For Coin & Blood Adventure Pack

By Diogo Nogueira, Elizabeth Chaipraditkul
Gallant Knight Games
For Coin & Blood

It seems that this is actually two separate adventures, totally distinct downloads, bundled under one product listing on DriveThru, with the teaser photo being the core Coin & Blood cover photo. 

The Hunted – Diogo Levels 2-3

This sixteen page digest thing is a description of an NPC hunting the party. That’s it. That’s the adventure. Oh, you get some ideas on how they do that. FUCKING LAME!

I was disappointed when I saw the two downloads thing, but then was upbeat when I saw Diogo’s name. He says, a couple of times, that his is an “unconventional” adventure. Yeah, no shit. Because it’s not an adventure.

You get a description of an NPC bounty hunter, a tale for why they might be hunting the party, one for sme tactics they use, a table of traps they mights use ot places they might attack the party, We are told to sprinkle the stuff in during the parties other adventures, a kind of expansion of their downtime. 

So, look, I’m not opposed to this. In fact, I think downtime shit can be one of the more memorable parts of a campaign, And I love sprinkling stuff in to a game ahead of time in order to make the world seem more real and lived in. I’m just opposed to everything about this.

We get a 2.5 page description of the NPC. Only a few sentences are the actual description and mannerisms, and they are fairly generic. Tall muscular woman with dark hair. That’s great. My imagination burns. I’m not fucking around, other than dark leather armor and a crimson cloak, that’s what two paragraphs gets you. The rest of the pags of her description are right out of a “let me tell you about my character” story. She has basilisk skin armor and it’s hard as metal and if you hit ger you make a save or take 1d3 damage and are at disadvantage net turn and she has a sin seeking dagger which ignores your armor and does 1d4 damage per round and she has a …. 

After this are a couple of tables. How she undermines you, who hired her to kill you, and some traps. “A former ally hired her who was hired by the powerful opposition …” “a demon who needs the parties souls but can’t take direct action against them …” the usual not very good stuff and controted reasons. Traps like “oil barrels open and spill contents on the party as they pass under a bridge” or “in a wizards lair she puts fake books on the walls.” Contorted stuff. If this is how Coin & Blood is played then I’m super not interested in it.

The “undermine the party” table is not too bad, but still has that implicit contorted game world shit where she does this instead of just poisoning them with cyanide, or something. She starts lies about the party, she sends messages from people the party has killed in the past, she fucks the parties home base inn, etc. A little too much “she uses her doppleganger cream” in them, and, still, the whole “just kill them” thing, ala Dr. Evil & Scott, but, whatever. Magical ren world.

Oh her and her former adventuring partner broke up because of an “emotional conversation.” Why, isn’t that generic? Nothing like that to liven things up and cement an NPC in your minds.

Not. Good.

Sickness, Elizabeth Chaipraditkul, No Level Range

This sixteen page thing is one of those skeezy abstracted adventures, mor forge-like story than an adventure. Guidelines? Toolkit? Or, maybe, “I had an idea and wrote down four ideas and then expanded it to sixteen pages but didn’t include anything to support the DM.” I am not amused.

Maybe you could have an adventure on the way through the city while looking for who framed you. Maybe the party should find out who cursed them and spend some time in the city doing so. Maybe there are guards at the house and maybe the party bribes them or something.

This, then, is a cardinal sin. If the job of an adventure is to support the DM, what if the adventures DOESN’T do that? What if I jotted down some notes on a notepad. Something like “Get hired by a cult that uses a theater as a base.” “Kidnap a guy from a naor for them.” “Get cured with an illness.” and “Evil baddie behind it all was at the manor all along!” That’s your adventure! Pay me!

Ok, ok, I’ll expand it some. How about I write A LOT of read-aloud in italics, so it’s hard to read? How about I support the DM with some ideas. Like, I could write that there are some guard patrols at the manor and the party could, like, ambush a ship captain to steal an invite to the house. I’m only half-assing this, so I’m not going to write much more than that, above. Oh, and one of the “acts” is for the party to go find out who cursed them. They should go do that. “They should go do that”, that’s enough support for the DM, right?

This “adventure” is devoid of content. Abstractions and generalizations. A lack of specificity. No actual support, AT ALL, for the DM. Just some ideas. Hey, maybe the party should find out who cursed them. You, the DM, should handle that. What the fuck? Seriously? 

Thanks to this adventure I do haze a skeezy new business plan to offer my readers. Find a newly released RPG. The hotness. Write an adventure for it. Maybe, I don’t know, have like four ideas and jot them down, expand them very generically, don’t try very hard. Slap a cover on it and release it for the game. Profit. Maybe do a second one, or just move on to the new Hotness. I expect 10% of your take. 

“The person he wants the characters to abduct is a young man by the name of …” Padded out enough for you? Jesus H fucking christ. It’s all conversational long paragraph form writing, impossible to follow or reference during play, impossible to find anything or key in on the interesting bits. This is the perfect example of an empty shovelware adventure. 

The entirety of “sneak in to the mansion” is handled with “Players could avoid the guard entirely—by watching the guard’s patrolling pattern the character could slip into the mansion without noticing.” like, seriously, what the fuck? No map or anything? It’s just a list of fucking ideas of things that the party could engage in with little to no support for them. Sandboxy? OSR. Plot based? Modern games. Opened AND plot based? Devoid of content. 

This is $5 at DriveThru. I’d be pretty fucking pissed if I got this for Christmas.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/334236/For-Coin–Blood-2e-Adventure-Pack?1892600

This has been episode “I knew there was a reason I skipped over shit on my wishlist!” of Bryce reviews everything on his DriveThru wishlist.

BONUS FEATURE! –  The Anatomy of an Adventure

It seems Senor MT Black is going to tell us how to write an adventure! Let’s see if it’s better than the DCC one. Or Vengers. Or any of a billion other ones …

Clocking in at 106 digest pages, this is less a book on how to write an adventure and more of a designers notes for some of Blacks adventures, that serve as anchor points for some lessons in marketing, player choice, and a few other concepts. I like designers notes, so, as a “this is how I do adventures” it’s not a bad read. Further, there is absolutely a place in life for people to get inspired and gain the confidence to do the thing they dread, and this could serve that purpose also. I mean, I listen to the Frutiness mix of Welcome to the Pleasuredome and get a brand, but, if you need to read about someone else doing what you want to do, good on you. Plus, his essay on meaningful plater choice is a good one, although not really covering much new ground. He does have a great bibliography in the back with only a few stinkers in it. A light read and covering a genre we could use more of: How I Do The Thing. The definitive guide is still missing on how to create an adventure. Well, until, you know what happens.

Posted in Reviews | 12 Comments

Wide-eyed Terror

By Nick Baran
Breaker Press Games
DCC
Level 1 (or a funnel 0)

A blood-curdling scream rings out, traveling in the autumn air. A door slams. The sound of something breaking branches tears through the brush and is followed by several sharp, unnatural barks. Then, near silence as the wind kicks up. The only thing heard for the next few moments is the rustling of the wind and blowing leaves.

This twenty page adventure features a very small farm being raided by a few cultists. It’s short, and laid out in a way that makes interesting play a little hard to occur. It does have some interesting DCC combat effects, and a decent NPC.

