Mines, Claws & Princesses

By Oswald
Oswald Publishing
Level 2-4

The groom is dead, the bride Sunnhild taken. Men rave in pain whilst their women wail in sorrow. Blood mixed with tears, the chieftain Erfried cries out “Only you are left who can hold a sword. Go now. The orcs ride to Sanjikar and you must follow.”

Fuck yeah!


This 48 page tour-de-force of an adventure takes place in a four-ish level dungeon in a mesa with about eighty rooms. Terse. Evocative. Well formatted. Interesting encounters. From the first paragraph it makes you want to run it. With this Oswald cements himself as one of the best writers currently producing material. As with all of my “best” reviews, I’m just going to rant some in a nigh incomprehensible manner over how good this is. My good reviews always suck.

Simplicity can be deceptive. It’s easy to fall in to ruts, to do what is expected, to go on auto-pilot. You can, at times, see this in art, looking at something that seems very simple and yet very profound. Behind it is a very deep understanding. We don’t need routers, turn off NTP, transponders are for fools … understanding the environment and what you want to do and laser-like focus. Oswald has written something that could be dismissed by fools as simple … and yet is masterful in all of its details.

This thing is EXCITING. From the first paragraph it makes you want to run it, makes you want to play it. There’s an implied urgency to the adventure which everyone can feel immediately. The premise is ridiculously basic: orcs raided a wedding and stole the princess and are gonna marry her to their chief. Fabulous! That opening blurb, above, is the first paragraph and contains the literal call to action. And it just builds and builds on itself. Tension ramps up over and over again.

There’s no fucking garbage! There’s no “this is an adventure for 4-6 characters” or any “As a DM you can modify the encounters” or any “This is set in the region of Boring Generic land.” It just GOES. Oh? Don’t like princess wedding kidnap? How about scabrous beggar vet displaying his ruined limbs and medals, trading food for the location of four magic sword? No? A dead bishop with a map in a secret pocket showing the location of the Hand of St. Aren? This fucking thing packs and delivers like UPS trucks! Dense, word choice offering implied mystery and depth. That vet doesn’t show you ruined limbs (Ruined limbs!). He DISPLAYS them. That offers so much more inspiration for a DM and implies and others things. Word choice fucking matters. English, the most rich language ever, is full on displayed.

It’s like every sentence, every paragraph delivers on something evocative and loaded with implied subtext for your brain to grab and run with. It does this with a minimal word count and good use of bolding and white space to facilitate scanning by the DM. You INSTANTLY find the section you need and the the part of it you need. The first couple of pages orient you toward the adventure. A summary of main character, an outline. The starting village is in an appendix so as to not get in the way. There’s an In Media Res beginning, ala DCO, showing the aftermath of the orc raid on the village. And it gives you the possibility to recruit peasants to your cause! Fuck yeah! D&D FOREVER!

Oh, Oh, let’s talk about one thing he does … There’s this encounter with an old woman who begs you to no go rescue the princess! She does it on three separate occasions. Three, of course, being a magic number. Refused three times she, the last of a line of warrior-maids and secret keeper of the magic sword Hadviya, gifts the sword with cryptic words. That’s fucking mythic. It’s obviously mythic. It preys on overloaded legend that resides in the back of everyone’s consciousness, that almost generic memory. It’s fucking perfect.

The encounters? A big bubbling cauldron with a head floating int? Orcs man, can’t live with … Orcs tossing live sheep off a cliff for fun? Orcs you can talk to. The bride, trapped in a room with her dead bridesmaid (the orcs thought she would want company) staring ahead in shock while she bleeds on the floor from her wrist … Magnificent. Orcs are orcs. People are people. It’s all turned up to ten … never over the top but all at the height of what it could be.

The maps are great, using color, same level features, tunnels, multiple loops, multiple paths in an out. Further, they manage this while being relatively small, at about 25 rooms or so per level. A good map, while being small, is quite hard. AND HE PUT THE FUCKING LIGHT SOURCES ON THE MAP! Good lord, it’s like Oswald thought “What does the DM need?” and then he fucking did it! “Because you told me to drill sergeant!”

There’s just so much to this and I could talk about almost any aspect for pages. Monsters grok their own nature. Blackbirds are jerks, orcs bestial, a succubus deceptive but egomaniacal. Magic items are wonderous and on-standard. They FEEL magical! Set in an old dwarf fort, it feels a little THX “Mandatory Recreational Smithing Area.” Follow up to the parties actions, both during the adventure for delaying and then at the end for consequences. Terse. Evocative. Every. Fucking. Word. Delivers.

