Nobody else wanted to take on a job of helping out an orc, but if their gold is good then who cares … right? Black Orc Down puts the party on the trail of a missing orc chieftain. Can they rescue him from the dark mysteries of the Undercity beneath Forecastle? Can they uncover the vile plot which threatens to disrupt the power structure of The Shades? If they fail, will the death of one orc really matter that much?
This is twenty page adventure in the “undercity” on a linear map with seven locations in a high-fantasy setting. It hits, negatively, a large number of my review standards. It is not, however, incomprehensible, or hard to run, so at least it’s got that going for it.
There’s this generic fantasy city that’s been taken over by different pirate lords. Pretty standard stuff. It’s high fantasy though, so there’s orcs and goblins and so on, entire tribes, in the city. Bob the orc, leader of some minor blah blah blah orc clan, has fallen through a hole in the floor that gave way while he was on his throne. He’s now in the undercity, the ruins of the old city that the current one was built on top of. He was attacked by skeletons and ran off and his orc buddies tried to save him but were beaten back by the undead. They hire the party, for 100 gold, to go save their orc chief.
I hate high fantasy. Or, rather, I hate THIS sort of high fantasy. I get it, different strokes for different folks. Like what yhttps://crou want and all that jazz. But this just sucks. One of my points is that I like humans instead of humanoids as enemies, most of the time. Or maybe I mean “in certain situations.” A sidebar DOES encourage you to change the orcs (and later goblins) to humans if you’re not playing a high fantasy game, but I want to talk more about the use of humanoids in general. When you take an elf and make him a farmer, on of many in a human village, you generally destroy what it means to be an elf. Elf garbage collectors. Dwarf millers. You’ve just turned them in to humans with pointy ears or short humans. The same with the humanoids. These represent THE OTHER. They should be different. Scary. Maybe bestial. In this adventure the orcs advertise on the local job boards. When they greet you the read aloud says “Thank you so much for answering our request for aid.” Seriously? I get it it. High Fantasy. But … seriously? There’s NOTHING in this adventure that makes the orcs seem like orcs. Or makes the goblins (a tribe of which you meet later) seem like goblins. A society of overly polite orcs drinking tea with their pinkies out? I can get behind that. But generic humanoids? Nope. Sorry. Disbelief broken. Grimy humans? Ok. Human cannibals? Ok. Humans can do some fucked up shit and making humanoids humans instead can lead to some good revulsion. It’s more relatable. But generic orcs with a “thank you so much for answering our request for aid?” High fantasy or not, that sucks.
Twenty pages with seven encounters implies a high word count, and that’s present here. There’s a MASSIVE amount of read aloud. Paragraphs and paragraphs that add little to no value. The writing isn’t particularly evocative, although it is serviceable and clear, generally. It falls in to the trap of telling instead of showing. “The environment is an oppressive unwelcoming shroud …” Well, no. It’s not. When you TELL me its oppressive then its not oppressive. SHOW me. If you’re going to engage in this type of read-aloud then describe WHY. Let the players draw their own conclusions. There are reams and reams of advice on writing that tell you why showing is better than tellings. Go google it for more. Or don’t. Whatever.
There’s a table in this adventure I’d like to talk about. It’s a loot table, in case the party searches a random building in the undercity. A typical entry is “You manage to find a small cache of silverware worth 2d10sp.” BAD BAD BAD! It’s generic. Just “Silverware” It’s written in read-aloud mode. “You find …” Blech! “Elven filigree tarnished silver olive spoons, bent.” Instead we get “The jewellery is of simple design, being of a quality a merchant’s wife might wear.” Generic sucks ass. Specificity is the soul of storytelling. And do it in under fifteen words. Please.
And, to boot, there’s not a lot of treasure. At all. So little for Gold=XP that the adventure encourages a story award at the end for completing the quest. That’s NEVER good. It implies a right way and a wrong way to complete the adventure. I’d be more ok with just giving the party a flat 2000xp after every session, or something like that, instead of a “story” award. It removes free will from the players and forces them to complete an adventure in a certain way. If you squint, then Gold=XP does the same thing. Or, rather,?=XP generally results in the play style being optimized to get the XP, and thus the party will do whatever. I prefer a free will game.
There’s a part of this adventure that I can’t decide on. It goes beyond the generic encounters and dull descriptions of the various rooms. You track some goblins back to their lair/hideout. You come out in the “throne” room. There’s a door. Goblins come through the door. The DM is instructed to make variable number of goblins come through it, in order to heighten tension and give a moment of drama. It is absolutely undeniable that barricading a door, goblins smashing in to it, daggers poking through it, etc, would be a great moment of drama in a game. But FORCING that situation is lame as fuck, especially with a “just keep sending in goblins to heighten the tensions” advice statement. Uncool. If it happens, great. If you want to put 10 goblins outside in the guardroom and have them rush in, loudly, after three rounds that the players hear, great. But forcing the situation is un cool advice. D&D absolutely does NOT need more shitty DM advice.
Ultimately, this is just another generic D&D adventure. There’s little soul to it, even if you accept the high fantasy premise.
This is available at DriveThru.