There are only a few encounter locations in this one. A farm house with a couple of rooms, a barn, an outhouse, and the small courtyard in between the three buildings. Each location has a creature in it, and thus the space to adventure in is confined. This exposes a certain contention between straight up combat and interesting exploratory elements. The locations have some interesting things in them. A disemboweled goat, graffiti in blood on the barn door, a dead farmer in the house living room, mom hiding her kids in the outhouse. This is the typical sort of thing that players would like to investigate. Take a closer look at the goat, or the graffiti, or talk to the mom, and so on. A pause, or break in the action to investigate/interact. Yet, the adventure is more of a combat focused one. Mutant dogs in that courtyard are most likely going to be the first thing encountered, and certainly any attempt to look at the barn or outhouse will elicit their response. From there, how could you not draw in the cultist in the barn or in the house? Ending in some kind of big melee, with the investigation a kind of afterthought. “Hmmm, wonder who it was we just slaughtered?” So, rather than a build up you get this pitched battle kind of thing.

But the adventure isn’t written like that. It’s written, one assumes from the investigatory details, that the party would be looking at these things. Why else include them? (Ok, if the adventure is a part of a larger campaign them you learn some things about the big bad, not present, behind the things.) Yet, it leaves THIS adventure as little more than a pitched battle.

This is further … undermined? By the combat details of the cultists. There are some great details here. The one in the kitchen uses a cast iron pan to scoop embers from the fire in to someones face. The ones in the hayloft throw down crates on the party. But … is this how things will happen? Not in a pitched battle scene. And that leaves the DM in a quandary. Do they stay in place and ignore noises for these little tactics notes, or do you do the right thing and have them come out?

Read-aloud can be extensive, and in italics, with weird bolding to it that doesn’t really go anywhere and isn’t elaborated on. His combines with weird “As you enter the room” sorts of direction in the read-aloud, never a good thing. The maps are small and cramped, maybe ? of a digest sized page, with lots of little details on the map. And you know, I just LUUUUV squinting while running an adventure. 

Mom, hiding in the outhouse, is in shock, but is a grim fighter to protect her kids. This is a good detail, and she could become a party follower. This is a great little thing and, just like the creature tactics, shows that the designer can bring at least a little spark to the adventure.

So, a short little encounter, that is mostly a fight. As a pause, or brief session, in the context of a larger game, I can see this working a bit. If this were just one encounter in a larger sanboxy/plot/regional setting then it could make sense. You’re learning about the villain to come and how evil they are. But, as a stand-alone adventure, or something to drop in to a game, its really laid out wrong. You need it to be a part of that larger context to work right. As a standalone product I don’t think it works. Shifting the format from the zine to make one of many in a larger adventure? Sure. Although you’ve still got the issues with read-aloud and irrelevant tactics. And at $7? Hmmm …. No.

This is $7 at DriveThru. The preview is just a few pages and shows you nothing of the actual encounters, which is not a good thing at all. You do get to see the mom NPC, but, alas, that format isn’t really used for the of the adventure.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/355113/WideEyed-Terror-Zine?1892600

This has been episode I forget what eight was for, of the Bryce reviews everything on his wishlist penance.

BONUS FEATURE! – The Dwarven Glory

An early adventure from the VERY earliest days of published adventure (1977), Precis Intermedia puts out this reprint of a 34 page classic. There are maps with about seven rooms per map, with most of the maps being linear corridors with rooms hanging off of them. 

The encounter text is longer than the minimalism of Vampire Queen, or even B2, but it’s not necessarily adding substantially more to the adventure. Not quite expanded minimalism, there’s more going on here than that, but closer to it than not. Generally the rooms get an environmental detail, like bones scattered on the floor or walls lined with picks and shovels. What follows then is a brief little encounter, generally, Goblins who might negotiate … unless dwarves are present, for example. We get the usal weirdness in older adventures, like an tavern in the dungeon run by a half–orc. It’s almost funhouse in its design, with encounters just thrown in, like an ogre who plays a lopsided chess game with the party. A typical room, although ont he short side, might be this one “Storeroom with 5 empty barrels and a small empty chest (fireball trap, 1-12 pts damage extending 3 feet in all directions).” 

The section with some ogre brothers, a troll, and minotaur is perhaps the most interesting, in terms of non-linear play, although it must be said that a decent number of the intelligent creatures are not immediately hostile … refreshing. 

I’m not sure this stands as anything other than curiosity for those interested in early days publications. Certainly, something like the T&T Bear adventures seem more playable. It’s just a tad too minimally expanded and random to make sense, although a few of the levels could certainly be nice as standalones. Hmmm, now I’m rethinkng this. It’ all over the place, with a good mix of mundane encounters and weird shit. Combined with the non-standard use of monsters and magic items … it does appeal to my sense of non-standard D&D.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 1 Comment

Orbital Vampire Tower

By Joseph R. Lewis
Dungeon Age Adventures
Labyrinth Lord & 5e
Level 3

The ancient world of Harth withers beneath its dying sun…but it’s not dead yet. High in the night sky, a vampire’s tower is torn apart by a rampaging angel. People and monsters are trapped. Magical treasure lies scattered everywhere. It’s all yours for the taking, if you can find a way out before the angel finds you. This adventure is a one-shot dungeon-delve into a wizard’s tower. In space. With vampires. This is an alien-survival-horror-movie of an adventure (or at least, you can choose to play it that way).

This 26 page adventure features a multi-level spacestation/tower with seventeen rooms. Well laid out, evocative writing, and a bunch of NPC’s make this an interesting and solid little dungeon. If you’re in to that sort of thing. Vampire spacestations in space, that is.

The designer, correctly, points out that this is just a wizards tower. A central staircase with a couple of rooms per floor. Only the “breech the walls and depresurize” thing comes in to play as a space mission, and that could be solved by, I don’t know, putting it underwater or in the swirling chaos void or something if the space thing turns you off. There’s an insane immortal angel on the loose in the tower, tearing shit up, and everyone in the tower lives in fear of it: the servants, staff, and vampire lord that rules the place. Everyone has essentially looked themselves in their rooms. The party gets teleported up when they use an known teleportation circle and find themselves faced trying to find a way out, since the return teleporter is broken. Thus this is a kind of escape the tower mission, as the party tries to get back home, grabbing loot along the way and trying not to get killed. This is how the adventure is for level 3’s, since there’s not a lot of roamers, the NPC’s are generally willing to talk to get ri f the threat of the angel, and so on. The designer notes level 5’s would be better for straight up combat, although, I think that’s only with the slightly modified vampires that inhabit the place.

This uses the standard Dungeon Age format, which is a good one. Each level starts with around a column, explaining what’s going on, who is here, what is here, and so on, a kind of summary. There’s a little read-aloud for each room, offset in a different color thats easy to read and clearly distinguishes itself as readlaoud. The read-aloud is short, only a few sentences, and contains some bolded words that are underlined. Those bolded words are then followed up in the DM text. So “A smeary trail of blood leads to the closed door.” would then have a section in the DM text, a list of bullet points, with one of them being the bolded word “trail.”

The DM text is, as noted, in bullet point form with each ullet starting with that bolded word. There will then be a a few words. Or a sentence, maybe two, that describes that thing and gives more detail. There may be other boxed text on the page to give more detail to a magic item, for example, or some such other “footnote” kind of information. 

