The Dream Cloud of E’lok Thir

By Fiona Geist, David McGrogan, Zedeck Siew, Adam Koebel
Free League Publishing
Forbidden Lands

This eighty page booklet has four adventures from four well known designers. I’m going to review this one differently, doing one review post per adventure, in an attempt to give their fair due, something that I think is missing in my previous anthology reviews. This is this fourth and final installment, and the general comments from the first, regarding publisher style, still apply.

The Dream Cloud of E’lok Thir (Koebel)

This seventeen page of emptiness is another one of those dream bullshitty things. Not an adventure, maybe a toolkit to build one, and too high concept and lacking support for the DM.

I went to a Disney costume party over the weekend. I painstakingly researched The Absent Minded Professor and put together a costume, complete with “leather” chemistry apron. In a room full of pirates and animation characters I don’t think my outfit worked; I was just a guy in a tweed suit and hat. This adventure is me at that party. 

I think, what was it?, part of Raggi’s Gran Quest adventures, there was one “Adventure” that was just a bunch of tables. “What color is the wizard’s eyes?” was one I remember. I think I mocked it by noting my own adventure, and linked to the Unabridged Oxford English Dictionary. This is that, with the typical dream bullshit layered on top of it. 

You know the dream bullshit deal. No map, and going back the way you came leads to somewhere else because “Dream.” And a whole lot of asking the party “What is something you regret?” and then having the DM work that in to the room on the fly. Woooo … classy! And totally not something that has been in about a hundred “adventures” before this one. And don’t give me any of that Jusir-my-dick-tpion shit either. Yeah, I get what it’s trying to do. And, thanks to my generations bullshit my cynicism detector IS quite twitchy. But if you’re going to for this high concept Absent Minded Professor shit, in a room full of Disney characters, then you better fucking bring the goods. And the usual throwaway comments about “doors don’t lead back to where you came” ain’t gonna cut it. No half measures. You want to bring the Dream then you better sweet your ass off delivering. 

“Roll a d66 on the 18 entry tables five times and pick one entry from each column to determine the wizards background.” Again, I will flog the horse, RPG designers don’t seem to know how to use a random fucking table. This is NOT OSR design. This is some kind of adventure toolkit stuff. It you’re writing an adventure, which this professes to be, then you, the designer, pick something. And then you integrate that background in to the entire adventure and theme shit and put things together in to a whole. “These entries should inform the dungeon in ways both vague and specific.” Uh huh. On the fucking fly. OR … and now this is a novel idea, YOU, the designer, could do the fucking work. You could spend a few weeks sweeting over it and put together something better than a bunch of randos can put together on the fly. 

“No map, no room description, no paths to follow.” Right. Got it. Typical bad dream adventure nonsense.

“The foyer might take on the qualities of anything just beginning – the foundations of a home, the empty stage just before a play begins, the first day of school.” Uh huh. Or … [repeat after me] the designer could put this in, based the wizard they designed, to make something more cohesive.

“When the characters spend time in this chamber, choose one and ask “what is some- thing you regret?” then weave the answer into your description of the room.” *sigh*

Treasure? Oh no. How about “Treasures found here will shy away from violent expression, but otherwise any magical treasure could be appropriate.” That’s content worth paying for, right?

There;s I don’t know, twelve rooms? The description of the trophy room, the read-aloud, says its quiet like a library. The DM text says the wizard “was an accomplished student of the magical arts who uncovered mysteries, bent reality and endured the very special sort of hubris only sorcerers can suffer. The Trophy Hall is a reflection of accomplishments real and imagined.” That’s it! That’s your fucking guidance for running the trophy room. No notes. No ideas for the DM. That’s the fucking help that the designer has included to help the DM create this room.

So, not an adventure but rather an adventure toolkit. And a pretty shitty one at that, with almost no assist provided to the DM in creating something. Just some vague ideas about a room called Regret Made Manifest.”

I don’t know, in retrospect I might buy it for the Geist adventure, but that’s about it. 

And FUCK YOU, gentle reader. There is room in my life for high concept shit. But not high concept shit that makes a half-assed effort.

This is $10 at DriveThru.

Now, onward and upward, to the next thing on my wishlist that I haven’ reviewed yet because it was too big/expensive/I knew it would suck, etc

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Temple of the Six-Limbed Lord

By Fiona Geist, David McGrogan, Zedeck Siew, Adam Koebel
Free League Publishing
Forbidden Lands

This eighty page booklet has four adventures from four well known designers. I’m going to review this one differently, doing one review post per adventure, in an attempt to give their fair due, something that I think is missing in my previous anthology reviews. This is this third installment, and the general comments from the first, regarding publisher style, still apply.

Temple of the Six-Limbed Lord (Siew)

This seventeen page non-adventure is a general description of a situation, with some ideas about a village of monkey invaders. None of which my taxonomy allows to be defined as “an adventure.” 

It’s Monday morning! The shine is shining, the birds are singing, I had a super fun weekend planned, I’m not hung over and I’m only ten pounds from goal weight and fifteen from that mess jacket I’ve always wanted. I even forgot it was time to write a review, which makes it a very good day indeed! And then I remembered …

What if, like, some monkey tunneled in to our world, man? And what if they were like, invaders man? What about that? And what if they had, like, this giant monkey statue that they and their soldiers used to kill people and convert them to their monkey man religion? And, what if, like, there was also this monkey dude who was an outcast and the rightful high priest? Ok, you get the idea. It’s not an adventure. It bills itself as a “village”, in Forbidden Lands type of adventuring site vernacular, but it’s not even really that. It’s too abstract for that. It’s just an idea expanded to seventeen pages.

We start with … a mess. It’s meant to be an overview of what’s going on. An introduction. An orientation. It is not. It is almost incoherent. It’s almost like there’s a longer work, somewhere, and bits of paragraphs are plucked out of it and pasted in to a couple of pages to make an introduction/background section. There’s a role to be played by leaving things mysterious. The imagination needs room, after all, and given the room it will fill things in by itself. But There’s a difference between leaving room and seemingly random facts plopped down on the page as a background that you’re trying to make sense of.

