Cult of the Blue Crab

By Rudolf St Germain
Studio St Germain
5e/13th Age
Levels 3-4

The small city of Shallow Bay is plagued by a gang of smugglers who sell contraband alcohol and luxury foods to the people. The mayor’s expensive lifestyle has depleted the city coffers and the head of the city guard orders his men to investigate the smugglers and put an end to their activities. Unbeknownst to most, the smugglers are a front for a radical chaotic water cult that wishes to sweep earth free of “the wicked”. The money made with the contraband is intended to buy better equipment and hire powerful allies for an expedition to the lost Temple of the Chaos Elemental. By awakening this ancient evil the cult can take the first steps towards their ultimate goal of destruction and mayhem.

This twenty page adventure, describes, in twelvish pages, some smugglers in a big fishing village and two small dungeons of about six rooms each. A competent but simple adventure, it struggles against its formatting choices and lack of specificity in detail. It’s easier to run than most modern dreck.

When is an adventure a sandbox and when is it just an outline? There’s some point of crossover where the DM is given enough information to improvise further and it’s a sandbox and some place else where the DM needs to add some substantial labour. This adventure is somewhere near the dividing line. You can take this, as written, and run it, with little to no more prep. Given that you can’t do that with most adventures today, this is a not insignificant accomplishment. It correctly provides an environment in which the party can have an adventure. A village. The local fence and a few other town personages. The smuggler base. The dungeon underneath. The OTHER dungeon the smugglers want to get to. The supply ship that drops off goods to smuggle. A rough timeline/events that can happen. Now … go run an adventure. You can do that with what’s written. You can’t do that with most adventures. Then again, it’s also VERY basic. Ask some questions, find the fence, pressure him, ambush smugglers, raid base. A pretty cut and dry adventure formula. If I were forced to choose all of the crappy Adventurers League, DMSguild, and others and their shitty formats, or the one used here, I’d have no problem choosing the format used here. It provides a high level overview of the situation and then answers some questions on how folks will react. I’ll take that ANY day over the overwritten garbage that passes for a modern adventure.

But, it’s also playing fast & free with the abstraction. The town is presented in paragraph form, single column paragraph form, on a page and a half. The event that caused the town to act against the smugglers was boat of tollkeepers getting sunk while they were trying to stop the smugglers. That’s as much detail as you get … besides the adventure noting that the party could follow up on that to determine how far out the smugglers are. Am I’m serious when I say I’m now summarizing what’s in the adventure. I’ve just told you everything it says about the situation in as many words as the adventure uses. Another two sentences about grieviing widows, the name of the boat, and some such would not be out of order for such an important event and potential plot point for the party to follow up on. I’m not looking for two pages, or even one, but SOMETHING about the event IS needed if this is going to be an adventure rather than an adventure outline.

It provides some decent support for escalating the situation, with the smugglers, but not really with the town. So while it tries to be a sandbox it does, by leaving out half the adventure, force a certain point of view: the adventure is with the smugglers and any potential complications with the town are not important. But the journey IS the destination in D&D. Just not in bad D&D …

On top of this is fumbling in several areas. It’s one column presentation is almost always a No No, because of well-known readability issues with that format. The town overviews rely on italics in the paragraph to pick out information; whitespace, bolding or bullets would be better. The cult leader is bad because she was raped as a young woman. It doesn’t dwell on her background, but it’s always weird when things like this are used and called out in otherwise generic-ish adventures. It’s weird tonal shift that doesn’t fit. A water elemental is “bound to her service with a collar. LAME. That’s explaining WHY and justifying things. She’s the leader of an evil water cult, of course she has a water elemental. Likewise the use of Sahuagin mercenaries. A tonal thing that doesn’t quite match with the water cult thing the adventure is trying to do. Sent by the evil water god? Sure. Sahuagun mercs though? That implies some setting that is off putting to me. As is the Satyr that acts as the local fence. Magical RenFaire. Bleech. And then, in this village of 600, five thugs are hired to kill the party. Hmmm, again, a tonal imbalance, I think.  The dungeons, the two of them, are more line “art project” one page dungeons, with some small text blocks pointing to rooms, rather than a traditional room/key format.

