By Christophe Herrbach, Anthony Pacheco
Griffon Lore Games LLC
Hey, quick reminder that I have a Patreon. It helps offset the costs of the website and buying adventures. Unlike some, I don’t accept adventures to review; I buy everything I review.
In the wealthy Kingdom of Lothmar, hardly anyone remembers the once-powerful Barony of Wailmoor that fell 150-years ago to a terrible demon invasion. But PCs have memories of events that precipitated the fall of Wailmoor, and these memories will haunt them until they travel to the lonely moor and solve the mysteries associated with an old, unstoppable curse. Can the PCs save their minds from going crazy “remembering” events they never lived? And who is the mysterious—creature—that haunts the moor and longs for the embrace of an archangel?
This 218 page adventure is modern storytelling to it’s dying breath. Setting new records in “obfuscation through expansive text”, it’s hard to make out what is going on because of the column long (at least) backstories for everybody and everything in the game world. This is not an adventure. It’s a novelization of an adventure.
Let us examine one of the core mechanics of the adventure: you cannot die. If you die you get rebirthed back at a tree in the central village, with all your stats lowered by one. You can’t go below 8. What, then, would be the purpose of this? Not even in death can you escape the plot of the designer. The plot will go on. And you will be a part of it. Death will not save you. You do get all your stat points back when you level. So, you know …
Clever monkeys will immediately recognize opportunity in this absurdist mechanic. Rebelling against the railroad and lack of agency, let us accept, and in acceptance of our fates find victory, just as in the mystery of the Blue City Lacuna. Take your whole party to stat 8. Charge each combat, doing whatever minimal damage. Finding whatever secrets. Learning the map. Die and reform a thousand times a day. Until, finally, the Storyteller relents and you can wander, freely. The presumption of resurrection abstracted in to a new mechanic. You walk about enchanted, in ecstasy, like the gods you saw dancing in your dreams. Freedom, terrible terrible freedom.
How anyone thought this was a good idea is beyond me. This is, truly, not D&D but a storyteller game. Not a story game. In those you have some control. This is a storyTELLER game. Your agency is near 0. The closest thing to a videogame I’ve seen, the endings may be different, at some point. But the cut scenes are meaningless. Just die and be reborn.
NPC’s get full page descriptions. Paragraphs on how they react at all three friendliness levels. Encounters for third level characters are CR 8 through CR12. Paragraphs of read aloud at every opportunity. The inn serving wenches are all 16-20 year old whores.
The first encounter is chapter one and takes up most of the first quarter of the book. Every NPC extremely detailed. Everything with a background. Names and ages. All to facilitate a forced on flashback. (DC 20 WIS save. If anyone one party member fails it then they all have the flashback.) If someone dies in this first encounter then a noble will step in and heal them. You will not deviate from the railroad.
How much of a railroad? There IS a correct way to complete the adventure. Kill someone? No xp. Convince the noble of your cause? Get 25xp. The designer has determined the correct course of action and you will follow it and only be rewarded at most if you do.
The maps are illegible. You can’t read the numbers or lettering on them. This, the most basic of functionality you need to provide to the DM. The ultimate reference page. Illegible. And this then is the mortal sin of this adventure: it ignores the DM. It doesn’t understand that rule 0, the reason for its existence, is to help the DM to run it at the table. The map is illegible. The text is SO overloaded with verbosity, everything with backstory, everything overly described, that there is no way on earth a DM can use it easily. Multiple readings. Notes. highlighter . Put in your own cross-references to other areas. Invest an absurd amount of work. Everything is so overly detailed that its all meaningless. Who the fuck cares about the tavern wenches or the soldiers? I mean, sure, a few words to give them some personality, three, four, but paragraph upon paragraph? Ages? The names of the soldiers dogs? Seriously? Why not also the names of their mothers, in case it comes up?
At one point it notes a road and mentions several times how hard it would be to get a wagon up it. Uh. Ok. Why? What’s with the wagon? Is that important? At another it offers that “if the party does not accept the trail through the maggot carpet …” uh … what offered trail? Was that mentioned?
If your still with me then your ears picked up at the maggot carpet thing. What’s so fucking bad about this adventure is that there is some good stuff hiding inside. A carpet of maggots and the bones of small creatures, writhing. Nice imagery! The fucking read-aloud is too long, but, still that good stuff! And all of the flashback memories are listed on one table, with triggers and what they impact. Great reference material! The wilderness section of the adventure has varied and interesting encounters, a little combat heavy, but still, leeches and crocs in a swamp, a dull blue glow from under the water if you detect magic …! that’s great! Hidden treasure. At one point you can reach an overlook in the wilderness and the text summarizes what you can see. Perfect! So many adventures leave out “what I can see from a distance or upon approach.”
