The Dark Tower of Arcma

by Joseph A. Mohr
Expeditious Retreat Press
Levels 6-10

For many years now the locals around the village of Dunmoth have spoken only in whispers about the strange goings on in the Wild Woods around the village. Tales of a dark tower that appears in the night and then disappears again by day have been passed along for generations in the village. Strange creatures have been seen around this tower the like of which have never been seen or even heard of before. Creatures that appear almost to be some kind of monstrous combination of some of the most hideous and horrifying creatures known are claimed to have been seen near this tower. Rumors of the tower’s return have circulated, and a hearty band of adventures has left to explore the dread place. The question remains if they can return, however…

This sixteen page adventure describes a wizards tower with about fifty rooms; four tower levels and three dungeons. The tower levels are just one big open room each but the dungeon levels are small fifteen room-ish affairs. This leans towards funhouse a little, with certain rooms having encounters that make little sense in context, but that probably doesn’t matter; it’s D&D after all. Decent new magic items do not make up for the long paragraph writing style employed. It’s got a bit of the set-piece thing going on (again, the funhouse aspect), but getting past that I’d say the effort lacks a strong edit to impose good style.

The tower appears during the full moon and disappears when the first hint of moon appears in the sky. Inside are … challenges. In one tower level room you have to answer a riddle of a demon appears to attack. Another room is pretty explicit: a skull says something like “who accepts my challenge?” Doing so teleports you to a single combat chamber and you fight a monster. Long ago a player in a game made an adventure I played in. You spun the wheel from the game life and either got a treasure or fought a monster. That was the entirety of the adventure. While I appreciate them making an effort, the Judge in me raises an eyebrow, especially in a commercial product like this one. Surely there are better ways?

Likewise there’s another room where you answer a riddle and in return all of the suits of armor in the big tower room burn to ashes and a magic ring appears. Sooo …. As the owner of the tower I must say that I have chosen a rather strange jewelry box, what with the riddle and the burning down and the devotion of an entire level of my tower to such a lock. Again this points to the funhouse like aspect to the design. Rooms appear not because they make sense, or because they were crafted to work together, but rather because the designer had an idea they wanted to use and just put it in. I think maybe just a LITTLE more pretext is called for … or else go the other direction entirely and make it the Mad Jesters dungeon.

The room descriptions are LONG, three paragraph affairs with little formatting to them or attempts to call out special data via bolding, etc. This forces you to keep your head down, reading the entry and continually look at it. That’s not a DM style I can be supportive of. I want to have my head up, looking at the players, interacting with them, taking quick glances down. This is the “scanning method” that I mention so frequently. Reading the room is for the first time read through 45 minutes before players show up, not for running it at the table. These long writing styles with little formatting do not lend themselves to the scanning style. I don’t know, maybe I’m alone. I don’t see how it’s possible to be an effective DM while continually looking down and reading instead of interacting with the players.

At times we get long descriptions of normal things, like what an alchemist’s lab looks like. These sorts of laundry lists (or maybe Doomsday Book) of room contents are lame and do nothing to support an adventure. If you don’t know what’s in a bedroom or kitchen by now then it’s not the designers job to fix you.

Some of the magic items are just book things, but others are more interesting. A ring of Murder os made of congealed and hardened blood. Cool! Exactly the sort of specificity I am looking for, and it took almost no extra space to describe.

This stands in contrast to the new monsters. I generally like new monsters, they keep the party guessing. It’s also important to write the entries effectivly. The first line of the “Broken Ones” is that “these creatures are the sad objects of Arcmas experimentation.” Should that REALLY be the first sentence? Is that what the DM needs when they flip to this entry after a wanderer is called for? Description first, call out notable features, etc. The bullshit flavor text backstory can be shoved in later on. Further, I don’t thin the entries support the DM well. The Broken Ones are supposed to be human animal hybrids, all different, but that’s all we’re told. No table to help us out, or example given. That’s a MAJOR miss to helping the DM create an evocative atmosphere.

This is $14 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages long and shows you a lot of the adventure style. Levels two and three of the tower appear on page three of the preview and show you the funhouse riddle rooms. Virtually any room in the last half of the preview, the dungeon rooms, will illustrate the longish writing style.

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