It then offers some advice on how to frame the monkey invasion for your campaign. It suggests taking the wandering table, provided, and sprinkling it in to your own game. Each session replace one of the entries on your wandering table with one the entries from this which are, of course, monkey invasion themed. Hmmm, good advice. I like the stuff the tries to integrate itself in to your world, especially over time, instead of the typical one and done episodic stuff. More immersion=Good thing.

And then the real shit show begins.

The monkey soldier compound. Six towers with a central platform in the center. That makes for seven locations in this “village.” And what does one of these descriptions look like? How about “The barracks rings with shouted roll calls and the clanking of scale mail. Clerks waddle the corridors, tails picking up scrolls fallen from their full arms. The palace is abuzz. Troops make ready; their sergeants tasked with exe- cuting Ngajaputri’s newest stratagem. Roll a D6 on the table below.” Yup, that’s it. A description that only room after empty room in the barrier peaks could love. It’s a fucking abstracted concept. That is ALMOST the entire description of a major war tower of the enemy. Just a fucking concept. And by almost I mean that there’s a second paragraph: “Inside, Ngajaputri paces her throne room. She leans over her war table. Its mahogany cracks and warps and stains – a diorama of the world, updated in real time, as scouts in the field annotate their maps.” Well now, that added a lot, didn’t it! This is, essentially, about as much description, or less, than the great houses of the drow from D3. “Like, hey, man, you could have this tower, and, like, there could be monkey soldiers in it! Yeah! That’s it man!” There’s nothing to this. At best, its inspiration for the DM to create their own game, or run some kind of Fiasco like story game.

And then there are the table. The random tables. Proving once again that a fuck ton of people making RPG’s don’t the fuck know how to use a table and the what the fuck they are for. Basically, each tower gets its own random table, because, OSR< right? OSR has random tables! Look everybody! It’s Darth Vader! You recognize Darth Vader right?! Dance monkey! Dance! Table 1: where could the monkey compound be located, six entries. Bottom of a lake. On an important road. In the middle of a river. Just more ideas. Hey, one of the towers seems to have a jail cell in it! A ten entry table to help the DM pick a prisoner for the jail cell. *sigh* They are all like this. Hey, you know what works better than a table when you are creating major parts of your adventure? Actually creating that part of your adventure and then riffing the rest of the adventure off of it, as the designer, and focusing the editing around it to integrate it in to a complete whole. Or, I mean, you could just slap down a bunch of tables, creating ideas to inspire the DM to create their own adventure, and then slap “adventure” label on it. 

You know, whatever. For an asshole that claims language has no meaning anymore I sure get pissy when it actually happens. 

Anyway, the weakest entry so far. Next review: the last entry. Please baby jesus, let it be better. Please.

This is $10 at DriveThru.

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The Firing Pit of Llao-Yuyuy

By Fiona Geist, David McGrogan, Zedeck Siew, Adam Koebel
Free League Publishing
Forbidden Lands

This eighty page booklet has four adventures from four well known designers. I’m going to review this one differently, doing one review post per adventure, in an attempt to give their fair due, something that I think is missing in my previous anthology reviews. This is this second installment, and the general comments from the first, regarding publisher style, still apply.

The Firing Pit of Llao-Yuyuy (McGrogan)

This dungeon uses thirteen pages to describe a 21 room cave complex that’s used by an (evil) dude to make magical pottery stuff. It’s lacking in much interactivity, beyond combat, and is fairly straight-forward, reminding me more of a lair dungeon in tone, if not in size.

Okey dokey, so, same italics in the read-aloud, same iso-metric map bringing a more evocative vibe to the mapping sphere. And, well, more of the same of everything.

The complex is mostly a just an adventuring site, with a couple of off-hand remarks up front about integrating it like “the party is just passing by” or “several villagers have gone missing.” Nothing wrong with just an adventuring site, but, I think the adventure would be stronger to leave them out rather than just have a throw-away sentence. Or, perhaps, use the space of the throw-away’s to expand the “missing villagers” thing by just a few more sentences to add some depth to it. 

The map is is in the same great iso-metric format as the first entry, adding life to what would otherwise be a pretty plain “a couple of chambers with connecting twisty passages” map. There’s a water feature or two and good little vertical piece, complete with pulley and bucket to get to the top/bottom … always a fun time! It’s more simplistic than the first entry in the volume, which is one of the reasons why I compare this to the simple lair dungeons so common these days. Larger in number of rooms, but still as straight-forward as they tend to be … and I don’t necessarily mean linear. And … one room is missing a key on the map; a dreadful oversight of our erstwhile editor. 

Read-aloud is … well, I’m not actually sure it’s meant to be read-aloud. It’s in italics (and long. Boo!). It’s formatted like read-aloud. It reads like read-aloud. Well, mostly. Until you reach the entry that says, in the read-aloud, that there are d3 treasures in the room. Editing error? Or, is this meant to be some text for the DM to give them a brief overview of the room? That would explain the over-detail of the read-aloud, destroying the back and forth between the players and the DM … because then it wouldn’t be over-detail. But, counterpoint, the creatures are never mentioned, which would be be something you should put in the DM focused text. So, I stick by my initial assertion: it’s read-aloud. In italics. Too long. With DM text mixed in. And using boring words like large and small instead of more evocative ones. And, of course, the over-detail. “It is guarded by a golem called the Child” says the read-aloud. Which both over explaines (The Child) and tells instead of shows (golem.)

DM text is added to fuck and back. “These were painted eons past by the primitive peoples who lived in the region.” Which has fuck all to do with the adventure. “They leave this room unguarded.” You mean, like, the description says? Or the fact that there are no monsters in the room? No shit sherlock. Look, ok, that’s an over-reaction on my part. A child could squeeze in to a crack. Or, the text tells us, a dwarf, halfing, goblin or other small humanoid. SO … something child-sized, you’re saying? This is just the typical padding that I would expect in an adventure … expect in a not very focused and/or well edited and written one, I mean. 

Which is not to say its all bad. “A large black hole in the side of the mound, below which is a steep slope of scree. Strewn all over the slope and in a huge pile at the bottom are shattered fragments of pottery and clay dust.” There are little bits like that are not too bad. Large and huge are pretty boring, at least large is, but not bad. 

