The Siege of Killburne Castle

By Radulf St Germain
Studio St Germain
OSR
Levels 3-5?

Somewhere near the border of the civilized lands lies the Sharkfin Coast. Here, all kinds of outcasts and scoundrels hide from the authorities and other bothersome fellows. Several of these people also make good money, most notably Bruce McHamish, the leader of the local smuggler gang hiding in the ruins of Killburne Castle. Now, McHamish has managed to anger Martellus, a powerful merchant prince. Martellus has taken two of his ships to interdict the smugglers’ base…..

This 43 page adventure presents a small sandboxy region with associated timeline. It’s more of a small region, I think, than an adventure, though. The differentiation being the degree of detail, perhaps? This is a strange thing to review, with the normal criteria not exactly applying … or, it does? 

I don’t even think I know where to start with thing. There’s this ruined seaside castle there are smugglers in it, led by Bruce. He’s finally pissed off a merchant house and they are laying siege to the castle with a couple of ships and a band of mercenaries on land. In around twenty days the merchant and his forces will launch their main assault on the castle. Until then, there are some machinations, on both sides, driven by a timeline. Sounds pretty standard, right? Welllllll…..

What’s throwing me here is the mashing up of several concepts. Sandbox adventure and regional setting, I guess? There are various sites, all related to what’s going on. They may take up two pages or so, single column, to describe, for around a dozen or so places in each location. “Ok, so what Bryce?” Well, there’s also NPC’s running around, with wants and personalities. “Yeah, that sounds ok” No no, hang on, there’s also this timeline and some quests tha the party can go on. “Yeah, bryce, that’s what is generally in a good adventure.” Yeah, man, but …

I think I’m complaining about the degree of zoom out in the adventure, and, perhaps, the focus on the main plot. (I’m using plot loosely here, there is a sandbox adventure.) Everything is pretty … abstracted? Here’s a room description: “Guard Room: There are five water elementals resting here in amphorae. If noise is being made(e.g. at the front door) they will emerge and attack anybody not wearing the holy symbol of their ghrine of the Seven Winds” Notice the fact based nature of this description. It’s not really a dungeon crawl description. And, it’s not a dungeon crawl, right? It’s a sandbox. But, it’s a sandbox with dungeocrawl elements. It’s more like an outline of an adventure rather than an adventure. And, again, my language is failing me here. Generally I’d be ok with this, but again, it’s the degree of the detail. This is, essentially, forty pages of an outline. “A halfling approaches the party and hires them to retrieve a dagger from site X, on behalf of the smugglers.” There’s more to it than that, but, essentially, that’s the degree of detail you’re working on. It’s like you’re reading the summary of the adventure rather than the adventure proper. 

(I’m not going to really mention some other things in this review. There are good parts. A giant snake that spits venom and has the head of a goat. That’s great! And “First impressions” room descriptions that don’t put the important bits up front and instead bury them after some general historial/background information. If you can hear people training and see smoke from the cooking fires, far before you reach a location, then that needs to be up front and not in the third paragraph. LENGTHY paragraphs.)

This is essentially an outline of an adventure, rather than an adventure. Take that room description I listed earlier. Can you work with that? Academically, sure. I can see what the designer was going for. But, also, it comes across at a degree of detail that is more like a small regional supplement (which is a lot going on in a 6km/8km region.) 

There are a lot of people and factions to interact with. A lot of GREAT NPC’s, who are not just goons, pursuing their own goals. But you don’t get names, or personalities of most of them. You get a general vibe but that’s it. (This extends to treasure, which, also, i think is a really light for an adventure of this size.)

There are a lot of great little bits in this. The wanderers are great little vignettes. But they can’t support the abstracted/zoomed out nature f the adventuring sites on their own. This is a toolkit for an adventure … without it being a toolkit.

Do you want that? Academically I can see a place in the genre for these sorts of little regional settings.l But, also, No? I mean, why am buying this when I could run Demon Wolf, or something else, which provides more support for the DM? 

It’s a funny little product, and you can see me struggling to review it. So much of it SEEMS like it should ok, but, also, I know thatI’m not going to put in the work, beforehand or at the table, to run this when I could run something else. Maybe, what I’m saying here, is that this is the equivalent of module B2, but in a regional/sadnoxy form? You need to bring the thing to life, and, of course, that’s what the tagline of most of the old adventures said. But, also, it’s not 1978 anymore and design has moved on. 

Is that ok? I don’t know. I really want to like this. I like the scope of it. But not the degree of detail, in a forty page product.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is seven pages. I encourage you to read the first page. That shows one of the five adventures i the book. That’s it. That’s what you get. Along with the sites, of course, but those are minimal, like the guard room example I gave. So, there’s your adventure. Cool?

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/387604/The-Siege-of-Killburne-Castle?1892600

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Tannic

By Amanda P
Hopeful Weird Wanderer
OSE
Levels 1-3

A request! I’m going to be working through several of these that I received while running the contest reviews.

4 days ago, three village youth went camping to prove their courage during a midsummer festival. 3 days ago, they failed to return. Can you brave the haunted forest and bring them home to safety?

This 36 page digest adventure features a small hex crawl with a tomb having around eight rooms. It’s got some great encounters, but takes a long time (36 pages …) to get there, with some wonkiness in the room descriptions. There’s clearly an effort at formatting well, but it falls down where academic meets practical.

So, village holds a big festival once a year. As a part of it, teens go camp in the forest overnight to prove their bravery. Three of them go missing. The elders hire the party to go find them because Frank the woodsman is incopetent, evidently. You hex crawl through a small setting until you find a tomb where the kids are, as well as an undead dude who’s a bit delusional. Got it? Ok.

The nice thing about this adventure are the various encounters … which is nice to hear. 🙂 There’s a little event table for the festival that’s got some interesting things on it. Oldersters quilting, telling stories … as a way to integrate rumors. The butter sculptures at danger from a clumsy stilt walker. Local cats terrorizing the fish fry, a bone carver making a carving while they do it. Guards dicing,and arguing, not noting a drunken group starting a fire. Nice little situations for the party to find themselves in. And that’s the key, little situations. I know, I know, a situation, so what? Or, better, what’s the difference between that and a typical encounter. We’ve got several things going on in them, a little chaos, and no real solution to follow. In fact, no real imperative for the party to get involved at all. Something is GOING ON, outside of the parties involvementin the world around them. And that’s a good thing.

Our random forest encounters are another good example. A fog rolls in, full of ghosts strumming harps and playing hoorns, parading down the road. Carnivorous trees that imitate the sounds of young voices to lure in people. A grove … blooming with too many flowers. The bog witch, who rescues people from the bog in her little rowboat and loves to gossip. Fun little interactive elements, more than just 1d6 giant rats. 

The “major” hex encounters also follow this formula. We’ve got an undead knight pinned to a tree by a lance, asking to be released, his ghostly steed nearby. He’s a friendly fellow. Or another ghost haunting an old smelter site …full of business advice … his downfall. 

