By Dylan Hartwell
Extending above a haze of reeking steam rise sixteen peaks of garbage magically transported from sixteen different cities. It spreads, like an ever-growing fungus, across the landscape, encompassing and corrupting nearly fifty square miles. Hideous flies, crows, and vultures circle the piles, perpetually avoiding garbage falling from magical portals thousands of feet in the air. Giant rats, skunks, maggots, and other manner of repugnant beasts scuttle about the surface, surviving off the offal. Underneath, giant worms crawl through the debris. Periodic explosions reform the horizon. Some cultures call it “Sheoal”, others “Kol Katta”. All, however, use the common vernacular “The Heap”. And everywhere its name is synonymous with “Hell”.
This is another difficult to review adventure, mostly because I don’t think it’s an adventure. I’ve been accused before of having too strict a taxonomy and, no doubt, will be again. Rather than an adventure I’d describe this as a fluff book for a region, along with some adventure ideas. In this respect you could think of it more like one of the old MERP regional booklets, a lightweight version of one, anyway. It’s not that I don’t like fluff books, or think that there’s a place for them. I do like them and some are valuable. But, as inspiration pieces, I find them hard to review. Who can tell what will inspire one person vs another? This is why I concentrate on the adventure side of the spectrum. I also believe quite a bit in expectations and getting what you think you are getting. If I buy a low-prep adventure and get a fluff/region book then I could be quite disappointed, regardless of the quality of the book.
The Heap is twenty eight pages long and while described as a sandbox. It’s not, in the way I know the term to be used. It is a region book, describing a certain regional location, a garbage heap that grows magically and is inhabited by a variety of monsters and loose factions. There’s a loose overview map of the region, as well as a couple of locations: cultist tunnels/HQ and a mad wizards tower. Wandering monster & treasure tables, Many new garbage-themed monsters, and a page of adventure ideas round things out.
You could think of this place as a little like The Zone, from the STALKER video games. There’s a loose trader town full of people who make their livings off of the garbage heap. The people in the town set out and scavenge the heap to collect things to sell. There are also a group of people who wander around collecting the stuff in the heap ‘to collect’ and hate the people who sell stuff. There are also lepers wandering about, as well as a group of clerics who run a separate leper colony. Then there is a group of cultists who worship the giant worms who tunnel through the garbage. Finally there’s the mad wizard who wanders about doing mad wizard things, like kidnapping people and so on. That’s a decent mix of factions and several key individuals are outlined with a sentence or two to their goals and motivations.
And that’s about it. A couple of tables for rumors and traps, and a few pages on monsters. On the plus side there’s a VERY nice reference table for the monsters one will find the heap. It reminds me of the table in the Ready Ref sheets, which I LUVED. Another reference sheet of the NPC’s detailed, would have need a nice addition as well.
The single page of adventure ideas are not terrible and they DO start your mind spinning. One of the better ones is a cultist who has lost his cult book. The penalty is sacrifice, so he hires the party to find it, with vials of wormblood in return. IE: Selling cult secrets to protest his hide. That could be a great idea, with the horrid cultist, I’m imagining kind of like a leper, in dilapidated market town, visiting the cult HQ, selling vile stuff as a reward …
But it’s all just the barest outline of supporting material. The town, Sellerton, gets the following description: “A small town of several hundred inhabitants composed of Sellers and their families. Billig visits once a month. Four human fighters patrol the perimeter each night.” A little light, IMO, for one of the major locations. Again, this isn’t a hex crawl, but a fluff book, and it’s a little light on fluff and a little heavy on stats. Or, maybe, in in comparison of the content there’s more in the way of stats than fluff, or so it feels like.
This is the barest outline of a region. There’s just enough here to get things going, but I think it’s a little light on the supporting flavor.
I suck at reviewing non-adventures.
This is available at DriveThru.
First off, thanks for continuing to blog. Your adventure reviews are extremely useful, because your standards are clear in your mind and focused on DM-utility. If you’re going to occasionally review non-adventure products, do you think you could work out a different set of standards for, say, setting books? Surely some of the same factors could apply – whether it’s creative enough that the DM couldn’t just come up with it on the spot, whether information is presented in a useful and easy-to-refer-to way, etc.