by Jonathan Garland Self Published 5e Level 1
The Bell Wood has always been rumored to be a dangerous place, full of strange creatures and odd happenings. Timber from the wood is highly sought after for its reputed magical properties, so brave foresters sometimes dare the wood to harvest trees to finance their futures. But this time, people are dying. Loggers are vanishing, their mutilated bodies recovered from the undergrowth hours or days later. What has changed in the wood? Can anyone solve the mystery? And can they survive the investigation?
This twelve page adventure has the party looking for a womans missing lumberjack boyfriend while avoiding a cursed wood that is killing people. Not exactly a railroad, not exactly terse, both an outline and prescriptive. It’s a mass of contradictions and I suspect that, with a little work, the style it uses would be ok. If you think a four-hour adventure should be contained in four pages. Still, not odious, which is a compliment.
Let us imagine a barren desert with no features at all. It is rocky and hard to walk across. Right down the middle of it is a narrow path clear of rocks, easy to walk on, with water fountains every 3 miles. Do you have free will in this situation? If I write an adventure that does not force you to take the path, but doesn’t really support you in taking another path and make the easy path REALLY obvious, then what? That’s what this adventure is.
Show up in town. See a woman in a bar pissed off that he boyfriend is still missing after two months and learn of a series of murders in the woods. Then a barfight breaks out with lumberjacks, the guard shows up and arrests the party. Yeah, ok, you MIGHT be able to avoid the fight, but its supposed to happen. And the adventure specifically points out you could escape arrest, and to let the party if they do. (Imagine, having to write those words in an adventure, What a World! What a World!)
This thing telegraphs in every sense of the word except actually handing the party a piece of paper saying “MANFRED DID IT.” In the first place, the bar, you learn he used to date the Erin, the woman with the missing boyfriend. And in the second place, the jail, you learn he has a history of violence. He proudly shows you his axe with a notch in it (that later matches the notch in the boyfriends skull.) A sprite in the woods says “You big people always killing each other.” This is a railroad in every sense of the word even if it doesn’t use DM Fiat to keep things on track. Or, maybe, it’s so simplistic to be confused with one? Anyway.
It features trig blights and Galafanakis evil tree thing. What’s up with this shit? It seems half the 5e adventures I see have them in it? Are they the new kobolds?
“You killed someone last night” says the sheriff “Deaths, even in self-defence, are unacceptable. Get out of town.” Yeah? How about I stab you in throat 157 times? Seriously? We’re supposed to stand there and get slaughtered? Oh, they weren’t going to kill us? You can see the future now? You look like the sheriff and not a mother fucking sorcorer, sorry to mistake you. You know, it occurs to me that I may have a problem with authority figures in elf games. Or, as I would say “so called authority figures.”
There’s long read-aloud at the beginning of each location and you would not be wrong if you made comparisons to a scene-based adventure format. The read-aloud tends to be describing a social interaction though, as if you just walked up on something happening. It’s also pretty well written, which I don’t think I’ve said more than three or four times? It does a good job of communicating the social vibe going on. It’s still too long and the players are almost certainly going to be playing with their phones, but it’s not the overwritten fantasy drivil that is present in most read aloud. What’s that thing they say about character-driven movies?
I could also point out that the loggers in camp seem willing to talk to the party even if the party killed a few of them in the bar … at least I don’t thin I saw a few words of warning otherwise. It also commits the sin of “throw a few more blights at the party if they try to take more than a short rest.” Uh, No. We don’t play adversarially in D&D and the DM isn’t telling a story. Who cares if they rest?
I’m coming off negative here, but I want to mention more than a couple of posativies. It IS based around the relationships of people, which is a good thing, and relatable. Simplistic, but still, it comes through well. Information tat tha party can learn is relayed in bullet points so it’s easy to find. Further, the locations/scenes are set up in a way that adds just a little more. In the section on the logging camp it notes that the loggers, wagon driver, or cook knows the following … That’s the first time the cook and wagon driver are mentioned. It’s not much, but it adds just a little more detail to the camp other than “just loggers” and that’s the sort of thing a DM’s brain need to remind them to paint a full picture instead of a boring one. It does this in multiple scenes/locations.
