I have no idea. Simple? Overly-complex? Bob, the right-hand man of a towns leader, went to go review an outlying post in the swamp, guarded by friendly lizardmen. He didn’t come back and you’re sent to find him. The outpost says he showed up but headed back via the long road. From this one is supposed to deduce the lizardmen did him in. A gnome leads the party to another outpost (oh no! Evil lizardmen?!?!) ess where they find the guy, and he tells him of a huge troll army attack. The village defends itself. It’s … a mess? On the way to the first encounter you meet “an abandoned village with a wounded troll in it.” WTF kind of encounter is that? The lizardmen thing is weird also. Allied tribe, but somehow your supposed to figure out they are evil and find the gnome. It’s simple and convoluted at the same time, and not in a good way. It feels like a linear 4e adventure, with a heavy combat/tactical focus, without the adventure explicitly leading you around by the nose … but still being linear.
The Lightless Depths
By F. Wesley Schneider & James L. Sutter
Savage Tide part six. Asked to bribe a dragon turtle, the party ends up in the underdark in an attempt to keep powerful magic items from being created. This is a non-traditional underdark, more koprah and aboleth themed, and does a much better job of being “underdarky” than Out of the Abyss. (No, I haven’t seen Veins yet. Because deep down inside I’m a bad person.) It’s a vision of mongrelmen, plague, and tube worms, gooey icky insects vats and the like. But … it’s linear. And it is LONG. LONG. There’s mountains and mountains and mountains of text for EVERYTHING. There’s backstory embedded and expanded upon to explain EVERYTHING. What’s that, an aboleth in an isolated chamber? Eight hundred paragraphs later we learn why, up to and including the use of a decanter of endless water. Someone, somewhere, thinks this extra detail is great. That person is a fucking moron. You have to dig through mountains of data. Your reward are some slightly freaky linear encounters. The vision of the underdark is a decent one, if you ignore 95% of the text.
By Christopher Wissel
Oh my. This point out the 3.5 problem, as well as how far adventure design fell. This is an attempt to create a high-level adventure that does not feature combat. Given that Dungeon Magazine seems to think that “high level” means “linear combat shit fest”, this is a quite welcome goal. Unfortunately, the design is incompetent. The party are representatives of Elysium in some negotiations to win the right to a planer diamond mine. There are representatives from other planes: an arcanoloth, a modron, a king of the xorns, and so on. The idea is that the party engages in formal debates with the other parties, advancing round to round, with the Jinn owners as judges. There’s an attempt at combat, and a couple of VERY briefly mentioned pretexts for other “spy” actions, to ferret out arguments ahead of time, but the core of the adventure is “make a diplomacy check.” At the welcoming dinner you have to succeed on two DC50 checks or the adventure ends right there; you’re kicked out. In other debates the party has if they fail their checks (DC 61!) then they lose. They are free to stay and watch the movie play out. Joy. During the debates, if the party responds to an argument with one of two specific lines of debate then they get a bonus to their diplomacy check. Reducing a night of gaming to a die roll is never a good thing. The lack of options after “failing” means the adventure is badly written. It’s roleplaying, not making a point in craps. The SUPER high DC checks are related to the attribute check bloat in 3.5. Either you pumped points in to Diplomacy and make the check or you didn’t and don’t. Finally, the “spy” portions are written like afterthoughts. Literally a line that says “the arcanoloth has a bag on his belt that has blood on it”, a hint he’s going to dump junn heads out of it during his debate, to intimidate the jinn judges. But there’s no ADVENTURE around it, just a die roll. No support for the DM to run a investigation, bribe, or whatever. And, if you do ferret the plot out ahead of time, it doesn’t change anything. You did a fetch quest for someone and get payment, bt there’s no real outcome. The adventure had good intentions but suffers from the lack of complete understanding in how an adventure should be designed.