Through the Gate of Flesh

By Carl Niblaeus
Stockholm Kartel
"Low Levels"

Something stirs within a mountain on a forgotten planet somewhere in the Cosmos. Legends talk of a God living in the mountain, a God that has recently woken up again. Some of the inhabitants of the abandoned planet instead whisper of a mad wizard who has returned to the area. And among the elders there are still some who remember the disappearances and abductions many, many years ago. In the dark woods on the mountain there is a strange clearing surrounded by ancient statues, that only bold adventurers dare investigate. What will they find?

This twenty page adventure describes a kind of wizard lab/tower with about fifteen rooms. Nice ideas and an interactive emphasis can’t save us from column long rooms. Even if there is an attempt to provide an overview.

So, wizard tower. Wizard is home and about to Call the Stars (Mummy reference!  That right bitches, I played VtM when it came out! And was Prince of Indy in the LARP. So I’m REAL royalty! FU PoN! 🙂 /Complete the Ritualistic Ritual of Ritualism. Also running around inside are some helpers, some abominations, some dum dum homunculus clones,and some space pirates. Yup. Space Pirates.

And OMG I luv Luv LUV them so much! No-gooders, stopping at nothing in their hunt for treasure. On the lam from the Galactic League. Led by Tunguska Slim, wearing a tooth necklace and singing blues tunes with a raw growling voice. Their spaceship is parked in the woods nearby. Uh … I’m supposed to point out, in this part, how I like gonzo, right? That’s really just a one-off though, the rest of the adventure is devoid of the gonzo.

But it IS full of wizard labbyiness. There’s a metric Fuck Tun of shit to mess with in this. Helmets, thrones, chairs, crystals … sit down, fuck with some crystals, push some buttons. The third leg of Bryce’s Good Adventure stool is interactivity. I think it’s one of the few things, outside of the DM, that can make an adventure fun. You can’t MAKE a party have fun. And the DM contributes mostly to the fun (along with the group. IE: people are important) but an interactive adventure trumps a non-interactive one. Do you want to walk down the street and look in the windows or do you want to go in, try on the clothes, play with the toys, and get free perfume samples? If usability for the DM is one leg, and evocativeness the other, then those two tend to have more of an impact on the DM. Interactivity though leans more towards the players than the first two. And a fucking mind-swap helmet brings the interactivity!

It has a summary sheet that goes along with the map. It’s one page, lists all of the room numbers, and then bullet points the interesting things about the room. A kind of cheat sheet for the DM when running the adventure. It’s a good idea, but I don’t think it’s implemented well. The bulleted summary comes off a a bit generic, losing the flavor of the rooms in favor of the facts and I would prefer to have both. “Room1: Five statues around a large sphere. Pressing bronze disks on sphere reveals entrance to below.” Ok, sure. But a few more adjectives and adverbs would have helped. And what about that formerly manicured walkway? The bullets lose the flavor of the room. Yes, there’s only so much page real estate, but I think that’s a solvable problem. The margins are wide. The bullet form is slavishly followed. Column break space is large. Individual lines in a half point smaller font. Headers/footers. There are a lot of ways to fit more on a page.  

This is important, I think, because the main text is a mess. It’s long and hard to dig through. Long is necessarily always a problem, but hard to dig through is. Formatting, layout, word choice, whitespace can all make long things easier to dig through and find the important bits. But … why have a preponderance of unimportant bits? Sure, some are nice, but not to the extent they get in the way. And man, this is a textbook case of “could be easily fixed.” One room starts with “This 40’ circular chamber is the room where interested guests to the laboratory were greeted.” Guess which room that is? Yes, it’s the reception room. I left out the first part “1: Reception Room” And we know it’s 40’ from the map. The first thing the DM sees is garbage text. That’s not conducive to running it at the table. [And, a note for those who like to see room dimensions in room text. A: I don’t care. B: You get to like what you like C: You’re arguments carry more weight if you can make a case for them better than ‘i like it.’ And remember, you’re fighting against Core Principal One – Make it easy to find shit]

Likewise the text is full of notes like “If the PC’s look behind the curtains …” or “if the PC’s search the boxes in the room …” These are not quantum events. They don’t exist when the PCs do things. Less snarkily, those are filler phrases that do nothing. “Behind the curtain are …” or “The boxes contain …” is better writing. Ray(?) has an entire book on this shit. What’s that called? I gave it a recommendation. Oh, Writing With Style by Ray Vallesse. Someone needs to buy Carl a copy. ( “Six armchairs, once beautiful, now ragged and decayed.” You mean 6 ragged & decayed armchairs? I think we can infer the once beautiful part based on context.