Oh! Oh! Another padding tirade! We do get a over abundance of DM text, a lot of it coming from padding and repetition. For example, a watchpost has the usual “dozing watchmen” in it, but we’re told this in three separate places:  lazy servant is posted here at all time, the details of the lazy servant mechanics to see the party/be dozing, and then “Since nobody ever approaches the mound duties are treated laxly.” … an explanation and/or justification of the encounter. This goes a long way to padding out what should otherwise be a shorter amount of DM text. But, hey, it reaches the required page count. This room, in particular, also exemplifies the house style … never really mentioning the servant, beyond those oblique references, until the end, noting “Creatures: one servant” at the end of the room description. 

Over and over again this shit happens. When we do get something good, like potters who can’t walk and shuffle about on their fists, it’s done in a way that they DONT shuffle about on their fists. And, ultimately, it’s just going in to a room and seeing a human servant or some humanoid golem. One or two of the golems are mechanically ot descriptivly interesting, but theres little enough to the variety or interactivity to make it interesting beyond this. 

I’d rate this far weaker than the Geist entry in the anthology.

This is $10 at DriveThru. Preview doesn’t work.

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Crypt of the Mellified Mage – Part 1

By Fiona Geist
Free League Publishing
Forbidden Lands

This eighty page booklet has four adventures from four well known designers. I’m going to review this one differently, doing one review post per adventure, in an attempt to give their fair due, something that I think is missing in my previous anthology reviews.

It’s hard to review anthology adventures because you’re dealing with different authors with different strengths. On top of that, you have the publisher, who inevitably has their own house style guide. It’s hard, therefore, to attribute any aspect of an adventure. Was it the designer making the choice, or the publisher, or an editor, or a layout person? And thus we have this thing. A series of adventures that share some similarities that we’ll attribute not to the designers but to SOMEONE ELSE. For example, the house style guide says “Read aloud is in italics” so all of the read-aloud is in italics. Multiple sentences in italics in this one, making them hard to read. And a weird font on top of that, exacerbating the problem of quickly and easily absorbing the information. This, alone, makes me groan as I struggle with the read-aloud. Maps for the adventures are buried in some random location in the adventure, making referencing them during play difficult. I generally print them out for my screen, so not a huge deal, but it goes to show that shortcuts were made on the usability of the adventures at the table. An afterthought. We do get, however, a nice isometric view of each map that adds quite a bit to their nature, making them evocative and easy to read and bringing life to an aspect of an adventure that is generally just a simple drawing. Very nice

Crypt of the Mellified Mage (Geist)

Our first adventure is a 35 room dungeon, a tomb like thing themed to the “honey wizard” that is buried there. Bees and honey and wax, Oh My! It runs roughly eighteen pages, with two of them being a fine isometric map and a small amount of artwork. 

“The Honied Catacomb gestates beneath the earth like a pustule waiting to burst.” Is the first actual non-italic line of the adventure, and serves as a good summary of what’s to come: some decent ideas with perhaps a bit too much Try Hard with the verbiage. The alternative being what it is, I’ll take the Try Hard every time, but Geist walks a fine line here, getting things right a decent amount and dancing over the line in to inflated prose enough that I worry about my already poor eyesight. That balance, however, comes with time and practice and things are moving in the right direction with Geist.

The first age or two is background and summary and, frankly, one of the poorest sections of the adventure. A summary is a good thing for an adventure, telling us how things will go and how things work together. But in this instance is a worded mess. There’s a rough paragraph that is trying to describe a village on top of the dungeon that is a complete disaster, not being clear and something I missed entirely in the first reading. Abstracted to “insular and weird”, it provides no real benefit to the adventure. Nors does anything else in these two pages, except for a note that there are three entrances and the air inside thick with loamy and faintly spiced sweetness. This then is the gameable results of two pages of hard fought words, the rest being not coherent enough, in organization or sentence structure (and I thought I was paren happy!) to hack through.

The map is a great one through. Spread over two pages we get a kind of 3d view of the system. It really comes alive in this format. I can’t say it’s to the benefit of anything, mechanically, the way it is say in DL1, but It brings the place to life in a way that few maps do. Streams, same-level stairs, columns and alters, you get a great sense of the place. It’s a delight to see and has more variety than the usual old boring  tomb or temple map. 

Geist is a good designer and decent writer, and that shows up, in both ways, in the adventure. There is a general level of over-reveal in thread-aloud that works against the player-DM interactivity of slow discovery that should be a hallmark of adventures. A sample (italics) of a longer read-aloud says “A small idol of a bee made of expertly worked topaz and onyx sits atop a massive, papery bee- hive.”

This one line, pulled from a longer section, is indicative of the small issues that combine to less than stellar effect. We get the generic word “small”, with over reveals of detail in the read-aloud telling us it’s a bee, it’s expertly worked, what it’s made of , and the papery nature of the beehive. Ideally this would be a more general, but still evocative description of a gleaming point of something or some such on a beehive, leaving the details for the party to discover as they interact with the room. In other places we also get a kind of abstracted text in places, described conclusions and telling instead of showing, such as rooms “echoing dramatically.”

But, Geist knows their stuff. We get great bursts of imagery like a visiting “yokel armed with a handaxe and a disproportionate amount of self esteem.” That’s great imagery and you know immediately how to run the encounter. That sort of description is worth its weight in gold. I would hold that sentence up against any other ever written in adventures design as an example of writing looks like when its at its best. Short and punches WAY above its weight class. There is also a decent amount of interactivity that goes beyond the usual staid traps and tricks, like a throne that tilts backpack when you sit in it spilling the person in to deeper part of the dungeon God, I love the classics when they are well done!

If I was not full of ennui right now (My bottle of Chartreuse was $70. $70! Can you believe it?! Why, when I was a wee lad of 19 it was only $20.)I would pick the FUCK apart the text of this adventure. Like “6. Embalming Room. A room for the preparation and mummification of corpses.” Well no fucking shit, you told us twice. Plus, you don’t tell the fucking players its an embalmbing room, you DESCRIBE an embalmbing room. This thing needed a fucking editor. I see from the credit that the CEO of Free League edited it. Well, I see your problem right there. 

This thing is hard. The rooms are good. The writing has points where its REALLY good. I mean, fuck, a room stuffed FULL of beehives with the droning an bees? Fuck yeah man! But the house style, and shitty editing detract a great deal from it. Yeah, ok, so, I’d pick this over 90% of the adventures published. But I also wouldn’t look forward to running it, because of the layout/style issues. 

