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.”
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.