AA #42 – Dead in the Water

By Lang Waters
Expeditious Retreat Press
OSRIC
Levels 3-5

You crack your eyes open, surprised to be alive after the sudden storm. What was it that woke you? The hot sun? The stillness ringing in your ears? Bruised, you disentangle yourself from rope and debris on the deck and pull yourself up on the rail. You peer out across a sailor’s nightmare—a sea of glass. Not a ripple in the water as far as the eye can see. Not a whisper of wind touches the sails. You’ve heard stories of ships becalmed for weeks, throwing horses overboard to lighten the load and conserve water. You remember stories of starvation and cannibalism. You see other ships in the distance listing, torn and low in the water. Old. Dead. And you are too…dead, in the water.

This sixteen page adventure details a ship graveyard political situation, with several factions. Becalmed, the party needs to find a way out. It’s an interesting environment with plenty going on. It also suffers from layout and editing issues that make extensive prep a requirement.

After a storm the party is trapped in a ship graveyard, an area becalmed. Six-ish fellow ships are there also, in various conditions. One has four survivors, desperate for food, water, and escape. There’s also a “sand-man” in a steamship scooting about the area salvaging parts, and an evil sorceress (as Hag) who wants the sand-man dead and causes the storms/becalming. Finally, there a tribe of locath unda da sea who want to be mostly left alone. Oh, and the hags lacedons swim around in packs in certain areas. And the other ships are essentially mini-dungeons full of resources and hazards. And under the sea is giant octopus, ruined city, an abysmal depth with a ship about to slide in to it, and a few other goodies. Finally, there’s a timeline to drive some action.

You get all that going on? That’s how you write a fucking adventure. LOT’S going on. Factions. Motivations. Timeline. Timer (food/water in this case.) The motivations make sense, they appeal to understanding. The survivors sometime eat each other, dicing to see who goes next, but they collect their skulls with a solemn promise to bury them on land … desperate people doing desperate things to survive … but bound to each other. At the heart of this adventure is a great concept with lots of stellar components.

That are poorly organized.

If you are going to run this effectively then you are going to have to read it multiple times, spend some time with a highlighter and take a lots of notes. I don’t believe that I, as a consumer, should have to do that. That’s the job of the designer. If you, as a designer, choose to not do that then I’m likely to spend my lucre/time with something that does. There are about a billion adventures available these days and I don’t need to settle. That comes off a little harsh, as if I’m directing it at Lang personally; I’m speaking generally about the hurdle the designer my pass these days.

NPC descriptions are long, one taking up a column. In that specific case it turns in to a wall of text, everything running together with little to no whitespace or bolding to help. A couple of locations, such as the locath camp,. Are presented as a numbered site locale … room/key format is great for exploratory dungeons but too strong of adherence to that format, in EVERY situation, is not called for.

On and on the text goes, adhering to editing value that cause spells and magic items to be bolded but not important facts. Long long text blocks in Ye Olde Fonte Style that all runs together. This does NOT fall in to the sin of being an Adventure Novelization, the way many adventures do. It does, however, lean that way. And that MUST be the case when you emphasize long text blocks over usability at the table.

The ship description for The Intrepid mentions a room 7 … that doesn’t exist on the map. There’s a journal on a body, and the last entry is about a mummy returning at night. And then there’s stats for a mummy in the text. Uh, so, I do what’s in the journal text?

This needed a completely different layout and style. The factions laid out better. Summaries. The ships in a format that doesn’t rely as heavily on room/key for EVERYTHING. It has a good idea but my days of beating my head against an adventure wall in order to get it in to runnable shape are over. I wonder if, in this case, it was playtested by someone other than the designer and/or what the notes were?


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/274221/Advanced-Adventures-42-Dead-In-The-Water?1892600

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The Crypt of Rokar

By Michael Mills
Cannister & grape
OSR
Levels 1-3

Buried deep beneath the barrow mounds of the Wild Wood, Rokar the Terrible slumbers fitully in his sarcophagus, his bride beside him. What terrors protect Rokar as he dreams his fevered dreams? Do you dare enter The Crypt of Rokar in search of treasures and knowledge beyond imagining?

This ten page adventure describes a small tomb with fourteen rooms over four pages. Giants rats, yellow mold, zombies, and a ghoul make up your opponents, all found in their usual environments. Read-aloud is not overly long, in general, but not very interesting either. There’s nothing to separate this from any other low level small dungeon.

What if you don’t do anything bad, but you don’t really do anything good either. What’s the measure of a man in that situation? How do you make a determination, a decision to choose one thing over another? That’s easy for me; I expect more and in a crowded marketplace don’t settle for anything other than the best. Well, except for the fact that I bought it in the first place.

A damp library? What could it contain? Yellow mold. A storeroom full of crates and barrels? That means rats. I do indeed like the classic, but there’s a difference. You’ve got to do them well and they just are not done well here. Let’s examine this from the standpoint of last-minute adventure prep. The players just exted you from the liquor store, asking ifyou wanted anything else other than Krystal and japanese single malt. They are about three minutes away from arriving. If I provided you this map and said “you’ve got three minutes to key the adventure” then you’d come up with something that said “2. Library – Yellow Mold. 3. Storeroom – Rats.” If that’s expanded in the most obvious way possible then you have this adventure. It brings nothing new over you writing “Library – Mold” or “Storeroom – Rats.” That might be ok if it did it really REALLY well, but it doesn’t. It’s drab.

I will note a few of the more interesting things it does do. At one point it notes that zombies, locked in a room, fed on the canopic jars kept within. This is the old zombie trope, and one that I’ve seen reintroduced lately. I’m quite fond of it. It seems like the 80’s and 90’s and 00’s had zombies that were just lifeless bodies swinging swords. This new trend of flesh eaters brings so much more than that, being able to immediately leverage forty years of pop culture zombie imagery.  There’s also a little bit of hints captured in the read-aloud. That storeroom read aloud notes the smell of decay and faeces. The library notes a smell of damp and mold, hinting at the yellow stuff. It’s not consistent, but when it’s there I appreciate it. There should be a back and forth to D&D. The DM mentions something, the players, the smart ones anyway, dig deeper asking follow-up question. And thus player skill is rewarded. It’s got a couple of rooms that do this and I’m happy to see that.

It’s also inconsistent in its logic. The front doors are busted open but some statues nearby retain their bejeweled eyes. Those zombies that fed on the canopic jars? That’s backstory, the read-aloud gives no hint of a room in chaos, jars smashed and bloodstains on the floor, etc. Just the usual anti-septic description.

“Many books appear to be damaged by decay or pests.” the library read-aloud tells us. Puddles of books, rotting in damp, gnawed upon, all are words that evoke imagery much stronger than “damaged by decay or pests.” That’s an abstraction, a conclusion. Rich adjectives and adverbs appeal to sensory information instead and allow the party to draw their own conclusions.