“Upon the door lie engravings scarcely seen through dragon acid gouges of a dwarf lord holding his hammer high, 5 swords above him, aside him a skull. Once he was legend.”

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a current suggested price of $2. You are a FOOL for not purchasing this. A fucking FOOL. Two fucking dollars. I’ve spent $20 on PDFs that were shorter and infinitely more shitty. I’ve spent $50 on hardback adventures of hundreds of pages that didn’t contain as much adventure as one page of this adventure.

The preview is NINETEEN pages long! NINETEEN! You get to see what you are buying! Check out the map on page 6, or the brides waiting room on page ten.

There’s another review of this floating around that gives the adventure a 3 out of 5. “No read aloud and no plot.” I am incredulous.

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29 Responses to Mines, Claws & Princesses

  1. Anonymous says:

    I like your The Best reviews more than your The Worst reviews. It’s fun to see somebody slam dunk a non-adventure, but good reviews make me want to play DnD.

    > English, the most rich language ever,
    le snort

  2. Battle of the reviewers!! Read the other review and the exchange of comments….sounds like a clash of gamestyle of 5e vs. OSR. I’ll stick with Bryce and PrinceofNothing’s opinions though anyday. I want to purchase an adventure,not a novel. Looking forward to reading this on my solo backpack trip this weekend.

    • YouDontMessWithTheJeff says:

      Agreed completely with The Merciless Merchants comments. It’s an adventure. If you want to write a novel, then write a freakin’ novel. It’s amazing how big a divide there can be between new school and old school adventure design philosophy. I’ll take OSR philosophy any day.

    • Donovan says:

      Yes. Keep your heavyhanded plots to books and, since you’re not writing a book, keep your writing terse.

    • Absolutely check it out if you can, you won’t be sorry. I was mind-blown how good it was when I checked it out. And fuck Chris Kelly with a bag of hammers.

  3. Oswald says:

    It’s wierd to me seeing these kind of reviews. For the most part my design was “People like monsters doing things so have all monsters do things. People like cool treasure and unique magic items so try to have all the treasure be good.” A kind of check list of things like bolding or neat entrances to levels that everyone knows are good. Then I like dungeon gimmicks so I put those in.
    A lot of what improved the adventure was playtesting and editing. Things like being told “The players got attached to the village but there’s nothing written about it.” Or going by the “3 beers deep test” to see if the playtest dm could run it at the table. Other than that, I spent a couple months trying to polish it when it was overall done. Everyone basically knows what makes for a good adventure by now.

    • Anonymous says:

      “Everyone basically knows what makes for a good adventure by now.” Ahaha hahahahhahhha!

    • ” Everyone basically knows what makes for a good adventure by now.”

      The thing is, not everybody does. When the major publishers keep putting out 100+ page railroad novellas, and most of the smallest publishers are rewriting the same generic dungeon crawls, we need adventures like yours to hold in juxtaposition.

      • Oswald says:

        The bigger issue I see is self-referential “d&d fantasy” where it’s just like the fantasy you read except with all the myth and wonder removed.

        I guess I don’t understand the reasons for the railroad novella designs. Even then, there’s likely ways to improve that school of game running. As far as adventures go, everyone who’s ran the game longer than a decade knows that npc’s with relationships to each other are good in a village, an occasional monster you roleplay with rather than attack on sight is good, an alternate entrance can be cool, players care more about treasure if there’s some description of “why it’s valuable” rather than “rod, 80gp”. A lot of these things are easy to go back after you sketch out a level and really try to hit the non-controversial “This stuff makes an adventure better.” As far as writing style goes, I zone out when writing drones on too long. That and just do a million or so revisions, then gangpress a buddy of yours into being an editor.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Bryce, you mentioned elsewhere that this is one of four adventures you have give a perfect ten to. Out of curiosity, what are the other three?

    • Eugene M says:

      Brrzzzing at last a chance to pay back! IIRC Anomalous Surface Environment 1, Deep Carbon Observatory, The Darkness Beneath: The Upper Caves… and my favourite Maze of the Blue Medusa,

      thanks for all your hard work Bryce, wading through the words to point out some gems

  5. Bigby's Affirmative Consent Lubed Fist says:

    This fucking thing packs and delivers like UPS trucks!

    Everyone’s a winner, we’re making our fame!

  6. Jeff says:

    This is a wonderful adventure. Bryce, thank you so much for bringing it to our attention.

    The 3 star review from Chris was also a very interesting insight into what some people are looking for from our hobby.

