By Ashley Warren Self Published 5e Level3
A recent archaeological expedition in Icewind Dale has uncovered a remarkable discovery: the Spine of the World mountain range is, in fact, the actual spine of a great giant. The discovery confirms an ancient legend, that giants as tall as mountains once roamed the Forgotten Realms.
Lead archaeologist Silja Stengravar knows the truth. Centuries ago, a lich, threatened by the giants’ ancient elemental power, banished their race to an abandoned planet known as Kaiva. The lich was defeated, but its curse remains, protected by its minions in the heart of Garagai Mountain. Held captive to the curse, the giants are suspended in time, unable to roam free and claim Kaiva as their own. Silja’s discovery has summoned the portal to Kaiva. Will adventurers brave the perilous journey through the hostile and awe-inspiring planet to destroy the curse and reawaken the giants?
This seventeen page adventure has about six pages of actual content. Laid out in three scenes, the party travels through a hollow mountain, that is actually a giant, kills some shit, and then runs away as the giant they are inside of starts to move again. Ignoring the scene-based structure and the “archeology” bullshit, the organization of the adventure is a nightmare. It could be worse, but the lack of content and the free-flow organizational style hide a simple linear adventure.
First, nice cover! That’s the kind of place adventurers should be dying to go to! The touch of the fantastic this brings to the adventure is wonderful. Of course, the players don’t actually get to see that, since the place is supposed to look like a mountain and not a giant. Or … does it? The advice to the DM is to do whatever you want, make it look like a mountain or like a giant like the cover shows.
This then is our first major point of divergence: the role of story & the DM. This adventure is firmly on the side of “DM as storyteller.” Want it to be a mountain? Make it a mountain. How long should the players have once the mountain/giant wakes up in order to escape from it? It’s up to the DM, as they control the pacing. Should the players be trapped on the other planet if they fail? It’s up to the DM since they control things. Somewhere around 2e the game shifted. Instead of an emergent story that develops around the party the style changed to the DM as storyteller. I find this hollow. In it lies a thousand sins. The players no longer have agency in their own action. The rules won’t let you die anymore and neither will the DM because their “story” has something going on. The baddie must escape. The artifact must trigger. Blach. So what? Someone dies and they make another character. They don’t escape and they get to have adventures on another planet. Or they have an entire campaign inside a giant. Or any of a thousand other possibilities. But it’s the players who have the action token and not the DM. This whole DM as Storyteller thing has Giovanni Chronicles in it. A hollow & empty style of play that can never be meaningful because there was never anything at risk or any chance to change the world in anyway. The plot says that at level 20 the evil god gets summoned, so whatever you do is meaningless. It’s going to happen 19 adventures from now. Just pull out your phone and play some Bubble Bobble.
So, this adventure is a part of a playstyle I abhor, and can make a logical well reasoned argument as to why it’s bad. Let’s accept for the moment that someone responds with the No-Accounting-For-Taste “But That’s the Way I Like To Play.” What then?
Then we fall back to Ye Olde Rule-e One-e: the only purpose of the adventure is to help the DM run it at the table. Does this do that in any meaningful way? No.
The data is laid out in some weird paragraph form. Inside of each “scene “are some bolded subheadings. Each subheading with have a couple of paragraphs and the various encounters are laid out in that text. There is no real organization other than “if you read the entire thing from start to finish then you will see the order of things as thing one comes before thing 2 or thing 3 in the text of the paragraph.” This is terrible, and is now the second or third time I’ve seen it. I don’t get it AT ALL. What’s the point of this? Is room/key now not being done at all? Is it impossible to just bullet point out important information, or number it, or do ANYTHING other than just list it in paragraph form? Again, the DM is scanning the adventure text at the table. They need to location the information quickly. Burying it in a paragraph is not the way you do that.
There’s a couple of inset boxes early on, when the “archeologist” is talking to the party. (This i, I think, the only time inset data is used. Or anything other than just paragraph data transfer.) The first is some … flavor text(?) about the archeologist. The second is a point of data about a curse. The inset about the curse it good. If I’m the DM, looking at that page, I can immediately find the curse data. But the archeologist flavor text? What’s the point of that? Their personality & looks are would have been much better served to have been highlighted instead of being buried in the sentence data in the paragraph before the insets.
I can quibble with the other choices. An archeologist wants your help. Why? Why not a wizard? Do we have to live in a world with archeologists and museums and shit? Why not embrace the fantasy? Easy enough to fix, they’re a wizard now. But there’s other things. There’s some note about how killing a wolf is an evil act if it hasn’t attacked yet. And it then attacks. What? Hang on there. Uh, no, it’s not an evil act. You mean it’s an evil act the way YOU play D&D. In my world it’s not. This kind of DM enforced morality garbage is a blight on the game.
This is a low page count low content adventure. It is no way lives up to the cover, even given the “run away to escape the giant” gimmick ending.
The designer runs an RPG Writers Workshop and appears to be an author. The content of the workshop appears to be of two types. The first section appears to be things you might see in any writers workshop. Storyboard, moodlists, outlining, creating villains, NPC’s, etc. The second part is about layout, editing, publishing, etc.
I haven’t gone through this workshop, but the agenda leave me with a raised eyebrow. Adventure writing is not similar to story writing AT ALL. Adventure writing is technical writing. You are trying to transfer information out of the designers head and on to paper in such a way that it enters the DM’s head that they can use it to run the adventure. All in about the three seconds you get when they glance down at the page. I don’t see that in this workshop. Joyce may have been a great writer but if they wrote a D&D adventure in the style of Wake then it would be a disaster. First, technical writing. Then evocative writing detailing interactive encounters with the POTENTIAL for combat. D&D is about interactivity and too many designers confuse combat for interactivity.
It is my great hope that the great masses of humanity who know only the WOTC/Paizo echo chambers do one day get exposed to the better writing & formats os the inside & OSR scene. There are certainly a huge pile of garbage in that community also, but they seem to be more actively thinking about these things, and experimenting with formats, etc, than the WOTC/Paizo crowd. The major publishers are really doing a disservice to everyone by not caring about information theory in their own products. People see it from the the official publishers and think that’s the right way to do it. There’s no right way. Some are easier than others, but there are many paths to good design. The WOTC/Paizo garbage is not it though. These designers get all these 5-star reviews and accolades, never knowing what’s over the next hill
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