White Dragon Run II

By James Boney, Joseph Browning, Joseph A. Mohr
Expeditious Retreat Press
Levels 2-5

Return to the little village of White Dragon Run! At the edge of civilization— the place where monsters are a constant threat and adventurers thrive—reputations are made or broken, and deeds are performed only to be set in verse decades after the real story is long lost. On this thin line between country and chaos lies White Dragon Run, the last stop for the civilized before the well-trodden road becomes the weed-infested trail leading to creatures that would rather fight than herd, fish or farm.

This twenty page adventure describes the small town of White Dragon Run, revisited from the the first supplement of this name, as well as four encounters for the wilderness around the town: a hermit, a humanoid cave, a weird tower, and a Yuan-ti temple. The actual encounter areas only take up about seven pages. The encounters are interesting enough, and provide good variety, but I find the writing skewing to the academic. I’m also more than a little bewildered on how everything fits together. I would say it’s the usual fare from XRP.

There’s a decent size hex map and in the middle of it is the town of White Dragon Run. The town has the notable business and personalities described, much in the way the Keep was; that one on the Borderlands. I find the “keep-style” of towns and villages not very interesting. It’ ends up just being a list of names and stats and prices. Maybe a potential sub-plot like “Bob is an assassin in disguise” or something like that. I can do without the pricing detail; in most cases it just seems like trivia. (Perhaps with the exception of the traditional “our bars speciality in food and/or drink”) But a one or two word personality, and maybe some subplots with the other villagers, would liven things up quite a bit. Grumpy blacksmith or Innkeepers wife in love with the bower; that sort of thing. It adds an element of interactivity that makes the places seem more alive. The rumors are old school as well “There’s an evil snake temple in the hills.” That sort of style. Again, I prefer a little more specificity, something like “Cousin Gary? Haven’t seen him since he went out looking for that old snake temple.” A little more character. Finally, there’s a wanderers table that is not much more than a book standard table and adds little to nothing.

In a surprise, the local lord, while remote and dandy, actually gives a shit and if notified of trouble will send a full troop at fast ride to help the party/town. It’s refreshing to see that; rubbing elbows with the lords is a nice way to transition play around level 5.

The actual adventures vary in size. The hermit is really just an NPC. The humanoid cave four rooms, the tower nine or so, and the Yuan-ti temple about 20. There are pools to drink from, a giant snake idle dripping golden liquid from its fangs, dead NPC’s, riddles, traps, and some terrain features to overcome in the various dungeons. Plus, the tower is OD&D weird, with pulsating hearts and lumpy faux-monster protrusions. I’d say the IDEAS present have enough variety that this feels like a 1e/0e adventure and not just a pure hack-fest.

I will say, though, that the writing is flat. It feels academic, or maybe fact-based. Here’s the bulk of the description of a snake idol room:
SNAKE GOD IDOL: There is a large statue here of the snake god Apep. It depicts a large snake head on the body of a man and its mouth has large fangs from which drip a sweet-smelling, golden liquid. The statue radiates both evil and magical energy.

That’s interesting, but not exactly inspiring. “Large statue”, “large snake head”, “large fangs” … large isn’t exactly the most descriptive word in the most descriptive language on earth. It also has issues with what I might call text padding. Giving a little background section or history, or a sentence clause that is irrelevant. “Otherwise the room is empty.” Does it matter that the room is empty? Is that fact relevant to the players interactivity with the room? I know it seems minor, but these things combine to reduce scannability and therefore usefulness at the table. Instead, focus on the adventure elements and making them evocative.

Finally, I might add that I’m a little perplexed about some of the choices made. The locations provided don’t appear on the hex map. Nothing does, except terrain and the town. I guess you just drop them in? The rumors kind of hint, but it’s entirely up to the DM how to introduce the characters to the snake temple … without the adventure provide much/any help at all. I’d like to see the locations integrated a bit more in to the town or NPC’s. The amount of text taken up by per-terrain wandering tables doesn’t seem to add much over the terrain tables in the standard core books. But, in one room, with orcs behind a 4’ defensive wall on top of a 6’ rise … there’s no words at all about climbing or reaching the top or defensive bonuses or anything like that. I would think that’s exactly the sort of guidance a DM would be looking for at that encounter.

I should note that these comments, as well as several others, all tie back to the purpose of a published adventure: helping the DM run it. I think we can all agree that the content of the adventure is meant to help the DM, the only question is how much/specific should the writer be? At one end you’ve Palace of the Vampire Queen and other minimally keyed adventures, while at the other is the stinking pile that attempts to describe everything in the room and every possible action of the characters and enemies. Generally speaking, the closer the text is to minimal keying then the easier it is to scan at the table, and therefore run. Some formatting mojo can help push that boundary and allow more text. However, the more minimally keyed, and thus easier to scan, the less inspiring it is for DM. There is some sweet spot where the text is minimal and yet still evocative. Where that sweet spot is depends on the “inspiring” part for you. This adventure skews to the Keep/Homlet side of amount of text, with maybe a bit more text than products provided, but still in the same spirit. While ok adventures, especially for their time, I don’t think either was written in a particularly evocative style, and I don’t think this is either.

This is $14 at DriveThru.https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/222005/Advanced-Adventures-38-White-Dragon-Run-II?affiliate_id=1892600

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