The Sepulchre of the Serpent’s Servant

By Miles Adams
Self Published
OSE
Levels 1-2

An ancient, crumbling crypt overrun with vermin is now home to a band of goblins, but the temple beneath the crypt contains dark secrets.

This fourteen page digest adventure features a two level dungeon with thirteen room in about eight pages.It’s a pretty basic goblin affair. There are hints of better things to come with the designer, based on elements of the room description

It’s a humanoid lair. B2 had humanoid lairs. What’s it doing that B2 doesn’t do? Orcs in a Hole  man. Except this time it’s goblins. A bunch of rooms on the first level with goblins in them and then a couple (four?) on the second level with an old temple and mummy in one. 

The format here is interesting. A room title. A short one sentence italics … overview? “The stench of death. Moans in the darkness.” That don’t do shit … except give a certain vibe to the DM. That’s what vibe the designer is going for in this room. And …. Meh? I mean, ok. I get where you’re going. But, also, why not just make that the rooms vibe? Via the descriptions? 

Then we get the bullets, with some nested bullets under those for more info, like treasure carried by the bulleted monster. With some bolding to draw the attention to a word. A stat block in an offset box and maybe another section with some more information if there’s a random table or something. It’s basic, easy to scan and find information. And, probably, in this case, implemented incorrectly. More on that later. But, it also has some extraneous information, like “The goblins keep the toad well fed so they can pass it by.” Great. Why do I care about that, when running a game? Or, where the fucking doors lead. You mean, the thing the map shows? You almost never need to include exit/door information. And, then, some of the bullets are out of order. Room one’s first bullet is that there is a giant toad in the room. And bullet two is that the muddy floor conceals the toad. We dont do things this way. Obvious things first. First things first. The floor is muddy. It hides a giant toad. That’s the way we order information, the the manner in which the DM is likely to need to use it.

Before we get to my main comments, let’s talk first about randomness in an adventure. I feel like I’ve talked about this sixteen hundred million bajillion times. Randomness in an OSR adventure is not arbitrary. It’s there for a reason purpose. It feels like people say “Oh, OSR has random tables in it. Here’s a random table. Now my adventure is OSR also!” No. In certain situations it makes sense to have some randomness in an adventure. A giant room full of trash that you search could reveal some loot/objects in a rather arbitrary manner. If you have multiple corpses, or graves, or something. Enough tha keying each, individually, could be a pain, then randomness might make sense. But, let’s say there is ONE corpse in the room. And you loot it. What’s the purpose of having a random table to show you what is on the body? The table takes up more space. And, there’s no reason for it. Whatever the body has is what the body has. Put put ni the fucking things you were randomizing. If you’ve got a scene based adventure and write four scenes as potentials on the way to the dungeon, and you roll to see which one the party encounters … why the fuck are you doing this? To waste three encounters worth of content? 

But, mainly, I want to talk a bit about the room descriptions and how I find them uninteresting. This is a common complaint of the OSE format and/or bullets. The usage of these, for organizing, does not remove the need to be evocative in your descriptions. 

The general, “always on” descriptions used for the dungeon rooms are found on a normal page … and not the fucking map, etc, where they should fucking be. And they are not bad. A cool, damp, dank, earthy smell. Ceilings of timber, 8’ tall, falen bricks, handling root, dripping water. Floors of black flagstones, broken and uprooted by mud, roots, and slime. Sconces of coiled serpents. Sagging dark green stone block walls, collapsed by expanding roots. These are not bad at all! But they are lost by being put up front and not someplace the DM can always reference to beef up a description. How often ar eyou going to remember to go back and look at that page, while looking at the page you are running, in order to incorporate it? WHich is why you put the fucking things someplace they will always be seen. OR you put them in the room proper, in your description. Pick one or two and go with that in that room. 

There are rooms here which could not be bad. “Smokey, fetid, crawling with lice”, says a room. With an oil lamp hanging from a ceiling. Lean in to that fucking smoke. Hanging in the air. Hazy, Choking a bit. With debris. The floor crawling with lice. And goblins lurking in it. Instead it comes off a little busy and boring.

Or, The SInking Temple. Which is labeled Dark, Dank, Roots entwined serpent columns sinking in to a muddy mire. And a corpse floating FACE DOWN in it. (Nice!)  But I’d lean in to the ankle deep water, and maybe some slime and debris, leaves, roots in the water. Go harder on the vines and columns. 

So, conceptually, you can ALMOST get to a decent room.But it just never makes it there because of the choices made with te format. 

In the end it’s just another goblin lair with little to distinguish it.

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

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/422928/Sepulchre-of-the-Serpents-Servant?1892600

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

Gilded Dream of the Incandescent Queen

Gilded Dream of the Incandescent Queen
Footprints #25
HDA Terrible Sorcery
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 3-6

Nearing the end of her life, she explored every option to extend her years: magic mirrors, lichdom, medicine, even Infernal bargains. Nothing was satisfactory. Finally, she built the sanctum and attempted to transcend mortality itself. It didn’t work out.

This is one of the adventures in Footprints issue #25. And, as it turns out, was also at least partially developed in a contest on my Adventure Design forum. Which I didn’t participate in or even realize was going on until two years after it ended. My bad …

This 21 page adventure describes a two-ish level “castle” in the sky with about forty rooms in it. It’s doing everything right … and yet leaves me nonplussed. Maybe the Dwarf Temple problem.

One of the opening sentences to this is “Many NPCs in the adventure have useful knowledge about local dangers – parties who don’t gather information and put the pieces together might make a fatal mistake! Thus is the game played.” So, surprise surprise surprise, Terribly Sorcery gets it. 

