By Geoffrey McKinney
Levels ... 3-12? (Whatever X play is)
MIKE’S WORLD: THE FORSAKEN WILDERNESS BEYOND expands on the fantasy world first introduced in Gary Gygax’s dungeon module B2: THE KEEP ON THE BORDERLANDS. If you have ever wondered what perilous lands further surround the Keep, this is the book for you. MIKE’S WORLD includes 14 hand-drawn wilderness maps of war-torn lands with details of their monstrous denizens, ancient ruins, eldritch mysteries, and more. It is perfect for all levels of campaign play and for both complete novices as well as for those who have played for decades
This 32 page wilderness “square crawl” contains fourteen pages of pages with four or five encounters for each, expanding on the wilderness from module B2. An absolutely fantuckingtastic collection of encounters, about the right length and level of detail, imaginative, and with some occasional themes running between them. Totally unlike the rather drab Mike’d Dungeon, this may be Geoffrey’s best work, and is certainly one of the best things to come out of the OSR. It’s The Real Deal.
If the keep in B2 represents the edge of the borderlands then this wilderness map represents the borderlands proper. A wilderness full of weird and interesting things to explore, as well as being well stocked with monsters ready to eat your face. And, of course, it’s not all barren wilderness, there are those that were here before, elves, dwarves, gnomes and the like. Not necessarily allies of man but generally not ready to stab first and eat later, unlike a decent percentage of the humanoids.
The expert level game, the X in B/X, was never really expanded upon well, IMO, in adventure products. You got a lot of dungeons, and isle of Dread, which always seems too minimal to me. Maybe something like Tharizdun, with its wilderness travel? But I seem to recall that was on roads and paths … and they aint here. The road from the keep ends on the edge of the map at the FORMER keep that was on the borderlands … now in ruin for 20 years from a gnoll assault. Well now, that brings the borderlands home, doesn’t it? In a way that never felt like it in the keep, the forces of chaos can come calling at any time … and did.
And that’s what this product does, over and over and over again. It makes you think “I could do this, and this and this and I could use this in this way …” The entries have just about the exact amount of details, describing interesting things, using its word budget wisely, not overstaying welcomes and in some cases leaving some hooks or threads to follow up on. Just off hand comments but enough to get he DM going. Almost every runs that knife edge between underexplaining and providing enough information for the DM to bring the situation to life. And that’s GREAT!
Goblins climb among the mirkwood style dark forests, dwarf heads, skins and skeletons from a recent devastating war are displayed in the branches. Fuck! Yeah! A woman suspended in a cage on the top of a rocky hill. Weathertop meats the harpies, anyone? Every plains is filled with cactus, every stand of trees a mirkwood. Geoffrey hits time and time again with his encounters, four to five per page, with one page per map.
The maps proper are interesting, with terrain features likes hills, ravines, rises and bluffs, rivers and the like. While they appear to be quickly drawn with pencil, they are clear and easy to read. The keys, proper, alphabet letters like A, B, C, and so on, do blend in a little, or rather, don’t call attention to themselves. I might have twisted Geoffrey’s “Mike” backstory a bit and put them in a read circle or something, to make them stand out a bit more as features.
The misses in the “adventure” are all generally related to the map and the nature of hex crawling, in general. As I mentioned, a little highlighting of the encounters on the map would have helped a bit. Related to this is visibility … how far can you see? Some guidelines in this area would have been helpful (is that in the Expert set?) I want to get the party moving towards things, and climbing a hill and looking around would cause me to fumble through the book looking through all the nearby encounters to see what the party can see. I always turn to the Fallout game and its ability to put something in the distance that you want to travel to.
And, related to this, are the interconnections between the places. You meet a fair number of monsters and humanoids that will talk to you, or at least that you can question with fire and torture. A few notes on what they know is nearby, a likely question from the party, would have been in order. Even just a simple notation like “B, G, I, K”, meaning they know about those places, would be a help, I think, in running it. I think the adventure needs just one more page, laying out the overall situation and how everything works together, what they know, and … how the maps fit together. [Edit: it looks like Melan did at least the maps fitting together part.]
But, this doesn’t really detract from the creativity of the work. It’s fucking magnificent! Great situations, with a kind of … I don’t know, low fantasy vibe? Traditional fantasy? There’s some weirdness here, but it’s got a much more … folklore mashed up with the Hobbit mashed up with Clash of Titans vibe going on. I don’t really know how to describe it. Maybe the darker parts of the hobbit, the Mirkwood bits, combined with the more fantastic portion of LotR? It’s strongly “not the realm of man” fantasy, but not gonzo. It’s the fucking borderlands baby!
This is easily one of the best, this year or any other, and is what the expert set should have included as an example of play. I can’t recommend it enough! I want to totally redo the Keep, bringing it up to date, and run every campaign from now on there and in this environment! IE: i”m excited about this!
This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is the entire thing. Check out the first maps keys on page 5 of the preview. Great, great encounters, terse writing, just the right amount of detail for a hex crawl!
This has been episode four of Bryce Reviews Everything on his Wishlist in Order.
Random Social Interaction Hex Flower, by Goblin’s Henchman
Well, I AM buying/reviewing everything on my wishlist, but, it’s important to note, I don’t know shit about anything other than adventures, and I don’t know much about them.
I’m fond of social connections between people in villages, and so on, where the party will interact with some group socially. I think that it makes the situations much more interesting, prone to actionable roleplay, and believable when the various people in a village have some kind of relationship with the other people. (Used in the loose term, like hating, coveting, etc. I’ve often though that mind maps were one good way to depict this, and this supplement seems to do something like that, so I put it on my list.
It looks like you put 4-7 NPC’s in the shaded hexes and roll 3d6 for each to see how they are related to each other. One roll indicates the direction, so, ultimately, who this NPC will have a relationship with, which could be open or secret. Another indicates if its NPC A or B who is the influencer, or both. IE: I love you, you have a crush on me, we both love each other. The third is taken as a modifier to the first two. You take all three dice and then arrange them to get a modifier like “a strong interaction, happened in the past, arcane influence, NPC is stronger than expected, or so on. Basically, doubles, straights, etc. Finally, you sum the first and second die and that gets you the type of relationship: love, family, admire, aids, owes, watches, dislike, etc. 10 entries.
As a prep tool I think this is quite interesting. I would use it to create situations that I could then riff of off. I’ve always thought that a blank mind, a totally empty canvas, was the hardest to work from and that by giving the mind just a little bit to work with it will then go racing off to new heights.
This is begging, I think for an online/electronic version. And, I’m not quite certain of the 2d6 nature chart, with love, admire, hate, etc. These sorts of things always make me think “is this the platonic version of this? Is admire a weak love relationship, for example, and could be replaced with something else more platonic to the humans condition? But, fuck it, that’s my nature.
This is a great tool to prep situations to riff off of while designing dungeons/villages/social interactions … and would be even more useful if there was an online version.
By Ben Gibson
Warm autumn sunshine filters through the harvest’s dust. The singing of the women threshing grain and the lowing of cattle makes it hard to hear the muffled thumps at first, but the screams of alarm clue you in before long. Coming around the hill…is that Old Leuro’s windmill? Why is it groaning? And…moving?
This thirty page adventure uses four pages to describe a windmill moving across the land toward a city that it will destroy. It’s a pretty basic scenario that falls short in expanding on a few key points. You know what they say, when you make a simple dish every component must be perfect because there’s no place to hide.
This is a One Session Kit, to the page count isn’t quite a bad as made out. In addition to pregens, you also get little stand up paper counters to use as the baddies. The concept being that you print it out and you have everything you need to play D&D tonight. In the PDF world where page counts are free, the addition of these elements is a nice touch.
A woman collapses off a horse in the town square saying his kids been kidnapped by the miller and his windmill is heading to the town(!) to destroy it. The merchants guild offers 1000gp, on the spot, to stop it. At this point a few things pop in to my head. What is evil millers were a long running thing in a campaign? A kind of Freemason thing. Didn’t people already dislike millers, thinking they were cheating them and being jealous of their wealth? Also, riffing off of Gone Fishin, I probably would, as the designer/DM, have a made rush of townsfolk running out to stop the windmill to get the 1000gp, a treasure beyond belief for most of them. Up to and including a quadrapalegic pulling themself along. But then, I like a little farce in my games and a mad villager rush, ala a DCC funnel, would add a lot of extra content to the adventure if that thread had been followed up upon. Also, the woman eclaims “Oh, the monster!” which of course should always be “Oh, the humanity”!
It’s a pretty basic adventure. You encounter some bandits fleeing the windmill, who were hired by the miller, and then arrive at the windmill, which is indeed moving, to find some bandits hired by the miller manning the wrap-around balcony. Getting inside you fight some giant cogs, deal with explosive flour clouds, and the miller and kidnapped kid. Pretty basic. Nothing wrong with that for a single nights adventure, but, agin, I point out that a basic dish must be executed to perfection and I find a lot lacking here.
It’s all pretty generic. Our cogs are just that, cogs. Even the paper minis just show some gears. Some modron style arms, legs and eyes would have been in order, I think, to help bring them to life. Perhaps with some unique attacks like arm grabbing/crushing, with a penalty to little hands that get in to them better? 😉
The bandit encounter, in the wilderness, is similarly given short shrift. They are simply laden with goods they’ve pillaged, know that they were hired by the miller and ran when the windmill started moving. Nothing more beyond that. A little personality, some specifics in the laden nature, a brief expansion of the encounter … all of that would have helped bring the encounter to life. As is, it’s just some bandits, almost ot the point of saying “4 bandits” and leaving it at that.
