Aldair’s Arboretum

(No designer listed)
Mesozoic Press
Levels 1-3

Explore an abandoned elf treehouse!

This eleven page adventure details a nine room elf treehouse that has some living plants. A conversion, it’s has good magic items, lack monetary treasure, and a has cumbersome writing style. Just more grist for the gristmill.

While walking through the forest (this is a drop in adventure) the party sees an area with larger undergrowth, wild, with trees 50% larger than normal. Investigating, they see “an usually shaped construction” up in the treetops, supported by three trees. Turns out it’s a big old elf treehouse.

The intro DM text does two things well: it brings a slight sense of wonder, with large berries, larger trees, etc, notifying the players that THIS IS AN ADVENTURE SITE. Same as the entrance to the mythic underworld, it denotes that things are going to get D&D around here. Second, it provides a hint of what’s to come. No one can encounter overgrown plants without getting their Round Up spells ready. Plant monsters ahead!

The magic treasure is also above average. A belt buckle, in the shape of leaves, that is a ring of protection. Herbicide. A couple of berry types. A broach in the shape of the leaf slows falls “to that of a falling leaf.” Good theming.

And … that’s it. It’s only been a couple of months but everything is rusted and ropes decayed. The “unusually shaped construction” in the trees is an abstraction, a conclusion. “Well, what’s it shaped like” says the players …”unusual” says the DM. Not cool.

Treasure is LIGHT. This is quite clearly a 5e conversion. Cash is meaningless is 5e. Cash is everything in B/X, it’s your XP. Sure enough, there’s a 5e version listed on DriveThru. These conversions Drive. Me. Nuts. It’s like you marketed a “Spooky CoC adventure!” and then filled it converted a normal d20 Espionage adventure. It’s fucking shitty. These games require cash to level and yet there is no cash. Meaning the designer has little understanding of how B/X actually works.

Tis the writing, though, that sucks most, as per usual. The rooms have exhaustive lists of contents. A walking stick, boots and cloak in the cloakroom adds nothing to the adventure. What it DOES do is subtract from the ability to run it. The text is written, one paragraph after another, each describing one thing in the room, with n intro/summary paragraph. His means that to run the room you have to read the ENTIRE entry. The characters walk in. “What do we see?” Well, hang on, let me read these five paragraphs so I can tell you. The only way this works is when you have a bit of summary as the first paragraph to orient you to what’s to come. Then, while the players are fucking about, you can scan the appropriate paragraph. This shit is KEY. And this thing don’t do that.

Paragraph one of room one tells us “Entryway: The slope leads up to a wooden platform that juts out from the main building. A large wooden trough stands in the north east corner used to collect rain water but it has become dark and stagnant with a film of slime across the top.”

  1. Good job using a room name, and bolding it. We now know all mundane features.
  2. We don’t need to know about the slope. It’s shown on the map and is mentioned in the intro text before the keyed entries begin. It’s just detracting from the important text.
  3. The trough text is overwrought. It’s “A trough with dark & stagnant rainwater, a film of slime across the top.” Done.
  4. There are four more paragraphs of this shit.

It’s a lot of filler text with very little content that either evocative or actually gameable. Two rooms with a couple of plant monsters in them does not an adventure make.

This is $1.50 at Drivethru. The preview is three pages long and shows you almost nothing. Just some shitty backstory and the parts of room one that I quoted above.–Adventures-2-Aldairs-Arboretum-B-X-Essentials?1892600

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45 Responses to Aldair’s Arboretum

  1. eric says:

    Gotta love that cover art though, eh? eh?

    So spooky, so evocative, and it doubles as an illustration to show the players.

    What’s that you say?


    • squeen says:

      Yeah, not even a single leaf to be found.

    • The Middle Finger of Vecna says:

      Nothing says Elven Treehouse like a ruined stone castle. And designers who convert their adventures (to any system) need to know what that system entails. It’s not just switching out stat blocks. This adventure is indeed available for 5e and something called W.O.I.N. (wtf??)

