By Remley Farr Self-Published 5e Levels 1-3
Giant bugs have ravaged the farming town of Castillo, and as society crumbles, warring factions rise from the rubble. Can the PC’s navigate this new society well enough to find an altruistic solution, or will they choose a side and determine who will rule the dead-littered town?
This 42 page sandbox adventure details the situation in a small rural community, around ten major locations, beset by trouble and warring factions. The situation is great. It’s put together well in a neutral sandbox manner and does a great job outlining the various factions and locations, supporting it all with good tables. It lacks a bit of independent action by the factions, but is otherwise a good adventure.
42 pages, at triple column, with at least thirty detailing actual locales, etc? Only the last ten pages left to monsters, tables, etc? This thing is STUFFED FULL and I love it. I don’t even know where to begin. Giant bugs overrunning a small rural community. Asshole taking advantage of the economic trouble by buying up land and becoming that is almost a bandit king over town and the surrounding community. Insular halfling-led island that resembles a fortified town from The Walking Dead. A doomsday cult out in the open running around burning shit down and recruiting troubled folk down on their luck. Big game hunters from distant lands, here to hunt eh giant bugs. With some getting hired out from time to time for protection, etc work. A GIANT ant colony with an intelligent queen. A colossal behemoth of a scorpion beyond the parties abilities. A couple of loners hanging out by themselves, all with major personality issues. This thing has a SHIT TON going on. It’s a great way to deal with a sandbox … lots going on, a field full of open gas tanks with the party there setting off fireworks in the middle of it. What I’m saying is that this has enough for a DM to work with. That’s rare. Usually there’s just one or two things on in an adventure. A good sandbox though generally has A LOT going on. And this is a good sandbox.
A couple of the hooks are more than the usual fare … and come straight out of a Segio Leone western, with the party getting hired by one of the factions to do something for them, getting caught up in what’s going on. The slumlord is even called Don Diego.
We get a nice faction overview laid out on a few pages, one per column, with art, a little write-up, and then a section on likes, dislikes, goals and the like that’s organized, bolded, and easy readable at a glance. Perfect for a DM at the table. Maybe a one-page summary would have been nice, with everything on one page, but it’s good enough. They are all colorful and therefore memorable, which means well done.
The central mechanism is a one page regional map. It has each of the major locations on it, which roughly correspond to one per faction … about ten in all … some actual factions and some just loose individuals with their own goals, etc. There’s a little text bubble on the map that gives about a one sentence description of the place. It works well. In fact, I REALLY love the map as the kind of central index of the adventure, the one thing at the center of all of the organization, and the text bubbles help a lot with that. I will note, though, that the map is crying out for some color. Something Harn-like, or a little lighter, showing elevations, waterways, etc would really bring it to life. It could also use some page references in those text bubbles … which page of the adventure has the details of that site. It’s not a deal-breaker, for other reasons, but it would have been a nice touch.
Each of the sites is contained on ABOUT one page, maybe a few more for some of the very major locations. Good section heading breaks combined with generally short text and bolding makes it easy to scan. It’s basically an outline of a location, with a little map, major features, things going on and so on. From that, almost note-like format, the DM runs the location/situation. It works really well for an adventure like this.
There’s some great tables for generating a servant or mercenary. Wandering monsters/encounters are up to something. There are some cross-references present. Support for generating random farmhouses and what happened there/their occupants. It really supports the DM well.
I’d say there are three things in the adventure that don’t work well. The first is the lack of a … zoom out? Each section/locale needs just one more little paragraph describing how things work together. Maybe two sentences more. Watermill’s survivalist outpost at night, lit by their frequent fires, and so on. An initial paragraph that maybe references the other bolded sections for more detail.
Zooming out even further the same could be said for the entire adventure. Each of the locales feels static. What’s its missing is a timeline of events. The wanderers tables, etc give a little burst of energy to various things, but it doesn’t feel holistic. While the factions have goals, etc, they don’t materialize in terms of actions. A general outline of some daily things to stir things up and keep them moving would have helped a lot with this. While the adventure notes “warring factions” that doesn’t really come across. It doesn’t need to go full on Mortiston on it, but a little would help a lot.
The weirdest thing is maybe the slumlords mansion. It’s room/key format, with 31 or so room on a couple of levels. It also lacks a guard schedule, or a kind of overview, events, etc that would add some life to it. It’s a mix of “assaulting the mansion” oriented text and of “interacting with the folk inside” text. Maybe that the Fistfull of Dollars things, where the location gets used for both. It’s a little TOO open-ended though.
But, that doesn’t make this not one of The Best, cause it is.
This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is eight pages. You get to see the faction text, the one page regional overview, and one of the random tables, a random farmhouse generator. That first page of text “Page 1” could be thought of representative of the entire text. Note how it covers many topics in one page, high level but still focused on adventure.