I can see parallels here to North Wind. 

This is $10 at DriveThru.

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The Silence of Dawnfell

By Scott Malthouse
Open Ended Games
Against The Darkmaster
Level 1

Silence has fallen over the town of Dawnfell. The enchanted ringing of Frostchime, the sacred bell that wards away the clan of wild trolls in the Biting Woods, has vanished. Now Dawnfell is open to vicious attacks – how long can it last?

This 32 page adventure details a quest in a forest to recover a magic bell … before the town is attacked. It has some interesting writing and formatting in places, although it’s missing a kind of continuity to bring the various parts of the adventure together. It doesn’t feel cohesive in any way shape or form. The eternal question: muddle through it or find something better? You know how I’m inclined to vote.

Open ended? Sandboxy? Toolkit to run a plot based adventure? I’m not sure how to label this. Perhaps it is closest to something like “How to run a plot in an OSR environment.” There’s a situation: a town, beset by failing crops, with a troll band nearby that likes to attack the village. Except they are kept at bay by the magic bell the town has. Also, some elves in the forest, who used to be allies of the town but the local Dude In Charge is on the outs with them because his kid died. Also, there’s a woman in town who killed the head troll the last time they attacked. ANd his son now leads the troll band and wants her dead to avenge dad. And there’s some human tubal people in the forest, allied with the elves. And there’s some bandits in the forest, the leader of which kind of feels sympathy for the Dude in Charge because he also lost a kid young. And then the bell goes missing. Oops! Looks like them trolls might a coming!

This is an example of the adventure doing things right. As a kind of open-ended thing, with an inciting event, it knows that you need a lot going on, and it certainly has a lot going on. It knows it needs to do this and it does it, and that’s a common theme for the designer. They manage a pretty competent job at most aspects of the adventure. NPC’s are all grouped together, usually a page for each with stat block and maybe some art, with some nicely bulleted items to help the DM find what they are looking for. It could have used a bit of bolding here and there to focus the attention, but it’s the right idea. Likewise the various locations are terse, but well, described. The starting village focuses on the the places important to the adventure/adventurers, and leaves the rest of the village to a few words like “People generally look malnourished and they whis- per of another bad winter on its way. Upon seeing the PCs, people’s spirits will lift and they will waste no time trying to befriend them, hoping they are here to save the day.” or “They will give them every last morsel on their plate to bring the bell back.” These are strong, strong images to help the DM run the village, communicating the vibe clearly. 

The encounters are fairly imaginative at times, or, at least, evocative. A  crystal blue italian spring … with a severed bring at the bottom … wearing a ring. With the giant spider Geldor in the trees above it. Sweet! Spiders with names are something from Tolkein that I CAN get behind. A nice abandoned woodcutters hut, well described and evocative without droning on. A riddle on a tomb wall noting that the dead elf queen lays in repose until the day death is removed … with a close examination of the sword she wears on her hip revealing that it’s pommel says ‘Death.’ Good stuff. The kind of stuff where the party only has themselves to blame, with classic situations and imagery. 


There’s not enough of that. And, it suffers GREATLY from a lack of cohesion.

There’s a farmer, the guy who took the bell and sold it to the trolls. But there’s no way to actually track things to him. The woods are just a big map with some numbers on it, with no paths, or tracks or anything. Like you took a blank sheet of paper and scattered the numbers one through six on it, with a scale. How are you supposed to know where to go, or even HOW to go? References are made to “prtrols” by various groups, off hand references, with no more words of advice given. The location in the forest, a few of them, have more detailed maps. But these are physically AND themely disconnected from each other, appearing in different parts of the book (this thing could use some cross references in a lot of places.) The wilderness description, the general overview, is more dynamic and situational while the location description is like “three elves sitting on a log.” COmpletely disconnected from each other. 

Finally, there’s a timer here. The trolls attack the town in two days. The party doesn’t know this. The party has no way of finding this out. The INTENT is for the party to travel in the forest and  make friends with the various groups, to bring them to the defense of the town. But, again, there’s no way for the party to know that they need to do this. The quest is just “go get the bell” not that the town is under imminent threat of attack. You’re on a secret timer, and you have a secret quest objective. Without any way of knowing the context of the citation, the party can’t make informed choices for their characters. Not Cool Man.

So, relatively good formatting, a decent is somewhat basic situation and decent formatting, with some GAPING holes that makes this one I would skip … as per the usual.

This is $9 at DriveThru. Taint no preview man! Not Groovy!

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The Bishop’s Staff

By Michael de Vertueil
Atlas Games
Ars Magica

Your group will be drawn into a dangerous entanglement between the mundanes and the Church. They will find a missing wizard, prevent the destruction of innocents, and investigate a saintly visitation. Multiple mysteries await inside this complete adventure.

This 48 page adventure ises 21 pages to describe seven chapters/events in a mystery. It is an epic shit show the likes of which only 2002 could have produced. Bad D&D adventures can only DREAM, during most fevered opium fits, of being this bad.

Hey kids, wanna game tonight?! I’ve got this great adventure that involves the african slave trade with some some brutal slave punishments, and, fuck it, why not, I’ll throw some rape in also! Who’s up for a game?!

I’ve always loved Ars Magica. I mean, in concept. I’ve never been able to keep a game of it running. There’s always the issue of the knights and followers and power levels and what “adventure” looks like. It’s always seemed a little slow to me. But, in theory, Fascinating! Maybe if it was run more like a LotFP game?

Anyway, back to this shitshow. No, it’s not about the african slave trade I made that up. It’s about jewish wizards. They are moneylenders, of course. Oh, the main guy REALLY loves  money and is miserly. No physical attribute notes, so we don’t  know if he has a big nose. (Ok, I thought to myself, no fucking way they left that out, so I went back. Sure enough, the artwork that is presumably of him has him with a big nose.)  Ok ok, so, the edgelords at Atlas have an adventure his Jerish wizards, who are greedy moneylenders with big noses. Oh, and then there’s the pogrom of the jews in the adventure. I mean, that’s the word that the designers uses. And, to be fair, the action does involve a good riot with burning down jerish peoples homes and killing them, so … yeah, Jewish pogrom! Who’s up for a fun night of gaming?!! I don’t know, maybe I’m just old fashioned, but it I’m not too certain that The Jewish Pogrom playset for Fiasco would go over too well. Who the fuck greenlit this in 2002 and who the fuck greenlit putting it on DriveThru recently? “Well, kids, you see, it was 2002, and all the publishers were edgelords producing crap. And that’s why we have the OSR.”

