By Malrex Self-published/Merciless Merchants OSR Levels 6-8
This adventure is designed to be dropped in anywhere, whether by a nearby town, or deep underground. The shrine was constructed in honor of a four armed titan known as The Savior.
This is another entry, for the same map, from the adventure design forum that I run. The map was designed by a third party and everyone had to write an adventure based on it. The summer contest is going on now. There’s plenty of time for the new contest, August 1, so get your ass in gear and write something!
This 8 page adventure describes twenty rooms. A shrine to a titan, it’s full of weird little things and some decent imagery, at times. Good formatting helps comprehension, but it seems a little thematically off, or, maybe, the theming, strong in places, doesn’t carry through.
Malrex uses a format in which each room gets a little paragraph of text, a couple of sentences, that describes the general features of room. Things that one might see or experience when they first glimpse it. He then follows up with some bullet points that detail those various features. Further each bullet tends to start with the feature in question, making it easy to locate. For example, room 17 has a big red crystal in the middle of it and a floor full of thousands of earthworms. The text description leads off with “a massive redish-glowing crystal juts …” IE: that’s the first thing the party will notice and so that’s the first thing in the text description. It’s followed by the swarming earthworm situation. The bullets follow this up with “Moving through the room …”, describing the earthworm situation. We could quibble and say that “The earthworms require …” to lead off the bullet, but “moving” is good enough, besides, there’s only two bullets, one for the worms and one for the crystal. The crystal bullet starts with “The crystal attracts …” In both cases it’s fairly easily, through a glace, to tell which bullet is appropriate for the thing being followed up on.
As I’ve stated repeatedly, the ability to scan the room quickly by the DM at the table is a critical feature of usability. This does that. An initial “what the party sees/experience” followed by bullets that make follow up question/answer action/reaction play easy for the DM to handle. This isn’t the only way to format a good room, for usability purposes. There are probably numerous ways to accomplish that goal, but this IS one of the easiest ways for a designer to implement, especially when they are transitioning from the Bad Old Ways of wall of text to a format that encourages usability. I think it’s easy to describe to someone newly interesting in usability and fairly easy to implement.
Note also that the crystal isn’t big, it’s MASSIVE. This is a key point also. English being an incredibly descriptive language, using word slike big, small, large, old … they just don’t bring the overloaded context that richer adjectives and adverbs bring. Following up on this point, Malrex does something that is quite advanced … he plays with the language. “The floor moves on its own accord” or ten bedraggled and wounded men and women reach towards the 20’ tall ceiling” in the case of some statue columns. Another statue screams defiance at the heavens. Strong allusions and imagery that evoke images in the DM’s head. That, in turn, helps create a vibe for the DM that they are then inspired to communicate to the players. This runs in defiance to the failed-novelist style that many designers employ, where the spew endless words on the page in order to attempt to generate the same effect. More isn’t better, and leveraging the DMs imagination through short, bursty evocative writing is generally the better, though harder, solution. Gaps in the description, the creation of mystery, is what fires the imagination. The less you know about the Pukel-men the more your minds fills in, or doesn’t, and the stronger the vividness. In this adventure when braziers flame to life it causes darkness to hide behind columns. Good stuff without droning on.
Interactivity is great, with levers to pull, statues missing limbs, mole-men to communicate with, and other features. Interactivity is more than combat and gives the players something to actually explore and do in the dungeon, besides loot and kill, is a key feature of D&D. Be it social situations or exploratory, designers often pay lip-service to this key pillar without getting it right. But this gets it right. And any dungeon with a “Scroll of Apologies” to sign your name to is ok in my book. 🙂
It does fall down some though in overall theming. While it starts strong, with giant statue/columns reaching towards heaven, and others whispering secrets about the titan, that titanic theme disappears in other places and the rooms come off, while interesting and evocative, as not really following up on this initial olympian/titanic imagery. Giant worms, hissing mole-men, and writing thousands of worms on the floor are all great also, but perhaps more consistency in musky/dirty flooring and so on would have helped in that other sub-section of the dungeon. It needs just a bit more both in the dirt-section and the titanic-section, to carry the theming consistently within those sub-sections.
Here and there a bit more could have been included. For example, one section has statues whispering secrets about the titan, but there no indication of what those are. A few bullets, or an appendix, would have served the DM well and perhaps dropped hints to other areas of the dungeon. Players love it when their paying attention reaps rewards.
Good magic items, great cross-referencing of the text for those missing statue limbs, etc, show that Malrex knows his shit.
You can pick this up on Malrex’s blog.