And that’s about where things end. Once we get to the tomb, proper, things fall down fast. With one exception, the final encounter, it fails to deliver the situations that were the hallmark of the adventure thus far. We devolve in to just normal old room stuff with normal old dungeon stuff. Static rooms. Broken crates. Partially open sarcophagus. Static. Yawn! There’s a nice thing or two in it, such as river snakes in a horrible moving pile on top of a well-dressed skeleton wearing a gold circlet. But for the last encounter, it’s just a dusty old tomb with some freaky shit in it at places. The last encounter, an undead dude playing a harp with two of the kids in thrall, gets a full page or two of detail and there’s a non-violent option to end things. Which is great. Sure it is. It feels like EVERY intelligent foe in this adventure has a non-violent option. I’m down for neutral undead, having just seen Caveat, but, hey, sometimes the undead just need a little blood to make the flowers grow. It follows the theme, I think, of intelligent foes, no matter who they are, deserving “life” while the hack shit are the unintelligent blob monsters and the like. So, good? Yeah And bad? When there’s too much of it, sure. Don’t get me wrong, I love the extra options

It’s also full of small inconsistencies, like a floor described as having frescoes on it … covered in boot high murky water. Well, how do you see that? Or read-aloud with “As YOU approach the festival grounds YOU smell …” or, a casket with a body in it … and her cloak ismissing. How do you know its missing? How do you know she ever had one? Just little things like that, continuity errros, almost.

Formatting is meh. I mean, it’s great, it uses one of my fav formates. A brief description up top, some bullet points with major items listed with la little sentence each. Nice!  Except the “up top” test and the bullet points are done clumsily. Whats important is not always mentioned first, or high up, or in a methodical fashion, or in a useful fashion. At what point do you tell the party the room is flooded up your knees? Higher up in the description or lower down in it? And the NPC description, trying to list traits and wants, etc, are almost OVERLY formatted, like they take up TOO much space, making them hard to reference and follow. But, still, these are errors in executing the plan, not in the plan itself. A little more work in this area and those things could be ironed out rather well.

It’s an ok adventure. I think the dungeon is too static, but I do enjoy the outdoor encounters and specific imagery IN the dungeon at times. I get what its trying to do, even if I do think tha the kids situation is never really communicated well, or in a meaningful manner (their love triangle, whathappened to them, etc.)

This is $5 at DriveThru. The purview is fifteen pages, enough to see the hex crawl and village, but not enough to see the examples of the dungeon, proper.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/394013/Tannic?1892600

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

Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos

By Bill Bengham, Mackenzie De Armas, Dan Dillon, Steve Kenson, T. Alexander Stangroom
WOTC
5e
Levels 1-10

The greatest minds in the multiverse meet at Strixhaven University. Professors convey fantastic secrets to eager students, and life on campus is frenetic. But danger lurks even here. Campus hijinks mix with mishaps and sinister plots, and it’s up to you to save the day.

Strixhaven is yet another shitty adventure from WoTC, coming in at 226 pages and with four railroad adventures that take you from level one to level ten. This time it uses a scene based design to rip off Harry Potter as a mashup with Magic the Gathering. It’s generic, shittily written, and contains almost nothing that could be described as wondrous … at a multiverse university. 

Yes, I know, it’s a 5e review, and older product at that. But Daddy Stirring requested it, so, I’m doing the review. Or no more pedialyte and bug bite stix. Ok, so, we’re not gonna harp too much on modern D&D. We’re not going to mention that its devoid of a soul. We’re not going to mention that it’s actually an activity and not a game. We’re going to accept that some people both think that this is what D&D actually is, that they want to play magic ren faire game with talking trash cans and continual light poles and sphere of annihilation garbage disposals everywhere with level fifteen wizard working as baristas at a coffee shop. People like this shit. We’re going to accept that. We are, however, going to rip the living shit out of this PIECE OF GARBAGE for how it enables, or more to the word does not enable, that game style to occur. 

First, the setting. Strixhaven. This is some Magic the Gathering crossover thing, I think? Sure. whatever. I mean, you should expect it. Did you know that here’s someone QUITE senior at The Hasborg who has a job made up entirely of mashing two of their products together? So, like, if they own Barbie and GI Joe then this person is like “Barbie should appear in GI Joe and the Joes should visit Barbie land, like, do a commando raid on her dream house.” I am NOT making this shit up. Their job is to find and encourage brand synergies. The idea is that The Hasborg should NOT own both Barbie and GI Joe UNLESS they both can feed off of each other to generate even larger profit$. It doesn’t matter how successful each brand is, is they can’t synergize with each other then the company SHOULD NOT own both. You own multiple brands to make EVEN MORE money than owning either separately would. So, we get a Magic location, Strixhaven, popping up in D&D. Yeah. I feel both synergized and just a little more cynical about the world.

And, of course, there’s the Harry Potter vibes of this thing. IDK, was Strixhaven a Harry Potter rip off? I’m not a fucking moron so I don’t pay to win Magic and thus don’t follow it. But, even if Strixhaven the MtG thing isn’t a Harry Potter rip off then Strixhaven the D&D game is absolutely Harry Potter with the lawsuit filed off. Sure, whatever. But, it’s all there. The  mini-book plots all leading up to Voldemort. The “arc” of the students. Love interests and relationships and passing classes and quidditch. This is the Harry Potter supplement for D&D. 

A BAD Harry Potter supplement.

Because it’s not a setting.It’ is four adventures that take place IN a setting, Strixhaven. It tries to embed the players characters in to the setting, but it is NOT a setting. Or, maybe, it’s just a really really crappy setting? It’s not oriented around the setting, it’s oriented around the adventures. So, if you want to know about the Forbidden Forest, err, Stinky Swamp, then you gonna have to find the adventure, and the scene of the adventure, that deals with that and read the couple of paragraphs that describe it. It’s this way for all of the locations on campus. There is no unifying whole. It is NOT a setting. There are throw away sections on building relationships with NPC students and taking exams, in the front of the book in the setting section, but its all tacked on and it FEELS tacked on. But, overall, it’s like, idk, you had a 226 page version of the caves of chaos section of B2. As if just the caves took 226 pages to describe. And then tried to run a different adventure int he caves than the one the designer intended. It’s just not laid out right. 

This is NOT intended to be a setting. Or, if it is then it’s the worst fucking piece of shit setting book ever written. It’s MEANT to run four adventure. You create a character and then play the four adventures, one for each year of university. And it hits the beats and the pacing of the Harry Potter movies. You jump, in large swaths of time, from one scene to another. It’s suddenly several weeks later … There’s just not room, or support, to run filler. You WILL be running these shoitty adventure as they are written, making sudden leaps during a session. “Ok, no, it’s four weeks later. It’s time to take your Slaadi exam ,,,:  Not a setting. Four adventures. I don’t think its possible to run it as a setting without a fuck ton of iffues for the DM. Instread, maybe just watch the first Harry Potter movie, maybe the next two also, and run a Harry Potter game from what you learned. It will be better than whats in here.