This is a thing of its time, I guess. The darkest hours before the dawn.

But wait, there’s more!

It is roughly scene based, as was everything at the time. Scene one is a page ong, with another couple of pages of supporting information, about the characters getting an invite to come visit another covenant in another city. Yup, a whole fucking page on what to do if the party feels insulted, what the deliveryman tells them and so on. I weep. Scene 2, a crazy woman yells things at you as you enter the town where the covenant is. This shit is esoteric beyond belief, no three clue stuff here. Scene 3, you have dinner with the other covenant, their greedy big-nosed jewish leader wont give you anything decent to trade with you and a dude in the garden tells you one of their order is missing. FOR TWO FUCKING YEARS NOW. (There is significant crossover to my next rant, so be patient, please.) Scene 4, dude pays for you to stay the night … at the cheapest filthiest place in town … which he owns. On the way you see a hut burning and two kids running away … who are found dead. Let the Jewish scapegoating begin! Cene 5 is the next morning, the mob growing, going back to the compound where youre told that they wish The Missing Guy was here. Scene 6, in the one room basement of the local church, maybe finding the missing guy. Scene 7, assault on the Jewish wizards compound by the mob and/or he general Jewish pogrom in action and wrapping things up. A fun couple of nights of gaming! Oh, did I mention that you will get no help from the local authorities, unless you are heavy handed with the mob, in which case 30 knights show up. Yes, please, quantum those fucking knights in. 

The organization is a shit show also. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Call of Cthulhu is the banner bearer here; just throwing words down on a page with little regard to how they need to be used by a DM. This is worse. Lots of NPC’s a SIX FUCKING PAGE LONG stat block for th head of the order, who doesn’t do anything in the adventure. Background sections that overly verbose and bury any roleplaying notes or important information in MOUNTAINS of irrelevance. The same goes for the main text of the adventure (which, of course, starts with a piece of fiction. 2002, gotta have the fiction piece!) Just mountains of words, which will give you a hardon if you are in to historical accuracy with regard to minor jewish sects but are useless for running an adventure. Which of course means that the sideline action, with your knights and servants, is going nowhere productive since they typically gather information and the fucking information is impossible to find. 

The very first words of the adventure are: Good published adventures are meant to be played and to this end should provide prospective storyguides with all the elements they need to offer their players a challenging and fun time.” Hey! That’s great! It’s then followed with: “This particular adventure, however, is also meant to be a good read. Thereader will share some of the initial confusion, puzzlement and sense of mystery which would confront a group of players.” Ah, so, it’s written to be read, and not played, after all. 

This is $8 at DriveThru.

Because it was on my Wishlist, that’s why. There’s a reason some of shit hasn’t made it off before now.

Posted in Reviews, The Worst EVAR? | 8 Comments

Sword in the Jungle Deep

By Francisco Duarte
The Keep Studios
Level 0

South of the famed city of Caster’s Crossing lies a jungle rife with dreadful perils and savage predators, known by the locals as Erset La Tari. Adventurers crave the bounty of treasure and powerful artifacts said to be lost in the depths of this treacherous place; many have lost their lives trying to uncover them. Now a band of conscripted prisoners are forced to best the horrors lurking in this dark place. Will they be able survive and perhaps unearth the prodigious power said to be hidden in the depths of the jungle deep?

This sixteen page adventure details twelve encounters in a jungle. Without much of a jungle vibe. Linear is what you get with a DCC adventure, with fighting and traps and an obstacle or two thrown in. The read-aloud and DM is terrible. Surprise. Not Interesting.

You’re the Last Hope, condemned prisoners sent on a mission and if you succeed you gain your freedom. That’s the last bit of interesting this adventure will have. You walk down a jungle path to the end, having you’re linear encounters, with the exception of a small clearing where you could also go right or left to have a single encounter each. I don’t know what I’m complaining about this; it’s what DCC is. It does get a bit tiresome though. Especially when it’s vanilla.

And vanilla is mostly is. Stray off the path and get eaten by a dog/tiger thing. Fight some snakes. How can giant cobra snakes be boring? Read on! Fight some things. Fight some more things. Jump over a sludge stream. Maybe go down to the bottom of a sinkhole. Can you tell my heart is not in this? It’s just … boring. De rigueur. 

The read-aloud is LONG. Long paragraph long. And in the hated italics. If I accomplish one thing before I die (I just did a few life expectancy calculators, I have 40-43 more years; I clearly need to drink more) it will be to drive the hated italics from read-aloud in adventures. I know, it’s my own windmill to battle. Ok, so, Long read-aloud to bore the players to death. It’s in italics so it’s hard to read. And it uses second person. I fucking hate second person read-aloud. It’s just garbage. “As you walk along the path it gets narrower …” Is it really that hard to say that “The path gets narrower?” is that really that fucking difficult? Do people not realize the issue with second person in read-aloud? Is it not the obvious fucking sin that I think it is? “As you gaze in to the muck of the stream.” No. NO! I do not gaze, at anything, EVAR! I want to fucking make it through the adventure and “Don’t gaze at things” is like rule number three for adventurers.” It does NOT create an immersive environment. It does the exact opposite and breaks immersion. 

The DM text is long. REALLY long. Like, at least a column if not three quarters of a page in most cases. And it’s just simple paragraphs, with no bolding or underlining r highlights or anything to help parse whats going. Oh, there is a “TLDR” section, which is a nice touch, but it’s not really meaningful to running the adventure. “The stream blocks the way and kills anyone who touches it.” Great! Where are the stream details? Buried somewhere in the following page of text.. *sigh*

How does it get this way? I think the first encounter has an entire long paragraph of text that tells of the ecology of the place, how the canyon was formed by the running stream. That has no impact on the adventure. It’s the Ecology of the Piercer, embedded in an adventure. It’s fucking padded out in the most annoying ways. “Although most local fauna will try to avoid the party, the Shardian Grass Cobras that flourish here are another matter entirely.” That sentence says nothing. “Should the characters decide to inspect the surround- ings they will notice two interesting elements, previously …” That entire clause has nothing to do. It’s just padding, obfuscating the meat of what’s to come. 

