By Karel M
Coiled Sheet of Lead
Legends of a “mountain of gold” provoke a mad scramble for a mysterious book laden with clues to find certain statues around the city, which themselves hold additional clues leading to the hiding place of the fabulous treasure.
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This is a 39 page urban adventure, a treasure hunt in a city mad with treasure lust, with the last 18 pages being appendices, handouts, etc. Care has been paid to orient the adventure to the DM, helping them to run it effectively. Reference tables, organization, great wandering content and a focus on gameable detail all push this above average. I like urban adventures and I think this one gives the DM things to work with.
There’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World vibe to this adventure. The tavern the party is in is abuzz, everyone excited, just like half the city, about the rumors of THE TREASURE. Rumors lead to a search for a book with a map/clues, and then a hunt to decipher them and find the statues that, together, reveal the location of the treasure, it’s vault being the last of the adventure. There’s a social intro, with the rumors and hunt for information about the treasure, which evolves in to a caper as the party tries to break in to one of the map/clue book locations, which evolves in to deciphering puzzles and negotiating a city half full of treasure-nutters. This then evolves in to a brief exploration of a great cistern and a mini-dungeon … that evolves in to consequences and cleanup as the party has to decide what to do with the treasure. That’s a lot of variety and that helps, I think, with designing a convincing city adventure. It’s not just one thing, it’s many, just like the city. Too often a city adventure is just “talk to people then fight in the warehouse/sewers.” This thing has dimensions.
The wandering table is a part of that and helps make the city a proper part of the adventure. A page of daytime and another of nighttime encounters makes give a decent amount of variety. Best of all, the encounters are oriented towards the adventure. There was some Dungeon adventure, a WIllie Walsh one I think, about a village of scribes tearing itself apart over the invention of a metal quill nib. Everyone you ran in to had an opinion … even, if you spoke with animals, a hedgehog. That’s what I mean by content oriented toward the adventure. In this case almost all of the encounters have something to do with the treasure hunt. Treasure hunters of all variety and people who know something about the legends. The city watch patrol like company to walk and talk, 70% of them know the legend, 10% know book clues and are gregarious fellows. To hire when their shift ends at sunset, perhaps? The orientation of the wandering monster encounters is focused ON THE PLAY AT THE TABLE. It’s not just random garbage that was pulled at random from a table in a DMG. This is value add. The extra detail on the walk & talk of the city guard. The orientation towards WHAT THE PLAYERS GIVE A SHIT ABOUT.
Those wanderers appear on two tables, a day and night table, that each take up a full page. This SCREAMS reference sheet. Print it out, two-sided, and you have a reference sheet available at all times for spicing up the partis travels and encounters in the city. Likewise I want to talk about the reference table for the rumors.
After a terse into of one column, the party starts at night under a portico at a courtyard wine bar. It’s loud, everyone is abuzz with dozens of people talking excitedly about something. That’s a good set up. It’s easy to imagine. What follows is a table of twelve entries that describes some of the people you can talk to. One group per line, with each line broken in to three columns. There’s a quick “who” column, that gives a brief appearance, first impressions for the DM to look at and consult. Then there’s a bit more information in the second column, about what the people talk about initially. Ice breakers and surface conversations, if you will. Finally there’s a longer third column that describes what they really know if you hang around and interact with them deeply, spending time talking, buying food/drinks, etc. From this the party learns the initial rumors as well as teasers for where to learn more information. That leads, in some cases, to the capers to steal books, maps, etc. The table is oriented to the DM and to the meaningful play at hand … the rumors and search for information.
Eventually, after perhaps a caper (again, the data about the caper locations are oriented towards what the party probably wants to know in order to break in/acquire the books.) it becomes a hunt to determine which of the myriad statues in the city is referenced in which clues in the book. The statues, again, are oriented toward actual play. We know from the first sentence where the statue is and then what it looks like and its role in the city, and then any complications with the statue are explored. One is covered in handbills and woe to be and murder hobo fucking with it … a mob ready to “defend free criticism” is ready to descend! Some are in private courtyards, one in a tomb. There’s are all little mini-adventure encounters all with the potential to spawn those zany player character plans that make D&D so great.
The little art pieces (from the web?) provide good inspirations. There are 3d outlines of houses for those scaling walls, and a myriad of other little small details that make the adventure easy to run and flavorful.
