By Joseph Lewis
Dungeon Ages Adventures
In the deep desert lies the dead city of Yumar, the source of countless bizarre rumors. Was it destroyed by a demonic metal sphere? Did it sink into a pit of acid? Were its people transformed into cursed beasts? Is it ruled by vicious thieves or mad nuns? In fact, the only thing stranger than what happened to Yumar a century ago is what will happen a few days from now…
This 48 page adventure details a lost desert city with about nine-ish adventuring sites, from small to large. It’s laid out and organized well, easy to scan … and has The Sandbox Problem. Still, great for 5e.
48 pages for nine locations seems a bit long, even if some of the locations are little mini-sites. Worry not. The fonts and whitespace are generous with this one. Locations are nicely organized with relevant data grouped together and page breaks used to separate things when appropriate. Laid out in front of you, it’s easy to maneuver through the text and find the information you are looking for, from locations, to motivations and personalities, to area descriptions. From a usability standpoint this does well. I’m not sure the format is one to take as platonic, for usability, nut Joseph had an idea of what he wanted to do for this adventure and the format works with it well. There are many paths to get to usability.
Bullets, whitespace, numbered lists, offset boxes, page and section breaks all play a part. But then … I wouldn’t be Bryce if I were ever happy with something. The adventure falls down some on what I might call cross-references. Usually I use this to refer to literal cross-references. A key containing a little (room #7) or a locked door with a (key: room 5) next to it. If information is LIKELY to be important to the DM then a little pointed to where it is is a nice addition. These sorts of cross-references do occur in at least one part of the adventure (DM text next to a locked door noting the key location) but they could be a little strong in other areas. Further, there’s a need in another way: what people know. There are a few factions running around the ruins. At least two would like you take care of the others. But … it is then natural to ask some questions. You want us to kill/drive off the nuns? Why? What do you know about them? Etc. There’s not much guidance in that area. A cross-reference to the nuns, or a summary of what they know/relate would have helped out there. Nightmares? Sleeping? Where’s that nightmare table again? These are small-ish things but they seperate a really great adventure from merely a good one.
The major issue with the adventure though, is The Sandbox Problem. IE: why do the players care? In an older D&D it might be just for the loot, for XP. In modern versions though there tend to need to be other motivations to gain XP. The hooks presented lead the party to know ABOUT the city but not to give them motivation to go there, other than pure curiosity. Exploration is valid, if your group is in to that, but rumors of loot, faction motivations that tip the party off to it, and so on, would drive things forward a bit more. The city feels a bit passive because of that. It COULD serve as a site for the DM to insert their own goal, a book, bell, candle or some other mcguffin. But, still, it feels like the factions, while not friends, are more passive. More dynacism to drive things forward toward something would have been appreciated.
Interactivity is good, there are lots to see and do if the party is so motivated. Obvious flesh-to-stone people are depressed, if save, for the same reasons as that TNG cryo-sleep episode. A dancing gecko as treasure? Count me in!
Yeah, I’ve got some complaints. A better “view” of the elevation issues would have been nice. Wanderers seem heavy on slogs up the cliffside to the top by foot or fly spell. But, read-aloud mentions things to follow up on. One of the first is an acrid smell … which you can follow to a location. You can see sites in the distance and trek towards this, this is explicitly mentioned. I love that. At one point you can force your way in to vault via lockpick instead of the keys … which causes a treasure golem to appear. My apprehension at gimping player abilities (lock pick) is not quite as strong at higher levels as stronger divination and bypass magic is available. Or, maybe, it is but there’s example of GOOD challenges vs BAD gimping.
This is a decent adventure. A little focus in the future on evocative descriptions, without growing longer, and some solutions to ever-present Sandbox Motivation issue would knock this over the top. As is, inserting a little player motivation, like a staff they are after, etc, solves the motivation problem. While this may hover between No Regerts and Best, it’s 5e and I’m happy to see a decent 5e product.
This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is 25 pages(!) Page 8 has a good “vision” overview and is a good preview, generally, of the formatting that the adventure uses. Overall it’s an excellent preview of what you are buying, from a writing and organization standpoint.