write a good D&D adventure! But, also, sometimes you want to go to a doctor who graduated from a real medical school …

“Can you discover the treasure of Gordaz?” I swear to fucking god, if its friendship or his wifes love or some ass I’m gonna loose my shit. Ok, so, Gordax the barbituate needs some help killing shit and summons Garznik the demon then fucks him over. Garznik kills his wife so Gordax kills himself, but wishes beforehand so he can come back to life and kill Garznik. That leaves us with a three level castle dungeon to explore. With “an arena where the servants of good are forced to do battle” Jesus H Christ. What is it with tests and arenas? Is this another one of those bs fantasy novel series from the 70’s that I ignored while reading Gerrold? Anyway … away we go! And no, I will not be bitching about the single column text or the weird room summary is not boxed by the DM text is boxed oh and also lets include space for notes. We’re just gonna assume everything before today is formatted terribly and everything after today is a paragon of formatting for ease of use and comprehension. 

I will be complaining about the interactivity and writing. It is written casually with little focus. Some rooms get the victorian list of pantry contents. Others are full of “appears to be”. Appears to be a barracks. Appears the rooms hasn’t been entered in a long time. Just padding, with little notion how it plays out. And, backstory. “The pillars are a special type of guardian created for Gordax by the mage Septor. Their purpose here is not to keep creatures out, but rather to keep creatures in” Great. No purpose at all in the adventure though. And it’s all mixed in in a kind of conversational way “As the party enters this room they will notice that it is inhabited by several small humanoid creatures.” Just a lack of focus. A room that is all burnt up has a great detail that the party smells smoke when they approach … but then all we get is that the room has been gutted by flames long ago. Nothing more. An opportunity lost to really hammer home a vibe. And that goes for most of the descriptions. The room environments are just not present or only in a perfunctory This Is Whats In The Room way. Which was the style at the time.

“As the party traverses this hallway, they notice four bodies laying on the floor of a room ahead.”or “As the party cautiously advances they find themselves standing at the entrance of a room.”

Interactivity is mostly confined to combat. Like 95% confined to combat. A few traps (deadly as all fuck) and a hole lot of Find The Blue Key To Open The Blue Door. Or, maybe, Find the Blue, Red, Yellow, Orange, Magenta, Fuschia, Mustard, White, Bone White, and Antique White key to open the Blue door. One side effect of this is the map. While the map has some interesting features on it, it doesn’t really serve as a exploratory map because of the key thing. The party is going to have to pretty much systematically explore the dungeon to gather all of the keys. And if you have to go somewhere then its much the same as a linear dungeon: you have to go there. A little better, sure, but the outcome is the same.

And the dungeon is weird. The first level is pretty humanoid centric and pretty open to low level play. But, notice the adventure goes to level 12? The lower two levels get pretty damn fucking tough. Some nice themed areas to go with it, like an undead zone and so on, but still pretty fucking rough. This makes it almost megadungeon like. (I’m thinking of my own megadungeon world, Dungeonworld, where all of the  megadungeons exist close-ish to each other.) You’re gonna explore the first level of this dungeon and then go do other things and then come back to the second level when you can and so on. There’s no explicit notice of this anywhere, but there’s no other way to tackle something like this. Which is fine, but a little support in this area, or being upfront with it as a campaign centerpiece, would have been nice.

I’m really down, though, on the lack of interactivity and exploratory elements. I don’t know what to think here. I guess I should mention one of my favorite features, which appears right in the beginning: “ About five feet inside the room lie the dead bodies. Hanging from the ceiling are three wooden bird cages with large crows in them.” That’s their alarm system, some crows in cages. Pretty sweet. Exactly the kind of naturalism I like in my dungeons. But, otherwise? An interesting footnote in history, I guess, much like Vampire Queen.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is nine pages. You get to see several rooms on the first level. While the rooms get a bit more complex the deeper you go, I think they are pretty representative of the style of the adventure. So, good preview!

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 3 Comments

The Tower of Sovergauth

By DiegoZap and AndreaZap
Levels 4-7

Only recovering the ancient crown of the lands of Stakbourg will allow the legitimate heir to return to the throne: will the adventurers be able to steal the crown from the dark lord of shadows who has taken possession of it in his tower?

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This 66 page adventure features a dungeon with about 45 rooms. Rigged combat after rigged combat. A mass of text rarely seen in the world today. The intentionality in the face of wisdom is mind boggling.

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I come to you this morning a broken man. Once, full of delight and wonder at the world around me. Reveling in the joys of existence and all it contains. Now, an empty husk. A shell, contemplating the futility to our existence and the lack of meaning in the eternal march towards entropy.Pages of read-aloud. A first person narrative. Creatures that attack immediately upon entry … in the read-aloud. A near total emphasis on combat in a mostly linear dungeon. I shall let the adventure speak …

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“All DungeonisM Labs modules have a dual artistic channel available: black and white illustrations with a nineties style and the new avant-garde minimalist fantasy style of Dungeonism.”

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“Wandering monsters have been omitted as the creatures that inhabit the tower and dungeon are mostly charmed or trained to protect an area, or to have no choice in their actions due to the way the rooms are designed or how escape routes are structured.”

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“The creatures of the tower are also enchanted to resist hunger and have no desire to leave the dungeon due to the magic of Sovergauth: because of this all monsters radiate magic if it is detected through spells.”

