Into the Caves of the Pestilent Abomination

By Marcelo P Augusto
Giallo Games
Levels 1-2

Something evil and cruel has been terrorizing the peaceful villagers of Woodsmen Village. Who will be the brave adventurers to discover the source of this evil and restore peace to the land?

Thi 24 page adventure features a cave with twelve rooms. It is 2023 and OSR adventures continue to be terrible. Including this one.

Ok, I Just typed up a long paragraph that I decided was a harsh personal attack on the designer. So I deleted it. Instead, I poured myself a drink (9:23! I’m doing better!) and am going to write the normal boring ass review of a normal dreadful adventure. But, man, I fucking went there. Cause this dude doesn’t deserve that. It’s not a rip off adventure. It’s just a dude doing his best. Like, you’re having open heart surgery by a dude that saw a cartoon yesterday that had a beating heart in it and now, today, you’re going under the knife.

The dungeon starts on page fifteen. Up until then we get a village description, or, rather, the village backstory description, as well as a couple of pages on the surrounding wilderness. Everything in this describes, pretty much, this wandering priest who used to be around, who stank a lot. Now there’s sheep heads and slaughtered animals showing up. Best go track him down. 

The village, proper, doesn’t really get much of a description. Nor does it really need one. It starts off with a paragraph describing an idyllic little place. And then it goes on and on and on and on, with backstory mostly and a little “pleasant farmers doing pleasant farmer shit.” Absolutely nothing, beyond that first paragraph, is needed to run this village. We all know what a kitchen looks like. Then there’s what feels like six hundred pages of back story that is kind of disguised as rumours that you can hear. There IS a rumour table, but it’s kind of meaningless. “Ocs in the mountains!” kind of shit. The actual adventure backstory has all of the information that you want to tell the players, integrated in to the adventure. You’re not going to be able to do that, of course, since there’s no way to slog though it all except in real time. It’s all mostly about the stinky priest that used to come around. And a little about the traveling heroes that saved their village once. WHich is why, I guess, everyone is afraid of you when you come in to town. Because wandering heroes saved them once and they still venerate tem and remember them and now they are afraid of all wandering heroes. I’d love it if this shit made sense, but it don’t. 

Ok, so, there’s a wilderness map. It has place son it from the rumour table, like that pass with orcs, and where the last sheep head was found and shit like that. They get no descriptions. While the locations are keyed, on the map, there are no descriptions of any of the locales. There’s a short wandering monster table, in case you want to meet “deer” or “1d6 wolves.” Have fun. You need to wander in to the swamp, where you will find tracks that lead to a small mound with a cave entrance in it. 

Great! You’re at the cave. Enjoy such room titles as Tunnel 1 and Cave 2 and Citrine Cave 3. You’ll find a map with about twelve rooms on it. And no grid. Why no grid? Why was that the decision you made?  Have ya played D&D before? You know we need a map grid, right? I mean, yes, you did put on a, like a line that says 1” equals ten feet … but that don’t cut it.

You can then enjoy many confused and overly long descriptions that repeat things form the map and need better evocative writing. You will find a +1 dagger, a cursed necklace, and, I don’t know, 100gp in treasure. Again, have you played D&D before? You know that gold equals XP? No? 

Oh, after all that lead up to the stinky priest, in this stinky cave, it turns out that the priest is long dead. All of that foreshadowing is worthless. It’s actually a stinky troll in the last room. A troll. At level one. You have fucking fun with that, yeah?

There are a couple of decent encounter ideas in this. A spider crab thing lurking under the water outside of the cave entrance in the swamp. Always a fun encounter! Some quicksand in an otherwise flooded cave … that’s a nice little combo that can bring some life to an otherwise staid encounter type. 

Otherwise it’s nothing but repetition, boring words, and abstraction. Houses in town are decorated with various allegories like pumpkins and candles in the windows. Fucking great. DESCRIBE it. Make us FEEL it. Don’t fucking abstract a key component of the adventure.

This is just junk. A step backwards in OSR design, in many ways, from the slightly better terrible offerings generally showing up these days. 

This is $2.50 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages, the first six, so you get about two pages of actual text … and I’m being generous in that. Just imagine that everything int he adventure is like that and you’ll get an idea of it.

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

Down in Yon Forest

By Zzarchov Kowolski
Self Published
Level ?

Down in Yon Forest is a seasonal adventure about a small town dealing with the threat of Krampus and torn between the Holy Church and the Old Gods in dealing with him.

This thirty page adventure details a small village full of children that need to be saved from Krampus, with a couple of small dungeons nearby that might help you do that. Editing is weirdly poor on this, with the usual Zzarchov layout issues that lead to wall of text syndrome. Which is too bad given the finery contained within.

No, you can’t buy this ZZarchov adventure. I picked it up at GenCon, I guess, at his physical booth. I wouldn’t normally review/seek out something like that, but, I own it now and it was next on the pile of physical books to review. Also, it’s a holiday adventure. I fucking LOATHE holiday adventures and don’t seek them out. But, it’s the next on top of the pile, so, here goes …

Hey, it’s not bad!

More than anything else, you need to know that there is an integrated … naturalism? to this adventure. I think that’s true for a great many ZZarchov adventures, but it strikes me, here, much more so than many of his others. This naturalism immerses you in a world that WORKS. It makes sense. Little things, thrown in the text, to make the locations visceral, or to make situations, for clever and observant players, work out. Or not. The shit here makes sense. It’s not thrown in your fucking face. It just IS. And that IS makes this entire thing so much more than the sum of it. It’s got all the best parts parts of, say, a Harn 100 Bushels adventure making sense, without all of the garbage appeals to realism that drag a text down. The things here either make you really FEEL the vibe of a place or are useful tools for exploitation. And that is, one hundred percent, exactly the fuck how you write one of these things. Sure, other settings can other vibes, but, ideally, you want these places to come alive and make sense. I’m not even sure that’s the right phrase, make sense, but I hope you get what I mean. And Zzarchov does a fantastic fucking job of doing it. 

The setting here is the pseudo-medieval europe that he generally uses. Not quite as modern, it seems, as the general Lamentations setting. A little more rustic. Or rough around the edges. The Holy Mother CHurch has gotten some shit done, but things are also very much not under control. In this one we’ve got a remote village in winter. Up on a hill, a wooden palisade, about ten to fifteen small homes inside of it, a wooden gate protecting it. A cemetery and a mill outside of it. And, smack dab in the middle, a plume of smoke and still embering ruin of a church with a big black cauldron out front. Looks like the local priest had a bit too much of the wassail he was brewing for christmas eve, got drunk and knocked over some candles and burned the place down, burning himself to a crisp in the process. Oops. Oh, also, all of the kids hide out in the church every christmas, consecrated ground and all that, to keep from getting stolen by Krampus. So, no consecrated ground this year. Oops. Good thing the party just showed up!

ZZarchov gives you some options here. First, there are notes on Krampus getting in to houses, and how long that takes. He wants kids, not to fight the party, so some small details on coming down chimneys and how long things takes. Then, he gives you more options. There’s an inn nearby with some mercenaries in it. You could go bring them back to help defend the village. Also, they are drunkards, hate peasants, and will need some motivation … and booze. And pay. Or, you could go seek out the witch nearby. She eats kids also, so, you know, Krampus could cramp her style. Also, there’s a fort nearby (dungeon option number one) with a chapel in it. It has a slight Black Death problem. You could check it out and if its ok then haul the kids there to wait out the night in that chapel. It’s also got a slight gargoylse problem, it turns out, with a holy shrine keeping them at bay, kind of. And they are SHITS man. There are some absolute deathtraps here, created by the gargoyles. Or grotesques, as named in the adventure. Again, the slight touch of realism to bring things a little more visceral home. Anyway, silver, iron … home the party pick up on the clues in the place or they are gonna get F U C  K E D! Ah, oh, it looks like, also, the miller is KIND OF a pagan and knows of an old god The Winter King, that would probably keep ol Krampas at bay. But hes locked up since the church came through a hundred years ago. You could go free him. (Dungeon option number two.) He’s not that bad. Old god shit, so, you know, be polite and make an offering kind of shit. He gonna be pissed if you stole any of his items of office, like his 20k bear belt. Hey, did I mention the vampire that lives there also? Turns out he’s trapped, since the burial mound for the inter king is on an island in the middle of a river, running water and all. He might also be an option for anti-krampusing. And, he’s got these great elf-ghoul/thrall things running around. Another great concept here, bringing things a little more to life. Of course! That brings much more colour to the situation than just the normal dirt scum thralls. 

In accepting that this isa bit of an open-ended adventure, I must accept that the winter kings lair, the witch, the miller (who knows all about the winter king … and is a hidden pagan to boot! … did I mention that an examination of the priests body shows that his throat was slit before being burned? Itss those little thrown-in details that add SO much depth to a ZZarchov adventure!), the vampire, the inn and the abandoned fort won’t ALL be discovered and used by the party. Which is a fucking shame … but also a side-effect of the little regions that we all adore so much to play in!

And for the downside … the fucking editing and layout sucks ass. More so than usual in a Zzarchov adventure. There are SEVERAL editing misses in this that should have been caught. I almost never mention shit like this, but, for whatever reason, they stood out in this one to a distracting degree. And it’s formatted as only a mother could love. Just raw paragraphs with some blue and red text here and there, instead of bolding I guess. Sure. This could work. Theoretically. If you had a genius doing the work. You don’t have to go all OSE here, or Dungeon Age or whatever. But, hey, maybe just do SOMETHING to ease up the old burnden on the 6pt font?

So, hey man, great holiday adventure! The exception to the rule! Too bad the suckers reading this can’t buy it. Maybe they should come seek you out in person at a con? Decent job here.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, No Regerts, Reviews | 7 Comments

A Day in the Wasteland

By Yorgan
Self Published
Tinyd6 Wasteland
Level: Intro

A Wastelands mad scientist attempts to keep the Enclave from interfering in his greatest experiment

This nine page adventure is a “hunt” for a missing truck in a Gamma World type place. You follow a linear path, stabbing things, until you die of boredom.

I’m gonna try to take todays review seriously. It’s hard, when confronted by such reckless hate. What can men do? Anyway, dude mailed me asking for suggestions and since it wasn’t 5e or Shadowdark I went for it. Also, I don’t drink in the mornings anymore. That’s sad. I now do eight shots of espresso with a little steamed milk. 

And thus, feedback!

You have written your adventure for Tinyd6, the wasteland version. I assume you did this because it is some kind of new hotness that everyone is talking about in whatever circles you hang in? Wonderful. I understand. Also, why? Gamma World is too complex? I have noted, I believe, that Gamma World is the greatest RPG ever in the history of everything? Gamma World. Or, you know, pay $20 for a TWO HUNDRED PAGE pdf for a system that boils down to “Roll 2d6, a 5 or 6 succeeds.” I’m not supposed to judge this aspect of games, though, so, feel free to ignore it.

Your marketing blurb sucks ass. It’s one sentence? I’m not the biggest fan of the long ass marketing blurbs, but, maybe three or so would be better? But, also, it’s generic as all fuck? “A wasteland scientist”? The Enclave? His greatest experiment? This is so abstracted and generic as to be meaningless. The purpose of the blurb is to get us excited to buy/download/play this adventure, and there’s nothing in this blurb that makes me want to do anything but sigh in resigned regrets.

Ok, so, let’s look at the intro. “Several days ago, the Drill Truck went out testing for wells and it hasn’t returned. Water is scarce in the Wastelands. The Enclave can’t afford to lose it. The truck was traveling west into the wastes, along the makeshift telegraph line that connects the Enclave to Salt Flat City. Someone needs to find it quickly. That someone is you.” This is terrible. First, it’s not how a survivor community acts. I mean, not unless there are, like, several hundred thousand people living in it. Are there? No? Then the community bands together and sends out a mob. Further, again, this is generic and abstracted. No details. Who meets with you. What do they say. Do they have a personality to speak of or a quirk? Anything interesting going on? No? None of that? Just “get the fuck out, who cares about the part of the adventure that sets the tone for everyone to come.” Do you know what the purpose is of the shit you see when you stand in line as Disney? It’s clear you have no interest in the pretext or setting up the vibe.

Let us take a look at some typical read-aloud: “Lying across the road are several telegraph poles. They have been cut through and the telegraph wire is broken. Above vultures circle in the sky.” This is not the way you write read-aloud. There’s no mystery here. You say, instead, tha the poles are down. Then the party investigates and finds them cut through and the lines broken. You are over-revealing in the read-aloud. By doing so you are destroying the natural back and forth between the DM and the players which is the HEART of EVERY rpg, tinyd6 or no.

There’s an emphasis on set pieces. The dude jumping from a motorcycle to land on the car roof to saw through with a chainsaw. Of course. I shall not comment on every mad maxx trope from every movie appearing, but, just focus on the emphasis on set pieces. And, of course, of people getting away so they can appear ;later. You’ve written a linear adventure with “Scenes.” You’ve kept your antagonists alive to build tension for later. This is shitty. By doing so you’ve removed player agency. That’s a cardinal sin. Instead of the usual five scene nonsense, why not instead white a little setting that the players can explore, with some shit ging on in it? A real adventure instead of a movie?

“After Carburetor Jack cut down the telegraph poles, Conrad was ordered by Scientist Joe to watch the road and to lure anyone to the lair of the Hypno Toad.” Is that sentence to be taken seriously? 

The formatting is crude, at best. A shaded read-aloud box followed by paragraphs of information with no formatting beyond that. We bold, italics, bullet and whitespace things to call out important information for the DM while they are scanning the adventure. 

Bad read-aloud. No formatting for the mass of DM text. Set piece after set piece in movie format. No real depth to anything, just generic abstracted trope after generic abstracted trope with little specificity to ground it.

It’s free, if you so desire:

Posted in Reviews | 3 Comments

Weird Fates Vol 1

By Laszlo Feher
First Hungarian d20 Society
Levels 3-6

A cornucopia of four short, open-ended adventure outlines leading to lands of pure imagination, this collection should astound and entertain any company of players interested in exotic locales, strange individuals, and a generous helping of satire. Herein, you will journey to a tropical island to answer the eternal question, “What is Art?” (or die trying); confront a reclusive artist with a peculiar scheme to enlarge his audience; find the fabled graveyard of the elephants and partake of the fruits of the Tree of Forever Return; and judge a pie-baking contest in a rural backwater where nothing could possibly go wrong… or could it? Some assembly required!

This 44 page booklet has four adventures in it: an island, a jungle trek, a frog-pond and a village pie baking contest. Leaning farcical, the descriptions could be better even if its creative heart is in the right place. 

This is a compilation of four adventures, with the common theme being “Farce.” In the first you are whisked away to a remote island by an efreeti, who wants you to create/find art so he can present it to the sultan of the city of Brass. In the second you face a toadman noble with a penchant for poetry who is turning others in to frog-men also. In the third you trek through a jungle in search of the elephant graveyard. In the fourth you end up as judges in a pie baking contest in a small village … with a lot of oozes present and infiltrating. 

Among the ten thousand nations of the OSR empire there lies a portion that are devoted to farce. I loathe these. I don’t do joke adventures. The black comedy of a (slightly) serious Paranoia/Brazil is fine. We can have a bunch of farcical things and people running around an adventure., That’s ok also. But, straight on comedy? Nope. And, if the adventure proper turns in to farce, then, I’m out as well. I prefer a light hearted D&D that is still, I don’t know, realistic? That’s not the right word. We’re allowed to have fun, but this isn’t a three stooges movie. But that’s not the vibe we’ve got going on in this compilation. We’re more than a little over the line here in to comedy, or, perhaps, so much farce that its comedic. The first adventure, for example, has the party finding/creating/passing off things as art to the efreet critic/collector. I’m not too harsh on the concept. I think it would be great as an individual encounter in a different adventure. But when the entire adventure is about this concept then we’ve gone a bit too far over the line. Now everything and everyone in the adventure shares this farcical outlook and every encounter bends this direction. I’m not going to go down the path of “D&D is serious!”  … because those people are fuckwits. Errr, I mean, you should all have fun the way you want to have fun.  

There are many ways to write a good encounter. My favorite is, perhaps, the ones with a certain slyness to them. They are giving you a little wink in way that lets you read more in to the situation than is actually written. And that’s certainly the case here. This is somewhat related to the encounters being situations instead of static things. It allows the DM to build upon an encounter, bringing more to it than the actual words on the page. 

But, also, the actual DESCRIPTIONS of the places here are not altogether that strong. Each of these adventures tends to have places described instead of rooms. A village, for example is described as “Houses crudely hewn from red volcanic rock are living quarters for …”There is more here, describing what’s going on in the village of pirates, but the actual village description, what it looks like, is just what you’re being given. The House of Embers, where the efreeti lives in the first adventure, is given “structure resembles a M?ori longhouse, keeps glowing and smouldering without end” or a “big two-masted pirate sloop.” I’m pulling descriptions from the first adventure, because I’m lazy as fuck today, but the other adventure descriptions are much the same. For while you get a decent little situation description, if a little farcical, you don’t get much of a physical description. 

I think that doing a little more work on the physical descriptions and vibe, and pruning back a bit of the situation descriptions (which by far make up the bulk of each location description) would go a long way with this one. There’s nothing to be done about the farce: either you’re in to it or you’re not. 

This is $6.50 at DriveThru. The fourteen page preview will show you the first adventure. All four, I would assert, are in the same style. You can see that the thing was constructed well and inspired, just a bit off in tone and in practice.

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

Folly of the Fox

By David Maynard
Self Published
Low Levels

Tsarist Russia 1833: A Letun, an evil spirit long sealed away beneath the mountains near Grishinko, has been unleashed through the actions of a local hero. Its influence permeates the land, drawing in more victims to further open its prison.

This 27 page adventure details a small Russian themed region with a short mine and a longer thirty-ish room dungeon. Good formatting and interactivity do a great job, with only a little more needed in evocative descriptions to turn this one in to a great one.

Some jackass adventurer went in to a dungeon and fucked something up. That something was keeping an evil spirit locked up. We’re not talking some End Of The World thing here, but just a Makes Everything Worse kind of spirit. Anyway, we’re in Tsarist Russia, so, you know, you gotta be able to swing with the setting. =Serfs being crushed, a little gunpowder, and some Poles and French running around are going to be your main obstacles. The setting of the adventure in Tsarist Russia is a great example of a shared cultural context bringing more to the table than the actual words on the page. We all know what that description means. We know cossacks, and Russian nobles and serfs and commie revolutionaries from the 1800’s. This is leveraged to provide more to whats going on than the words actually written on the page. Perfect! This is what we want to do as adventure writers. Drowned Women In A Pond means something. And, on the flip side … it’s Tsarist Russia. Trying to run this, and bring out all of the context, in a NON-tsarist Russia game world is not going to be easy. It’s going to lose a lot without a very strong DM to bring that vibe to life for the players … since they will have none of the shared cultural context. 

We get a page of factions, a page of a timeline for the adventure, and a page of the noble houses that are running around. This is great! There is SO much information packed in to these. The context needed to run the larger adventure, the small region it is in, is all present. Just mounds and mounds and mounds of gameable info stuffed in to these. Driving, or responding, to the player interactions with them. It’s really a great example of how you can take just one page and load it with information that helps leverage the setting and dungeon to create this larger play context full of complications or allies. Speaking of a nobleman’s wife: “Fenechka: Alexei’s wife is terribly bored with all these business affairs, and has descended into her music. She’s been getting long private lessons from Trukho of late.” Rought Roh Raggy! Trukho is in the hotel,  along with Theodore the writer … and a bunch of others. Literature appearing and worked in so much better than the million shitty Midsummer Nights Dream knock off adventures. 

The text is clear and ready to read; great font choice and good headings with selective use of bolding and sometimes bullets to bring details to the DMs attention when running things. A good monster reference chart is back, as well as an appendix that has a more languid introduction scene to the adventure. Keeping the main text focused with jabs of additional information in boxes, or in the appendix … this is the way you dump information at a DM! 

Pretty good interactivity in this one. Lots and lots of people to interact with, and lots of things in the dungeons to fuck with. “A wall tapestry depicting a rooster threatening a bear hangs over a concealed tunnel …” There we go! And who’s a bear … in mother russia? Yupyup! And, even in the creature encounters we get things like “A Skeleton charges at the party, crushing a glass figurine in one of their hands. It takes an expert surgeon from Smolensk to remove the shards.” The glass figurines are a theme, and the nonstandard use of the skeleton is quite interesting. Almost a trap, yes? There’s mysteries beneath mysteries and the text is dense with opportunities for the players to explore them. It is, perhaps, just a bit (a lot?) light on inciting events … getting those folks out of the hotel and their estates to move the pieces, The situations are present but it feels more than a little static without them out in the world bumping in to the players and each other. But, still, the dungeon has a lot to fuck with … even if there is a big “find the next key!” puzzle thing going on. Also, on the subject of interactivity, the big bad here is just an evil spirit, without stats. Eventually you delve too far and open up something that you shouldn’t (hopefully, encountering the warnings first …) and let it out. Which kills everyone present. But, also, that’s the extent of it. It’s just a pandora box of you letting a certain evil back in to the world. Nice touch that, I think.

I’m not the biggest fan of the descriptions in this. It’s not that they are bad. They are certainly terse, with most main room descriptions take just a couple of sentences. They are focused and don’t overstay. I don’t know, they lack a certain bit of life though. “A mountain lion lives in this well furnished room. Torn, stained tapestries and stout walnut desks are curled up into a dense nest where three cubs reside.” So, you know, I might lead with a next of curled up, putting the sentence a little more active since the nest is the key item in the room, but, also, I’m not sure about even THAT description. In the Gallery of Icons we get “A dormant Wax Sentinel’s blue flame shines through this twisting gallery when intruders are detected, reflecting off a puddle and the twelve tarnished icons resting in wall alcoves” I get what the designer is going for here. It does lack a certain … joy? To the description though. It doesn’t feel alive. Again, not bad and certainly better than the vast majority of adventures written, just not Gold Star Bryce levels. 

So, great effort here. I could give this one a high No Regerts or a low Best. Since I’m an ass, High Regerts it is!

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is twenty pages, more than enough to get a sense of the thing, so, great preview. Check out that dungeon formatting and how clear it is. Or pages three, four, and five for the factions, timeline, and nobles. Sweet!

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, No Regerts, Reviews | 11 Comments

The Roots of Bitterness

By Zzarchov Kowolski
Self Published
Levels 1-2

There is a vast steppe. Peasants who try to settle on it disappear. The cossacks have lost a patrol on it and want you to find out what happened … and if its the same thing thats happening to the peasants then that’s ok too. 

This eighteen page adventure is one wandering monster table for the steppe and a small earth dungeon right out of that shaman scene in 13th warrior. It’s ok I guess. A little cumbersome with the wanderer table. But, also, it’s a wanderer table and a small three-ish room dungeon. Meh. 

Oh, and sorry, it looks like you can’t own this one. I mean, it’s not available digitally and you have to catch ZZarchov in person when he’s got his table set up in order to buy a physical copy. Oops. I don’t usually buy and review things you can’t have. But, I bought a bunch of shit from him at GenCon and didn’t realize this was the case for this one. So. Uh … now you know if you should buy it on eBay or not I guess?

Anyway, so, overcrowded cities. Over time, local despot sends peasants out to the vast steppe to settle it. They all disappear. ALL of them. He sends out some cossacks to protect them. They don’t give a shit about the peasants. Then one of their patrols disappear and they want you to scout to find out what happened. You then wander around the steppe, getting lost etc. Do no discount that statement, that  IS the actual bulk of the adventure, rolling on that table. Eventually maybe you cast a spell to see astral threads, or triangulate the locations of the trees and shrubs that are attacking you, or track back the wildmen attacks you have been undergoing. You find a hill with a tree stump on it with one live branch. There’s a hole you can crawl in to, all 13th warrior shaman room. Inside you kill the tree elemental that hates mankind. Roots of Bitterness, get it? Yeah. 

I admire the tree elemental. It’s hubris, I mean. No opposable thumb. Stationary. Living under a hill. Sure, it’s got some wildmen cultists to worship it and do its bidding. A dozen or so, I’d guess. But, also, hey, I got 14 billion opposable thumbs with shovels and torches. But, whatever, tilt that windmill man! 

The bulk of the adventure is wandering around the steppe until you get tired of it, figure out shit is coming from the hill with the stump, and find a way to get there. You literally just get attacked by trees and wildmen until you figure out some way to discern the intelligence behind it. A detect magic, triangulation or tracking are suggested. You roll a d8, a d6 and d4 for each wanderer encounter, with the individual rolls meaning  something. As does the sum of the rolls. As does dubs, trips, and straights. Enjoy those table lookups! I guess it’s the main part of the adventure, so, I should give it a pass. But I’m not going to. I really don’t like procedural generation at the table, at least to this extent. 

The ol cossacks have that ZZarchov charm. You get their nature, as well as the nature of the peasants leaving the city and so on. And after that it kind of breaks down. There’s only so much you can do with procedural generation, to convey the charms of a designer. And the old dungeon at the end comes across as just another dig out hole in the ground. The charm, so prevalent in ZZarchov adventures, is not to be found. And I’m not a big fan of the” wander around until something happens” school of design. Bored players are not a good thing.