  2. UserASD says:

    I don’t understand why people like to describe every room as “This room used to be like that now it looks like this.”

    • Slick S. says:

      I can understand that some RPG writers are worried about the flavor of a place getting lost in translation. There is a difference between a pauper’s quarters, and a high class boudoir that’s fallen to disrepair even though both, in their current condition, could be described with the same adjectives (moldy, dusty, etc.). Showing the history and how it’s changed can be important for getting the right vibe, but the problem (as usual) is the descriptions of the former glory are always way, way too verbose. You can usually get the point across with just the title of the room alone. Something called a “chateau” or “billiards room” is going to imply what the base state is regardless of what mold and mildew is piled on top of it. Items help with context, too; if the contents include rusted scalpels and reclining chairs, you don’t need to say “this was once used for medical procedures”.

  3. Edgewise says:

    Bryce, these little adventure locations don’t seem to be serving you well. I have two suggestions:

    1. Review something else. You don’t seem to enjoy these, and I for one am not interested in them.

    2. While a negative review might be earned, I think it’s possible to do it without completely shitting on the product. Don’t forget that a lot of these creators are enthusiastic hobbyists – I think I’d completely give up publishing if I got a review like this, instead of learning from your suggestions. I don’t think that anything that costs only $1.50 deserves to be pummeled so harshly.

    I’m about to put something out in the next month, and seeing reviews like this, I’m very hesitant for you to look at my amateur effort. I know it’s not perfect but I don’t want anyone to be so cruel about something I put so much love into. I imagine this author is feeling pretty low if he sees this. I’m actually starting to think that Venger had a point, even though he was waaaay over the top.

    Maybe I’m overreacting…you’ve been more harsh. Maybe it’s just easier right now for me to imagine myself in this author’s shoes.

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      There are better j’accuse examples than this one, but I hear you. Suggestions?

      I was thinking about something similar recently. Recent experiences lead me to believe that “No Names” benefit more from exposure than Names. Someone new is getting exposure that they desperately need if its just a DT product. Plus the feedback stuff.

      I’m sure Malrex, Oswald, Harley, and others would love a review. But they’ll get them form someone else and they’ve already got some name recognition. And, because of that, are somewhat insulated from critiques that a new person may not be.

      I don’t know what to do so I just keep going forward until I do.

      • Edgewise says:

        Hmm, tricky. I really like that you’re reviewing amateurs and nobodies. I suppose the issue is that the content they create is rarely as compelling as that of more established authors.

        It CAN BE valuable to shine a spotlight on the newbies, but mainly if you’re (1) pointing out hidden gems to prospective buyers, and (2) giving valuable criticism to the creators. But I don’t think you’ve found enough good stuff to justify (1), and while you have good criticisms for (2), I think your harshness undermines your impact.

        Well, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be negative, but I think there’s a lot to be said for how you say something. Like you can say that something “sucks” or is “shit,” and that sounds a lot harsher than just saying “this text doesn’t add anything, and it subtracts from usability.” Even if it’s really the same thing, it can made a huge difference to the recipient. To hit the right tone, it might be best to really focus on trying to HELP these hapless authors.

        It might be hard to fulfill the goal of pointing out hidden gems when they’re so well hidden, to put it nicely. If you can’t find enough good amateur creations, I’d just mix it up with some more professional work. It’s also useful to amateurs to see examples of what does meet your standards; not that you don’t have plenty of examples, already.

        Anyway, that’s all I got. I hope it’s useful.

        • squeen says:

          I think the author(s) should not be so afraid of a few harsh words, especially if they aren’t being singled out—i.e. the criticism is spread liberally and fairly. For the most part, I’ve seen authors take the reviews very well, and I give them props for doing so.

          Sorry to have to point this out, but I also think the younger crowd is a bit too fragile to the spoken word and need to “toughen up” a bit. The world is not always a Day at the Beach. You don’t win a medal for just trying. Quality is instantly recognizable and shines like a light for all you can see. A freshman effort should be identified as such sent back to the drawing board in order for the apprentice to learn his trade. I have no idea why, in this near-zero-cost-to-publish-economy, the authors don’t just revise the work and re-release an improved update.