So, queen lady tried to become immortal by building a stairway to heaven, literally, from her cloud castle. It worked kind of like one would expect. Now the vil part of her broods in her throne room. Oh, also, rumors say the castle has something that can turn base metals in to gold. Let’s take a look, shall wel?

We’ve got a mostly functioning caste here. There are cloud butlers and marble courtesans running around. And some rotting corpses. And some ‘angels’ “the gilded ones” who’ve descended from on high having come DOWN the staircase. And a decent number of other weirdos to be found in the cells and dungeons and palace proper. The major groups get a little run down of some basic personality and desires – which is good for the more generic ones like the butlers, angels and courtesans. Our angels? “Culturally insensitive tourists with holy

Powers.” Noice! And the remains of the queen in her throne rooms? She wants “To increase the misery in the world, even her own. To be praised, flattered and obeyed. To live forever. To be beautiful again.” Nice stuff there. Realistic and runnable as an NPC. This is all supplement by a decent, if somewhat layout-expansive, wandering monster table good enough to add sufficient variety to the DMs imagination during play.This is how you add colour, people.

Treasure, both mundane and magical, is well described, generally, and a mix of unique items and book items. The map is …decent for the limitations given: the base outline is a triangle and shows us some features, like light and such. (And it’s worth noting that some rooms are bigger on in the inside … like the 2 mile diameter ocean inside of one rooms, complete with multiple islands. That’s a nice addition.) I might have found that the “always on” dungeon dressing, marble, etc, would be better served as a note on the map page rather than only in the text. I like general features somewhere I can reference them quickly.

Writing is relatively decent here. If, maybe, a little .. static? Low energy? “11 worthless remains are climbing up the pillars to catch and eat a group of 19 sunlight moths resting on the ceiling.” If I look at that description and I really THINK about it then it could be pretty cool. It’s certainly better than the vast majority of descriptions written in rooms in adventures. They are doing something, both crawling up the pillars AND trying to eat something, so, great job! Maybe a few better adjective/adverb choices would have given it a little more energy in the imagination. Likewise, let’s look at this room description: “CHAPEL – Hung with white and crimson banners, lit by golden candelabras. On a marble altar rests a glowing red cross which bleeds constantly, covering the altar and overflowing into a floor drain.” Again, if I really think about this then it seems pretty nifty. And it is ABSOLUTELY better than most of the garbage I run across. (This is what praise from me looks like. Its not the best food ive ever eaten in my life. Why is that the case?) But, again, it seems a little … ossified? Again, I think some better adjective and adverb choices. And, again, I will point out that I think this is the hardest part of adventure writing. Making a description really jump off the page and live in the imagination of the DM, immediately, is hard. 

Certainly, we get a kind of mythic element to the adventure. There’s the golden stairway to heaven, which is described well and FEELS like what it’s meant to be: a major major location. A mythic place. And, likewise, the dungeons below have some shit equal to the stairs. Mythic things and rooms that you’re like “Damn. Yup. That’s what some soul scales are, where they live, and who guards them!” The ability to create, and communicate, the truly MYTHIC in quite well done. The designer understands the need to do this in an adventure and has the ability to do it.

The environment is a little austere, with marble hallways and the like. I wondering if my lack of enthusiasm here is because of that. There’s a tendency to make dwarf temples, and indeed anything dwarf, somewhat austere. And I think it’s quite difficult to communicate the grandeur of the austere in the written word. Magnificent desolation, and the like ot the southwest landscapes … how do you do that? It does seema lot simpler to appeal to those baser dark and dripping caverns with streams of blood and gore. Given the austerity of the place. “The hallways are polished white and grey marble, trimmed with gold and silver highlights. Furniture and artwork is clean and well-cared for. Soft lighting permeates the sanctum, like being indoors on an overcast day.” Maybe? I don’t know. It’s got a decent amount of interactivity. Mythic things. Good wanderers and decent map for its size. The rooms are decently written, and yet I’m not very excited here. Which is why I want to turn to the austerity excuse. 

I think this is worth checking out, especially since Footprints is free. I’m just not sure this every makes it to my table? 

Free at Dragonsfoot at:

https://www.dragonsfoot.org/php4/archive.php?sectioninit=FT&fileid=503&watchfile=

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews, The Best | 19 Comments

Blackmore

By Eric Garneau
Critical Lit Publishing
OSE
Levels 1-2

Suspended high above the land by magicks unknown, the magnificent Castle Blackmore stands as the sole remaining triumph of a civilization long past. But every Year of the Fox, for but one day, a luminous rainbow bridge appears to connect the lands below to the castle above. What treasures does Castle Blackmore hold?

This is just crap. You don’t need to keep reading this review.

Have I told you about my band, Mic Check? We get up on stage at your local dining pub, crank up the amps, and spend two hours just (badly) tuning our instruments. and saying “Check check.” My band has more merit than this adventure.

It’s got 44 digits pages and has three adventures. It’s inspired by Deep Purple? & Dio? That’s metal from the … 60s? Early 70’s? Ok, so,  this is either boomer or some kind of music dude that also likes D&D. And has, presumably, never actually seen a D&D adventure. And thus we get this thing of a shit-fest. 

The first adventure, the only one I could make it through, is fourteen pages long. It has a “really fun role play encounter” and then a six room temple … in which four of the rooms are on one page. How this thing managed to get to fourteen pages is beyond me. I mean, I know, it’s my fake job to know, I’m just incredulous.

