B2.5 Caves of the Unknown

By Charley Phipps, Thom Wilson, Mike Badolato
ThrowiGames & NTRPGCon
B/X
Levels 2-4

This 28 page adventure details the Daves of the Unknown dungeon from B2/Keep on the Borderlands, that was initially left blank for the DM to populate. It has about 44 encounters in the main Caves of the Unknown area, and expands the Lizardman mound and a couple of wilderness areas. This adventure provides an answer to the question: can you be both minimally keyed and wordy?

I picked this up at NTRPGcon. After writing this review I discovered that it appears to be physical copies only … and those copies are hard to come by. Oops. Sorry, I don’t usually do that. It looks like BadMike sells them in this storefront. Uh, I mean … SUCK IT FOOLS! I HAVE SOMETHING YOU CANT HAVE! Bwahahahahaha! Until I sell of my collection again. But first I have to rebuy it. Anyway …

Three authors and three separate sections: Charley with the Caves, Thom with the additional Lizardman mount and Mike with the three supplemental “one room” caves.

The second two are easy: they are too long. Column long rooms in the lizard mound and page and column long descriptions of a grizzly bear cave are too much for me, given the basic nature of the encounters.

The Caves of Unknown have more meat to them. And thus more sins. The writing style in all three is quite loosy goosy. Almost stream of consciousness. There’s a lot of padding, and I note in particular the Quantum nature of it. “IF the characters search the [x] then they find …” Or a room “appears to have once been …” This is not effective or efficient writing of descriptions. Ray goes over this in his Writing with Style booklet for RPG writers.

The padding is strong with this one and the loose style does not help scannability. The dungeon is pretty close to Vanilla and minimally keyed, which makes the “four to six rooms per page” stand out, even with the larger font size. There’s a snake under the rocks near the secret door. Further, there’s context involved in the descriptions which often clogs things up. We learn that the lost Thouls get their water from the room with the harpy, sneaking by her while shes asleep. Of course, they attack immediately, so this is a just an appeal to ecology. And explaining of WHY something is. The Thouls must have a water source! The bugbears are working for someone!  And so on. D&D seldom needs a WHY.

Otherwise, it’s pretty vanilla. Skeletons wear amulets to make them harder to turn. [Not one of Gygax’s great moments, and certainly not something to emulate.] Ghouls jump out of sarcophaguses when opened. Treasure is generic book items … and I’m sure B/X got its kiddie reputation based on the preponderance (exclusive) use of book monsters and magic items. They’re generic at this point.

And yet, there are hilights. A burned body on the floor … except for his robe, one of fire resistance. The naked woman in the forest ISNT a nymph, but a werewolf, looking not to kill but to infect others to grow a pack. A decent map, with underground river and several different encounter areas/themes … even if 85% of the dungeon does lie behind an easily missed secret door. Seriously … do no clues at all for that door? That seems a bit rough. I mean, the tossing a 44 room dungeon after room five seems a bit much.

It’s just another dungeon. And that can be ok, but it should be easier to use. Also, I’m not sure I like inline stat blocks combined with fat fonts. Putting them at the end of the room would have made scanning the room easier, I think?

Anyway, how would you, the reader, know? You’re not gonna see a copy of this. 🙂

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52 Responses to B2.5 Caves of the Unknown

  1. Edgewise says:

    “This 28 page adventure details the Daves of the Unknown dungeon from B2/Keep on the Borderlands”

    I’m still looking forward to Steves of Mystery.

  2. The Middle Finger of Vecna says:

    Make me want to create a cult called Daves of the Unknown and stick them somewhere in the caves. Their whole purpose it to taught PCs with a “collectible” they can never own.

  3. squeen says:

    Worse still, I can total envision the Middle Finger of Venca saying ,”Good lord, I really need to proofread before I submit!” in its best Doofenshmirtz impersonation.

    Seriously though, as DM, I too enjoy taught-ing the PC. It’s sooo condescending.

    😛

  4. SolCannibal says:

    “Otherwise, it’s pretty vanilla. Skeletons wear amulets to make them harder to turn. [Not one of Gygax’s great moments, and certainly not something to emulate.]”

    You know, nowadays i’m not as disapproving of the amulets as in past years. Yes, it’s a blatant gimping tactic, but so would be saying the whole place has an “aura of chaos-death-evil-etc” messing with Turning Undead as a whole.

    Amulets can be cut, pickec, ripped, shattered or otherwise separated ffrom their users, what brings a dynamic/tactical/solvable element to the gimping it would otherwise not have.

    Players may come with plans to get around it – and ways to exploit the amulets themselves, now one more thing added to their bag of tricks. Just a thought

  5. Kent says:

    Listen up you lovely daftards, and that means *you* reading this (not someone else), all of you fatties with dirty bibs on. FFS change your bibs when they become more encrusted with old grub than your gaming snack palette. I am trying to help you reach your potential. Be a real man for one day before you pass away.

    If I see you guys, Bryce & pals, as lazy, fat, dim and timid, kind of poorly bearded cartoon figures, it is not because I am mean spirited but because I am cursed with perception of and sensitivity to reality. Please someone tell me how I can lay down this burden I have of heightened awareness, honesty, and the compulsion to urge gamers not to act like blobs.

    I have realised why I never read Bryce’s reviews through, NO, not because they are extremely repetitive cliche laden facsimiles, how could they be otherwise when he reviews banal fantasies that would make psychiatrists groan, hiss and clench their fists. NO, because he is reviewing material from the point of view of a REVIEWER WHO READS EVERY PIECE OF SHITE as if for other REVIEWERS WHO WILL READ EVERYTHING. That is his criteria though he doesn’t know it. He is not reviewing material for intelligent gamers who are looking for a few modules to inspire them now and then. Intelligent gamers don’t mind reading text and assume they can retain what the have read from a few interesting modules. Bryce Lynch has such a horror of reading text I think he will naturally evolve to reviewing children’s books. Anyone who reads books considers modules as something close to comic books as easy reads. ONLY IF YOU HAD TO READ HUNDREDS OF MODULES TO RUN GAMES FOR HUNDRED OF PLAYERS should you have sympathy with Bryce’s criteria. If you have a group of players smaller than a hundred Bryce’s aesthetics are worthless.

    No matter how a module is formatted, the most important qualities are the ideas and the writing. If you are a DM who doesn’t create all their own material, you read the work, you remember what you read and make notes. The best format for presenting ideas to intelligent readers remains the sequence of paragraphs. Unless you are (1) a cretin or (2) are regularly hosting fifteen distinct games at the same time or (3) are a deluded autistic reviewer who thinks actual gamers looking for a little inspiration share his mentality.

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      No.

      Your argument rests on a foundation of “the adventure as inspiration.” If that’s the way you use it, fine. This places every adventure in to the realm of “fluff.” Fluff might be nice and you may, indeed, get inspiration from it. But I assert that The Adventure is something else, not fluff. It’s meant to be run at the table as a resource for the DM at the table.

      I once opened my laptop and turned it on its side to use as a step stool. It is also absurd to review laptops on that criteria.

      If you want to read it for inspiration, fine. But that’s not the point of the product. Put it on DriveThru in the “regional sourcebook” category and don’t call it an adventure.

      “New! Read my 65 page backstory and then put a lot of work in to put in to something of your own!” is not, I think, a model that’s going to go over well.

      And you’ve clearly never had a 30 page adventure dropped in to your lap at a con during OP and been told “run this. you’re 5 minutes late for table.”

      • Kent says:

        A single module like Caverns of Thracia should be enough for DMs who can’t create their own material, to last for a year. A smart DM reads it and makes notes and is not aware that you are placing him under some compulsion to run it tomorrow. That is one of the best gaming modules ever written but would suffer under your aesthetic because your aesthetic is unconcerned with excellence because you are churning out shit every month.

        The story of music is not a blow by blow account of monthly mediocrity. People who know music love each others company and shudder when idiots speak. You are degrading RPGs by considering tripe as definitive and devising a standard means of analysing tripe and then *stupidly* applying the same means to valuable material rather than looking for excellence as something extremely rare and precious.

        • Slick S. says:

          Can you start a D&D webcam stream or a Youtube video to show me how to DM. You seem really smart, I’m curious about your style.

        • The Middle Finger of Vecna says:

          Where can I read Kent’s reviews?

          • Bigby's Affirmative Consent Lubed Fist says:

            Don’t expect anything so mundane from Kent, he’s all about the Galaxy Brain take on subjects he knows nothing about. Though he has nuked his blog, there are some cut-and-pastes of his screeds on the ‘net. His greatest take is ‘Female Sexuality is Monstrous:

            Is female sexuality monstrous?
            [appendix N interlude]

            The Three Genders

            There are times when I look into a pretty smirking face tilted upwards and think, ‘Christ, she’s an animal’, and then, ‘but it’s not her, it’s her spirit of womanhood deep down’. Her brain-pussy nexus makes demands of her delicately throbbing heart because she likes what she sees. But what does she see? When a 5’2″ 110lb Indian girl flashes her teeth, eyelashes trembling and wants to press her finely carved face against mine I fail to imagine the colour of her lust. Were my sexuality aligned with hers rather than opposed to hers I would hunger for a 7’2″ 320lb hairy killer, a world class troll.

            I have yet to adorn myself with pink garments or buttock hugging tights, to groom and paint my legs for a night out carelessly girding my thong clad hips with a handkerchief. Yet a woman attentive to such appearances commands my gaze.

            Is our sexuality defined more by our own physicality or the appearances of those we are drawn to?

            Right now I see teenage girl loping across a bridge on long lithe tanned legs. Her pink socks please me no end. Pink socks on the end of creamy smooth sunned shanks. Whose sexuality is the softer?

            I think ours is. I admire woman’s sexuality as the more dangerous and wonder, positing the existence of a third gender, what blasphemous embraces, what illicit shivers, what exquisite genital pulsings await the male sexual explorer in the clutches of that wild beast, an ab-human manifestation of abstract gender, who would face us if we turned to look in the direction of a woman’s lust.

            I am not a brave man and remain content to hanker after pink socks but I urge all of you to investigate this new erotic frontier with diligence and fervour and report back your discoveries. Homosexuality in the context of this observation is narcissistic, directed neither one way nor the other.

            So my theory is that the hunting down and confronting of monsters, the sweaty grappling with monkey-demons in the dark, with the shades down so to speak, is in reality a sexual playtime for you male gaming nerds. Not me. You, you fruitcakes.

            Put succinctly, Kent is a one CHUD incels forum.

        • squeen says:

          Byrce’s aesthetic is very good. If you go to his list of “the best”, it’s pretty much spot-on (or at least aligns with my own sense of Quality). That is why—along with his work ethic—he has garnered so much respect.

          Trying to understand the “why this failed” is a tried-and-true route to eventual success. That’s why even the poorly reviewed products are interesting in that sense. He attempts to articulate and refine his rejection-metrics and not just pour witty derision on a product, which in-and-of-itself is admirable.

          Honest feedback is worth something. It’s also nice that it’s playful and not mean-spirited, so that the review is both entertaining and even most of the authors are able to shallow the bitter pill.

          When reading his reviews, we all must allow for differences in personal taste. Everyone has biases. Simply filter out what you don’t agree with, and sift out the gems of insight. For me, the posts are informative, interesting and entertaining. A nice mental break in a hectic work week.

          What more could anyone reasonably want from a *free* RPG web blog?

        • murderhobbes says:

          Oh, Kent, I know you didn’t just break the groupthink and tell the groupies here that their king has no clothes. You better run! They gonna fine you, they gonna fine you.

        • Bryce Lynch says:

          Are you worried I don’t like Thracia? I like Thracia. And yes, it would suffer, because it could be better. But “it could be better” doesn’t mean “bad” or “not recommended.” Someone recently asked if there’s something that hits all the marks. No, there’s not. Most things could be better. This isn’t some kind of absolutist game where you get points for hitting marks and I subtract for using humanoids instead of humans. Given the uninformed and amateurish efforts of most designers, even famous ones, I tend to mention mostly what I think is the easiest path for their product to be better. And you’ll recognize as well my pushbacks on that style. “Sticky” works. Interactivity and imagination trump organization, as long as it’s actually enough to be usable. Neither “Bryce wants everything explained to him” or “Bryce wants minimalism” is correct. People confuse the way they implemented something, generally going through the motions and missing the point of doing it, with criticism of the underlying idea. If you write sixteen paragraphs about an NPC I’m gonna ding you. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want NPC flavor. It means you lost track of the point.

          And you’re right, most people are not running a con game, but the principals still apply. If you HAVE to make notes and use a highlighter then the designer has failed, they have not provided the basic level of functionality needed. If the product INSPIRES you make notes then that’s a different story.

    • Gnarley Bones says:

      * “cliche-laden”

    • Edgewise says:

      If that’s all you want out of a review, Kent, then you don’t need reviews at all. You’re way too advanced for that, man.

      The problem with your criticism is that you say Bryce is targeting his reviews for hardcore GMs, but then you’re saying that a decent GM can just spin up a year of content from flipping through Caverns of Thracia. Such a GM is surely more hardcore than someone who buys and runs a published adventure roughly as-is.

      This critique is utterly incoherent. The kind of GM you’re describing doesn’t need to read reviews in the first place. Reading adventures, for that guy, is easier than reading comic books, right? And he’s not actually using the material for anything but inspiration. So he (*AHEM* you *AHEM*) obviously doesn’t need someone to tell you anything about anything.

      I think your “criticism” is just a barely concealed brag about how awesome a GM you are, how easily you read adventures and how little you need them for anything more than inspiration. Kind of a pathetic thing to brag about. Bryce is supposedly the autistic guy who plays games all day? Thanks for sorting that out, bro.

  6. Gnarley Bones says:

    Well, I just picked this up, Bryce. So foo on you, Mr. Completist. 😉

  7. YouDontMessWithTheJeff says:

    Oh hey look at this, a review of an adventure that I’ll likely never be able to obtain. What’s the point of reviewing something that very few people will be able to buy? It would have been salt in the wound had it been a No Regerts, of Best. What’s next Bryce, restaurant reviews in Indy that in all likelyhood I’ll never be able to visit?

    • SolCannibal says:

      “I picked this up at NTRPGcon. AFTER writing this review I discovered that it appears to be physical copies only … and those copies are hard to come by. Oops. Sorry, I DON’T usually do that. It looks like BadMike sells them in this storefront.” – Could you learn to READ before getting your panties wet with made-up indignation.

      Also, publishing that ALREADY finished review can be useful in INFORMING those very few people WOULD be able to buy (Bryce did point out where to look for if one cares to). World does not revolve around you, me or anyone clique in particular…

      • YouDontMessWithTheJeff says:

        Looks like I ruffled someone elses panties too. Hope you feel better about yourself Chief. The internet is better for your efforts.

        • SolCannibal says:

          Actually, just wanted to point out the obvious you ignore in what the same paragraph you made a soapbox of.

          Don’t know if you’re in need of some chill or just looking for attention, possibly both.

    • Gnarley Bones says:

      I literally popped onto eBay and purchased it from the author. It took moments.

  8. The Middle Finger of Vecna says:

    Still waiting to get a link from cunt, errr strike that, I mean Kent so that I can read his review insights. They must be infinitely superior to Bryce’s right? Given the amount of complaining he does on this blog, his reviews HAVE to be better. Kent? You there Kent? I’m chomping at the bit to read gold! Gold, Kenty, GOLD!

  9. Ice says:

    The metltdowns in these comment sections are the best. DnD nerds are the funniest nerds of all.

    • Anal Avenger says:

      Never get between a gaggle of fatbeards and their “analysis” of imaginary shit. You might as well be taking their cheetos, kicking them out of momma’s basement and making them get a job.

      • YouDontMessWithTheJeff says:

        Just three more paychecks and I’ll be able to move into a one room loft above a bowling alley and under another bowling alley. Found a used mini fridge on the side of the road. It works!!

  10. squeen says:

    Ironically, I remember a time very clearly when using a computer (at all) got you labelled as a nerd.

  11. squeen says:

    Now, everyone uses a computer like its a toaster, but most have no idea how to build or program one.

    Life is strange.

  12. Concerned Reader says:

    Everyone knows this blog has become a parody of itself. The author reviews anything and everything at lightning speed so that he can toss out lazy, recycled “insights” packaged with the obligatory transgessive language and intentional typos. Sadly, it’s Kent who has to point this out.

    • Anonymous says:

      Sadly, you sound like Kent with a fake ID, you know.

    • squeen says:

      Purely negative comments like this seek only to destroy. Nothing good will come of them.

      • Concerned Reader says:

        No… maybe the author will start taking his time and doing real reviews instead of catering to a few fanbois who gush every typo.

        • Ice says:

          If you don’t like this blog then don’t read it. Life can be that simple. Your criticisms are idiotic and pedantic. Go away.

          The amount of material that is published on this blog is great. It really helps to expose modules and writers who might otherwise be lost in a sea of trash. We don’t need a review of Thracia or B2 because everyone knows about those them and they don’t need more exposure.

          I’ve personally learned a ton about how to analyze modules from reading this blog, and I suspect that many other people have too. Most importantly, this blog has made me run out and buy things that I otherwise would not have had any idea existed.

          Also, the writers of some modules sometimes leave comments on the reviews of their work and other people’s work. That’s pretty good proof that this blog hasn’t become a parody of itself.

          • Concerned Reader says:

            Whoa, touched a nerve! Calm thyself, man. Bruce will survive a few comments no more critical than those he coughs up every 2-3 days – your world is intact.

        • Edgewise says:

          Is that what you think you will accomplish? I don’t believe that is your actual intent. There’s no attempt to persuade as to your point of view. If there’s something that you want Bryce to review, there’s a thread for you to make requests. Your sense of entitlement is staggering.

        • SolCannibal says:

          How do you define a real review, then? Why not try a blog of your own to expose more clearly what your point is supposed to be?

          • The Middle Finger of Vecna says:

            A blog of his own to expound of his own point(s)? CrAzY tAlk!!! Why do that when he can pop on here and spew irrelevant bullshit?

  13. Anonymous says:

    As a newcomer lurker in the OSR (or whatever it’s currently called) scene, I don’t know what’s up with this Kent-guy, but he seems to be a common critter in the blogosphere comment section. Maybe Mr. Bryce needs him around to balance the Chi or some other cosmic shenanigans.

  14. Badmike says:

    We printed a large (for us) 250 copy print run and sold out in a year, thanks for your support. There will be a 2nd printing out this summer for the con and, afterwards, available on ebay.

    Nice to see Kunt is still around after all these years, as relevant as ever!

    I don’t agree with about half of Bryce’s reviews, we don’t like the same thing, and none of us wrote B2.5 with Bryce’s needs in mind. So what. Don’t like it do your own reviews, christ.

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