What’s nice here, beyond the easy to use formatting, is that the designer recognizes the core feature of an RPG: the back and forth between player and DM. The read-aloud contains things, hints we might say, of things for the party to follow up on. Too much is never given away in the read-aloud, but, rather, held back for someone to investigate, allowing the party to learn as explore the rooms instead of spoon feeding them all the information int he read-aloud. 

The writing itself is pretty good, in terms of being evocative. That smeary blood trail from ealier. Scratched wall. Flickering red torches. Flimsy closet doors lie in battered pieces. Not the use of descriptive words, adjectives and adverbs to add color to what would otherwise be boring facts. This is what evocative writing should be doing. 

The chief, but not sole, component of the interactivity here are the NPC’s. Everyone is in fear of the insane immortal angel and generally willing to deal to have something done about it. Or, potentially deal, that is. They are still vampires. But, we’ve also got clueless newborn vampire clones, an evil chaos lord split in to three parts, and the staff and servants who are generally just trying to survive. Along the way we get the usual assortment of acid eating through bulkheads and airlock shenanigans, tapestries to walk through and 2-way mirrors to talk to the neighbors. Who, it must be said, will send a group of “cleaners” to the site if they think something is amis … always looking to expand their own resources. And, of course, by sending someone they bring a lifeboat … a potential means of escape. Thus the party has a large number of options at their disposal for dealing with the situation and escaping and grabbing loot. (Which, I note, seems to be on the low side in terms of money but there are a deccnt number of magic items. Mundane potions augmented by some interesting unique items.)

“An adult male corpse with soft bubbling red skin. Dead, partially exploded arm, leg, and belly. His face a rictus of pain.” Ouchies!

It’s advertised as a one-shot, and as such its pretty good. The “locked in their rooms” situation does make it a bit static, at least until the angel wakes up or the cleaners (or a rival treasure party) shows up. The “museum” nature that tends to led is decently mitigated by that, although the simple layout of the tower (it’s a tower with a central staircase and several doors on each landing” doesn’t give one a lot of cat and mouse room. I think this sort of thing is whats causing me some reservation in it. With the formatting and writing not an issue then the design of the adventure, proper, comes in to play. It’s not BAD< it just feels al little limiting, or maybe slow? Again, until the other agencies add some chaos to it. I think it probably works better in play, and this might take some play to see how well it actually works out.

But that’s just dithering. All of the elements are present, and the only thing at question is how much of the best it actually is, an 8, 9, or 10.

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is the entire thing. Check out that sweet sweet format! It’s not the only way to format things, but it does work well.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/358520/Orbital-Vampire-Tower-A-Dungeon-Age-Adventure-5e-and-OSR-versions?1892600

This has been episode <something> of Bryce reviews everything on his wishlist in order. 

BONUS FEATURE – Elegant Fantasy Dungeon Generator

This is a 21 page document full of tables to help inspire a dungeon. You roll on the tables and then riff on them to create something. I like these sorts of things when I am creating a dungeon to kind of give me a kick in the ass to get the creative juices flowing; you need someplace to start the imagination up. 

You roll for a general location, which has some features to help you, like a house location migt have servants, kitchen, ballroom, horrors, etc. Then a general mood table, “Elegant” also has Rich, Noble, and decadent as options, and sentence of tips on how to communicate that. Ornaments everywhere, heavy curtains, framed pictures. A table for origins, how it became a dungeon … so let’s say “an outpost during a war campaign” and it fell because of “something that dwelt there before” with its last denizens being soldiers who camped there for some time. The dungeon heart, the key room, is a tomb. Then you’ve got some layout guidelines/generation, and a lot of room features table.

It looks like it would work as well as any of the other “riff on” generators available, perhaps better since all the tables, except monsters, are here. I use a computer app IPP, Inspiration Pad Pro, to do these sorts of things. In my non-existent free time I may enter this in and see what pops up. AFTER the book is done. 

Posted in 5e, Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Level 3, Reviews, The Best | 6 Comments

The Bleak Holdfast of the Heartless Queen

By Rob Alexander
Medium Quality Products
OSR 
Levels 3-4

High above the snow line there is a castle on a crag. It is an object of fear and hatred, because the Heartless Queen holds court there and she is pitiless in her anger and host to terrible friends. Between the Frost Wyrms, the Ice Harpies, and the Frozen Thing that Guards the Bridge, even getting in is difficult. Most locals stay as far away as they can, but between courage, pride, and burning vengeance there are always some willing to take a shot at it. And travellers from the soft, warm south might hear stories of the Queen’s fantastical treasures and be oblivious about the horrors that protect them.

This 64 page digest adventure uses about thirty pages to describe a three level point crawl dungeon of an icy despot with about seventy rooms. When its firing on all cylinders it does a great job with descriptions, but it lacks a cohesiveness that makes the entire dungeon feel like its one place. A little too disconnected, which is not helped by the selected layout choices. A lot of unrealized potential here.

Ice queen lives up on top of an ice hill in an ice castle. What ho! Time to do some stabbin and grabbin!

The designer has a remarkable ability at describing things, both NPC’s, rooms, objects, and situations. The lighting in the castle “dulls colours towards in the way an overexposed photograph doe.” Which is a great way of describing that certain lighting effect and your mind immediately conjures it up. A witch uses as a weapon the embalmed right hand of her disobedient son, sharpened to a claw. Ouchies! The ice queen proper is described as “Tall, incredibly pale, bleach-white hair. Has a bloody hole in her chest, slightly to the left, and she features this with her clothes and accessories (e.g. a silver ring around the hole). When she is animate, the seeps blood, at a modest rate. Again, she dresses so you see this.” You know, I always say, it doesn’t matter what fashion style you have as long as you HAVE a style. And she’s certainly got one.  How about a monster “It is a 9’ high spider-thing with six arched legs and a crude human- esque face that hangs below its rough-ovoid body like an old leather bag.” Sweet! That’s going to have some party members quaking in their boots! Or a magic item, a human skull decorated with electrum pieces, a MU can use it to summon the freezing ghost that whirl around them, stealing the heat of everyone in a 10’ radius for 1d6 damage a round for three rounds. Usable once a day, unless they kill someone, in which case they are sated for a week. Sweet!

This extends to little room situations, like an out of the way place with some graffiti, including “we are all seals” … which comes in to the adventure later. Or a Skeleton, frozen in ice, with s stake through its heart and some long incisors … with a gleaming speal behind it. Want that spear? Gotta thaw that body! That’s a perfect example f he delicious kind of temptation that a good adventure will offer a party. Everybody knows what the fuck is going to happen when you thaw that body … do you want to do it? 

When the adventure is hitting these notes it’s doing a great job. It just doesn’t do that enough. And the digest format, with its wide whitespaces, doesn’t help. Or the fact that it’s a pointcrawl. Let me elaborate.

There’s something going on here, and not in a good way. The entire thing feels somewhat disconnected from itself. Not that the rooms are too far off theme, but, rather, it just doesnt feel like the whole thing works together well. The abstracted pointcrawl map, working with a kind of monster-zoo of NPC’s all packed pretty tightly together on the same level, and the other various rooms of the castle, just don’t seem to jive together. The NPC’s, full of color and description and personality, are just kind of THERE, in their rooms, all essentially right next to each other. There’s not a lot of potential energy BETWEEN the rooms, even though some of the NPCs have motivations that would tend to lead the adventure that way. 