Nitpicky shit: The level is only noted on the cover, so when I’m on DriveThru looking for a Level 1-3 adventure I won’t know this is one unless I lick on the cover to enlarge it. I’m not sure that’s the wisest decision from a consumer ease standpoint. There’s only about 1400gp of treasure in this. I think I would have expected more, seems low. Especially since there’s a wight in this Level 1 adventure, that can only be hit by magic items.

Finally, let me mention to deriguour text. You know the stuff. “The DM should blah blah blah.” or notes that you should read the boxed text to the players when they enter the room. I just skip this shit, but, as a point of interest, is this really doing anything but inflating page count? If you’re buying an adventure on DriveThru do you need to be told to read boxed text? Even if you DIDNT know that do you need to be told that? In this case it explicitly notes DM’ing in the players favour. I’m not cool with that. Is there a place for this genero information anymore?

This is pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $5. There is no preview. I get it, it’s free since it’s PWYW. I don’t give a shit, stick in a good preview anyway.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/275375/The-Crypt-of-Rokar?1892600

The players should have a reasonable chance of survival, however a certain amount of danger and risk is necessary to keep things interesting.

As game master you should adjust the number, strength and aggressiveness of encountered creatures to ensure this occurs.

When the players enter an area on the map you should read aloud the boxed text in its entirety. You may also add any additional information from the game master’s notes immediately thereafter as you desire. This may be necessary if the players fail to find a crucial item, exit or other plot device.

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Spire of the Kobolds

By Megan Irving
Aegis Studios
O&O / BX
Levels 1-2

The Untamed Gauntlet has many mysteries. The Spire is one of them: a huge tower of gleaming rock pointing towards the heavens, with a winding dungeon carved beneath it. Currently, a clan of Kobolds have found it empty (or empty-ish), and are using it as their base. Fearful of invaders, they have thoroughly trapped the upper levels, hiding their best treasures at the very bottom. The party has been issued a writ of salvage for a simple task in the Gauntlet (perhaps a location or goal detailed in another Odysseys & Overlords adventure module.) On the way to their destination, the adventurers see movement near the Spire. They know that monsters periodically move into the Spire, and might have treasures worth pursuing.

This nine page adventure details a small eleven room dungeon on about 2.5 pages. A pretty straightforward hack on a small map with little exploration, it’s just a few kobolds in a hole. It’s focus is on dry descriptions rather than evocative environments, and goes through contortions to use a map without any modifications. Weird. Not egregiously bad, but not good either.

The spire is huge tower of gleaming rock pointing upwards towards the heavens. On the way somewhere else the party sees movement near it. They know that monsters sometimes move in to it and might have treasure. This is, just about word for word, the introduction to the exterior description of the Spire and the inciting event. There are not any more words than this to describe the outside environment, spire exterior, or the moving monsters. The only other words are a stat block of a kobold hunting party and how they react to being avoided or fought.

I’m a big fan of FOCUS but abstraction has to be of the appropriate level and it’s not in this opening salvo. Either it’s three paragraphs of generic information that’s not needed or you need to change a few words and give us a little more concrete under our DM feet. The pieces are too far removed from each other to put together. Dyson (it’s a Dyson map) has a nice little rendering of the spire next to the map that, taken together, provides a little more inspiration. It’s still lacking though. It’s the designers job to add that little bit of inspirations and it’s not there in either the spire or “the movement.”

Room one is an “imposing hall” with “arcane carvings.” Again, a level of abstraction. Telling us the conclusions that we would draw from a more concrete description. Not a longer one, but a more concrete/evocative one. Imagine if different words were chosen to describe the hall and the carvings. Ideally they get the willies as they come to THEIR conclusion that it’s an imposing hall and the carvings are arcane. The adventure does this sort of thing over and over again, avoiding the concrete and instead relying on conclusions and abstractions. A room with “mostly junk” is not the value add I’m looking for in an adventure.

Other room elements are missing. The kobold king wears a dented crown, never mentioned again. Those arcane carvings get nothing more noted about them. Throw aways not impacting the adventure. You can do this, a little, but in such a small adventure I would expect more interactivity and follow up of individual elements called out by name.

The map, a Dyson one, is small and I’m not a particular fan of those. OSR games tend to work best in exploratory environments rather than Lair environments. You need room to breathe, in my experience. Accepting that, though, the map itself is treated a little too holy. I’m guessing it came pre-keyed and the designer want to expand a bit on sections not keyed. Rather than put additional numbers on the map, or features like tripwires and oil pools, they instead rey on the text. There’s a fair bit of text between the description of room one and room two, one describing some storerooms and another a ramp leading from rooms one to two. This seems a tortuous workaround to the problem of just putting  notes 1b and 1c on a map. I’m pretty sure Dyson don’t care, from his website language, and it these notes, tripwires, oil pools, etc would go long way to both overloading the map with useful information and removing some of it from the text. This allows the text to focus more the actual adventure instead of describing where the tripwire is in the room, or where the oil pool is.

On the nitpicky side, lots of tripwires and lots of traps, all of which get almost the exact same description. Spotted with remove traps, etc. Pulling this out to a general section in front of the keys would make the individual descriptions shorter, allowing more focus on the actual room and easier scanning during play.

This appears to be for a game/setting called Odysseys & Overlords, which appears to just be B/X or a derivative. There’s almost no real treasure in this, but for a magic sword, which makes it suspect as a Gold=XP game … if indeed it is one.

It’s not a terrible thing, but it’s not a good thing either. And the level of abstraction pushes it to the bad side of line. One of the best descriptions is of the first ramp: “A long stone ramp leads down into the darkness at a steep angle. Strange skittering and echoing noises can be heard from below. There are torches on the walls, but they aren’t lit.” Downward at a steep angle in to the darkness, skittering echoing noises. Those are the sorts of descriptions I can get behind. It paints, in just a few words, a visceral picture, a feeling.

This is $1 at DriveThru. There is no preview. Boo! Boo I saw sir! Boo! Show us what were buying before we buy it!


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/275268/Spire-of-the-Kobolds?1892600

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(5e) Krillo’s Tomb

By John Heffernan
Island of Bees
5e
Level 3

The adventurers are hired to enter into a catacomb to discover the treasures inside before a rival faction of thieves can get there first. Their employer, a goblin named Krillo, offers them all of the treasure that they find inside, and only asks to keep the relics and magic items. Can the heroes enter into Krillo’s Tomb and escape with their lives? There’s only one way to find out!

Yeah yeah, 5e on a Wednesday. My raging against the entropy is less successful than usual and I’m behind. I’ll do some OSR on Saturday.

I’m an open-minded person not an ossified old man.
I’m an open-minded person not an ossified old man.
I’m an open-minded person not an ossified old man.

