By John R. Davis Self Published 5e Level 1
Well, fuck me. I just bought and reviewed Moans of the Dead again. And almost bought Fungus Forest again. Looks like something is up at DriveThru.
This 68 page adventure is more of a small regional setting/sandbox than the typical 5e fare. Centered around a village, there are a variety of plots and several dungeon locations to explore. This is a notch above the usual fare, being crafted and more open-ended than I used to seeing in 5e adventures. That’s a pleasant surprise, and I was going through it I found myself rooting for it. Alas, the issues with organization, summaries, and wall of text are too much more me to even have No Regerts
Pretext pretext pretext, the characters are in a village. Therein they learn about several things going on, maybe get asked to do a few things, and the longer they stay the more happens. This is both because of the timeline of events and the picking up of more rumors, etc. Pretext pretext pretext, relatives, and the usual assortment of crappy hooks. But … got a military or mason background? You’ve been tasked with surveying the old lighthouse by some officials and picking up whatever supplies are left. Nice! The regional government actually doing something with the tax dollars for once! And maybe it gives the party a little authority also … that hook has legs!
It’s a sandbox, just a village with several locations around it that the players will learn of, and several plots to uncover as they learn more about the life and history of the village. There’s a short little timeline to note events that may happen and a little DM checklist to note all of the various interesting things that the party could learn about / get wrapped up in. Like … 18 different things! Explore the Ruined Fort. Explore the town and notice that there are a lot of ‘twins.’ And so on. The timeline is good. The DM overview list is a good idea. The entire sandbox thing it’s got going on is GREAT. Some of the NPC’s are described in like, three words each, attributes they have like young, full of enthusiasm, inexperienced, and so on. It tries to use bolding and bullet points in places and, generally, rooms/descriptions don’t overstay their welcome.
So, it’s trying. And it’s trying REAL hard. It knows what it SHOULD do. It just can’t figure out how to do it.
There’s a short table that tells us how many residents, workers, and adults are in each location in the village. Ok …. Is that relevant, beyond mere trivia? So while the idea of presenting the information in a table is great, it’s not really relevant to the adventure to have it at all.
The map of the village is numbered. But, in my experience, that’s not how PC’s explore a village. They don’t go up to a building and say “ok, what’s next door to this building?” They say things like “I want to find the inn”, or the tailor, or the general store, or whatever. But the village buildings are numbered. You have to go digging though the text to find the [general store] and then find the number and then go look at the map.
With a few notable exceptions (the inn, I’m looking at you) the village locations are pretty focused. Just what you need to know to run it and just what relevant to the adventure at hand with little to no trivia. But … inexplicably there’s read aloud for each location. Dry, boring, read aloud that doesn’t really add anything to the adventure. I guess the designer thought they needed read aloud for each?
The timeline, and indeed much of the text, doesn’t cross reference information. So that little DM checklist I mentioned? It doesn’t really point the DM to any place to learn more about the twin situation. Or the page number of the old fort. Or lighthouse. You have to go digging through the text again. If you reference something then provide a number or page cross-reference so the DM can orient themselves.
And this brings up the overall sitch. I’m not really sure what is going on in the village. All of those 18 things … I’m not sure how they work together (or don’t.) There’s no real overview or summary. That DM checklist could have done the heavy lifting if it had pointed the DM to places to learn more. Instead you have to pretty much read and re-read the adventure until you’re as familiar as the designer. Not cool.
Some information is provided in terse bullet form. Other places the bullets are long. Other places REALLY needed to be broken up in to bullets. The initial caravan trip in to town, wna dhwt athe PC”s know, is a great example of this. Everything is buried in various paragraphs. If it had been bulleted out it would have been easier to scan and find, especially in relation to PC inquiries.
Which brings me, again, to the lack of cross-reference. The Reeve says something to the effect, at one point “i don’t know, I wasn’t reeve then.” This begs the question: who was Reeve so we can go annoy them? Nope, nothing provided for the DM, even though this is the most natural follow up question of all.
Some of the maps are small and hard to read. The read-aloud, besides being generic bad, does things like “The stonework looks recently damaged.” No! No! No! That’s not something you tell the party when the walk in the room. That’s something you tell them when they investigate. The back and forth between DM and PC is a key part of D&D, the interactivity. By saying things like “You look under the table and see a box” in the read-aloud you are taking that away, and this adventure does that repeatedly.
The wanderers do things. It’s a real sandbox location. It tries, hard. It doesn’t commit the sins that most 5e adventure do. But, it’s like the designer hasn’t seen these writing techniques in practice, or is somehow focused on the wrong things. The mere fact that it’s a non-trivial sandbox, for 5e, get’s it a long way up the rankings, in my books, but I just can’t bring myself to push it over the edge in to Regerts. The lack of summary/orientations, and a slipping in to a kind of wall of text writing style obfuscates the adventure enough that it makes be not WANT to read it. And that makes me a little sad because I can tell there’s something here.
This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is 15 pages, although it doesn’t really show you the heart of the adventure, only the (mostly) useless preamble stuff. The lower left side of page ten has the caravan intro, and you can see how it could be better organized as bullets, etc. Page eleven has the timeline, and you can see how cross-references to pages would have helped immensely in following things. Thirteen is the village map .. needing some named in addition to numbers, maybe? Fourteen are some in-voice rumors that are pretty good, while the last page, fifteen, has a good example of bulleted information on the right and left columns, including that DM Overview that is SORELY in need of cross-references to solve the summary/orientation/overview issue.