At some point the miller may use the boys life energy to power the windmill, if the party mess up the gears. THis is be accompanied by the wail of the boy and the remaining bandist fleeing. Again, not really expanded upon in any evocative manner. Again, a missed opportunity. Most of the adventure is this way, with just very brief encounter description, almost abstracted, given no specifics that would breathe life in to them. Does the windmill have legs? Does is just scoot along? It seems like a pretty simple thing but no advice is given. I don’t need a simulationist thing in here, but something would have been nice.
The page count does include a column explaining what a One Session Kit is, wasting the word count in what could have been included in the marketing blurb. I can’t help but think that this would have been used to help breathe more life in to the encounters. And thus is goes with these short page count adventures. Constraining by page count you must work with what you have and it is, in many cases, much harder to produce something good when you limit yourself artificially to just a few pages, the one pagers being the platonic example of this.
There is a little backstory here to the local merchants guild paying the miller less and less each month and having him beat up if he sells to other towns, and him charging the farmers more, which causes them to go elsewhere, etc. It’s a nice twist … “oh, the victims brought this on themselves and were working for some questionable people!” It’s told, not through a journal or diary, which is almost universally bad design, but through the millers ledger and the entries therein. Again, a nice little design detail and, while still written, a good departure from backstory through a diary.
It’s an interesting concept, all parts of it, but it feels half formed. Or, rather, not expanded upon.. Like these were the notes and now it needs the specifics added to it. With those specifics you’d have a nice little One Session Kit. 🙂
I would not also that the conclusion is pretty well done. The townsfolkd treat the party as heroes, free room and board, discounted wine, friendly smiles, claps on the back and so forth. The woman gives the party her entire life savings, 30sp, for saving her kid, if they did that. And the boy, to quote “He will have his vengeance upon artificers and all windmills, this he swears upon his name: Alonso Quixote.” And you thought we’d get out of this without a Cervantes reference? I think not! 🙂
The one session supplemental material doesn’t trump the quality of the adventure though.
This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $1. The preview shows you the four pages that actually make up the adventure, so, god preview for making a buying decision fromit.
This has been episode three of “Bryce reviews everything on his wishlist, in order.”
BONUS FEATURE! – Fast Locations – Silverfish City!
On my wishlist but not really an adventure. I like city and town locales so I picked this up. It’s nine pages, but the first two are the cover and title page. The last page is the credits page and there are two pages of a poor map. One of the remaining pages is only half a page. That leaves us 3.5 pages of content … not much. It’s just generic town text. “Tavern “The maket’s bowl”, economic place in which most people with enough money eat during the long days of work at the market. It’s cheap, but not bad.” All of the entries are like that, aggressively generic and abstracted, nothing specific, nothing really going on. There is one city hook, about a dungeon nearby and the effects of the people who have gone looking, that is well done in a naturalistic way without being overly long. Quite an interesting hook idea, but nothing beyond that. Quote the disappointment.
There’s a dragon in the woods. Those friendly dwarves were the first to go, the poor things. And now the beast has been killing and eating the people of Brandonsford. No-one wants to leave the town’s walls. With the humans out of the forest, fairies have taken over, and now the goblin king Hogboon seeks to claim the entire forest as his new kingdom.
This eighteen page adventure, featuring an ALMOST whimsical wilderness, is perfect. No, seriously. It’s good.
All I’m ever going to do, from now on, is review Chance Dudinack adventures. That’s it, the blog is over, until Chance writes another one I’m done. This adventure hits every mark I’ve ever wanted. Every page is loaded with good fun.
Yeah, yeah, I’m predisposed to liking this. It’s got just a tad of whimsy in it. A dragon, dwarves, a barrow, a giants house, a faun grove, a witch. Even that cover art. What is it, watercolor? It’s actually good. (Oh, he’s famous. Duh.) This thing SCREAMS The Hobbit, y a mi me gusta El Hobbit. You’re gonna have to decide, after reading this review, if I unnaturally like this because it seemed tailor made for me to like it, or if its actually good. But, this sort of ALMOST whimsical setting, with some hard edges, combined with a kind of beer & pretzels element, at times, is exactly the sort of thing that I like to have fun with. And it’s well written, evocative, has things for the party to do, and is only eighteen fucking pages. Hey, you, with the face, encourage Chance to become more and pump out more of these.
It looks like Chance has done some one-page dungeons. While the format is limiting, I think its positive aspects show up in this. The writing is tight, with a huge percentage of the words contributing to gameable things. Our local NPC’s in town, the shopkeeps, etc and hirelings the party is likely to run in to, get descriptions like “Gentle face, freckled, one red curl hangs out of her coif. Generally patient and well-meaning, but in combat her fight-or-flight kicks in. Usually fight, with lots of threats and screaming.” or “White beard, boney, uncomfortably friendly. Will do anything to keep new customers. Snaps at the mention of the Clumsy Fox. [ed: the other inn in town.])” Fucking perfect. Memorable but not over the top. The town reeve, troubled by the dragon “Portly, mutton chops, purple rings around the eyes, visibly stressed. Spends much of his day in silent, wide- eyed thought.” The shopkeeps are memorable and their quirks make sense. The hirelings are memorable and will add a lot of fun to the game. There are little subplots scattered about, that all generally lead, one way or another to the main dragon adventure, with diversions to the witch, the goblin king, the fey, or the like. It’s not really a “get the red key to open the red door” but more a trail of things to potentially follow up on, and there are alot of them. Not all adventurer things. The smith find cursed talismans on his door each morning from a fey haunting him. Turns out they are love letters and hes illiterate and their from the town alchemist, who has trouble expressing her love for him. Ha! And that eventually leads somewhere to do with the main adventure. Not in a “shes crazy” way, but in a way that makes sense. Everything makes fucking sense. In a fantasy world fll of fey and giants and a fucking dragon, everything makes sense. And that’s a VERY powerful thing. No easy “she crazy, he’s a cultist” throw away shit. Just a couple of words on the human condition that makes everything so much more relatable. No misery porn, just fucking immersion of a type that VERY seldom makes an appearance in games. It’s fucking perfect.
Those dwarf brothers? They found a fantastic treasure. And one was overcome by greed and killed the others to keep it for himself. And that transformed him to a dragon. Of course. OF COURSE that’s where dragons come from. That’s some fucking Dante shit right there. Wearing the ring of the goblin king makes you the goblin king. Duh. And makes you the target for a bunch of fey who want to be the goblin king. Adventure. Follow ups. Perfect.
I don’t know what to say. This thing is great. Boxed off text sections, bullets to highlight information and bolding to call attention to things, great use of whitespace, most major locations taking half or a third of a page to detail in an easy to read, scan, and understand format. A couple of dungeons present, including the barrow, with a more traditional explore element. Good wanderers, up to something. Treasure that is both book inspired (+1, +3 vs) with a little description, just a touch of backstory/context in a few words, more than a few of which have some kind of follow-on or hook that can be attached.
How about a dragon description? “The beast moves like a fat alligator, dragging its bloated belly along the ground with each lumbering step, but with the potential to strike in an instant. Strings of spittle hang from its teeth, thick with foul poison.” Fuck. Yeah. Dragon.
I want every adventure to be this good. To have great description. Relatable things. Good layout. Enabling fun without trying to FORCE fun.
A couple of notes:
The barrow dungeon has a floating skull that laughs all the time. It would have been nice to put a note about laughing on the map, or up high in the adventure, instead of in the creature description, as a kind of hint/foreshadowing/atmosphere thing. The map for the barrow is a little crude, using simple 10’ square shaded boxes. It’s not bad. It does what it needs to do. But if the designer were looking for a way to beef up their skills in their free time then producing better maps would be it. Basic maps are all an adventure ever needs, but more advanced maps DO add something to an adventure. Creating maps is fucking hard.
This adventure seems effortless. Effortless. That is a very hard thing to achieve. Most adventures seems forced, or strained. The text, the interactivity, the format, the design, you can tell that they were strained activities. But not this. It just Fucking Clicks in a way very few things in life do.
This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is eight pages and shows you the town and wilderness and some of the “subplot”/breadcrumb stuff. You can get a great sense of the writing and design from the layout. Maybe one of the forest location pages would have been good to include also, to give a complete picture.
[Four paragraph leadin removed] Shortly after receiving the crown, King Edgarr fell ill; the smiths, who forged the crown, fell ill as well. The group of dwarves sent to explore the caverns never returned. An expedition of fighting-dwarves was sent to find the missing group. Only half of the expedition returned alive and gave accounts of metallic beings and strange monsters lurking in the caverns. The dwarves sealed the caverns off and buried the recovered metal deep within the earth. The King’s Advisors put a call out for adventurers and offered a reward of a thousand gold pieces to find and destroy the source of the evil that lurks in the caverns beneath the Giant’s Head.
This 52 page adventure details a small village with several sub-plots and a cavern with a spaceship in it, with around 43 rooms. It has the beginnings of some decent exploration elements but suffers from the density, and verbosity of information presented.