A major, major edit, both by a good editor and by Carl proper, would clean this up enough to at least hit No Regerts. But not in its current form.

Also, did I miss the Aldebaran thing? Lovecraft? Howard? I know it pops up all the time in shit like it has some meaning I missed.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a suggest price of $2. The preview is meh. It does show you the map summary thing. It’s a good idea. It also shows the rumor table, which seem ok to me. The beginning of room one is on the last page. That starts to give you an idea of the writing, in an imperfect way.

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20 Responses to Through the Gate of Flesh

  1. Dave says:

    Bryce is there any single published adventure you can point to that meets your standards for layout, writing and usability? Not just The Best, I’m talking about without getting points for fairy tale themes/energy/gonzo/originality, something that meets standards on purely technical terms.

    • Anonymous says:

      That is something somewhat bizarre to ask – gonzo and fairy tale themes are style choices and preferences, so i can quite understand as not everybody’s cup of tea (damn, it ain’t mine half the time).

      But something “good” WITHOUT energy/originality? How is that desirable, damn, i’m having difficulty grasping making an adventure like that. Specially as both can be EVEN more subjective to define than themes like gonzzo or fairy tale, imho.

      If you actually ARE looking for something that might fit such criteria and not simply asking as some sort of technical/philosophical challenge or exercise, my suggestion would be to check the “My Favorite of the new old school adventurers” list link near the top of the page and check those that do not mention “gonzo” or “fairy tale” in their summaries…

      • Dave says:

        You’re missing the point. I’m looking for one single adventure anywhere, of any kind, that meets Bryce’s exacting standards for technical writing, that I or anyone else could use as a model or at least a standard to write my own. That I could look at and say “yes, this works, without being too long/too short, too confusing/too simple” etc.

        I anticipated someone would just come along and tell me to click The Best/My Favorite, but that runs into the problem that Bryce is very open that he gives extra “points”/leeway to things that float his boat. Fairy tale themes and gonzo being the examples I remember the most. I’m entirely open to using a gonzo fairy tale adventure that actually meets Bryce’s full standards, but every time he praises one he [scrupulously] calls out that he’s biased by it pushing his buttons.

        I’m looking for something, anything, that Bryce considers without reservation to be well-executed. I’m not ruling out Bryce also liking it, but since Bryce continually reminds his readers things he likes get favorable treatment, just clicking on the link of “things Bryce likes” isn’t what I’m after.

        • SolCannibal says:

          Ah, now you have given a MOTIVE and the question that seemed bizarre becomes clear. Getting the details right makes a world of difference.

          Your objective is to get adventures that could serve as good reference material to the technical aspects of adventure writing done right. Sample and guide to his criteria/method into one, so to speak.

          That said, your doubts about the “The Best/My Favorite” list give me the impression you have discounted checking them WITHOUT actually looking at the contents of the link.

          Because Bryce gives (along with the link for the original review) a one-two line summary of EVERY adventure in the list. INCLUDING which ones are gonzo or weird, so, far from as complicated as you might fear.

          Beforehand i’ll suggest (again) you look at the reviews of “The Hidden Tomb of Sloggoth the Necromancer”, “The Hyqueous Vaults”, “Wyrd Ways of Walstock” and “The Vanilla Adventure” for some which might help with your intent.

          Taking a look at “Review Standards” in the “About Bryce” link should be a little helpful too, i guess.

        • Bryce Lynch says:

          I get what you’re saying.
          There are 0.
          There are a lot that get close and miss in some area, like summaries, social, organization, etc.

          Last week I told TPG that we’re both living life at 98% of acceptability … maybe we don’t need to helpfully correct each other on that last 2% and instead we could be more supportive of each other. We both do it in different ways.

          Waiter: How was your meal Sir.
          Me: I find it acceptable.
          Waiter: Oh no! Whats the problem?
          TPG: Oh no, you don’t understand what a compliment that is.

          I don’t think it’s actually that hard to create an adventure, of sale-able quality, that hits No Regerts. It’s a wonder then why the vast majority are not at that level. If they were I probably wouldn’t be reviewing. I’ve been running an experiment since … January(?) trying to put together an adventure in one hour that’s decent. I think I’ve got the foundations down enough now that I could maybe do it. I’ll do a stopwatch on my next one and find out.

          A perfect combination of organization, evocativeness, and interactivity they are not. 😉 But then again, I led by saying nothing is … so far.