          Bryce is tough, but not wantonly negative. He just has his standards and defends them staunchly. You may not agree, but you can at least respect where he is coming from. When he is lambasted in the comments (yes, looking at you Kent), he doesn’t freak out—taking as good as he gives. In engineering, negative feedback is crucial to stabilizing a system.

          I like this site because it’s refreshing in its honest integrity. Please! No molly-coddling the delicate snowflakes!

          • Edgewise says:

            Sadly, this kind of stupid comment is what happens when someone walks in with some preconceived political horseshit. I’m 46, dude. Tell me why it is better to call someone’s work “shit” than to use a more neutral term that means the same thing. People protest so hard against some political debate that they forget good old fashioned values like respect, dignity and politeness. You dumb piece of shit. This isnt about politics or millenials, it’s about just being polite and mature.

            No coddling, as requested. Is this the best way to make a point?

          • Edgewise says:

            And just to make it absolutely clear, here’s a different take that says pretty much the same damn thing:

            I think you’re projecting your own political thinking onto this discussion in a way that’s not warranted. I’m actually 46, and like you (apparently), I’m an engineer – and by the way, engineering does not have a special relationship with criticism.

            I feel like your words are an example of how our public debates have caused us to lose sight of basic timeless values. Our grandparents knew that people were more likely to listen to you if you avoid insults and profanity. “A spoonful of sugar…” and you know the rest.

            Imagine you were speaking to the author in front of you. Would you think that your words would have more impact if you told him that his creation was a piece of shit? Would you even have the guts to be so unkind to someone’s face? I wonder why you think that works so much better in print.

            Do you tell other engineers that their plans “suck” or that their code is “shit”? If you do, then let me tell you right now: all your peers hate you. But from your fairly civil tone (despite your political button pushing), I suspect that you find a better way to express yourself.

            Why do we pretend to ourselves that we are thick-skinned and that this is the appropriate way to be? Could it be because trolls have weaponized feigned nonchalance? Let me tell you a little secret: if someone tells you that they don’t care what you think, there’s a 99% chance that they are lying. Everyone cares, and we’re all snowflakes and we always have been. Gentlemen used to stab each other over insults, and that was back when they had real shit to worry about.

          • squeen says:

            My thoughts are my own and not a part of a political movement. You presume too much. Age does not guarantee wisdom.

            Seeing the way you blow your top in the face of disagreement reveals to me exactly what kind of person (and engineer) you are.

            And while I fear neither you, nor your aggressive demeanour, you would most definitely would not last long on my design team.

            Bryce has his own style. It is blunt, but not mean-spirited—and I enjoy it. Here he is a critic (for free), but if you want someone more “in your corner” to aide with your designs, consider paying him to be your editor. Furthermore, I hope he doesn’t change his style just to suite those, such as yourself, with a sensitive nature. His site is an oasis.

          • squeen says:

            “People protest so hard against some political debate that they forget good old fashioned values like respect, dignity and politeness. You dumb piece of shit. ”

            Oooh! I just noticed this.

      • Kent says:

        –I’m [Edgewise] about to put something out in the next month,

        I am looking forward to reading reviews of this passive aggressive lady’s work (if not a lady I apologize). I have an old nest of vile phrases underemployed in the last few years which I am rendering pristine, and as I am no-one if not just I have a mouldering stack of praises which I am restoring in anticipation of first use.

        I urge you Edgewise to publish your work. You are a sensitive lad responsive to slights. Your indignation tickles me.

        • Edgewise says:

          You are already planning to say unkind things, Kent? That’s so unlike you. It’s hard to take it as a reflection of my work, though, knowing that you’ll do so no matter what.

          But still, where can I go to read these harsh words? Tell me now, so I can go there when it is time. You can be absolutely sure that I will spend time doing that.

        • Edgewise says:

          I dashed that off, and just realized that you DID bait me with the possibility of a positive review. Nicely done! I suspect that you even mean it.