The pointcrawl nature helps lend to this air of disconnectedness, I think, r at least doesn’t help it any. Then, in digest format, you’ve got this kind of big expansive thing with lots of pages, but with the generous whitespace allowance you’ve got this kind of sparness in the words. It doesn’t feel much like a reference document and, with a lot of NPC’s and it not being rare for them to be on two pages, it doesn’t really feel like something easy to use. 

And the elements which ARE good, the NPC’s descriptions, the better rooms, and so on, they are somewhat buried by the rest. There’s A LOT of leadin padding, of the environs, how the castle works, and so on, that I just can’t see being used in play, it being dropped out of neglect by a DM because of its verbose and somewhat generic nature. Yes, the appendices are, essentially, up front and there is more room for expansive text in an appendix, but the rest of it is NOT, and it just gets lost.

The hooks are a good example, taking up a page and not saying anything at all other than the usual “kill the queen” or “loot the place” type of stuff. If it’s just boilerplate then why include it? It just gets in the way.

The severity of my standards come in play with something like this. This one walks the line, trying to reach Regert status. I’ll probably end up putting it there, it does have some decent NPC’s and situations and items in it, along with good descriptions. It just isn’t the whole package. Which I guess is why I made that category in the first place.

This is $4 at DriveThru.The preview is eleven pages and ives you a good look at things, jumping around to several sections. On page twelve you can see the somewhat generic encounters, trying to do more but not reaching it. And then on pages 47 & 50 some room descriptions. This gives you a good iea of the mixed nature of the rooms. How they do so many things right and yet still don’t quite reach a good level.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/353923/The-Bleak-Holdfast-of-the-Heartless-Queen?1892600

This has been episode I Lost Track of Bryce reviews everything on his wishlist.

BONUS FEATURE! — Vaults of Vaarn #2

Holy fuckballs, this thing is great! It’s a kind of city support supplement for a post-apoc-like city. It would fit in ok with Eberron, maybe Dark Sun, any f a number of sci-fi RPG’s and so on. It’s got a brief description of a water-poor city and then it starts in with faction description, about twenty of them, about one per page, supported by a few more minor factions. This makes GREAT environment to have an adventure in. They are flavorful, colorful, and full of potential energy without outright telegraphing where they should go. This is then supported by a FUCKTON of tables for creating noble houses, npc’s taverns, merchants, whatever … which reminds me a lot of the Ready Ref sheets. The entire flavort ofthe city is told through the factions and the tables and they work GREAT to do that. This place is ALIVE and boiling over with fun shit.

I would view this as a kind of companion piece. I might create a small neighborhood and some adventures and then use the stuff in this book to augment it on the fly as needed (the tables) and use the factions to hep help create some adventures. As a support product, it both serves to inspire and rest as the foundation f your game, as well as serving as a handy tableside tool to roll a quick NPC or some such to help come alive during play.

Great fucking book!

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/343612/Vaults-of-Vaarn-2?1892600

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, No Regerts, Reviews | 4 Comments

The Storm’s Impending Rage

By WR Beatty
Rosethrone Publishing
S&W
Levels 1-3

Goblins are pillaging farmsteads; bandits are attacking caravans; and Baron Wrymslayer’s forces are already stretched too thin. A call to arms has been issued for the brave and the cunning to rid this upstart Baron’s lands of these villains and sons of darkness.

This is a 100 page adventure setting describing a small region, about eight miles on a side, with a keep being rebuilt and about a dozen adventuring sites and numerous machinations going on. This is The Real Deal, a D&D sandboxy setting that has enough going on to keep the party busy busy for months, and overarching plotlines that could lead to a kind of endgame siege of epic proportions … all without feeling forced. It also needs about two more pages and/or some summary notes to help the DM fit everything together. 

The key to a good sandbox is having a lot going on. This can mildly unrelated to each other, as in WIlderlands, or with stronger ties, such as the various Stater projects, or more directly related to some underlying plots, such as in Scourge of the Demon Wolf, or this. A local boy returns home after ten years, being a successful adventurer. After drinking, he’s challenged to clear out the old ruined keep, and he does so, setting himself up as the local worthy and repairing the place. The locals like him, though hes an ass, because he’s spending money freely to improve the place. The local rulers around him have various motives, with the high king not wanting chaos to ensure as the power politics among his lords change due to the new guy in town. And then there’s the dark cult, with plots within plots. Surrounding all of this eight mile on a side area are various dungeons, creatures foul and fair, and little problems to be solved. There must be, I don’t know, a dozen, sixteen, different major or medium things going in this area with a lot of smaller ones to round things out. It’s a lot, and it’s exactly what SHOULD be going on in a sandbox setting that is used as kind of home base for the party.

You show up, based off of eight or ten little hooks, none of which are throw aways. They contain they few xtra details required to bring them to life but don’t overstay their welcome and drone on for multiple paragraphs. They are supplemented by two to three pages of rumors, in voice as I like them to be, that provide even more fodder for the party to investigate. There might be a dozen different adventuring sites, more than half of which are quite extensive with twenty or more rooms/encounters in them. It all fits together and has a vibe somewhat reminiscent of Kramers works, although perhaps a little less LotR fantasy and slightly more B/X style, or maybe tonally, some of the better Castles & Crusades works, walking a line between mud-farmer fantasy and almost high fantasy. 

There’s os much going on here that I don’t really know where to start or how to relate it. Let’s take the cult of the old gods. They are led by one of the new wrothies adventuring buddies and close advisor, in secret. He’s organizing them to raid the keep and cause trouble Bandits, and goblinoids, in his hire keep the wilderness busy and keep the new guys troops to the keep protecting it, since they hit it when they venture too far from it. For the expeditionary force sent out didn’t come back and now troops are low … a perfect opportunity for our mercenary party to find some fun. He’s got bandits in a camp, goblins in a lair, all orking for him. He’s got followers, both his personally and agents of The Cult allied with him secretly, in plac ein the keep … decent number of them. He’s also got a necromancer down below creating an army of undead. One of his followers is accidentally a demon worshiper, being controlled y them. And, he doesn’t give a shit about any of it, only wanting to cause chaos so he can steal a minor artifact from the worthy while he’s otherwise mentally engaged with controlling the chaos. Then you’ve got a couple of agents of the high king, keeping an eye on things, at least on of which is quite ruthless, in order to keep the political situation with the surround lords calm. (This entire subplot doesn’t get in to enough detail though, it’s need another half to quarter page of support,) The quarry mining the stone for the repairs has issues. The logging camp has issues. The merchants have issues with caravan raids. There’s fairies in the woods, running a mini-tavern you have to shrink yourself to get in to (who know just about fucking everything and are a great source of information if you ply everyone with enough drinks.) There’s a giant looking for his missing brother. A basilisk (or two!) are wandering around. Griffens prowl the wilderness looking fo horsemeat. Ghosts and undead abound, and make sense how they are used. (A favorite is a ghostly mule, the remains of a mule train accident, who the local woodsmen shout “Go on home Lucy!” at, to get her to disappear again) A spider infested forest  … the local cemetery with recent graves, older graves/momuments, and still older tombs of the Northmen, ready to explore. It goes on and on and on and on. A reward for goblin ears? A few of the locals have cut off their own ears to try and claim it, the reward being so out of bounds with their own meager lifetime earnings. And it could all end with a chaotic siege of the keep, well supported with a couple of pages of notes.