I said I wasn’t going to botch about modern D&D, and I’m not. But I am going to bitch about the shitty bolt on rules for exams and relationships. And, in general, using D&D for something other than D&D. D&D, from the 70’s, is about dungeon crawling. That’s the game. Everything about the game is built on that premise. The whole fucking thing. If you try to do something ELSE with it then you are going to have trouble. And yet people have been trying to do something else with it forever. Lets run a detective game using D&D rules! Yeash, but, the rules let you have all of these detect spells at early levels. They do it so you can detect poly’d princesses and doppelgangers and their ilk in the dungeon. When the wizard memorizes that then they don’t learn Fireball, making a choice. The spell lists WORK AGAINST a detective game because of this. If you want a detective game then you need something that doesn’t have detect evil/alignment/read minds, etc in it at low levels.But people force the system to do what they want anyway. Lets run a romantic love game! No. Maybe try some indi rpg game to do this? But , not, they try and mak D&D do it. Yes, the game has evolved, through 3e and 4e and 5e. But, its roots are still in dungeon crawling and the rules show that. You can’t escape it

Even for a game involving wizards at uni haing to study and, for some fucking reason, building relationships with other hand taking part time jobs. I’m a fan, in general, of little mini-mechanics in systems. I love the way they can easily replicate something or motivate. But these don’t do that. It’s just some bolt on garbage, that takes WAYYYYY too long to explain and doesn’t really have much of a reason. In fact, if you want to minmax, you should avoid them. And min/max you will.

For this book/setting/adventure has no soul. None. Did you make a well rounded character to fully explore the setting? Then yo’re a fucking idiot. You should have min/maxed. Because the designers are fucking idiots. This piece of shit relies on skill checks. You want to pass an exam? “The day before the Exam, the characters can study the course material. A character can use any ability check and skill during the Studying phase.” So, use your athletics to study for your Sladdi knowledge multiple choice test. I, rather famously in my friend group, did this in a 4e game, where I used Know(religion) in a skill test to make it past two city gate guards. It was St Bartos day, and no gate guard looks left on St Bardo’s day. It was not allowed. Which, I guess was cool since I was actually commenting on how dumb the skill challenege system was. But, it’s fucking cannon now, do what thy wilt! And, min/maxc that shit! Just make your DC skill check or you fail the exam. There is NO reason to do anything other than min/max. In another section, if you’re caught more than once, failing checks, then you’re punished with your job taken away, failed exams, etc. Just fucking min/max your shitty ass character and make thedie rolls. D&D, roll play not role play. The meme that people attribute to old school play, which was never true, is now actually the official way to play. Wonderful. Just shut the fuck up and roll the dice. 

I’d like to talk about the Harry Potter movies, and, specifically, the first one. I think it does a magnificent job of presenting a wondrous world that is being exposed to hHarry and seen through his eyes. There’s a joy and awe in his experiences to the veil of maya being pulled aside. That’s kind of the point, of the first movie, and they did a good job at it. That’s the kind of reaction that I’m looking for in D&D. I want awe and wonder. This is a magical place. There should be mystery and a magical experience in it. Awe & wonder. You know what it should not be? Another shift at the coffee shop. The mundane drudgery of life. Gee, that’s fun, right? But, that’s what this supplement/adventure is. They’ve managed to take the greatest minds in the universe at a magical university and make it one of the most boring things I’ve ever seen. There’s no awe. There’s no wonder. It is like it has all been surgically removed to some generic abstraction. The worst trophy references, abstracted. This is not a new thing for WOTC, they seem to have a particular skill in taking whatever content is produced (I’m guessing) by their writing staff and then yoinking anything good out of it so it’s all just bland generic mush. There is NOTING magical about this. Not in the setting and not in the adventure. If you squint, REALLY hard, then maybe you can see what they are trying to do. But it’s not done at all.

“Explain the [the libraries] areas in detail before the characters begin this scavenger hunt, so they have an idea of which areas the clues point to.” Great. Yes. Exactly. That’s how you run an adventure. You monologue to a hundred hours so the players can solve the riddles. The first year adventure could be summed up as “there was a surge of wildmagic in the swamp.” (if not running a campaign. Why the fuck would you not run all four/the campaign?) But, still, a surge of wildmagic? That’s whats behind eveyrything? Its so fucking boring I’m falling asleep in class. No? Not good enough. I know. But it’s all the snark you’re getting from me for this piece of shit.

Oh, o! At none point the read-aloud ACTUALLY says “You can’t let someone ruin the first day of classes; time to step up!” Jesus H Christ man. Seriously? And none of the creature encounters are anything more than a tacked on encounter. You’re doing frog races in the bar, betting on them, they turn in to giant frogs. COMBAT! Yells the dm and everything stops, you fight the frogs, and then move on. No actual integration. No synergy with the bar. Just the worst kind of “they come out of stasis” vibe, as if the rest of the setting, where the fight took place, who is present, doesn’t exist. 

It’s just generic abstracted railroad. It’s fucking BAD. ANd it’s $45 fucking dollars. Just go watch some Harry Potter movies or buy some HP roleplay game and run it using the 5e rules. You’ll be happier, by far.

Posted in 5e, Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, My Life is a Living Fucking Hell, Reviews | 54 Comments

Brewery of Lost Time

By Sean Sexton
Self Published
5e
Levels 5-6

I’m only doing 5e content by special requests these days, so, this was a special request.

Nearly thirteen years ago, a powerful magic gripped the Darkside Brewery and sealed its doors. No one went in. No one came out. A few days ago, those doors reopened, releasing a silver mist that temporarily aged all it touched. Yet nothing else emerged. What happened to all the workers and visitors within? What could have caused the silvery mists? How could the doors have remained sealed for so long, and why have they reopened? Do you have the courage to figure out what happened within the Darkside Brewery? Gather your allies and find out!

This 24 page adventure features a brewery with five rooms and about twenty features to interact with/explore/kill, etc. It’s modern D&D. Read-aloud is a bit long and the formatting is trying a bit too hard, but, overall, not a bad adventure if you’re in to that type of thing.

I’ve come to a realization, while reviewing this. Modern D&D is actually a Supers game. It’s set in a modern era, with modern stuff, but with fantasy trappings and being driven by a “fantasy” rule system. This thing is set in a brewery. More modern world trappings. They use a water elemental to create the pure water for their brews. Uh huh. It’s an escort mission with a renowned alchemist to go in the brewery. There’s restrooms inside the brewery. There’s a couple of magical brooms & mops that clean the place. You work for 100gop, or, maybe, a potion from the alchemist. Or you’re just a do-gooder. This is the modern world, but with a fantasy vibe. I fucking HATE magical renfairre, and I hate supers. Makes sense. 