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“When a weight exceeding 90 kg is exerted on one of the wooden protrusions the wooden beam must make a saving throw of 10 or more on a 20 dice with a penalty of -1 applied for every 5 kg more: for example if a warrior which weighs 100 kg with his equipment is on the beam the saving throw for it will be 12 or more on 1d20. Note that if a 70 kg warrior stands on one of the beams and tries to pull up a halfing, for example that weighs 30 kg, the weight exerted will actually be 100 kg. If one of the beams fails the saving throw it collapses, falling with everything on it and inflicting 1d6 hit points for every 3 meters of cumulative fall [text continues for  what seems like almost a page more]”

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“A pang of unease passes through you when the self-propelled and frenetic pupil of one of those gestation cockpits freezes in your direction and without further movement, stares at you”

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“As you make your way through the window two squat humanoids burst out of the darkness lunging at you”

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“Immediately, part of the rock wall suddenly moves, forming a gigantic fist-shaped protuberance that crashes with all its force against the character! “

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“30. Orcs lair. Each orc in this area is armed with a long sword and a short bow with 24 arrows in a large quiver, all have Thac0 19 and are of Chaotic (Chaotic Evil) alignment. The armor class and hit points of each orc are detailed below. All orcs are evilly trained and move 30 feet each round. This is a key area for the defense of the dungeon, and due to the strategic placement of the cracks, the orcs are never caught by surprise by a visible enemy. Thanks to the sound emitted by the mushroom mass, they are also not surprised at all. Orcs cannot use shields while shooting arrows, characters attacking from room 29 suffer a -10 penalty to hit orcs due to the 90% cover granted by the loopholes.”

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I truly cannot accurately relate to you the depth of the issues here. As if every bad design choice in history was followed through on. The MASSIVE read-aloud. The first person narrative. The monsters that attack immediately. Explaining the simplest concepts ad-nauseum. Massive backstory text in the descriptions. 

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This is $4 at DriveThru.There’s no preview. Suckaaaa!

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Is this the kind of work you’d like to do?

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 12 Comments

Castle Brookmere

By Roderic Waibel
Izegrim Creations
Level 2

Rediscover a classic story, converted to an adventure for your enjoyment! Castle Brookmere converts the old Return To Brookmere book into a playable adventure with added areas to truly flesh out an adventure.

This 22 page adventure fleshes out the Endless Quest book with a total of 35 rooms (in eight pages) on a dungeon level as well as a token wilderness area. It’s got that non-traditional whimsy that comes from an outsider to the hobby. And it’s descriptions are abstracted to a degree that makes it relatively useless. 

Yes, it’s based on the Endless Quest book. And it’s got a little three or so page description in the front of the process and history of them, as well as quite the long section, a life history of sorts, of Rose Estes, the author of the original books. If you were SUPER in to these books then that might be worth it. For most of us though it’s not gonna be worth the $5 to just read that section.

I don’t remember much, if anything, from the Endless Quest book. There is, though, a sense of whimsy, but dangerous, and a non-traditional approach to the fantasy in this. And I assume a lot of that comes from the original book. A doorway to nowhere that turns you in to a kind of firefly trapped within? Absolutely, that’s the kind of thing you don’t typically see. And the ever popular giant crystal in front of a wizard that then crumbles? Yup! It’s these points in the adventure, when we encounter things not out of Tolkein or the last forty years of D&D, in which the wonder and delight of the game, fresh and new, shine through again. No de-rigueur. THe gnoll who hates killing and two guards passing out drunk. Ogre twins, and the ending with Fang the wererat. These all feel wonderful … is a little scripted when talking about Fang. And they certainly bring to the forefront the situation … and ol Brycey Bryce LOVES a situation in his adventure. And loves an adventure full of situations. If only there were mof this in the adventure. 

How’s this for whimsy and wonder? “The regional leader has hired the PCs to scout the castle” Hmmm. no. This is abstracted detail. That’s not good.Or, a hook about a reclusive hermit. That’s not much to go on. We want the designer to fill in just enough details to inspire the DM, to bring the thing to life in their head enough that the DMS head fills in the details and it springboards them to other things and it all comes pouring out in a wonderful encounter for the party. Instead we get “a regional leader.” Wonderful.

Likewise, we’re told that “It is recommended that you start the part in a small town or village just off the map” Now, I would been ok, I think, f that had never been mentioned. I wouldn’t have cared at all about a town or village. But once you put it in, and especially once you tell me that its RECOMMENDED that I do it, then the obligation balance falls to you, the designer, to give them three sentences on it. 

The map had one loop and is otherwise linear. The overland journey is … weird? There’s not really a path in, or any seeming rhyme or reason to the locations of the encounters. But, there is a cave with 50 goblins in it? Err, five caves. Anyway. It’s just a forest map with the castle ni the middle and a few other encounters scattered around haphazardly. I really don’t get how this is supposed to be an overland adventure. I guess I might describe it as a hex crawl (with the same sized map) at level two, with a wandering table that doesn’t support that scope, and encounter locations you’ll never find that all have an overwhelming number of enemies in them? It’s fucking weird.

The writing is subpar. “The winding tunnel opens up to a cavern where dozens of varying types of fungi appear to be cultivated in some version of a mushroom farm. Oribius used this area to grow alchemical components for his experiments. One of the dozen types of fungi is deadly poisonous. The creature must succeed on a Saving Throw vs. Poison if ingested or die.”The classic appears to be. And another with the classic if/then statements. We see exclamations and backstory embedded in the description. A description that, at its core, is rather boring. It’s almost, again, like this is cliff notes version of the adventure. Or the script guide version. A placeholder for future expansion. “Yo, put a mushroom garden here.” And entry after entry in this adventure falls in to that pattern of weird abstraction … and yet wordy at the same time. There’s a lack of focus on the intent and purpose of a room, for literally and figuratively in the sense of the role that the room description has during the running of an adventure. 