There is so much going on here that you’re unable, i think, to hold it all together. And that’s where my major criticism comes in. There are a few minor issues, a few NPC’s are mentioned as being in the appendix, and are not. It looks like one map is missing. Certain things could be expanded upon just a little to support the DM in play, like the high king/local politics angle. And it’s missing a bit of “on the ground” support. I might make this a wild west  town, especially aroun dthe goblin ear reward, and this could, for example, be supported more through the text. Or, giving a strong feeling of just how tenuous and weak the local worthy is, how out of his league he is, and, in general, a  few more words on his, his actions, and his support or lack there of the party. But, the size is the major issue.

It’s too big to hold in your head. There’s too much going on with too many connections to effectively guide the party and provide that sort of riff-on follow up and the consequences of their actions. The rumors contain no cross-references to what they point to. When do things reach a point where the siege becomes the cult leaders go to? You can make this work, but its going to cause you to have to study this thing, extensively, for quite some time, to become as familiar with it as the designer no doubt it. Notes upon notes and page scribble upon scribble. This is where the few extra pages would come in, along with appropriate cross-references. You need that, provided by the designer or yourself, in order to run this in the way it deserves to be run. 

Beatty knows his shit. And, thisis, I think, the first true series of products in the oSR that could be used as a well supported campaign. Kramer got very close, but if you were to get ALL of the Rosethrone products, then, together, you’d have something akin to the OSR”s first full ine of well supported, and good, adventuring area, across several products. Sprinkling in the other adventures (locations well notes already by the designer) in to this, as a home bas/surround area to have those adventures in, you would have a great down-time environment that leads to more. Need to bury a hireling that died in another products, like Bonepickers tower? The graveyard is here … and has more than its fair share of secrets to explore. 

So, fan-fucking-tastic, but needing a lot of study to bring it to its full potential. I’m excited to run a Rosethrone campaign!

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is fourteen pages and gives you a good idea of the kind of writing to expect in it, and the kinds of encounters and the level of detail to rely upon.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/335320/The-Storms-Impending-Rage?1892600

This has been Episode five of “Bryce Reviews everything on his Wishlist, in order.”

Bonus Feature: A Broken Candle – A Kingdom and it’s Laws

Twenty digest pages with a lot of whitespaces that amounts to notes on a setting. “Here are some things that you could use.” It’s all loosely tied together and, I believe tries to inspire you to create a setting from it, rather than being a setting. A land thrown in to chaos trough strife, a number of factions, some archetypes of the locals on each side and the populace. If you were sitting in a bar and took thirty minutes with your friends to come up with a setting, everyone chiming in, then you’d have the level of detail that this offers. Far too generalized to be used without a lot of work.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, No Regerts, Reviews | 9 Comments

Mike’s World – The Forsaken Wilderness Beyond

By Geoffrey McKinney
Self Published
B/X 
Levels ... 3-12? (Whatever X play is)

MIKE’S WORLD: THE FORSAKEN WILDERNESS BEYOND expands on the fantasy world first introduced in Gary Gygax’s dungeon module B2: THE KEEP ON THE BORDERLANDS. If you have ever wondered what perilous lands further surround the Keep, this is the book for you. MIKE’S WORLD includes 14 hand-drawn wilderness maps of war-torn lands with details of their monstrous denizens, ancient ruins, eldritch mysteries, and more. It is perfect for all levels of campaign play and for both complete novices as well as for those who have played for decades

This 32 page wilderness “square crawl” contains fourteen pages of pages with four or five encounters for each, expanding on the wilderness from module B2. An absolutely fantuckingtastic collection of encounters, about the right length and level of detail, imaginative, and with some occasional themes running between them. Totally unlike the rather drab Mike’d Dungeon, this may be Geoffrey’s best work, and is certainly one of the best things to come out of the OSR. It’s The Real Deal.

If the keep in B2 represents the edge of the borderlands then this wilderness map represents the borderlands proper. A wilderness full of weird and interesting things to explore, as well as being well stocked with monsters ready to eat your face. And, of course, it’s not all barren wilderness, there are those that were here before, elves, dwarves, gnomes and the like. Not necessarily allies of man but generally not ready to stab first and eat later, unlike a decent percentage of the humanoids.

The expert level game, the X in B/X, was never really expanded upon well, IMO, in adventure products. You got a lot of dungeons, and isle of Dread, which always seems too minimal to me. Maybe something like Tharizdun, with its wilderness travel? But I seem to recall that was on roads and paths … and they aint here. The road from the keep ends on the edge of the map at the FORMER keep that was on the borderlands … now in ruin for 20 years from a gnoll assault. Well now, that brings the borderlands home, doesn’t it? In a way that never felt like it in the keep, the forces of chaos can come calling at any time … and did. 

And that’s what this product does, over and over and over again. It makes you think “I could do this, and this and this and I could use this in this way …” The entries have just about the exact amount of details, describing interesting things, using its word budget wisely, not overstaying welcomes and in some cases leaving some hooks or threads to follow up on. Just off hand comments but enough to get he DM going. Almost every runs that knife edge between underexplaining and providing enough information for the DM to bring the situation to life.  And that’s GREAT!

Goblins climb among the mirkwood style dark forests, dwarf heads, skins and skeletons from a recent devastating war are displayed in the branches. Fuck! Yeah! A woman suspended in a cage on the top of a rocky hill. Weathertop meats the harpies, anyone? Every plains is filled with cactus, every stand of trees a mirkwood. Geoffrey hits time and time again with his encounters, four to five per page, with one page per map. 

The maps proper are interesting, with terrain features likes hills, ravines, rises and bluffs, rivers and the like. While they appear to be quickly drawn with pencil, they are clear and easy to read. The keys, proper, alphabet letters like A, B, C, and so on, do blend in a little, or rather, don’t call attention to themselves. I might have twisted Geoffrey’s “Mike” backstory a bit and put them in a read circle or something, to make them stand out a bit more as features.

The misses in the “adventure” are all generally related to the map and the nature of hex crawling, in general. As I mentioned, a little highlighting of the encounters on the map would have helped a bit. Related to this is visibility … how far can you see? Some guidelines in this area would have been helpful (is that in the Expert set?) I want to get the party moving towards things, and climbing a hill and looking around would cause me to fumble through the book looking through all the nearby encounters to see what the party can see. I always turn to the Fallout game and its ability to put something in the distance that you want to travel to. 

And, related to this, are the interconnections between the places. You meet a fair number of monsters and humanoids that will talk to you, or at least that you can question with fire and torture. A few notes on what they know is nearby, a likely question from the party, would have been in order. Even just a simple notation like “B, G, I, K”, meaning they know about those places, would be a help, I think, in running it. I think the adventure needs just one more page, laying out the overall situation and how everything works together, what they know, and … how the maps fit together. [Edit: it looks like Melan did at least the maps fitting together part.]

But, this doesn’t really detract from the creativity of the work. It’s fucking magnificent! Great situations, with a kind of … I don’t know, low fantasy vibe? Traditional fantasy? There’s some weirdness here, but it’s got a much more … folklore mashed up with the Hobbit mashed up with Clash of Titans vibe going on. I don’t really know how to describe it. Maybe the darker parts of the hobbit, the Mirkwood bits, combined with the more fantastic portion of LotR? It’s strongly “not the realm of man” fantasy, but not gonzo. It’s the fucking borderlands baby! 