Also, three kobolds in a coat show up. That’s so great, right? It’s supers. Ok, so, I’ve got to get over my “the bad guy left seven priceless paintings in order to test intruders” biases and do an objective review of this thing, though I loathe the setting.

So, five big rooms. Each one has multiple “things” to interact with in the rooms, so about twenty or so things going on in the adventure. Room one is a good example of this. It starts with a couple of “DM notes” sentences giving a little brief overview of the room. Then there’s a LENGTHY read-aloud. Finally, there’s a small section of DM notes; “the goal is to escape this rooms …” and then an overview of the various room elements … in this case a couple of pages of NPC’s. Then, finally, there’s a little bit of advice for the DM. 

Our main read-aloud over-reveals. The FIVE PARAGRAGHS should make that obvious. We get various descriptions of NPC’s and what they are doing. This is wrong. I get it, you want to set a scene, show the party the chaos of what’s going on. But a long read-aloud is not the pay to do it. I will never ever ever ever pay attention to long read aloud, as a player. I will zone out. People complain all the time about lack of player attention. Pulling out phones. Because the content is not focused on them. You make your read-ahort and snappy, giving an overall impression … and then follow that up with information for the DM tto respond with when the party starts asking questions. “What are the people doing?” “What do I overhear?” What’s going on with thoe doors. Etc.

Ignoring the half elf reporter and three kobolds in a coat, we turn to the NPC’s. It’s clear that theyere is  a strong attempt. Little brief description. Someone is a bit yelly. What they want and what they know. Not bad. Given the number, could use a summary sheet in order to run it. 

I do, though, appreciate the DM notes in this section, or, rather, the advice for the DM. We’re presented various room elements and then the DM advice, at the end, is what ties the room together. We learn in the room contents that there is a door guarded by three dwarves, that goes deeper in to the brewery. The advice section, though, tells us various ways the party can get through the door … which then ties in to the NPC’s. If you’re gonna stick a large open-ended challenge in an adventure then putting in a little help for the DM, for how you constructed this thing to go, is a helpful thing.

The formatting, though, is trying a little too hard. There is, again, clearly an attempt to do the right things here. Boxes. BUllets, font sizing, bolding,e tc. I’m not MAD at it. But I do think it’s ineffective. Ultimately, all of the formatting, and different colored boxes and other attempts to bring clarity end up resulting in a more confusing mess because of all of it. This is a common mistake in overcorrection. Trimming the text up should help quite a bit, and calming the various color schemes for the fonts and boxes. You want something that is easy onthe easy to grok, but brings clarity to the text. This format is complex and causes the brain to fight it.

I know, right, damned if you do and damned if you dont? 

A decent enough first effort for this designer. The core adventure is the standard 5e stuff, but the interactivity and setting embraced. If you’re gonna go, then go all the way, and this designer does that. 

This is $3 at DriveThru.


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/393997/Brewery-of-Lost-Time?1892600

Posted in 5e, Reviews | 9 Comments

The Rat King’s Sanctum

By Emiel Boven
Self Published
B/X
Levels 1-3

A forbidden temple hidden in the sewers, unbeknown to the faithful above.

This nine page adventure details a temple in the sewers with sixteen rooms that is dedicated to the god of decay and has rats in it. Joy. It’s got very little going on. 

Someone thought this looked good. Story of my life. Let me botch, a bit, about this things. Or , more specifically, the genre of the Classic Setting. 

I don’t really know why people still write adventures with sewers and rats and temples in them. There are about a bajillion of them. This is the same as the Orcs in a Hole genre. Why are you writing this? Because it’s better than the Borshak’s? Because it’s a new take on Borshak’s? I’m guessing there some kind of Appendix N bullshit going on here. (And, you know, I’m a philistone and don’t really give a fuck about appendix N. Either my shortcoming or what makes me a Quality Person.) You read about some sewer garbage in one of those novels and then get inspired to write one. Otherwise, I don’t know how so many fucking people would want to write the fuck about temples in sewers with rats. Oh. Wow. Let me guess. Some wererats, right? *YAWN* You are inherently writing something that WILL be compared to the other 10,000 examples of its type. Is it that good? What’s new about it? I guess, I don’t know, maybe if you’ve been raised on a steady diet of 5e/Pathfinder garbage then you think it’s interesting? And, of course, I mean, you’re inspired so you want to write. But, again, are you writing something interesting, or just another entry in to the giant cesspool of Also Rans? 

Also, like, hey, I’m ot inherently down on the classics. I love the classics. They are classic tropes for a reason. They fucking work. And, you know, I love a kind of naturalistic thing. Things that feel right. Things that looks almost like tey are normal. And following a trail from your city adventure in toa sewer pipe, torch in hand, sewage, rats, fuck yeah, i could get behind that in a very naturalistic setting. Like the Sean Bean Frankenstein thing. That’s not this, of course. This is just generic fantasy filler.

So, what’s this one do differently? It’s got layout. Youknow, the Mork Bork thing where you spend a lot of time doing a layout (or, maybe it’s a template? idk.) and you select fonts and pay attention to the formatting. A clean layout, footer banners in a rever font/image. Boxes, text NICELY flowing around images. Maps with room descriptions on them. Bullet points. Little light notations in rooms. Monster stats on the same page. It is laser like in its focus on helping the DM run it. As are most of the layout-heavy adventures coming out of new school design corners of the internet. And it follows the layout gods even down to the cover font. Which is hard to read. Did you know that the ACTUAL name of the adventure is The Rot King? I didn’t. I looked at the cover and thought “Rat King’s Sanctum.” So, you know, I’m going with that. If you can’t be bothered with making a legible cover page then I can’t be bothered to go back and change all my references to Rat King to Rot King. Am I fuckwit? Absolutely. Did you produce a cover where I could make that mistake? Absolutely.  Fancy fucking fonts will burn you every time. Oh, look, it burned someone else. Wow. I’m surprised. The one guy on the internet, in the entire world, who could be bothered to review this adventure got the title wrong. 

Ok, so, layout. It’s easy to run. It’s also boring.

And I mean this in the way s that count, the evocative writing and interactivity. Neither are good. These are, again, hallmarks of the new school design movement. They do layout and then do fuck all for the actual adventure. You fight shit. That’s 90% of this adventure. Anything remotely interesting is nerfed. Shake ands with a statue and transfer your arm to it? Do it again to rever sit. And it has no meaningful impact on the adventure. None of the interactivity, what little there is, really makes a difference in the adventure. It just IS. And while I’m a big fan of things JUST BEING, it has to be done in the right way. Not just swapping your skin color from blue to normal and back again. We get a couple of prisoners in one room. One is Melvin the gnome, who doesn’t care about the other two prisoners  and then there’s “the other two prisoners.” I am inspired. That’s literally all there is. Look, Idon’t need, or want, two paragraphs, but, fuck man, give me SOMETHIGN to work with! And that’s what this adventure does NOT do: give you something to work with. It’s just the same old same old generic abstracted content for a sewer that you’ll always see. It’s fucking boring man. Five gems and a jeweled sword. Yeah! I mean, *YAWN*. “Heavy bronze doors. Screaming figures line the walls.” That’s all youre’re getting. Its not altogether bad, but, also, it’s not really good. And that writing is, generally, the exception, not the rule, for this adventure. We also get “Storage: This room contains crates with root vegetables and dried meat.” Fun!

