By Dylan Hyatt Self Published 5e Level 2
The PCs travel across a necrotic marsh (the Grey Creeping) to a sunken village where, upon being transported back 2000 years into the past, they must prevent a necromancer freeing Orcus (demon prince of Undeath) from the imprisoning veils of the spirit plane. If only it was as simple as that, for the PCs must also contend with deactivating a giant mechanical orrery, and be sharp enough to realise that the useful items that helped them survive the Grey Creeoing must be found and placed for their ‘future-past’ selves.
This forty page linear adventure has some time travel elements mixed in to its twenty or so linear locations. Tedious read-aloud and lengthy DMs notes do little to mitigate the linear nature. You end up Bill & Ted’ing help for yourself. Oh, for what might have been …
A zombie shephard and a zombie sheepdog herd zombie sheep at the party in encounter one. This reminds me a lot of a zombie walk, where it seems all zombies were people scuba diving, playing golf or the like. In any event, anything to make monsters less generic is ok in my book. “Zombie” is generic but flesh-eating shepherd and dog/sheep, while a little abrud, fits the bull of non-generic. The skeleton jugglers, fire-breathers and acrobats that show up start to go overboard though in to farce territory.
The art here is nice also. I’m a big big fan of DIY stuff. Sure, pro stuff can be nice, but ANYTHING that’s not generic filler gets my seal of approval. Plus, the idea of a low-barrier-to-entry is appealing to me. Just draw something. And just put down words. You’ll get better and shouldn’t let assholes like me or self-confidence issues be a barrier to creating. I’d like to note, also, that I’m ignoring this advice with regard to my own perfectionism in writing.
But enough! Let us talk about linear adventures.
I get that people play this way. I find it so hollow. It FEELS like there’s this thing called D&D where people get together with their friends and a linear adventure full of read-aloud and combat and they have a good time. Because it’s a social activity with their friends. That’s what D&D is. To them. And they’re right that there IS a social aspect with their friends that makes D&D fun. But I imagine some overlapping circles right out of set theory. There’s this OTHER thing people call D&D. It contains all of those social/friends aspects. And more. A linear play style, heavy on combat, can fulfill the Just Fucking Around style of play but not the second type. A much more fulfilling type. It’s sometimes briefly glimpsed in the Linear Friend game, and people know it’s magnificent, but it’s not really present in their games. It can’t be, because it requires the interactive play style that just can’t be accomplished with the Linear Friends style. And thus these linear adventures, travelling from a to b to c, will always be at a disadvantage. They might be ok, but it’s hard for me to believe that they will ever be truly great. I’m trying to keep an open mind here, since we can’t Black Swan these puppies. But I’ve got a healthy dose of skepticism. Far better, I would suggest, to write something a bit more open-ended to allow for more opportunities of interactive/player agency D&D. But, of course, most people don’t know what that looks like, having never encountered a product of that type. When all you know of Italian food is Chef Boyardee then it’s no surprise that’s what you crank out.
The read-aloud is an ever present threat, columns and paragraphs droning on and adding nothing substantial to the adventure. Overly long and not really adding anything in the way of either evocative descriptions or meaningful facts … just the usual droning obviousness.
The DMs text is frightful, with lots of history, asides, and explanations mixed in. This makes it hard to find pertinent information. That most common of DM text problems: confusing trivia with content. Yes, many things COULD be useful to the DM, but liming the writing helps the DM locate information faster during play. Too much text is the most common problem these days. Put it in an appendix if you have to tell me who Horn is or Orcus’ history; that’s not something to put in the main body. One room takes five pages to describe. This is a sure sign that you’ve done something wrong.
The Bill & Ted “give aid to your past lives self” may be hackney but it’s still fun. The time travel elements ARE fun; players love figuring shit out, even simple shit. It works. It’s just surrounded by so much dross as to make the adventure un-runable. I’m not fucking using a highlighter. I’m not fucking taking notes. I’m not going to fight the adventure in order to be able to run it. Es, I’m being hyperbolic for the sake of making the point but the truth is in there: it’s the designers fucking job.
This is $3 at DMSGuild. The preview is nine pages. You get to see the extensive read-aloud, saying nothing, and the two-page zombie attack on pages 5 & 6 of the preview. Page eight of the preview/encounter five gives you a good idea of a typical non-combat encounter and the joy of the DMs text. So, good preview in that respect …