This is easily one of the best, this year or any other, and is what the expert set should have included as an example of play.  I can’t recommend it enough! I want to totally redo the Keep, bringing it up to date, and run every campaign from now on there and in this environment! IE: i”m excited about this!

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is the entire thing. Check out the first maps keys on page 5 of the preview. Great, great encounters, terse writing, just  the right amount of detail for a hex crawl!

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/355388/Mikes-World-The-Forsaken-Wilderness-Beyond?1892600

This has been episode four of Bryce Reviews Everything on his Wishlist in Order.

Bonus Feature!

Random Social Interaction Hex Flower, by Goblin’s Henchman

Well, I AM buying/reviewing everything on my wishlist, but, it’s important to note, I don’t know shit about anything other than adventures, and I don’t know much about them. 

I’m fond of social connections between people in villages, and so on, where the party will interact with some group socially. I think that it makes the situations much more interesting, prone to actionable roleplay, and believable when the various people in a village have some kind of relationship with the other people. (Used in the loose term, like hating, coveting, etc. I’ve often though that mind maps were one good way to depict this, and this supplement seems to do something like that, so I put it on my list.

It looks like you put 4-7 NPC’s in the shaded hexes and roll 3d6 for each to see how they are related to each other. One roll indicates the direction, so, ultimately, who this NPC will have a relationship with, which could be open or secret. Another indicates if its NPC A or B who is the influencer, or both. IE: I love you, you have a crush on me, we both love each other. The third is taken as a modifier to the first two. You take all three dice and then arrange them to get a modifier like “a strong interaction, happened in the past, arcane influence, NPC is stronger than expected, or so on. Basically, doubles, straights, etc. Finally, you sum the first and second die and that gets you the type of relationship: love, family, admire, aids, owes, watches, dislike, etc. 10 entries. 

As a prep tool I think this is quite interesting. I would use it to create situations that I could then riff of off. I’ve always thought that a blank mind, a totally empty canvas, was the hardest to work from and that by giving the mind just a little bit to work with it will then go racing off to new heights. 

This is begging, I think for an online/electronic version. And, I’m not quite certain of the 2d6 nature chart, with love, admire, hate, etc. These sorts of things always make me think “is this the platonic version of this? Is admire a weak love relationship, for example, and could be replaced with something else more platonic to the humans condition? But, fuck it, that’s my nature. 

This is a great tool to prep situations to riff off of while designing dungeons/villages/social interactions … and would be even more useful if there was an online version.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews, The Best | 7 Comments

March of the Windmills

By Ben Gibson
Coldlight Press
OSR/5e/Pathfinder
Level 2

Warm autumn sunshine filters through the harvest’s dust. The singing of the women threshing grain and the lowing of cattle makes it hard to hear the muffled thumps at first, but the screams of alarm clue you in before long. Coming around the hill…is that Old Leuro’s windmill?  Why is it groaning? And…moving?

This thirty page adventure uses four pages to describe a windmill moving across the land toward a city that it will destroy. It’s a pretty basic scenario that falls short in expanding on a few key points. You know what they say, when you make a simple dish every component must be perfect because there’s no place to hide. 

This is a One Session Kit, to the page count isn’t quite a bad as made out. In addition to pregens, you also get little stand up paper counters to use as the baddies. The concept being that you print it out and you have everything you need to play D&D tonight. In the PDF world where page counts are free, the addition of these elements is a nice touch. 

A woman collapses off a horse in the town square saying his kids been kidnapped by the miller and his windmill is heading to the town(!) to destroy it. The merchants guild offers 1000gp, on the spot, to stop it. At this point a few things pop in to my head. What is evil millers were a long running thing in a campaign? A kind of Freemason thing. Didn’t people already dislike millers, thinking they were cheating them and being jealous of their wealth? Also, riffing off of Gone Fishin, I probably would, as the designer/DM, have a made rush of townsfolk running out to stop the windmill to get the 1000gp, a treasure beyond belief for most of them. Up to and including a quadrapalegic pulling themself along. But then, I like a little farce in my games and a mad villager rush, ala a DCC funnel, would add a lot of extra content to the adventure if that thread had been followed up upon. Also, the woman eclaims “Oh, the monster!” which of course should always be “Oh, the humanity”!

It’s a pretty basic adventure. You encounter some bandits fleeing the windmill, who were hired by the miller, and then arrive at the windmill, which is indeed moving, to find some bandits hired by the miller manning the wrap-around balcony. Getting inside you fight some giant cogs, deal with explosive flour clouds, and the miller and kidnapped kid. Pretty basic. Nothing wrong with that for a single nights adventure, but, agin, I point out that a basic dish must be executed to perfection and I find a lot lacking here.

It’s all pretty generic. Our cogs are just that, cogs. Even the paper minis just show some gears. Some modron style arms, legs and eyes would have been in order, I think, to help bring them to life. Perhaps with some unique attacks like arm grabbing/crushing, with a penalty to little hands that get in to them better? 😉 

The bandit encounter, in the wilderness, is similarly given short shrift. They are simply laden with goods they’ve pillaged, know that they were hired by the miller and ran when the windmill started moving. Nothing more beyond that. A little personality, some specifics in the laden nature, a brief expansion of the encounter … all of that would have helped bring the encounter to life. As is, it’s just some bandits, almost ot the point of saying “4 bandits” and leaving it at that.

At some point the miller may use the boys life energy to power the windmill, if the party mess up the gears. THis is be accompanied by the wail of the boy and the remaining bandist fleeing. Again, not really expanded upon in any evocative manner. Again, a missed opportunity. Most of the adventure is this way, with just very brief encounter description, almost abstracted, given no specifics that would breathe life in to them. Does the windmill have legs? Does is just scoot along? It seems like a pretty simple thing but no advice is given. I don’t need a simulationist thing in here, but something would have been nice. 

The page count does include a column explaining what a One Session Kit is, wasting the word count in what could have been included in the marketing blurb. I can’t help but think that this would have been used to help breathe more life in to the encounters. And thus is goes with these short page count adventures. Constraining by page count you must work with what you have and it is, in many cases, much harder to produce something good when you limit yourself artificially to just a few pages, the one pagers being the platonic example of this.

There is a little backstory here to the local merchants guild paying the miller less and less each month and having him beat up if he sells to other towns, and him charging the farmers more, which causes them to go elsewhere, etc. It’s a nice twist … “oh, the victims brought this on themselves and were working for some questionable people!” It’s told, not through a journal or diary, which is almost universally bad design, but through the millers ledger and the entries therein. Again, a nice little design detail and, while still written, a good departure from backstory through a diary.

It’s an interesting concept, all parts of it, but it feels half formed. Or, rather, not expanded upon.. Like these were the notes and now it needs the specifics added to it. With those specifics you’d have a nice little One Session Kit. 🙂

I would not also that the conclusion is pretty well done. The townsfolkd treat the party as heroes, free room and board, discounted wine, friendly smiles, claps on the back and so forth. The woman gives the party her entire life savings, 30sp, for saving her kid, if they did that. And the boy, to quote “He will have his vengeance upon artificers and all windmills, this he swears upon his name: Alonso Quixote.” And you thought we’d get out of this without a Cervantes reference? I think not! 🙂

The one session supplemental material doesn’t trump the quality of the adventure though. 