The adventure starts by presenting a home base village with several things going on. These are presented, initially, as mysteries. The farmers dog has been around forever, the baker woman makes unusually good honey buns, the innkeep wants to get married, a farmer has a reputation for interesting chickens, and so forth. These are sprinkled in to the location and NPC descriptions and correctly offers the party a loto f interesting gossip and mystery, or, perhaps, not quite mysteries, to sprinkle throughout their time in the village. Because of this, and the quirks of NPC’s, the place is more alive than most and offers a good home base for downtime things to happen. This is GREAT. A little mystery, some quirks to cement NPC’s, and nothing too outrageous, but enough to spice up both gear buying/sleeping and offering the party more if they go down that path. This is what a home base village should be. Not a generic “typical” village but something just below the surface to sprinkle in to the adventure as the party moves through the usual party of adventuring life in downtime. These mysteries are then followe dup on in little “events”, which are actually the mini-quests. Like the farmers chickens turn giant and attack, or rats in the bakers basement (ug!) or the innkeep marrying a party member and then moving away without a word.
The separation between places/NPC’s (as a section) and then the subplot adventures is a good idea, allowing the DM to focus on the normal activities and making the subplots easy to find and run. But, as the page count to location ratio would indicate, it gets VERY long winded in its descriptions. Insertion casual conversational sentences and mundane trivia in with the more more specific, compounded by a lack of any real formatting to help call attention to the important bits. This is a variation of The Kitchen Problem. We all know what a kitchen looks like, you don’t need to describe it. You just need to tell us why this one is different, in an actual play sense. I do want to emphasize that the constructed world here is both more interesting, with little specific details, and more well constructed than most. This we get a little village outside of the entrance to the dwarf kingdom, supporting it, in addition to the “home base” village.
The actual dungeon is three areas/levels, two of caves and one of a spaceship. There are some better than the usual design elements going in to the exploration space. There are things to explore and mess with, and some terrain features and their ilk, like dropping through a hold in the ground in the next level, that just aren’t typically seen in adventures these days. These elements are KEY to bringing a full fledged exploration dungeon to life. They do tend to the more simplistic side of things, and there does seem to be more of an emphasis on combat, this being DCC, and its on the edge at times of being set pieces, but never really goes over the edge in to 4e territory.
It is, however, long and mundane. The read-aloud for rooms is on the edge of being long and, more importantly, is not really interesting. It relies a lot of abstracted text and generic labels rather than the specificity seen in the village. The DM text is better in this regard, so we get little bits like splashes of water and bodies with insect and worm decay.
It does suffer greatly from padding of the text with like like “the characters could open each stasis chamber with ease.” While alone this may not be a problem, this sort of writing, when added and added and added, sentence after sentence, if not direct to the DM. It’s not describing the situation, but rather the characters interactions with it. Writing is more effective for comprehension, and terseness, when these padded clauses are not included. The barracks, a room title tells us. And the description then goes on to tell us that this is where the kobolds sleep. Well, yes, that is the idea of the barracks.
Rather than the great specificity of the village we get abstracted txt in the dungeon. The cleric, the tif, the warrior, describes the bodies found of the previous party, rather than names. The descriptions all come off as generic, the robots lacking anything interesting to bring them to life.
The adventure ends with some conclusions. I like it when an adventure does this. Little follow ups on what happens next to the area. The items presented, though, are mostly uninteresting and mundane. A married couple finally goes on vacation. What this needs is more things that he party will directly notice and potentially be impacted by, even in a trivial way, to show that their actions had impact.
So, some hints of good design in places but marred by not enough of it. And padding and generic text where there should be evocative text. Yes, that’s hard.
By Andy Beard & Tracy Rann
Sleeping Griffon Productions
Battleaxes & Beasties
You’ve been hired to escort and guard a wealthy merchant into the Black Yew forest to obtain some of the wood that the forest is famous for. Should be a simple job. . . right?
This ten page adventure is a conversational list of “first this happens and then this happens”, abstracted, of an escort mission for a merchant. It has one nice thing: a shark with legs. It makes me feel like Papers & Paychecks.
You escort a merchant down a river to get some wood from a forest. You then escort him back to make a delivery. Along the way you fight river monsters, deal with some fey, and get ambushed a few times by thieves. The excitement I convey is not found in the adventure. The highlight is something called a Lake Finn, a shark with two stumpy legs up front. I assume they can come out of the water? Its not stated as such. The monster description focuses just on attacks, with no description or anything, but the art that comes with it is pretty nice in a “tree octopus” kind of way. Don’t worry, while a shark with legs sounds gonzo, the rest of the adventure is depressingly mundane.
We get stock NPC’s, from the slightly greedy slightly rotund merchant to the haughty elves to the mischievous faeries. Worse, we get a generic adventure, abstracted.
It is written as a long two-column text file. The formatting present is, at best a carriage return to represent a paragraph break. It is, in this, this long long section of text blocks, that the adventures to be found. You follow it by reading, not referencing. One encounter after another follows in the text, with no formatting, other than a carriage return, to separate things. First this thing happens and then this thing happens. In about as many words you are told that there will be a lake encounter and two roll twice for random encounters on the river. This represents the journey from the town you’re hired in to the forest where you gather the wood you are escorting the merchant for. That’s it. That’s the basis of the adventure. “Roll for an encounter.” This is fucking dumb. This is not how you use random tables. If you’re going to write ap plot adventure then put in encounters. Randomness in encounters is (primarily) used as a timer in D&D. No timer? WRITE A GOOD FUCKING ENCOUNTER!!!! The entire adventure is like this, just rolls random encounters, or, a throw away sentence about an ambush or something. Everything is abstracted. How long does the travel take? Not mentioned. How much does the merchant pay the elves in the forest who demand gold? Not mentioned. You need to rout a group of rous in the forest, the elves say. How many? Not mentioned. ANYTHING at all, any detail at all about the rous? No. Just “You need to rout a group of rous.” It’s all abstracted, conversation style of text, with a linear plot. It’s just a lit of ideas, nothing more than that. Nothing is alive, nothing breathes.
What if I wrote an adventure that only said “roll four times on the random encounter chart”, but took five pages to say that? That’s this adventure. Any potential impact of the plot lines, the devious NPC’s or entanglements, that the adventure wants to do with all of the ambushes, is hidden from the players while being overly described to the DM. This is really just a stream of consciousness set of ideas, as if this review were an adventure. And, and … the giant shield does not make an appearance in this adventure. It’s what you are gathering thee wood for, for delivery to someone else.
This is $5 at DriveThru and there is no preview, of course.
“I am sorry child. The world is unfair. You are not like the rest of them. And you never will be.” Sparkless is a 5E adventure set in a world of spirits and filled with exploration, conflict and magic. This adventure is designed for characters of 1st level and should provide enough content for two or three game sessions. In this supplement, you will find everything you need to take your players on a dangerous journey through mist-covered swamps to unearth forgotten knowledge and save a lost child.
This twenty page adventure details a trip through the swamps and in to a short linear dungeon to search for a kidnaped child. It has a nugget of something good and some relatable situations, which is a surprise, but is nigh unrunnable for the garbage padding of the DM text and cringey read-aloud.
Full disclosure: when you put “set in a world of spirits and filled with exploration, conflict and magic” then I’m predisposed to hate your adventure. I found, however, that the issue with this are more the mechanics of presentation rather than creativity, and thus I’m going to make more than a token effort with this one.
This adventure is doing more than a few things right, or, perhaps, is looking at things through fresh eyes while hiding behind the tired old tropes of old. One of its strengths is the relatableabilty of whats going on. Things Make Sense. That is a harder thing to do than it would appear, in adventure writing. Tolkein, and fifty years of bad adventures, have tainted us all. But there’s a way of presenting information to the player, situations, in which they become more immersed in the game world rather than eye rolling as another old trope appears. What would happen if a dude really did kidnap a kid? Those things appear in this adventure and because of that the party will have a much stronger connection to what is going on. I can’t say enough how important this is to these sorts of “plot” based adventures. If we accept that they are going to exist then we must judge them by what they should be in order to accomplish what they want to. And this brings the relatability, in many way, to the situations.
A child born listless and not crying. A travelling healer comes through and can cure him. The worried family is full of anxious relief. Then the next morning a single witness saw the man rowing a boat across the river towards the swamp on the other site, having kidnapped the child. Fucking perfect! The fathers brother, his uncle, gets together a group of men and they pursue. Because that’s what your fucking uncle. He gets together a group of his buddies and locals and they go after the guy. The local “tavern” has people murmuring about the event. That’s how you learn the rumors, about Milo the grandon who saw the guy in the boat, and a fishman bitching about the guy stealing his boat. Gossip. People talking. Not forced. It makes sense. (Also, you learn that the lizardmen are cannibals from the fisherman, something that comes up later.)
And, those lizardmen. You come across their camp. They’ve captured the uncle and his group and ate one of them in front of the others. Fucking. Cannibals! Fuck! Yeah! That’s how you use a fucking a humanoid in an adventure! They are THE OTHER. Not in a xenophobic way but in a THEY ARE GOING TO FUCKING EAT YOU IN FRONT OF YOUR FRIENDS way. Savage!
