(5e) The Blacksmith’s Burden

By John Rossomangno
Self published
Levels 2-4

When the party arrives in the small village of Goldendale they find a shortage of metal goods and a community upset with the lack of production. Despite their admiration for the village blacksmith, folks grow concerned about his inability to complete the simplest jobs even though they hear the ring of his hammer throughout the night…

This 24 page adventure has a small investigation in a village followed by a small goblin outpost and then a seven room goblin lair. IE: the usual. It merges seamlessly in to the great mass of adventure dreck, not knowing how to format an adventure while offering nothing unusual in way of adventure.

The usual: a small investigation followed by a run in with the baddies and then a small lair. There must be about ninety bajillion adventures of this type published, as well as a significant number of home game adventures. I’m not gonna rail on the adventure type, it is what it is, but if you want to publish something in this type then you need to do a little more. Why am I buying this adventure, from among all of the other choices I have? This don’t do that. It makes the usual mistakes and ends up just being another also-ran.

If the pillars of an adventure are usability, interactivity, and evocativeness then this fails to meet any of those standards. It’s not actively promoting bad play, in as much as there is no forced morality, railroading, or other sins, but it’s not actually engaging in anything good either.

Usability: The village is described in paragraph long form with NPC quirks, investigation hints, and other data all mixed in to the general morass of text. Multiple paragraphs of text. Full of weasel words and padding, history, background and other things and commentary not relevant to the adventure. This obfuscates anything useful to the DM to actually running the adventure. Better formatting, focusing on a brief description, one or two sentences, and then key callouts of NPC traits and bullets for learned information, for example, would have been better. Or something like that. The specific style doesn’t matter but what does is making it absolutely trivial for the DM to scan the text and locate pertinent information. You can’t bog the DM down reading a great mass of text during actual play. And no, note taking and highlighting are not solutions. Those are crutches the DM has to engage in to make an adventure useful. If the DM has to do that then the designer should have done something to make it so the DM didn’t have to do that.

Likewise we see sections of text in maroon italics, as the default style of the time, that make it hard to read. Yeah, I know those fucking templates from DMSGuild make it easy for an adventure to APPEAR professional. But they stink from a usability standpoint. No fucking italics in read-aloud! (See, I didn’t even bitch that the read-aloud is both too long and also boring, my usual gripes. … except that by bitching about not bitching about it I am in fact bitching about it.)

Likewise we get dungeon rooms, in the actual lair, that follow a strict formatting guidelines. Thou shalt include a Developments” heading, and a “Treasure” heading. And a “creature” heading. Seven rooms in 24 pages, investigation or not, betrays an adventure with half-column or more stat blocks and an overly prescriptive layout/format.  

Which ends up being boring anyway. It’s mostly just goblins running up to attack the party. That’s exciting. Interactivity is not the exclusive domain of combat. If you want tactical mini’s then go play Warhammer. Or Gloomhaven. Adventures need things to explore and interact with. And exploring does not mean walking down a hallway.

Treasure: The implements on the workbench comprise a full set of alchemist’s supplies (worth 50gp). Although they are currently stored improperly, they can still be put to use in the right hands.

So … scattered alchemist’s tools (50gp) is what you mean? And that’s not even bitching about the abstraction of using the words “alchemist’s tools” instead of noting beakers, braziers, reagents, tongs, delicate magnifying glasses and the like. Abstractions are boring while details are the soul of storytelling and imagery. Of which this adventure misses the mark again and again.

On the plus side the adventure does let you get information out of someone without rolling dice. “Either through roleplay or skill checks.” That’s a miracle. There’s also a hook where you find clues in a previous adventure: a kobold lair you were to investigate is found wiped out, broken weapons and spearpoints bearing the mark of the blacksmith in this village … sup with that? Note the detail of his mark, and broken weapons, and the “surprise” of your adventure with the kobolds not being a kobold adventure.

I’m being a tad overly harsh in this review. This dude is doing nothing that the great mass of adventure designers don’t do. The fact that they nearly ALL do it wrong shouldn’t be this guys fault. He’s clearly got an inkling of what D&D is supposed to be, with this “you can use roleplay” comment. And like most he simply has not been exposed to, or understands, good adventure formatting. No real railroads, just as there is no real order of battle for the goblin reaction. No real forced morality ot failed novelist text, just as the writing is note particularly evocative or the dungeon interactive.