    • Anonymous says:

      Hope my previous answer did not sound too abrasive or critical, it just struck me as strange. Let me try again…

      Dave, if the intent of your questions was to ask for something “technically competent and well-written, but mainstream/vanilla in respect to taste/style choices”, i guess “The Hidden Tomb of Sloggoth the Necromancer”, “The Hyqueous Vaults”, “Wyrd Ways of Walstock” and “The Vanilla Adventure”, among others, might catch your interest.

      Hope this helps.

  2. Slick Schmoozer says:

    I’m okay with room dimensions in the text if it’s only for something that would be difficult to convey on the map (without cluttering it at least), like unusual ceiling heights.

    • SolCannibal says:

      Well, how common a feature is that in dungeons or ruins descriptions actually?

      • Slick Schmoozer says:

        Not common enough it turns out! I like interesting vertical components to maps. What’s the point of grappling hooks and climbing pitons if you can’t chisel inlays off a domed ceiling sculpture.

        • SolCannibal says:

          Not common enough? You’re being quite optimistic, i say.
          Most of the time i even forget such a thing is even an option due to the sheer paucity of exploration on the subject in most adventures.

          Ever thought of toying with this liking of yours by writing an adventure of your own? 😉

          • Slick Schmoozer says:

            The only adventures I’ve ever officially made were one-page dungeons but I have some unconventional ideas I’d like to expand upon in a module someday.

            Specifically I wonder how well the inclusion of supplementary 3D/isometric maps of complex rooms would be received, particularly by somebody with Bryce’s standards.

        • Bryce Lynch says:

          Also, I like side views and isometrics. Height is a greatly unused element in maps. I can’t remember if I like the DL1 map, but I LUVED it, if you know what I mean. Likewise, the profile of the Steading in G1 shows the compound and tower and chimney. AA did a splunking adventure, Joseph proper i think. Stonesky Delve?

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      Yeah, Slick cites a decent example. In general, it’s hard to read my standards as absolutes. We can always find a corner case. They are more guidelines that you better have a good reason for not following.

  3. Bigby's Affirmative Consent Lubed Fist says:

    Through the Gate of Flesh? Sounds like a not-so-veiled buttsex reference. Are we sure Kent didn’t write this?

  4. Anonymous says:

    @SlickShmoozer- if they help the DM quickly understand & run a complex room/cavern system then I think he’d be all for it. Printable/separate maps usually get a thumbs up- as do maps with references on them indicating relationships between rooms or logical prior effects before coming; light, sound effects etc.

  5. The Middle Finger of Vecna says:

    As much as I agree with Bryce’s standards around things non linear maps, terse and evocative writing, and a general OD&D sense of wonder, I sure don’t always need super gonzo or fairy tale elements and I also don’t have a problem with vanilla as long as it’s done well. I go back to the following paragraph from his review standards….

    “What I’m looking for in an adventure module may not be what you are looking for. I try to avoid giving a module a rating. I think it’s far more useful if I describe the module and tell you what I liked and didn’t like about it. Then you can apply your own standards of judgement to it.”

    Everyone should remember that when evaluating an adventure. That’s why I find some of his No Regerts reviews to be very good adventures. It also means that an adventure review that does not hit No Regerts of Best may still be perfectly fine for me but that’s up to me to determine.

  6. I think it’s a hallmark of a good review if you can walk away from it, knowing whether you would like it, even if you disagree with the reviewer’s opinion.

    Also the thought of Bryce walking around in mascara and talking about the inner turmoil of his tortured soul to some overweight broad in fishnet stockings is enough to assuage my wounded pride. I doff my cap, you remain the master. I could never match your intensity and output.

  7. WrongOnTheInternet says:

    Makes me want to write “If the PC’s look in this box, it contains batteries and debris. If they don’t, it contains flesh-eating eels, which will burst forth in 1d6 rounds.”

  8. Eric says:

    Given a choice between seeing all the information I need to relay to the players collated together in the one place, vs having to look some details up on the map (dimensions & shape), another detail on a room key (general theme e.g. “reception”), and more details in a third place (e.g. monster stats) … yeh, I’m gonna say I prefer “This 40′ circular room was once used to greet visitors (monster stats)”.

    Don’t force me to go look up details in 3 different places and form them into an off the cuff description simply because you the author can’t be arsed to collate them into one description. I really don’t care if this means it adds up to 3 extra pages in the digital PDF.

    I do care if the per-room text is long and waffly. Get an editor to work on that. Use adjectives strategically (plenty while establishing, to set the mood, none when entering that part of the description which is the inciting incident and you need a fast pace). Rearrange sentence clauses so you don’t need pairs of commas. But don’t simply cut text because “it’s written on another page” though, as that reason is crap (because it creates work for the busy DM).

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