This 34 page adventure has six “scenes” that compose the dungeon exploration. The core adventure is on about fourteen pages with the rest being pre-gens and a dwarven runic language treatise, as well as rules for a Stealth minigame. It’s not all together terrible for a newer game, but it is rather boring, with an emphasis on mechanics rather than en evocative environment. IF it were evocative then it would be a fairly normal 5e adventure. IE: straightforward.

Bob the goblin hires you, for 100gp, to go loot a tomb. He wants the magic and you keep the loot. Seems there’s a mercenary company of archeologists (!) on their way soon and he wants to loot the place before they arrive. He’ll give you 100 more gold if you do it non-violently! Yes, you have to stretch for the pretext. Yes, the nonviolence thing is fucking weird. Yes the tomb is strangely devoid of cash, you might get 300gp more in the tomb. For the sake of my own sanity I’m going to ignore all of that.

The scene thing is WEIRD. It’s like little set pieces. In scene one you are trying to sneak past the guards outside the tomb. There’s a little map with things to hide behind, and rules for sneaking and guards being on alert and spotting you. There are notes about the guards being helpful, and how they get annoyed and call for help. I’ve never played Metal Gear, but I suspect the designer has. This is straight out of “the stealth level’ in every video game every game that has one. It takes a page of text to describe the scene, ? to repeat the stealth rules in the appendix, ? to describe the general guard attitude, ? for the stat block, ? for the aftermath and seven sentences to describe where the seven guards are. Likewise for a mummy chase scene. It feels videogamey, with the blind mummy jumping from platform to platform and the party trying to be quiet. Not exactly a bad idea, but the focus on mechanics makes it feel like a videogame rather than a living breathing D&D adventure.

And it’s all written in this weirdly abstracted/generalized text style. “The north half of the left room has an altar in the center with an imprint of a laying dwarf carved in the center. Stone tables are covered with rolls of fresh bandages, and a series of empty clay jars. The roof is domed and covered with stone spikes that jet out.” Very fact based text. And that’s true of every encounter. In fact, A LOT of the encounters are like weird Grimtooth traps you’re trying to navigate, at least the Grimtooth “room” traps. Lots of elements and a convoluted mechanism.

Once of the scenes takes place between two other, when a door opens. While a big door opens a bunch of thieves come out from behind you and start blasting away at you. While the door opens. That’s the scene. Others are more like some weird Grimtooth room that you’re trying to navigate.

And then there’s the dwarf runes mini-game, with the party trying to decipher the runes in the tomb for clues. I’m not opposed to these sorts of things, in fact I think player puzzles can be fun. But this particular one seems more like the dwarven runic language being described and the party trying to figure out the entire thing. I could be wrong about this and it could be fine in AP.

As a Challenge Dungeon or tourney dungeon this might be ok. It’s hard to get past the focus on mechanics though. I wish it were more evocative. That might smooth over the mechanics and make it something to whip out for a D&D tourney.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a suggest price of $3. The preview is eight pages long and a good one, showing you the first three scenes. This includes the “sneak past the guards” scene, a “dungeon exploring” scene, and the thief/elf-bandit attack scene. Elf bandits attacking. Thematically, modern D&D is missing something.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/275492/Krillos-Tomb?1892600

Posted in 5e, Reviews | 9 Comments

Cult of the Blue Crab

By Rudolf St Germain
Studio St Germain
5e/13th Age
Levels 3-4

The small city of Shallow Bay is plagued by a gang of smugglers who sell contraband alcohol and luxury foods to the people. The mayor’s expensive lifestyle has depleted the city coffers and the head of the city guard orders his men to investigate the smugglers and put an end to their activities. Unbeknownst to most, the smugglers are a front for a radical chaotic water cult that wishes to sweep earth free of “the wicked”. The money made with the contraband is intended to buy better equipment and hire powerful allies for an expedition to the lost Temple of the Chaos Elemental. By awakening this ancient evil the cult can take the first steps towards their ultimate goal of destruction and mayhem.

This twenty page adventure, describes, in twelvish pages, some smugglers in a big fishing village and two small dungeons of about six rooms each. A competent but simple adventure, it struggles against its formatting choices and lack of specificity in detail. It’s easier to run than most modern dreck.

When is an adventure a sandbox and when is it just an outline? There’s some point of crossover where the DM is given enough information to improvise further and it’s a sandbox and some place else where the DM needs to add some substantial labour. This adventure is somewhere near the dividing line. You can take this, as written, and run it, with little to no more prep. Given that you can’t do that with most adventures today, this is a not insignificant accomplishment. It correctly provides an environment in which the party can have an adventure. A village. The local fence and a few other town personages. The smuggler base. The dungeon underneath. The OTHER dungeon the smugglers want to get to. The supply ship that drops off goods to smuggle. A rough timeline/events that can happen. Now … go run an adventure. You can do that with what’s written. You can’t do that with most adventures. Then again, it’s also VERY basic. Ask some questions, find the fence, pressure him, ambush smugglers, raid base. A pretty cut and dry adventure formula. If I were forced to choose all of the crappy Adventurers League, DMSguild, and others and their shitty formats, or the one used here, I’d have no problem choosing the format used here. It provides a high level overview of the situation and then answers some questions on how folks will react. I’ll take that ANY day over the overwritten garbage that passes for a modern adventure.

But, it’s also playing fast & free with the abstraction. The town is presented in paragraph form, single column paragraph form, on a page and a half. The event that caused the town to act against the smugglers was boat of tollkeepers getting sunk while they were trying to stop the smugglers. That’s as much detail as you get … besides the adventure noting that the party could follow up on that to determine how far out the smugglers are. Am I’m serious when I say I’m now summarizing what’s in the adventure. I’ve just told you everything it says about the situation in as many words as the adventure uses. Another two sentences about grieviing widows, the name of the boat, and some such would not be out of order for such an important event and potential plot point for the party to follow up on. I’m not looking for two pages, or even one, but SOMETHING about the event IS needed if this is going to be an adventure rather than an adventure outline.

It provides some decent support for escalating the situation, with the smugglers, but not really with the town. So while it tries to be a sandbox it does, by leaving out half the adventure, force a certain point of view: the adventure is with the smugglers and any potential complications with the town are not important. But the journey IS the destination in D&D. Just not in bad D&D …

On top of this is fumbling in several areas. It’s one column presentation is almost always a No No, because of well-known readability issues with that format. The town overviews rely on italics in the paragraph to pick out information; whitespace, bolding or bullets would be better. The cult leader is bad because she was raped as a young woman. It doesn’t dwell on her background, but it’s always weird when things like this are used and called out in otherwise generic-ish adventures. It’s weird tonal shift that doesn’t fit. A water elemental is “bound to her service with a collar. LAME. That’s explaining WHY and justifying things. She’s the leader of an evil water cult, of course she has a water elemental. Likewise the use of Sahuagin mercenaries. A tonal thing that doesn’t quite match with the water cult thing the adventure is trying to do. Sent by the evil water god? Sure. Sahuagun mercs though? That implies some setting that is off putting to me. As is the Satyr that acts as the local fence. Magical RenFaire. Bleech. And then, in this village of 600, five thugs are hired to kill the party. Hmmm, again, a tonal imbalance, I think.  The dungeons, the two of them, are more line “art project” one page dungeons, with some small text blocks pointing to rooms, rather than a traditional room/key format.

