The Perilous Puppeteer of Piepenburg

By James the DM
Self Published
Level ?

Terror!  A string of disappearances in the charming town of Piepenburg has left the townsfolk on edge.  Can the players discover the culprit’s identity before the unthinkable happens?

This 32 page adventure is an investigation in to some murders in a small village. A small village of ten buildings, one of which is a toy store. It’s trying, and has the form down, but the specifics and details are a jumble that don’t make sense.

So there’s this group called The Storytellers Collective or something, and they have a writers workshop every month or quarter or something. I tend to get requests for reviews from them around this time, or people pointing me at thier adventures. I don’t understand completely, but somehow I’m on the radar. I got a request to review this one, but not by the designer, so, here we go!

It’s amurder mystery. Murder mysteries face a challenge in D&D, especially OSR D&D. Why does the party give a fuck that someone ELSE is stabbing things? Thus the hook is usually that you get assigned to investigate, or your brother lives in the village or hoping that the party has enough humanity to want to help a random village with random murders in it. And those are the hooks here. Nothing but throw aways, with nothing to them other than what I just typed. Nothing compelling. 

And then there’s the issue with magic. When you can detect a lie, or question a dead body, where’s the mystery? Usually designers go through contortions to solve this, ith invisibility, rings of mind shielding and all that crap. The solution is to make it low level, which is what happened here, but, then, the designer also includes this warning “The adventure also assumes that magic is rare and strange, and that spells to communicate with the dead or detect lies do not exist.” Good luck with that man! It’s like writing an adventure with spaceships and space opera for D&D … uh, sure, but you do realize this is a fantasy setting, right?

Ok, so, small village. Murders in it. About ten buildings that are businesses. The usual. Inn. Church. Mayors house. Guild house. Toymaker. Wait, what? Ok, I set fire to it, kill whoever comes out. Game over. Seriously, man, you gotta do better than this. The village is too small for such a specialized building. It’s obviously him. 

The plot has an initial first encounter, with random villagers getting a brawl in the town square, citing the shitty shitty longtime advice of “getting your players rolling dice!” It’s a non-lethal brawl. If you kill people then everyone turns on the party and the mayor wants answers! But, also, it’s ok, he really wants you to solve the murders also. ?!  If you don’t want to deal with this then don’t put that party in that position. Seriously. You set them up for a combat and then yank the rug out And then try to fix that. If you don’t want them to just kill everyone then don’t do your initial combat with a village brawl.

It’s this kind of design stuff that’s prevalent all throughout. Basic things. Along with even simpler things. Your brawl is interrupted by a scream (the second time a row your scene is interrupted by a scream from elsewhere, transitioning to the net scene.) This time it’s the wife of a dead guy, missing two weeks, holding his mutilated body at the edge of the town square. So. He’s been missing two weeks? And no one saw his body at the edge of the town square? And his wife is the one to find him? Uh huh. 

Read aloud reveals too much. “An adorned statues of a long deadhero”. The party doesn’t know that. Describe it, not the conclusions drawn from it. In the first body read aloud, don’t reveal the fact that there are no footprints, but describe the body, which the designer doesn’t do. And absolutely do NOT have the read-aloud say “The people of Piepenburg recognize him as a skilled healer, but many distrust his methods as “ungodly.” You’re commenting. Don’t do that. Describe. 

Oh, oh! One of the rumours is “Hans the toymaker made my daughter a lovely doll!” This is in the middle of rumours about evil raiding goblins and undead in the graveyard and the like. Just horrors everywhere, and a seemingly random bit of info about the toymaker. Doesn’t matter, since we’ve already burned his place down though. 

There’s a chase scene, because, drama, I guess. If you don’t make your roll then “as fog swirls in and prevents the characters who failed to keep up from making it to the combat.” Great.. Fog rolls in. Deus Ex much? And if you kill the baddie you’re chasing? IDK, he’s important to the plot. I guess you win? Some advice here would be nice.

Descriptions are too wordy, containing useless info like Frank the barber having “A former adventurer ennobled for his rescue of the Countess von Nachtingal,” useless. Means nothing. Advances nothing in the play of the game. A room, described in readaloud, mentions no rug and yet its a major important point in the room. 

Nothing is really described about the odies up to this point. No CSI for the players, or questioning their families, or looing at their graves or anything. 

On the plus side, it does use bullet points to convey information about what people know It does this well. 

The format here is not bad. The basics are ok. The text needs a heavy edit to keep things focused on play at the table, with reward to relevance and what comes first in a description. The inconsistencies need to be cleaned up. Things need to make sense, in a fantasy setting. Just nothing here to work with in a useful way.

This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages of the single column version. It shows you the bullets, but they make more sense in a double column view. It’s not a very strong preview

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

The Scorched Citadel

By Carl Ellis
Broken Arch Publishing
Low to Mid Levels

Beneath a dying sun, uncount- ably many years into the future, the Scorched Citadel lies in the ruins of a once great city. A wide, lazy river meanders near- by, chocked with nenufares and water dwelling creatures. 5 great towers rise from a hill like rotting fingers, the hill itself a great necropolis of moss- covered graves, crypts, and mausoleums. Squat, crumbling buildings radiate from the Citadel, becoming part of the ground as the wasteland edges towards the flickering outpost of civilisation.

This 45 page digest adventure/setting revolves around a ruined city, in a Book of the New Sun/Dying Earth type setting. Containing several civilized areas, all in a small area, and a few nine-ish room dungeons to explore, it is at once too large and too general, missing the mark of a hex crawl and a dungeon. 

