By Lloyd Metcalf
Fail Squad Games
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An old keep at the head of nearby falls fills the local tavern with rumors of the past lord of the land, Lord Venwexal. The purpose of his towers is the subject of wild speculation, late night tales, and rumors. After the lord was removed from power by a revolt, some twisted sorcery took up residence, or so the tales say. The abandoned towers have certainly fallen to the wildlands, and few, if any, survive venturing anywhere near the falls. What is sure is that the stone buildings are not standing empty, and most can agree that some powerful magic is at the heart of the unusual keep.
This twelve page adventure describes a farm and a couple of small towers full of “cursed” people. The usual long read-aloud and DM text is married to their usual bride “it attacks!” Meh.
A couple of towers next to a river. About eleven rooms total between them. On the way to the river you pass a farm, with five locations, that has some cursed chickens running out to attack you, and then a couple of more encounters. It’s trying, but never really gets to where it needs to be.
One of the first locations, at the farm on the way to the tower, is an old well. The read-aloud mentions an old barn nearby, an overturned horse trough, and the well parts dismantled and strewn about. But the DM text then tells us that we MAY (DC 15 pass per) notice blood dripping from the branches of a tree near the well. “Two children of the farm have pulled a farmhand up into the branches and are slowly devouring the the remains.” I call a foul on this encounter, putting a tree dripping blood next to the well but not mentioning it in the readaloud. As written, it rewards a min/max development. Did you get your PER up to 15? No? Then you get surprise attacked! This isn’t D&D. I know, different strokes for different folks and all that shit. CharOp is a bane and should have never been associated with D&D. D&D is a back & forth between the players and the DM. The players digging in to the environment. Mentioning the well next to the tree invites the players to look up in the tree, the non-dumb ones anyway. Player skill is trained and rewarded. Interactivity between the DM and players is reinforced. AND the players get the joy of the “children devouring the remains” imagery.
Which, frankly, could be better. I like the farm children devouring thing, but a word or two about bloody grinning faces, missing jaws, pulling out entrails, etc could have much more reinforced that imagery. The “two children” DM text, above, is one of the stronger sections of the writing, with several other encounters having something close. A dead body leaning up against a door, and so on. In all cases though it comes through muddled and not emphasized or taken beyond a slightly genericism. Just pushing it a little further, rewording a bit, reworking the emphasis, would have turned these encounters in to something much much better. Over and over again this happens.
One encounter has four paragraphs of read-aloud followed by four paragraphs of DM text. I guess there are encounters, somewhere, that could justify this, but not routinely. It detracts from the adventure as a whole. Short. Encourage interactivity. Keep the DM text focused.
And then there’s the usual shit. I’m pretty sure everything in the adventure just attacks. This is boring. As with the children, you don’t get a chance to develop the encounter, or horror. It just turns in to hacking everything down. And if you’re gonna do that then why not just Burn It Down. Seriously, if everything is going to try and kill you then you’re an idiot for exploring, just burn it all. All in all, the occasional death of a kidnapped person is going to be ok when compared to all the good you’ve done in the world by stopping an ancient evil bent on world destruction each and every week.
I would note as well an example of gimping the players. There’s a door that must be opened by living flesh and you have to solve the puzzle lock. No Knock or other magical devices will get you through. IE: the designer wants a player to have his character risk losing a finger or two to get in, while solving the lock puzzle. Uncool. Is Wizzy McWizard prepares Knock for the day instead of Fireball then that should be their decision. Knock opens doors and bypasses this shit. That’s what it’s there for. “But, ma story!” Fuck that noise. Wizzy won’t be fireballing later on, they make a cost/benefit analysis and decided on Knock. (Smart Wizard, IMO.) But to then tell them “Nope, better just prepare combat spells.” is fcuking lame. And to make them lose it at that, when they cast it? Bad design. Bad DM’ing.
Petty Shit: There’s no level mentioned in the description, you have to open up the cover images to determine what level it is. Bad form old chap!
The art, at least one piece, almost works. It shows the falls and the two towers. A little close, with a bit of “down angle” to get the top of the falls might have been a better choice to get the “vibe” of the place. As is, it’s an ok art piece to enhance the adventure, which is rare enough.
This is $4 at DriveThru. There’s no fucking preview. *sigh* Looks like there’s a S&W conversion available also.
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Sticking in some west african vampire lore would bump this up a notch.
I feel like if they tried they could have got *one* more staff on that cover.
That ‘No Preview’ thing seems to be becoming standard on DriveThruRPG, whatever else people say about ‘brick and mortar’ game shops at least when you go into one you get a chance to skim the book and decide if you want to buy it or not.
Personally I had a hard time actually getting my preview to show up when I wrote Quest for the Dungeon Terrier – it took me like 3-4 tries to actually get it to work properly. I wonder how often that is the case on drivethru vs someone saying ‘no preview’ intentionally.
I would have made the town one the PCs can visit a few times before the scenario. Have them encounter a few of the locals, make at least one or two memorable NPCs. Then, at some point when the shit has hit the fan elsewhere in the campaign and Teh Ebil runs rampant in the kingdom, they can come by and have the unsettling encounters made MORE unsettling in contrast to What Had Come Before.
In a tower where “some twisted sorcery took up residence”, it might be reasonable for a knock spell to fail. Would you cry foul when the referee states a knock spell doesn’t open the final door to the demilich in S1 Tomb of Horrors? Acererak could have cast limited wishes (and wishes). More generally, intelligent high level foes should be able to take the same sort of sensible precautions that PCs do: would you accept Strahd’s invitation to dinner without a negative plane protection spell precast (and a fetching garlic necklace)?
It is perfectly reasonable for the players to do a “Brave Sir Robin” when their knock spell fails.
I think really important doors would be the sort of place where a partial success instead of a complete success would be cool. You force part of the puzzle lock with one knock spell, throwing metal shards, then you choose if you want to burn a second knock.
That seems like a good compromise.