By Joel Logan
A Hole in the Ground Terrain & Games
Fuck me, man. It’s 95 fucking pages long! Come on, if you’re gonna publish shit at least make it short to reduce the suffering of the fuckwits who end up with it.
This thing is divided up in to eight episodes. Each episode has a couple of sub-parts. The adventure has some nice large mass combats, which I always find satisfying, but that doesn’t keep it from being an UTTER PIECE OF SHIT!
The adventure is episodic with the episode outcomes not being determined by character actions but rather by “when things appear grim.” IE: the adventure is arbitrary; there is no player agency. Your actions do not determine your outcome.
The first episode has you relaxing in a crowded inn. “A well armed and agile skeleton bursts in.” What follows is an endless number of skeletons. The instructions are, literally, to keep pouring them in the inn. Doors, windows, they are coming in. The inn is crowded. The people in the inn have personalities (Great!) and there is a kind of slow desperate retreat upstairs.
This is all pretty good, at least in theory. “Army of the Dead” is a popular trope, but the party almost never faces the full might of the army. Adventures always throw in a couple of skeletons or zombies out in the wilderness. Not this time. The army of the dead is attacking the town and every building in it, and grabbing people and taking them. The entire town, and your puny inn is just one part of it. There’s a shit ton of skeletons that create a desperate vibe and a lot of innocent people, panicking. The people have personalities and that can contribute to the desperate situation inside the inn.
Except the designer fucks up nearly every aspect of it. There’s not just a lot of skeletons, there’s an infinite amount of them. The instructions are to call them off once the situation in the inn gets desperate. Fuck. You. This is a shitty designer attempting to create tension through fiat. That’s not D&D. You set up a situation and let the players handle it. THAT is D&D. The former gives the players no agency, their actions are meaningless. Use your daily or just burn you at-wils, so to speak, it makes no difference.
The personalities of the NPC’s are useless. The blacksmith is gaining a reputation as good and reliable and doesn’t talk much. The Farmer is one of the biggest suppliers of fresh food & meat to the Inn. The waitress is hard worker, one of three bar wenches. And so on and so on. ALl of these have in common a lack of potential energy. The descriptions are generic people descriptions, maybe useful if you were moving to town and talking to the mailman. But that’s not what is going on. It’s a stressful situation in an inn under attack. The personalities need to be oriented toward the action. The farmer tries to save his rutabagas is actionable. The dwarf is lame AND hates the undead. The bar wench freezes or hates the undead. The fucking NPC”s need to have data presented that is relevant to the fucking adventure.
Finally, let’s note that the description tells us that a “well-armed and agile skeleton bursts through the door.” L.A.M.E. Those are conclusions. The read-aloud should present information that lets the players draw conclusions. Describe the weapon. Describe something that makes the players think the skeleton is agile. Give us a nice image of the undead bursting through a door of a cheery inn during a thunderstorm.
And did I mention that this “episode” takes four pages to describe?
This happens over and over again. LONG sections to describe “normal” D&D things. “When things look grim, have the ranger show up to save the party from the wolves and drive them off.” Oh, and the arbitrary shit for the purpose of narrtive? How about:
“For purposes of the game narrative the door can not be opened by any low level spells such as knock or dispel magic. On the other side of the door is a large overwhelming force of the undead.”
Uh, No. It’s the players and their characters journey, not yours.
LONG read-alouds. Longer DM text. Backstory presented through … JOURNAL ENTRIES! Oh joy, just when I thought I was safe.
But some of the scenes are great. Mass combats. A bunch of orphan kids in town after the attack of the army of the dead. There are even some summary sheets for the episodes, which I thought were great. If they were better written you’d be able to skip the massive adventure text.
But NONE of it is worth the downsides. MASSIVE text to wade through for no player agency and a DM-driven “story.”
Fuck. Your. Story.
This is $5 at DriveThru. The last four pages of the preview show you the first episode, the attack on the inn, and show you both the good and the bad.https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/219586/The-Halls-of-Runehammer–A-Classic-Dungeon-Crawl-for-5E?affiliate_id=1892600
An entertaining review – how many sanity points have you lost in this endeavour do you think?
Sounds like one of those novel-adventures.
And I’m glad you spared us the rest.
Thanks for taking the time to read the book and do a review. The Halls of Runehammer is definitely an episodic driven adventure that unfortunately does limit the actions and choices players can make. Though I don’t appreciate the vulgar remarks and insults I do appreciate the core of what you wrote and will take it to heart in the future when writing new adventures. You are right that it is best not to limit the actions of your players if you can help it.
The Halls of Runehammer also spurred a stretch goal reward which was a set of five short adventures for 5E called Off the Beaten Path. The Isle of Klamacki was my favorite one of the five if you want to check it out.
We are a small independent studio and do this because we enjoy it. We certainly want those who purchase our products to enjoy them as well. I am sorry you did not enjoy the Halls of Runehammer but hope you will check out our other works in the future.
A Hole in the Ground Terrain & Games
While Bryce can be a bit….caustic at times, I’ve find myself agreeing with his critiques more often than not. I sure don’t agree with everything he says but much of it I do. Excessive story and descriptions are not good and really don’t do much to help a DM run an adventure. It forces the DM to wade through way too much to get to the meat of the adventure. I get the feeling that sometimes, module writers really want to be novel writers and that’s the wrong approach to take in an adventure module. Removing player agency also….well …sucks.
Keep writing. I look forward to Isle of Klamacki.