So, you want to make it to the magic castle in the sky. TO get there you have to take a circular tunnel in the side of a mountain. You go through it to find a room with a wizard in it. He tells you that to get to the castle you need to open a frozen door and that he’s forgotten all of his fire magic. Great. You thaw the door, go through the passage to see a temple. All of that takes four pages. We’ll get back to that. The temple is one one big room, four smaller rooms hanging off of it and a basement. The basement has 2d4 sahuagin in it. That you have to fight to continue on. Those are what … 2HD? Yeah, levels 1-2. Right.You get a ring off of one of them, stick it in the alter up to and you’re done … you summon the rainbow bridge to the sky castle. Fourteen fucking pages.

That initial four pages of text? That’s just paragraph after paragraph of “and then this happens and then this happens and then this happens” sprinkled in with a lot of “and as a DM you could do this or as a DM you could do this or as a DM you could also throw this at the players.”

 And long fucking italics that is hard to read. 

 An din the adventure advice like “play up their grotesque description” … without any description for the DM to play up. 

And commentary in the text like “but where is that object?”  addressed to … theDM? The players? 

And other commentary in the descriptions like “they are possibly remnants of the temples earlier inhabitants or perhaps among its meanest primal antagonists” This is in reference to the sahuagin. Who the fuck cares about that? 

This is just nonsense. There’s little semblance or organization at all. Just a whole lot of words that are padding. No help to the DM in running it, either in the descriptions or the formatting or anything else. Your interactivity is putting a ring the sahuagin have in to the alter in the main room. And, I guess, thawing an obviously frozen door? 

Yeah, I’m not explaining why anything is bad this morning. I’m not explaining what to do better. I really don’t give shit, after reading this. If you’re going to make no effort at all then why should I?

This is $8 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. Go ahead and summer through the last couple. It’s representative.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/419845/Blackmore-A-Rock–Roll-Adventure-Module?1892600

Posted in Do Not Buy Ever, Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 10 Comments

Pilgrimage of the Roaches

Kormar Publishing
OSE
Level 1

A group of Roachling pilgrims from the chasms below the earth have emerged and are fortifying the abandoned chrysalis of a death gnat. They prepare to wage a profane war of infection against those who refuse to live in squalor. The human village of Peldor has already been ravaged by the emergence of death gnat; it is not equipped to handle the insect threat.

This sixteen page digest adventure uses seven pages to feature a two level dungeon with 21 rooms and a lot of intelligent roaches.  The central conceit is a gimmick, with interactivity being limited to stabbing. 

The roaches got three factions. The mercs, interested in cash, the preachers who want to convert folk and the zealots who want to kill people. As a level one, id you take roachling as your optional language? No? Then I guess you’re not gonna talk to them, are you? So you better get out your stabbers and stab away. Not that there’s any real guidance on talking to them, anyway. So stab away you kooky cats! For, while the roach leaders have personality ,and the lair is full of weirdo window dressing, ain’t none of it meaningful for an adventure.

“Room 5: Refuse Pit. A dumping ground for the Roachlings. Trash and excrement left here may

be used later in construction.” Wunderbar! You’ve both defined what a refuse pit it and then told us what its going to be used for. Neither of which helps us run this adventure. That’s a pretty good example of a low-value room description. “Bedroom: This room is a bedroom. People sleep in here at night. It has a bed.” would be an equivalent description. 

There’s a lot of littl mistakes in the descriptions I could point out. Important things second int he descriptions. Little bits of backstory embedded. None of them is really enough, in a normal adventure, to make me more than a little grumpy. But, here, the minimalism of the text combined with the complete lack of anything interesting (ooo! Roaches that can stand up and weak clothes and can speak their own language!) make them all stand out like a sore thumb. 

It’s just being weird for the sake of being weird. Kormar has done some interesting things in the past; this is a shame to encounter. There’s nothing to this. I don’t know how to write more. There’s nothing here to review. “Oooo, look, the pug is wearing a tutu!” Ok. Now what?

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a suggested price of $2.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/422019/Pilgrimage-of-the-Roaches?1892600

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 11 Comments

The Secret of the Wood of Dark Bough

The Secret of the Wood of Dark Bough
Footprints 20
R. N. Bailey
1e
Levels 3-5

… An angry mob rushed to arrest the suspected Ostenheim farmers. Eight men of that community were given a quick trial and found guilty. These men are now held in Alfandi. In five days’ time, they are to be executed for practicing black magic on their neighbors….

This 31 page adventure details a wilderness region, a small wilderness lair, and then a three level bullywug dungeon. It’s a real 1e dungeon, for better or ill, that is magazine formatted. So, you’ll get a kick in the balls trying to run it but it’s the real deal. A classic 1e adventure right out of 81.

ObInsult: Ah yes, the hardcore 1e gang. Where the height of game design and formatting was whatever Gary shit out in 1981. Alas, for us all, it was pretty good design …

So, the village of Bumfuck has had some crops fail. They blame the village of Asshattery and their black magic. They kidnap eight farmers from there and are executing them in a few days time. You learn of this and attempt mediation. In looking at the Bumfuck farms, you find some tracks, follow them in to the woods, find a siren in her lair and learn of a stolen magic cup, go back to town to confront the thief about the crop-withering cup only to learn that bullwugs in the swamp stole it … and set off to go get it back so as to provide an alternate theory and free the villagers. As a B/X five, I’d probably just kill everyone, but, we’re in “realistic” 1e land, so, we murder ourselves with labour (U1, biatches!) for 2000gp in treasure. Along the way we get a handful of farms to investigate, a handful of locations in the woods, a siren lair with a few roms, a swamp with a handful of locations, and a three level bullywug lair. 

