The Beleaguered Burrow

By C.T. McGrew
Paper Brain Games
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 1-3

A lonely hill concealing terrible tragedy. Orcs and goblins in a standoff. A monstrous predator.

This twelve page adventure details three interconnecting cave systems featuring an abandoned gnome burrow, an orc outpost, and a goblin lair. There’s some faction play present, and the overall setup has a charming/simple vibe present. The adventure takes a lot of words to describe mundane things in detail, which detracts significantly from its ability to actually BE a charming little adventure.

There’s no real hook, just a throw away line about a poster with rewards for monster heads and to go to a hill a half day away. There’s no read-aloud either, which is a joy after the last few reviews page long monstrosities. There are three cave systems under the hill, all interconnected and all that also have outside entrances. The first was a gnome burrow that was taken over by an owlbear. The second is an orc outpost, with a gnome owlbear survivor tricking them to attack the third caves: the goblins who sent the owlbear to the gnome burrow. Stirge fly out of holes, the owlbear has a rank smell, the goblins caves also have some webbed corridors with a giant black widow or two. (PERFECT! I LUV “real” monsters that are relatable, especially at first level.) You can talk to the orcs, since they have a couple of goals other than “kill everyone they see.” That’s good and can add a depth to the adventure and some interesting situations … which is why the fuck I generally advocate a couple of NPCs in the dungeon. Talk to someone, ally with them, enjoy the roleplaying and the problem solving your new friends can help you with. You can always stab them later.

But, charming though it is, this should really be just a couple of pages, not twelve. It’s not full of appendices and pages of introduction and background, it’s actually just room after room. But .. the rooms are pretty poorly written. It falls in to the common mistake of describing the mundane. The kitchen describes everything you would expect to find in the kitchen. The coat closet describes everything you would find in a coat closet. The bedroom describes a bedroom. And it takes several sentences/a long paragraph to do that. We don’t need that. We all know what a kitchen looks like. The descriptions should instead focus on the “the different”, and in particular, that which is relevant to actual play. The kitchen description, after the long boring normal description, has a second one that has the table smeared with blood and viscera, where the owlbear caught a gnome and ate it. That’s great. The closet has the outfits of a gnome family. It’s good to know there are five and one is a child, but that can be communicated to the DM in a method OTHER than a long drawn-out description of the quantity and length description of each object.

The overall effect is to hide the important information and make the DM hunt for it during play. When if the owlbear at home? I don’t know, let me dig through a bunch of “what happened before” text and then find the “moms at home” data buried at the end …

It doesn’t help, either, that padding words and phrases are used. “Anyone searching will find …” is just padding. It’s an IF/THEN clause. “IF the party searches the room THEN they will find …” That’s all padding. There is a rosewood box hidden under ashes in the fireplace.?-Period. Describe what IS. This is what good editing should deliver for you.

But, just when you want the detail, it doesn’t exist. “A necklace worth 1000gp” is listed as treasure. That’s a lot of cash. Perhaps we could get JUST a bit more description of that? That’s the kind of thing I mean about the focus of the adventine text being on the actual play elements. That should be a famulous necklace that elicits awe and envy in the PLAYERS … all in less than one sentence. That’s the trick to writing an adventure.

This is $1 at DriveThru. Alas, there is no preview.

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10 Responses to The Beleaguered Burrow

  1. At level 1-3, I can’t imagine a system where a 1k gp necklace wouldn’t be the object of desire until they can sell it and split the cash.

    • SolCannibal says:

      Yes, but EXACTLY for that some bit of description, to help the GM with getting that sense of desirability-value-wonder across, without saying something “meta/you rolled appraise” like worth 1K gp, not to mention it sort of breaks RP immersion. Description that spurs the imagination is a nice thing to get in a product.

      Incidentally, i misread the title as “The Beleaguered Barrow” for a moment, what makes me to make the burrow into a weird “Hobbit house/family tomb” with some gnome undead ancestors mixed in for some further complication/factions to the whole. Words to inspire are important.

      • I forgot to add to my comment that, yes, you really need a good description to play it up is only because its such a valuable object.
        Which makes this product ever sadder, that it doesn’t recognize such moments.

    • Anonymous says:

      Philosophically, I want to describe SolCannibal observes, though, nothing seems to survive the trip to town. I get it from the players’ perspective, but it’s a major motivation killer for coming up with interesting jewellery.

      • ^ This! the ceramic frog statue is painted in a special elven-created blue paint known as “Treybluwarr” and is unavailable outside of their community. Each eye is set with a deep red garnet cut to catch the light just right and reflect a red glow out of the frog’s mouth that seems to come from within. The statue’s left foot turns to reveal a hidden compartment that holds some expensive ground snuff.

        (Breathless DM hopes the party loves the frog).

        Party: eh, sounds like we can get about 1200 GP back in town, you know I’ve had my eye on a new set of armor and we need a packhorse and barding.

        • Jeff says:

          Well, I love the frog!

          My players couldn’t care less, so if I had somehow managed to come up with such a cool item, I’d probably make them role-play out selling it.

          [GM] The merchant looks at the frog dubiously. “A blue frog? Seriously? I guess the jewels are worth something, and there is a bit of a fashion for elven trinkets these days. I’ll give you 1,200 gp for it.”

          [GM] As you head off to the armourer’s shop with your gold, you hear the sound of wild celebrations coming from the merchant’s shop. Someone seems to be yelling “The imperial frog of Emperor Kailus is mine at last! I’m going to be rich beyond my wildest dreams!”

          [Player 1] (looking a bit sick). “WTF?”

          [Player 2] “Don’t worry, the GM always does something like that when we don’t show enough appreciation for his ‘artistic’ treasure descriptions. Even if you’d pretended it was the coolest thing you’d ever seen, we’d still only have got 1,200 gp for it.”

        • Fiasco says:

          That’s probably too much description. “ a palm sized gold
          statuette of a frog with a red glow coming from its mouth”.

  2. James M. says:

    It doesn’t take much description to make the party wonder whether the item is meant to be more than just treasure.

    GM: “Mosaic designs of frogs surround an oddly-shaped niche in the wall.”

    Player: “Do they look like that weird frog statuette we found last time?”

    GM: “Yes, and since you were thinking of that, the niche does look about the right size to hold the statuette.”

    Player: “I wonder if that was the idol the toad shaman warned us we would need?”

  3. Anonymous says:

    A decent short adventure. The surviving gnome might enliven the proceedings: on the one hand, he
    is colluding with orcs, and the PCs might exploit that; on the other, he may demand the PCs hand over any treasure taken from the owlbear, or be regarded as robbers.
    Concerning treasure, I am more concerned with the gnome corpse in area C4, who has 3000 ep in a leather pouch. That is a rather large leather pouch, and it is surprising the goblins overlooked it.
    Maybe change that to “1500 gp worth of diamonds and emeralds, in a concealed pouch of his jacket, ripped open by the rats”. Or make the treasure written mining rights (or similar), which the goblins can’t read.
    The authorities seem to have plenty of cash if they can offer 50 gold for each goblin head, 100
    for each orc head.
    Your reviews, as ever, much appreciated.

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