I’m fond of urban adventures and I’m fond of adventures that have a lot going on in them .. I think the chaos adds a great element to play in an adventure like this.
This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages long. You get to see the rumor table and the wandering table, both of which give you a good idea of their use as reference tables and the general vibe of the adventure, complications, and flavor.
I’ve read the preview and I will agree with your comments, probably best the DMs work the city into the background if they want to fit it into their campaigns. I’d judge this to be very useable and not just in D & D, I’d say this has definite possibilities in Harn as well.
I visited the authors blog and found that he had consulted the author of this review for advice, which he thankfully seems to have taken to heart, if only more designers would do this in the future.
Thank you for reading and giving your positive appraisal about my first-ever magnum opus, Graham! I’m really happy that people other than me can find what emerges from my skull useful and interesting. I’m very proud to have my work among the great company in “The Best” category.
Bryce’s advice was very worthwhile. My first draft had lots of flavor, but was a bloated, talky mess which would have tripped up and annoyed DMs in the heat of trying to run it. Bryce’s main counsel was that I needed to cut a lot of the fat and overhaul the formatting, but that I could still get the flava across. Something he directed me to which was really helpful in formatting: http://www.chaotichenchmen.com/2012/05/publishing-tips-introduction-and-order.html
” One is covered in handbills and woe to be and murder hobo fucking with it … a mob ready to “defend free criticism” is ready to descend.” Brilliant!
Thank you so much, fellow person of proud Slavic descent and role-model for how to make truly worthwhile adventures!
Inspiration was from reality, infinitely superior to the lab in my skull alone:
On the basis of the glowing review, I purchased this. There is much to like in this adventure. There is some good continuity: potentially, you could meet rival (possibly partner) groups several times. It is a nice change to have an adventure where combats might happen, but they are not the focus. Challenges are defined, then it is up to the PCs to think up an approach that best fits their abilities. There could be some pretend city “health and safety” officials examining statues.
To make the choices at the end of the adventure something other than guesswork, the referee will need to feed some relevant information to the players e.g. criminals are carrying out assassinations, there is corruption in government, the Night Watch; the Commander of the Wall Guards is anti-corruption.
Thank you very much for buying my adventure, and for your thoughtful comment which works like a mini-review in itself!
You point out the issue of how it’s difficult to get enough details to the players so they can make meaningful choices in converting the treasure safely into the maximum amount of gold and xp – I wrestled with that a lot, too. When my friends playtested it, they talked with just 3 groups in the tavern, only 1 of them in-depth, then they got sick of talking to people.
If you rework elements of this adventure successfully when you run it, please tell me how it went. Maybe the new, improved opus can be: “Statues DELUXE Edition by Karel M. and Anonymous”.
Grabbed! Looking forward to it.
Thank you, Mr. Haversack! Enjoy!
Very excited to run this adventure! But didn’t realise when I bought it that the setting was so Greek-flavoured. Love that, but might have to remove all that charm to make it fit more into my campaign
Awesome, pathofsuns! Glad you’re psyched to run it- I was inspired by Byzantine Greek real life weirdness I read in Chris Wickham’s Inheritance of Rome history book- but by all means go ahead and modify the hell out of it to resonate best with your own campaign’s flavor! If you feel so inclined, once you’ve modified and run it, send me a few words to tell me how it went.
I’ll have to have a look for Wickham’s book. Been on the lookout for good history reads.
My plan is to throw my newbie characters into The Lost City of Barakus setting, and use the city of Endhome as the setting for Statues. I’ll let you know how it goes. One thing I noticed so far is that Khrysokeras is a lot bigger than Endhome, so not sure if that causes issues. Like would there be a cistern that big in a city like Endhome?
I’m not familiar with that setting, but the kickstarter to reprint it for Pathfinder and S&W calls Endhome a “bustling metropolis”. And lots of real-world ancient and medieval cities have ended up with white elephant infrastructure because the ruler at the time decided to “build it once, build it right”, or was a massive egomaniac, or needed to stimulate the economy lest an idle labour force revolt…
I don’t know much about Endhome except the positive reviews I’ve seen for it as an adventure. Here was my cistern inspiration:
If you as DM say it fits Endhome, go for it- Hope you and your players have fun!