There is a casual realism here that I greatly appreciate. The mob and fueding villages is very well done. Petty grievances, some jumping to conclusions about evidence, and so on make civil hands unclean. The villages, proper, are well done, with almost no shops. One has a Drink Hall instead f an inn, and you can all sleep in it for a cp. No private room bullshit here! The creatures, as enemies, and the locations extend this kind of realism. Not just things to stab, but also not a useless backstory and history garbage. 

This thing is TIGHT. I mentioned all of the locations, and, with that page count, you’ve got to expect that there’s a been tight job of writing/editing. You get a page of backstory, or so, but, other than that there’s almost no wasted space. None of this “appears to be” shit or integrated what used to be or motivations in the room descriptions. There are some spare words, you’re not getting a flavourless minimalism, but its realism without simulation and a focus on actual game play. Exactly the fuck the way an adventure should be written.

Interactivity here is … subtle. For the most part you’re following breadcrumbs, talking to folks, and stabbing things. Generally, the monsters know something and thus capturing and questioning works for the trail. There’s a shrine to maybe leave an offering in. Or, an underwater cave to discover and swim through. Mostly, this is going to be the party using all of their 1e abilities to overcome things that are at their level. We’re not talking an environment set up against the party, but rather a more natural, neutral environment, with the associated interactivity. 

Decent NPC’s, with their descriptions focused on play rather than backstory. A great little timeline of local events that take place, and where a roving band of miscreants is at any one time, for the party to perhaps stumble upon. The lack of an order of battle for the bullywugs, in their lair, is a somewhat obvious miss. I guess they get what they deserve then 😉

Right now out 1e friends are masturbating furiously over this. And they will continue to do so in spite of …

This is magazine formatted. Magazine formatting is something I discovered in my Dungeon Magazine odyssey. Basically, you’re getting two column, with some bolding. Overall the formatting options appear (for magazine reasons?) to be quite limited when things appear in that medium. This severely limits the possibilities for bringing clarity and scanability to an adventure … something high up on my list. (And, everyone else’s, since “they are hard to run” is the number one complaint, year after year, about prepublished adventures.) This seems to be a common problem. Or, at least, a refusal to deviate from a house style. That’s a miss. The long form paragraph is not the end all and be all of formatting. It can absolutely work, but, also, it is almost certainly not going to work if you don’t work the entries hard with editing and/or keep the entries short. And, all that 1e realism is NOT contributing to keeping the entries short.

We’ve traded evocative writing for gygaxian naturalism. Both can work, although I find High Gygaxian a little distant. The writing here, especially for the descriptions, can be very hit or miss for that reason. “Steady drips of water fall from the ceiling, a few inches of foamy water cover the floor, and flaky, white mold grows on the walls.” I find the overall effect here to be a bit distancing, or coldly written, but steady drips, format water, and flaky white mold are all hitting exactly what they should be. So, not rock star but also not bad at all. But then we get to “In the center of this cave sits a 3’x3’x3’ flat-topped chest of iron.” This is not exactly the best room description ever written. There’s this steady cadence, both in the descriptions and in the DM text, of 1e descriptive elements. Exact dimensions. And dear god, if I have to read “If there is a ranger or druid in the party then the tracks …” one more time I’m gonna have a head burst. “This cavern has a 15; high ceiling and a strong musty smell” is not going to do it for me. 

Which, again, leads to the primary interactivity in this adventure: fucking up dudes. Because, if you’re playing 1e like it’s 4e, then you’ve got enough information to fuck up the dudes present. 

Thus, it ain’t cutting it for me. I could debate the merits of high 1E for a long time. I believe, though, that if you are in to high 1E then I’ve already told you enough that you’re going to check this out. For everyone else … there are other fish in the sea.

Yo, free at Dragonsfoot. You should absolutely check out their magazine, Footprints, at least once in your life, if only to see how the other half lives.

https://www.dragonsfoot.org/php4/archive.php?sectioninit=FT&fileid=377

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 29 Comments

Aberrant Reflections

By directsun
Self Published
B/X
Levels 1-4

At the bottom of an ancient temple, beyond the mirror’s edge, lies the spot where reality was sundered. Fortune and power await those who learn its secrets. A fate worse than death is reserved for those who fail. You’ve come to plunder the temple between worlds and gaze into its ABERRANT REFLECTIONS.

This 44 page digest adventure features a mirror themed dungeon with about 22 rooms. It IS a puzzle dungeon but feels less like one than the ham-handed ones. The writing could be beefed up quite a bit to make it more evocative. This is a decent dungeon, especially as puzzle dungeons go.

This is a mirror dungeon. Meaning that there are mirrors in the dungeon that reflect a second dungeon, with the same basic layout as the first. You can, if you figure it out, pass through the mirrors to manipulate the other environment … such as the big honking room near the entrance stuffed full of treasure! Nice job that … by putting the treasure room up front, albeit in the mirror universe, you get the players interest fast and they pretty quickly learn their mission: figure out those fucking mirrors so they can get the treasure. Thus, I’m all on board with the core conceit. It’s just a dungeon. With another dungeon behind it and a motivation for reaching it. An appeal to the players, rather than the characters, is almost always going to be a good thing and it’s done here.

The map supports the mirror play by overlaying some purple text on to the “normal” map; the purple stuff representing the things that are different in the mirror-verse. The text of the adventure continues this with the rooms having both traditional text and then also purple text to handle the mirror universe things. It’s simple and effective and the purple is easy to read. The lack of numbers on the map raised some eyebrows, but, it is cross-referenced to the page the room is on, one room per page, so, the page numbers essentially serve as a room number … no harm no foul.

