By WR Beatty
Swords & Wizardry Levels
Only vague rumors speak of the ancient Keep of the Broken Saint. Divination fails to reveal anything useful, prayers and powerful magics continue to falter. Yet the rumors insist the place is real and that the Broken Saint has the keys to immortality. Even if the shadows of rumors that make their rounds are not true, surely a ruin that has been lost for generations holds secrets and treasures.
This forty page adventure has about sixty rooms in a keep and dungeon. It has a certain feel, like that of a pseudo-historical saint magical resting place? A non-simulationist version of that, anyway, which is a good thing. Room after room delivers the interactivity. It still needs help in the comprehension category, using some passive voice and layout/writing decisions that do not always lead to good results.
The vibe here is interesting. You know how harn has this kind of realistic vibe thing going on? Let’s start with that. Then add in to it a Saint. Let’s also add the Saints ruined keep. Now, turn the keep in to a mythic place that goes beyond Harn, turning each room in to more of a traditional “fantasy things actually happen” place that Harn doesn’t usually have … but still root it in this kind of pseudo-historical draping, without it fetishizing simulationast or history. That’s this. A ruined multi-level keep of a saint with a couple of tower outbuildings and dungeon levels. With “realistic” historical keep maps that still remember they are used for D&D. Harn and/or Ars Magica, but with actual stuff going on in each room, and thus firmly interactive D&D.
Level 8-10 in S&W is pretty kick ass, and about as close to high level play as I’ve seen. The adventure doesn’t gimp the characters and allows them to use their powers. The various things in the keep (a lot of undead, it’s a broken saint after all) have a decent “talk to the guy in the underworld” kind of thing going on where they interact with you. Bow to you. Ask you questions to pass. Defer to characters in certain conditions. Can get laid to rest and/or not. To this we add some bird people, roosting in historical nesting ground and some enemies of theirs that have taken over.
I’ve mentioned some of the interactivity, undead to question and the bird people and other things you can talk to. There’s also lamps to light, chains to break, fountains to drink from, and so on. Interactivity, I think, is the third leg to a D&D adventure being “good”, once you get past scannable and evocative environments. IE: Can I find the information I need, is the place described well, and is there something to do?
Wanderers are doing things. There’s a monster summary sheet. There are some cross-references. Some of the magical items are new. The hooks are not throwaways. It’s all got some decent bones behind it.
I can take exception to a few things. First, the monsters are not really described. One area has “4 Host of the Broken Saint Archers.” There are stats, in the summary sheet, but no real description. I have no idea what it is, or any of the other stuff, for that matter. There are 46 different monsters on that summary sheet. I suspect that some simplification would have helped a bit and allowed for some extra space to describe a few of them in an appendix.
The formatting does good things in places. Large black banned herald the arrival of a new room, with a place name, so the section breaks are easy to find. There’s lots of white space in rooms. Maybe too much. They come off a bit … large? The information tends to be spread out. The first paragraph deals with things in the first thing, the second with the second thing and so on. This causes you to have to paragraph jump, taking the first line from each, when looking at a new encounter the party has. The writing, proper, isn’t exactly prescriptive, but it tends in that direction, which causes things to be a bit more lengthy than they could be. Together this all causes the rooms to be a little more confusing/wall of text/spread out/harder to grok then I think they could be. It’s not terrible, but it’s not exactly “easy.”
Maybe a little bit more of an overview is needed as well. At level 8-10 the party can command some pretty decent spells for finding things. “Where’s the broken saint” and “where that immortality staff”, and things like that, could use a bit of help in the text to help facilitate.
But, all in all, GREAT mythic vibe to the place. I’m not sure the treasure is all there for some levels 8-10 peeps, but fuck it, it’s a nice adventure.
This is $5 at DriveThru. Page four and five of the preview has a look in to the hooks, while page six goes over a few higher-level ideas/effects of the Broken Saint proper. Both are nice. The last two pages show the first six encounters. Note the disconnected paragraphs in room five and the more “movie watching” encounter in room six. Room two and three show a good example of both interactivity and the more … expansive layout/writing style that I think could be tightened up.