Ha! I did it! I saw an adventure titled The Great Rift, was intrigued, and THEN saw it was by Bloch and avoided it! A first for me in controlling my unbridled enthusiasm! Yeah! Or, maybe, condolences on my loss of innocence? 

Yeah, so, this thing. The Scorched Citadel. Sounds cool, right? Meh. It’s a setting, really, with a couple of dungeons. All in 45 digest pages. Of which about 25% is a bestiary, etc. So, about 33 pages. That’s not much for about 45 hexes and four or so dungeons and five or so populated areas. That means each gets about one or maybe two pages of detail. That’s not much. At all. 

What you get, then, is something quite abstracted. Rumors are somewhat generic. “Eternal life lies in side the citadel” … which, while probably a relatable rumor for a place of power, gets old when they are all like this. We get descriptions like “Library. Contains records and medical texts.” Well, coloured me inspired. “Skeletons. 3d4 appear upon entering for either direction. TT O.” Ah ha! A delightful game ahead! We get this same level of details, maybe one sentence, maybe of something interesting but probably something generic and certainly abstracted, for all of the locations, dungeon or town. This is a problem. There’s nothing really to hang your hat on here. Yu’re going to riff, continually. You’re going to make things up, continually. And, I know, we all do that. You HAVE to do that. But the question is to what extent? There’s just not much to inspire the DM here. The setting is, to me personally, appealing in a Dying Earth kind of way, but you need more text, evocative, to give the DM SOMETHING to go with. Even a hex crawl sets up a situation to deal with (well, a good one does anyway) and doesn’t just say “Skeletons. TT O” You need SOME specificity, or, I would perhaps assert, you are not actually an adventure … which will not doubt piss off the people in to extreme minimalism … but fuck them. 

And, also, further abstracted. In a nineteen story tower, a centerpiece of the town, we get: “Levels 3-19: Abandoned dormitories” I get it, you want something impressive, but, also, you can’t stat the entire thing. Of the 45 hexes only a few have dungeons/encounters, with the rest showing potential dungeons and “The hexes are only partially stocked with content from this module. Sure, leaving some room for the DM is a time honored tactic. But, also, when EVERYTHING is abstracted, down to the dungeon encounters themselves, we must instead examine the choices made.

There’s an appropriate level of zooming in/out for an adventure of a certain type. A dungeon needs a certain level of detail. (Misguided people think that there’s room here for different people to like different levels of detail.) A town needs a different level. A region needs a different level of detail. Your product needs the match the level of zooming in/out that you are doing, providing enough information, barely, for the DM to riff on. Preserving the ability of the DM to scan the needed text and run the specific thing, quickly, before the players phones come out. That’s going to be different for a dungeon room than it is for a city than it is for a continent. 

The final room of the most important dungeon, the quest the party has been running after, is: “Heart Chamber. The heart itself is interred under a central glass floor. The walls are covered with screens and technological devices. A camp and supplies are in the southeastern corner. Anders is here, working at one of the devices. Tagros is attending him.” This is uninspired writing. Covered in technological devices. *yawn*

This is $6 at Drivethru. The preview is seventeen pages, more than enough to get a sense of writing style and level of detail.

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Underfurnace Excavation

By Jeff Simpson
Buddyscott Entertainment Group
Levels 5-7

Long before the human settlement of Knup-Tra sprang up, the miners of the Magnitogorsk clan uncovered an ancient hall deep in the Mountains of Fire. A strange being taught them secrets  that led to their downfall. Are you brave enough to plumb the depths of the Underfurnace of the Mountain King and find what caused an entire dwarven settlement to virtually disappear

This twelve page adventure features four dungeon levels and a town with about fifty rooms. It uses a minimalistic style, with a few flourishes in the rooms, ala B2. This results in easy to scan rooms, but an environment that is somewhat less evocative, and interactive, then I generally think the minimal standard of quality should be today. But, I don’t hate it. Which is a major accomplishment.

A dude, doing his own maps and art? Rock on man, that’s the spirit of D&D! As is the mixture of B/X and 1e FF/MM that the adventure uses … just like we all did in the 80’s! I had high hopes for this … and was only moderately disappointed!

I want to take a look at the town, first. There’s a little map for it, but that’s probably not relevant. What is interesting is the page of town businesses. You get a bolded first word, like Carpenter, which is followed by the business description. Of which there are like seventeen. All on, essentially, one page,. He can accomplish this because the businesses just have the interesting bits described. “Run by the bickering couple of Silksif and her husband Granmar, much of their arguing comes from the fact that they are currently broke.” Just enough personality to run the NPC’s as their own place, making them a little memorable, and, maybe, providing some fodder for the DM to riff off of if the town becomes some sort of frequent base. A few other businesses have something notable for sale or some such, like Reeve’s badge of office, worth 900gp, or the smithy that has a silver inlaid breastplate. It never goes in to those excesses that are frequently seen in adventures where the townfolk are described in minute but irrelevant detail, along with a russian novel length backstory that doesn’t matter. These descriptions are focused on gameplay. Which is exactly how it should be!

The dungeon, proper, is a four level design, about twelve or so rooms per level. As I noted, there are about sixteen rooms per page, about eight per column. This makes for room descriptions that are relatively short and therefore easy to scan. Generally, a format of this type needs a good sentence to setup the room and maybe one or two more expand on things. What we’re looking for here is a great little descriptive sentence, the centerpiece of the room. That could be read-aloudish or just plant an imagination seed in the DMs head. Following that we’re looking, I think, for a sentence or two about the room that could be DM notes. Maybe a little variation in that format, with a two sentence description and a few sentences of descriptions for more complex rooms, but that’s the general idea, I think, for an adventure format that is trying to squeeze in sixteen rooms per page. You just don’t have the real estate and have to make exquisite usage of what you do have. 