Formatting is decent, with bullets, bolding  and whitespace and boxes/shading. And, of course, the purple text clearly designating the mirror room. Interactivity, likewise, with the core puzzle concept of entering and/or manipulating objects in the mirror dungeon. This is complimented by Marvin the Morose Rob^h^h^hgolem and creatures which come through from the other side … as well as a few Things type body horrors. There’s enough variety to keep the party on its toes but still engaged.

My main issue here is one that I frequently have and seldom mention: the quality of the descriptive writing. This is, as I’ve said in the part, what I consider to be the hardest part of writing, so I don’t like to make TOO much of it. But, when its lacking it tends to turn someone I might want to run, or something I am excited to run, in to something I am indifferent to run. And that is, essentially, what we have here. 

Each room starts with a little bit of text, a kind of overview that could be aimed at either the DM or at the players as read-aloud. For example “Mirrors flank a black curtain that conceals the passage north. At the west end of the hallway sits an empty doorframe.” Bolded things have section heading down below, but, looking at the text proper, as an evocative description … meh. Ok. It is, I guess. It’s not bad, but, also, it’s not very evocative, I guess? Perhaps a little too grounded in the facts of the situation rather than the feelings of a situation (I just saw Bodies Bodies Bodies … Feelings are Facts!) 

I’m not altogether bored by descriptions like “A grand mirror towers over a stone altar, bathing it in green light.” as an initial room description. Grand, tower, bathing … and pale green light is always a win. But it is lacking just a little more. Maybe the context of the room? Dust motes? A barrenness by which the mirror and light/altar is thus the highlight? It’s not bad, but it’s not a stunning example of writing either. 

And, I guess, that’s got to be good enough. This is a decent adventure. It’s not doing anything wrong. Maybe a bit rough for level 1s, with a bunch of 3 and 4HD baddies, but as puzzle dungeons go its a pretty decent. The puzzles are integrated, not isolated funhouse rooms. It feels like a real place. Or, at least, the heightened reality of a “Real” dungeon in D&D. The concept, formatting, and interactivity are good and the writing not bad at all.

“Bryce, you’re not excited.” Nope. I’m not. I’m gonna Best this, because I think it deserves it. But, a print copy isn’t going on my bookshelf. Not that you fuckwits give a damn. Directsun is, however, on the short list of people to look out for when new adventures appear by them.

This is $8 at DriveThru. You getting all 44 pages in the preview. Rock on man! Directsun knows the score!

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/419533/Aberrant-Reflections?1892600

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

Welcome to the Valley

By Skeeter Green
Skeeter Green Productions
S&W
Level 1

The Valley Out of Time is a series of ‘zine-sized adventures from SGP. This valley can be placed in any ongoing campaign, and is set in the “Neanderthal Period” of development. Huge monsters – both dinosaurs and otherwise – and devolved humanoids plague the area, and only the hardiest of adventurers will prevail! This series of adventures borrows heavily from classic dinosaur art, books, and movies; if you’ve ever seen a classic Frank Frazetta or Roy Krenkel painting, or read or watched The Land that Time Forgot, The Lost World, Journey to the Center of the Earth, One Million Years B.C., The Flintstones, any stop-motion film from Ray Harryhausen, etc., you’re going to feel right at home.

This twenty page digest adventure has three encounters in it. With a fuck ton of 4HD and *HD combatants. At level one. In long form paragraph form. I wish I had this chutzpah.

Twenty pages. Three encounters. You see a tribe of cavemen. A giant monitor lizard attacks the cavemen. They move camp and a giant snake attacks. Welcome to $5 worth of value, folks!

The caveman thing takes, like four pages or so. See the cavemen. And then get a run down of what they do if you approach. Or attack them. They’re a tribe of cavemen. That’s what the four pages say. And they attack you if you are hostile. There’s a staggering fucking leap of logic. There is NOTHING in those pages that any fuckwit on earth would not do if you said “tribe of cavemen.” No little vignettes. No personalities. No curious kid. Just a fucking tribe of cavemen. In four pages. 

And then a 8HD monitor lizard attacks. Then it’s followed by eight 3 HD raptors. For “Four to six characters of level 1–3 should find the encounters presented herein challenging but manageable.” Uh huh.

And, did I mention, that if you’re injured you get to make a save or get jungle rot. No spell recovery and all rolls at a -1. At level one. And if y ou wear armor you move at 25% movement speed because you are sure to fail one of the eight heat exhaustion rolls you make a day. At level one. 

The cavemen move camp after the lizard/raptor attack. On the way they get attacked by a 8HD snake. Oh, also, the cavemen are 4HD, so, good luck attacking them. 

Three encounters. Not first level. Nothing to them beyond what “cavemen” would most commonly imply. 

But, sure, it takes a lot of fucking words to get there. All laid out quite nicely in long paragraph form. Just read the entire thing. How many cavemen are at the party? Read all of the cavemen pages and then at the very bottom of it you’ll be told. Yeah you! Maybe you wanna give me $5 for this review? It has just as much value as this adventure. But, hey, it pulled in $8k in its kickstarter and has 100% 5 star reviews!

Happy fucking New Year.

This is $5 at DriveThru. There’s no preview.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/391980/The-Valley-Out-of-Time–Welcome-to-the-Valley-SW?1892600

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 14 Comments

Eminence Luminous & Virgin Tenebrous

By Filip Gruszczynski
Self Published
OSE
Levels 5-7

The Eminence Luminous monastery has fallen, but so has the besieged forces. Now the holy site stands silent, surrounded by a sea of corpses. Undead abominations, ravenous scavengers and pagan fiends roam inside. Deep below lies the legendary vault, full of divine relics and unholy artifacts. Will you restore the convent to its former glory? Or will you rather plunder its riches?