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $1. The preview shows you the four pages that actually make up the adventure, so, god preview for making a buying decision fromit. 

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/261950/One-Session-Kit-K4-March-of-the-Windmills?1892600

This has been episode three of “Bryce reviews everything on his wishlist, in order.”

BONUS FEATURE! – Fast Locations – Silverfish City!

On my wishlist but not really an adventure. I like city and town locales so I picked this up. It’s nine pages, but the first two are the cover and title page. The last page is the credits page and there are two pages of a poor map. One of the remaining pages is only half a page. That leaves us 3.5 pages of content … not much. It’s just generic town text. “Tavern “The maket’s bowl”, economic place in which most people with enough money eat during the long days of work at the market. It’s cheap, but not bad.” All of the entries are like that, aggressively generic and abstracted, nothing specific, nothing really going on. There is one city hook, about a dungeon nearby and the effects of the people who have gone looking, that is well done in a naturalistic way without being overly long. Quite an interesting hook idea, but nothing beyond that. Quote the disappointment.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 13 Comments

The Black Wyrm of Brandonsford

By Chance Dudinack
Self Published
B/X
Levels 1-3

There’s a dragon in the woods. Those friendly dwarves were the first to go, the poor things. And now the beast has been killing and eating the people of Brandonsford. No-one wants to leave the town’s walls. With the humans out of the forest, fairies have taken over, and now the goblin king Hogboon seeks to claim the entire forest as his new kingdom.

This eighteen page adventure, featuring an ALMOST whimsical wilderness, is perfect. No, seriously. It’s good.

All I’m ever going to do, from now on, is review Chance Dudinack adventures. That’s it, the blog is over, until Chance writes another one I’m done. This adventure hits every mark I’ve ever wanted. Every page is loaded with good fun.

Every.

Single. 

Page.

Yeah, yeah, I’m predisposed to liking this. It’s got just a tad of whimsy in it. A dragon, dwarves, a barrow, a giants house, a faun grove, a witch. Even that cover art. What is it, watercolor? It’s actually good. (Oh, he’s famous. Duh.) This thing SCREAMS The Hobbit, y a mi me gusta El Hobbit. You’re gonna have to decide, after reading this review, if I unnaturally like this because it seemed tailor made for me to like it, or if its actually good. But, this sort of ALMOST whimsical setting, with some hard edges, combined with a kind of beer & pretzels element, at times, is exactly the sort of thing that I like to have fun with. And it’s well written, evocative, has things for the party to do, and is only eighteen fucking pages. Hey, you, with the face, encourage Chance to become more and pump out more of these. 

It looks like Chance has done some one-page dungeons. While the format is limiting, I think its positive aspects show up in this. The writing is tight, with a huge percentage of the words contributing to gameable things. Our local NPC’s in town, the shopkeeps, etc and hirelings the party is likely to run in to, get descriptions like “Gentle face, freckled, one red curl hangs out of her coif. Generally patient and well-meaning, but in combat her fight-or-flight kicks in. Usually fight, with lots of threats and screaming.” or “White beard, boney, uncomfortably friendly. Will do anything to keep new customers. Snaps at the mention of the Clumsy Fox. [ed: the other inn in town.])” Fucking perfect. Memorable but not over the top. The town reeve, troubled by the dragon “Portly, mutton chops, purple rings around the eyes, visibly stressed. Spends much of his day in silent, wide- eyed thought.” The shopkeeps are memorable and their quirks make sense. The hirelings are memorable and will add a lot of fun to the game. There are little subplots scattered about, that all generally lead, one way or another to the main dragon adventure, with diversions to the witch, the goblin king, the fey, or the like. It’s not really a “get the red key to open the red door” but more a trail of things to potentially follow up on, and there are alot of them. Not all adventurer things. The smith find cursed talismans on his door each morning from a fey haunting him. Turns out they are love letters and hes illiterate and their from the town alchemist, who has trouble expressing her love for him. Ha! And that eventually leads somewhere to do with the main adventure. Not in a “shes crazy” way, but in a way that makes sense. Everything makes fucking sense. In a fantasy world fll of fey and giants and a fucking dragon, everything makes sense. And that’s a VERY powerful thing. No easy “she crazy, he’s a cultist” throw away shit. Just a couple of words on the human condition that makes everything so much more relatable. No misery porn, just fucking immersion of a type that VERY seldom makes an appearance in games. It’s fucking perfect.

Those dwarf brothers? They found a fantastic treasure. And one was overcome by greed and killed the others to keep it for himself. And that transformed him to a dragon. Of course. OF COURSE that’s where dragons come from. That’s some fucking Dante shit right there. Wearing the ring of the goblin king makes you the goblin king. Duh. And makes you the target for a bunch of fey who want to be the goblin king. Adventure. Follow ups. Perfect.

I don’t know what to say. This thing is great. Boxed off text sections, bullets to highlight information and bolding to call attention to things, great use of whitespace, most major locations taking half or a third of a page to detail in an easy to read, scan, and understand format. A couple of dungeons present, including the barrow, with a more traditional explore element. Good wanderers, up to something. Treasure that is both book inspired (+1, +3 vs) with a little description, just a touch of backstory/context in a few words, more than a few of which have some kind of follow-on or hook that can be attached.

How about a dragon description? “The beast moves like a fat alligator, dragging its bloated belly along the ground with each lumbering step, but with the potential to strike in an instant. Strings of spittle hang from its teeth, thick with foul poison.” Fuck. Yeah. Dragon.

I want every adventure to be this good. To have great description. Relatable things. Good layout. Enabling fun without trying to FORCE fun. 

A couple of notes:

The barrow dungeon has a floating skull that laughs all the time. It would have been nice to put a note about laughing on the map, or up high in the adventure, instead of in the creature description, as a kind of hint/foreshadowing/atmosphere thing. The map for the barrow is a little crude, using simple 10’ square shaded boxes. It’s not bad. It does what it needs to do. But if the designer were looking for a way to beef up their skills in their free time then producing better maps would be it. Basic maps are all an adventure ever needs, but more advanced maps DO add something to an adventure. Creating maps is fucking hard. 

This adventure seems effortless. Effortless. That is a very hard thing to achieve. Most adventures seems forced, or strained. The text, the interactivity, the format, the design, you can tell that they were strained activities. But not this. It just Fucking Clicks in a way very few things in life do.

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is eight pages and shows you the town and wilderness and some of the “subplot”/breadcrumb stuff. You can get a great sense of the writing and design from the layout. Maybe one of the forest location pages would have been good to include also, to give a complete picture. 


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/327744/The-Black-Wyrm-of-Brandonsford?1892600

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Level 2, Reviews, The Best | 11 Comments

Beneath the Giant’s Head

By Mark Tasaka
Tasaka Games
DCC
Level 2

[Four paragraph leadin removed] Shortly after receiving the crown, King Edgarr fell ill; the smiths, who forged the crown, fell ill as well. The group of dwarves sent to explore the caverns never returned. An expedition of fighting-dwarves was sent to find the missing group. Only half of the expedition returned alive and gave accounts of metallic beings and strange monsters lurking in the caverns. The dwarves sealed the caverns off and buried the recovered metal deep within the earth. The King’s Advisors put a call out for adventurers and offered a reward of a thousand gold pieces to find and destroy the source of the evil that lurks in the caverns beneath the Giant’s Head.