But that’s not what is going on here. Instead we’re getting a slightly expanded minimalism in the description, akin to the B2 room descriptions, or at least the VIBE of the B2 descriptions. “Kitchen All of the knives here are gone. 8 kobolds rummage through the empty barrels.” 

On the plus side the description starts with a keyword. You’re now oriented to the room. I know what a kitchen looks like and can ad-lib what’s in it. Plus, the information to come is now filtered through the framing of “Kitchen”, which does wonders for the imagination riffing on things and filling in holes. Then we get a very B2 description. A creature, doing something. Rummaging through empty barrels in this case. The famous example, from B2 I think, is orcs shooting dice. But, there’s not actually a description here. That’s not really very evocative. It’s better than just “Kitchen: 8 kobolds” but that’s not saying much in 2022. 

I’m gonna slap in three more room descriptions:

Mine The floor here is pooled with quicksilver broken up by a few loose stones. For every turn spent in this room, roll a save vs Poison; failure means the character will die in 1d6 hours. The quicksilver drips from the lips of a stone bust of an emaciated dwarf with sunken eyes. If the bust is disturbed, four half-petrified ghouls (AC4) burst from the walls and attack.

Grand Hall There is a large oaken table in this council chamber with a fossilized skeleton of a blue dragon. There are 4 pyroclastic golems here who have been instructed by the orc sham- an to draw a thaumaturgical circle to reanimate it. There is a 5% chance that they succeed just as the party enters the room. The golems under- stand Dwarven and Giant. 6 dwarf skeletons (3HD), 4 armed with longswords and 2 with crossbows, attack anyone entering this room.

Cave The corpse of a rust monster lies next to an un-rusted sword. Disturbing the rust monster or the sword activates a silent alarm that alerts the dwarven vampire in Area 3 of intruders.

Looking at these you can see the format clearly. A brief one sentence description and then a thing, along with a note that is usually mechanics related. The monster, the treasure, the trap, etc. But we also see a certain abstraction. “An alarm sounds” is not very much fun. A pile of bones, or tin cans, dropping from the cei;ling may be more. Or a pile, precariously stacked, that falls down. Some additional interactivity and a little bit more on the descriptive/interactive unified front. Note as well the weird Gand Hall, with some golems, notes about an Orc shaman, and then also some skeletons thrown in for good measure? Weird disconnect there. Every once in awhile you get a great line, like the quicksilver dripping from a dwarf emaciated face with sunken eyeballs … great descriptive text there! 

What the adventure needs is more of those descriptive keywords. Pushing things a little bit more in both descriptions and interactivity, as with the alarm. What we get, instead, is an almost minimal adventure much in the vein of the much beloved B2. But, it’s also 2022. We can do better than B2. 

And, I noite, I have not even touched on this being a level 5-7 adventure. For a level range like that I might want a few more complex situations to appear. As it stands, there are drow and a vampire that might roam around a bit, but the adventure is far more “individual stand alone” room based than I think I want at level seven. I should mention that mroe. Oh well.

At least, those, he didn’t fuck it up. And “It could be better” is a far measure better than “This makes me hate my life and wish I had never learned about D&D.” I don’t think this kind of things cuts it today. The splendor of Xyntillian was how much it packed, in interactivity and evocative descriptions, in to so little space. That’s the bar to shoot for,

This is free at DriveThru.

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

Rat King’s Sewer

By Ken Spencer
Necromancer Games
OSR Levels 4-6

Eastgate is a bustling city at the mouth of the Amrin River. As most of the adventure takes place in the sewers, and nearly all of it in an urban setting, wilderness orientated characters might find themselves at a disadvantage. Then again, the sewers are a maze and filled with all manner of deadly creature, the ability to talk to cockroaches might just prove useful.

This 28 page adventure is in a sewer with about 35 rooms to explore there and in a fey-landish/underdarkish area at the end. It’s filled with the signature “dont give a fuck” style of the Frogs, with sloppy editing, boring rooms, and an overall malaise, and not in a good way, of the writing. 

Pretty cool to see a new necromancer title, eh? It got me all worked up and excited. Necromancer did some cool things back in the day and seeing a new one got my notice. And then I opened it and it turned out to just be another Frog God title. It’s got Necromancer all over it, in name, but the house style and people involved are all Frog God. I have no idea why tey switched brands.

There is some crazy convoluted backstory about a lady coming back from the opera, attacked by thugs who kill her bodyguards. She kills all of the thugs, but loses her necklace and a rat steals the largest jewel. Turns out its a wererat who wants it to crate a portal so him and his buddies can get back home. Everyone in town goes down to the sewers to find the jewel, it says, so I’m thinking this is gonna be like Gone Fishin, but, no. The entire backstory is unrelated to the adventure at hand, it’s just a sewer crawl with a portal at the end. I have no idea why the backstory is even there, but, it is. So, whatever. What does piss me off is the sloppy integration of it. It references shit all the time in the adventure that seems to contradict the backstory, like the jewel being of little use to the rats (they critically need it for the portal?!) and them being willing to negotiate for it?! There’s also mention of a ransom request, just thrown in the text in a block of other text, that makes no sense at all?! The entire text is full of this confusing nonsense, one thing contradicting another. Even the most casual perusal reveals it, so I’m not sure what “Editing” really means in the context of a Frog God title. Err, sorry, Necromancer title. It goes on and on. The “Parfiegs” are mentioned. Out of context with little to go on. Evidently you are chasing the rats and they’ve gone through the portal already? I have no idea. I think they are a clan of humans living in the fey/underdark area? 