But, you know, it didn’t have to be bad. Maybe a little city lead in investigation thing, to get the party in t the sewer, in a mundane Frankenstein kind of way. Inside there’s a Gravelight Candle, that lets you be invisible to undead under 2HD; that’s a good item! And a room full of mushrooms with a body buried underneath it. Hey man, you didn’t go far enough. A whole body farm, with them sticking out, and mushroom garden with weird shit and msome reason to interact and dig in the room. That wouldh have worked! And, why not include an order of battle for the cultists? So they can react to incursions. Doesn’t have to be complicated, a sentence or two. 

Instead, I went out with a boy who died. 

Snag a copy on itch:

https://emielboven.itch.io/rot-king

Let us all agree that we don’t deserve each othe

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Wavestone Keep Results

Man, I got 34 more months until I retire and it an’t come soon enough. It’s 11am and I’m three beers in a Monday morning. Someone else at work needs to figure the fuck out how to make a fuckign decision. 

So, follow along with me on this journey. I review this adventure, right? And it sucks shit, right? I mean, that’s nothing new, most of what I review really sucks shit, right? I mean, yeah, we’re stuck in this position where I can’t suggest that someone NOT write an adventure. You gotta write. It’s important. You want to share your vision with the world. Creativity is important. But, like, I’m paying for this shit, right?I’m a consumer. And while consumer gonna consume, it would also be super chill if shit didn’t suck as much. So, you’re a new designer and you got an idea and its super cool in your head nad you want to share it and so you write something and it just sucks shit. So, like, as a consumer, what do you do? Chalk it up to money wasted, I guess? Create a blog where you write reviews of shitty adventures for ten years straight? Or, maybe, as a designer, you could write something that don’t suck? But that requires you to not what Not Sucking is. And you don’t know what you don’t know, right? I mean, all you’ve seen is this suck-ass from the majors and the other designers, who also all suck. And then, eventually, mr Adventure Reviewer is so disgusted with the state of affairs that they run a fucking contest all in honor of you cause while your adventure is not the worst ever written, it is the proverbial straw. 

And thus, gentle reader, we arrive at the Wavestone Keep contest. The first time this happen was when I was reviewing Dungeon Magazine, and I took some time off. Another time it happened I went and published some adventures that I wrote in 90 minutes, to see just how hard it was, and fucked with Prince and Melan to get a Not Suck review. This time I ran the Wavestone Keep contest.

And how pleasantly surprised I was! It was a lot of Not Suck. I mean, some sucked more than others, but none of them were the major suckatutde I had been dealing with. In retrospect, this makes sense. It you’re reading tenfootpole and wallowing through all the same filth I am, except deal with my bullshit ennui and stream of consciousness and complete disregard to editing, then, hey, you must actually care something about design. Or, maybe you’ve picked something up by osmosis? Whatevs, even the most sucky of the entries didn’t reach hte standard of Shitty Adventure. I mean, sure, soome were not great, but, they didn’t make me want to drink myself in to stupor, which is what I encounter most days and therefore the tenfootpole standard.

And, I feel, this is an important point. This blog has a reputation. And, I mean, I guess I do to. “Oooo, Bryce is a hard ass” Oooh, Bryce has exacting standards. No. Absolutely the fuck not. I do not. I think I’m’, a pretty generous guy. Understanding, even. You don’t gotta be the greatest new thing ever. You just gotta not suck. And for all of my advice, and points I like to see hit, there’s a thousand different ways to hit those points. “Bryce wants you to do X” No. Bryce doesn’t want you to do X. Bryce wants an adventure that is easy to run and makes him want to run it … and I’ll even go light on that second point. And, fuck, maybe even that first point is that second point is chill. I mean, Thracia, right? I should review that some day (This Buds for you, Kent.)

Ok, back to the fucking point of this drunken monologue (I had to correct drunken three times.) Everyone sent something chill. I don’t hate myself, or my life. In fact, I’m gonna be a little sad not reviewing a sea tower with lizardmen when I get down to things tomorrow. I’ll miss you people! (Fuck me, three times to correct people also.) So, everything is chill. All entries: chill. Yeah, so, Mr I wrote a single column word doc, you’re not gonna win, but, also, I don’t hate my life after reviewing your adventure. And, more than that, I feel most of the entries (all fo the entires?) were a solid six or seven on a ten point scale. We are fortunate that we live in the best of all possible worlds (Leibnitz or Candide, your choice) and have a fucking rediculous number of choices to pick from in adventures. This makes my job all the much harder, since I’m nitpicking, a lot of the time, and selecting on ly thebest of the best of th best of the best. Which is chill, right? I mean, ther’s a heavy Curation aspect to this blog. Butm hey, nice job everyone. Even the most suck ass of the adventures submitted doesn’t rise to the level of Wavestone Keep.

That poor dude. (Dude?) I don’t know and can’t be bothered to check.) Anyway. Get you’re adventure torn to fucking shreds and, then ,further mocked by having a contest? Brutal!

Ok, so, for the firth fucking time I’m doing this reprtospective. I’m now four beers and half a bottle of Fireball (two corrections) in. So, no one scuks. Yeah! Some of you were close! Yeah! You know who you are. Deep deown, you know don’t live up. That little voice inside of you, telling you that you sucl? It’s almost correct. Ok, so, maybe this blog is a little harsh.

Looks like there were five No Regerts entries to this contest. That’s great! You should all be very proud! For almost winning! I mean, second place, right? If you had just worked just a littttttttle harder …. (The correct response here is “Fuck you asshole/”) Still, five is great. I would absolutely happy to blind buy a No Regerts adventure. Rolling Deep Keep, Wyvery’s Roost, Tidal Terror Tower, The Floating Tower of Atlantic, and What Lurks Beneath all displayed a a great deal of adventure design knowledge.e. No. I mean, fuck that,they were pretty good adventure. All of them hit a lot of good points and they all would have been great to run. The open ended nature of Wynern, Under Da Sea in Rolling Deep, the open ended nature of Tidal Terror, and the wizard tower nature of Atlantis. And, I was drunk at a bar during Jordans, so, you know, they get a pass. But, really, a solid all around adventure in Lurks Beneath.

But, I mean, fuck those second place finishers. We’re here for the winners on the brutalis t blog on the internet, am i right? (But, good job folks! If we ever meet I wont glare at you in absolute scorn!)

