The Sunken Temple of Chloren-Var

Peter Racek
Wolfhill Entertainment
Levels 1-4

Plunged deep beneath forsaken swamplands centuries ago, the Sunken Temple of Chloren-Var now waits to be rediscovered.  Untold fortune, magic, and ancient secrets await those brave enough to enter the Sunken Temple, but only if they can thwart the unrelenting evil which lurks within its dismal halls.

Uh, so, yeah, this is a thing.

This one hundred page adventure features a dungeon with about seventy rooms. MASSIVE amounts of read-aloud lead to an adventure that is nigh incomprehensible. This is then combined with a “generic” system of play, based on D&D, that seems more like a fantasy heartbreaker. Light on treasure, I’m still having a hard time figuring out what is going with it after going through it multiple times.

I don’t know where to start with this. You go to an inn to find no room in it. Then someone gets killed and you get their room. In it you find a hook to the sunken temple. I guess the motivation is redeeming the dead guy by doing what he failed to do in the dungeon? 

What follows is fifty to sixty pages of read-aloud. In italics. I know I’m prone to hyperbole, but I’m not fucking around. It’s about fifty or sixty pages of read-aloud. The vast VAST majority of the text in this is read-aloud. In italics. 

First the italics. It’s hard to read. Italics works fine for a phrase or to call attention to one part of the text but it is TERRIBLE for long stretches of text. It’s hard to read. Box it, shade it, indent it, but don’t italics ong sections of text. It’s a major usability issue.

Of course, then there’s the length of the read-aloud proper. MOUNTAINS of it. There are page long sections of read-aloud. Every room is full of it. It’s unbelievable; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a product like this before … maybe in Sword of the Bastard Elf or Ocean of Lard? But those were Choose Your Own Adventure things … and it feels like even THEY didn’t have this much. 

It’s bad design 101. People don’t listen to read-aloud. I’ll point out again that WOTC study that found that players stop paying attention after two or three sentences of read-aloud. Clearly designers haven’t gotten the message. 

I know the arguments: zero-prep. Easy to run. But man, there’s far, far, easier and better ways to accomplish that. Slapping “Players React” in the middle of a p[age of read-aloud is not the way to immerse folks and have a good game. There’s so much read-aloud, and it forms in to such a wall of text, that’s it hard for the DM to figure out what is going on inside of this place. Further, when the read-aloud TELLS the players what they feel and think, that’s bad read-aloud. There’s no cohesiveness readily apparent to help the DM run this. After a few runs through the text I’m still having trouble figuring out how the place is supposed to operate.

There’s bolding & indents, which shows an attempt to make things more readable. But it doesn’t work well. The room headings are bolded also, so all of the bolding runs together in places giving an even more wall of text vibe. And Wall of Text is a usability issue. A major one.

The system used here is generic, and based on D&D. It feels more like the old Role Aids generic than it does the Eldritch Enterprises generic. I can’t figure out why the choice was made. You didn’t want to include the Labyrinth Lord license? Deeper in to this, there are new systems for fear, lighting (to the extent that its DM advice includes discouraging light spells and the party bringing in torches and oil. Uh … No.) new systems for locks and searching. There’s more than little fantasy heartbreaker going on.

And it’s random, in places, for the sake of being random. Where are the secret rooms? Roll for it! What are some key plot elements? Roll for it! Why is this? It would have been much simpler to just write a standard adventure, I don’t see this sort of randomness complementing the adventure at all. It’s similar, I guess, to the random elements to Ravenloft. 

This is a curiosity only, to see how far read-aloud can be pushed in an adventure. It’s got very low interactivity, with the party fighting skeletons and couple of puzzles. Treasure is very light for a Gold=XP system, as core OSR is. Let’s hope future offerings are better,

This is $6 at Drivethru. The preview is sixteen pages. In spite of this, you’re going to get no sample rooms, so it’s a failure. Scrolling to the end, you do get to see the (VERY long) intro, and all of the read aloud, which IS an excellent indicator of the sorts of room formatting you’re going to get. Look on my Read Aloud ye mighty and despair!

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12 Responses to The Sunken Temple of Chloren-Var

  1. Glenn Robinson says:

    The cover is nice….

    • Ron says:

      I said the same thing Glenn before reading Bryce’s review. It looks like this (according to the cover anyway) could also be a Supplement of sorts, not just a module? At least it touts a fear system.

  2. Lord Mark says:

    Read aloud is such a strange artifact. It’s clearly the product of early efforts to create a consistent play experience in tournament modules, yet somehow it’s endured – eternal, sucking the creative blood of so many products.

    This is strange because the more interesting tournament module aberrations haven’t. No sets of suggestions about how puzzles could/should be solved (“5 points for casting invisibility on the halfling!”) or booklets of room images. Both of these would be more useful then read-aloud, yet read aloud endures alone, haunting the desolate wastes of TTRPG design.

    I do wonder about the content of this novelist’s dream? Does it at least include Vampires? Which are 100% real btw.

    • Slick says:

      I can see the arguments for read aloud in modules strictly for the most beginner of beginner DMs, but even then you probably don’t want to foster bad habits early. I think what’s better in that scenario is a full “actual play” example of something happening behind the screen -> how the DM describes it in theatre-of-the-mind -> how the players respond -> repeat.