Ok, I lied, there is a bright point. When the party emerges from the jungle in to the clearing the read-aloud DOES tell them what they see in clearing, ahead, and off to the right and left. This is a good example of what I like to call The Vista Overlook. When you can see a decent distance that encounter should tell you something of what you can see, to lure the party off track and provide assistance to the DM for the inevitable party question of “What do we see?” 

There’s just nothing here. It should be a steaming jungle vibe, but that isn’t communicated at all, either in the read-aloud or the DM text. I now, evocative writing is hard. I know. I empathize. But a jungle adventure should FEEL like a jungle adventure, and not just walking down a long hallway killing a snake.  In the end, I’m using this as a textbook to pull examples from for my book on how to NOT write something. Not, let’s go see if I can lower my expectancy a bit more …

This is $7 at DriveThru.The preview is seven pages, the first seven. Fortunately, the last page of the preview shows two encounters. Note the padded out text. The first real encounter, with the snakes, is one of the more evocative in the text. I think the read-aloud ruins it, as does the second person, but hip-deep brown grass under a blazing sun has something going for it.

Because it was on my Wishlist, that’s why. Yes, I’m still working through my Wishlist. Because STUPID, that’s why.

Posted in Reviews | 7 Comments

Medusa and the Cursed Forest

By Addison Short
Torchlight Press
Levels 10-11

Once a faithful young acolyte to a goddess of war, Acantha tended to her god’s temple diligently and without protest. One fateful evening a rival god appeared and wrought destruction on the temple. Rather than take pity on Acantha, her goddess cursed her with the powers she is now feared for: her petrifying gaze and the mass of writhing snakes that protrude from her head. Little known, however, is that the curse also bound her life to the broken temple; if she strays from it for too long, she grows weak and begins to die.In the millenia since she was cursed, her presence has imbued the surrounding forest with its own petrifying magic. Creatures that enter the depths of the forest risk being turned to stone by the latent magic and for each creature petrified, the forest grows further outward. Now, Acantha is known as the Lady of Sorrows.

This 34 page adventure details a petrified forest and with a ten room temple at the center containing an ancient medusa. It has some good ideas for putting the medusa in to the context of the larger game world, but really doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up, never going fully down any path. The results are a muddled mess that takes a great concept and comes off as generic.

This thing has four different elements to it, and doesn’t fully go down the path of any one of them, or, perhaps, use any one of them effectively, much less using all four effectively. You’ve got “the medusa in the larger context of the region”, “the medusa’s petrified forest”, “the temple of the medusa at the center of the forest” and “the medusa’s allies.” Each of these, individually, has some interesting ideas (well, except maybe the temple) but they are just surface level concepts, not going far enough and not working together.

What sucked me in to this product in the first place is the medusa in the larger context. Let’s think of this as THE medusa, and, in fact, this medusa’s origin is much like the mythical one, cursed by a god. The forest is a mythical place. This isn’t just a medusa that shows up as a random encounter, one of many, inside of a cave complex. This is HER place in the world. The people know about her. They know about the forest. It’s a thing for people. And, there;s notes on her actions in the wider world. Outlying farms getting visits from her, a kind of protection thing, which is either a racket or beneficial, depending on how youplay the medusa. Her showing up at some nobles party, all Sleeping Beauty style, to fuck with people. Longer plans, like her minions raiding a village to forcibly disasm the village. But it doesn’t do anything with any of this. It’s not a coherent narrative. Rather than picking one , or two, and going with it, instead it’s just a couple of sentences thrown at the DM. “Do what you want with this concept.” This is a SEVERELY missed opportunity. A mythical creature in a mythical place with plots? That would be GOLD, but it’s not handled well here at all, and given no life or room to grow. 

The forest. Petrified. Full of statues, etc. Slowly expanding as more and more animals and people get petrified. It’s cut off a village awhile ago and now they are isolated from the rest of the kingdom. All super good. Nice concept. Terribly handled. The forest has two things going on. First, if you kick up a dust cloud you get to save to turn to stone in a few days. Also, dust storms randomly swirl around at times, especially during encounters. There’s no way mentioned to cure the “flesh to stone” infection. During a dust squall it’s noted that a cloth over the face keeps you from having to make a save … but not during general travel? There’s an entire page devoted to the dust storms, inhaling the dist, etc, and these sorts of very basic are never mentioned. Further, it feels punitive to me. Much like heat and cold rules, it feels like torture to play in it. And, when you get to the temple, your “make a saving throw every day or the disease progresses” changes to “make a saving throw every turn.” Fuck me man. And then the encounters are … strange? Each takes about a column, for a VERY basic encounter in most cases. There are two tables, one of which I don’t think is ever used and has ten entries on it and “roll a d4” noted. Fuck if I know what this table is for. The other is athe “traveling through the forest” table with the encounters getting a column each. There are no set encounter locations in the forest, just wander the fuck around in it having these random encounters and making saving throws to not die untli you reach the somewhat random hex with the medusa’s temple in it. (Admitidadly, in the center of the zone, but the players don’t know that and don’t know how big the place is so they won’t know which hex is the center.) This is all pretty fucking terrible design. Again, nice concept, but “wander the death zone having random encounters” is not an adventure. What this needed was some fixed locations, with the NPC’s scattered about.

And NPC’s there are. A treant with no home forest to guard anymore because it was logged out. A hag with a bunch of orphan children. The invisible snake that likes silver tableware. Not bad. Maybe we can ever count a tribe of trolls that serve the medusa. But, as NPC’s, they are all just stuffed in to the ten room temple. Any subplots or interesting encounters will have to happen there, perhaps in the context of a fight. They have no room to breathe and nothing interesting going on within the context of the adventure (more on their role in the larger context later.) 