A fisherman rows you across the lake for free if you tell him you’re going after the kid. Because thats what you fucking do. Dad is full of self-hatred over what happened to his kid. Because thats what happens. Old beams hold up a ceiling slab, a trap, a classic trap! And on top if a gelatinous cube, because THATS WHERE OOZES HANG OUT, IN TIGHT SPACES. It maks sense. Both the trap and the ooze. This adventure was IMAGINED and then put down on paper. There’s no mistaking it. One of the treasures ia platinum encased elven skull. Because thats the treasure that a fucking wizard has in his old lab. Things fit. At the parents hovel a girl teases a boy with a big brown toad. That’s the kind of specific detail that adventures thrive on! Simple, evocative, relatable, effective.
The issues with this are three fold: bad read-aloud, verbose DM text, and missed opportunities.
Read aloud can be LOOONG. Multiple paragraphs. This is bad. You want to get in and get out in read-aloud, three, maybe four sentences. Much more and you start to lose the players attention as they listen to the DM drone on. Further, it’s done in that weird (second-person?) style. “As you tread on the soft earth” You spot a dozen fishing boats. And, worst of all, finishing with “What do you do” and so on. This is the sign of a fiction writer. Rather than addressing the characters directly you want read aloud to relate a general situation that the players can then follow up on with their own questions, enabling the back and forth between player and DM that is the heart of an RPG experience. It’s not a novel. It’s not a third grade choose your own adventure “Do you go down path A or path B?” Overly flowery text is a TRY HARD situation, to boot.
The more serious issue though, and what makes this adventure something I would NEVER turn to, is the lengthy DM text. Adventures are meant to be run at the table and for that to happen it must be easily scannable, the DM must be able to quickly locate the information they need in just split seconds. This adventure relies on the tried and tru customs of padding out the information with useless test, getting too specific with mechanics clogging up the text, and relating information in paragraph form. TO be fair, when you encounter someone you can question it does then switch to information in bullet form, which is great. Thats exactly the sort of thing you want to do. It’s easy to find what you need. You want to do something to the same effect for the other information, for NPC descriptions, and general situations. Not necessarily bullets, but making the information easy to scan and find. A lot of “conversatiuonal” writing, padding to no effect, gets in the way of this. Combined with multi-paragraph text for traps and encounters, its hard to scan. To be fair, almost every adventure is written this way, I suspect there is a template people follow and they look at what other adventures, bad adventures unknown to them, have done. You don’t need a fucking pargraph overly explained for a slab trap.
I would finish up with missed opportunities. Multiple times in the adventure there are things that happen that should get MORE, or be better. The village i supposed to be superstitious, but, while this is a key point in the adventure, its not really brought home in any way other than saying “the villagers are superstitious” But the man kidnapped the (soulless) child because of this. He pleads with the party to let him keep the child, on this basis. But its never driven home in the adventure. The lizardmen are great, but then there are kobolds in the dungeon, where the party goes to look for a soul for the boy. These come off as just generic monsters. There’s nothing to bring this home. Again, generic monster is what most adventure do but the designer clearly has potential, as the lizardmen point out, and brining this theming to the kobolds, something to tie them to alienness, would help cement this adventure as a good one. The village rescue party is not really mentioned much, if the party question the village about it, and they just come off as a little generic. In the end, the village gives a celebration in the parties honor, which is GREAT, but, again, a few specifics would really bring this home. The specificity and reliability that the designer brings to parts of the adventure are not followed through on. This would turn a soso adventure in to a great one if followed through on, and the world needs more great adventures and a fuck ton fewer As Expected ones.
(Also, the art is generic and the maps, while VTT ones are present (GREAT!) are lacking. These are both HARD things to do, so I’m not dinging it for them, but its another are to improve upon, although the text should come first.)
I may spend the rest of the week picking this one apart, bit by bit. We’ll see.
This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is the usual generic “first seven pages” thing. You can get a sense of the designers strengths from it, as well as the weaknesses in presentation. That’s good, but it should also show a few encounters. Maybe a page of dungeon rooms, to give a prospective buyer an idea of the kind of encounters and writing style to expect.
Art/Cover – The art is all pretty generic stuff. I’m not going to blame someone for this, but, I would note that it does little to bring home the specific situations in the adventure. It doesn’t help communicate the cannibal scene, for example, or depict a kidnapped kid in a boat or distraught parents. Ideally, art brings more to the adventure than just a way to break up space. I know, art is mucho subjective, so regardless of style, it doesn’t bring MORE to the adventure, to help with clarity or evocativeness. Generally I see art as an extra credit thing, except maybe in the cases of a hard to understand physical layout where it might be needed to add clarity to the environment. EG: isometric view of hill giant steading.
Introduction – There’s no need for this, it’s just padding. It doesn’t actually say anything. It seems minor, but if the designer spent ANY effort on this at all then they should have spent that effort in betterring the actual adventure. IE: I would be unlikely to mention this if the rest of the adventure were good.
Background – This could be condensed substantially. While the motivations are appropriate to include, there is a lot of padding that makes this feel like a ovelization. So while the baddie fearing for the parents reaction is good, a few days slater, promised to heal, wake up and so on is meaningless. Consense it. It’s not BAD, but it could be better.
Overview – Ok, but I would be a little more specific. Right now its just abstracted. I might mention some proper names in part 1, for example, so that when the DM sees them in the text they know to pay attention. This section, as well as the background, is meant to preload the DMs head so that their framing is ready to accept information. “Kobolds struggle with problems of their own” is an example of this. Be more specific so we’re ready to grok the info when we arrive at it. “Wheather the characters choose to …” is a great example of the conversation padding present throughout. Less flowery useless padding text.
Hooks – Pretty lame. Hired is boring. Relations are lame and why PC’s are hobos, so their relatives arent used to torment them. As it stands this is just boilerplate text. Any of these COULD be ok, tropes are tropes for a reason, but need a few specifics to cement them if you’re going this way.
Part 1 – Murkwater – The first sentence is pure padding, offering nothing. The second hints at the village being cramped, and with drying racks. This is good in concept but the writing could be much stronger to bring this feeling home and cement it. A few extra words (and I do mean “a few” and rewording it, removing the first sentence and using that space, perhaps, to cement this vibe, would be in order. The second paragraph again starts with a useless sentence and again follows it up with something good, and that is important to the adventure as a whole: they are very superstitious. I might instead remove this entire second paragraph and instead use a sidebar, the way you did with the Spirits on the previous page, to list some vignettes, examples, etc. It doesnt have to be full on witchburning, but you really want to cement in the players minds that while the people are good, they will absolutely kill a kid that doesn’t have a soul.
The read aloud is trying. Remove all references to “you.” Idon’t tread on soft earth, my character floats above the ground. It comes off as trying to hard to impart something. Describe it without “you” and character actions. Front load the good stuff. In the second paragraph you should lead with the mist, not the dozen boats, Leading with the boats cements the and then the effect of the mist is lost. Leading with the mist and then the boats gives us a misty environment with half seen boats while leading with the boats gives us solid boats in our mind, the mist a forgotten afterthought. “One struyctre looms over the rest” is again trying too hard. “A looming ramshackle wooden building” or some such would be better. Note the effect is much more pronounced in imparting the vibe. And no What do you do stuff. Ug. No YOU. Creaking pathways are good, but not under your feet. Thats something that can come through in the general description, that they creek and sway.
The DM text that follows has one good sentence, the first one. The goal is to investigate the village and learn abot the kidnapping. Good, you told the DM the purpose of this section. Be direct when giving the DM information. The rest is useless padding, including “i this part of the adventure.” Of course the noteworthy descriptions follow. That’s what they do, theres no need to say that.
The Hags Foot Tavern – No YOU, reword it. Emphasize the trinkets, lead with that. The door chime doesn’t really add much, if you can find a way to do it without a YOU then its ok. Are the stairs important to mention? “The last paragraph is very weak. Reword. Huddled groups, staring for a long time at the players, thats good. Having a meal and quietly conversing doesn’t really say anything important AND its not evocative enough for scenery purposes.
The DM text is hard. You’re trying to a few things, none done well. The scene setting of the has foot, the preoccupation of the villagers with the situation, dont like troublemakers (which is better than adventurers. Mercenaries is even better) and Talk to Vranics. The Hags foot is too muddled, it needs grokking quicker, and the other details are buried. Bullets, or even selected bolding, would make this easier, or something like that. You want to convey gruff preoccupied villagers, the next breadcrumb, and the evo scene. The hags food thing is EXACTLY what I’m talking about when I say specificity trumps detail.
Rumors: The first paragraph is padding. Milo’s thing is too fact based, with no personality. The fisherman is pretty good, he has personality, I know how to run this in an interesting way because of it. Sasha is really good. I’m a bit perturbed, I think these work better with an NPC personality and information, bulleted for example, to convey, in response to party questions. The direct quote thing works better, I think, for overhearing things at another table, for example. But, it’s a minor point because these are both brief enough to not matter. “What does he look like” is a natural question, and not be found here, or in the description of Leszek in the appendix, you have to hunt for it. Again, a sidebar, or putting a BRIEF description in the appendix description would be in order, so the DM can reference it quickly.
The Hovel – No YOU!!!! Low deck mud porch is a good idea, but could be described better. The garlic charm is good, and maybe thrown in another to cement the superstition? The crates add little, the way they are currently described. Not “You notice” but “Two small children sit on the deck, with the girl holding a fat brown toad with both hands, repelling the disgusted boy with it” or some such. A quiver hit. More direct. The toad thing is GREAT, good specificity and relatable.