This 52 page adventure details a small village with several sub-plots and a cavern with a spaceship in it, with around 43 rooms. It has the beginnings of some decent exploration elements but suffers from the density, and verbosity of information presented.

The adventure starts by presenting a home base village with several things going on. These are presented, initially, as mysteries. The farmers dog has been around forever, the baker woman makes unusually good honey buns, the innkeep wants to get married, a farmer has a reputation for interesting chickens, and so forth. These are sprinkled in to the location and NPC descriptions and correctly offers the party a loto f interesting gossip and mystery, or, perhaps, not quite mysteries, to sprinkle throughout their time in the village. Because of this, and the quirks of NPC’s, the place is more alive than most and offers a good home base for downtime things to happen. This is GREAT. A little mystery, some quirks to cement NPC’s, and nothing too outrageous, but enough to spice up both gear buying/sleeping and offering the party more if they go down that path. This is what a home base village should be. Not a generic “typical” village but something just below the surface to sprinkle in to the adventure as the party moves through the usual party of adventuring life in downtime. These mysteries are then followe dup on in little “events”, which are actually the mini-quests. Like the farmers chickens turn giant and attack, or rats in the bakers basement (ug!) or the innkeep marrying a party member and then moving away without a word. 

The separation between places/NPC’s (as a section) and then the subplot adventures is a good idea, allowing the DM to focus on the normal activities and making the subplots easy to find and run. But, as the page count to location ratio would indicate, it gets VERY long winded in its descriptions. Insertion casual conversational sentences and mundane trivia in with the more more specific, compounded by a lack of any real formatting to help call attention to the important bits. This is a variation of The Kitchen Problem. We all know what a kitchen looks like, you don’t need to describe it. You just need to tell us why this one is different, in an actual play sense.  I do want to emphasize that the constructed world here is both more interesting, with little specific details, and more well constructed than most. This we get a little village outside of the entrance to the dwarf kingdom, supporting it, in addition to the “home base” village. 

The actual dungeon is three areas/levels, two of caves and one of a spaceship. There are some better than the usual design elements going in to the exploration space. There are things to explore and mess with, and some terrain features and their ilk, like dropping through a hold in the ground in the next level, that just aren’t typically seen in adventures these days. These elements are KEY to bringing a full fledged exploration dungeon to life. They do tend to the more simplistic side of things, and there does seem to be more of an emphasis on combat, this being DCC, and its on the edge at times of being set pieces, but never really goes over the edge in to 4e territory. 

It is, however, long and mundane. The read-aloud for rooms is on the edge of being long and, more importantly, is not really interesting. It relies a lot of abstracted text and generic labels rather than the specificity seen in the village. The DM text is better in this regard, so we get little bits like splashes of water and bodies with insect and worm decay. 

It does suffer greatly from padding of the text with like like “the characters could open each stasis chamber with ease.” While alone this may not be a problem, this sort of writing, when added and added and added, sentence after sentence, if not direct to the DM. It’s not describing the situation, but rather the characters interactions with it. Writing is more effective for comprehension, and terseness, when these padded clauses are not included. The barracks, a room title tells us. And the description then goes on to tell us that this is where the kobolds sleep. Well, yes, that is the idea of the barracks. 

Rather than the great specificity of the village we get abstracted txt in the dungeon. The cleric, the tif, the warrior, describes the bodies found of the previous party, rather than names. The descriptions all come off as generic, the robots lacking anything interesting to bring them to life.

The adventure ends with some conclusions. I like it when an adventure does this. Little follow ups on what happens next to the area. The items presented, though, are mostly uninteresting and mundane. A married couple finally goes on vacation. What this needs is more things that he party will directly notice and potentially be impacted by, even in a trivial way, to show that their actions had impact.

So, some hints of good design in places but marred by not enough of it. And padding and generic text where there should be evocative text. Yes, that’s hard. 

This is free at DriveThru.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/354193/Beneath-the-Giants-Head?1892600

This is episode two of Bryce Reviews Everything in order on his DriveThru Wishlist. Maybe this won’t be as terrible as I thought it would be.

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A Giant Shield

By Andy Beard & Tracy Rann
Sleeping Griffon Productions
Battleaxes & Beasties
Levels 1-2

You’ve been hired to escort and guard a wealthy merchant into the Black Yew forest to obtain some of the wood that the forest is famous for.  Should be a simple job. . . right?

This ten page adventure is a conversational list of “first this happens and then this happens”, abstracted, of an escort mission for a merchant. It has one nice thing: a shark with legs. It makes me feel like Papers & Paychecks. 

You escort a merchant down a river to get some wood from a forest. You then escort him back to make a delivery. Along the way you fight river monsters, deal with some fey, and get ambushed a few times by thieves. The excitement I convey is not found in the adventure. The highlight is something called a Lake Finn, a shark with two stumpy legs up front. I assume they can come out of the water? Its not stated as such. The monster description focuses just on attacks, with no description or anything, but the art that comes with it is pretty nice in a “tree octopus” kind of way. Don’t worry, while a shark with legs sounds gonzo, the rest of the adventure is depressingly mundane.

We get stock NPC’s, from the slightly greedy slightly rotund merchant to the haughty elves to the mischievous faeries. Worse, we get a generic adventure, abstracted.

It is written as a long two-column text file. The formatting present is, at best a carriage return to represent a paragraph break. It is, in this, this long long section of text blocks, that the adventures to be found. You follow it by reading, not referencing. One encounter after another follows in the text, with no formatting, other than a carriage return, to separate things. First this thing happens and then this thing happens. In about as many words you are told that there will be a lake encounter and two roll twice for random encounters on the river. This represents the journey from the town you’re hired in to the forest where you gather the wood you are escorting the merchant for. That’s it. That’s the basis of the adventure. “Roll for an encounter.” This is fucking dumb. This is not how you use random tables. If you’re going to write ap plot adventure then put in encounters. Randomness in encounters is (primarily) used as a timer in D&D. No timer? WRITE A GOOD FUCKING ENCOUNTER!!!! The entire adventure is like this, just rolls random encounters, or, a throw away sentence about an ambush or something. Everything is abstracted. How long does the travel take? Not mentioned. How much does the merchant pay the elves in the forest who demand gold? Not mentioned. You need to rout a group of rous in the forest, the elves say. How many? Not mentioned. ANYTHING at all, any detail at all about the rous? No. Just “You need to rout a group of rous.” It’s all abstracted, conversation style of text, with a linear plot. It’s just a lit of ideas, nothing more than that. Nothing is alive, nothing breathes. 

What if I wrote an adventure that only said “roll four times on the random encounter chart”, but took five pages to say that? That’s this adventure. Any potential impact of the plot lines, the devious NPC’s or entanglements, that the adventure wants to do with all of the ambushes, is hidden from the players while being overly described to the DM.  This is really just a stream of consciousness set of ideas, as if this review were an adventure.  And, and … the giant shield does not make an appearance in this adventure. It’s what you are gathering thee wood for, for delivery to someone else.

This is $5 at DriveThru and there is no preview, of course. 

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/357892/A-Giant-Shield?1892600

This is Episode 1 of “Bryce reviews everything on his DriveThru Wishlist, in order.” You were warned.

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