So, do you need this one? No. Which is kind of a good thing since you can’t have it. 🙂 It’s not his best work, which means its better than most of the dreck being published today.

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

Scourge of the Tikbalang

By Zzarchov Kowolski
Self Published
Level ... 2?

A vicious Tikbalang has been reported in the area and it is terrorizing the village. The townsfolk are too frightened to attempt to hunt down the beast and the village elder is cautious about emptying  the town of defences, since there are pirates in the neighbouring village. A heavy reward in golden  treasures is offered if the rumours can both be proven true and solved by bringing the head of the beast to the elder. If the beast is not slain, the villagers may need to kill those it assaulted, lest they give birth to more Tikbalang. It is hoped that, if the original beast is slain, the children will be born as normal human children.

This sixteen page adventure describes a simple situation in a small primitive village. It’s got that air of believable humanity that Kowolski excels at, while also being a bit simple for the page count.

You are summoned to small primitive fishing village. A young maiden has been attacked in the jungle by a tiklabang and is preggers! All is lost unless you kill the best so her child will turn out human and not tiklabang!. Her fiance came upon her just as the beast disappeared. Another young lady has been attacked also. A local hunter has seen tracks in the forest of its hooves. The wise woman has has a vision of it. Oh, uh, her fiance didn’t actually see the beast. And he thought the sounds he heard sounded good, not like an attack. The other chick needs to be te center of attention. The hunters brother is sweet on the preggers chick. And the wise woman is VERY senile. Yuppers. The headman is trying to keep a bunch of people from getting killed, especially the first chick and the hunters brother. Cause the fiance is a corn fed lad in his 20’s with a fucking machete, leader of the village militia. A good example of what Truth s in an adventure, I’d say. There’s something going on, but its not exactly what the surface might appear to be and the party is going to have to dig a bit to get there. A far cry from the very earnest villagers we find in nearly every other adventure. This is the way the world actually works, people doing their best with all of the pettines and greed seeping through where possible if they think they can get away with it. The party isn’t so much heroes as much as cleaning up a fucking mess that is dumped on them. This is life. And, the mess can be cleaned up by grabbing a horse head … the only one of which is available is in the next village, 2km away, which is currently occupied by pirates! The journey is the destination in man Zzarchov adventures, just as it is here.

There’s this air of believability, of relatability, in the adventure. The hulking young man with the machete, ready to kill his fiance if she cheated on him. The actual lover, who goes crazy is confronted too hard, attacking the party against all odds, with a small iron knife. The  entire thing comes across as imagined first. “This is the what could happen, this is the way life works” and then put down on paper and turned in to an adventure. The concept not constrained by the game system. And these are, i think, some of the best adventures. 

This is a sticky adventure. It’s a relatively simple one, so its got that going for it, and the concepts and people involved are easy to remember and run. One quick read-through and you don’t really need the book anymore. Which is a kind way of me saying that you can’t run this at the table using the book. It’s just free form paragraph formatting. That;s not reference material you can use at the table. But, making the content sticky is a valid methodology as well and it works here, partly because it IS such a simple adventure. 

A few more villagers would have been nice. And, the attack on pirate village is not really detailed. No map. No events. Just a note that the captured villagers wont be happy to see the party either, for fear of being blamed for the horse theft. 

I’m going to regret this. Like Old Bay, this thing is going to stick around with me forever. As a side trek one pager it could be great and I’d think of it that way. Not really verbose, not really wasting words, but, the stickiness of it makes the book not needed once you know it. And while you COULD run it based just on my review, why not buy it, since it’s a charity adventure?

This is $4 at DriveThru.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, No Regerts, Reviews | 6 Comments

The Cosmic Gate

By Gustavo Tertoleone
Black Dog
Level ... 4?

a secluded village in the mountains holds the entrance to an old complex of rooms where secrets from the holy church lie dormant. Getting in there can be a difficult task, but the occurrences in the village above it can turn the task deadly impossible.

This 52 page adventure, with no level range provided, describes a dungeon with thirteen rooms. More LotFP than OSE, it is STUFFED full of treasure. Some decent Indiana Jones puzzles and a smattering of monsters lie in WAYYYYYYYYY too much text. Another skip.

Ok, so, you got this village. 44 normal villagers live in it. They have a church with a dome. Inside the dome is art work a thousand gp. Oh, and the dome is covered in gold worth 100,000gp. 100k. Fortunately, for the party, the villagers are mostly infected with astral larvae, so, go ahead and kill them all and take all that gold. I guess the villagers are there to keep the party from just doing whatever they want, but, really, only 44 humans? I mean, parties routinely slaughter kobolds more than that in number. Once you get in to the church catacombs you’ll find them STUFFED with artifacts. And I mean STUFFED. Dozens of unique items. THis thing goes above and beyond in being a monty haul … a word I have not seen used in quite some time.

The village is supposed to be a part of the adventure, but, other than the priest name and “44 villagers” we are getting no information at all, except a How Is This Villager Crazy table. They hunt the party if they think they know the villagers are infected or they see the party trying to dig out the catacombs, which take six days, so, you can expect a villager hunt. There are also some mushrooms growing on cow dung that can give the party ESP powers, to help track down the larvae infested villagers, I guess. It’s a nice touch and would add a lot … IF more were done to bring this villager to life. Like, a name or two maybe? As is there’s nothing. N O T H I N G.