      • markuscz says:

        I do enjoy these reviews of bad adventures (it’s enlightening!) but it’s true that there haven’t been many good ones recently. And I would very much enjoy some recommendations. So maybe mixing some big names in every now end then would be a nice change of pace?

        Anyway, thanks for doing this blog, you’ve helped me to have loads of fun playing modules that you’ve recommended.

      • Yep, love reviews, good or bad, and never want to be insulated. It’s how I learn. Especially if I go out of my box (city adventures, different dimensions) or try new format.

        • Edgewise says:

          I think you have a good attitude but I find it disappointing that people equate politeness with insulation. I am not suggesting that Bryce omits a single criticism.

          • Edgewise,I hear you, and understand where you are coming from. At the work place, I expect, give, and receive politeness. Unfortunately, on the internet, it’s a crap shoot, no matter where you go.

            But…story time– I wanted my first adventure to be reviewed here because I KNEW Bryce was a jerky jerk-face. I knew he wasn’t bothered to rip things apart and be “impolite”. More importantly–I also knew he would drop bits of advice in his reviews. People can read reviews and nod in agreement all day long–it’s easy. But it’s different when you try to walk the talk, and you also learn the most when it’s a critique of your own work.

            That’s gold to me as a hobby publisher, because despite this being fun for me to do, I have this sick problem of giving a shit about people spending money on stuff I put together and I don’t want them to feel cheated. I also don’t like to feel cheated of my money when I purchase things as well, so I find these reviews helpful. And sometimes I disagree with Bryce’s assessment and buy something anyway and was happy with the purchase.

            Could the review be done in more of a polite way? sure, absolutely. But in my opinion, put yourself in Bryce’s shoes…spending gobs of money on a service and continually being dissatisfied…for years. If you kept asking for hot soup and they keep serving it to you cold—you going to lose your shit after awhile? Maybe a little impolite? You still willing to put a tip(s) down?

            Also, comparing your two posts to squeen, swearing cuts down verbosity than being polite. 🙂

            “I know it’s not perfect but I don’t want anyone to be so cruel about something I put so much love into.” —not worked hard, not effort…but love….and just from this, and sensing your passion, I know I’m already greatly looking forward to see what you come up with.

          • Edgewise says:

            Very well-said, MM. You have a great attitude period. And you’ve got a point that politeness can add a layer of extra verbosity.

            I suppose it’s about striking a balance. What works for you might not work for everyone. What about us snowflakes? Who will dry my tears? In all seriousness, though, I don’t think one size fits all, and I’d be a little gentler on the newbs than the pros.

            By the way, I’m a fan of your stuff, especially Red Prophet Rises.

      • Anonymous says:

        If I may add to abovesaid j’accuse, in one of the recent reviews ‘The Dungeon Terrier’ one line struck me more as a malice than any kind of harsh analysis: “We all know no one is going to make any money on this shit”. I am not against the word ‘shit’ in general and by this point the review already explained/criticized the adventure well enough to understand why it might be not a good purchase, but this last line was more like rubbing it in, just to humiliate. All while the adventure wasn’t not in the Worst or even in Bad.

        • squeen says:

          In that particular review, I took that phrase to mean: “We all know no one is going to make any money on [self-published OSR].” , not specifically targeting that product.

    • Steve says:

      If this review blogger really wanted to help writers, he wouldn’t relish acting like a know-it-all jerk when doing his reviews. Honey over vinegar and all that.

  4. Eric says:

    I read these reviews to learn how to write better adventures.

    To that end, reading “This is shit” is unhelpful and not fit for purpose. It is, in a word, shit.

    However, in Bryce’s defense, seeing this: “A large wooden trough stands in the north east corner used to collect rain water but it has become dark and stagnant with a film of slime across the top.”

    responded to with: The trough text is overwrought. It’s “A trough with dark & stagnant rainwater, a film of slime across the top.” Done.

    … that, is actually useful.

    In that spirit, this line: “There are four more paragraphs of this shit.”
    … can be responded to with: That line is overwrought. “There are four more paragraphs like this”. Done.

    (kidding. mostly.)