This thing is simplistic but easy to follow for the most part. (There is some “paragraph” information presented that could be organized better.) It’s based around people, the bullets convey information well. It’s not really interactive, in any sense other than “talk to people a lot” and seems to rely on the “opening fight” crap advice that should have never been published. But, I would not stab my eyes out if handed this and asked to run it. High praise! (For new readers, yes, that actually IS high praise.)
I don’t know about the read aloud. Some of it is ok here AND its longer than it should be. Too bad. Yeah, I know you have to make things REALLY obvious in investigations, but, man, this is WAY obvious. From the first location/scene.
This is Pay What You Want at DMSguild with a suggested price of … $0! People who pay $0 are jerks, even if that is the suggested price. Give the dude a dollar, at least!
Would a red herring or two, like your basic arse of a local druid that messes with the loggers, or some gossip about past fighting on the part of the lady and her missing lumberjack boyfriend help a bit with disguising the obviousness?
About the stupid fight as a hook…. yeah, that’s a pretty crapppy “motivational stick” to start from.
Maybe make the missing lumberjack an acquitance, one who sent a message about wanting help with a “get rich quick” scheme before his disappearance, could make for a more entertaining alternative and add some fun bits of distrust/intrigue/mystery – who else knew of the guy’s scheme and might imprison or off him for it? Who is lying BECAUSE of the secret? etc – to the whole thing along the way.
Just my random thoughts of the moment on this one’s review.
Only as related to the “throws monsters at the party if you get bored, they leave the railroad, wait about” thing. 5E literally has no meaningful mechanical time scale beyond the 6 second combat round. Hours are mentioned, but no info is given about how long non-combat stuff takes beyond long/short rests. The system is so (an unnecessarily) devoted to scene based design that it lacks mechanics for time based challenges and the random encounter mechanic.
As a RAW 5e GM you can’t meaningfully include random monsters with either tossing them in as narrative motivators or inventing and entire edifice of subsystems.
Why Gus, are you saying you can’t have a meaningful campaign without the careful tracking of time? 😉 (I can never remember the full quote.)
Hmmm, not that I’ve typed that …
_CAN_ you have a meaningful game of 5e, that is anything other than story based or “just fucking around” without the time mechanic? I love to make fun of that Gygax quote but there IS something behind it, both in the medium-game and the longer domain game?
Without the time mechanic, it is very difficult to fairly put into play many of what game elements there are in AD&D to support “realism”. I.e., unsought hindrances such as disease, etc.
Which is why Ggyax’s statement is both true and possibly irrelevant. If a group desires just fucking around, and/or doesn’t desire imposed external game challenges (money/time lost to training, seasons, aforementioned disease, etc), then its irrelevant.
I like grounding time in the campaign not because it makes the play of the game better, but because it makes the players sense of a character’s “life” ordered. I think it enhances how players play, even if mostly invisibly to them.
I think it’s very hard to have a game with ‘level’ based challenges – that is exploration challenges or even more strategic (run down the corridor, spring the trap and double back through the secret door) challenges without a mechanic that measures time or turns or whatever. Conversely how could you have tactic adl combat if your time scale was only in days or hours? This isn’t so weird, think about a high level strategic warfare measuring turns in days – could you have tactical squad combat that made any sense?
Gygax was talking about Campaigns – he didn’t envision turnless
Dungeon adventure. Still…yeah. I hate that the old word mangling grifter was right about a lot of things.
Without an exploration time period (and I prefer random resource depletion over tracked time) exploration becomes tedium because There’s no risk in extreme caution. Tomb of Horrors plays with this, it’s traps are mostly careful puzzles – because there’s no time risk. I think this tells us all a bit about puzzle dungeons (like is it fair to run a trap dungeon with a mean random encounter chance, even if fair does it detract from the joy of complex puzzles?). I don’t know. I just know that running a dungeoncrawls with meaningful time is gonna be less tense and exciting then one with because resources (including non-total HP), encumbrance and random encounters effectively lose meaning.
There’s reasons CR is about making every fight as close as posdible.
>twig blights and galifinakis tree
Strangely enough, I wonder if all these 5e adventure creators are late 20’s to early 30’s. Sunless Citadel had it and so anyone who started with third edition would start with that adventure. I’m just confused how it made a massive impression on these people.