    “The entire adventure is written for the DM which is great, but it leaves the DM without descriptions for the players. The lack of boxed text to read or even a paraphrase paragraph to engage the players is very troubling. Leaving it up to the DM to scratch build descriptions of rooms, areas, and encounters is quite a challenge and a lot of extra work. This in turn leaves the adventure with an unfinished and unready to play feel.”

    Words pretty much fail me; I guess this must be similar to how scientists feel when they describe an outlandish theory as “not even wrong”.

    • YouDontMessWithTheJeff says:

      I think Chris is a fan of 2nd Edition era Dungeon Magazine adventures. Lots of boxed text and oodles of superfluous information that just make the DM’s job harder.

  7. Dire Grizzly Bear says:

    “I appreciate your overview of Paris, but you didn’t tell me what material the cobblestones were made from, where to find a Starbucks, or why I would want to go there. No read aloud text. 3/5.”

  8. I’m incredulous that you’re incredulous.

  9. Johnnyboy says:

    With that recommendation, I’ve happily bought it blind.

  10. Bryce, you deserve a potion of super-heroism and the blessing of Saint Zagyg for trying to talk some sense into “GM-difficulty 4” Kelly. And what a passive agressive dismissal too. I can’t help but wonder what his idea of a great module would be but I might recommend Nuovo Malatia to him, based on his comments so far.

  11. Chris says:

    Am I the only one seeing similarities to “Forge of Fury”? The Black Lake, Black Dragon at the bottom of the dungeon, trapped Succubus on the 3rd floor, cavernous 2nd floor with troglodytes, orcs on the 1st floor with a rope bridge, smoke chimney connected to 1st floor, orc tunnel from outside to the 2nd floor, etc. Mind you this is leagues better than Forge of Fury, and I regret not paying more for this module (and also regret buying Forge of Fury at all). More just checking that I’m not crazy…
    Unrelated, I have been looking for a way to condense the 5th ed stat blocks for awhile now and this is the best example I’ve seen of how to do so. Well done.

    • Oswald says:

      The adventure design was initially me getting invited to run a 5e game for a separate group and deciding to take a look at forge of fury. It was the third adventure I ever ran as a DM so it’s a bit dear to me but within a week I had changed the intro, changed the map on the first level, changed every encounter on the first level and turned it into a fairly different one shot scenario. So when I started expanding on it, at first I considered seeing how people would react to a “3e version of a KotB homage” thing. Then by halfway through designing, it was so different in play, in design and in tone that I felt it had become it’s own thing.

      One thing that helped a ton with compressing the stats was a post I found, http://theangrygm.com/abbreviate-stat-blocks/. I actually considered re-making it for 2e or LL or something for a while because of how frustrated I was getting trying to fit these massive stat blocks into the document. That’s why phrases like “Must wis save 16” pop up a lot since it’s the least words I can think of to clearly explain what’s needed for a saving throw in this edition.

  12. Edgewise says:

    Having now purchased and read the adventure…

    Bryce said it was dense, and that’s one of the things that really sticks out. There’s a lot going on with factions and timetables. It’s complicated, but it’s only as complicated as it needs to be. That’s the impressive part, here.

    I mean, there’s also a lot in terms of dynamic encounters, colorful personalities, unique and weird magic, etc. All that stuff is great. It’s just that the organization of ideas and structure of the content are what set this apart. In 44 pages it’s a clown car of content.

  13. I think this and the counter-point review deserve a blog post all their own. Will hopefully get time to write something later today.

  14. Fiasco says:

    Chris Kelly is a fine example as to why most modules are shit. The disconnect seems to be that Chris thinks modules should pander to the lowest common denominator whereas Bryce sees the audience as GMs who aren’t morons but are pressed for time.

    • Edgewise says:

      I don’t think it’s about pandering so much as misguided ideas about what GMs need from published content. Maybe he just runs a game very differently than I do. One of the things I rarely care much about are hooks. If I’m fitting the adventure into my campaign, I’m bound to find my own hooks, anyway. Just give me a location with some stuff going on – I’ll drop a MacGuffin in the middle and it’s game on.

  15. Will be looking forward to more reviews of Oswald’s other works.

    • Anonymous says:

      I believe Bryce has already reviewed most of Oswald’s modules, including Curse of the Shrine Goddess and The Atheneum of Yearning.

  16. R. says:

    I think there should be a middle ground between a logorrhea of pseudo litterature and this thing.
    It looks like my campaign notes for Forge of Fury. Between new pseudo litterary know-it-alls and old schoolers who absolutely know how it should be done, both groups actually thinking they know better than everyone what I like or what an old school gamer is, I prefer to not choose.

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