I don’t know. I like the firefly doorway a whole lot. Even if it a save or die … with no save allowed. But so much of the rest is just devoid of any life, even given the potential of the various situations presented. Bleech.

This is $5 at DriveThru.The preview is six pages. You get to see the overland map. A  very poor preview to help you determine if you want to buy it or not. But, also, you get to read all of that Endless Quest author background detail I mentioned earlier!

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 4 Comments

Kazad Mor

By Taylor Seely-Wright
Self Published
Level ... 1?

Crawlers delve into the cursed, abandoned halls of the dwarves. They delve for gold, glory, and magic. They delve to find the truth of the fortress and its abandonment.

The product page on DriveThru has a kicking map; go check it out before looking at the review! It’s what lured me in!

This 24 page adventure presents a Moria of about fortyish rooms. Nice map, some decent ideas. But it lacks life in it’s descriptions and the interactivity is a little CRPG “fetch the blue key.” More than a little. A nice try. 

A return to Narnia. Err, Moria. Err, Kazad Mor. These things never work out. Nothing ever captures the scale of Moria. Plus, stoic dwarf rooms are boring. As are elfhomes, for that matter. Nothing compares to the epics of men. Anyway, you’ve got the ancient dwarf blah blah blah of Kazad Mor It’s got loot. It’s got a cursed thingy in it. Let’s head the fuck in and fuck some shit up, yeah?!

Our first room is the entrance. “1a: Ruined Bridge. Collapsed bridge over magma.” starts the description, telling us of collapsed supports and signs of blast marks. It goes on with another sentence, telling us that we enter through a carven dwarf mouth. (This is all in a terse, almost OSE format, but more on that later.) But what we have here is a very fact based description. There is a collapsed bridge over magma. We don’t get the heat, or the eerie red glow. There  is no looming darkness from the other side of the carven mouth. Churning, flowing, bubbling? Yes, you can absolutely write that you have a collapsed bridge over magma, but if you can write four more words to bring in the VIBE of that scene then you’ve gone above and beyond in bringing the encounter area to life. That’s the challenge of being an adventure writer. And, also, the hardest part, I think.The entire dungeon is like this. A terse but not evocative description of the room that relies mostly on facts rather than feelings. And that’s not an effective way to convey whats going on. Sure, you need to include facts at some point, but you want the DM to really understand the mood of the room at a very primitive level. Collapsed bridge over magma isn’t a bad description. But it is also not a good one. 

Which is interesting, because I’d guess that, oh, half of the monster descriptions in this adventure are pretty decent. Pulling four at random: A squat, sawtoothed humanoid with one red eye. A gruesome specter with unfinished business A black light, darker than darkness with a horrifying face in its heart. Grotesque melding of dwarves in a hulking mass of madness. I can criticize the spectre description, and i don’t think Gruesome or Grotesque are descriptions, but rather conclusions. But the rest isn’t that bad. Squat, sawtooth, red eye. And the black light thing is an interesting description as well. When monster descriptions focus on appearance (or, maybe, vibe? If they make you feel chill or something?) then the description is doing well. You want one that matters to the players. The ones that focus on ecology suck donkey balls. This isn’t the monster manual. I’m running a fucking game here and the players want to know what they see and I want them shitting their pants because of what they see. The monster description needs to help do that. We do, though, get a page of monster stats, I think fourteen stat blocks on a page. Not bad! 

And the interior sometimes has some very interesting encounters in them. You can meet you a ghost with unfinished business … who might possess you for eight hours before departing, leaving you with knowledge. That’s fun! And, Jesus, one of the wandering entries is a horde of 100 living corpses in a great moaning hoard, arriving from one direction. Can you imagine? As a wanderer? I love that sort of environmental hazard. Usually it’s like a robot sentry or something, but a horde of living corpses just hits differently. Speaking of the wanderer table, you can also get things like this on the OMENS table: “1d6 frozen dwarf corpses wearing stone masks emblazoned with an eye. These dwarves are standing in a semicircle facing the door” Gah! That’s gonna FREAK. THE. PARTY. OUT! And that’s what shit like this should do, after all. Those are some nice entries. But, also, a lot of the interactivity is the traditional stabbing and more than a few “go find the blue key for me” sorts of things, except you need to put ghosts to rest by watering plants or arranging a feast or something. Fetch quests, especially these basic ones, are not really the height of interactivity. And, other than traps, that’s about it. It’s an attempt, I think, to introduce situations in to the adventure, which I can appreciate, but I don’t think that’s the depth I’m looking for in things to do other than stabbin. We do, however, get some zones of play, from the Hag zone to the Zombie zone and the great hall and so on. That’s quite well done.

I need to bitch a bit about formatting and layout. That map is what drew me in, it’s great,  but, also, the numbers tend to the illegible. That’s not cool. Especially “1e”, which took me about five minutes to figure out. Doors are also almost hidden. The number one function is use at the table, and so I have to be able to read it. You know where this is going, don’t you, The Designer? There are two versions of this adventure,a print and a printer friendly. The print version is an atrocity. White text on black backgrounds, yellow text, lots of italics in funky hard to read fonts. And a shading system that DEemphasizes the main rooms and emphasizes the notes. Both versions use icons in the text to note traps and monsters, which I think causes more confusion in this text, in the way its implemented. You know, you might find a middle ground where the print version is STILL nice to look at and yet is actually possible to use easily at the table without stabbing your fucking eyes out? 

I would note, also, a tendency of the formatting to place emphasis where it should not be. We get, in a room or two, notes about the distance, like a fetid wind blows from the north or the south hallway is glazed with webs. That’s great. But in other places there’s this weird order to the text that I can’t figure out. I’m a strong believer in, generally, putting the most obvious things first in a description or list of bullets. But, in a room with a crack in the wall that is glowing red, should we bury that in the text? Maybe stick it up front? Or, in the finale room. It’s got a stone tablet in it covered with shifting text and an eye diagram thing floating around on it. Cool? Eventually we learn that it’s as big as a barn. Oh. Hey. Need the info. This isn’t exactly OSE format, it’s got more words than that, but in both cases I think the same comment applies: it can be good if you really work the descriptions hard. And if you don’t and don’t really understand how to use them then you can get something worse than text description. I’m not saying that this is a full on disaster, but it definitely causes some disjointed moments again and again. 

DId I mention that, at a minimum, room 39 on the map isn’t mentioned in the text? Well, I think it might be there, but there is no “Room 39” label, just a room description where I think it should be. Hrumpf. Shit happens. Life will go on. 

I could go on. There’s a lot to talk about here. Mostly because the designer actually tried. It’s almost there man, a great first draft.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is thirteen pages and shows you every keyed entry. Great preview! But also it’s the print version, so you’re gonna have to look past that and spy the actual entries to get an idea of the formatting and fact based descriptions and weird orders of things.

Posted in Reviews | 27 Comments

Grackle’s Vale

By Randy Musseau
Roan Studio
Levels 3-5

The otherwise peaceful village of Grackle’s Vale has been terrorized of late by a creature that has taken up lair in the nearby ruins of Reeker’s Keep. It is a Boarman, a foul lycanthrope said to haunt dark forests and murky mires, feared for its savagery and accursed tusks. At least a dozen people have gone missing after attempting to track the beast, the most recent being a Ranger of some renown. A reward of 1000 gold pieces has been offered to anyone willing to help free the community from the Boarman’s bloodlust.

This 24 page adventure uses about ten pages to describe … thirty encounter locations in a small valley and dungeon. It’s verbose, boring, not formatted to any particular manner, and has little to no treasure, as compared to the needs of a party of three to fives. “Worldbuilding” at the expense of adventure.

This is in two parts. The first part is the village of Grackle’s Vale. It’s a fishing village on a coastline. The Barons men don’t get involved in the villages affairs. The adventure spends ten or so pages describing the village, but, “fishing village” gets you 95% of the information contained in this part of the adventure. Many many MANY words are spent describing the village.Which is just a fishing village. There is absolutely nothing special or interesting about it. I don’t care the the chick that runs the local bakery lost her husband at sea  awhile back. That does nothing for me. How does that create adventure? How does that create interactivity? How does that inspire the DM to something to do in the game? Instead of a couple or three paragraphs describing her and her bakery I might instead say that she grins too wide, is kind of slow, and makes a show of putting in her SECRET INGREDIENT to her special buns. I have now done more for this adventure, in one sentence, than the ten pages of the village description ever did. Jesus christ people, I don’t need yet another description of a smith or tavern. Give me something that I can run with the fucking party. It doesn’t have to be a fucking evil cult, just make it something that is gonna be fun or interesting at the table. Compelling. Conceptually dense. Not yet another description of the shopkeep having blue eyes. That only works if everyone else in the village has black eyes or blue eyes mean you’re divine or the devil or some shit. “Dogs are commonly used for work and as guard animals. The lower valley is quite fertile and harvests have been abundant”.I loathe these fuckign descriptions. Someone spent time and effort on each and every one of those descriptions. They wasted their energy and creative juices on page after page after paragraph of boring ass mundane descriptions instead of using it on compelling and dense content. I’m sure, though, that the actual adventure will be better? 

Well, no. Part two is a trip up a little rift valley. Seems there’s a boarman up there and you’re being offered a thousand gold to go get him. A thousand gold! Oh my! What ever shall we do with all that cash?! Anyway, lack of compelling hook otherwise, up the rift valley you go. You have thirteen encounters, all in a row since it’s a rift valley. At one point you probably take some tunnels up so you don’t have to climb a waterfall. That’s another fifteen or so linear encounters. Then you find a ruined tower and fight Yet Another Wereboar (that’s the fourth or fifth in this adventure, I think) and the adventure is then over. Yeah you!

Slog ye through … and encounter with a wereboar and his overly described cabin! Slog ye through … two ogres and a bear in a bear trap! Slog ye through … some zombies! SLog ye through … combat after combat. Maybe a spike trap here and there. Toss in a hobgoblin and some redcap and a couple of shadows and you’ve got yourself an adventure. The adventure up the waterfall, which is the closest thing to being interesting, had the potential of feeling like the Fellowships slog through Moria. Dark hallways and chambers. Echoes in the distance. An enemy unseen. Natural hazards and stumbling upon crypts. Instead it comes off as Just Another Room. A large dark chamber. A small cavern. A 30×20 room that serves as the quarters of the redcaps. These are the actual starts of room descriptions. And they don’t get better. Instead going on for sentence after sentence, expanding upon nothing interesting, backstory, meaningless things, instead of concentrating on an actual interesting encounter. 