This 103 page digest adventure features a monastery, its outbuildings and dungeons with maybe 120-130 rooms and about a dozen interconnected levels/areas. This is gonna get a Regerts because I think the room text is a bit long, the descriptions a bit uninspired, and the digest format wrong. But, also, dude gets it. This is a real site based adventure with good interactivity, of which there are few in spite of everyone claiming they just published one. He’s got his shit together in this adventure.

Usually I like to talkIt’s 9 about nice things and then talk flaws. My back hurts and I’m not in that mood. But know you, gentle reader, this one may be worth you checking out. Now, excuse me while I go on a meaningless rant.

Digest format sucks shit. I know, people like it. It’s currently the rage “Zine zine zine!” is all you hear. I don’t know what the fuck you people think a zine is, but it aint what I think it is. A zine aint a fucking format. That’s a fucking digest. A zine is a fucking magazine. Multiple things in it. Yeah, tey look digest, usually, because you an photocopy it and fold the 8.5×11 in half … hence the digest format. Digest is not, however, a good format to publish your fucking adventure in, OSE to the contrary. Or, rather, it is GENERALLY not the correct format.

When you’re working with a large work, like this adventure is, I think you need to return to more traditional size. This is, in many ways, a very hard statement for me to make. In so many of the judgments I pronounce, it’s not really a binary statement. The decision to go digest on a large dungeon doesn’t make or break the adventure. It’s all a spectrum. Going digest may push your adventure a few “usability” percentage points in the wrong direction, if you don’t handle things correctly. And, thusly, saying “digest was wrong” is more of a “well, I think it was a wrong decision and if you had gone standard format then the rest of the decisions you made in this area may have presented better and perhaps to the point where I no longer have comprehension issues or at least not to the point where I feel like I need to write a lengthy section on it and/or start a review by commenting on it.” But, it’s easier to say that “digest was wrong.” 

On top of everything, the thing uses spreads. So, we’re back to traditional formatting, albeit landscape. And, it’s a fucking PDF product. Realistically, it’s only every GOING to be a PDF product. Almost no one is going to print this. Or buy a printed copy if/when one becomes available. I don’t mean to sound like an ass, but, rather, the number of PDF copies is going to GREATLY outnumber print copies. You don’t gotta hyperlink the fucker, but, at least don’t cripple the medium that everyone is going to be using. You’re not using a photocopier. I’m not printing this out. Why the fuck is it digest format?

And this exacerbates the problems with the text. The font is generous and the descriptions/DM text are not exactly svelt. This, in digest format, for a large number of rooms, give the impression of one room per column, even if it may be a little more than that. Your eye is travelling half the page to pick up information. This is not the way to good comprehension.

And, while it pains me to say this, I live in the United States. Some people do not. Life is not fair. And, I think, this is an EASL adventure and I’m about to rag on it for being so. The text here is not bad. The text here is not GOOD though. I mean, it’s adequate./ And, in many ways, because of that, above average. But, also, it comes off a bit staid in a way that it shouldn’t. There should be energy here tha tisn’t. And it’s not, I think, for a lack of trying. Here’s one of the better attempts: “ The sweet smell of honey mixes with the putrid stench of rotten flesh. Floors and ruined furniture are lined with sticky, pinkish resin. The air vibrates with frenzied buzzing.” This follows the guidelines. (Which, I suspect, is why I think its doing a decent job) But, also, it’s a little lifeless? It’s a little … I don’t know. Antiseptic? And a lot of the text is like this. 

Which is weird because dude clearly has it going on. In the “I don’t like your bullshit setting” DM offset box, it startswith “You break my heart, but that’s OK …” and then gives some more neutral setting advice. That’s the kind of aside I love. And the fucking wanderers are great. They take a sentence or two each and are full of fucking life. Really really strong situations that DO come to life. 

And this energy in the wanderers extends to the general interactitivy of the adventure. The thing is stuffed full of it. The maps has multiple level entrances everywhere. Very little gimping going on (I think. There’s a lot of undead in this adventure, especially low level undead, and the “turning” special rules are unclear to me … perhaps the only section in the adventure that IS unclear. Which is a shame for something so important.) Someg level/area interconnections everywhere. Move a statue for a hatch underneath. Go down a well. Its all there. And the magic items tend to be great ones. The setting here is a little LotFP, so, we get, as a treasure The WORD Of GOD. It’s a Wish. Fucking perfect. And the other magic items, both traditional and not, and pretty well done also. A pair of magic dice … that let you reroll dice. That’s a little meta, enough to make my brain hurt ? Mundane treasure, to level, feels light to me. Especially at this level.

There are little misses, here and there. A fuckwit “your greatest sin attacks you” thing. It could use  A LOT more cross-references. Undead that you could interact with (to the point of joining your party) that could use a word or two of personality more. Or at all. 

But the core of this is strong. A strong, multi area environment to explore. Good map connections. A great degree of interactivity. And descriptions (and formatting) that are trying. You can see that. And they are not BAD.

But, also, it’s a little lifeless and, in looking at the layout/digest/text density issues … I’m not sure I would pick this one up and actually use it. 

Which is a shame. There’s a lot to like here. A LOT. Filip deserves better than me.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is ten pages. It shows you lots of rooms, so it’s a good preview. Room F10, on the first page, stretches across three pages and four columns. G2 on preview page five is also a good example of density.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/420549/Eminence-Luminous–Virgin-Tenebrous?1892600

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, No Regerts, Reviews | 10 Comments

The Beast of Borgenwold

By Harry Menear
Self Published
OSE
Levels 1-3

STRANGENESS AND TERROR FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE!  Borgenwold is cursed, they say. Cursed by pride and greed to cower in fear of the past. A fell monstrosity from beyond the grave has risen to devour this town and all who dwell here.  

