Jim Kramer is the guy behind Usherwood Publishing. Several of his adventures appear on my Best & Regerts list, including Arachnaphobia and most his Bone Hilt campaign series. He does EXCELLENT maps and, doing layout for a living, his layouts are top notch. He’s a behind the scenes guy, doing layout work for many things, including Knockspell and OSRIC. This 64 page fanzine was put together by several folks as a fundraiser to help with expenses after his third(!) brain tumor. I’m going to review the adventures. You should go pick this up because you’re not an asshole. And, also, because the adventures are quite good. Also, there’s a lot of OTHER content in it, beyond the adventures.
Sorcerer’s Stone – by Keith Sloan [No Level Given]
This five page adventure describes a dungeon with about forty rooms. On top of a hill is a ritual site where a cult gathers to … perform rituals and make human sacrifices. Underneath is the dungeon with a couple of evil priests (who think the cultists are amateurs) and a traditional “ogres, spiders, etc” dungeon. The map is good with decent complexity, same level stairs,pits, some water features and the like. Decent loops. Each room gets a bolded room title to orient the DM, a good touch. It is, essentially, a minimally keyed dungeon. “2. GUARD CHAMBER: This old guard chamber is empty.” and “A Carrion Crawler has made its way into this room.” tend to be the extent of the descriptions beyond stats and treasure. This does allow for about 24 rooms per page, but I would have preferred to see four or five more words, or, perhaps different words, in each room description. Instead of a carrion crawler moving in (and, as an aside, a lot of the descriptions are like that “X moved in”) I’d like to see something like a carrion crawler hanging from the ceiling, or munching on a goblin or something. A more active description. The cult activity outside is done well but could be organized better with bullets and bolding, and non-monster interactivity is a bit low. One more pass through to make the rooms active, clean up the outside, and insert a little more interactivity and this would have been top tier.
Perladon Manor – by Gabor Lux – Levels 3-5
This delightful five page adventure describes fifteen rooms of a ruined manor over three-ish levels. Melan uses a single-column paragraph form, but arranges the sentence/text order well to put First Things First and then expand on them later, with good use of bolding. The encounters are great examples of the non-standardized style of D&D, with stabbing frescoes causing shadows damage, hypnotic patterns caused by magical loadstones, and inscriptions providing hints leading to more adventure. High interactivity and a fantasy vibe that is not constrained by the rulebooks provide a great adventuring adventure in a small page count and room count.
The Tiled Labyrinth – Guy Fullerton – Levels (It’s got a minotaur)
This two page mini-dungeon is a labyrinth with about fifteen rooms. It provided three maps of the level and a small set of rules (close the incense burner) on changing from one map to another … which basically means the rooms stay the same and the hallways/doors switch layouts. It’s a clever idea for representing a labyrinth layout … minotaurs traditionally have a hard time in D&D having their lairs represented in anything other than “you’re confused at intersections” mechanics. Guys descriptions are good, with the details focused on player-oriented things and activities. Rich soil, copper watering cans, inset stone shelves … Guy slaps in the extra adjective/adverb to spruce up his descriptions well. One of the incense burners is a vented statuette of a heroic man holding decapitated bull head … with a lever to open/close the vents. Plus there’s a red meteoric long sword of sleek, angular design. Sweet! A good, if small, entry from Guy.
Lizard Man Lair – by Steve Smith Levels 5-7
This fourteen page adventure describes an outdoor lizard man lair. It’s complex, in a way these things usually are not. There are multiple factions, other race NPC’s, slaves, animals, varying terrain. Guidelines for several different approaches are offered up. It is, perhaps, more complex than can be handled in two-column magazine format, something that I sometimes thought in Dungeon Magazine. Meaning that it’s deep and complex but that the 2-column format doesn’t work well for this. I’m not saying it CANT, but that it would be a lot of work. As a standalone product it is both of limited scope (one lair) and better suited for a more leisurely layout/format that could be targeted to its complexity and depth. Good ideas in it.
The Mere Beneath by Guy Fullerton, Allan T Grohe jr and Henry Grohe – Level 5
This six page adventure details about 25 locations in a dungeon level with a large water feature. A great adventure in a fanzone full of great adventures. The map is interesting, complex, and offers on-map details to encourage creativity and help the DM. The wanderers are doing things. The creatures in rooms are doing things: bloody-faced from finishing a meal or tearing apart something. Writing is evocative with small little room text written so as to be more than the sum of their parts, inspiring the DM to greatness and to build upon them. Zones and multiple levels themes are well used. Creatures are just a bit from norm with ghouls and ghasts wearing bone masks. It all combines to give that non-standard OD&D vibe that I love so much. I might put this in my Darkness Beneath binder, as a sublevel from the waterfall in the Crabmen level. (And perhaps the level title implies a relationship to Darkness Beneath? The tone matches well.) A solid marriage of usability, interactive, and evocative.
This is $13 at DriveThru. Go get it!