But the text, It’s a nightmare. Here’s one small snippet from one object in one room: “The desk does not have anything on it. This desk was used by Humbert, the tower guard as a station for when Silas was in the tower. He sat there, preventing visitors from entering the tower unannounced and providing security should someone try to break into the tower. After the last battle in the Barony, Humbert took everything that was his in the tower and left. He traveled to the Viscounty of Kandra where he died there, like many Wailmoor survivors.”
Note how NOTHING in this text applies to the adventure. Nothing. It’s so closely related to my platonic Dungeon Magazine “looted trophy room” description that it could BE the new platonic idea of bad adventure writing. What the fuck is the point? And it does this over and over and over again. Everything. Everything and Everyone. Mountains of backstory and motivations and details. More than any other adventure I’ve reviewed, it hides the adventure. More is not more, not when it gets in the way and obfuscates the adventure for the DM running it. This is the writing of a wannabe novelist, not the technical writing of an adventure designer. You’re not writing to paint a rich picture of the world in all its glory. You’re writing for a DM running the thing at the table. Even if we accept the bullshit storytell play style, robbing the players of their agency, even if we accept that, the criticisms stand. It’s unusable without a hard core effort at note taking and highlighting that, essentially, negates the purpose of the text you’ve bought. We’re not supposed to be paying for the fucking backstory.
This nightmare PDF is 20 fucking dollars on DriveThru. 20. Fucking. Dollars. The preview is eleven pages long. Go ahead and read it. Read it all. It is COMPLETELY meaningless. It’s an example of the rich and detailed backstory for the village the PC’s start in. That plays such a small part in the adventure. It’s insanity. Utter insanity.
More 5e garbage eh? Shocked I am, shocked!! Let it go Bryce. 5e may provide one or two acceptable adventures but the mountain of crap you have to wade through to get to it isn’t worth it.
I don’t see this as 5e’s fault, perhaps because it is the new hotness it seems more prevalent but the same issues existed back in the days of dungeon magazine as Bryce points out in this review. The real issue is the good technical adventure writing is contrary to how humans tell stories. We have all this stuff in our heads and we want to get it out to you the audience because it is important to us the storyteller. That is why Bryce’s reviews are so useful. He focuses on one way to present the content with a singular goal of helping the DM run the game at the table. This can be accomplished in any game system if the author is willing to write with the same goal.
It absolutely is a 5e problem. The majority of 5e adventures that Bryce has reviewed suffer from this type of nonsense. Yes, it did exist in previous editions so it’s not unique to 5e. No question about that but it seems to be particularly prevalent in 5e adventures, and Pathfinder too for that matter.
If I had to guess, I would say the issue is that the profit model of the primary companies (Wizards and Paizo) is to make page count a selling point. This sets an unfortunate example for third party products for these games.
I think you’re right. When you pay by word of page count you invite bloat and bloat is not good for usability at the table. I also think this might fall under the ‘meant to be read not played’ category.
Pretty much. All Paizo adventure paths would be maybe one 96 page book if you cut out all the bloat and nonsense it’s filled with. Heck, some of them might even be smaller.
Woul be awesome if you gave it a try. Take a generelly well regarded Paizo AP and edit it down to around 100 pages. Curious as to what you would end up with. (you could go with just one volume for starters)
The “Against the Wicked City” blog has a few condensed Pathfinder adventure paths that are well worth looking at.
I think it goes deeper than that. There’s a strange… obsession with following the example of Wizards of the Coast. All the homebrew uses the same font, the same organization style, you get the same type of abilities at the same levels and god help you if you deviate. You’re doing it *wrong*.
I wouldn’t be surprised if that kind of obsession was behind this, too. You gotta make an adventure in 5E’s style, with the same kind of fonts, and the same level of detail to unimportant NPCs! If you don’t, you aren’t *doing it right*. And it’s not that 5E fans don’t know any better- they *want* this. Because it’s familiar and comfortable and because they don’t know how they’d create an interesting NPC without 2 pages of backstory, so anything that lacks that level of detail isn’t doing it’s job as a play aide!
PK that’s more of less what I’m saying. I don’t know if it’s weird; Wizard’s is certainly more involved in 3rd party publishing than most game companies, and I can understand why authors are worried about straying from what the customers are so accustomed to. It’s really only the OSR that embraces that ramshackle vibe.
hentai cover at least
In the preview, local elves have a breeding program to produce half-elves for arranged marriages (this includes magical love potions)…
Yep, definitely hentai.
“This nightmare PDF is 20 fucking dollars on DriveThru.”
I admit that I chuckled hard at the idea of a “nightmare PDF.” Evocative and terse!
This is classic Lynch, fun to read and informative on how to write better adventures.
Bryce HAS found some good 5E stuff, Saving Saxham comes to mind. While not terse, it’s close enough and some good stuff happening throughout. Clocks in at 20 pages i think. It is formatted somewhat in the 5E style. I blame access to the Homebrewery for all that self- and other published stuff that copies WoC 5E