This 61 page exercise in pretension has a fourteen room dungeon. It shows some promise, in specificity, but lacks interactivity and the designer has their head so far up their Layout Ass that they ruin any hope of usability. It’s as if it were a kickstarter for a one page dungeon with four rooms, and all the stretch goals added things … but not to the dungeon and not actually usable. Just shit like “what color is the mayors hat back in town?” tables.

Some dude in town hires you to go to his moms tomb and bring back some priceless treasures for him. He’ll pay you 500gp per treasure recovered. Why you’re giving this shit to him, instead of just keeping it for yourself, is beyond me. He owes a loanshark and will be gone in a week anyway, if you don’t give the loot to him, so might as well take it. Speaking of the loanshark … he’s set up a big bad wolf … but has no stats. I assume that means he has 2HP and we stab him and take his shit. He’s got no bodyguards mentioned, when the text goes out of its way to mention bodyguards for everyone else. I assume this means the adventure was not playtested but a variety of other groups. Oh, yeah, did I mention the hooks and timeline don’t match up?
Weve not gotten a shipment for a couple of months now …” while the issues have been going on for a few weeks. 

So, look, this is going to be a theme with this review. The adventure is pretty much crap. There is some high points with the specificity involved, which shows a good deal of promise, but just about everything surrounding that is shit. But, you don’t really KNOW it’s crap just by taking a glance at it. 

And let’s talk about that. It looks niiiiicccccce! Ooo, look at that cover! Two page spreads! Nice art! And, hey, check out that fucking layout! Pretty artsy! Fuck me man, let’s put that fucking thing on the coffee table, am I right? (A reproduction of the wenge table in the Japanese embassy.) Oh course, it’s absolute shit.

The same fucking problem we always have with this art house garbage. The morons get a hardon over their layout. Their fancy fonts. Their background images. How they mimic some cutout style and put the tables at odd angles. The tables that take up an entire page. OOooo, look, a faux gothic style of font! Text that runs at an angle! Fucking idiots. I’m am so fucking done with their bullshit. If you don’t want people to run it then just label the fucking thing as a coffee table book and be done with it. Bt, ohhhh, noooo, no one will buy it if you label it like that, right? They want a nice looking book. Who the fuck said it … the secret to success is to pay for art and layout and have a print fucking version. That’s how you make bank. That’s what the fucking idiots buy. But, also, you are abandoning the core feature. It’s like buying a gorgeous new PC case … that’s completely sealed. You’re failing at the primary purpose. The fucking thing is a monstrosity to read. You can’t fucking follow it. It’s like almost every fucking choice was made to look pretty rather than to contribute to usability. And in this case I mean legibility. You’re fucking brain hurts to look at this. You can’t scan it quickly. The fucking main font, the use of the bold font, the off center text. The fucking gothic font. SHadow boxes and background images. It’s a fucking nightmare. Oh, sure, looks pretty. 

And, while I’m on a I Can’t Fucking Stand This roll, let’s talk about the core of the adventure. A fourteen room dungeon. Everything else in this is essentially padding. And, hey, I don’t mind a little local colour. I love it in fact. But the main adventure is the fucking dungeon. Fourteen rooms. Sixty pages. More on the shit-ass dungeon later.

What do you get? How about a table to describe the local hunters? You see, there’s some side shit (which is tangled up in the main quest.) The titular (heheh) beast is an undead manticore, taxidermied. There are some hunters about. You get a table to make up some hunters. EVen though they don’t really play much of a part in the adventure. They are hardly mentioned. ALso, there is not one table but like four. On four separate pages. That you get to roll on to make one up. How’s that for usability?

No? It’s not? But, hey, one table per page lets you so some funky layout shit! I mean, fuck you and actually running the thing. Otherwise we’d put all four tables on one page. Or, JUST DETAIL A FEW OF THEM IN THE FUCKIGN APPENDIX. People don’t understand what random is for. 

There’s some other shit hanging around in this. Some crazy goblins described over seven pages. The sum total osf which is unpretentious is “Small, cramped passages — too small for anyone but children and halflings to move about. Goblin eyes shine like stars in the torchlight.” That’s your goblin lair description. But, hey, we did get to masturbate over all of those freaky deaky goblin tables that take up the rest of the pages, right? 

There’s a hex map. It serves no purpose and is not linked to the text. Therefore it’s not a map. It’s an art piece. 

And the dungeon? It’s trying to use the OSE format but it fucks it up because because it dopesn’t know what is important. The idea is a short little description with bolded words that expanded upon. But this thing is all over the place in what it thinks is important. Thus, you’ll be readying the entire description to relate some bits to the party. This stands in direct opposition to what the OSE format is trying to do, when implemented correctly. Summary first. Or important things first. Or some way for the DM to figure out those things first. And, ultimately, the dungeon is just about stabbing shit. Stab stab stab. Stab stab stab. Almost no interactivity beyond this most basic of type. Enjoy your stabbing of 6HD creatures that are undead and immune to everything but fire and silver and magic. In your level one adventure.

The fucking thing looks like an adventure that someone has sunk money in to, and thus will be good. But it’s all flash.

It’s got some decent specificity. Good even. The lady that runs the tavern does so “with her two knucklehead sons.” Perfect! That communicates a lot! Of a magic hunting horn “The horn vibrates with raw magic; its makes your hand numb and your teeth hurt just holding it, like gripping a live wire.” That’s a magic magic item description! You know you’ve got something! Some commentary on some magic ‘godling’ fish says “If you eat enough of a gods children, you are eventually deemed a worthy addition to the family.” Absolutely! That’s one way of becoming a god/godling! It makes perfect sense and jives with all mythology ever. 

And, check out this terrific description “[…] bodies of villagers, merchants, hunters, guards — brutally, gleefully rent by claw and tooth. Hoisted into the trees, impaled upon pine limbs; a grisly larder. The air is putrid, a wall of sweet death smashing against the nose. Rotten corpse fluids run rivulets down tree bark. Flies swarm and buzz in clouds.” Fuck yeah man! Good description! So the specificity required to have a good description, to write a terse description that conveys overloaded meaning exponentially multiplied in a way that word count would not imply, os absolutely there. When the designer chooses to. In a dungeon room? No way. Hanging ut on its own somewhere, apart from the dungeon. Yup! 

“All the bestial heads mounted on the tomb’s walls animate, roaring, bleating, and wailing as one of the rooms’ animals come to life and another hunt begins.” Absofuckinglutly! Now, but ina room fucking description that matches. Trim yor fucking text. Organize it so that the most important shit is up top, and actually give us some descriptions of the situation, or a way to ferret it out to relate it to the DM. And take a chill pill when it comes to the fucking layout. Jesus, man. Make it fucking legible. The main thing is the fucking dungeon. Agonize over the fucking thing. Beat yourself over the writing. Then, you can pad out the region and town and npc’s and shit. 

(And, note, I’m not EVEN bitching about the disconnect between the hook, town, manticore, and adventure. I don’t fucking care. This is a bridge too far for 99.99% of designers, so I’m not going to beat someone up over it.)

The cottage industry continues. Layout dudes doing layout adventure bought by other layout dudes. But, he is not a ninja.

This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. The first six pages. So, one actual page of adventure timeline. IE: worthless for making a purchasing decision.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/410351/The-Beast-of-Borgenwold?1892600

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

The Witch, The Shepherd, His Goats and their Daughter

By James Mishler, Jodi Moran-Mishler
James  Mishler Games
Shadowdark
Levels 1-2

Help the Shepherd find his Goats and Daughter who have been kidnapped by the Witch of the Woods. The woods are home to all manner of strange, fearsome, and fey monsters… not to mention the witch!

This twenty page adventure, with a fairy tale vibe, has the party exploring a wood with twelve locations to bring back a dudes daughter and goats and kill the witch responsible. Chill vibes but padded to all fuck and back. And you know what we say at tenfootpole: “Are you a fucking masterpiece? No? Then you better get your shit together if you want me to run it.”

It’s the day after Christmas and Sants brought me some Vegamite and olives stuffed with anchovies, in my stocking. So that’s breakfast. Along with an IPA. And this thing.Later today I’ll be making a suit out of garbage bags, buying thirty bottles of champagne and reading the Wizard of the Crow. So, you know, D&D will definitely NOT be the highlight of the day. Because of this.

We’re pretty close here. It’s got a vibe, brining a good fairy tale thing to the party. Shepherd lives on the edge of a BIG FOREST in a little cottage. His goats have been stolen by the witch of the woods, along with his daughter. You get 5gp per goat returned and 50 for the kid. (Who’s 19.) So close. Dude is a miser and cold-hearted, which is the source of all the troubles for him. I’d change it to 5gp per goat, and another 5gp for the kid. But, whatever. And, the kid is 19? Nahhhh, she’s fucking sixteen. See, dude made a deal with the witch, in exchange for a magic goat hed give her the kid at 16. But he didn’t. Do the witch plotted for three years for revenge? Nah. Make her 16. And keep the rest the same, I guess. Cause the kid hates dad also, and has been taught witchcraft by the witch and is in on ot. IE: some elaborate revenge plot going on here by these two. Fuck if I know man  … I guess they want to turn dad in to a goat and have some “put the amulet around his neck” thing going on. This part makes little sense. I get that you want the main witch to disguise herself as a black goat, very VVitch. But we’re straining here.

Otherwise, chill vibes in this one. A dwarf trapped in a fairy circle, complete with bird nests growing on him. A goat on a hill that won’t come down. A goat on a log in a pond. Giant goats next to a goat giant. A harpy … with the head of a goat. It’s all very fairy tale. 

One page per encounter. And it’s all padded out to fuck and back. 

“The Treasure Tree is a place where, long ago, some dwarves hid a BURIED TREASURE they won from some trolls. They buried it with many runes and curses against it being found and stolen… then they forget about it. Over the centuries the runes and curses came to life, animating the soil around the chest of treasure, creating a TREASURE GUARDIAN. Recently an adventurer found a map to the long-lost treasure for him, the Treasure Guardian overwhelmed him and his bones now grace the form of the guardian – as does the recently deceased body of a goat!d has tried to recover it. “ That was about 80% of the description of this location … and it has nothing gameable in it. History. What was. No description of what we’re looking at. No idea what to do, as a DM. 

It’s not until paragraph three that get one sentence “The chest is half unburied, with the shovel of the adventurer currently stuck in the body of the guardian.” That’s it. That’s your description. There’s another paragraph that has another description of the history of something in a manner that cant be used, also.

This is a classic “read it” adventure. It’s written to be read. You can’t use it during play without some serious time with a highlighter and note taking. The focus of the writing has to be on the DM using it at at the table. It is almost always the case that how the situation happened is not interesting for gameplay, and especially not so at he start of a description. We don’t dig through three paragraphs of useless info when the party enters the room. WWe need the data, now, to related to them. 

This don’t do that.

And I got other adventures to run that do.

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is ten pages. More than enough to see the actual encounters. Good preview.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/419475/The-Witch-the-Shepherd-His-Goats-and-Their-Daughter-A-Shadowdark-Adventure?1892600

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 8 Comments