  5. Slick S. says:

    This review really didn’t come across as insulting when I read it, the rude language is there to entertain for the most part. Maybe I’m just used to the “mean” style of reviewing/commentary, in my teenage years I consumed a lot of Maddox articles and Gordon Ramsey footage so I’m naturally drawn to content like this rather than something more clinical in approach.

    I’ll add that the ability/inability to take criticism has nothing to do with my (millennial) generation specifically, as implied above. I’ve known just as many of my peers who are either indifferent or prefer harsh, blunt criticism as I have soft spoken older co-workers who needed things presented more gently (I’m also speaking about engineers in this case, FWIW). Not to say that there aren’t college “snowflakes” or old, grumpy ball-busters around, but I don’t think they’re the dominant viewpoints of their respective age groups as they’re usually stereotyped.

    • squeen says:

      Point taken.

      For what it’s worth, I mentioned engineering in the context of feedback control-loops, not as a profession.

  6. Malcalus says:

    Come for the reviews, helpful or harsh, but always entertaining. Stay for the comments, an internet microcosm at its finest.

  7. William C. Pfaff says:

    I’m gonna say (as a professional comedian…seriously) that part of what Bryce does here is shtick. His persona is cultivated and it’s a shtick…a highly entertaining one. I come here to read HIS style writing. If Bryce reviewed something I have written…i could parse the shtick from the criticism and enjoy one and be enlightened by the other. Now if it’s an unfair criticism that isn’t legit? Doesn’t matter how tactfully it’s put, that will come off poorly. Just my two coppers.

  8. EOTB says:

    I see a lot of writers talking about how a review could be more useful to them, or its advice made more palatable if couched differently, but the review isn’t primarily for their benefit. Whatever use they may or may not derive from it is relevant only so long as it clearly warns the potential buyer first and foremost. The buyer is the beneficiary, here. The author is potentially who the buying public needs protection from, if their puffery is beyond the pale.

    Authors arrange editing before publishing if they want to find blind spots in their writing. They don’t rely on reviewers to edit for free. They can take heed from a review that tanks the sales of their product to do it differently next time, if foregoing such services.

    • Edgewise says:

      I strongly disagree. The purpose of a review is whatever the reviewer wants it to be. Lots of reviewers like to use their platforms for different purposes – I can list half a dozen possibilities off the top of my head. Unless you have special insight into Bryce’s purpose, I think you are just telling us what value reviews have for you.

      • EOTB says:

        Do you see any incongruity between saying a review is whatever the reviewer wants it to be, and suggesting to Bryce that he should structure his reviews differently?

        • Edgewise says:

          Not for a moment. I have good reason to believe that Bryce actually cares about teaching authors how to write better adventures. He’s said as much several times in his reviews and I’ve spoken with him a few times through email for a couple different reasons, and I got that impression.

          So I’m giving Bryce suggestions on what I believe his specific goals to be and how I think he could better achieve them. I’m not claiming that he’s come right out and affirmed this assumption. If I’m wrong, then I’m wrong, but that’s what I’m trying to do.

          I don’t think I have anything more to say here about this topic at this time, so I’m going to bow out of this thread. I hope it was valuable.

          • EOTB says:

            To be fair, it looks like a lot of these products are very little money, for the type of author you’re advocating for. I’m mentally thinking people charging real money, instead of tips.

  9. Gus L says:

    I increasingly want to see a Bryce ‘Adventure Design Manifesto’. It can have a grim vaguely humorous name like “Relax – Don’t Do It” or something. It can be full of pithy bombastic maxims like “Never describe what’s in a kitchen drawer … unless it’s treasure.” It can rage and use metaphors that are at once clear and confounding. It will undoubtedly be the best of the guide tomes, because no one else has had the fortitude to read so much dreck. I want to see it and would pay 7.99 for the PDF – which is more then I have paid for an RPG product since ASE 1 so this is premptive praise.

    Also I am day drinking in the spring sunshine.

    Finally Elf Tree House sounds painful. I mean I love fairytale setting, but this seems to squander it.

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