Take the usual 5e adventure and rip it apart and try to make it less of a railroad. Get rid of most of the text and just put inthe generic-ish essentials. You’d have this adventure. On one hand it kind of resembles the level/amount of detail I use in my home game; a list on a piece of paper with a few words each and some notes on a map. This takes those home notes and adds a few more words and formats it not as modern dreck but as a sandbox-ish adventure.

It’s going in the right direction. The adventure needs to make wiser formatting decisions and provide a little more detail in almost every area. Then you’d have a basic adventure like you might write up in 30 minutes for a home game/the usual 5e adventure. A little investigation, some sneaking, some hacking, some crazy plans, etc.

This is showing up a Monday because the blurb says it can be OSR, with some specific advice for 5e/13th Age. This means “statless, with stat suggestions for 5e/13th Age.” On the one hand I’m kind of intrigued to see that Generic/Universal label applied to modern games like 3e/5e, and games like 13th Age. On the other hand, I’m saddened to be tricked in to something with an OSR label. Sure, I guess, as a generic adventure, it could be OSR. In the same way that any adventure OUTLINE could be for any game.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $2. The preview is six pages and gives you a good idea of what you’re getting. The first few pages outline the town/cult, and then one of the locales, where the fence hides out, is presented. This gives you a good idea of the one-pager dungeons to come as well as the kind of abstracted/outline/sandbox that the adventure is. All you’re not seeing is the section on how the cults reacts to various events, etc. IE: a little guidance. A VERY little guidance. Which would be enough if the adventure was more sandbox and less outline.


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/274990/Cult-of-the-Blue-Crab?1892600

Posted in 5e, Reviews | 8 Comments

(5e) The Curse of Lost Memories

By Christophe Herrbach, Anthony Pacheco
Griffon Lore Games LLC
5e
Level 1

Hey, quick reminder that I have a Patreon. It helps offset the costs of the website and buying adventures. Unlike some, I don’t accept adventures to review; I buy everything I review.

https://www.patreon.com/join/tenfootpole?

In the wealthy Kingdom of Lothmar, hardly anyone remembers the once-powerful Barony of Wailmoor that fell 150-years ago to a terrible demon invasion. But PCs have memories of events that precipitated the fall of Wailmoor, and these memories will haunt them until they travel to the lonely moor and solve the mysteries associated with an old, unstoppable curse. Can the PCs save their minds from going crazy “remembering” events they never lived? And who is the mysterious—creature—that haunts the moor and longs for the embrace of an archangel?

This 218 page adventure is modern storytelling to it’s dying breath. Setting new records in “obfuscation through expansive text”, it’s hard to make out what is going on because of the column long (at least) backstories for everybody and everything in the game world. This is not an adventure. It’s a novelization of an adventure.

Let us examine one of the core mechanics of the adventure: you cannot die. If you die you get rebirthed back at a tree in the central village, with all your stats lowered by one. You can’t go below 8. What, then, would be the purpose of this? Not even in death can you escape the plot of the designer. The plot will go on. And you will be a part of it. Death will not save you. You do get all your stat points back when you level. So, you know …

Clever monkeys will immediately recognize opportunity in this absurdist mechanic. Rebelling against the railroad and lack of agency, let us accept, and in acceptance of our fates find victory, just as in the mystery of the Blue City Lacuna. Take your whole party to stat 8. Charge each combat, doing whatever minimal damage. Finding whatever secrets. Learning the map. Die and reform a thousand times a day. Until, finally, the Storyteller relents and you can wander, freely. The presumption of resurrection abstracted in to a new mechanic. You walk about enchanted, in ecstasy, like the gods you saw dancing in your dreams. Freedom, terrible terrible freedom.

How anyone thought this was a good idea is beyond me. This is, truly, not D&D but a storyteller game. Not a story game. In those you have some control. This is a storyTELLER game. Your agency is near 0. The closest thing to a videogame I’ve seen, the endings may be different, at some point. But the cut scenes are meaningless. Just die and be reborn.

NPC’s get full page descriptions. Paragraphs on how they react at all three friendliness levels. Encounters for third level characters are CR 8 through CR12. Paragraphs of read aloud at every opportunity. The inn serving wenches are all 16-20 year old whores.

The first encounter is chapter one and takes up most of the first quarter of the book. Every NPC extremely detailed. Everything with a background. Names and ages. All to facilitate a forced on flashback. (DC 20 WIS save. If anyone one party member fails it then they all have the flashback.) If someone dies in this first encounter then a noble will step in and heal them. You will not deviate from the railroad.

How much of a railroad? There IS a correct way to complete the adventure. Kill someone? No xp. Convince the noble of your cause? Get 25xp. The designer has determined the correct course of action and you will follow it and only be rewarded at most if you do.

The maps are illegible. You can’t read the numbers or lettering on them. This, the most basic of functionality you need to provide to the DM. The ultimate reference page. Illegible. And this then is the mortal sin of this adventure: it ignores the DM. It doesn’t understand that rule 0, the reason for its existence, is to help the DM to run it at the table. The map is illegible. The text is SO overloaded with verbosity, everything with backstory, everything overly described, that there is no way on earth a DM can use it easily. Multiple readings. Notes. highlighter . Put in your own cross-references to other areas. Invest an absurd amount of work. Everything is so overly detailed that its all meaningless. Who the fuck cares about the tavern wenches or the soldiers? I mean, sure, a few words to give them some personality, three, four, but paragraph upon paragraph? Ages? The names of the soldiers dogs? Seriously? Why not also the names of their mothers, in case it comes up?

At one point it notes a road and mentions several times how hard it would be to get a wagon up it. Uh. Ok. Why? What’s with the wagon? Is that important? At another it offers that “if the party does not accept the trail through the maggot carpet …” uh … what offered trail? Was that mentioned?

If your still with me then your ears picked up at the maggot carpet thing. What’s so fucking bad about this adventure is that there is some good stuff hiding inside. A carpet of maggots and the bones of small creatures, writhing. Nice imagery! The fucking read-aloud is too long, but, still that good stuff! And all of the flashback memories are listed on one table, with triggers and what they impact. Great reference material! The wilderness section of the adventure has varied and interesting encounters, a little combat heavy, but still, leeches and crocs in a swamp, a dull blue glow from under the water if you detect magic …!  that’s great! Hidden treasure. At one point you can reach an overlook in the wilderness and the text summarizes what you can see. Perfect! So many adventures leave out “what I can see from a distance or upon approach.”

