Caverns of the Fish-folk

By Casey Hoekstra
Self Published
OSR/S&W/DCC? Probably 5e
Levels 1-3

The players begin by meeting Tomen, a shipwrecked halfling, whose brother has been abducted by Kuo-Toa living off the coast. Tomen washed ashore on this forlorn coast thirteen years ago, and will do anything to escape, but first he must save Silvus, his younger brother, from the sacrificial fanaticism of the fish-folk. In addition, Kertol, Prince of the sprites has a bone to pick with the halfling brothers over the destruction of his summer court.

This fifteen page adventure details nine rooms in a kua-toa cavern. A real shit show of an adventure, it is as close to incomprehensible as I’ve ever seen, rivaling the efforts of the dear departed Injured Mage of old. Single column, no stats, confusing as fuck map, linear combat crap fests … everything present but Yul Brynner. Earner of a coveted Bryce Lynch ‘Worst EVAR’ award.

I bought this because the DriveThru page said S&W, OSR, DCC. The adventure proper doesn’t say what system it is for, but I suspect it’s 5e … there’s no evidence of OSR type stats while it does have ascending AC and DC checks. Bryce doesn’t like it when he feels like he’s been misled in to buying something. It brings back the trauma of Castle Greyhawk. What kind of person would do that to me, Casey? Do I not suffer enough, universe? Everything falling apart around me, grinding my nose in to the fact that I am powerless, I turn to D&D for a spark of joy and am confronted with this thing. Why, Casey? Why?

Some halfling shit lives in a hut on the beach. His brother has gone missing ad he’s a piece of shit, leading us to that famous situation: fight for the hook. The little fuck needs the party to do something for him. The DM needs the players to take the hook and to go on the adventure so we can all play D&D tonight And yet our designer has made the halfing an unlikable fellow who you have to convince to talk to you and receive the hook. This is the opposite of good design. You want the players excited about going on the adventure. You want them motivated. Putting them through a grinder just to start play puts everyone in a bad mood. I’d just kill the little fuck and move on with my adventuring life. Even the more traditional definitions of HERO, if that’s your play style, doesn’t mean DOORMAT. This is nothing more than the DM torturing the players and abusing the social contract of accepting the hook.

It is, at this point, that an optional encounter shows up, the best part of the adventure. A noble delegation of sprites show up, demanding that the halfling move. Seems he’s been cutting down their forest and devastating the communities of sprites living in the trees. The well mannered and noble sprites send a delegation to present their demands. They are about one million times more likable than the halfling … again suggesting that the dude should just be killed. “But I’m attached to my little beach hut!” Great, he’s also a fucking whiner. Anyway, the sprites are presented as the bad guys, but a more nuanced interpretation would make this a decent encounter. Social encounters add life to an adventure, they present choices.

Anyway, the kua-toa caverns are literally 45 feet from the halflings hut. No fucking shit your brother got kidnapped. The map of the caverns is hand drawn. I usually like that, but this one is a blurry confusing mess that also has no room numbers on it. You can’t tell what connects to what of which room is which. That whole “make life easier on the DM” thing that I push? FAIL.

The fish-men have no order of battle, they just wait in their rooms to die. The monsters have no stats presented, just references to page number in a monster manual … I guess the 5e one? Again, not making life easier for the DM. It’s all straight up combat encounters with nothing much interesting going on in the rooms. And since when did kua-toa and a giant octopus become a first level encounter? I know unbalanced encounters and “run away” are time honored OSR traditions, but, still, there should be SOME hand waving to character level. “Welcome to D&D, you are all first level. The dungeon we will be playing tonight is full of vampire lords and balrogs. It’s all combat and STFU its the adventure we’re playing tonight.” Wow. Fun times. The room descriptions/text are nigh incomprehensible.

This is $10 at DriveThru. Ten fucking dollars for a single column crap fest. The preview doesn’t really show you anything. You DO get to see the sprite encounter, on the last page of the preview, that’s worth checking out. The rest is just overview and wall of stat bloat text.

Happy fucking new year!

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6 Responses to Caverns of the Fish-folk

  1. I like the image of two halfling squatters living in a hut on the beach. I also like the idea of the party saving him being complicated by the abductee being a bit of a dick who has been fucking with the local sprite community by cutting down their trees (booooo).

    Weird how it never got further with that.

  2. Edgewise says:

    “Welcome to D&D, you are all first level. The dungeon we will be playing tonight is full of vampire lords and balrogs. It’s all combat and STFU its the adventure we’re playing tonight.” Wow. Fun times.

    Bryce, your hate for this one is a beautiful thing. If you can replicate the exact hangover you must have had when you wrote this, you’ll be spinning gold here.

  3. Gus L says:

    Wait! Will you give me $10 to write 15 pages of wretched nonsense, if I don’t publish it on RPGnow? I’m willing to undertake the the project (should I demand 1/1000 of a BTC to make it extra internet creep?) and promise to use a combination of stats from OD&D and 1982’s Swordbearer with an inexplicable dash of Star Frontiers. I will also misspell the word ‘goblin’ in uncomfortable ways, and repeatedly. I admit to steeling a bit from Gygax with it.

    What do you say – are you ready to be the sole owner of “Orcs in A Hole 2 – the Not-Orcaning?”

    The hook is “There were orcs in a hole, but now they’re gone. Yet the hole is eternal, there is always a void – to say it doesn’t need filling is to state the obvious, but if someone doesn’t try they King will execute you!”

  4. Jeff says:

    Looking at the preview, this appears to be an attempt to create an “unofficial” 5th edition adventure using the OGL (rather than getting a proper 5th edition licence and/or selling via DM’s Guild and giving WotC their cut). Unfortunately Kuo-toa are not open content, so I’m pretty sure you can add IP infringement to the adventure’s list of sins.

    Andrea G. thought it was a HELLA BRILLIANT MODULE, however. He or she liked it enough to post their one and only DrivethruRPG product review (assuming I am using the website correctly!)

  5. Jeff says:

    Incidentally, a Giant Octopus is a legitimate opponent for a first level party in 5th edition, as it is CR 1.

    [AC 11 and +5 to hit (for 10 points of damage). It does have 51 hit points, but that’s fifth edition for you. It can grab you, but can’t make any attacks or do any damage whilst it has you in its grasp – so if the creature is by itself, all you have to do is let it give you a hug, and then do nothing for 5 or 10 rounds whilst your friends hack it to pieces.]

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