And that’s a problem. 53 digest pages for thirteen rooms. And how can this be? Not because of the Kwisatz Haderach, that’s for sure. No, it is room descriptions that take two pages. And page after page of artifact descriptions. It’s the usual culprits. A LOT of backstory for things in rooms. We get the full history of the bat-man thing that lives in room one. That contributes nothing to the adventure. And this happens time and again, with room entries, in simple paragraph format, going on and on with backstory that does not contribute to play at the table. This combines to create the usual mess that you have to fucking dig through to find information. And, that includes trying to figure out which rooms have creatures in them. You have to really dig to figure out if there’s something in the room thats going to eat the party. No Bueno. “A long time ago, a bat, attracted by the smell …”

Read-aloud, while sometimes good, can tend to be long. And it’s in italics. And it’s in some weird fucking flourish fucking font. WHich means you get to struggle through the fucking shit. It’s hard as fuck to read. Don’t fucking do that! Try to keep the read-aloud short AND DON”T USE FUCKING WEIRD FONTS! I don’t really give a flying fuck if this is a coffee table book. I’m trying to use it at the fucking table and I can’t do that if I’m struggling to read the fucking text that I’m supposed to be fucking using. 

And, while a minor point, there is a fundamental lack of understanding about randomness. The old wound. “Roll to find what artifact the party finds and if its magical.” That’s not how we do things. That’s not the point of randomness. You, designer, roll, on your own. Then place it in the text. I note that this would ALSO cut down on the amount of fucking pages and text to dig through. If you want to make a cess pit with ALL of the treasure in it, and roll to find which treasure, over time, as the party searches, that’s fine. But, in that case, the treasure actually exists. You’re just rolling to find the order (and how many wanderers show up in the mean time …) But NOT to figure out if a room HAS a treasure. 

So, long, long LONG entries. Hard to read-read-aloud (which, generally, is not bad in being evocative in this adventure) and a lack of any form of formatting at all to make things easier on the DM. Padded to all fuck and back with a conversational style. Some decent vibes here, with Indiana Jones style puzzles (not traps) and a nice monster selection. 

Also, fucking christ, entities form outer space in an adventure? Europe in an area between SPain and France? The Church? This seems like a Lamentations adventure. Especially since A Fungus From Outer Space is now the most overused trope in fantasy gaming thanks to LotFP.

This is $8 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. You get to see a bunch of blank pages and table of contents. Shitty preview that gives you no idea, as a DM, of what to expect. And, of course, no fucking level range anywhere.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 10 Comments

The Lair of the Wild Hunt

By Brian Binh
Levels 4-6

Vahden is a sleepy, little sheep-ranching village in a valley on a market road. A wizard’s tower overlooks the valley, but the reclusive wizard, Chageth, hasn’t been seen in years. In recent nights, livestock and travelers have been found burned to death. Witnesses have seen a “huge, horned hunter driving a pack of fiery hounds” across the valley at night.

This sixteen page adventures features a small tower/fort with dungeon with about thirteen rooms. The descriptions are both dull and confusing, especially for a site of this size. A case of trying too hard, perhaps?

We;ve got a small tower thing on a hill with about six rooms in it. There are two separate dungeon areas connected, one with three rooms and another with about six more. There’s a nice side-profile map, and, for a small hill fort/tower thing, it’s got some interesting features that let it be more than just a simple ten room flat dungeon map. I can’t tell you how over I am of simple flat ten room dungeon maps.

The tower is infested with undead fire blobs, and has an ogre wizard inside that is a kind of shaman undead hunter that is trying to get rid of them. There are a few encounters with the blobs till you reach the main dungeon levels, where the undead pick up dramatically. You get both the undead former wizard owner and the barrow mummy thing that the fort was built over. So, stabbing undead, maybe talking to to ogre, and fucking with a machine inside (thats making undead flaming blob things) is the interactivity here. That’s kind of low, even for an adventure of this size.

The major malfunction here is in two parts: the descriptions and the … formatting? Layout? The descriptions are essentially non-existent. The False Crypt room gets “The Malevolence (viscous, vicious, grey goo): This mass of hate puppets an empty Sarcophagus and three skeletal warriors in its sticky strands of viscous ooze.” While this is not the worst description, I want you to notice the lack of scene setting. There’s nothing at all about the crypt. AT ALL. And this is par for the course here. While there’s a kind of hybrid OSE format going on (bolded keywords), the choices for what to describe aren’t done real well and there’s no real overview of the room. Further, that description would probably work better if it started off like “Viscous vicious grey goo (the Malevolence …” Starting with what you see and noting the creature in bold in parens instead. And, ug, don’t get me started on the creature names. The Malevolence. Dark Thoughts. Raging Dreams. Foul Hopes. I’m not hating too much on the names, but, rather, how they are used in the adventure. While going through the text you can’t tell whats flavour text and whats a creature name and whats something that is expanded on further. Is foul hopes a creature? A vibe? Something else? And the formatting, with the bolding choices and sidebars, while it is trying to be helpful, just gets in the way, making it harder to slog through and find things instead of making it easier, cognitively, on the DM. 

