Ruins & Adventures #3 – The Sanctuary

(No designer listed)
Mesozoic Press
Level 5

The ruins of a small village hide a dark secret.

This twelve page adventure describes a 20-ish room dungeon in about six pages. It has a slow feel to it, with writing that tends to the blander side of evocative. It’s not exactly bad, from any particular standpoint, but nor does it distinguish itself.

Well, I don’t know where to start. How about that one sentence synopsis? It’s a half-build village with a hole in the ground that leads to the dungeon. It’s handled in one three-sentence read-aloud. So, not really a village with a dark secret, more of a hole in the ground with some pretext words thrown at it. Maybe less time spent on the background, at a page, and more time on the environs/dungeon would have been in order.

Anyway, dungeon. It’s got some 5hd undead. And a room with nine zombies (are those still a challenge for level 5 characters?) and an undead tentacle monster with a couple of traps. The complex feels empty, as if the rooms are full of nothing with an occasional monster popping up.

Read-laoud tends to the longer side of four-five long sentences per room and comes across as … staid? I mean, it’s there. It’s accurate. It’s not overblown. It’s just like the world’s least imaginitive-but-competent DM is reading you. It comes across as fact based rather than leaving deep impressions. There is a bench against the far wall. There is an iron door on the west wall. There is a set of wooden shelves on the north wall. Ok. Sure. It’s not exactly doing aything wrong but the writing isn’t exactly next-level either.

I can pick apart small things. One read-aloud section has a note that “As you push forward …” which is awfully close to telling the party what they do/how they react. The overview of the dungeon, proper, before the keys start has some bullets with general information. Floors/ceilings, doors, and then everything slick with water. The slick with water stuff should have probably been moved to the first or second bullet, since it is likely to be references more than the door issue or the general environment. (It also has a mechanic for running on slick stone,) Likewise, a bolded word or two would have gone a decent way to drawing the eye to the correct bullet text. Another room notes that, in the DM text, “There are four dried ink pots on the writing desk each with a silver collar …” This is in contrast to the other DM text follow-ups in that area that begin “The painting is of …” and “The large chest contains …” and “The small chest contains … “ Note how those start with the primary object, meaning I only need to look at the first word to determine if its the correct chunk of text that I’m looking to relate to the party. The writing desk, though, is buried deeper in the sentence, causing me to work harder. Yes, I actually do know I’m a git, thank you very much.

An alcove is “small” and other areas are “large” and so on, the issue being the use of the more boring/generic adjectives and adverbs instead of selecting another word that brings more imagery along for the ride. Likewise there are little historical one-liners that contribute little. A statue once held a candle .. .which has no impact on the adventure. Frank the bad guy hated a statue so he destroyed it … and other little one liner historical backgrounds that bear no meaning on the adventure. Not exactly a sin at one line but not contributing either.

One room, with a dangerous roof, notes pieces of the roof on the floor, with a great hint. Another trap is directly behind a portcullis … so the party should already be aware. Both are good examples of enabling exploratory ad careful play for players paying attention.

So, not much good and not much bad. I could quibble with the amount of text in certain areas, but it does an ok job. I find it dry though, and not really distinguishing itself in any way means I, personally, would look elsewhere.

This is $1.50 at DriveThru. The preview doesn’t work. I wonder why this isn’t free?–Adventures-3-The-Sanctuary-B-X-Essentials?1892600

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11 Responses to Ruins & Adventures #3 – The Sanctuary

  1. Yora says:

    I think when we are looking at a dungeon that presents itself as oldschoool D&D (see the garrish colored wide border, the hexes at the top and the label OLD), then the question whether a group of zombies poses a challenge to 5th level characters doesn’t really apply. Whether it does or not, it doesn’t make a difference.
    These are just the beings that inhabit this place. They are not meant to be a balanced encounter that gives the player a seemingly serious but easily winable fight. They are simply there, minding their business, adding to the atmosphere of the place and factoring into the players’ decisions or not.

    • Anonymous says:

      The problem with Bryce reviews is that they are confined solely to the “Bryce Criteria” of good or bad adventure design. Unfortunately, the Bryce Criteria were never themselves examined to see if they were universally good or bad traits; it’s all entirely subjective, which is fine for personal reviews, but with the whole industry looking to these reviews as a golden standard it causes problems. you get people designing whole adventures solely around whether or not they adhere to the Bryce Criteria, without considering whether or not they should be acquiescing their entire design to the fickle preferences of one dude.

      • Bryce Lynch says:

        *) I’m not sure I can understand how my criteria “usable, evocative, interactive” can be a point of contention. What would you suggest?

        *) My criteria are somewhat pedestrian. I believe there is somewhat of an agreement online with regard to those criteria. My loves of gonzo, humans, folklore, city are pretty clearly stated in those reviews.

        *) There’s plenty of places to go read “OMG! 5 stars!” reviews. An overwhelming number of places. Which is why I started my blog in the first place.

        *) If people are designing to those core three criteria then great! But I’m not sure I’ve seen an industry-wide movement. If I did I’d stop writing.

        *) I think people sometimes misunderstand what I’m saying. I’m pretty middle of the road. I’m not looking for minimalism, just to push things back from the brink of extreme novelization.

        *) Both Melan and Prince do reviews also. But I’m not sure anyone will find much solace in those halls.

        *) I do have high standards. With every adventure ever written available, and a fuck ton more every day, we can all afford to be picky.

        *) If you, DP, want to do official counter-points or use tenfootpole for your own then I’ll create you an account. I’m a fan of more reviews.

        • JD says:

          I think Mr. Anonymous has a point. At least somewhat of a point anyway. There seems to be some people who are now designing adventures to meet Bryce criteria. I’m not sure that’s a healthy idea overall. It would be like a movie director creating a movie solely to get a positive review from someone like Roger Ebert. My own opinion is that people should create regardless of whether reviewer A or reviewer B will agree of disagree. Yes, that means adventures will be created that suck and adventures will be created that are great, with plenty in the middle. That’s happening now for sure but again, creating adventures to satisfy any one reviewer is creatively a bad idea. I’ve come to look at Bryce’s reviews as useful when it comes to criteria such as non-linear dungeons, Evocative atmosphere, a general OD&D vibe, factions, and preserving player agency. I don’t always agree with his ideas about “gonzo” and as far as fairy tale stuff is concerned I certainly don’t hold it in as high regard as he does. What all this means is that I have to evaluate his reviews against my own preferences when it comes to making a decision to buy or not to buy. I think everybody needs to do that. All reviews are subjective. Just because Bryce, or any reviewer, loves an adventure doesn’t mean that it’s going to meet my needs. Where I think Bryce’s reviews truly shine are as a counterpoint to all the glad handing, rump swabbing, 5 star reviews you tend to see on sites like drivethrurpg.

          • squeen says:

            Fads come in and out of fashion. I am all-in for a wave of “Bryce-pandering” products. I see little possibility for long-term harm as a result. As he said, the criteria are pretty mild and the back-lash for breaking ranks is nearly zero…a bad review one day (followed by someone else getting reviewed the next). Big whoop.

            Anyway, the true geniuses are the ones that break out of the Zeitgeist. They won’t pay any heed.

        • David says:

          I think it’s fair to ask a reviewer to be consistent. Check.

          Subjectiveness is inevitable, but since his comments are described and supported with examples in the product, we can draw our own conclusions

  2. Jesse Rodriguez says:

    I’m going to start my own review site, with black jack. And hookers.

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