But, what we do get it long and extensive backstory thrown in willy nilly. “The Snarl Fangs, of the Order of the Swift Paw” …. Uh, ok. And a basilisk and gelatinous cube all get histories and backstory. That’s fucking wild. Its like the adventure is explaining WHY there’s a Cube in the sewer. Justifying it. It’s a crazy choice on how to spend your word count and creative energy. On shit that is absolutely meaningless to adventure at the table. But, no doubt perfect for people reading the adventure. 

The actual adventure is not much. The room descriptions are essentially barren, a minimalistic style that is ten expanded by providing very little meaningful information. Backstory in the rooms abound, but the actual descriptions of the environment, or creatures, is almost nonexistent. Thus there is no evocative environment, or encounter. This goes on, room after room. And it uses the Frogs house style, which is paragraph based, which makes scanning the text for actual useful information very difficult. Just a room with a sewer monster in it. Repeat. “The sheriff’s plan certainly worked; the smugglers were trapped in the tunnel. Slowly, they died of starvation or disease, but not before the leader and his closet followers had turned to cannibalism. Their corpses resurrected as a ghast and 4 ghouls.” Great. So a ghast and four ghouls. 

There’s just not much here at all, and what there is, in the larger context, is confused and makes little sense. And it’s $14. They’ve certainly made an art form out of living off of a brand a charging for it.

It’s unlikely I will review another Frog God/Necromancer title, unless I hear things have changed.

This is $14 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages, showing you the table of contents and backstory and no encounters. Joy.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 27 Comments

Echoes From Fomalhaut #9 – Beyond the Gates of Sorrow

By Gabor Lux
First Hungarian d20 Society
Levels 2-4 & Level 1

Beyond the Gates of Sorrow: Shipwrecked on a northern archipelago seemingly devoid of habitation, you must explore your surroundings and find a way off these rocks… and could there be some profit in it as well? Wilderness and mini-dungeon module for 2nd to 4th level characters, 19+18 keyed locations.

The Vaults of Volokarnos: Orcs have been spotted near an ancient burial complex housing the resting places of old patrician families, and a famous warlord. The masters of the nearby town want the orcs gone… and are willing to overlook a bit of discrete grave-robbing on the side. A B/X dungeon for 1st level characters, 52 keyed areas.

This sixty page zine contains a number of articles as well as a small wilderness crawl with dungeon, and a larger stand-alone separate adventure featuring a dungeon with 52 encounters. A magnificent tribute to the older days of gaming and harkens back to the finer Judges Guild products. Terse, interactive, and building an evocative vibe by leaving room for mystery. A delight!

There are more good adventures than you will find on tenfootpole. I’m always chasing the next thing, the next designer popping up that is tilting against my expectations of BAD. This means that certain designers don’t get as much coverage as they should. They get labeled “Not A Fucking Idiot” and, mentally, I know that whatever they are releasing is good. Do you really need me to tell you that the next Dungeon Age adventure is going to be a good one? (Or, to tell you Thracia is good, for that matter?) And you know who also falls in to that category? Gabor Lux. Gabor Lux writes good adventures. And, thus, he doesn’t get as many reviews as he should. I should do something about that, but, also, I’m an ass. So who knows if I’ll follow through with my vow to review more of the good designers. Apathy is a powerful force.

And, let’s talk about that certain OD&D/BX style that I love so much. You can see it, full on, in Fight On! magazine. A certain non-standard way of running the game and in describing things. It’s not de rigueur D&D. It feels like The Old World, full of mystery and wonder and things yet to be discovered. A little bit of the Judges Guild vibe. A little bit of Arduin (is there a higher compliment in D&D?) Not the gonzo, but the feeling of mystery. And Melan brings that in full force in his Echoes of Fomalhaut zine. 

This is issue number nine and most fall in to the pattern. A few articles, tables and such about a game world that can rival ANY of the best settings. That feeling of mystery that abounds, a yearning to know more. This is a game world and you want to know more. And, then, there are usually a couple of adventuring sites. In this issue it is a wilderness hex crawl on a small chain of islands and a classic dungeon with undead, a temple, and orcs.

The wilderness crawl is on a small chain of rocky islands with almost no vegetation … or occupants. Oriented towards a shipwreck, it contains plenty for a party to salvage to find their way home again. Or, you can make friends with the HUGE giant who can wade through the sea. There’s a classic for you! The writing here, as usual, is terse. A little longer than say Xyntillan and matching more of a hex crawl style from Wilderlands, it contains locations and/or situations to stumble across. Resources, some loot, some things to get in to trouble with. And it’s got a barren feel, just like the island, but I mean that in a good way. Lonely. No real wanderers, the party makes out for landmarks and such, gathering resources and testing their luck. Flotsam in the distance … will you investigate for resources? A sad singing heard from the direction of an island … with the wind blowing through the hollowed-ut statue of a woman wearing a toga. Replete with gemstone for eyes … AND EYE RAYS! I fucking love eye rays! So, anyway, a little wandering around, doing the hex crawl thing but without hexes, and small twenty room keep to explore with an unusual vertical-oriented map that’s fun to see. A great “you were shipwrecked, now what?” adventure.

