By Richard Kunz
The people of Corbin Village are hardy folk, familiar with the dangers of the region. But when a band of orcs raids the village, Sheriff McBride realizes she has more troubles than she can handle and calls on a group of heroes to bring the orcs to justice. To complicate matters, the orcs have stolen an item of great historical value from the local sage, and he wants it back. Can the PCs survive the dangers of a nearby marsh and locate the bandits’ hidden lair? If they do, can they take down the orc raiders and recover the sage’s precious statue?
This fifty page completely linear adventure is aimed at n00bs and to be “quick and easy to prepare.” Linear, long read-aloud, too much DM information preventing scanning … all the usual bad choices are employed.
Before I start stabbing this NPC n the throat I’d like to mention a couple of nice things this adventure does. First, there’s a great picture of lizardmen in it. They look more like Gecko-folk, with red skinned heads and a kind of bipedal salamander body. I don’t often mention art, but I think this piece really adds to painting an evocative picture of the creatures. A little non-standard and a different take on them.
Secondly, there’s a bit in the swamp while you are tracking the orcs to their lair. The tracks reveal a mechant being forced along with them. This is a great way to foreshadow and ramp up the tension in an adventure. The party is now aware of a prisoner and will be on the lookout for them. Or, it would be if that were the case. I misread this section the first time around. Turns out there isn’t a captured merchant and they are not a part of the adventure. I can has Sadz.
I continue to be perplexed by these things. Fifty pages, the thing doesn’t really start till page sixteen or so, and the last dozen or so pages are just appendix padding. Is this the evil of Pay Per Word, or just bad lessons learned from WOTZ & Paizo? Whatever the reason, I find the bulk of adventures worthless. I want to say “modern adventures”, meaning Pathfinder & 5e, but in reality the problem plagues most systems … its just REALLY hard to find 5e/Pathfinder stuff that isn’t infected with it.
This could be a textbook example of bad read-aloud. It’s not full of insane 3-page long sections, but more representative of the usual read-aloud dreck. They tend to be long: five paragraphs, a page. That’s bad design choices. Players don’t care. Recall the WOTC article: you get AT MOST three sentences before people stop paying attention.
But wait … there’s more! The read-aloud is used to signal the start of an encounter. “You’re walking through a swamp. A frog jumps in to the water.” High alert! Everyone on their toes! By enforcing a system of encounters starting with read aloud you telegraph encounters starting.
Then there’s the ever present football player r… oops, no, I mean ‘italics.’ Italics is a popular choice for read-aloud, as well a fancy italics font. It is a BANE upon the products. The goal is to make life on the DM easier and a hard to read font, that you then italicize, is not easy to read. It’s hard to read. Put the shit in a shaded box or bold it or something, but the emphasis has to be on making it EASY, not more difficult.
Frequent readers will recall that I demand an adventure be easy to run with little prep. AT first glance, the designers “this is quick & easy to prepare” statement would seem to align. Except their definition is different than mine. I have no idea what their definition is, but it’s not quick & easy. The DM text is LONG. Very long. Encounters can be two to three pages long. This does not lend itself well to scanning at the table. It has a very loose, rather than focused, communication style with lots of padding and non-essential detail. A guy stuck in quicksand has been there awhile, we’re told, and his legs are numb and he can’t get out himself. Well no shit. It’s this sort of thing that adds to the text. It does not add gameable detail. It’s justifying the situation, which the adventure should NEVER do. Or, almost never. Whatever. It’s almost never called for.
But, specificity IS needed. At one point early in the adventure a sage relates that a statue was stolen by raiding orcs. It was created by “people of an ancient civilization.” That’s generic and boring. “It was created by the vile Arc-teryx people, long ago dommed by the sun god” is the sort of specificity that adds color to the adventure. Otherwise it’s clear it just a throw away line, the players will recognize that, and not be as invested.
I want to call out an additional thing that is sticking with me. In the initial encounter, when the orcs attack the village, the read aloud emphasizes a cart stuck in between the village gates, keeping them from closing. But, that’s not the first encounter. Instead the party is forced to some orcs battering away at the weaponsmiths door. Everything about the setup says “Close the gates! Free the wagon!” … but then the adventure forces you a different way. Bad design.
This is supposed to be an adventure for noob players and DM’s, especially younger players. It justifies choices, like its linearity and the linear orc cave at the end, by noting its simpler. Yes. It also forces a scene based system and removes player agency, which is one of the most important aspects of RPG’s. Ask yourself, do you want choices or is the DM telling a story? We’re not playing FIasco or Shab-al-Hiri. The switch to scene-based linear adventures, and DM storytelling, removes an important feature. And you know how I feel when I think I’m being tricked and my expectations are not met.
In the end, this is just another garbage scene-based adventure, impossible to run easily at the table because of the flood of text.
This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages, which shows you the credit and table of contents and publishers philosophy. IE: nothing of use to help to make a purchasing decision.https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/183049/Trail-of-the-Apprentice-The-Bandits-Cave-5E?affiliate_id=1892600
That’s got to be the most bland title I’ve ever seen. And a lot of these seem to be proudly proclaiming their utter genericness in bold letters on the cover.
How did $10 become a thing all of a sudden? This is crazy insane pricing for D&D modules if this level of quality. Do people think they should be able to retire in luxury off of OSR?
Charging by the word, I suppose.
“Legendary Beginnings” Sounds promissing
“Bandit Cave” Wait how is that legendary?
“10 dollars” Now that’s a legendary daredevil thinking you can get away with that.
That title is … utilitarian.
Although I have zero interest in 5th edition, I actually enjoy these reviews. It reminds me that I’m not missing anything worthwhile. I keep hoping that someday a 5e module will come along that can be useful for older editions, but I keep being disappointed. I suppose it’s not a surprise. Very few 5e people seem to want to write a stripped down adventure that can be easily used at the table.
I hear ya! I also have zero interest in 5E. Part of my leaning toward 1st ed. AD&D and Holmes Basic is because I feel fine about being lazy and not wanting to learn a new system. Mortzengersturm, The Mad Manticore of Prismatic Peak is written in a “5e-compatible” way, but I didn’t find anything mechanically, irredeemably stuck in 5e-mode in it, and the heart, soul and body of the adventure are very NON-5e in spirit and content. I recommend it 110% – It has a fun, creative atmosphere, a cool 1969 comic book typography and art style, and all the Bryce Lynchian evocative terseness value you could want. It was written by an OSR blogger with good taste, and published through the Hydra Cooperative which publishes really creative, high-quality, intelligent stuff which has earned Bryce’s “The Best” rating. Maybe Bryce will review it someday, like a pallet-cleansing mint, after slogging through a string of particularly evil WORST EVAR adventures. See http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/209712/Mortzengersturm-The-Mad-Manticore-of-the-Prismatic-Peak
Thank you for pointing out that adventure. I would have completely missed it. I’ll check it out
Point being, I think the “5e-compatible” design choice with this adventure is that they just wanted it to be in a language a big number of people are speaking out there. I hope we don’t miss out on good things with a non-5e soul just because they make minor concessions to wearing 5e uniform.
It’s not the system but the design companies and a certain ethos (you can trace it’s genesis through 3e and then Pathfinder- and it really is a genealogy and lineage) . The same guys could write OSR modules and it would still be as dense and filthy. Legendary Games does charge premium prices for their shit.
“…dommed by the Sun God.”
‘Dommed’, not ‘doomed’? I think that’s a little TOO much specificity, IYKWIMAITYD. 😉