By Micah Watt
A noble scion and his retinue from Baldur’s Gate left on an adventure amid much fanfare. That was two weeks ago. Rumours in the taverns suggest only a single soldier returned, bearing grievous wounds and a ransom demand. Is this a simple case of misadventure, or are darker conspiracies afoot? Can you locate and rescue the nobleman, or will you fall victim to the malevolent powers stirring deep within the Temple of the Opal Goddess?
This 44 page adventure contains 36 rooms spread out over about 25 pages. A small multi-level temple, with orcs upstairs and weird shit down, it is a rescue mission that clumsy pushes to investigate beyond the rescue. It has a couple of nice features, like an order of battle and thing-in-a-well, but is a awash with text and formatting issues that make it unbearably. Compared to the usual 5e fare: it’s better than most of the dreck and might be ok if it were cleaned up.
Some nobleman on an archeology expedition gets captured by orcs and you’re offered 1000gp to rescue him, and his retainers if they are convenient. I’m not big on “mission” hooks, but this one does bring a little more. The orcs have sent a ransom note, demanding 10,000gp and 100 battleaxes, the little bit extra about paying for the retainers return and orc ear bounties … not magnificent but better than the usual “if you want to play D&D tonight then do it” that passes for a hook in most adventures. I will say though that a bit of the hook is buried in the background text. The TWO PAGES of background text. I don’t read background text over about one paragraph. I don’t care about your rich detailed tapestry of a backstory. I’m interested in running an adventure tonight. Include if it you must but it’s a failing to force the reading of the backstory. The rest of the adventure should stand alone, without NEEDING to reference the backstory. The hook almost does this. There’s enough that you could probably wing it, but it would have been nice for it to be a bit more explicit. “Antivar’s expedition was well known … “ well, ok, from that I can deduce it is the usual archeology nonsense.
It claims to be a dungeoncrawl but is actually a base assault/rescue, and I wish it would have left out the “dungeonrawl” part on the blurb; one of my MAJOR issues is with failed expectations. Butm as a base assault, it does an ok job. There’s a little section of “what you can see from a distance”, something that a lot of adventures with an outdoor element leave out. The temple/base, proper, has multiple entrances to scout out. There’s a giant bell on top, obvious to all. These are the elements that can help bring a game to life. The party will come up with some plan, using a side entrance, silencing the bell, etc … and then they will execute it and it will go to shit. Fun will then ensue. Tension. Drama. Things going to hell. That’s a major part of D&D and the base assault element in this adventure, including a section on how the orcs react, is built to help encourage this. It’s got all the elements and pretty much does them right. A few more words about “reaching the bell “or reactions to noise in the next room, etc, might have been in order, but it does actually know what it needs to do to enable this style of play and for the most part does it.
The wanderers are good, if long, since they are doing something while out wandering, and some of the weird encounters on the dungeon level of the temple are good, like a snake that lives in a well, half-asleep, that you can wake up. This is good … but better if the party KNOWS there’s a snake in the well that can wake up. Tension. Lareth the Beautiful syndrome. Anticipation. For that to work you gotta know its there, Lareth.
Also, there’s an awakened peach tree in the wanderer list. Nice. He’ll give you a peach if you are nice to him. It’s a normal peach. But … what if it were a GREAT peach? Like +2 stat, permanent, or 5d6 healing or something. Think of all the ripe, delicious, mouth-watering opportunities for roleplaying that would bring to life …
It has some basic formatting issues. First, it uses italics in the read aloud. Bad. Wrong. Italics is hard to read in long patches, like paragraph long read-aloud. It tries, in places, to bold enemies on the DM text of rooms but that also largely fails. The font used doesn’t seem to have that much of a difference between bold and not-bold, and thus the bolding does not stick out as well as it should. Those are largely simplistic issues, though.
It’s verbose. WAY verbose. The usual culprits: flowery text and things relevant to the adventure. Room 1, a bridge over a moat to the temple, had read aloud ending with “You can hear the lapping of the lake …” NO KISSING! Wait, no, I mean, the urge to include this stuff must be fought. Sometimes people confuse this and think I’m asking for facts only. No, there’s a place on the spectrum between facts and flowery and that’s where text should hit. It needs to be enough to inspire the DM, put an image in their head, without engaging in bad WOTC novel writing techniques. Besides, I’m sure the designer knew about the two-sentence read-aloud rule, so I’m curious why they included more? Oh, what? You mean they were unaware of the article WOTC wrote on how people don’t listen to read-aloud after two-three sentences? Hmmm…
Likewise, the DM text. Column long rooms. Full of things that are useless. Recall ye olde bridge-e room? The first two sentences of the DM text are “The bridge is exactly what is seems. It was crafted in ancient times and remains sturdy to this day.” Taken to the logical extreme, would you expect to include those two sentences, it is exactly what it appears to be and this is why”, in your description of every object in the adventure? No, obviously not. Then why do it here? This is useless padding of the text. More is not more. More is less. You see, while running the game I, the DM, have to read this room in about half a second and communicate to the players what they see, what it going on, etc. All of the nonsense irrelevant stuff included slows me down and keeps me from finding the information I need. DM text needs to be scannable and somewhat evocative. I might say that the description needs to tend towards evocative more than facts and the DM text needs to tend more towards facts instead of evocative, but neither to an extreme. (And, in fact, it may be an academic difference for most designers. Just pulling back from their extreme verbosity/facts/novelist stuff may be enough to salvage most adventures, since minimalism, the other bad extreme, is seldom seen these days.)
Room 21, first line of DM text: “This exit predates the occupying orcs, and while Velkesh wanted
this security threat walled up, Suthrain talked Grushnak into leaving it as an option (ostensibly for his favoured consort.”
Room 22, first line of DM text: “This is the quintessential ‘savage tribe king’ chamber, and while
Grushnak actually enjoys it, it is as much a work of appearance and perception as personal taste.”
These add nothing to the adventure. The adventure is not supposed to paint a rich tapestry. It’s supposed to be a piece technical writing meant to help the DM run it at the table. And not in some abstract more is more way. Technical writing first and THEN make the first part of each encounter evocative, before shifting to more mundane matters, like the DM text.
Courtney recently did a blog post over at Hack & Slash which talks a little about this sort of thing, in comparison to G1. I like G1, I think it may be the best of the original publishing time period. I’m not encouraging people to write like G1, while scannable and “inline adventure” it also makes you work too hard for Evocative. It’s 2019. We can do better than G1 while learning from what G1 did well. Learn the principles that Courtney is talking about rather than taking away that “the adventure must be like G1.”
This is $3 at DMSGuild. The preview is 11 pages. Pages 4,5 show you the hook. I encourage you to just read it and see if you could start the adventure from it. Maybe. Pages 7 and 8 show you the wanderers and foreshadow a bit, the text length issues to come. The last two pages show the approach/order of battle stuff, as well as the room one Bridge encounter I talked about. Note the text length, and how it could be much shorter and scannable.
(Also, S3 is my nostalgic favorite. I’m flying home for a week, so, with luck, I’m at Winter War RIGHT NOW playing it.)