Theres a throwaway sentence about one of the guardsmen in town being infected and the loyalty of his fellow guardsmen. That’s the only thing remotely interesting. That could have been expanded with another sentence and turned in to something really good. A kind of Dawn of the Dead (remake) and the tenseness of a transform vs the love and loyalty of your fellows. Real human shit. But, hey, why not tell us who has blue eyes and who has brown instead.

“The journey will take two days (unless magic is used.) Yes, wel, thats understood in all contexts, correct? And the treasure here is subpar. The magic items might be books, but are about the right amount, I think., The mundane, gold-xp treasure, though, seems far too little. 

And the maps all seem backward. They are kind of isometric.Not really, but drawn to give perspective. And the focus, then, is confused. The waterfall tunnel map seems backwards from the keying, as does the town map. As if one were drawn North to south and one was drawn south to north. You can figure it out, but it takes a minute (or ten) to figure out what you are actually looking at and how it fits with everything else. Not really a bitch, but, an interesting observation. I don’t know I’ve encountered this kind of map dissonance before.

Anyway, A combat slog with WAY too many words, little to not formatting to help the DM through them, little to no interactivity beyond combat, too little treasure, and nothing really interesting going on. I get what the designer wanted to do, but the whole thing feels wrong. And the lcimax, with the boarman, has a Lareth the Beautiful thing going on.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. You get to see part of the town. It would have been better to show a page of the dungeon as well, or at least the wilderness encounters.

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

Parlour Tricks

By Daniel Herz
Stromberg Press
Levels 1-3

Zolberg the magician runs a small discreet tavern called The Silver Globe. With the use of a magic item, he charms the unfortunate patrons to stay and suffer through his magic show, day after day.

This four page adventure describes a tavern with nine rooms. More location than adventure, it has no idea how to do what it wants to do: be an adventure.

Zolberg runs a mundane magic  show at a little tavern he owns. It’s a really bad show. But it feeds his ego. So uses a Gem Of Control to poison the ale. It forces people to stay and enjoy the show. When he’s done with them he kills them and put them to rot and be eaten by a green slime in his basement. He’s got a couple of thugs in the bar, also, to keep order. That’s the adventure. That’s all of the adventure. There are not events. It’s just a nine room room/key. The party drinks the ale and stays in the bar, watching the show, or they don’t and, presumably, do something about the show. It has exactly one interesting thing in it: there’s a red disco ball over the stage … a red herring for the party. 

The bar has nine or so NPC’s in it. One of them, the miller, has the following description: “The miller. His wife believes him to have abandoned the family but his son doesn’t believe it.” None of that is from the millers perspective. It’s what people OUTSIDE the tavern think. It’s not gonna have any outcome on the adventure. Maybe you can riff on it. But, the other descriptions for the NPCs are generally as weak as this. 

The entire adventure centers on this gem of control in an ale keg. It turns the ale in to potions of human control. Like, 192 doses a day of human control! This is an absurd magic item to put in the parties control. Further, the description of the potion, that it lasts two hours, as given in the appendix to the adventure, kind of contradicts the adventure plot as a whole … what happens when it wears off? It doesn’t make sense. Or, even better … the only actual mention of kegs in the adventure is in the kitchen. Mixed in to its description It says “A collection of large beer kegs sits in the southern corner.” That’s it. The main focal point, the gem and the ale, is not even really mentioned in the adventure!

The magic show? The one that runs three times a night? Another focus of the adventure? He does popular tricks like pulling a rabbit from a hat or sawing a lady in half. I think it’s a one sentence description and nothing more. There’s no interactivity here. There’s nothing for a DM to riff off of.

This thing is a fucking mess. I wouldn’t even call it an adventure. It’s the description of a tavern with a magic show. It’s like you took one location, a tavern, in one city supplement, and then took one NPC from that tavern and tried to expand the entire thing in to one adventure. I can’t possibly see how this thing could last more than … ninety minutes? At best?

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $1.

That was short. Bleech.

There’s a one pager on DriveThru called Frans Cave. Here’s the description for room three: “Lower Chamber: The north entrance to the cave leads to a large chamber that slightly descends into the earth. It’s cold and wet, yet due to its large size there’s not a lot trouble moving around. There’s various candles lighting the chamber (and the rest of the cave).

Terrible description. Mostly filler. If we trim the filler we get to Cold & wet with various lit candles. I’d work that concept and try to make it more evocative.

Bonus #2!

The Heart of St Bathus (OSE) by Frog God. No page count listed in the DriveThru description. Also, NO ACTUAL DESCRIPTION in the DriveThru description. A new low from the Frogs? They do not give a fuck and only want your money.

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The Blue Lotus

By Sylathar
Xal Sylath
Level 2

If you’re a novice GM: everything will be OK. Its all simple. You’re not supposed to be Kurt Vonnegut , Hermann Melville or Stephen King. Its a social game and the players are responsible for their fun. “What if everything goes wrong?” Consider the movie “the big Lebowski”…every character in it, has a plan that fails eventually yet the ending is satisfactory to say the least.

This ten page adventure features five scenes, the last of which is a dungeon with ten rooms. It answers the age old question: what if a D&D adventure was written by a smug & condescending asshat. A collection of ideas, mostly, by someone who likes to hear themselves talk and thinks they are the cleverest person on earth.