And the medusa’s tempe is boring as all fuck. The descriptions are essentially non-existent. Which, I guess, makes sense in a way, maybe? I mean, It’s not an exploratory location. You either talk to her or stab her. But I just can’t get over the lack of any meaningful detail. “An alter devoted to the god of war cracked down the middle.” Well, fuck, that’s certainly a great description for the fucking thing that started the entire ordeqal of medusa in the first place, isn’t it? And the cleaning closet is one of the ten rooms. What the fuck? Seriously? Along with the outhouse. With a bucket to put the excrement in to fertilize the garden. This is what you devote pages to in a ancient cursed medusa’s temple? And the creatures/allies just sit in their locations if you start stabbing her, I guess, since there’s no notes on this outcome. 

And now we must deal with the elephant. There is an attempt to make the various major NPC’s more well rounded. A ham-handed attempt that amounts to “DRAGON GOOD. PRINCESS BAD. HUR HUR HUR.” Let’s be clear, I really like a complex social environment, including the “monsters.” I think it offers much more rewarding play than just having everyone and everything attack outright when they see the party. But I’ve got my limits. The medusa has grown increasingly impatient with the greed and cruelty of the humanoid kingdoms over the millenia.” Uh huh. Says the chick you turns people to stone. Cue the South Park “It was coming right at me!” schtick. The treant advisor/friend whos forest was cut down by the human kingdom. The NE hag who doesn’t eat children and instead rescues orphans from the forest to raise them. Uh huh. Or hooks that involve rescuing the women children and elderty from a village that are in danger. Uh huh. There’s a passing attempt to create “were allied with the medusa” the medusa relationship to us is neutral” and “stabbing the medusa” hooks, but, in reality, this is just stabbing the medusa. Otherwise there’s not really an adventure here, it’s just a patron. Ph, oh! The stabbing the medusa hook? You’re hired by the Lord to go do it. And if you do he fucks you over by giving the worst hex in the petrified forest as your domain. This sort of ham-handed shit doesn’t fly. It doesn’t when the monsters are all psychos and it doesn’t when we turn the tables and make them the good guys and the humans all evil. And it oesn’t matter how many encounters there are like “flocks of birds turn to stone midair and rain down” there are. The inability to give the major NPC’s more than a single dimension, either direction, destroys the ability to create a lager game context for the party to enjoy and/or exploit. 

Discounting this ham-handedness though, the other parts of the adventure are extremely weak both as stand-along elements and in the way that they should be working together to create a larger context for adventuring. The surrounding area stuff is a throw-away. The wilderness has no depth. The NPC’s have no room to experience them. And the temple is a disaster of “Nothing going on but boring.”  But, in concept, each one of those is great! Yes, even the ham-handed shit. This are great ideas … that jts did NOT make it in to execution in any way shape or form beyond “I have a good idea …”

This is $7 at DriveThru. The preview is the entire thing which is GREAT. I would suggest taking a look at the forest few tables. They will general the general vibe of the product, as well as the missed potential.

This has been episode “A pernod at 7:30am sounds like a good idea to me” of Bryce reviews everything on his wishlist.

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

Griff’s Vale

By Greg Saunders
Fire Ruby Designs

The Vale is a wilderness on the fringes of the Kingdom where a number of factions,

from pilgrims to goblin clans, exist in an uneasy state of truce. Now someone has

shown up to claim a piece of its past, they’ll need adventurers to do it, and what they

will find risks upsetting the delicate balance.

This 76 digest page setting and adventure details a small valley, popular amongst pilgrims, with a lot of generalized hints of what could be going on and a brief ten page “heres something that could happen” adventure. It’s got a nice vibe, and the ideas of things that could be going on are good, but its far far too high level to be called an adventure and way too limited by the digest format to be a good setting.

It’s a valley. There’s a little town/village in it. There is a holy site nearby where pilgrims make their way to, and the people around here make some money off of them. There are goblin bands scattered about, really more like bands of humans bandits in the way they are handled. Protection rackets and opportunists. The town and locales around it have little quirks that make it feel alive and like a real place, and they all tend to be supplemented by a little tables of things that could be going on. Some Red Priests show up and want to go to the holy site for a pilgrimage. The locals are aghast at these heretics. Local priestess is looking for some compromise to keep the locals mollified and not hurt the pilgrim industry. That’s it. Or, “was that a man with the head of a fish that just disappeared into the water?” They are ideas, left open ended. And that’s ok, for something like this. I think they all could have been expanded upon just a bit more with some supporting information for each, to integrate better in to the valley, but, as a high level idea thing it’s fine. And there’s a sly little humor present throughout. One of the first tables is about weather. “Mud. Everywhere.” and “Snow, still snow. WIll it never end?” It does a good job of communicating a a great vibe with a few words. It reminds me a lot of the Dungeon Dozen in its ability to do that, and I don’t think there’s a higher compliment. 

Still, the digest format limits this greatly. As a supplement to run the valley it’s going to be very hard to find the information you’re looking for to add local color. This is going to have to be an almost memorization job for the potential DM. You’re going to need to keep almost everything in your head because there’s both enough local color, and its hard enough to reference in a seventy page digest, that’s its going to be hard to work in well otherwise. Digest, for these longer settings, just doesn’t work. You need more page space and better formatting than “a normal paragraph page style” … which this uses. I’m sure there are exceptions, but those are not the rule.

The adventure included is quite high level also. Frank wants you to go find some artifacts/ of his legendary dad (of the aforementioned holy site) for a ceremony. He sends you to some ruins. In the ruins are a goblin outlaw band, who will talk to you. They’ll let you in the crypt if you go kill the leader of another band, the main one in the area. That guy, if talked to, will send some of his dudes to drive off the first band … but only if you go poison the holy sites water with some laxatives, for the lols. The crypt you gain access to, one way or another, has one room. And the entire adventure is really not handled in a much more complex ay than I just put here. It’s VERY high level notes and not much more than that. As an introduction to the politics of the bands and the valley, supported by the rest of the book, it might be fine, but in terms of supporting the DM running the adventure … well, no. And, it’s full of padding like “With the threat of Izmirelda neutralized (by force, spider-handling, or Ardak’s own goblins), the player characters can get to the back chamber of the crypt, clearly meant for someone important.” That is both a long sentence and a completely empty one for adventure content, saying nothing useful.