So, The Best, Greth, Surgerock, Gravestone, Pink Waves, Guimond. Frost Spire, Monolith. Like, six The Bests in, what, one month? Give yourself all a pat on the back. You’re all good looking, talented, and, of course, humble. So, like, jackass Jacob is gonna win. Yeah! But, also, so is someone else. “Shaq wins the playground dunk contest!” Ok, so, sure. Good job Jacob! Your adventure, Frost Spire, is REALLY good. Painfully so. You should, like, send me your address or something, for a handwritten note from a stranger on the internet that will give you fulfillment in life. Also, like, I get the harpies, but, we need a stronger harpy/wife connection. Also, here’s your pull quote: Jacob Hurst,  You’re Not A Fucking Idiot. It’s painfully good.

But, also, like Guimonds, right? First time publishing? No D&D experience? Someone get that person a game! You did that, right? And not a suck ass one, right? (I mean,. That’s a whole other discussion!) Fuck me, can I finish this bottle of jalapeno pineapple margarita before my call with the VP in an hour AND not appear drunk? Let’s find out~ 

So, the fucking ine bottle adventure, Pink Waves, right? Jetsam, mini-dimension, fucking fucked up people, open ended, rock on! Needs more cowbellbell thoough. Gravestone … literally made up of gravestones? Surgerock was fucking great. Monolith, in two pages? Go back and read the reviews of these. I gush over them. I weep for joy over them. Need ideas. Good micro-mechanics. Great writing, and easy to run. Seriously, I gave people like two weeks and popped out seven Bests and like five Regerts? icely done! See, it’s not hard, you just have to be Not A Fucking Idiot.

Ugm so, welcome to the blog. Hope you had a good time. Greth wins. I’m gonna pass out now. Good job man! Not a fucking idiot1

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Wavebreaker Keep

Some unrelated internet image that comes up in a search of Wavebreaker Keep
Luke
Self Published
System Agnostic/Generic
Level ... 2?

This is an entry in my Wavestone Keep adventure design contest. Which I held to combat the crushing ennui I feel when reviewing too many bad adventures in a row. The challenge was to write and short adventure, eight pages, inspired by the concept and marketing tagline of the Wavestone Keep adventure. Now, to combat my crushing boredom, and the perfectionism which prevents me from working on larger projects, I’m going to review the entries!

The pillar of stone can be seen peeking up from the turbulent waves like the fin of a shark. According to the legends, this pillar should be none other than Wavebreaker Keep – a swimming tower made of stone crushing the hulls of every vessel unfortunate enough to crash upon it

This five page adventure features a sea tower with nine-ish rooms on six levels, with …. Lizardmen!. A mini-dungeon, it’s got some decent ideas but, also, it is what it is: Luke jotted down some ideas in a word doc. Luke’s never written a module before, and is afraid of being roasted too hard. In a stunning turn about and abrogation of responsibilities, I’m not going to. Mostly because I’m seeing The Vix today for green chilè hamburgers at a food truck instead of joining a work call that I. CANT. FUCKING. STAND. (and, said as much to the call runner just ten minutes ago, ranting for awhile. I was told to just check out of it and not pay attention. Well excuse the fuck me, if I’m not present on the call then why the fuck do I need to be present on the fucking call?)

Ok, so, good news first: Not an absolute disaster. What we’ve got here is an underwater tower with just the roof sticking out on top of the water. So, our first room description is “The top of the ancient stone tower rocks beneath you as the turbulent waters crash against it. Upon the crenulated tower top, you see a closed trap door made of wood caked in seaweed and soaked with water.” and i Kind of like the imagery of that. Just a low stone platform out at see, Crenelations, waves crashing up against it, maybe breaking over it. And then a kind of hatch on top leading to the inside … a kind of submarine!

The designer also does some other nice things. Lizardman reactions are briefly notes in each room … and I mean briefly. Like “One runs to get his buddies in room 3”. Which is kind of how I like my monster reactions, when they do react. And the baddie leader yells things during combat like “And lookie here, fresh morsels coming right to our table here. Dig in boysss!” Which is fun! Yes, it’s a lizardman who’s a captain and acts like a pirate, I guess? That’s disconcerting, and not in a good way. But, het, I like it when the things in the dungeon have personality. It’s a little abrupt here; that theming could have been present in more rooms and/or some foreshadowing or something. Right now its comes across as “you fight lizardmen, normal lizardmen, and then you fight this pirate captain lizardman yelling weird shit at you.” Juxtaposition … and not the pretentious kind found in art.

There’s another couple of nice elements. The entire tower is built ont he back of a leviathan, and if freed they might take you to shore and maybe give a boon at some point in the future. I find that fun; not enough Algernon’s being freed. And then if you deface the God of Seas temple room then “If any players attempt to deface or destroy the shrine, the God of the Depths angrily backlashes upon them conjuring the tower’s old inhabitants as shades to slay the players resulting in a deadly battle against six shades. It takes a moment for them to wink into existence, granting the players the first move. They chase the players so long as they remain inside of the tower.” So, not the best description but the concept is pretty rocking. Shades winking in, all shadowy Paths of the Dead style. 

But, also, this is a first effort and it shows. 

Italics read-aloud. “They hear you coming” in the read-aloud and other “you” statements. Overreveling room contents in read-aloud. We keep poorly maintained blood stained gear in the DM notes, only saying that there are weapons in the room, awaiting players to examine them to reveal that they are poorly maintained with red stains. And, it’s padded out with phrases like “In contrast to the rest of the tower …”. Plus, there’s a certain abstraction of content, the way we see in 4e/5e. Magic a Knowledge (Spellcasting) check to disable the magic circle! No. Absolutely the fuck not. You blow out candles. You fuck with the salt around the edge. You save the sacrifice. But you do not abstract this shit in to a die roll. The solving of the puzzle IS what D&D is. It IS what roleplaying is. 

Oh, hey, also, another room with lizardmen feasting on human bodies, this time with turkey leg/arm human body parts and a side of intestines! Grooooovy!

Good first effort Luke! Time to forget this one and crank out another one that’s better!

You can snag a copy at:

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Waves of Sea’s Stone

Ben Gibson
Self Published
OSE
Levels 3-5

This is an entry in my Wavestone Keep adventure design contest. Which I held to combat the crushing ennui I feel when reviewing too many bad adventures in a row. The challenge was to write and short adventure, eight pages, inspired by the concept and marketing tagline of the Wavestone Keep adventure. Now, to combat my crushing boredom, and the perfectionism which prevents me from working on larger projects, I’m going to review the entries!

“Fear arrives on the waves as the terrifying tower, the Sea’s Stone, unleashes a tide of lizardmen upon the unsuspecting coasts.”