People who use the phrase “the players are responsible for their own fun” are usually asshats, in my experience. Sure, that’s true, but, it’s usually meant to justify something the speaker has done, or more frequently, not done. It’s more that you don’t have to spoon feed the players, not that you don’t have to try. 

There is a page of this sage game advice right up front. And, the, after the first scene, which lasts half a page, there is ANOTHER half page of this asshattery. Condescending and patronizing. “Your zen moment: the guys at lake Geneva and the Twin Cities, managed to create out of war games and ‘make believe’ – a form of game and quality more associated with Art. Its much more abstract than it appears to …” … sorry, threw up in my mouth a little. Hang on … speaking of game commentary “… nitpicking on mechanical differences and taste is usually regarded as an attempt to educate other people about their logic. Don’t go there often. It can be, at times, a subliminal cesspool of passionate chaos.” And, yet, you just vomited up a page of this shit, kettle. Shall we continue? After the intro we get the following: “What’s written above is the framework. The cliche. The basic story told in kindergartens all across the world. Its something known and the Ether around it is the actual adventure. We might find out Aibon turned into a nazi/cannibal or a unicorn dancing in the meadows – but the goal remains the same” And I’m supposed to take this seriously? There’s a footnote on the page: “*for those too young to know who the hell was Dennis Hopper – watch blue velvet/apocalypse now or enjoy this link:[youtube link]” Why, in the name of all that is unholy, would anyone every listen to anyone this condescending? I ask myself this, and, yet, there are fuckwits who think that Taylor Swift is some kind of pentagon agent. Anyway, dude who write this adventure is a condescending ass and the adventure is full of it.

And, he likes the sound of his own voice and thinks he is the most clever person in the room “Here be the gang of Vorjas the cruel (since he’s a gnoll – no point calling him Vorjas the babyface is it?!)” And we have to listen to these little quips spaced VERY frequently throughout the text. And this is what I’ve selected as a hobby. 

Ok, so, five scenes, the last of which is a ten person dungeon. The scene framing is mostly garbage. Scene one is your hook and one of the scenes is the wilderness journey, so, more of a typical adventure structure but  with the added asshattery of calling them scenes.  Rich merchant dude has a sone. He’s gone to look for the Blue Lotus, which can cure his wife’s illness. But, since then, his wife got better. He’s portrayed as nouveau riche, and slightly racist. “I’m thrilled to know dwarves use forks …” It’s not bad. It appears as a confused mass of text that has too many shit fucking quips and condescention in it, but also, not bad. Dude has his interview with you in the garden, cause he doesn’t trust you in the house. If you bluff or sneak in to it then the following is provided as some ideas for the DM: 1: flirting with his daughter/younger

son/trophy wife (they’re all over 18 ok?!), 2: Finding a pentagram made of flour at the kitchen and a weird mute cook. 3: Get bitten by the pet greyhounds (1 HP damage).4: Offered to buy for a fraction of the actual price – some jewelry from a thieving servant. 5: Find Ariana smiling for nothing, all dosed on sedatives and a doctor explains she’s hysteric

Man, that’s pretty good shit. In another scene, at a farmhouse, you meet the farmers kid, maybe. He’s lost his mom a couple of years ago. He’s made friends with a fey who visits at night. Kid in trouble for stealing milk and cookies. The party might overhear the kid and the fey: “The kid will pour his heart out to the fey (“I miss mommy so much…” – “she’s dead kiddo…just remember her in your heart…now the cookies”)” Both the compassion and the greed! Noice! And, then, if the party attacks the fey: “The kid will run to his rescue with a small switchblade and his father will stand by the kid of course” A fucking switchblade! 

I note a couple of commonalities in these. First is the emphasis on situations. You’ll note this in the merchants home, in particular. And, then, the reliability of the situations. The kids father, of course, siding with him. Even pulling a switchblade. Not a dagger. This is a place that has been imagined, without respect to the rules. And that’s how to create an adventure.

The forest part of the adventure has the advice “let them wander around a bit,” Which, as always, is terrible advice. Not for 5e or some such, but not in an OSR game. 

The descriptions, when not referring to situations, are middling. Better than average but still not the quality I’d like to see. From the final room in the dungeon: “Description: A rock filled cave. Dank and full of dirt. Suffocating aroma. Blue mushrooms give a pale light. All is miserably worthless…yet there beneath the rocks stands the blue lotus…Royale blue.”Dank, dark, dirt, suffocating. Not bad. Needs some polish but not bad. The encounters, though, are really just combats or empty rooms. The situations, so strong in the rest of the adventure, are no where to be seen here. 

It’s all a muddled mess. Just a bunch of ideas thrown down on paper, for most of the adventure, without thought to formatting. No real structure. The ideas not expanded upon at all. Just a lot of “wing it” advice. Which, is great if you are a DM … but, we’re not paying for a designer to tell us to wing it. We’re paying for design. Without the pretentious condescension. 

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $3.

Bonus Review – Sisyphus Dice Game

Who doesn’t love Sisyphus?! Since the death of God we’ve only him and his eternal struggle to comfort us. Roll a die . 1-2 you go up the hill a little. 3-4 you stay in place. 5-6 you roll to the bottom again. We deserve better than this. But this i s all we’ll get.  This kind of shit used to be on blogs and now it’s for sale?!

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 6 Comments

The Crimson Monastery

Sebastian Grabne
Dawnfist Games
Adventurous RPG

The adventure takes place in the Shaded Valley, where the village of Lakeview is located. The Crimson Crusade is a fanatical religious order that have recently arrived in the valley, and made an old monastery their home. At first they kept to themselves, but about a month ago they started to violently interrogate the locals, suspecting them all to be undead in disguise. Which is of course false.