Point towards the door/reside within the hovel are redundant, you don’t need both. The mess inside and cramped space isn’t emphasized enough. The couples states are good, but should be condensed and easier to find, maybe a sidebar. (As a note, both sidebars so far, the Spirits and Sparkless, contribute little to the adventure. They could be in the appendix with sidebars replaced with useful information for running the adventure AT THE TABLE) Motivations of the parents are great, and relatable. The questions bullet points are great, they make it easy to find information. As before, there are two schools of my thinking here, do you keep the facts as facts (as you have here) and augment it with the couples (EASY TO FIND!!!!) personalities, to bring it to life, or do you embed some of the couples personalities in the facts? I might walk the line and insert a few extra words in the facts list to bring them more to life, much in the same way that I appreciate rumors being less fact and more “in voice.” You’re gonna face the Leszak issue again, what does he look like, where does he live, etc. Same for the search party. Good motivations/relatable with the uncle. That could all use a bit more.
Quest – Maybe not so explicit? Whatever, him pulling the party aside and grimly stating it, while his wife weeps or is stoic, would work better. The whole Katarina/Rodovan, her pinning her hopes on him, etc, could be done better … because it’s good.
Investigating – The first section is just padding. The out of place flowers wont be a god clue unless you make the description of the hove make them seem really out of place, which it doesn’t currently do. The investigation is, in general, very weak. There are no real consequences to this, positive or negative. Maybe if he went to light a cable, later in the adventure, when the party meets hims, or some such. I’m not sure its worth including if its not very impactful to the adventure (the investigation, that is)
Whats Next? – The fisher thing is good. An extremely basic map, showing the village in relation to the swamp, would be good. SOMETHING to point the party the right direction other than “he took a boat over the river”, like channelling them in the right direction. An abandoned boat and light path on the other side, a VERY crude pier on the other side, SOMETHING.
Part 2 – Ug, this is a mess, talk about wall of text! The first sentence is good, the second say-nothing padding, and the second paragraph should be part of the first.
Travel in the Swamp – Everything is padding until Tiny Motes. Serpentine islands doesn’t really stand out, and I think you want to emphasize the tangle of trees and bushes more. In fact, the three descriptive sentence (Tony motes, Rainbow, Serpentine) come off weird worded and non-evocative, maybe turn them around Fireflies dance in the air <blah> pool of deep water <blah> and so on, to put the main subject first? As written this doesn’t come off as very concrete or evocative, even though the wors are very much trying. Maybe bullet out the survival rules. You’re transition from evocative description to Mechanics of Play, so making it easier to find would be in order. Or maybe another offset box/table, etc. “Consult the wilderness table” is redundant. We all know to do that. The “normalls the characters” sentence should be up with the rolls section, keep the rules tightly together and consendde things down; there’s FAR too many words for the mechanics involved, its not easy t grok at a glance.
The encounters are not very good. The stirge are ok, and the concept of injured ghouls is good, but you should concentrate more in what they doing/how they encounter the party/a description, etc, rather than the reason behind why they are here. That’s useless backstory and you want to enable play at the table more directly. It should be obvious how to do this with the stirge, ghouls and alligator, the vines, ug, idk how how you convey that. The cockatrice “not normally on their diet” is padding, but the hint of aggression is good. I think youre DC 1 check here is a roll to win thing, but I get what you are doing. Try to turn these in to little potential energy vignettes.
Lizardfolk – The first paragraph is useless. The second could be ended with “and are currently held captive by them” and that’s it. Read-aloud – No “as you tread” nonsense, and don’t include the “as if something was dragged along.” Thats something for the players to discover as they investigate it and go back and forth with the DM, the heart of D&D. It should be obvious by now, but, no What Do You Do CYOA text.
The FIrst paragraph of DM text is ok, You could use some highlighting but, whatever. I might mention rippling water in the RA, to give a clue to the lizardfolk for smarties in the party who pay attention. That’s a better way than letting a min/max’d character sheet dictate outcomes. That last paragraph can be condensed greatly to “if the party skips it killed, blah blah blah”
The LizardFolk Camp – I might move the “if they follow” stuff to the previous section, and, not include “if they follow” but rather state that The trail leads to the camp.
Read-aloud – The smell of smoke hanging in the air os overly flowery and smacks of failed novelist syndrome. Just note there is the smell of smoke in the air. No “you reach the outskirts, just a couple of huts surrounded by a wooden stake palisade, with the glow of a lrge campfire in the middle. And don’t say that there are three humans. Geez … again, let the party inquire and sneak about to find this out. Don’t reveal everything in the read-aloud. You want to hint at things, at best. And don’t use the word lizardfolk to describe them. Actually describe them. Let the party draw their own conclusions, otherwise you’re’ turning mystery in to the mundane. “Oh, it’s page 123 of the MM2.”
The capture sidebar text is long. The bullets are good but everything above the 0hp thing is padding. That last sentence is redundant also, since it copies the one before it.
The first paragraph , with the numbers, is very bad and conversational and redundant, just note the How many there are and where they are. Why did you give the guy a name? Is the party going to learn it? No, they are just going to stab him ,right? Just note where they are … meaning that the first sentence is redundant. The second paragraph is ok but the third is full of conditionals and redundant with the second sentence. The last paragraph/sentence is good, but, again, that group needs some character. Name, two words of personality or something. Rather than having them all anxious to get back, some other motivations could be nice, like hacking up the dead lizardfolk, or wanting to go with the party. At least the uncle, who presumably still wants to find his brothers kid? That last section on “if the camp was cleared” is ok, I guess. I might just note what they are worried about and let the DM handle it instead of giving full on advice on they do this and then they do this, like its written. Again, the trauma part is good, but without personality, and more interesting consequences, it’s de rigueur generic D&D, and you;ve proven you’re better than that.
Treasure – First sentence is just pure padding. Why do you feel the need to explain and justify everything? Just note whats there. Whats the horn carved with/in the shape of? Ideally, it makes the PLAYERS say “cool!” and want to keep it/use it. Note how you did with the chalice, the horn needs the same treatment, not just “carved.” Instead of your generic art I might have put in a picture of the chalice; climbing snakes is better than nothing but maybe something like you drink from snakes mouths, or something like that. For extra credit, put both in the appendix with a one or two sentence note on who they belonged to and how that can lead to more adventure.
Leszek’s Hut – The first sentenc is padding. The second is ok and the third again is padding. Generally, from now on, consider me complaining about any use of “You” in your read-aloud. The knee deep mud is good, but inappropriate because your’re using it in the failed novelist sense. Move it somewhere else, the lizardfold or the dungeon maybe. A faint light barely cuts through the mist blah blah blah. And none of that illuminated by the hearth that burns within. Its overly flowery and the party doesn’t know that from outside.
You don’t need this mental alarm stuff, you don’t need to justify things. Just note that when they approach the door creaks open and he says “blah blah blah”
None of this remains open and inviting stuff. Of course it remains open, just like the characters continue to breathe. The description is here, buried in the text where the DM will never find it. Either sidebar it somewhere int he adventure or put it in his description in the appendix; either way it will be easier to find. It’s kind of a generic description, which is ok I guess. The eye thing is good. FIlled with herbs and baubles is a fact based description, not an evocative one, it should be better and give some sort of impression. Lots of herbs hanging from the ceiling to dry, baubles (be more specific) everywhere, etc. The fire/hearth/warm thing is not good, but itself, maybe note a cheery fire burns lighting the herbs hanging from the ceiling,e tc. The crib/bed thing is a good concept but poorly described. Why make a DC check here? Just to make the party roll dice. Make the kid obviously sick, and not sick, or ill, but listless and pale. Sick and ill are abstracted terms, put in something concrete to bring home the illness. Listless and palid, for example, or something like that. Let the players then draw the conclusion that the kid s sick.
Roleplaying Leszek – Noone cares about his backstory. What we care about is how to run him right now. That means that virtually everything up to the bullets should be cut. He deciated his life to service to others is ok, as is studying the spirits, but, they should really be focused on the interaction with the players. How do these things cause him to interact with them? THATS what important, how they lead to play at the table, not his general lifestory. He’s also pretty generic, there are no real personality tips to him at all. Bitter? Caring? A doormat? Give him some character. Lezsek wants to sentence is ok, but you don’t need the second sentence, the last one before the bullets. Again, the bullets are fact based, and ok, but it would be better if his personality was somehow inserted in to them.
Quest – Uh … what doesn’t HE do that? Because the kids in danger? That’s a PERFECT example of how you should embed his personality in the bullets. It comes off as boring as currently described. The staff treasure would be more interesting if it were telegraphed, like, its constantly dripping icicles as he holds it or something. Something to make the party go OOOOO! COOL! I WANT IT!!!! And THEN he offers it to them.
Fighting Leszek – LAME! If they kill him they kill him. Why are you dictating what the party should and should not be able to do? Just make him a dude and let the party kill him/take the kid if they want. He’s explained the situation, the party gets to make an informed decision, not be railroaded in to something tha the designer thinks should happen because they didn’t play his adventure the way he wanted them to. Just put in the conclusions part what the repercussions are. Fuck it, just make him level 1, or 0-level. Making him an uber-mench takes away the parties freedom of choice. And that is the worst sin possible for a designer.