But the text, It’s a nightmare. Here’s one small snippet from one object in one room: “The desk does not have anything on it. This desk was used by Humbert, the tower guard as a station for when Silas was in the tower. He sat there, preventing visitors from entering the tower unannounced and providing security should someone try to break into the tower. After the last battle in the Barony, Humbert took everything that was his in the tower and left. He traveled to the Viscounty of Kandra where he died there, like many Wailmoor survivors.”

Note how NOTHING in this text applies to the adventure. Nothing. It’s so closely related to my platonic Dungeon Magazine “looted trophy room” description that it could BE the new platonic idea of bad adventure writing. What the fuck is the point? And it does this over and over and over again. Everything. Everything and Everyone. Mountains of backstory and motivations and details. More than any other adventure I’ve reviewed, it hides the adventure. More is not more, not when it gets in the way and obfuscates the adventure for the DM running it.  This is the writing of a wannabe novelist, not the technical writing of an adventure designer. You’re not writing to paint a rich picture of the world in all its glory. You’re writing for a DM running the thing at the table. Even if we accept the bullshit storytell play style, robbing the players of their agency, even if we accept that, the criticisms stand. It’s unusable without a hard core effort at note taking and highlighting that, essentially, negates the purpose of the text you’ve bought. We’re not supposed to be paying for the fucking backstory.

This nightmare PDF is 20 fucking dollars on DriveThru. 20. Fucking. Dollars. The preview is eleven pages long. Go ahead and read it. Read it all. It is COMPLETELY meaningless. It’s an example of the rich and detailed backstory for the village the PC’s start in. That plays such a small part in the adventure. It’s insanity. Utter insanity.


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/270071/Curse-of-the-Lost-Memories-5E?1892600

Posted in 5e, Reviews | 16 Comments

The Magician’s House

By Ray Weidner
Self Published
DCC
Levels 1-3

The city of Blackrock is in peril! An army of shrieking demons marches inexorably closer, less than a week away from putting its people to the knife. The Duke puts out a call: brave and resourceful heroes are needed to recover the sacred words that will unleash the power of the Sealing Stone. Words that have passed beyond the world – and so these adventurers must pass beyond the world, into…The Magician’s House!

This 132 page adventure uses about seventy pages to describe a 25-ish “room” wizards house. There is little of the heightened reality that most DCC adventures have, making this a pretty straight forward conversion to your favorite gaming system. There is a depth to many of the  rooms that makes them seem more like mini-vignettes or set-pieces, without even really overreaching in to being jaded or expectating Yet Another Set Piece. Lots of minor polishing issues plague the adventure but it never really falls in to any major traps. I think it’s a delightful little romp through a gentleman magicians home.

What Ray has created here is a point crawl wizards house, thanks the extra-dimensional flavour afforded by being a wizard. You’re searching for either the wizard or some magic words, giving you drive to explore. The extra-dimensional aspects are leveraged in more than just “the dungeon layout is weird.” Mirrors transport you to mirror world. Or you can go to Faerie. Or the moon.  Speaking of faerie and mirrors, you might recognize some Norvel/Strange references. In fact, the baddies here are fey right out of that book, with the adventure leaning to that sort of fey.

The wizard in question is Mordank the Irregular. Tales are told of his feats … like when he saved the town from poisoned grain by summoning a huge army of rats to eat the grain. And who then died in the streets and stank forever. Mordank is my kind of wizard, both in holistic thinking and in being a weirdo.

There’s absolutely a Wizard House vibe this. There are some ruined houses in town with no real walls or doors. Except for one, which is the wizards doors. The backside looks like a normal door. That’s wizard shit. Weirdo servants? Wizard shit. Keeping fey captive? Wizards shit. Weird stuff to fuck with? Wizard shit. Mirrors you can walk through? Wizard shit. Thing place feels like a wizards house.

It helps that you can talk to just about anything. Slime creatures on the moon? They are actually guests of the wizard, nice people, and happy to talk if you don’t try to gak them at first sight. The servants? They talk … and try to get you to go back to the visitors lounge. The guards? Same thing. But their captain also needs some sneaky types to help him get back at the servants …  The fey king, and other fey? Sure, the kings hobbies are Games and Hating Mordank. There’s a great deal of interactivity. If I had a complaint in this area it might be that it could use a little more challenge. There’s that Ed Greenwood thing where you just walk around looking at weird shit. And in LOTFP fucking with anything is usually a bad idea. In a Gold=XP game the allure is usually loot, motivating you to fuck with stuff. In a one-shot (which is what this is oriented toward. More on that later.) or a story game then you motivation to fuck with shit has to be in service of the story. I’m not sure that comes through as well as it could. In some places it seems more like Greenwood interactivity. Not an obstacle, but an experience, and you can be left with the “just dont touch anything” mindset.

In THIS adventure the pregens provide some motivation in that area. They all have objectives ad “side quests” from their backstory. Discover the source of the wizards power and report back. Get cash. Spread the faith. Find a book in the library about a certain thing. Things to get you moving around the map, if this were a hexcrawl, beyond the simple main quest.

A high page count with low room count usually means word bloat. While this isn’t a masterpiece of editing, it doesn’t really have the problems associated with word bloat. Each room is contained on two or three pages. You get a little mini-map, an initial impression, and then a separate header and paragraph, etc, for each interesting thing in the First Impression description … or a feature inside of another feature, for example. This is then followed by an explicit stat block, a section on treasure, and then a note on exits. Whitespace and section headings a bullets are generous. Taken together this explains how the depth of the rooms are handled and how it gets past the word bloat issue. Ray thought about the issue and found a solution.

Well … most of a solution. At two pages per room I am ON. BOARD. with this format. Facing pages, open behind the screen, the entire room available at a glance with whitespace, headings, bullets providing me help to find things. At three I suddenly need to page flip. A third page containing just the stats and/or treasure/exits could be ok. A third page referenced during exceptions, like a fight breaking out or leaving the room. Then a page flip seems ok. But a third page, or more, to look up simple room stuff? At that point I begin to drag out my Everything is a Guideline mantra, and Too Much Devotion to a Things is Bad mantra. Messing with the margins, the whitespace, the font size, rethinking Major Headings vs Minor Headings, all all in game as things that could be sacrificed, temporarily at a minimum, on the altar of “all the main shit on two pages.”

