(5e) Waking the Wizard

By Robert L Rath
Levels 1-4

The morning dew hasn’t even had a chance to evaporate when the carrier rides in. His flowing shirt decorated cart, and a tabard adorned with a lion within a purple diamond tells you that this individual brings a message directly from the capital city. In a village this small, it doesn’t take long for word to travel. The council is summoned, messages delivered and decisions made before the sun even reaches mid-day. What is it that has sent this little village into a scramble? A letter from the King. But what role do they play?

This 121 page adventure features a couple of sub-plots on the journey to explore s wizards house. It also appears to have gone down the “bad adventure” checklist, ensuring that just about every mistake possible is made. It’s an unusable mess.

Let’s cover the good first, and yes it does do something good. As a starting adventure it covers each of the potential 5e backgrounds and has a little hook/background that integrates with the generic PHB background. Local hero, spy, etc, they all get a little section on how that characters background fits in to their life in the starting village and how it drags them in to the adventure at hand. I think i’ve seen maybe one other starting 5e adventure do that; it was a good idea then and it’s a good idea now.

Of course, it absolutely ruined during the implementation. It’s presented almost as read-aloud for the PC, rather than notes for the DM to relate.  You are angry. You feel X, Y, or Z. It’s the worst type of background information, telling the players who they will be playing, ruining whatever ideas they already had for their character. Yeah, in a con game or a one-shot, sure, it helps get things going.

This ham-handed stomping on player agency continues throughout. Mountains of read-aloud (mountains and MOUNTAINS of it) do a great job of relating the parties feelings and what they do. You sit down on some hay bales. You’re disgusted. You wonder. It’s this garbage failed novelization shit that pops up again and again. It’s trying desperately to set a mood and its attempting it in the worst way possible: by forcing the players. Instead it should be presenting evocative descriptions that instill the mood. Is it better to say “yo ufeel tense as you wait” or is it better to presents descriptions that create a mood that get the players thinking they feel tense? Obviously, the second. And that’s something that this adventure does over and over and over and over and over again. And by “does” I mean “does not do.” It’s not quite a puppet adventure, but its close enough to make me roll my eyes on at least half the (very numerous) read-aloud.

Every description is too long. For every business in the villages. For every encounter. For every keyed encounter. There’s too much read-aloud. The read-aloud is bad. There’s too much DM text. The DM text is bad. Oh, oh, I’ll include a section at the end, for a kitchen. I fucking lvoe bad kitchen encounters. I should write a book of collected bad kitchen encounters in RPG’s. It would be magnificent.

It’s trying to include some sub-plots on the way to the wizards house, and even inside the house, but the writing is utterly incomprehensible for play at the table. Long paragraphs relating exactly And then and then and then and then and then. Details embedded in paragraphs, long NPC motivation paragraphs that hide the information you need to actually run the NPC at the table.

Area 16: The Kitchen

[read aloud]The southwest corner of this room sports two cooking pits, which don’t appear to have been used in quite some time. Each pit is large enough to cook a medium-sized animal, with a three-foot stone ledge built around it to keep the meat within. The pits are filled with ash and charred remains. A chimney leads up from here, but it is much too small to investigate.

Long tables line each wall while bowls, cups, and moldering food sit upon them. This only fuels the rancid smell within the room, although it was hard to place at first. The cheese upon one of the tables looks especially bad, with a fuzzy growth upon it. Finally cooking utensils hang from the ceiling.[/read-aloud]

This is the stronghold’s kitchen area, but it hasn’t been used in quite some time.

There are two doors leading into this room.

The west entry is a Simple Wooden Door (10 hp immunity to piercing damage) which slides upward and is unlocked.

The East Entry is a Strong Wooden Door which is locked (DC 15 to open, DC 20 strength check to break; 20 hp to smash but has immunity to piercing damage

And that is our kitchen. Two paragraphs of read-aloud garbage that amounts to nothing followed by some door stats. It’s evocativeness is matched only by its interactivity.

This looks like a home game/campaign conversion, with all those loving details thrown in. I have no doubt this was someones labour of love. It’s just that the designer had no idea how to translate that in to an effective written form. No doubt they took as an example other written adventures for 5e, which were themselves terrible. And thus the cycle of bad 5e adventures continue. No doubt the 5-star reviews are already pouring in. I wish that designers had more guidance on how to write/present their adventures. We’d all be happier. I wonder how much blame goes to editors, who SHOULD know better, and how much goes to a designer who won’t listen? I’m not saying that’s the case here, but an editor who is just a copy-editor is no editor at all.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages. You get to see the players background integration text that I was fond of in concept and hated as it was implemented. You also get to see some read-aloud and DM text, which should serve as fair warning as to what to expect in the rest of the adventure.


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9 Responses to (5e) Waking the Wizard

  1. It seems Bryce’s fury breaks the light barrier. The adventure already seems to be removed from DTRPG. No other mention of it online besides this post, near as I can tell.

  2. Ice says:

    The moldy cheese is such a funny detail. I know that if I dropped some moldy cheese into an adventure, my players would find an endless amount of uses for it.

  3. PyroArrow says:

    So would this be better, describing the room as you first walk in:

    Stronghold’s Kitchen:
    Read Aloud:
    Upon entering you spot two large cooking pits, currently unused and are greeted by a rancid smell. Several large tables line the walls, with bowls, cups and fuzzy moldy cheese upon them.

    DM Info:
    If players take the time to investigate they see the pits have stone ledges (3 feet if they take the time to measure), around them and are filled with ash and charred remains. The chimney above the pits is too small to have a look inside. (4 inches if they measure).

    There are other rotted food items, that could be fruits and vegetables upon the tables as well.

    The west door is a simple wooden door, which slides upwards and is unlocked. 10 hp’s needed to smash open.

    The east door is a locked, strong wooden door; 20 hp’s needed to smash through with blunt weapons or an Open Doors check. The door hinges are on this side of the room.

    • Edgewise says:

      I’d say even your DM info here is far wordier than it needs to be. The width of the ledge is unimportant because there’s nothing interesting about them. Leave out all the “time to measure” qualifiers. You don’t have to say the chimney is too small to investigate. The doors don’t need rules to determine how hard they are break down.

      Save the verbiage for rooms where something is happening. You don’t need to provide detailed information for a room like this. The GM can improvise any missing details here without having any effect on the adventure. Try this:

      DM Info:

      The cooking pits are filled with ash and charred bones, which can be seen from their ledges. The chimneys are narrow, about four inches wide. There are heaps of rotting food on the tables. A door leads to the west, and a strong locked door opens inward from the east.

    • Ice says:

      If I rewrote this read aloud, I would make it: “This an abandoned kitchen. It’s still well stocked but it smells like shit. There is some gross old moldy cheese on the tables.”

      • Ice says:

        Followed by a table of possible random effects of ingesting the cheese. Maybe even a table for generating your own moldy cheese descriptions.

  4. PyroArrow says:

    I was being jokingly sarcastic with including the measurements and that the party has a yardstick with them! After all, they should be already be drawn to scale on the map! I included the door hinges info in the DM part to show that if they are there, no need to try the lock or bashing!

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