      The content of most read aloud text isn’t even usually the problem, it’s the format that’s completely unnecessary. I can usually repurpose “useful” read aloud content if I can break it up into bullet points that answer likely player inquiries (e.g. “what does the corridor look like?” means take the snippet that says “the narrow corridor is congested with thick, damp fungus bursting from the gaps in the masonry”). That said, if it’s full of backstory/world history BS then yeah toss it.

      P.S. I’m glad to see you posting around here again but you can just use your regular username, Gus; the vampire spam gimmick is getting a little tired anyway.

    • Tom H. says:

      Some number of the “OSR megadungeons” have come with illustration booklets – Barrowmaze for sure, Dwimmermount too?

  3. PyroArrow says:

    One can always just print out the read aloud as handouts for the players, though something like this one feels like a preset find-your-path adventure where what page you turn is determined by a die roll.

  4. Robert says:

    Maybe it’s supposed to be one of those things where you DM yourself through it?

    Or maybe it’s that Kent fellow trolling you. Yes, I bet that’s it.

  5. Thank you for purchasing and reviewing “The Sunken Temple of Chloren-Var”. I think this site is a great resource for OSR information and appreciate the work you are doing. After reading the review I would like to offer your readers a slightly different perspective on the adventure module.
    The module is a pre-written, ready to read document created for the “Busy Game Master”. With 20min of preparation, GM’s can start reading the story to the Players without having to be familiar with its contents. Sometimes life gets busy (school, work, family), and GM’s don’t have the time required to create an epic campaign or read through and interpret other modules. The descriptions, while long, are written as such on purpose. They are meant to provide specific cues and clues (and reward) to Players who listen and interpret the descriptions. Since RPG’s are “theater of the mind”, our products focus on describing areas in detail before allowing Players an opportunity to interact with those environments. While most of todays “instant gratification” society craves 140 character info-packets, our products hope to revive the lost skill of patience and listening. With that said, the descriptions are meant for novice or time strapped GM’s, while more experienced GM’s can adjust the adventure however needed. Future projects have taken into consideration the length of descriptions to better suit GM/Player needs. The focus of the module is around the plot rather than the rules, which is why it is advertised as a system agnostic module. Your comments regarding italics text have been noted and future projects will appear in normal text.

  6. Wolfhillrpg says:

    To answer the above question, a bit of both. Admittedly the text is long (especially before the Players reach the temple). However, this is done on purpose to set the mood, setting, and provide a primer for entering the temple. It is a stand-alone adventure but there is nothing saying that Players can’t start at the temples entrance. The read out loud text is meant to provide novice or time strapped Game Masters with an easy way to run a game with no required read through or interpretation. “Oh crap, I forgot today was games night and I haven’t planned anything out”, 20 min later your rocking your party through the Sunken Temple module.

    I understand that doesn’t fit everyone’s game style, but with 100 pages worth of content, experienced GM’s can just pick out whatever they choose from the massive interactive dungeon.

    Since the module is on sale until the end of Oct for $3.00, I think that’s a pretty good deal.

    For those interested, listed on the Wolfhill Facebook page you can find an image showing an overview of the entire content of the module (exactly what you are purchasing) along with an example of one of the rooms.

    On a side note:
    Without revealing too much, the main plot revolves around the Players being trapped, and finding a means of escape from the Sunken Temple as a sinister evil attempts to prevent that.
    In the play testing conducted before the release, the light system was very well received. Adding a level of desperation and realism, the light source dynamic was used on purpose to force Players to make critical choices in their exploration of the temple. With darkness constantly being a threat (the most primal of fears), the use of finite “quality light” resources prevents Players from flippantly searching every room for treasures or traps. Even with the strain on time and light, there is literally more treasure to be found at the Sunken Temple than eight Players can physically carry. There are also 20 magic items ranging from scrolls, potions, to permanent items. At levels 1-4, that is 19 more magic items than Players should have (if you want to go OSR). Even with all of these financial and magical incentives, The Temple is written as a forlorn place your Players must survive, not profit from. The mystery, adventure, unfolding history, and determination of the Players to escape, should be motivation enough.

    Sorry for the long post.

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      Don’t apologize. And also, don’t be defensive. 🙂

      I would ask, though, that you consider your main assertions in your first two paragraphs are wrong.(Which, to be fair, you did in your initial response, and thus I did not respond.)

      More is not more. More is less. The key to a “zero prep” adventure is a concise amount of text that the DM can absorb, relate, and riff on instantly. And I do nearly mean instantly. Seconds, that how much time I allow for initial impressions of a room while running at a table. Anything more and there is a pause in the game while the DM reads the rooms and tries to understand what is going on. And longer descriptions, paradoxically, require MORE prep time as you need to read through with highlighter and make notes on the important stuff vs the filler.

      Your end goal is laudable and I doubt few would disagree with it. Folks take exception though with what you assert are the ways to achieve it and, in fact, point out that they are counter-productive to end goal.

      And, “not everyones style” is flatly wrong. This is an appeal to taste, and there’s no accounting for taste. We can’t have a discussion at with “well, _I_ liked it” involved. Besides, those people are wrong anyway. 😉

  7. Jordan says:

    100% with you on this. All the presentation problems (layout, read-aloud text, blue prose, etc.) are exacerbated when you need to basically translate a module on the fly.

    (I play in french.)

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