Take the usual 5e adventure and rip it apart and try to make it less of a railroad. Get rid of most of the text and just put inthe generic-ish essentials. You’d have this adventure. On one hand it kind of resembles the level/amount of detail I use in my home game; a list on a piece of paper with a few words each and some notes on a map. This takes those home notes and adds a few more words and formats it not as modern dreck but as a sandbox-ish adventure.

It’s going in the right direction. The adventure needs to make wiser formatting decisions and provide a little more detail in almost every area. Then you’d have a basic adventure like you might write up in 30 minutes for a home game/the usual 5e adventure. A little investigation, some sneaking, some hacking, some crazy plans, etc.

This is showing up a Monday because the blurb says it can be OSR, with some specific advice for 5e/13th Age. This means “statless, with stat suggestions for 5e/13th Age.” On the one hand I’m kind of intrigued to see that Generic/Universal label applied to modern games like 3e/5e, and games like 13th Age. On the other hand, I’m saddened to be tricked in to something with an OSR label. Sure, I guess, as a generic adventure, it could be OSR. In the same way that any adventure OUTLINE could be for any game.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $2. The preview is six pages and gives you a good idea of what you’re getting. The first few pages outline the town/cult, and then one of the locales, where the fence hides out, is presented. This gives you a good idea of the one-pager dungeons to come as well as the kind of abstracted/outline/sandbox that the adventure is. All you’re not seeing is the section on how the cults reacts to various events, etc. IE: a little guidance. A VERY little guidance. Which would be enough if the adventure was more sandbox and less outline.

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8 Responses to Cult of the Blue Crab

  1. OSR Caveman says:

    I don’t understand how you always REEE at “Magical RenFaire” then tie your virtual tongue into a pretzel praising gonzo trash. I bet if the fence was a GRAY ALIEN and the sahuagin were MUTANT SHARK MEN you’d be talking about how wonderfully od&d this was.

    • Brian says:

      Ren faire: wolf -> dog
      Gonzo: dog -> three-legged black pig
      In theory.

    • ice says:

      Did you write this adventure?

    • Dark_Tigger says:

      Overexpusre is a thing you know?
      Also Bryce even said he would have liked the sahuagin, if it would have been an favour bestowed by an evil god, instead of an mercenary, which implies a world where a sahuagin society with sahuagin cooks, and sahuagin clerks is a thing. It takes the magic out of Magic.

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      It’s the implied setting. Gonzo implies a weird world that is unpredictable and YOU ARE NOT SAFE. MY GOD WHAT IS THAT THING! RenFaire pushes the setting trappings up to the Ren period and then typically mixes it with modern culture. Archeology museums. Friendly city guards. In gonzo you have a world on the edge while in RenFaire you have a highly functioning society. In one the PC’s have room to breathe and in the other you are the guardians of order … because there’s not room for anything else.

      I realize I’m generalizing, but it’s coming from recognizing the patterns in thousands of adventure reviews. I’d love to see a gonzo magical renfaire adventure without the trappings of modernity.

  2. squeen says:

    In the process of learning to be a better adventure creator, I find this to be a new an interesting topic—one that did not have a definitive label in my mind previously.

    Do I understand you (Byrce) correctly that “Magical RenFaire” is the act of trivializing the magical and weird? Using magical devices/beings as stand-ins for modern counterparts in an urban setting?

    If I understand the classification correctly, then I am confused by Brian’s comment (above). Wouldn’t it be:

    Ren faire: dog -> wolf (or warg or pet dragon, etc.)

    and not the other way around?

    Or is “Magical Ren Faire” the opposite: trivializing and making safe an urban setting—as in your “friendly guards” example?

    • Brian says:

      My thought was that if you take something frightening like a man with a pig nose and tusks and say “oh no, he won’t bite, just give him a mug of ale and he’ll teach you a dirty orcish limmerick!” That’s ren faire. The process by which a wolf becomes a dog. Domestication. I’m pretty much sure of that. I’m less sure of what gonzo is. It’s probably one of many things that, when done right, do the opposite. And osrcaveman is right about the resemblance even though they *feel* so different. Perhaps we need to add a third axis to the alignment chart.

  3. squeen says:

    Domestication. Crystal clear now. Thanks!

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