Get your usability down. Then focus on an interactive adventure. Then focus on evocative text (which I think is the hardest task.) Finally, edit it till your fingers bleed to ensure its usable, nteractive, and evocative.

This is $4 on DriveThru. The preview is only two pages long and doesn’t really show you anything of what you are buying, so it’s a bad preview. At most, it shows the use of paragraph style formatting as the primary means to convey information; you’d have to extrapolate to figure out the rest of the adventure is like this. It also has the kobold lair hook, which is kind of interesting to see alongside the more typical boring/crap hooks.


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6 Responses to (5e) The Blacksmith’s Burden

  1. Adam W. says:

    The hooks sound above average at least.

  2. Landifarne says:

    Perhaps devote a bit of time in your reviews to things that are of sufficient quality that they can be stolen and used elsewhere?

    I’d pay a couple bucks for a usable village, not that anything in the current review suggests this adventure has such. A small, fairly detailed town that has a decent map attached (e.g., Hommlet or Orlane) is worth three or four bucks. I don’t like the adventure Trouble at Grog’s (Dungeon Mag. #4), but the town is very usable once modified.

    Who doesn’t wish that a fleshed-out Saltmarsh had been included in U1?

  3. “Who doesn’t wish that a fleshed-out Saltmarsh had been included in U1?” THIS so much THIS

  4. Ti says:

    “Treasure: The implements on the workbench comprise a full set of alchemist’s supplies (worth 50gp). Although they are currently stored improperly, they can still be put to use in the right hands.

    So … scattered alchemist’s tools (50gp) is what you mean?”

    No, what they meant was what they said. Your critique about wanting specificity “beakers regents etc” removes the specificity that they did provide: the tools are not properly stored. As a storyteller, I’m perfectly capable of taking the prompt of “you walked into a messy alchemist’s lab, the tools of the trade are all over the place” and rolling with it. If the text isn’t to my flavor, then I’ll modify it to suit mine. Sure, it could have been tighter writing. I agree with that. Myself, I’d have gone in the direction of “Strewn beakers and a filthy mortar and pestle coated with a sweet-smelling green grime”. But I’d have come up with that on the spot just from “poorly stored tools” because I’m an improv beast and I’m very good at extrapolating from a small prompt. And the open-endedness leaves room for me to be running a campaign with people who prefer horrific options instead of classic fantasy and say, then “it’s all used syringes except for the pristine vials carefully stored in a leather satchel. While they appear to be empty, each vial is labeled, “do not open!” You could insert a needle in the top through a wax seal.” So “poorly stored tools of a trade” gives me a line of thought to ask how they got there, who put them there, and “beakers” gives me a specific direction of flavor, for me they’d both be potentially useful.

    It really does seem unnecessarily harsh. Especially since you imply there’s decent things about this adventure (multiple means of solving a problem other than rolling dice, no forced morality) and there is a decent hook to it. The preview isn’t much but I immediately got a good sense of it, and I’m pretty sure I could run it based off the provided writing. I dunno, I haven’t bought it, but I like what I see from it. I’d definitely consider running this one for a beginner group.

    I dunno, man. I’m good at skim-reading so paragraph style presentation doesn’t bother me, as long as the paragraphs are short. I like reading, and I’d have read and reread and reread again any campaign I ever considered running, annotations, highlighting, putting in sticky notes, wouldn’t be something I considered a crutch but just part of the creative process of me turning these prompts into something I can work with, with the people who I get creative with.

    I do prefer more than a two page preview, though, it’s true. It’s nice to have a preview you can sink your teeth into. This gives me a taste, but I’d rather have like, 5-10 pages to make a decision on.

    You’ve pointed out some great modules along the way through the archive though. Cool stuff, you do read a lot of them. Take care.

  5. Bryce Lynch says:

    My review style is my Bryce fatal flaw. They only make perfect sense to me and without my own context what I write is flawed. And yet I’d shoot myself if I had to totally explain myself every time.

    You are correct that the tools are not specific, and should be, at least enough to add some evocative flavour. (Going too far in to room inventory is a different problem: expansive minimalism.) In this case though I was trying to show how the description really added nothing to the core of what was being described. Scattered alchemists tools would be the absolute minimum of a description … and the provided description, while much longer, didn’t do anything to improve upon “scattered alchemists tools” in spite of adding A LOT more words to dig through. But a GOOD description would have had a touch more flavour, I agree.

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