That might be my major complaint and I think falls in to the realm of Polishing. In that same realm are a large number of other issues. Some more work on mirror world to handle the transition rooms better, those being necessarily more complex. A major NPC, the wizards drinking buddy, is lacking almost any detail at all. Like, what he knows about the house, the situation, etc. Some of the words from the First Impression features do not appear as section headings. Looking Glass in the impressions with Mirrors as a heading for more information. That’s a crude example, but gets the point across. Other places need someone to point out some flaws in the writing. A little model of the solar system is in one room. A party member can shrink and fly toward the planets … at 20’ per round. They are unrecoverable at 100’. I don’t really get this. The solar system toy, the shrinking, the distances, they don’t make sens to me together.

But, these are polish issues. There’s some very find magic rings with non-standard effects. A gem you can swallow (Hey hey hey! Dungeon of the Bear!) and great rumors. The wizard is built up exactly the way you’d want one to be … powerful and little bizarre without going full out gonzo or silly. The Gentlemen Fey thing goin on is just icing.

Good adventure. Lots of room for polishing. As a one-shot it supports the DM with pre-gens with motivations to help drive action beyond the main plot. I can handle something that needs more polishing; The Best doesn’t necessarily mean Perfect. This is a great first effort.

This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is 21 pages! You get to see several of the complete rooms, in their two to three page layout glory.

EDIT: I review above is the one I originally wrote. Ray had asked for feedback so I sent him the review and, between writing it Saturday and publishing it Wednesday, he released a second edition. It helps mitigate the gaps around the drinking buddy knowing the house, clarifies the solar system toy, and, notably, messed around with the layout of each room to try and get it to two facing pages OR move the reference material to end to get the core room on to the two facing pages. Now, if everyone else in the world listened to me this much then my entitlement issues would be resolved, although in the wrong manner.


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/274519/The-Magicians-House-DCC-edition?1892600

Posted in Reviews, The Best | 8 Comments

The Living Building

Derek Holland
Skirmisher Publishing
Mutant Future
Level ?

Just after dawn, a village scout dashed from the forest carrying a wondrous, and perhaps even terrifying, story of a huge, circular shell with a door, a massive coiled building that sprang up during the night. And it is still growing …

This 22 page supplement details “Living Buildings”, a kind of organic building type of the ancients. Most of it is given over to background information and how the buildings grow, live, die, and operate, but about six pages have some details on the various types of rooms you might find inside one of the complexes.

The first ten pages give background on the “architectural style.” The reasoning behind the buildings and how they work. This is in long form, paragraph style with few an occasional section heading. As a “toolkit”, or fluff, I guess this is ok. I don’t know. I don’t know nothing about fluff/toolkits.

The next six-ish pages are devoted to a random room generator. Things like “Power Room. Flowing through the piping and stored in large cylinders, highly volatile chemicals fill this room and any fire or explosion Detonates them. See Attacks for details.”

Look, I’m not good, at all, at reviewing things that are not adventures. After about 1500 adventure reviews I feel like I’m just starting to understand what makes them tick. But fluff books, or toolkits? I’ve no idea.

I’ll tell you though why I found the booklet unsatisfying. Although I think it has as much relevancy as getting advice from me on Latvian literature in the 13th century.

If you look at that power room description above, I’m not sure it inspires me to anything. It just sounds kind of a little generic. I’m not sure I could take that, riffing off of it, design six different power rooms on the fly that were interesting. I think I’d have to invest a substantial mental effort in doing so with what’s present. I think I want a fluff supplement to make me excited about things, inspired, ideas bursting from my head. I don’t get that from reading this. It reads dry and abstracted. Even the sample 2-page floorplan (it’s fourteen rooms small compared to the 25-ish to 440-ish the text notes these places to be) is unkeyed and, given the nautilus design, linear with each room having one door in and door out, to the next room.

When I’m looking at this sort of thing I want something less academic and more visceral. Something that I can riff of off and inspires me to create greatness. Colour.

Also, it didn’t have a 100-entry “random artifact table”, which, I believe, is required for every Gamma World adventure ever written.

But, I don’t know nothing. Attempts like this to break out of my Adventure Zone reveal that I should stay inside it, until I am done with my current projects.


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/262478/The-Living-Building?1892600

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(5e) Heroes of Baldur’s Gate

By James Ohlen, Jesse Sky
Self Published
5e
Level 1

Hey, quick reminder that I have a Patreon. It helps offset the costs of the website and buying adventures. Unlike some, I don’t accept adventures to review; I buy everything I review.

https://www.patreon.com/join/tenfootpole?

The city of Baldur’s Gate is the pride of West Faerûn—a mercantile stronghold ruled by the famous Grand Dukes. One year ago, a powerful merchant leader named Sarevok nearly catapulted the city into war with the neighboring nation of Amn. This crisis was averted, and the remnants of the organization were scattered throughout the Sword Coast. Now, the city is threatened from within by agents of the nefarious Zhentarim, who seek to fill the power vacuum left behind in the wake of these events. Meanwhile, the Shadow Druids plot to destroy the city by performing terrible rituals, deep within the Cloakwood. Who will rise to oppose them?

This 162 page adventure (about half of which are “adventure” and half are appendices, etc) is set within the BG video games universe and includes all your favorite NPC’s from that series. It contains enough “free roaming” that MOST of it doesn’t feel like the typical plot-based railroad. Major portions “Feel” like the town exploration part of the BG videogame, which has good points (interesting stuff) and bad points (Let me just invite myself in …) It’s over-written and poorly designed for information transfer, as is usual for this type of adventure. It also has a TERRIBLE start.

Scene 1 – Quest Assignment. It’s in an inn. Full of soldiers to ensure everyone is good. And they take away everyone’s weapons upon entering. And tie spellcasters thumbs to their belts via string. Not the party. Everyone in the inn. Just to be clear: the designer has a story to tell and no “free will” from the party is gonna get in the way of that.

Scene 2 – You go to some gibberling mounds to rescue some incompetent Harpers SO. A forest area. Full of dirt mounds. Gibberling lairs. Four larger mounds, which could contain a body underneath (I guess we all know they are dormant and not dead. Anyway …) Digging up a mound requires stealth, and a roll. Noise triggers 3d4 gibberlings to burst forth from a mound. There are 250 mounds. Things could go very wrong as the party tried to find the missing person … but hey, don’t worry though! If the gibberlings awake then the NPC harper will IMMEDIATELY choose the correct mound his wife is under and untie her in a single round, screaming for everyone to run! Ought oh! Chase scene with gibberlings bursting out! Oh, no, don’t worry, they give up in 1d4 rounds. You get it right? There’s no adventure here. There’s suffering the plot and all the bullshit fake “tension” moments the designer has put in. But there’s no real tension because anything you do will be mitigated by the designer. They are trying to build tension through fake set-piece “tension scenes.” That’s not how it works. Consequence-free D&D is how boredom works though.

