by Phil Beckwith & Micah Watl Rex Draconic RPG 5e Level 1
This 87 page adventure details around sixteen overland encounters/events in about fifty pages. Purple prose read-aloud combined with bad editing and layout contribute to a meh adventure being untunable in anything other than a mechanical fashion. Which is too bad because it tries to do a few interesting things to help the DM.
The adventure core is straighforward. The party travels north via ship or caravan, in a crew-like fashion, having a couple of encounters. You encounters a raided village and then a village under attack. What falls out of this is emoting similar to a 4e adventure. You have combat encounters, do some skill checks, and talk to a few people. Err … I mean “have role-play encounters.” The emphasis here is not really on the situations presented but rather the mechanics around what is going on. Perform a stealth check to escape the situation! If half the party succeeds then … They feel like set-piece situations, or maybe “now is the time when you have an adventure” rather than a more nuanced style which presents a situation and lets the party explore it. Oh, sure, there are notes to let the party do that, and the solution guides in each sub-section say something like “or other options the party comes up with”, but the emphasis is on the mechanics. Not that I’m altogether against the basic idea, just the way it’s presented here. A few lines of text, bolded, etc, to hep the DM with situations that arise is a core part of an adventure should do in some cases. But this thing has that same 4e style in doing it that boils it down to the mechanics, and not in a good way.
I imagine that something like a flowchart was used to develop this adventure. A leads to B or leads to C if they do X. And under each “encounter” there’s a little mini-chart listing the party options and what to do based on the circumstances. In theory that’s not bad. But at some point it is taken to an extreme and it looses its identity outside of what it presents, mechanically, up to and including the encounters themselves. It FEELS like a series of events with a flowchart behind it and constrained options for the party. And that’s not a good thing. Read the read-aloud then select option A, B, or C as your reaction. Then go to the next encounter. A flowchart adventure where the boxes are all event driven. This reduction D&D to the mechanics was one of the major issues I had with 4e adventures. It sucked the very life out of the game.
So much of this feels like a solo adventure, or a scripted computer RPG. This includes the purple prose that makes up the read-aloud. I was worried that this was just the novel author (this is licensed off of a fantasy novel series) but no, it’s just the the style chosen by this writing team. It feels like “now os the time to read the read-aloud.” And while it offers advice to summarize in your voice if it makes you feel better, it’s also the case the the text is not laid out in any way to make that happen.
Now is the time where I trot out my oft-referenced (by me anyway) appeals to usability. When running a published adventure and you encounter a scene that is two pages long, or more, how do you run that at at the table? Do you pause your game and take five to ten minutes to read it over again? Maybe hoping that you don’t forget anything? You can’t hold it all in your head. This is why I care so much about usability. You pause the game for less than five seconds, grab what you need from the text and keep going. As the text gets longer and longer that becomes more and more difficult to do. Terseness in writing, stripping out the padding, bolding, whitespace, tables, bullets, these are all critically important to drawing the DMs attention to important things in the text, making it easy for them to find what they need and keep going. “Uh, hang on, let me check …” while you hunt through the text to find the thing you’re looking for is no way to run a railroad, so to speak. And this adventure has WAY too much padded text and information coxed in to the free-text paragraphs. It does try to use bolding, whitespace and bullets to help call out important details, but it’s not enough. While THOSE sections are easy to find, it still pads them out with useless, conversational style text. “If the party decides to fight the monster then … ” This all gets in the way and distracts the DM from the really important stuff going on. At one point some read-aloud notes that the party can see people waving at them from the beach … and then hides the peoples fates inside of a paragraph. There’s far far too much “and then happens and then this happens and then this happens”, events takes place in the paragraph text. Note the situation. Give the DM the facts in an easily digestible format and them move on.
At one point some NPC’s are mentioned, if the party gets hauled off to jail. They have goals, ideas, and backgrounds straight out the PHB, and formatted as such. Long sections of text “Ideal: I am honest to those around me” or “Flaw: I can’t help by drink far too much ….” this isn’t how you do this. Short, terse, easy to digest. Drunkkard. Done.
It does have a nice little overview map. A little half page map with the sea journey and caravan route outlined, as well as the other parts of the adventure, with the encounters on it, hex distance, travel time, color-coded by which chapter its in and so on. It’s a useful piece to get an idea of how things are to run.
The writers, I’d guess, are responsible for the purple prose. The editor should have trimmed the fat in the DM text in a MAJOR way. The layout person used one of those atrocious modern formats that makes it impossible to find section breaks, there being section breaks everywhere. Too clever for its own good. I don’t know, maybe the editor felt like they couldn’t push back, or they were just copy-editing. More than anything else the field needs good editors to push back on the overwrought DM text that plagues modern adventures. The delete key can go further, in making an adventure runnable, then any other tool.
There’s more of this type of text then there is useful information: “The characters have the following choices, though you should reward creativity where it is plausible. They can: ”
This is $13 at DriveThru. Yes, $13. Maybe it’s the license? Or all that value obtained from outsourced art, layout, editing, maps? Anyway, the preview is 20 pages. Page 11 has that little encounter mini-map that I liked. Page 12-on shows you the actual adventure encounters, with page 18 showing the NPC “bonds, flaws” NPC’s. The last page of the preview is GREAT for getting an idea of the 4e/set-piece style of writing. Read-aloud. Player choices. Combat.