By Thom Wilson
The small village of Mannath is faced with several different issues, but lacks the resources to solve them properly. The mayor of the small hamlet, Hans Kildor, is eagerly seeking outside help and will immediately ask any visitors for assistance the moment they arrive.
This 56 page adventure details a small town and nine short adventures in and around it. A few nice magic items and an attempt to make the area feel alive don’t save it from the expanded upon trivia that obfuscates the adventures proper. This feels unexamined, or, maybe, a first draft.
People have gone missing from the village, including, very recently, the mayor’s daughter. The town well has gone dry and people blame a nearby wise woman. The watchtower almost certainly has the body of the last guard in it, but seems haunted now. Then a farmer shows up saying he’s got a giant hole in his field. In to this environment our party is thrust, with the outcomes of those initial offerings leading to others. There are two major plot lines going on with a couple of other isolated “adventures” tossed in also. The idea, I think, is to have a little area that seems alive and you can sink your teeth into, both as DM and player. Hobo’s no more! Well, at least until level 3 …
I don’t think, though, that the text works well for its intended purpose. It’s supposed to have a high degree of connectivity but it comes across disconnected and isolated. There’s NOT that feeling of a living breathing place. The town has a long description, maybe ten pages worth. The vast majority of the text is just generic town data. Bob has a wife named Mary. The inn charges normal prices. Eds farms produced wheat, barley and common vegetables and fruit as well as a few varieties of grape.
That’s not useful information.
This is part of a problem I like to refer to as The Bedroom Problem, or sometimes The Kitchen Problem. Writers will put a bedroom in an adventure and then spend long paragraphs describing it to us. It has a bed. The bed has a mattress and a box spring. There’s a desk. The desk is made of wood. It has three drawers. There is a mirror in the corner. And on and on. Likewise the kitchen description will focus on the common elements of a kitchen. We don’t need that. It contributes NOTHING to the adventure. We all know what is in a kitchen, or bedroom, or torture chamber, or guard room, or inn. What we need to know is what is special about THIS place. What is the relevance to the adventure and/or interactivity with the party? I rail about history and backstory in adventures and room descriptions so much for this very reason. If it’s not likely to come up and be relevant during play then why the fuck are you diverting the DM’s attention away from what IS relevant and contributes to play? Look, I’m not unreasonable. If you want to say that “the farmer’s wife is in love with the innkeeper and visits him every night” then have at it. It adds a little color to the village, and her nocturnal visits can be used as blackmail and/or a red herring. But it needs to be pretty close to what I wrote above and not three paragraphs worth of their fucking backstory. You can put your Beren and Luthien love poem in the fucking appendix if you have to.
And that’s what this adventure does, both in the town and in the “adventures.” It fills the text with trivia and distracts from the actually interesting bits. This village has a “slum” section, with three buildings used for migrant labor, not inhabited year round, which is causing tensions. That’s great! Perfect chaos that can appear during play! But even then it gets glossed over too much, with the witches visits to the slums, and differing village viewpoints glossed over in a manner not very conducive to contributing to play easily.
It does try to make things easier for the DM. There’s a table of the adventures and how they are related to each other. The rumors are easy to find, the local bandits have a timeline for their kidnapping activity. An NPC summary sheet for the town would have been quite useful, with names, locations, and personalities/subplots, as would a better method of describing the bandits day/night locations in their lair. But even then, Things Fall Apart. The text refers to the “adventure relations” table multiple times as the order to be run in, but it’s not obvious at all. And it needs to be, because …
Man, the difficulty is all over the place. The hole in the farmer’s field is from giants ants. 3HD giants ants. And there are encounters in which you meet five of them at once. S&W is low-power, right? I’m not a balance nut, at all, but this seems like things are being pushed a little. Likewise the ghost tower has an actual undead that you need magic weapons to hit … at first level. This this is clearly a conversion from another system (the text says so up front, in fact) and it looks like it. Treasure can be quite light and encounter fights can be quite tough. There ARE a couple of nice little non-standard items, like a cap that prevents you from falling asleep and some crossbow bolts that can’t break (oh boy, could I ever abuse that …) but it doesn’t really help the gold=xp situation at all. The ghost is worth 1000xp .. good luck with that.
Speaking of the encounters … four of them are less than 50 feet in to the forest that is on the west side of the village. An ogre, bandits, a witch, and a burial mound. But the villagers don’t go over there for fear of “disease.” Maybe this village deserves to get what they are earning …
I like the concept of this. I like the attempts to make the village come alive and present interlinking adventures and other little tasks that are not clearing out sewers or old lady attics. I just can’t say this succeeds at what is trying to do. It doesn’t present the information lor resources to the DM that they need in order to fulfill the vision. Less concentration on trivia and more focus on the ACTIONABLE parts of the adventure would have solved this. Less really IS more.
This is $2.50 at DriveThru. There’s no preview. Bad designer! Back to gong farmer with you!https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/225069/Mysteries-in-Mannath?affiliate_id=1892600
Seems like the designer’s heart was in the right place.
What you call the bedroom problem sounds a lot like what Lois McMaster Bujold called “Ikea Porn” in her essay “how to write sex”. She pointed out the mark of an amateur writer is to fill pages with “insert tab A into slot B” descriptions. A lot of any kind of writing is about imagination filling in the blanks.
“You can put your Beren and Luthien love poem in the fucking appendix if you have to”
🙂 I wish more adventure writers did this!
Sounds like the author might benefit by checking out the free village writeups on Lythia.com, the writers there understand that background has to help the GM bring the village to life, it’s more of use, for example to know that Farmer X is always drunk and still has not noticed that none of his four children resemble him (or each other…), a quick scenario, or background vignette can be got from that rather than a detailed description of his bedroom.
Excellent points by all three of you! Yes, the village example is great and showcases what I mean.