Leszeks Secret – Ok, not bad, but, impossible to grok. Shorten this, bullet or bold it. The truly cares for thing is good, it might stop me from killing him if I learned he was hiding something, as the roll would indicate. Why is he being evasive? Just have him lie. This entire section needs to be shortened A LOT. Further, by including this, you are setting him up for a confrontation with the party. One which you explicitly rule out in his FIghting section. Which is it? I like the idea of him insisting, but if you make him L1 or L0 then its a much more interesting situation. The party CAN use force … will they? Or will they take a harder path?
Whats Next – The Even if stuff could be condensed a lot and easier to scan. There is a lot of information here and it doesn’t scan easily. It’s padded out and could be handled much better.
Part 3 Zevak’s Sanctum – Padding until you tell us the kobolds live here. Three of the items sentence … is probably not needed/can be condensed. The items needs a cross-reference to the room number they are in. “Found in the hoard of the kobold queen” is not needed. The wonder/wrath/valor thing is ok, as an introduction to what is coming (just like mentioning the kobolds.) “Character holding” needs to be called out more. Bolded words, bullet, offset box, something. Your “break the object” is a bit wrong; they have to be close to the kid, right? Who is back at the hut, right? So if I break it in the dungeon I skip to the conclusion also? IE: you don’t need this sentence at all.
General Features – Light would be better shown by some shading on the map. I might move the “collapsed/stone/earth” bit to a note on the map itself, so the DM is always reminded of it. Same with the doors. “Iron handles and hinges” is good. I might mentioned rust also. I’m looting those crystals; how much are they worth and how many are there? IE: put the important evocative stuff ad notes on the map page so the DM is always looking at them. The rest, the floor, the light, etc … not really interesting. I’m not even sure why you mentioned it. Because that’s what other dungeons did? It’s its not important, and it’s not evocative … then why are you wasting the DM cognitive space with it?
The Map – Maps, like art, are hard. I’m going to be critical here, but, almost everyone gets a pass on maps as long as they are basically legible. That said, learning to map well, like complimentary art, can add a lot. The map squares are essentially illegible, which is ok, since this is more “relation to each other” rather than “exploratory” map. Most of the details ate too small to make out, but the numbers are clear. The red used for the T really hurts my eyes and makes me strain, even though I know they are there. Annoying, I guess? Although I’m not sure your details would add a lot? It’s trying to be evocative, but isn’t really doing that. I appreciate the include of the blanks/VTT stuff, a great nod to usability/catering to the DM/purchasers ease of use. The reason you included those maps is the exact same reason for all of these other changes – to make it more useful for the DM. I’m not even sure you need that map in the adventure (see room 2 being split over two pages.)
Dungeon Design –
The RA description is not evocative at all. Don’t say the fountain is empty, let the party ask and the DM tell them. You don’t want to discourage the back and forth between player and DM by over revealing in the RA. Noting the beams/ceiling is a good hint for the players to follow up to look for the trap. It’s also REALLY obvious. Ideally your hint/description is not that obvious, but, better this than not doing it. You put a T on the map. You tell us the hallway has a trap placed by the kobolds (who cares they were the ones that put it here, anyway?) And THEN you have the boiled pressure plate thing … maybe yo don’t need to tell us three times that there is atrap? IE: cut the “hallway contains a trap” sentence. And you don’t need to tell us that the map shows us where, that’s obvious. Two sentences describing the trap is a bit much. “10 food long slides” is iverexplaining it. It’s a Beams, holding up a slab, thats good. I might say stout beams holding the thing square slab. IE: descriptive but not the over explaining thing you have. Your next paragraph, about detecting it, is good. Good play notes, but way too long, which means I both like it and don’t like it. Work at condensing the text while not loosing the specificity for actual play at the table.
The cube thing is GREAT. Of course cubes live up there! The various bones and whole kobold skeleton is good, you should emphasize that more, the “apart from” thing minimizes it.
You don’t need to note the doors/exits in RA, the map shows the DM that. You note statues and furniture in the RA, but not in the DM text. Players will want to investigate them. A sentence or two would be appropriate. You note that the kobolds will ALERT the others, but then you put that in the DEVELOPMENT section. Maybe change it to ALERT, with the ALERT bolded up above. One part reference the other with the same keywords bolded. It’s also a lot of words to say that. Work on cutting it down. Dusty floors mean the players will want to follow the tracks, but you provide no guidance. Cut the dust or provide the guidance. Filing centipedes is good. “Mechanism” is boring though, a big spring, or something. See how “a mechanism flings” and “a coiled spring flings” is about the number number of words but one is generic and one specific? Always shoot for specific, and you can see also that it doesn’t really take a lot more words to be specific. Me, i’d also mention IN THE FACE, because its more fun that way. 🙂 I both love and hat the PER roll to detect the trap. The effect, something is moving inside, is good. But it feels like a roll to win. If they search, or look closely, I’d let them roll. Or, even if they just took more than one look at it, ie, they spent some time doing it. So…where do the stairs go? The Development is good (a little sly humor like “elected a few seconds ago” is a good thing for the DM) , but … You’re misusing the kobolds, I think? Unlike the great cannibal lizardmen, these have no real personality or anything going for them. Comic relief? I thought goblins played that role? ANyway, I’m open to different interpretations, and know tastes vary. I just can’t help think that, tonally, you’re off base here. Monstrous cannibal lizardmen .. and comic relief kobolds? I love being able to talk to monsters in the dungeon, but, I don’t know, this just seems like the kobolds are all wrong. Wheres those bullets for what he does and knows? You include that all other times you talk to someone. I might stick a bolded “Tactics” or something in front of that last paragraph. Also, this is minor, but, bad form splitting rooms across a page turn.
You’re overexplaining again with where the two side passages lead before the party gets there to look in to it. Light has a radius, right? That’s a lot of words for the blade trap. Reduce/condense. In OD&D a trap was like six words long, AT MOST. I’m not saying you have to do that, but three pargrapghs is a tad excessive here.
In exploratory D&D empty rooms, like this one, serve a purpose. This is not exploratory D&D, this is plot D&D. So why do you have this room? Because the kobolds need food? Thats lame. Stick something interesting it, or something evocative, or I guess just leave it te way it is Boring and serving no purpose. Also, its a pretty nondescript descriptions. How about livening it up a bit if you’re going to keep it? Mushroom rooms are a stable of D&D. FUll of magic and wonder. Or, like this one, boring.
Can be convinced is pretty lame. By what, food, money? Welcomes you, no YOU and no Welcomes you. I might also have some smoke coming out from under the door/peephole, since presumably they dont have ventilation. I’m not one for sumulationsit stuff, but a smokey room could be interesting, in visibility and effects. Dash is lame, stampede, etc, is better, Give some vision to your descriptions. This whole thing is pretty boring, for what should be something interesting. A few words about the kobolds, lizardmen, or baby would be in order also, on the different possibilities. Something
Pretty bland, overall, with little joy in the queen or the encounter. The orb needs to have a visible spirit moving around inside of it, that would be a nice temptation for the party to see beforehand, either to kill her or do the quest. The painting is boring, the treasure boring. The Developments and Secret tunnel are too wordy … This is one of the most generic rooms in the adventure. Diaries are boring. It’s the example of telling instead of showing. Ideally, this information is conveyed through play.
Blood and rotted meat is good, i might even make the floor slick with congealed blood. “A variety of …” is generic abstracted text and not the specificity you’ve brought to other places. This is a great place to have a mimic, good placement. The creature section is a little long. “The kobolds hunt” is unneeded backstory. This all FEELS a little too organized for kobolds. I
Meh, I might mention wasp hives or something like that instead of a crate full of insects. Being more specific. This “insert your own dungeon” stuff was common in older adventures. I don’t see it adding much here, and “where did the kobolds come from” is not a problem that needs a solution. Note that unlike the other rooms, like the mimic room of the slab trap, you’ve not done much with the trap here. A crate, appearing out of nowhere. It doesn’t all fit in together.
“Armoured figure” is generic and boring. Gothic? Something is needed. FAR too many words in the creature section. Why limit this to the diary readers? Make it glow a little, people love figuring out things, it makes them feel smart.
“Contraptions” is abstracted. It comes off as just generic room lab description instead of a place of wonder. You’ve hidden the scale key behind a roll, why do this? Why not let the party just figure it out. The pathways paragraph is not needed at all. The vault section is WAY too long. “Aside from the …” is conversational, to be cut. “If you attempt” is conditional, reword it without the conditional. The elven skull is good and the sagger description not bad.
Conclusion – In general, I like conclusions. Followups help show the consequences of the parties actions and provide for great campaign immersion. The roll with advantage thing is good. I think you need a little more on the Great Celebration, really bringing home the parties status as local worthies at least for the next month or so. Some notes about the kobolds, lizardfolk, and baby/family also, noting the various outcomes. Do this with an eye towards the party. How will THEY experience the impacts, even second hand, or hear the news?
Treasure – Boring descriptions and too much emphasis on mechanics. “Green aluminum orb” is a boring description. The dagger has no description. The staff has no description. These are all just boring character buffs. They bring no wonder to the game. Instead they concentrate on mechanics, the most boring part. Better description, something that makes the PLAYER want it, and fewer mechanics. Don’t describe effects in terms of mechanics. I know, it sounds weird, but its better to allow some interpretation.