When you enter Baldurs Gate the read-aloud notes urchins grasping at coin purses and well-coordinated thugs skulking in alleys. Don’t worry though, this all just window-dressing, there are no actual thugs or urchins and no help for the DM if the party were to naturally follow up on those things mentioned in the read-aloud.

And the read-aloud IS extensive. It’s everywhere, long, monologue exposition. You will find no relief! No one listens past 2-3 sentences, remember? No, you don’t remember? That article WOTC posted? No? How about your own tables, the players it attentive while you read a page of read-aloud? Or they pull out their phones and/or daydream? That’s because it’s bad design and play.

Our city wanderer table is full of exciting things like “a cat is pursued by a pack of starving dogs” and other exciting encounters that are meaningless.

Things get better once the core of the adventure starts. There are 33 locations in town to explore. They have too much read-aloud and too much DM text, full of trivia and other meaningless information that doesn’t drive the adventure. This, of course, hides the real data in the location that the DM needs, like a brief personality, etc. But … it’s Baldurs Gate from the videogame. You explore the locations, from some initial clues, and widen your explorations of the other locations from the clues you uncover. This leads, probably, to the sewers  and tunnels. Sixty-ish locations under the town, leading to the basements of various buildings little mini-encounters/scenarios.

In this respect it’s the BG videogame. There’s a bunch of locations, you can wander in to them and find something happening. A little kid trapped in a cage in The Butchers meat market basement. A gambling ring with indigents facing off against gruesome challenges … that they are willing participants in, out of desperation for their circumstances. The world is brutal place. The interconnections and design, allowing the party to stumble on C which leads to D while trying to follow up A with B are done well. But it FEELS like a videogame. It feels like you are moving from A to B to C in the dungeons, busting in to basements to see what fresh hell is inside. Like you’re getting 100% by doing all the challenges in a videogame and/or exploring all of the areas. Will the party actually engage in this? Idk.

The “vignette” locations are good setups. Abstracted with detail more than I would like. Thugs guard basement doors to locations, instead of Pegleg Pete guarding the door. This abstraction garbage is a plague upon adventures. More words are not the solution but better words are. Trimming the trivia from the descriptions, read-aloud, and DM text and focusing on the evocative stuff relevant to actual play. This isn’t a call to minimalism. It’s not a call to describing everything. It’s a call to focus the writing efforts on what’s directly relevant and to make it evocative.

This thing has GREAT evocative monster art. I seldom mention art, because it’s so bad, but the monster art in this is top notch. Evocative. The rest os terrible, but the monster stuff is A+. It makes you FEEL the monster, and that’s what it should do to the DM, so they can better relate that vibe to the party. Everything should contribute to the DM running the adventure. Everything.

I’m also fond of some of the NPC descriptions. “Tharka (CG gnome acolyte) is an excitable young priest of Gond who is eager to impress Jaheira.” That’s a great description! It directly helps the DM both with her personality and what she does. It does it in one sentence. There’s not enough of this and the NPC summary sheet would better for it if if engaged in the same format/goals. Likewise, the rewards for accomplishing the quests are great. Medals, parades, people staring at you in disgust … there’s some effort made to make the players feels the consequences from the townfolk. Not enough story adventures do that. Of course, this relies, in no small part to the party following up on every quest lead they get, to solve not only the main quest but also the other two main side-quests.

There are also some epic backgrounds that the players can take at character creation. The Last Emperor, The Chosen One, etc. They DO feel epic, and yet not prescriptive, and the adventure text provides reference to how some of the locations in the adventure dovetail in to each individual one.

(And I would not that this is lacking in the main adventure. How the various quests interact with the locations and other locations is not detailed except through each individual location. This leaves you tracing breadcrumbs to understand how the adventure works. A little summary up front, with cross-references, would have gone a long way. As is, it FEEL like it’s randomly laid out and organized.)

I note also the maps are terrible. “Artistic”, they are hard to read. The map is a reference tool for the DM, first. If I can’t read the sewer map, or find the trails on the wilderness map, then you’ve done a bad job with the map.

So, lots of interesting things to stumble across. But abstracted text, and WAY too much of it to make running it at the table less than a huge effort. Lacks a GOOD summary, compounding an unfolding drama confused by too much text. The beginning, though, is DISASTROUSLY bad. Trimmed of about half its words, and being a little more specific and better summarized, it could be ok. Certainly, the originality and design is there, at least in most of the adventure, to a degree not usually seen in 5e adventures. The effort lacks the information-theory though. Improvements in that area could mean better things in the future.

This thing is $20 on DriveThru, for the PDF. The preview is garbage, showing you nothing of the actual adventure or encounters, which means you can’t make an informed purchasing decision. It’s a blind buy. This is why DriveThru needs a refund system.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/269398/Heroes-of-Baldurs-Gate-5e?1892600

Posted in 5e, Reviews | 10 Comments

Eyrie of the Dread Eye

By Courtney Campbell
Autarch
ACKs/BX
Levels 6-8

… Now the Awakening is near, the Spheres are coming into alignment, and the Oculus is beginning to open. The dark power is reaching out and for the first time in an age the Eyrie of the Dread Eye is accessible again. As the Eye opens, reality itself comes under further and further  strain. And as rumors of a new valley containing an underground forgotten city filled with untold riches spread out from the Dark Wall, the Oculus continues to open ever wider.

This 59 page adventure describes a ruined city. There are about sixteen encounter areas prior to the city, and about eight “faction headquarters” in the city. This description, though, trivializes the emergent play sections of the city, a major part of the adventure, as well as the ever-present danger of the “minigames” that the locale proper provides. One of the better Lost Cities adventures, combined with a great example of pull-no-punches DM’ing that DOESN’T feel adversarial. Its complexity is its downfall and it could be organized better, going a little too far over the line of emergent play. But that don’t mean it ain’t a treasure, cause it is.

This isn’t a dungeon. It’s not even an adventure. It’s an adventure site location. The title, EofDE, makes it sound like a dungeon or adventure. It says “site-based adventure” somewhere in some description, but that shit gets thrown around like a marketing term. But this thing ain’t fucking around: it’s a site-based adventure location. And it’s gonna fuck up every party that meets it in a non-adversarial DM’ing manner, unless they are EXPERT players making multiple forays.

Rappan Athuk did something interesting: it highlighted threats outside of the dungeon. Bandit groups, with hundreds of members, preyed on you. This sort of thing is generally abstracted ot skipped over in adventures. What if, in X1, you came back to find your ship destroyed because it was continually attacked by large monster groups? And how many adventures deal with the consequences of the wandering monster table with respect to the hirelings & henchmen & horses you leave camped outside of the dungeon? This is an adventure for levels 6-8, which Courtney describes as “high level.” And that’s been my experience as well; Level 6+ B/X characters can be monsters. Lots of magic, both in spell and item form. A player with any sort of creativity can overcome A LOT. As a high-level adventure it does not abstract.