While looking through things to review I came across a lot of “trouble in my community” shit. Ala Yor First Gamma World adventure. What is it with my community? Next thing you know my mom is gonna get kidnapped/murdered off screen, as an inciting incident. Pfft. Anyway, this one don’t do that, which is why I’m reviewing this one …

This 32 page adventure presents, in eleven pages, a small region with a few things going on. It’s got some good ideas  but fails to execute any of them with enough life to make a solid impact. 

We got this valley. It’s got this small village in it. They herd a lot of goats. Some crusaders showed up and have started being rough and interrogating people. Recruiting/investigating. Also, a wyvern has been eating goats. Also, there’s this trading post about a days walk away. Also, there’s this hidden tomb somewhere in the valley. These are the major points of a small sandboxy regions for the party to explore. It starts with the party seeing the end/march out of the order from the village and the gossip of the villagers. WHich might include the local worthy bitching about his goats. And can include some clues to the lost tomb. Also, people gone missing, you could get hired on to do that, or escort some folk to the trading post. You can even go visit the newly arrived religious order, in the Crimson Monastery, and they can ask you to look in to some of THEIR missing men … yet another wyvern incident. So, you can talk to a lot of people and there are clues in the wilderness to certain things, brought up by the wandering table, people to talk to, and so on. 

There are some decent ideas here. The idea of the inquisition in town. Or, perhaps, a freelance inquisition. That’s fun. Some low level violence with the threats of ULTRA violence. That’s pretty chill. The  entire idea of a small region, with things going on … I mean that’s the classic regional setup. Up to and including being able to talk to the inquisition and maybe do some missions for them without actually joining … with some subtle and not so subtle pressure on them to join up. You even, in the lost tomb, have some skeletons, reanimated without consent, screaming DESTROY ME as they attack. That’s fucking brilliant! 

But, also, it’s all missing. All of it. It’s just … missing.

So, what do I mean by that? The concepts introduced are a little clumsy and not followed through on. They are almost abstracted. Not quite, but pretty close to that. The undead, for example, the skeletons. They scream DESTROY ME!! Does that sound right to you ? Destroy? Maybe, Kill me? Maybe pleading? Maybe regrets about the people they left behind, or things left undone or some such? The pain of it all is just too much? No? Just DESTROY ME? 

And you need to hold on to that DESTROY ME, because the same thing is going to happen in about a dozen other places in this adventure. I get that may be enough for you. I don’t think it is. I think it is, at best, cumbersome. Maybe more clumsy than Orcs Shooting Knucklebones as a room description, since I think the word choice is off. But, that same thing happens all over this thing. It’s almost abstracted. 

One of the quests is something like the religions orders patrol gone missing. Little to no clues. But, in the wyvern lair we’re told: “Among the waste the PCs will find evidence that the missing patrol was killed and eaten by the wyvern, see “Missing patrol” on page 7” Hmmm, that’s a little anticlimactic, yeah? “Evidence the missing patrol was killed” That’s a conclusion. A classic conclusion. And an d adventure should not work in conclusions. It should work in evocative descriptions that allows the players to draw conclusions for their characters. One room tells us that “Multiple chains are attached to the western wall, used to restrain Snowmane’s victims as she experiment on them.” Well now that’s not really the chamber of horrors of an inquisition, is it? You gotta work, really work, to bring that to life and make the connections you need to get yourself some viscera on the floor, bloodcrust, the implements, etc. This follows for the NPC descriptions as well. While nicely summarized, with wants, goals, and secrets, they come off a little abstracted and conclusion rather than actionable. 

The formatting is mostly right. There is weirdness here as well. An overreliance on bullets for meaningless information and a need to indent here and there to call out sub-information. For the cultists/templars/whatever they are … do you bury the fact that they veins are all bright red and stand out at a distance? Or do you kind of lead with that? I should think one would lead, instead of burying it. The map of the cathedral is more of a dungeon map. Yadda yadda yadda. 

But, none of those are too major. The kind of abstracted descriptions are … and the lack of proper motivations for an adventure. It comes off a little MERP adventure, as in here’s a site and then a paragraph about how to have an adventure there. It’s not quite that, but it’s still closer to that side of the spectrum then I think can make a good adventure. 

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is eight pages. You get to see the town on pages seven and eight, along with the NPC’s. The town and NPC”s are both pretty well done, but missing that extra ACTIONABLE and STICKY stuff … although the town information is almost correct.

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The Sphinx

By Masters of Evil
Self Published
"Low Levels"

A Sphinx sits proudly in the sands of the desert, constructed in honour of the forgotten potentates who once ruled the lands in time immemorial. From the abandoned camp and scaffold, it would seem either graverobbers or archaeologists were recently here, but where have they gone and what lies within the bowels of the Sphinx?

This seventeen page adventure presents a small egyptian themed tomb with thirteen rooms in nine pages. Dry, with some sloppy wording and poor interactivity, but also committing no cardinal sins. 

There’s just not much here to go on. I usually try and mention a few nice things about an adventure, something I thought it did well or a concept that it had that was interesting, even if it didn’t actually pan out … and I’m having trouble doing that with this one. It’s just kind of … there. As if both the highs and lows were smoothed out. There is this concept of a Ushabti. That’s a statue like thing that moves from room to room. If you’re in the room with it then you get a glimpse in to the room in the underworld. That’s something that has been done before in myriad ways … from the underworld and fy realm and so on. There’s not really much to it though. You get maybe a secret passage revealed. Otherwise it’s just more window dressing for the room you’re in. Window dressing that you can’t control, since its governed by the status thing and its random movements. Not really puzzle tool or anything like that. And the statue dude thing is immune to all damage but fucks you up if you mess with it. So … yeah. There’s just not much going on with this feature.

