Echoes from Fomalhaut #1

The Singing Caverns
First Hungarian d20 Society
Gabor Lux
Levels 2-4

This is a 44 page zine from Gabor Lux containing a variety of higher quality D&D-ish material. It includes a two level cave complex with fifty rooms, over fifteen pages, called “The Singing Caverns”, which this review will be concentrating on … since I only review adventures. Terse writing, interesting encounters and a good map all combine to create a delightful little complex to explore … reminding me more than a bit of Thracia. Could there be a higher compliment?

Gabor Lux/Melan has created some interesting material that seems to appeal to a wide variety of folks. When Guy Fullerton creates a bibliography of your works AND Kent likes you, well … you’re doing something right. Note also that my review standards link to his great article on dungeon map design. Echoes From Formalhaught is a zine he is putting out, with issue one just dropping in print ind and PDF. It’s got a lot of good content, and starts strong is a great random merchant generator. “A distracted farmer selling haircuts drawing a small crowd.” Note how it both creates a memorable NPC quality “distracted farmer” and creates some potential energy “drawing a small crowd.” That’s a great example of a perfect NPC encounter. That table alone is good enough to go on my binder … and I’d put it on my screen if I had room.

But … we’re talking about adventures.

The Singing Caverns is a two level cave system with about fifty rooms spread out over fifteen pages (maps and full page artwork taking up four or five, so ten pages of text,) Fifty rooms in ten pages … and single column wide wide margins to boot!

These encounters are packed. The wanderers are up to something. Giant rats are cowardly stragglers that try to drag down stragglers or rip open food bags.” Perfect! You’ve got your encounter right there. When the rats show up they are doing something. Drunk exploring bandits? Great! Now you’ve got a little NPC interaction before they get a bit belligerent, and an obvious way for the party to appeal to them. These things are done in a short sentence, or maybe two. You don’t have to drone on and on while writing a description. You just need to set it up, as is done here. The goal of writing in an adventure is to inspire the DM in order to leverage their ability to take something and run with it. In order to do that you need to give them a shove. And that’s what these encounters do.

Looking at room one, “Water trickles from the mouth of a grinning long-nosed strong-chinned stone head into a dented brass basin. Several footprints in the mud.” After that is a short sentence saying the wind wails through the passage, blowing out torches on a 1-2, and there’s a crude tripwire a few steps in knowing down a support beam with stone for 2d6hp.

The initial description is short. The important stuff is bolded to draw the eye. The second paragraph contains DM information, again short and bolded. This isn’t the ONLY way to write effectively, but I do think it’s one of the most straightforward ways. The adventure does this over and over again. It’s like terse little jabs to your imagination in every room.

The maps good. Same level stairs, multiple ways between levels, loops, features drawn in on the map like ledges, etc. The keying is clear and legible.It’s what you want a map to be to encourage great exploration play in the dungeon..

This is $6 at DriveThru. You get to see the merchant table and, at the end of the preview, the first few rooms of the dungeon. They are representative of the entire thing.

This entry was posted in Level 2, Reviews, The Best. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Echoes from Fomalhaut #1

  1. Mike says:

    Good review of a good adventure. I will use The Singing Caverns as my kids’ first game of D&D this year. That’s a big compliment given the myriad of options in RPGLand.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Yo Bryce, if I may criticize your criticism for a sec with some constructive, err, criticism:

    All your reviews seem to focus 90% of their content on adventure format – the writing style is overly verbose, important information is bolded, backstory is too much, etc Admittedly an important part of any published module, but I think you’ve come to rely too much on your baseline assumptions for how things should be written as a crutch in all your reviews. You only ever seem to contrast the same opinions we all know you have against a piece and determine it’s worth based on how many “Bryce boxes” it does or doesn’t check off.

    How about skewing your module reviews a little more based on the adventure content rather than the format? I don’t mean the usual stuff like “wandering monsters aren’t doing stuff like they ought to be”, but rather more like “the choice of a goblin king as the main antagonist was a poor one, considering the lack of goblins in this adventure. A better option would be to have had the bandit leaders fighting a civil war amongst themselves, with each faction leader turning the party against the other” or whatever. You know, a critique of the actual adventure, instead of whether or not things should be in annexes or if there’s too little content spread over too many pages.

    Just something to think about.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think this is solid criticism.

    • Luke says:

      Personally, I’m glad the reviews focus on the format and usability. There is a lot of good content out there, yet still I see adventures that are full of inspiration, interesting ideas, and all of that is buried under a pile of typos, unnecessary fluff, omissions, unreadable maps. I read them, sigh, and never use them at the table, because thanks to reviewers like Bryce I can pay for stuff that values my time.

      Without people like Bryce, that act as a voice of those of us that value layout and usability at the table, even less people would care. I still see people questioning the very idea of retroclones, saying “Why would anyone pay for the same rules that are already out there?” I would gladly pay thrice the amount for the same ruleset that went through good editing, is laid out in spreads, has an index and good reference tables. People are still publishing adventures with microsettings that do not have a random encounter table, do not have a good map, but contain a whole page on the backstory of the gongfarmer in village hut number four, described as “A typical village hut, built using materials common to this region”.

      • I approve of everything Luke just said. *tips hat*

      • I mostly agree with Luke…however, you can polish a piece of shit, but it’s still a piece of shit. I think all components have some merit. Those bits of inspiration or good ideas you can mold and stick it in somewhere else…not ideal perhaps, but still usable. Boring ideas that look great and are organized–not sure I would use that either.

        Getting back to this particular review…I purchased Echoes from Fomalhaut and have to say there is a bunch of great stuff in it and recommend it!

  3. Melan says:

    Thanks for the review! I just wonder why it only covers one of the three modules in the zine. I csn understand ‘Red Mound’ since it is a vignette, but The Mysterious Manor’ is a full-session affair.g

    • Shuffling Wombat says:

      Little to add about the Singing Caverns: Melan is able to construct caves where creatures live, rather than wait to be slaughtered; this opens up non-combat options.

      I haven’t played the Mysterious Manor yet, but I have read it. I like adventures with layers, such as WG4: it starts with a challenging combat against humanoids, but parties are likely to eventually find traces of the Temple of Tharizdun. There is a similar set up here, with humanoids holding the surface level, and undead infested cellars with the secrets of the Bonifaces family. The absentee chief is a nice touch; the PCs will at least be worried about a retributive strike. I would like to see a little more discussion (say one paragraph) of possible PC actions and their likely consequences, but this is a good adventure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *