The Dog That Would Not Bark

By Jonathan Hicks
Farsight Games
Swords & Wizardry
Level: Who the fuck knows?

When a dog comes running to the players looking for attention, what dangers will they be led to?

This six page adventure has one encounter, with five ghouls. My life is a living hell.

I’m interested, lately, in lower page count adventures. In contrast to the overwritten stuff that seems to dominate the market these days I was thinking about the opposite end of the spectrum. What was G1, like, eight pages or something? And it’s one of the best things written. [And, yes Kent, it violates several of the things I judge on and could be written better.] I’ve been a little intrigued lately by the idea of a lower page count adventure with a higher density of rooms. Alongside that is some thinking about pricing and inflation, again influenced by G1. If you got something really good in six pages, or adequate, what’s a fair price for that? Ain’t nobody gonna make any money doing this shit, so it’s a kind of academic question at this point, but interesting nonetheless. Finally, just how hard is it to make an adventure for publication? How much effort is it to get something short, dense, and at least adequate in a form that other people can use?

With this in mind I selected the Dog That Would Not Bark for a review. Six pages fits the model of what I’m looking for! And $1! Alas, it’s actually a six page Sidetrek featuring one encounter. The blurb says it’s an “adventure.” It’s not an adventure, it’s an encounter. The blurb has no level listed. Five ghouls … what is that, level 2 or 3?

An agitated dog runs up barking, making no sound. He wants you to follow him to a ruin nearby. Inside are five ghouls about to eat two little kids. ADVENTURE! Wonder! VALUE! Population: you.

Six pages for this shit. Oh! Oh! “If the party did well then you can put a magic item in the treasure by rolling on the table in the core book.” This is how you write an adventure?

Yeah, the soundless bark is interesting. As is the ghouls about to eat the kids. And the kids say the dog is actually their uncle turned in to a dog by a wizard.  But come on man, six pages? Seriously? There are dungeon with fifty or sixty rooms that come in six pages. That pack this much adventure in to a decent percentage of their rooms.

What a world. What a world. Time to try and find another example to support my thesis and ignore this ever existed. Sometimes science is about conviction.

This is $1 at DriveThru. The preview is but two page long. If it were longer you’d know how much “value” you were getting and not buy it. The second page is representative of the adventure. Lots of whitespace with a couple sentences of text.

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23 Responses to The Dog That Would Not Bark

  1. Gnarley Bones says:

    $1 for an encounter.

    Our hobby has taken a real sideways step of late.

    • Slick S. says:

      That’s a fun metric to gauge other adventures by. I just skimmed through The Hyqueous Vaults, tallying up everything that could be considered an “encounter” (any room that has something interactable, i.e. no mundane/empty rooms or rooms that just have treasure). According to my calculations using the $1/encounter rate, The Hyqueous Vaults (which is free) is valued at about $38 proportionally to The Dog That Would Not Bark.

  2. Derek says:

    What a joke. Here’s the “adventure” for free:

    A dog runs up to the party and seems to be barking, but no sound comes out. The dog is trying ti get the party’s attention. If the PCs follow the dog, it will lead them to an abandoned building where 5 ghouls are about to eat 2 terrified children. The kids think the dog is their uncle (post-polymorphing by a wizard).

  3. The Middle Finger of Vecna says:

    Is the dog’s name, Lassie?

  4. James Smith says:

    Let’s make it better. Every few days the dog shows back up to drag the adventurers off to another encounter. His collar acts similarly to an amulet of monster attraction. Children are often endangered, cause Dog. The only way the dog can regain its human form is by eating a wizard. So, it’s trying to kill some adventurers, have dinner and be human again. Or, remove the poly angle and just go with the collar and clueless but helpful dog.

  5. Yora says:

    What this all is is simply sad.

    They say 90% of everything is crap. But it seems for RPG adventures, of the remaining 10%, 90% are still crap.

  6. Melan says:

    Bryce, why would you ever think a lower page count would mean a less overwritten adventure? “Overwritten” is a ratio, not an exact value! Something is overwritten when it is significantly longer than it needs to be (less charitably: has the right to be).

    This “adventure” has nothing in it. On the other hand, a super-dense one-page dungeon with flat, boring ideas also has nothing in it. They are equally useless.

  7. Gus L. says:

    Remember that in the brave new world of 5th edition adventure design an Encounter is an Adventure! This is one of the things about post 3e design theory that perturbs me (but is also entirely understandable if a complex combat encounter takes 2 -3 hours to run) – a move from the dungeon or even level as the unit of keyed adventure to the individual, and almost always combat, encounter.

    Sure and ‘real’ adventure is a string of encounters that tell a larger story (and if they are good branch and split based on player decision making) – ideally provided in a 250 page WotC tome. I even have some sympathy for this approach – when combat encounters need lair actions, interactive terrain and individual maps it doesn’t really leave room for much else. Furthermore once you break the Risk v. Reward economy of the dungeon turn, encumbrance and random encounters exploration is pretty dumb.

    So yeah – roll 3 on the random “Blighted Farmlands Encounter Table”

    “A rough looking war dog in a studded harness pads into camp, panting and hungry. It cannot bark – vocal chords severed to force silence in the way of the Pine Hellsmen, but it seems otherwise very friendly. The dog will accept food and affection, but is intent on leading anyone it meets to a rotten farm house where its master, a Hellsman mercenary has become the latest meal of a family of 5 ghouls – former farmers cursed by their consumption of human flesh during the recent starving time. Besides the Hellsman’s bone axes (2 Hexed Hand Axes) and pouch of 45 GP in mixed coins they have only broken farm equipment and a collection of brass, copper and greenstone jewelry worn by their scrawny, hunger demon marked matriarch(6 rings, 4 necklaces and a tiara – 10 GP per item).”

    Maybe to long – but give me a dollar!

    • Gus L. says:

      All of you – I WANT MY DOLLAR!

      • Gnarley Bones says:

        You didn’t indicate what levels the encounter was for. Tsk, tsk.

        $.50, not a penny more. 😉

        • Gus L. says:

          Pfft! Levels! You think you get levels for a random encounter? Might as well ask if the ghouls have ‘lair actions’ and if I’ve got a photoshop looking grid map of a ruined farm… Levels!

          You’ll take your 1D6 (+1 for fighters) HP and you’ll like it!

          • AHA!! sir! Did you draw your own illustrations like the original author? (honestly, who here can do better?) Did you add a few underground caverns under the ruins for interest? Did you add a new magic item or something awe-inspiring….is it for 2e or below (anything above lacks my interest)–I’m needy…damn it,, but happy to slap you across the face with a crisp 1$ bill!

    • Dark_Tigger says:

      I said it before and say it again. I would pay for your adventures. So hush go and release something. 😛

  8. Reason says:

    Not sure if the encounter above comes from the adventure- because it sounds pretty cool and I’m stealing it. And maybe you’re being overly dickish about this adventure.

    Or if you just pissed out something better than this adventure in about 3 minutes of lazy afternoon thought. In which case I’m still stealing it & this adventure sucks.

    • Gus L. says:

      About 3 minutes yes.

      Here’s a couple more.

      Encounter 4 on the “Blighted Farmlands (All dogs) Encounter Table”

      “The howling grows to feverish intensity in mere moments and then a small child, a ragged waif, one of destitute multitudes that wander the roads during the starving time rushes through clambering up a nearby skeletal tree. On the heels of the urchin are 2 horsemen and three huge, thin dogs. Laughing between long pulls from a stirrup cup the horsemen congratulate their red eyed, famished looking beasts and proceed towards the tree where the child looks done in terror. Something seems wrong with the hunting Rakehells: their horses bone thin, exhausted and reeking of saddle sores, their finery besmirched with dark stains and their jests too cruel and crude even for these dark days. The Rakhells and their dogs are ghouls, transformed by cannibalistic depravities, who intend to devour the urchin. They will do so, gruesomely, if ignored entirely. If the party lingers or speaks to them the Rakehells are insane, pompous and demanding – seeking the sybaritic pleasures, human flesh and drink that are their droit de seigneur.

      They carry 400 GP total in gold snuff boxes, stirrup cups, cravat pins, club rings and and buckles.”

      Encounter 2 on the “Blighted Farmlands (All dogs) Encounter Table”

      “A small dog waits beside the road, a lap beast of some kind, furiously licking an injured leg. It is wary but obviously friendly and will limp lead up the road with the party if shown the slightest kindness. Within a mile the poor creature will begin yapping insistently and try to lead the party off into a small copse. Within the copse is the smoking ruin of a fancy carriage, its richly clad passengers sprawled in bloody angles on the ground nearby. The dog cares only for the corpse of one young women, likely of the merchant class – nuzzling the mangled corpse repeatedly. Weeping sounds can be heard deeper in the woods, from the band of five brigands who waylaid the carriage and slaughtered the travelers within. They have been cursed by gods of the city for their cruelty, and now all food except human flesh turns to ash in their mouths – they are ghouls – but don’t know it yet. Penitent, frightened and stupid the ghoul brigands are terrified of their urge to claw and devour the living, but will only resist their impulses briefly. Among their possessions are five suits of cheap armor, 3 shortwords, 5 spears, and 2 shortbows with 20 arrows. They have buried the plunder from the carriage (250 GP in new gold, and a diamond necklace [500 GP]) in the woods believing it cursed. They have also kept the two matched grey riding horses that were pulling the carriage.”

  9. squeen says:

    Don’t let his sardonic demeanor fool you. Gus L is a bit of a phenom when it comes to writing interesting stuff.

    • Reason says:

      Ah- he’s Dungeon of Signs- Gus L. That explains it.

      Hated Pretender was cool, my players were too scared to go inside for a whole session after I played up the wailing keen sound of the mouth-ward as it pushed their experimental pebble out of its radius.

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