This four page adventures features nine rooms in a flour level ziggurat. It teleports in to the ocean in the morning and leaves again at sunset, with lizardman raiders coming out in between to abduct villagers. It’s got some great situations in it, real gems. It’s also got some lackluster evocative writing and just feels a little … short? For nine rooms.

The strength here is in the situations that the party is put in to. The kind of realized vignettes that they then get to work through. There’s a couple of “on the way to the tower” encounters that really highlight this. In one we get: “Punished Captive: Agonized and twisted moans echo through the mangroves. If investigated the moans come from a half-eaten young blacksmith left in the mud. His eyes, nose, one ear, lips, fingers, feet, and most of his large muscles have been eaten along with half his liver, it is a testament to his vast fortitude that he remains alive. If he senses anyone coming, he’ll beg for death through his mangled lipless mouth. If promised death or regenerative magic he’ll try to describe a raiding party’s composition. If healed somehow, he’ll seek to join to kill all the lizardmen.” This is great. It’s a fully realized little scene that the party finds themselves in. You can run this, for, I don’t know, twenty minutes? Just based on the text provided. This dude got a personality implied. There’s a kind of mythic quality to it as well. Another situation on the way to the tower has the party running in to a trapped lizardman, under a boulder, who can reward the party for their help, even though he doesn’t really speak common … with the allusions to all of the fiction and myth and folklore that that situation brings with it.

There are other instances as well, shorter. The enormous chief who considers himself tactful and will treat honorably if confronted … but also marking the most delicious character as a meal he must have. That’s fun! A little playing around with that, maybe some creep in to another adventure session or two … great times! And then there’s the fact that the tower teleporting is done by human sacrifice precisely at dusk … creating that most famous of race against time scenes from media. And then reappears … “ in a flash of golden light heralded with the sounds of ghostly sibilant chants at the precise moment of dawn the next day.” Yeah man! That’s the way this shit is supposed to work!

Otherwise, the adventure has some issues. Writing is a little weak in the evocative department. “Sleeping Nests: Formerly a stately statuary hall, now stinks of lizardman musk as the rubble of three of the four statues that were here has been rearranged into nests where the lizardmen sleep in piles.” 

And then, also, it could another edit pass. There’s indications to “roll for encounter” with no encounter table (although a decent mechanism for upping the frequency is included.) And, traps like a poison dart thing are a little confusing. Lizardmen duck, which I assume means a tripwire, I guess, but nothing is mentioned? I’m generally ok with some kind of implicit assumption, or leaving it blank and up to the DM, but in this case it’s kind of a half included case … which I’m not ok with.

So, a short four page single column word document adventure is a short four page single column word document adventure. It’s got some interesting concepts but needs a lot more work to turn it in to something more worthwhile.

(Which, I think, Ben said as such in his submission email)

You can snag a copy here:

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The Wavestone Monolith


Kelsey Dionne
The Arcane Library
Shadowdark RPG
Level 3

This is an entry in my Wavestone Keep adventure design contest. Which I held to combat the crushing ennui I feel when reviewing too many bad adventures in a row. The challenge was to write and short adventure, eight pages, inspired by the concept and marketing tagline of the Wavestone Keep adventure. Now, to combat my crushing boredom, and the perfectionism which prevents me from working on larger projects, I’m going to review the entries!

Fear the silence, the water, the dark stone itself! Deep within the sweltering jungle, a monolith of black basalt floats upon an undulating lake hidden in a cave. They say inhuman howls emanate from it on moonless nights… and that the fat gems and coins of a lost society lie inside for the taking!

This two page adventure features a nine room antediluvian step pyramid with a great chthonic vibe going on. Terse, obviously, and with evocative text, it does a great job bringing the weirdness vibe that Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun wanted to. It does feel a bit small and constrained at times, but, then again, the asshat who created the contest kind of dictated that. But, I can’t help thinking …

I think certain vibes are harder to evoke than others. I think I’ve talked in the past about how disappointed I am with cloud castles and undersea palaces, how they don’t really bring that kind of energy that you want from the location. Creating a kind of antediluvian atmosphere, a chthonic vibe, is hard also, I think. You want, I think, to channel the alien spaceship from Alien. Quiet, imposing, large, and weird. I’m often impressed by scenes of gore, a designed ability to create these kind of shock and horror from the gore of devoured villagers and the like, but creating evocative writing not related to that seems far more uncommon … an industry where evocative writing is already exceedingly rar. 

This one, though, is an exception. I think Kelsey does a great job of bringing the vibe she intends to. This starts with a statue. The pyramid sits inside a cave, in a grotto. To get in to it you need to go through a waterfall. Underwater, at the cave mouth, is the statue of a woman with raised arms, made of cracked malachite. A blank mask covers her face with wormy tendrils peeking around from behind it. This isn’t the greatest description ever, but, it does START the players don’t the path of the weirdness. It’s an introduction. From there we get a cave, vast, thick with stalactites, a translucent green lake with a black ziggurat rising from the lapping water. Not water. LAPPING water. Good imagery. It’s active, not just static. Broad steps ascend to an open archway at the top lined with smooth malachite swrwming with hundreds of trolibye fossils. We’re getting close to the good stuff! Out first “Real” room is “Wet. Echoing silence. Black stone walls with a few glossy, horse-sized ammonite fossils. Grey slugs in floor puddles that writhe away from light” Ok, man, we’re in the shit now! Wet. Echoing. Silence. Grey slugs in puddles. That’s fucking guuuuuud! Another room has muted sound, as it underwater, with light refracting oddly. Perfect! Faint sloshing in another. You get the sense of this ANCIENT place, and the tentacles and nautilus theming works really well to help communicate that in addition to the writing. 

Interactivity here is pretty good, for such a small size. We’ve got grates with water coming out of them, the waterfall proper, an underwater tunnel, communing with statues of gods (Fun fact: make a DC15 WIS save after or walk to the next room and attempt to drown yourself in the pool for 2d4 rounds. Because that’s hw the fuck communing with our antediluvian friends work, of course! I love it!) And, Kelsey slaps in a magic item that has both good and bad effects: among other things, you stop aging (of course!) but, also your skull turns in to a nautilus shape over 2d10 days. Doh! But, hey, you can commune with the nautiloid mother and speak primordial and breathe water! I’ll take it! Really great magic item; I love the way it can integrate in to a game and brings he bad with the good. 

A lot of other things are right also. Monsters are noted on the map and the trap description are terse. “Trap: Two trilobites are worn to a shine. Pushing them deactivates trap for 5 rounds. Pressure on fourth step down turns stairs into ramp. DC 15 DEX or slide into 20’ deep trapdoor pit at bottom (2d6).” Look, one line of mechanics! Yeah! Why people write multiple paragraphs on traps is beyond me. The final room also has a “normal’ D&D monster that makes perfect sense in this setting. I love it. Guess. What’s the best monster here, for a fucking boss fight? Ready? A fucking Mind Flayer! Errr, sorry, Brain Flayer. Perfect! Not the effete asshats of later editions of D&D, but an antediluvian horror! “Clax’uul meditates on malachite dais behind velvet curtain. Piles of perforated skulls. Blank mask covers face, purple skin taut over spiral-shaped cranium.”  