So you’ve got the 20 on a lost city rumored to be full of loot and off you head. Getting close you encounter the Argonath, in the form of a giant snake man statues, broken, behind it the path to the lost city. [IE: you are entering the mythic underworld and shit is about to get real.] From this point on wyverns are a constant threat. There’s a lot of wyverns in the cliffs and if you wipe them all out then more will show up eventually, in restocking the dungeon format. Thus we have an ever-present environmental danger to the party in the form of wyverns. Who are guaranteed to show up and assault stragglers and whenever the party is weakened or vulnerable. Like during a partial cave in. Or while climbing cliffs. And they HATE flyers. And thus the designer takes care of both “why fly spell doesn’t work” as well as causing trouble for Ye Olde high level party.

It’s a constant threat. Rappen kind of did something similar with that bandit/wilderness stuff, and a couple of adventures have tried to intimate something similar, but not like this. This is the sort of difficulty modifier that high level play should expect. It’s not those bullshit cold/heat/humidity rules that lots of “exotic” adventures turn to that cause so much logistical trouble and get in the way of fun. Of no, the party knows about this threat, will be aware of it, and will have to deal with it. They can always nuke the wyverns to buy some time (yeah! Party choice!) but they WILL come back.

It’s hard for me to write this review. I like to focus on the positives before moving to the negatives, but this adventure feels different. The encounters tend to be interactive. The boxed text, what there is, is short and evocative. But unlike most adventures, the traditional format is left behind. All adventures are emergent play adventures but this one is more so than others. Sandboxy? Emergent Play focused? Toolkit? There’s some element of truth to all of those descriptions, but never in a bad way. “Toolkit” doesn’t even go over the line the way it usually does.

There’s a cliff face 400’ with some caves/edifices that the party will confront after the giant snake-man statue. It has about eight locations, three of which lead to an dinner chamber which leads to the lost city. You need to get up the cliffside and explore the holes. Also, don’t forget the ever-present wyverns to deal with. Once inside the inner-chamber there are, again, about eight more things described, including the centerpiece giant multi-armed statue who’s hands/arms can act like an elevator. Cool! Then, you reach the lost city …

It’s large. It has several groups within it. There are eight locations described in about a half page to page each. There’s a wandering monster chart in which each monster is given a number of different things they could be doing/engaged in, as well as a “random ruins generator” for exploring the various ruined buildings around town.

You made it all the way to this point in the review. Do you know yet what the adventure is about? It’s about that last part, the random ruins. Courtney never explicitly states it, I think, but the goal of every page of this adventure is to focus on the play around the looting the ruins. Stealing every fucking thing you can. Explore every nook and loot every last dime. (ok, it could be “make a daring dash in and steal some shit without getting gacked, but it’s the same thing in my mind, just different degrees of willpower and success.) “Hey, giant lost city form a fallen civ full of gold and magic. Lots of monsters also. Want some loot/xp? Go get it!” That’s the adventure.

Now the wyverns make a lot more sense. Now the cliff makes more sense. It’s all there to make looting that fucking city more complicated.

The emergent play is looting the rando sites in the city. While dealing with the wanderers. While dealing with the factions inside the city. While dealing with getting it out/down the cliff. While dealing with those fucking wyverns outside.  

To a certain extent this is the same thing that happens in all OSR adventures. The difference is that those have a more finite environment, representing the dungeon, with an abstracted “outside.” This doesn’t. Hence the description of it being pull no punches DM’ing. The DM has set up a series of harsh game-world rules and put the potential of a FUCKTON of treasure in front of you. It’s up to you, high level adventurers, to figure out how to extract it, and to what degree.

Courtney understand this and the adventure is focused on it, almost every choice in the design being oriented towards that. But, given the rarity of this sort of thing and the degree to which Courtney is focused on it, it could have used a one paragraph designers note section explicitly stating that’s what it is and how it works together.

Fuck if I know what else to say about this. Good rumors, good wanderers doing things. The wanderers are also VERY opportunistic, almost every last one of them, picking off strays and wounded and running away. There’s a section in which you can encounter an NPC party, but you’re told to roll one up on your own; a half page of pre-rolled ones would have been nice.

There’s a couple of party gimps with spell levels and undead turning and scry scrolls. They mostly feel out of place. I get the undead thing, lost cities should have undead and undead should be a threat but high level clerics fuck off with undead. The options to just make them tougher seeming to be its own issue. I don’t understand the spell level gimps the other prohibition against scrying, it doesn’t make sense to me. Calling the main opponents “the optics” I guess you could make the case that it fits in that, as well as the usual pretext of “a place of great evil.” I’d probably just not mess with the spell levels or the scrying thing. The undead thing is a major old school issue, but again I’d probably just let it be without a gimp. The turn rules in older D&D need to be better without the BS in modern D&D. Then it becomes closer to a resource game mechanic.

I have trouble with one of the main maps, the cliff map. I can’t make out some of the features on it, or what they are supposed to represent. Stairs? Just art to spruce up the map? The “climb the cliffs” minigame also takes up a little more than column and could be better organized as well. It feels a little free-form and could use better organization, bolding, headings, etc. Climbing information feels buried in a wall of text of rules dictating climbing that seems hard to follow during play. The city map though, being isometric, is great, allowing the DM to describe landmarks seen at a distance, etc.

The factions are not what I would consider factions. They are more “the major people/organizations present in the city.” While not all hostile and the designer mentions to ensure reaction rolls and even hostile doesn’t mean combat, , they don’t seem to have needs & wants, at least in a traditional way that you can bargain with. Even the “enemy of my enemy” stuff is not really present. This is a miss. It doesn’t feel like there’s a place/way to find common ground, because they have no ground mentioned.

What is not said is that this adventure will dominate play for several months for expert PLAYERS. This isn’t a quick in and out, probabally. The party will go back, to a location 70 miles away, several times. They’ll get their asses kicked. They organize logistics. Hire mercenaries. Hunters to feed the merc. Elite guards to watch the loot they bring out and protect it from the mercs and hunters they brought out. There’s a “loot extraction logistics” mini-game implicit in this adventure, that will take a long time, game time, to execute. You could write a page or two of NPC’s and adventure/complications ideas and include it in this adventure and it would only make it stronger. (Good advice. Should have been done.)

This is a good example of high level play and one of the few “loot extraction” adventures written. It could be better with organization in several parts, and some summaries of how thing works, better faction play, and maybe some logistics help. But that don’t mean it’s not good enough to be centerpiece of a campaign for months.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview doesn’t work. Not that I think any preview of this could relate the adventure.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/268206/Eyrie-of-the-Dread-Eye?1892600

I see a 5e version is available. I have no idea how that would work in this environment.

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