I’m disappointed in this. While the various little tables and “hook/rumors” give the impression of a lot going on, there’s not really any support for the DM beyond this. It does a good job of setting up a potential situation, at a very high level, and I can truly see that this could be a great place to adventure and home base in. But the formatting just makes it unusable as a reference book for play and there’s just not enough TO those hooks to support the DM. The entire thing feels like specificity at the level of a hex crawl … which is good for a hex crawl and less good for a regional setting or actual adventure.

This is $14 at DriveThru. The preview is ten pages and can give you an overview of the writing style, even if it the generalize background stuff. A few more mixed pages would have been better.

Still reviewing everything on my Wishlist. I should be done about the end of the next Long Count, where I will op all of my great scientists. In fact, I think have a couple of more of these Warlock! things on it … if I can find one by a different author I might try it.

Posted in Reviews | 4 Comments

Stories from the Slough

By James Andrews & Kent Willmeth
Dapper Rabbit Games
OSR "Low to Mid Levels"

Welcome to the festering swamp. The odd bog. The Seeping Slough. A weird swamp hex-crawl adventure that will have players exploring a dangerous location that contains two dungeons, a village, several unique characters, monsters, and whimsical filth.

This eighty page hex crawl describes a nineteen hex swamp with two dungeons with about a dozen rooms each. A classic minimal hex crawl with a little weird and icky swamp thing going on, it lacks a more detailed summary as well as a motivation for exploring … as all hex crawls do. But, as a classic hex crawl in the same vein as Wilderlands … nicely done!

Hex crawls are their own thing and I’m not capable of reviewing them well … or that anyone else is either, their being so few examples of the genre. Their design is directly related to the way the DM and players will interact with things. Generally, this means that the appropriate level of detail for a hex crawl is quite a bit less than your typical adventure. Hexes tend to be zoomed out situations rather than encounters. You need enough (flavorful) information to present the situation that it will have the potential energy that will drive player action to interact with. The classic would be something like some weirdos have X and Y. By stringing the player actions together you get a kind of emergent play plot in a sandbox. This tends the tope version of sandbox … where the party may not have much motivation to explore beyond what they give their characters … perhaps a kind of gleeful desire to get ahead and poke at things with a stick. We’ll get to that in a bit.

You get nineteen hexes. Each is two miles wide. Each has a little table with six entries; if you append an hour searching the hex then the DM rolls on the table to see what you see. Monsters, situations, NPC’s. In addition, each hex has its own six entry wandering monster table. Each of the encounters and the wanderers gets about a paragraph to describe it, in a large font. This is supported by a “disease table”; the party rolls to catch a disease each night they stay in the swamp, a con check IIRC. Failing gives you a disease, twenty to roll from, and if it progresses too far then you get a mutation. The mutations are sometimes beneficial, sometimes harmful, and generall weird. Like you no longer have blood. Or your head falls off but you are still alive and can eat/drink/talk normally. So … weird … with a touch of the gonzo in it. That’s it. There’s a village in one hex and the two dungeons, one the lair of a witch and one the insides of a dead colossal creature. Now get out there and shake your asses and make it look good!

This suffers from the bane of all hex crawls … why? Why move from hex to hex? It is absolutely the case that it is up to the player to motivate their PC, but the DM, and thus designer, is not off the hook. There should be SOME pretext for moving about. If only “GOLD!” An inciting event, for example. But in this we only get, I think, a single throw-away sentence that the Witch could be the reason the reason for exploring the swamp. And without anything else it’s left solely up to the DM and players to solve this, the primary problem, with ALL hex crawls. 

Issue two with hex crawls is the nature of their encounters. You want situations more than static things. You’re looking to build connections between the various things going to drive the players, as the DM, and as the players to take advantage of and leverage. This is, I think, THE critical aspect of a good hex crawl. And this … well … in most cases it’s better just to keep travelling. 

There is a body hung up in a tree. It’s dead and you can loot it. There’s a big crocodile. You sleep under a giant flower, your blood turns yellow. A bunch of weeds with a wizards body at the bottom of it. Some of the encounters ARE linked to each otherl a body in a tree that some other dudes are looking for and their village welcomes you if you bring it home. And, there’s a little NPC mechanic where, when you meet the same NPC multiple times, their situation changes. One guy wants to kill the witch and the fourth/last time to run in to him he’s a zombie now … having met the witch and lost. So, you wander around through an Ed Greenwood museum and maybe get some loot. The number of encounters in which you can leverage towards achieving some other goal seem to be very small. And I don’t just mean intentional linkages, like the dead person in the tree and the grateful villagers. I mean Things Going On To Be leveraged. You want ongoing situations in one area and other situations and resources that the party, by way of wacky PC logic, will try to do something with. And that doesn’t seem to be very present here.

Individually, the encounters are interesting. Sure, I’d love to find a body with a glowing amulet under some reeds, or the lumberjacks who drink, wrestle and eat far too rare meat … (actually, bad example, you might be able to leverage those dudes … that’s a good place, but they NEED something, r rather, the adventure should probabally have them needing something.) Still, the locations are far too self-contained. Now, certainly, not everything needs to be linked, and there is a place in the world for statics, but you need a good mix and I just don’t think that this has it. 

Still, I’m fond of this. Housecats that won’t stay dead until you kill them 1d10-1 more times. “A half collapsed stone fountain depicting hunters chasing wolves, who in turn chase the same hunters. It trickles water slowly. Those who drink the water become youthful and healthy in the moonlight.” There’s a whimsy to the encounters, and they don’t feel like de rigeur D&D. I just … I don’t see them working together in order to be able to form a cohesive line for the party to follow, or force. Again, not in a plot way but in a emergent gameplay way. At least … I THINK that’s what hex crawls are about?

This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is broken. I can haz sadz.


On my wishlist for a long, and you just know I LUV me some Gamma World! It’s got cute art and is … The Black Hack but with mutants and human supremacists. Meh. It’s not like Gamma World is the worlds most complex game, even 2e or 3e (Fuck you! I liked 3e! I think the chart worked better than it did in MSH!)  IF a certain GAVIN was listening he’d do an OSE but for Gamma World. That’s the main advantage of this: the simple and easy to reference rules. But, the charm of the setting is lost in the abridged rules, and, the cute art aint enough to get it back.

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