On the down side, it feels small. Or, rather, things are compact, the rooms close together. Because that was the contest, I guess. It just FEELS like more could have been done. Like, monster stats on a third page. But, also, mucho respect  for bringing this in at two pages. It’s a great adventure for that page count, especially considering one is mostly a map. 

I’d fucking lvoe to run this thing for a 5e game! (Yeah, this is for Shadowdark, a 5e-ish game that brings the OSR to 5e. I don’t know anything about it, sorry, but, given what I’m seeing here, and know about Kelsey’s other adventures, I suspect it does a good job. Someone should check it out and let us know if we can get the normies to play OSR by saying we’re doing Shadowdark.)

You can snag a copy here:

Posted in 5e, Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews, The Best | 16 Comments

Heart Stone of the Wave Keep

Seven Bastard
Self Published
5e
Level 6

This is an entry in my Wavestone Keep adventure design contest. Which I held to combat the crushing ennui I feel when reviewing too many bad adventures in a row. The challenge was to write and short adventure, eight pages, inspired by the concept and marketing tagline of the Wavestone Keep adventure. Now, to combat my crushing boredom, and the perfectionism which prevents me from working on larger projects, I’m going to review the entries!

Terror grips the coast. Tavern boil over with rumors of mysterious reptilian reavers raiding fishing villager and sinking merchant vessels. But these are no ordinary pirates, they op0erate out of a floating tower that appears out of the night and moves against the tides. This impossible story is make even more improbable as it is said the tower is topped with a great ghostly eye that rains down fire upon its foes.

This eight page adventure features a tower … full of raiding lizardmen! It’s got seven levels, walks around on giant War of the Worlds legs, is trying hard to be useful. It comes out a little confused, in the formatting, and, somehow, make me think that something is missing from it?. A stronger vibe, maybe? I’m left wanting more, or feeling empty .. it may be the formatting getting in the way. 

I can kind of see what is trying to go on here. The core of this adventure is the tower full of raiding lizardmen … this time in a tower that has mechanical legs and walks around in the ocean. (Kind of … it’s also a little broken and can blow up is OUT of the water for awhile. Cooling issues and all that …) There’s also a couple of pages in the rear about a slightly larger game world … a little mini-hex crawl with a few locations on it. A destroyed village, a tribe of humanoids and so on. Its a good way to use the extra spare pages the designer had (which is saying something, since they are already pushing the content in the tower proper. More on that later.) Anyway, we’ve got this extra content in the back and …

It’s linked in to the adventure … kind of. At times. I want to cover the humanoid tribe. A band of ogres. There’s a ruined ogre steading and also a makeshift camp a few miles away with the remains of the tribe, a hundred or so, but only about twenty adults. They got no chief or wie woman anymore, and most of the adults are dead. A parlay says they got raided about eight days by a giant stone creature with one eye that shot fireballs. Ouch! SUpporting this is a rumor from the local tavern “The north Gryphons claw is home to a tribe of Ogres called the Heart Eaters. They ain’t friendly, but they mostly stick to themselves. Uneasy truce with the locals. Still they killed Young Bill Blackbeard a few years back over a “poaching dispute” as he was taking furs from what they saw as there land.” I can quibble some with this but it FEELS right. A poaching dispute, traditional friction areas, and a named person. Along with “might not be outright hostile.” And then, in the tower, proper, an ogre held captive who can join the party. He could use a name, and a couple of words of personality, but, you can see how the different parts of the contant work together to form a more cohesive story without actually having to TELL that story. A rumor, that is actual tavern talk (though it could have been implemented better) and how that turns in to something more for the smart party.

The tower, proper, is a bit of a let down. It’s got some great support with a cross-section diagram and some notes on climbing different parts of it to get to the top … the part above the water. And how the great Sauron eye on top reacts to various subterfuges the party might employ. Then we get inside. The verticality of the tower is nice, with a unworking grav chute in the middle of it to get between levels. The map does get busy at times with all of the extra markings on it. It we imagine a kind of “battle map” mentality, then the creatures locations are noted on the map. This could either make it busy to grok or exactly what you want, depending on the degree of tactics in your game. I think it’s busy for what it’s trying to accomplish. Also, this is not my playstyle.

Evocative writing is adequate. It’s nothing special, but, also, I believe this is a EASL issue and I’m not going to blast someone for it. I think it gets the message across and is trying to keep up with the spirit of evocative writing even if it’s the best. “White symbols have been written in a neat pattern from floor to ceiling. Stacks of gold coins litter the floor.” or “Swirls of white paint and what looks like giant walking fish are drawn on the wall. Piles of different kinds of cloths tied into knots fill the floor of this room.” I think you can get the vibe the designer was going for, even if it doesn’t spring to mind the way I’d prefer. The knot thing, in particular, could be quite interesting. I note, though, that the designer seems to know what they need to do. For example, the monsters get descriptions! The reptile men get described as “These gray scaled humanoids stand between five and five and a half feet high with round heads, bulbous eyes, pointe ears and a mouth full of hundreds of sharp pointed teeth. Their hands and feet are roughly twice the size of a mans and multi ridged with extremely long fingers and toes.” That’s not a bad description and, the fact that the monsters get a description AT ALL is great!

This is mostly a raid adventure, so the interactivity is not going to be a lot more than that. The raid is, though, well supported. The climbing notes for the tower. How the Eye of Sauron reacts to weird clouds of fog and darkness in the ocean. (It shoots fucking fireballs at it! I appreciate it’s dedication to its ‘Look’ 🙂 and, especially, to the fractions notes in the tower. What they do if they suspect an incursion and what they do during an active incursion. I’m not sure that sound travelling/run to alert someone else is handled well, but, once that is taken care of the rest is well supported. Up to and including a guild navigator wrecking the place through overheating it on dry land if the party gets too close … and don’t pull him from his goo tank in time. Other interactivity includes rescuing people and fucking with the machinery of the place. And a big fight on a RoboRally floor, with conveyor belts, pistos, buzz saws, etc going off. 

I’ll note in passing that the “busy” nature of the map extends, I think, to the text. Underlines. Bolding. Words running around images, different colored text for alert levels. Offset boxes. I get what the designer was going for, and appreciate the attempt to bring clarity. I think, though, that it just didn’t out the way they wanted it to and instead sows a bit of confusion. It maybe have been better with out the smaller maps on each page since then the text would be normal justified instead of justified around the images. I don’t know for sure, though. 

So, Not terrible, and you can see what the designer was going for. As a raid, I like it more than most!

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is the whole thing. Yeah!

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/392881/Heart-Stone-of-the-Wave-Keep?1892600

Posted in 5e, Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 1 Comment