The second adventure is more traditional. A fifty or so room dungeon with some orcs in it, a cult, undead, etc. Great interactivity, up to including fonts and pools. Crypts and orcs with an order or battle. Short and terse little descriptions that contain a wealth of information, just enough to run the encounter and get the DMs juices going. Seriously, dude should write an article on how to write one of these encounters. There’s this non-standard thing goin on in it (and on the islands) that subverts things. A harpy? No, a statue. An undead? No, a couple of insect swarm or two inside of it. Doors to force. Pillars to move. Things that do things elsewhere. A great map supporting. This is the kind of old school adventure you want when you buy a product. 

My only criticism is the fucking magic items. While the +1 shields fit in well to their environment, when found, I’d prefer something a bit more. Unusual, a bit more description, something. I’d love the magic items to match the vibe of the rest of the adventure.

Buying all of the Echoes would result in a nice little library of a game world to rival Arduin, Tekumel, or any of the other better entries in the game world arena … and leave FOrgotten Realms and Greyhawk in the dusts of time.

This is $6.50 at DriveThru. The preview is ten pages and you get to see a decent amount of that island crawl. Good stuff!

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews, The Best | 30 Comments

Horror in the House of Mystique

By John Josten
Board Enterprises
OSR? Ha! That's a joke! It's actually Legend Quest
Level ?

A new legend is making its way around the city.  Some failed adventurers are claiming that they have seen an emerald that is the size of a halfling’s chest.  Not just some raw rock, but a cut, jewelry grade emerald.  A gem destined to be the stuff of legends. And the guy who saw it is willing to show anyone interested the way, as long as they agree to try and save his buddy who got left behind.  Seems like good pay!  Millions in gem wealth just to rescue somebody.  No adventurer is going to turn that down!  But it’s time to move.  You can’t wait for some other party to get there first.  Of course, it will be dangerous, but the pay day on this one is more than you have ever received before.

I hate life. Seriously. I was doing great. I was! The trauma of the best left behind I was excited to be exploring new worlds. I was even gonna snag an Echoes to review! But, then, it came. And I realized, you can never really escape from the trauma of your past. You can, perhaps, learn to control it. Manage it. Lessen it to a degree. But it’s still there. My Dungeon Magazine reviews. The insanity of the adventure design and writing that ent in to them. I had left it behind. And then THIS thing showed up via a request …

This 62 page adventure uses thirtish pages to describe thirty four rooms in a doll house. It is a prime example of why the early 90’s sucked for D&D. It is long winded and pretentious to a degree I don’t think I’ve experienced since my Dungeon reviews. Which makes sense since this is from 1994.

I have no real idea what this is meant to be. There’s a separate, seventeen page booklet for the players, to get them familiar with the game world. Which is just a D&D world reskinned with different names. And then then entire thing is laid out like its a newsletter? Here’s some places in the world. Here’s an article on why Shadowrun sucks. Here’s one on Aliens in fantasy worlds. I just do NOT get this at all. Most of this is NOT an adventure, but some zine type thing, even though the title and DriveThru entry seems to indicate that it’s primarily an adventure. Seventeen pages to get the players ready tof the game world … as if I need to continue this review …

This is, I’m going to bet, an exact replica of the adventure from 1994. Not an update. And you know this because of how terrible it is. Basically, some drow somewhere make a dollhouse for a kid. Kid grows up and put it on a table outside the dungeon entrance and if you touch the key on the table you get transported in to the dollhouse. This all takes multiple pages to explain, since it must go in to minute detail on how this works and how the players can’t destroy the dollhouse, fuck with the magic key that transports them inside, etc. God forbid they be allowed to colour outside the lines. 

We are told, of course, that “The first thing the game master must do is to make sure that every player has a character.” I am amazed and delighted. My every whim catered to. Well, it didn’t tell me when to breathe, so … you know, I almost died. 

Read-aloud is in italics. Which is hard to read in extended lengths. It can, frequently and not unusually, take three or four PARAGRAPHS to contain the read-aloud for a single room. A normal-ish room. It’s fucking nuts. It goes on and on and on. With nothing in particular. 

DM text can be just as bad. The first room is 1.5 pages long. A column is not unusual and typical. It takes a column for a hallway with some animated suits of armour in it. A spider in a kitchen takes a column. 

“This room contains a spider hanging near the ceiling. The spider is hidden from view by the webs. While large (about 2” plus legs), this is a normal spider. It was not shrunk upon entering the house and appears to be about 30” in diameter plus legs. Milendez is highly entertained by this spider and makes sure it gets enough to eat.

The spider is a poisonous web spinner. It has filled this room with webs but has not spun outside of here. It can move normally within its webs, but humanoids will be forced to chop their way through the webs. The webs will burn slowly (one cubic foot per turn) if exposed to an open flame but will not remain lit if the flame is removed. The webs can be cut, but each strand will take six points of slashing damage or twelve points of bludgeoning. The spider will dart out, bite, and dart back to cover. Anyone attempting to follow the spider (through the webs) must succeed in a Strength task or be caught in the webs. The spider will withdraw to the far corner if the party begins to cause severe damage to the web’s structure. It will continue to attack from here, but it will also be trying to hide. [stats]

The seemingly best maneuver here would be to use something to burn the webs from a distance, perhaps a torch tied to a long pole. Throwing oil might help clear a good sized space, but not enough to avoid the spider’s speedy attacks. Even if all the webs can be burned out while the spider is in the room, the spider is unlikely to take additional damage from being in her own burning webs. If there is any opportunity for her to avoid being burned along with her

own webs, she will use it. A fireball should clear the webs, but therefore would only do normal damage to her.”

Jesus Fuck man, seriously?

The final insult is the treasure table. For each item found it lists the value class , it’s grade, its cost for scrap, resale, cost at the source and cost in the city. For every bit of treasure. I hate mu fucking life.