And the rest of it is … meh? 

“The air is heavy, pregnant with a thousand years of decay …” Ok, so, heavy is good. I might even be able to stomach pregnant, as a sense of anticipation. But the thousand years of decay bit? We’re bumping up against getting purple. In other places we get text that tells us that skeletons are “undying guardians animated by the power of the alter!” Ok, so, yes, that’s what a skeleton is, an undying guardian. And there’s no need to tell us that they are powered by the power of the alter, especially since there’s no indication that we can destroy or alter it in order to put them to rest. It’s just an explanation for why the skeletons are coming to life. There’s no actual gameable content in the phrasing. In another place we’re told that there is a golden sarcophagus, plated with gold plate … and no worth placed upon it. You can’t tell me the entire room is made of platinum and then not tell me how much the party gets when they scrape the metal off to sell it. And, traditionally, we also roll for wanderers when counting grains of sand on the beach.

Things that look like rea-daloud end with “the door in the west wall is stuck” so, clearly, not read-aloud. And yet that standsin opposition to the rest of the text in that (the first para in each room) section that is worded like it’s an initial room description for the players. It’s just … nothing in this is well thought out and to the effect of it on the game.

I can’t point to any one thing that makes it stand out as bad. I can say, though, that it comes off as rather boring. Using words like “large” to describe things. The lack of evocative descriptions, in spite of some lapses in to purple prose. Not really much of interest to investigate. It’s all much like the real pyramids in Giza. Once you go inside it’s super anti-climactic. “Oh, a large room of rock.” Kind of like going in to an empty  room made of cinderblock. Ok. I guess I’m here now. It’s not that they are devoid of anything, but they certainly FEEL like they are devoid of anything. Like the descriptions are all just a little plain. 

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $1. The preview is also nineteen pages, so you get to see everything.

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The Rusted Tomb

By WR Beatty
Rosethrone Publishing
Levels 1-...7?

A short adventure location – a shrine and a tomb for a nearly forgotten godling.  Rumors suggest this is the resting place of He Who Forged Heaven and Hell. Craftsmen and Smiths pay their respects at the Rusted Tomb, but few others care, though some say there’s ancient magic behind those rust-streaked walls.

This twelve page adventure presents a small temple with seventeen rooms … that houses a dead god. It’s less adventure and more place where you could have an adventure, being somewhat … statically described? And then presenting some adventure ideas in the rear. Meh.

Beatty does a great job with one of the rumors/hooks in this adventure. Here’s the entry: “There’s this old guy who comes to town once in a while, Demos or something like that. He leads those blacksmith worshippers up on the North Road on the way to Tiresh Village. They call that the Rusted Tomb. Anyway, he’s an odd lot. Always loads up on vegetables and smoked meats and tobacco and the like… Nothing odd there, but he always asks about old nails.” It’s in voice, which bring out a little bit of character, giving the DM an idea of how to introduce and run it. And, as we all know, I’m all for helping the DM out without spoon feeding them. The goal is to provide information that enables the DM to greatness. And that rumour/hook does it. Also, it’s very human. We’re talking about the tomb of a god here, or, at least, an angel. But the temple is in decline and this is most like the last generation of priests … once these four go then there will be no one left. The world has moved on. And all of that comes out in that text. Those blacksmith worshippers. Buy vegetables and smoked meats. It’s very mundane and very real with how things became mundane over time. People acting like people, or, at least, hyper realistic versions of people, brings so much more to D&D. 

There are a couple of other interesting things here. SOme gold trimmed white cloths as magic items. Worn over the head as a kind of crude veil, they filter out poisons giving a bonus to saves. Kind of hard to use in a combat, also, right? Very nice. And, at one point the party finds a twenty ton anvil bolted to the ground. “How to unbolt and move the 20 ton anvil is left up to the parties ingenuity.” Absolutely! 

But the rest of this …? No. 

The thing is kind of generically described. And I don’t mean that in the usual way. Rather it’s more of a MERP adventure way. It’s as if we took everyones presence, their life and sense of it, out of the adventure. There are rooms with objects in them, but not people. There is no sense of worshippers being here. Or even priests except for maybe two rooms … and even those seem devoid of the life of living. As if they were laid down for people to use but never had. It’s sterile. Devoid of life. Literally, since there are no encounters on the main tomb level. 

And this is on purpose. It’s related to that level range of one through seven. The back page has four separate adventure ideas. One for 1-3, one for 4-7, one for 8-10, and one for high levels. There are a couple of guidelines, and outline really, in a quarter page, for each of them, in what the adventure may look like. One mentions that they high priest might hire some guards. But, bringing the thing to life, personalizing it, putting people and worshippers and all of that in to it, is all up to the DM. 

A linear map. Items worth stealing that don’t have values. This is made for the DM to set an adventure in. As if someone published a village of sixteen pages and then said that you could have some adventures here. As such its more window dressing FOR an adventure. It is a place for situations to occur, rather than the actual situations that occur. And, thus, isn’t really an adventure. More of a regional setting where the region is “seventeen rooms.” 

And, I don’t review regional settings.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages

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