by Don MacVittie Hellebarde Games Castles & Crusades Levels 2-3
The temple of Anu-Hittain sits atop an unnamed mesa in the desert and welcomes all who visit. But the gates are closed and smoke is pouring from the temple high above. Can you discover what has happened?
This 23 page adventure details a temple with about three levels and about forty rooms … in about nine pages. It’s not terrible. The designer does a decent job with the read-aloud and the DMs text doesn’t generally overstay its welcome. The writing needs to be more evocative and the interactivity tends to the combat side of the house … or things that lead to combat. It reminds me a lot of the mid to late 1e era before the T$R text ran out of control.
See that cover? It’s got little to do with the adventure; the entrance is at the base of the mesa and there’s no signs that the mesa is a temple except fot the entryway and some glass windows a little ways up. So, bad cover.
With that out of the way, this isn’t bad. It’s not particularly good either, except in the way it generally keeps itself from being bad. The read-aloud tends to the short side of things. In and out. It also tends to mention features in the room for the party to investigate. A pile of crates mory decayed than the rest, or a pile of jewels in a fountain. This leads the party, naturally, to those locations and the encounter to follow: centipedes or water snakes. This is good. A good encounter is D&D results from a kind of back and forth between the players and the DM. The DM describes someplace generally. The players follow up on the details the DM mentions as the DM mentions moe specifics of the things they follow up on. It’s a social game, a back and forth. A writing style that encourages that sort of player/DM interactivity is to be appreciated. If the read-aloud mentions a body next to a door then the players investigate, notice burn marks, and maybe now know something more about the door.
It does fall down a bit though in being evocative. Hallways are “long” and marble is “grey” or “white.” That’s not particularly evocative. English is a rich language and substituting other adjectives/adverbs for long, grey, white, large, big, small, etc can bring along an entire host of benefits. Richer words can bring an overloaded context with them, a richer meaning. Scrubbing out the boring words and replacing them, or a word or two extra (no more) more really kick up the read-aloud to another level and make the environments much more evocative.
You can see this in other areas as well. I hesitate to call this dullness, but its a kind of abstraction of detail that leads to a kind of bland flavour. “There are four statues of Doorne” (a desert god) or “there’s a statue of a woman.” These are kind of generic. The players are sure to ask what they look like. Providing two or three extra words for each of those major objects, in order to enrich them, in turn enriches the entire room and brings it more alive for the DM and for the players and they both benefit. The DM now has a richer view of the room and can ad-lib better, while the players have a more memorable experience from the read-aloud and then also from a more inspired DM.
There’s an aside or two to the DM in the adventure which are appealing. In one case a zombie in the next room can rush to the aid of another room. “Well, rush as fast as a Zombie can.” Likewise, selling a looted idol is referred to as “Faithful of Doorne will not take the theft of this idol well.” These are nice notes that help convey moods and scenes to the DM without a lot of text.
Of course, Room 10 doesn’t tell us that the zombie from room 9 will come in help. That’s in room 9. Which is useless in room 10 because I’m not looking at the text for two rooms at the same time, am I? This is a common mistake that designers make, this kind of idea that the DM is going to hold the entire adventure in their head at once. Or, you need to read through and take notes … in which case why didn’t the designer make things clearer in the first place?
There are some other gaps here. There’s some flinds you can talk to, but there’s no real notes on what they know or even any overview of the situation (in the beginning of the adventure) for the DM to paraphrase. Again, read and take notes and/or hold it all in your head. The DMs text also can get long in places. It generally does a good job of keeping it short and in using paragraph breaks and whitespace to organize its information well. It falls does though, usually, in trap rooms. It gets a bit pedantic in describing things which turns the DMS text in to a quarter page or more of text. Tighter editing and less prescriptive text would be the key here, perhaps with some use of bolding.
It can revel a bit much in the history and former uses of places, which is NOT good DM text. It’s doesn’t do this enough to really make it hard to run, and usually only in rooms with nothing else going on. Still, its padding. I’ve included a couple of example of this at the end. They don’t really add anything to the adventure in terms of players interactivity. History and background rarely do. When they do then I’m ok with their inclusion, but otherwise they just tend to distract and make it harder to find the DMs text that you need to run the room.
I sorely wish that the interactivity were a bit better. It feels like most of it is related to combat. An alter, an opened sarcophagus. A disturbed corpse. A giant idol. The amount of screwing around with stuff that leads to something other than combat is rather rare. That leads to situations where the party is loathe to interact, which is ENTIRELY the wrong lesson to teach. Let’s not view this an extremist position, of course interactivity leading to combat is ok. But there needs to be some that doesn’t also.
So, It’s ok. Not great. More interactivity, pruning back some of that DM text, more evocative writing. All of that would pop it up a notch or two. Still, not bad. But, in 2019, with the embarrassment of riches in adventures, is there room for Not Bad?
This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is great at six pages, showing you about fifteen rooms. You can get an idea of the read-aloud, the nature of it and if its good enough for you. The good and bad things the DMs text does. It’s a good preview.
“It is the custom of this temple that each person, before heading down one of the adjoining halls, wash their feet in this pool. That was before the attack arose.”
“This is the embalming area. This lower level of the temple has most recently been dedicated to caring for the dead, and this room is where bodies were prepared for funeral. Sallim, with the help of his water priests, turned the embalmers’ equipment upon them while they were still alive. Then the priests raised them as Ghouls for reasons that Sallim did not understand.”