All of this for a fucking dollhouse. That isn’t even that great! A few toy soldier encounters and the like. Nothing really too out there or overly fun. Nothing to play people against each other. Nothing really dynamic. No updates AT ALL, I’m guessing, over the original 1994 adventure.

Life is pain and trauma lives forever.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is seven pages. You get to see that Shadowrun article. Joy.–Game-Masters-edition?1892600

Posted in Do Not Buy Ever, Reviews | 43 Comments

Scales of the Seafarers

By Tyson Acree
The Leaky Lantern
Level 3

A barge of Lizardfolk from a distant land has crashed upon the shores of a local river. The good natured Lizardfolk speak in a language so strange and foreign than many mistake their friendly diplomats for viscous raiders. They now guard their crash site while they lick their wounds.

This adventure is on a river barge, with three levels and nineteen rooms, full of good lizardmen. It’s formatted ok, I guess, but is essentially a non-adventure since everyone is good. 

You know, I’m rethinking the review I gave of the Orchid adventure. That one was fun, at least, in parts. This is your usual “oh no! The monsters are really good guys!” adventure. Our enemy roster is a bunch of good lizaermen who dont speak common, but rather communicate in colors, and so get confused and get slaughtered by the party. The pother enemies are the usual beasties, like rats and crabs and the like. The wandering Locath ar goodies also, but the pirates and bandits are evil. Go figure. King Dipshit, the head lizardman, when you reach him in the last room, understands how they were misunderstood and forgives you for slaughtering every last one of his good aligned lizardman crew. Yousee, they were just here to share their treasure with the locals. Seriously. 

It’s a fucking game, people. It’s ok to stab shit. At this point, I’m surprised, in a review, when the humanoids ARE evil. Sure, go ahead, do something different, make then eat babies or some shit. Yum! Delicious human babies! Oh, look, the princess is evil and dragon is good. *Yawn*

So, theres a grounded barge on the riverbank. There are lizardmen on it, with sacks of loot, and mumble mumble mumble, go get em tiger! If you try to esp their asses then all you get is flashes of color, since the adventure relies on the party thinking they are evil.

I don’t know, what else? They got some geckos, and alizing statue and a paint golem. Also they have a museum on board. I don’t know, because they do.

There is nothing going on ere. You go in a room, stab some good aligned lizardmen in a colossal mistake, and get some loot. Sometimes it’s a giant gecko you stab. Also, the wandering table is a d6, but the designer left the 1-6 off the text, by mistake I assume. Whoopsie.

I don’t really know what else to say. “The room has recently been cleaned and sited.” Ok.There’s an Art Supply room. I guess for the paint golem? Or to show they are refined creatures? 

Does any of it really matter? I mean, just stab them and stake their loot. LG, LE, who cares. They got loot and the designer wants you to stab them, so go ahead them. 

Today, the ennui is winning. Tomorrow, maybe I’ll take a chanc eon something that might be good.

This is $7 at DriveThru.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, My Life is a Living Fucking Hell, Reviews | 24 Comments

The Lair of Lazhir

By Cameron Shanton
Shanton Productions
Level 3?

Beneath the paved roads of Kargeviste, a great staircase bores deep into the endless labyrinthine caverns of the Underworld and punctures through the very roof of Hell. Miles above the burning eternal lakes of flame, there is an empty warren. Almost all find their end there on the damp stone bathed in pale blue fungal lights. A creature, 40 feet in length and covered with tumorous sores from which tendrils burst and flail, has earned a name amongst those who escape it: Lazhir. Mountains of treasure, taken as meaningless nothings by Lazhir who seeks the greater prize of flesh, are rumored to be somewhere within the monster’s lair. A local merchant has sent word that he seeks brave adventurers, so that they might slay the creature and secure a delivery that never arrived.

This twelve page adventure contains about seventeen rooms in a pointcrawl dungeon. It’s got some interesting encounters in it, suitably bizarre for an underworld, but suffers a great deal from the usage of a pointcrawl rather than a traditional dungeon map. An updated map would probably fix most of the problems and turn it in to something interesting, but the cognitive burden currently present isn’t something I wish to tangle with.

Fair Warning: this adventure uses the house OSE style. Some people (Yes, you!) do not find this style as impactful as I do. It should come as no surprise, or maybe it does, that I don’t really care what the style is. All I care about is that it can effectively convey information to the DM in a manner conducive to running the adventure. And, as with all styes, it depends a great deal on the designer and their ability to make their format do that.

The house OSE style uses bullet points and keywords and bolding. An initial description may be something like “Collapsing Causeway  – Elevated Bridge (cut stone, crumbling pillars into darkness), Vault Door (torn asunder and tossed, boken 60’ wide entry). Damp (stagnant lingering humidity) Blue Light (dim, pulsating, radiating from fungal growth)” and then some bullet points, again with the first word bolded, to help follow up on the more pertinent and interactive portions of the room. It follows the less is more philosophy, letting the DMs mind wander and fill in the gaps, and I’m a big believer in that, either by this format or a more traditional one.

Interactivity is ok … within some constraints I’m going to point out later. We’ve got a Flesh Gate to deal with, and a bone golem living inside of it … nice use of that golem type given the mass of flesh it pulls itself out of. Made of piled, rotting flesh with digested faces, some connected, and reaching arms, skin falling from meat. Groovy! The bone golem works well here, just as the Beak monsters did in Gann.  There are a number of hazards, like crumbling bridges and rivers to cross, as well as gas pockets and the ilk. And the creatures, even the undead, are not always immediately hostile. And, for a change of pace, I’m not upset with having the room exits in the descriptions since they tend to provide hints like “you can hear rushing water from the eastern hallway” sorts of things.