Monsters – (I assume these are all copied straight from the book, and thus the sins are the originals books and not yours? These almost universally lack a description, fun initial attacks, and rely far too much on justifications and backstory, which are useless at the table.)
Vine – Again, a non-complementary art piece for the Vine. “Hangs on tree branches.” This needs a better description, something to bring it to life, and something better than “grabs you with vines” for the initial attack.
Leszek – See notes throughout about description and personality. What IS resent here is all useless backstory. No need for the justification, just get in to what imp[acts at the table.
Kobolds – “Tactics & cunning!” This is in direct opposition to the comic relief way they are being used in the adventure. And, no description.
This first issue of NOD for 2021 visits a land of halflings torn by civil war, introduces you to the halfling saints, and brings you Table Top Soccer.
This 95 page magazine uses about 75 pages to describe a hex crawl in the lands of the halflings, currently waging a civil war, along with a few of the borderlands nearby. It’s a great setting, a real D&D supplement, and I have no fucking idea how to use it.
A disclaimer: I like to think I understand how a few things work. Not just pushing the button, but understanding how the burron works, what it does, why you would do it, and the deeper implications of pushing The Big Red Button. But I don’t know SHIT about about some of my favorite things, like running sci-fi adventures and … hex crawls. I don’t understand how to run them and thus I am only conjecturing.
So, a HUGE fuckign hex map. HUGE. 74 pages of hex descriptions, four or five to a page, a paragraph or two each. That a METRIC TON of hexes to explore and of things going on in the halfling lands. Oh, and their borders, the barbarians (Fuck them! Also, I just finally got Civ6, so I’m currently in a Fuck The Barbs! mood) that prowl them, and so on. There’s so much going on that I have trouble wrapping my head around it. More on that later.
I’m starting to see some patterns in things. We’ve got halfling places, usually involved in their civil war, which comes off as mostly gentle with threats of violence. Then you’ve strongholds, places where some powerful NPC hangs out with their band of supporters. THis might be a master thief and their hobgoblin minions in the mountain complex, or the nomad barbarian encampment fishing on the river, or any of a dozen different examples. Then you’ve got the intelligent monster encounter. Cloud giants playing in a stream, hill giants charging a 5cp toll to cross a flooded area, cyclopeans working in underground caves. These can be kind of good (rough house bully cloud giants, who are still good guys) to neutral (cyclopean forgers) to bad guys (gnoll raiders) … all of whom are generally presented in a such a way that makes talking a least a possibility. You’ve also got beasts, both magical and mundane, in hexes, as well a decent number of nymph, dryad, pixie, nature spirit encounters. And you’ve also got freaky deaky shit, like an endless series of short cliffs to climb, or historical landmarks like a monolith with carvings about some historical event. And a smattering of “realistic” gonzo, like a crashed jetpack and a teleportation platform to an alien Predator ship. It’s packed full, and, I’d guess only one in six hexes is described.
It’s fascinating. I love it. Well, as a travelogue, like a Lonely Planet guide. As a D&D thing? Well …
I don’t know how to run a hex crawl. I’ve been collecting links on my forum for a future book on how to write and run a hex crawl, but that doesn’t mean I understand it yet. It feels like there are three ways. First, it’s an adventure. You wander from place to place, there are little hooks and things in one hex that lead to another hex. Second, it could be a setting. It’s just a place and you have “normal” adventures in it that the DM comes up with and/or inserts. The hexes are just local color for the DM to use as fodder while traveling or downtime. Third might be Wanderers, where the party literally just wanders from hex to hex getting in to trouble as the DM riffs. This last one strikes me as having even more motivational issues for players than a normal D&D party or megadungeon. Maybe there’s some other way to run a hex crawl. I don’t know.
How does Nod 36 stand in relation to these three ways? If you just want to wander, without context or continuity, then you’re ok. Have at thee.
As an Adventure, I think this is lacking. The linkages between hexes are few and far between. There is an occasional cross-reference, but they are few and far between, not because Stater is a hack but more because there are NOT linkages. One place doesn’t really lead to another. (With a few notable exceptions, like the jetpack hex and transporter pad hex, for example. Trace the trajectory of the pack to find the pad.) Also, there’s the setting issue.
As a Setting it would be great, but you’d need to put in a lot of work, or, I would anyway, to get a really top quality experience. This would apply also to the thing as an Adventure, since the Adventure would take place in the setting. The thing lacks overview. While there is a general discussion of the history (Fascinating! And it makes sense! I’ll gush on this later) and political climate, its just general. The very first hex has a hag, mostly harmless, that is the stuff of boogyman tales in surrounding villages. But you have to read the hex to know that. And then make a note somewhere, or remember, to include it while you are running the villages. Or the barbarians and the Crazy Guy leader of one tribe, or another having a big Holy Mammoth celebration gathering. You WANT to drop these things in to a game. To get the party going. To add context. To add continuity. Same with the civil war and whats going on. It’s written and presented as a Wanderer style, where you just trip over things.
IF you put the work in, and takes notes, and put together those things, digging through a couple of hundred hex descriptions, political trees, local color and so on, and then make a bunch of notes, flowcharts and reference sheets (of which this has none) then you would have a MAGNIFICENT setting. So much so that, if those were present, we could all have a great time buying this and running a HUGE D&D-spehere game, a shared experience for all online players. I mean it, this is a GREAT setting. Easily housing an entire campaign. If you can figure out how to use it. I’m excited and apathetic at the same time. I have a million things to do, would I ever find time to put in the work to use this?
I doubt it. But it would be SO rewarding if I did. No, no Best or Regerts, because I don’t know what the fuck I am doing or how to review it. I REALLY like it. I just don’t know what the fuck it is or how to use it and maybe I just like it as a travelogue … which makes me nervous that I like it as a READER, something I LOATHE.
This is $4 at DriveThru. You will never find a better bargain than an issue of Nod. And it has a real cover also, with real cover art! Nice! The preview is just the first few pages though, and shows you nothing of the writing style of the hexes you’ll encounter. A page or so of them would have been nice, in order to make a buying decision of what you are actually purchasing the product for.
Great backstory, and short, about Powerful Ancient Elves, raising the lands to get rid of the locath, ancient towers and ruins, ild elves as the remains of religious sects and wood elves as those that found refuge in hunting lodged thousands of years ago when the elf god punished all elves. Nice Age of Magic thing without getting too detailed. Makes sense.
By Stephen Yeardley, Thilo Graf
When a sacred dweorg festival is raided by the drow, with hundreds slain and even more enslaved, abducted, and turned into undead servitors, a deity weeps. When the divine tear becomes a flood that puts to rest the undead, the party has the chance to follow the legion of living dead on sturdy dwarven kayaks through the caverns, riding the Dead Flood of Dwfn Eir-Grøn. The undead and their drow masters are stranded, briefly, but can the party prevail against a sheer endless legion of the living dead, punish the drow and rescue the few hardy survivors that remain?
This two page adventure is actually one battle. I know, I know. So let’s talk about it. That, not this, I mean.
I remain interested in shorter adventures. I think there is a lot of potential in them. They are not overstaying their welcome and the shorter format should enforce a kind of discipline on the designer. Let us not forget that G1 was only a few pages long! Further, modern adventures flow a different way than classic OSR ones. Gone are the exploratory elements, and, therefore I assert, the longer page count that even G1 has. You should be able to, I think, create a modern “plot” adventure, with just a few encounters, in just a small handful of pages. Imagine that, a hook, investigation, and your 5 page lair dungeon all in just a few pages. Form + Function, recognizing that 5e/3e/Pathfinder are different than a OSR exploratory thing. I’m interested in such things and thus I torment myself looking in to them.
Thus, looking at a 2-page 5e adventure, you can see how my rosey worldview worked. Decent production values, a couple of pages, sure, I can imagine a possible world in which this is a good adventure! (Wasn’t there a system of D&D where you could worship an idea rather than a god? A possible worlds paladin – In some possible world, this action is good! *smite*)
It is not good. It is a “4e adventure.” Meaning it is not an adventure at all. It’s a fucking Warhammer game.
I fucking HATE warhammer games. If you want to play mini’s combat then go fucking play warhammer, or blah blah blah one of the fucking clones. Or make the fucking advernture for 4e, the officially recognized “i don’t want to play D&D I want to play minis combat” version of D&D. It sucks the fucking soul out of D&D.
You’ve got this map. It’s, maybe, 20 squares by 30 squares. Underground, I guess, in caves, with a bunch of water scattered around in it, representing a river. There are five encounters. SE, SW, NE, NW, and center. Original design, isn’t it? Like, no effort at all? You enter on kayaks on the western side, driven by dwarf commoners. Otherwise someone might have to drive the kayak and not get their AOO, or their 5’ step or whatever. At each encounter is one bad guy. They don’t help each other or interact in any way, in spite of being, I don’t know, less than 80’ from each other? You know the deal before I even write it. “I’m a 8th level drawven gravesmiter assassin with beads of force and a penchant for my description revolving entirely around my battle tactics.” There is NOTHING to this adventure EXCEPT the battlefield notes and the opponents. NOTHING. Pure fucking fantasy battle mastabutory wankfest. Mini-dungeon my ass.
