By Wind Lothamer
Knight Owl Games ( https://knightowlpublishing.com/)
As the players arrive in Boson Bay, it should be assumed that they know nothing of the particular culture of this area. If anything, they will have learned that Boson is a bastion of humanity in an untamed wilderness on the frontier edge of the world.
Vanilla doesn’t mean generic.
This 52 page adventure is a wilderness crawl with an inciting event: dragons begin a rampage and burn the town to the ground … and then move on to do the same elsewhere. This starts the party moving and, I guess, a motivation to stop the dragons. It is charming, brutal, winks at Tolkien, and has no Vanilla in it. It’s also single-column and a hot mess. But man … it just needs a little more …
The party is level one and new in town. Night two: dragons burn the town to the ground. Then orc slavers move in and capture the refugees. The burning down of the town is, I guess, supposed to get the party moving in the wilderness to other locations, by stumbling upon them/talking to refugees, and provide an overall goal: stopping the dragons from burning down EVERYTHING. Because that’s what they do. There’s a mechanic in this for which wilderness encounter the dragons burn down each day. The 9HD dragons. (1e was 8HD at Ancient? OD&D is different?) The party move around the wilderness, learn of new areas from others and from refugees, and eventually … well, I don’t know. As far as I can tell there’s only way to learn what is causing the trouble: talking to the orc slavers.
But fuck that, this thing is charming as hell. Footpad Ferd is a thief you can recruit, as is Borrmormere and Eric Snow. Mary Pippins is a halfling in their village you can recruit, as is Billbeaux. The elves are forced to stay in their forest because they wear silver collars that cause their heads to explode if they leave. There are 200 orc slavers in their camp. There’s a poly’d unicorn who has forgotten who she is, and a harpy, her mortal enemy, is after her. The Dorkenstone is in a mine that has awakened the dragons, deep in the caves, and you need to make a -10 save to not go mad. Also, the caves are full of dead bodies and some weird insect hybrid monsters. This place is FUCKING. MADEHOUSE. And I LUV it!
You can talk to just about everyone. The orc slavers. The humans at the various guard keeps. Poor dwarves, elves, halflings, outlying farms, the unicorns. Go ahead, talk to them, make a reaction roll. Try and recruit them to your side.
The mechanic of burning down the main down and then having the dragons burn down everything else is MAGNIFICENT. It gets the party moving and provides motivation for for role playing skeptical people (who haven’t been burnt down yet) and in recruiting folks to help fight the 9HD dragons. As with the best ODD, it seems to started with imagination first and ignoring the deriguour elements. Yeah, and ripping off Tolkien with funny names is a time-honored D&D tradition.
It’s not super clear how the party is aware of the Dorken stone. The map for the Dwarf dungeon is missing, there being just a blank page where it should be. (As is, I think, a temple map.) There’s no scale on the wilderness map in spite of checkins being called for “for each day in the wilderness.” It’s single column. The stat boxes are HUGE, and the writing needs to be tightened up a lot. This thing should come in at 15-20 pages instead of 60, with better formatting. Layout, and tighter editing. It goes out of its way to use vanilla elements and rip off Tolkien, and probably more I don’t recognize, given that John Snow NPC reference. (Dorken stone ripped off from Heavy Metal?)
But fuck me man, this thing BRINGS IT. Each encounter packs and delivers. Lots of creatures. Lots of HD. The encounters are almost entirely written for play at the table with little no bullshit trivia. It’s a fucking mess, a glorious glorious mess! Get the party moving. Let them talk to things. Give everyone a bunch of treasure to tempt the party. Pretty fucking simple formula.
Also, it has Giant Beavers. As is wont in OD&D. Even those adventures not set in Canada.
Want to play some Vanilla OD&D and have a good time? This thing is it.
This is $5 at Drive Thru. The preview is 12 pages, with the (charming) regional map on the last page. Check out those monster stat block on the pages before that! This writing is not very typical of the rest of the adventure, it being mostly prologue. The Dragons, on page eight, would be the most representative, I think, although most the sections are shorter than this.
Knight Owl do cool stuff. I think the Dorkenstone is probably a reference to the Arkenstone from the Hobbit.
Oops. I confused Knight Owl Games for Night Owl Workshop (who make good retro-clones). Oh well, this sounds cool too.
To make things even more confusing, there is an Owl Knight Publishing too. 🙂
And if that’s not confusing enough, we’ve half-changed our name from Knight Owl Games to Knight Owl Publishing. So go figure!
It’s cool to see some love for Vanilla Adventure here. It’s probably been the least visible of our modules until now.
Thanks for the great review and the coveted “best” distinction, Bryce.
I recently bought it based on Bryce’s review (actually, I was sold as soon as I saw the cover picture) and it looks like a lot of fun. Are you aware of any parties that have managed to defeat the dragon threat? My group wouldn’t survive the first day.
“I think the Dorkenstone is probably a reference to the Arkenstone from the Hobbit.”
You don’t say!
I commented on it because Bryce wondered if it was from Heavy Metal.
“1e was 8HD at Ancient? OD&D is different?”
You mixed up HD with HP/HD. Both in OD&D and AD&D1e the HD depended on the dragon type, the age told you how many hit points per HD the dragon had. So a red dragon had 9-11 HD, and if it was ancient it had 8 HP per HD (72-88 HP).
Goes to show how often I use dragons. Which reminds me, I should use dragons more.
Used like this, definitely. There is foreshadowing of what they can do, and low level PCs have to get out of their way, or find a creative way to fight them. Having only read the preview, is there a discussion of ways of neutralising the dragons (e.g. destroying the Dorkenstone?), or building a ship and sailing away?
You have sold me with the review anyway, and I have ordered it.
There isn’t a discussion as such. You basically have to read the adventure to figure out for yourself what the way to win is. Assuming I have read it correctly, there is a way to get to the Stone without making all those hard to impossible saving throws.
It would work well as the plot of a fighting fantasy gamebook, (“If you have Greymung’s Pick, turn to 222; if you don’t, turn to 103 [where you die horribly]”) but it might be a bit too difficult to solve in D&D where you only get one shot at it.
Reading the adventure is very entertaining, but it would be hard to find the information you need when running it at the table.
Thanks for this. My copy has now arrived, and I concur
with your comments. It would be nice to have a summary of factions, who they do/don’t get on with, and what crucial information they have. Maybe a two page spread close to the start.
This could be great fun. But there is a danger the PCs will wander around aimlessly until a dragon encounter is rolled and they get cremated. I would include a summary page that (i) the dragons
will go to sleep if the Dorkenstone is neutralised; (ii) It is important that the PCs get hold of Greymund’s Pick; (iii) if I am reading the module correctly, they can then enter the mine via the blocked passage from the Dwarven Underground Halls, and destroy the Dorkenstone; (iv) The elves, the magic-user Saul, and divinations from the Priests of Clem can seed the above information. Another possibility would be mind-shielding magic, and direct entry into the mine.
(If you don’t have Greymund’s pick, you need to sacrifice a lot of people.)
With the dragons asleep, play could naturally move to building an alliance against the orcs and assaulting their camp. With many freed slaves, and Boson needing to be rebuilt, it would be a great opportunity for the PCs to become the new leaders.
Knight Owl currently has a Kickstarter for their new book! Check it out… https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dragonstabber/worm-witch-the-life-and-death-of-belinda-blood