I am, however, notably disappointed with the map. To a degree that I seldom am in an adventure. I have railed against not having a map and using the room text to “Describe” the map. That’s fucking bad. Or rooms without numbers that the text tries to describe. BAD! In this case, though, I’m going to complain about the very format, the pointcrawl. 

It sucks shit. Or, maybe better, said, it does NOT work with the OSE format … or at least the OSE format as implemented here. What we get for the map is a series of circles connected by lines. Black and white with no detail beyond that. And what this means is that the OSE house style, with evocative rather than factual descriptions, is used to try and describe the layout of a room. A room with a river in it, for example. Is it the river flowing out the other exits? Does the river bisect the room?  How does crossing the river work … in terms of DO we need to cross it? And this happens over and over again int he adventure. Any but the most BASIC of rooms leaves you with trying to puzzle out how the fucking thing relates, spatially, to the other rooms on the map. It fucking sucks ass and, I think, is essentially related to not having a map at all. One of those adventure that doesn’t have one and just tries to describe the layout. But, in this case, it’s trying to do that with the keyword style. And it is the OPPOSITE of Clear and Easy to Understand. I’m sure that in the designers mind it all makes sense, but, I’m not the designer. I’m trying to figure out the layout and spatial orientation through a textual keyword format. And, as most of you know, I’m a fucking idiot.

So, are you will to tear throgh the map and keys and maybe make your own map, sketching things out, to a format in which you can understand at a glance? I’m not. And, on top of that, I would suggest, perhaps, that the keyword descriptions could be a bit more robust. They get a little long in a few places, with phrases, and the things selected to highlight don’t make the most evocative sense in terms of inspiring the dm, who translates to the description, who then feeds more to the players. A weakness of this style, I think, is that the keywords, playing such a key component, have to be fretted over a bit more, I think, than a normal textual description.

So, no joy from me on this one. IF the map were replaced by a decent one that made fucking sense then I might bump this up to at least a No Regerts level, if not higher. As is its an abstraction on top of an abstraction. Quick! Call the Pragmatic Squad! And the magic items are book. Bleach!

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages and shows you lots of the rooms, so a good preview thats you decide if you want to buy it or not. But, no fucking level range anywhere, in the blurb, cover, etc. Not cool dude!

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

Mired Temple of the Idiot God

Kormar Publishing
Level 2?

A washed out temple resurfaces baring secrets of the Deep. The promise of knowledge and treasure is tempting, but perhaps it is better to let some things stay hidden…

This nine page adventure features a simple six room dungeon in an once under the sea temple. Theming is generally light, the dungeon small, and encounters sparse. While not odious, it doesn’t present something very worthwhile either, for more interesting play.

It’s been a long day, living in Reseda, after a short night. Multiple trips to the impound lot, BMV, and lots of pets to take care of, all for others. So, we’re gonna do something light seeing it’s not 7am but rather 10pm. 

We’ve got a temple, once under water and now surfaced again. The general overview text presents us with “Its decorative columns are tangled with seaweed and the roof is a mess of barnacles and fish detritus. Carved above the open entryway in the common tongue is the word: Septulus. The walls surrounding the structure are carved with graffiti depicting headless men, flying spheres of light, and humans consorting with demons.” Along with “the stink of mire and rotten fish.”  So far so good, right? Other highlights of the writing include the ground littered with fish carcasses and mud, and broken bottles and rusted sconces and rotten squid carcass sprawled across a wine rack. Sprawled is a good word choice here. We’re painting a pretty good picture, in general. 

This combines with a relatively decent format of bullet points, nested at times to provide additional information, in an order that is general ‘important things first.” Maybe a little overly generous with the white space, especially to get a six room dungeon to nine pages, but, her, better that than the alternatives, right?

Generally, though, you’re only getting one sentence for each room with any sort of evocative writing, the first, overview of the room sentence. After that the writing becomes a little more literal and fact based. This doesn’t have to be bad, but, in a dungeon with so few rooms and given the sparseness of the interactivity, it comes across as a less than stellar effort. Meaning, i think, that more effort in this area may have uplifted my final verdict of the adventure.

You get four zombies and one ghoulin this. That’s it. That’s your interactivity. Oh, I supposed uncorking a basin to get a magic potion can be thrown in also. Eh, and I guess a forcefield you have to find a way through, OSR style with freeform play. So what there is is decent. 

But there’s not nearly enough here. Just as with this review, there is a sparseness to the place, both in descriptive text and in interactivity, that I’m having a very hard time with.

I find this to be the case with many smaller, lair dungeons. The small environment doesn’t really allow the adventure to breathe at all. As one tomb, among a valley of them, this might be ok. Combine that with a valley full of rovers or other hazards, to explore as you go, and perhaps some faction play then you might have a decent little play area. 

But as a stand alone adventure I find myself not enjoying this much. I get it, one night of play, blah blah blah. But it feels shallow, and empty. As if there should be more. As if the play of the thing is unsatisfying. Could it be the opposite? Sure. But ultimately i think what consumers are looking for are things that help facilitate that satisfying play, and I just don’t see that from this. 

Is it BAD?  No. Not at all. Is it GOOD? No, I don’t think that’s true also. And in a world in which everything is available, from the beginning of the hobby, you have to ask yourself why choose this? Why.

This is Free at DriveThru.

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

Castle Agremoth in the Wailing Wood

By Sean Morris
Galfinor Art
Level 1

The village of Exile is starving and desperate. Can your heroic characters save their village from ruin by braving the terrors of Castle Agremoth and plundering its riches?

This 28 page adventure features a ruined castle, with dungeon , with around thirty rooms. It’s your standard Gamme World intro adventure, but in fantasy form. Which is kind of charming, in a 5th grade kind of way?

So, what’s the Standard Gamma World level one adventure? You start as fuckwiths in your local dirt farm village and the village elders send you out in to the wide wide world to solve some problem as your Rite Of Passage. I don’t know when, where or how the Rite of Passage things became a thing, but it certainly is. The whole thing is a bit surreal. A bit like the Giver series of novels. A moron, gaining knowledge of the world. Which is weird, cause I kind of like the post-apoc genre. It’s one of my favs. But, man o man o man, the Rite of Passage adventure is a rough one.

Your village is starving. It starves every year. So, every year, before winter, the village edge sends a group of kiddos out to the ruins of the local death keep to collect some loot. You need to grab at least 1500gp worth of loot and bring it back. Then the village can sell it to get the supplies they need to make it through winter. Sending your kids to the death keep seems weird. Especially since the DM is encouraged to send them with just the most simple weapons and armor. Leather and hide armor. Look, man, I don’t want to criticize, but, maybe sending your kids off to die every winter with shitty gear isn’t the best sustainable model for the future? If your village is so wretched that you can’t make it then perhaps there are some structural things, from a societal standpoint, that could be done? I mean, also, if you don’t run out of kids then one day death keep will run out of loot? Or, someone will loot the entire keep and therefore remove it, ala overfishing, from the resource pool you can harvest? 

Also, did I note that the villages name was Exile? Our village home is described as “The village consists of a mix of races and peoples of many backgrounds. It was founded several generations previous by a small group of people who were looking to start a new life, away from the politics and greed in the larger cities. It is a point of pride that they do not turn away anyone in need, and over time many wanderers seeking a peaceful life have found their way there. The village is run by an Elder, current Alfred the Crooked (on account of his bad leg) and a small Council chosen by the villagers.” Look, man, I’m pretty liberal, but, when the official political philosophy is that the old send the young out to die then maybe we can rethink a few of the base assumptions we’re making in our self-governance? Likewise the whole Prove Yourself to the Gods things. Have you heard about the new guy? Yeah, seems chill. Kind of like the old guy but doesn’t require us to sometimes kill our kids. I was thinking of checking him out this Sunday …

All righty! Let’s dig in to the adventure!

With a three paragraph read-aloud. *sigh*

We get a pretty decent castle grounds, with a few ruined buildings to dig through the rubble of, as well as an actual multi-level keep and some towers. And a great gaping pit in the grounds …. Rumors, from the table, say that “No one who has gone into the keep or the pit has returned to tell the tale.” Sound slike my kind of guy! There’s a kind of throw-back charm to this map. The completeness of the castle grounds being include, the towers, and so on, with a few extra features like the pit or rubble to dig through. This charm extends a bit to the monsters. The skeleton bros are in rusted and decrepit armor, armed with rusted axes, spears and short swords. But of course! Giant rats, spiders, snakes and beetles. And a Mounted skeleton on a skeletal warhorse. You get it right? Something out of 78 or 79. And this extends further to a monster summary page, with all of the stats on it that you probably need for everything you’ll encounter. Almost like an old Judges Guild adventure was used as inspiration.

DId I mention the woods? The castle lies in the woods. The Wailing Woods. “A perpetual fog

surrounds and fills the wood. Under the dense canopy, the fog dims the light, and makes it hard to see clearly” This is the way. The entrance to the mythic underworld. 

Ok, so, I’m done being nice. The rest of this is for a ten year old. 

The wanderers tell us, in a wolf encounter with 1d6+2 wolves, that “If the party is very unlucky, the encounter may attract the attention of a dire wolf, as a number have made their home in the Wood.” I think, perhaps, it is the designers job to help us do that, though? And the designer does not.

The read-aloud, ever present, reveals too much. Like “Inscribed into the table is a map of the area from when the castle was still in use.” This is not how we do read-aloud. Read-alou dis a teaser. It is meant to get the party going and invite further inquiry and investigation from them. To ask the DM questions. “Oh, I look at the table” “oh, what is carved in to it?” “oh, does it look like this castle?” Not telling us everything there is to know about a room.

A typical room is “Sitting Room. There is a writing desk, a chair and a table against the walls. The floor is entirely covered in mouldering fabrics. It appears to be a pile of sheets, clothing, and tapestries. A rat swarm and a giant rat will be unleashed from the piles of fabric if it is disturbed.” So, some padding there“it appears”, but generally just a sentence or two, sometimes over revealing. It’s all pretty straightforward. “Sitting Room. This is an empty room with two closed wooden doors. If the doors are opened, they will close on their own.” Nothing to see, move along, move along. It’s a long, slow burn. A crawl and investigation the like of which is seldom seen, with the usual book monsters.

It is, I think, both charming, in a throw-back kind of way, and also simultaneously uninteresting. It’s not exactly well done, for the year 2022. The descriptions are rather basic and while not overly padded, it doers tend to the minimalistic side of the description spectrum but a fair bit … the side of minimalism that is not A Good Thing(™.) You could, I think, turn back time and go look at a dozen or so products that do essentially the same thing as thing one, but do the descriptions better and perhaps set up a few larger things on the grounds/castle without is becoming a burden. So, not bad, just nothing to distinguish it. 

This is $8 at DriveThru. The preview is seven pages. Only page six and seven show actual content, and none show encounters, so, not a very good preview.–Castle-Agremoth-in-the-Wailing-Wood?1892600

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