I really, really, hate the lack of descriptions in this one. And when there are descriptions we get things like “Barrels (many shattered) Pool of ooze (grey seething, knee deep)” That’s not enough. The formatting might work if the vibe were set better with the word choices, but, also, why not just describe the room? Give it an actual description that sets the mood. 

So, does it make me angry and feel ripped off? No. It makes me sad. Just another lost dream of a dreamer. The designer made an effort, clearly. They tried, but went a little overboard on the formatting and needed to focus more on the room and creatures, giving them a vibe, and then working a little more on the interactivity. Thirteen rooms in sixteen pages. ?

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is BROOOOOOKKKEEEENNNNNNN!!!!

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

The Lost Mines of Drothumstone

By Christopher Wilson
Self Published
Levels 3-5

King Nothrim’Ston and his kin founded the dwarven mine of Drothumstone some 400 years ago.  The hope was to build a new citadel and companion city to Zolotoheim.  Trusted by his friend and fellow adventurer, Tasadantilis, Nothrim’Ston was given one of the keys to Tasadantilis’ exradimensional space: the looped scepter. But Nothrim’Ston succumbed to an insidious mental illness that affects many dwarves.  Pushing his clan harder and harder, the dwaves recklessly pursued the gem deposits and veins of ore in the mountain.  It all ended in a single day as they stumbled upon something that had been better off buried…

This 121 page region has a “main” dungeon as well as a dozen or so sites spread out over a mountain hex map. It feels disconnected from itself, both in the hexcrawl and in the dungeons. A heavy dose of trivia and lack of exploration elements don’t help any either.

Blah blah blah, ancient dwarf mine. Go find it and loot it. The hex map for the mountain region has a road on the left side that leads to several adventuring sites. The actual mine is on the right side, with several other adventuring sites scattered throughout the map. No quite haphazard and probably things that the party will stumble upon, more or less. IE: a giant lake is in the middle of the map and a couple of sites are around the shore, where they might be seen while skirting the lake. Not a bad way to handle things. There are a few sites out in the nowhere, but, whatever I guess. The actual dungeon maps tend to be rather simplistic. A star pattern and so on. Not a lot of map terrain and, in some of them, hard to make out features. The joy of digest format, I assume. 

The actual mine in question doesn’t start until page 82. That doesn’t have to be bad, if you’re doing a kind of sandboxy region, which this thing is trying to do. The wanderer table feels a bit short for that, with most of the entires being a simple attack description with a little variety in how they attak. They erupt from the earth and attack. They come out of a cave mouth and attack. Better than a bare table, I guess. The other sites are … weird. There’s a variety of them, mostly ruins, cabins and an occasional outpost with a couple of other mines and lairs. I’m struck by the … mundanity? of it all.  Here’s a boring outpost/ It’s keyed. Which are boring. Why is this done this way? Yes, hobos are gonna hobo, they could fuck up anything. But if we don’t expect them to then we provide a minimal description rather than doing a full key. This cabin has three rooms. Let me fully key it! And have nothing interesting to say about the cabin to interact with or move the game forward! 

The room descriptions are in OSE style, which some folk won’t like. But, like all styles, it depends on the designer. And the room descriptions here are … you guessed it … boring! How you can make a majestic throne room boring in its description is beyond me. The bolded words. The extra descriptive words. All boring. A mundanity that you are continually fighting against. A full page NPC description for no real reason. Why?

And those descriptions? Disconnected. I’m not talking about the paragraph after paragraph of free text descriptions for general location information, which is bad enough. No, the rooms. We’ll get a description of a room, OSE style, and then at the end of it we’ll be told that this is the lair of a filth monster covered in filth. It’s like the monster and the room are disconnected. What if you just wrote up a bunch of room descriptions, without monsters, and then rolled on a monster table for each room and put that monster in the room, without thought to the room description? That’s what this feels like. Are cockatrice neat? No? You wouldn’t know it from this dungeon. And true interactivity is poor. Stab shit. Find a secret drawer in a desk or a tunnel under a statue. Which are great, but, also, that sort of interactivity can’t be all you have in something. There’s no real sense of exploration or wonder in this.There’s so much trivia in the descriptions, things explained and detailed for no reason. Who cares that the left kitchen cabinet has clove and nutmeg in it if it doesn’t contribute to the adventure?

A quick google shows that this was written in June and published in July. That’s not enough time to really playtest it, I think, and really not enough time to edit this, I think, for 121 pages of content. And by edit I mean “agonize over every encounter and description, hate yourself, throw it down six times only to pick it up later and work on it.”

Look, this isn’t the worst thing ever written. Not by close. It looks like dude tried and was excited about it. But that’s not good enough. You are competing with every adventure ever written for every game system, ever, since 1970. Fifty some years of content. Why should I pick a mundane adventure? Why should I ever run something other than the best ever produced? Something interesting to play, easy to run, and evocative. I am ALL for supporting the new over the old, hence the emphasis on new adventures oh this blog. But not to the extent that it makes my life hard and is less fun/easy to run. If you are not producing the best work of your life then are you publishing it? 

This is $6 at DriveThru. No preview … suckers!

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | Leave a comment