The backstory is lame; I know, fluff is subjective, but, when did the drow become masters of the undead? I guess theming doesn’t mean anything anymore. You’re just looking for a villain of CR9, or whatever, and Drow came up.
This adventure does ONE thing interesting. Every square on the map, except the water ones, every single square, has a zombie in it. Ostensibly you are trying to save them by pushing them in to the river, which is actually a flood caused by a gods tear, which acts as a gentle repose spell, which lays the (dwarf) zombie to rest, which is the goal of mission, to “save” as many dwarves as possible. I mean, it’s Warhammer, but it is an interesting battlefield thing.
It took two people to write this thing. Instead of a long backstory, instead of a quarter page of artwork, but not write an actual adventure? Why advertise it as an adventure when you could advertise it as “four hours of nonstop hacking zombie action in the style of your least favorite 4e adventures!”
Oh, and that river, the one that acts as a gentle response spell? That, my friends, is a classic example of “explaining why.” It’s a gods tear, you don’t need to have a book fucking explanation for why. It kills the magic. It kills the mystery of it all. Wonder is no more. Another example has the drow using three different book poisons on the dwarves, so as to, I assumer per game rules, give them all three levels of exhaustion. I fucking hate this book shit. Infinite possibilities and and we get a 4e battle with book explanation for wondrous things.
Electric Bastionland-like thing
Is a random word generator likely to produce as good a play as Hamlet?.
A trash planet. A sphere of coagulated space junk. Layers upon layers of generational garbage piled up on itself thousands of times over. Rumours run wild around the nearby sectors and beyond that invaluable treasures lie beneath the trash heaps of Epsilon 5.
This 28 page thing is both an RPG and an set of rules to procedurally generate an adventure environment. If you can accept “procedurally generated” then it does a decent job. I cannot, and therefore his review will almost immediately go off on a tangent.
It’s a floating ball of trash the size of a planet, with corp cargo ships dropping off more all the time. There are simple RPG mechanics attached (based on Electric Bastionland, the product says) and a few pages devoted to procedurally generating an adventure environment, with 24 locations and some treasures and creatures, for the pregens to explore.
There’s a location naame, a few evocative words, and then a sentence or two of DM notes. So, for Acid Lake we get (formatting removed): Bubbling, Glowing Green-Yellow, Smells Sour Flotsam rafts of jumbled junk drift on the surface. d4 DAMAGE per turn to any organic matter submerged within. We’ll roll a creature and a treasure and then it’s up to the DM to make something of it. Monsters are suitably described, so, for the Virtual Shades we get “Neon blue, two-dimensional amorphous hologram, flickering and distorting as it moves.” Again, a decent description, focusing not on their backstory but on how the party will interact and experience when they encounter them. Which is what the fuck a monster description should the fuck do. Ok, and there’s a single Neo-Rose as a treasure “A genetic accident, suited only to growing in the unique trash riddled soil of EPSILON 5. Its pungent odour, reminiscent of rose and paint stripper, never fades even when picked.” So, as a DM, maybe, there’s this acid lake and some rickety platforms on it and the party sees the middle one has this single neo-rose on it and the lake is full of these Victorian holograms out boating. Oops, I’m getting ahead of myself. The locations take up three pages, the creatures about four, and about the same for the treasure. The restis a map, location tracker, die drop thingy (*sigh*) and some basic mechanics/rules. The takeaway here is that the creature descriptions, and variety, is good (although a little swede to the robot/mechanical side of things, ala Tomb Adventures being one-note stuffed full of undead.) The location descriptions vary from pretty interesting (a village made up of clones of one woman! Acid Lake!) to Mega-corp shipwreck and dirtyy needle dumping ground. Which offer less of an environment to explore and more “here is hazard while you having a fight” sort of location, out of 4e.
And now, we necessarily diverge in to our tangent: the convention game. The One shot. From OSR convention competition adventures to the CoC one shot to things like these, unique little games with little adventures attached. This is a genre unto itself. Sure, you can turn it in to a campaign, but its not really suited for that. Sure, it could be used as a night or two of adventuring for a Traveller game or some such. But it will suffer from the same problems.
For both, I find the adventure lacking.
There’s really a lack of motivation here. It’s just a place to dive for trash treasure, with little holding the adventure together beyond that. I’m not saying it needs a plot, but there is nothing really here other than the procedurally generated stuff, and that hits the same nerve that many people complain about megadungeon play: why? Because it’s what we’re doing tonight, do you want to play or not? IE: you need a motivation for your character. But, in these one-shot and/or convention games, you need more than that. Or, rather, more than that helps a lot. I mean, I’m still there to waste four hours having fun, but a little assist from the designer, beyond the pregens, helps. You need something to kick things off, or a goal, and that’s just not present.
And then of course there’s the fact that it’s procedurally generated. I don’t know who started this trend. It needs to stop. Procedurally generated dungeons don’t work. They cannot wor, by their very definition. There is no way that you can have a satisfying experience RIGHT NOW AT THE TABLE with some ad-hoc dice rolls, at least in comparison to an adventure location that has been designed, agonized over, and fits in well with the surrounding location, all thanks to the designer. Is this just emulation of what others have done? Are people afraid of actually designing a room/dungeon? I mean, what if the designer had rolled on their own tables, taken inspiration from the results, and then crafted the results, after hours of work, in to a more coherent experience? Do you really want to assert that would not be the better play experience?
What’s the downside? It’s not random? So what. It’s a one-shot fucking around game. A location that is likely to never be revisited again, either in a campaign or as a one short fucking around game or at a convention. Why the fuck do you care about it being an adventure generator? Why not make something really good instead? Because, of course, an adventure is different than “a tool to help inspire you to write your own adventure.” Why … we’re not saying that’s what this is, are we? That would mean it has misrepresented itself, and we all know how I feel about being cheated.
So, ok writing, good monsters. As an idea generator it may be ok. As an adventure I think it fails at its “most likely to be a one shot” genre experience. Or, rather, succeeds more than the usual procedural adventures do but still fails in the quality of the overall experience.
In this adventure, the heroes face a group of Daragons to save the Kind and his family! [sp]
This 23 page adventure features a three level (plus basement!) dungeon with about seventy rooms. It’s minimally-keyed, and shows a shocking lack of care, to a degree that is new even to me. It’s in the running for the worst I’ve ever reviewed.
What if I open a restaurant. In the back I microwave frozen burritos that I buy for 30 cents each from ALDI. I don’t do this because I am trolling. I do this because I think that this is good food and it’s how you run a restaurant. As a stranger, you come in and order a burrito. It is as you would except given its a 30 cent microwave burrito from ALDI. That I charge $10 for. What is the social contract between you and I? As a friend/family, we might be supportive. As a stranger, what are your obligations to me, both directly when speaking to me and indirectly when talk to another about your experience in Sheboygan Japanese Cuisine, which features microwaved burritos from ALDI? Asking for a friend …
There is a seemingly lack of care to this adventure which is bad enough that I thought this might be an art project. Note the misspellings in the publisher’s blurb. “The heros” and “Daragons” and “the Kind”. (that’s the king, and dragons.) The pregen characters spread across multiple pages, as it page breaks were inserted randomly, some starting on the same page another ends on, thus complicating printing them out to hand out to players. The stat blocks are walls of text, with weird indents. Randomly scattered through the text, and I do mean randomly, there are paragraphs of monsters labeled “Encounter 1”, with a stat block for, say 28 goblins. Just here and there, insperspaced between the room encounters which are labeled “room 1” “room 2” and so on. Not to worry though, the actual stats blocks are missing for some creatures. Two column text from word perfect just drifts on to a new page instead of being formatted in to something decent.
Challenge wise, this adventure for levels 1-3, we get encounters with kobolds, goblins, elves, a room with 100 skeletons, a 6HD weretiger, a 10HD hydra, and a room with a 7HD white dragon, a 10HD blue dragon and an 11HD red dragon. You and me both buddy; I certainly have no fucking clue, especially given you need the rod in that room to save the Kind and his family.
It’s minimally keyed. “This room is empty.” or “Giant Rats, No Appearing:15 (stat block)” or “This is the throne room.” That’s it. Those are your descriptions. “On the south of the room are a bed and two nightstands.” Minimal keyed. Laundry list contents not related to the adventure. Interactivity like a room with fifteen pools each of which does something ala B1. Rooms stuffed full of treasure, coin and especially high level magic items. And no, nothing is gong to stave off that weretiger, hydra, or dragons, so don’t get any ideas that it is on purpose.
This may come as a shocking surprise, but I would never want to discourage anyone from writing an adventure. You have to write to get better. My angst stems from my entitlement issues, and expectations. (Hmmm, can you have entitlement issues as a consumer, or is that not allowed and/or encouraged as a consumer in a market economy?) But Jesus H Fucking Christ man, don’t you, as a producer, have some obligation to the rest of us to produce something that you actually give a fucking shit about? Don’t you have some social obligation to the rest of us suckers to know what the fuck a restaurant actually is before you open one?
This could be a product from the early days of gaming. A map, filling all spaces with weird mazes and such like that famous Greyhawk map photo. Minimally keyed encounters ala Vampire Queen. A typesetting nightmare like Walking Wet and other manually set adventure products.
This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages. Go stare in to the abyss for a bit by looking at it.