By William Murakami-Brundage Menagerie press 5e Levels 1-3
The adventurers are sent to stop a pair of star-crossed lovers and collect the bounty on a gang of ruffians. Unfortunately, the bandit hideout is on the grounds of a haunted temple, and the recent tumult has awoken the restless dead.
This 24 page adventure details the grounds of a ruined temple with 36 rooms in about seven pages. The writing is mostly flat which forces a generic feel to plae in spite of several attempts to beef it up with some non-generic details. “Not odious” does not mean “good”, but the designer at least has a good start on producing better work.
Girl runs away with bandit in order to have a more exciting life. Her dad, a petty noble, has promised her hand in marriage to someone else to cement power. Bring her back! Oh, and the bandit also has a bounty on his head. This is the pretext to the adventure. The entire thing is explained in a one page summary overview which is clear and well organized. The hook-ish/hiring part in the town is also covered quite well in another page, also generally well organized and clear, not overstaying its welcome. It does force you to read instead of making better use of highlighting, bolding, bullets and whitespace for better scanning. Still, in and out quick, so it’s not terrible. The worst thing to be said is that “she eloped” is shouted out by the crier in the town square, in the “reward” call to action. That would probably be kept quiet, or at least reserved for a private audience with the noble/staff.
36 rooms in seven pages is a decent density for 5e. The rooms generally don’t overstay their welcome with excessive trivia and background and read-aloud. Skill checks are done better than in most 5e, with logic and common sense coming in to play at numerous opportunities.
The maps, two of them, appear to be Dyson affairs. Two of the better ones, one of an outdoor ruined temple/manor area and one of a small cave system. Both are noticeably more open than usual and have unusual features like tree copses and water features scattered throughout. The maps would have done well to have “rooms with reacting monsters” marked in them on the map, for ease in DM’ing. In addition, a side-view/perspective piece of art, showing the ruined temple, would have been in order. Given the number of collapsed wall and the general ruined nature, a more 3d adventuring style would have been well supported by this and a better use of the art budget than the generic full color monster art that several pages were devoted to.
And on a related note, the ruins could have used with an overview description for the party. It just starts out with room 1, the ruined bridge that leads to the ruins. Some adventuring areas lead themselves to a scenic overlook type of situation. When you can survey the whole of an area from a distance the adventure deserves a little overview section, noting general features and standouts. If there’s a ruined dome with a bright light shining up out of it then it makes sense to mention that when the party first looks down on the place, doesn’t it? Otherwise you’re relying on the DM to either remember the important details of every room and if they apply to the scenic overlook description, or forcing them to go through the adventure and make notes. And if the DM has to make notes then the designer has probably failed in some way.
The writing in this is generally flat. In spite of a few words like “tarnished bell” or “rusty pots and pans”, it generally just comes off as boring old generic ruins. The writing really needs to be beefed up with better use of adjectives and adverbs. I’m not advocating more MORE words, but generally different ones. I loathe purple prose, but it’s the designers job to bring the scene to life in the DM’s head. You have to give the DM something good to work with, something for their imagination to take ahold of and run with. You’re inspiring them, or you’re supposed to be anyway. The writing in this doesn’t do that.
In particular I’ll mention the Shadows in the adventure. A lot used to be halfling bandits, some didn’t. But none of them really get any description at all. Either of them or how they rise and attack. A couple of hiding under the bed and come out to attack. Much better to have the shadows of the corners of the room to stretch, or to see them rise in some malign way from the slain bodies on the floor, yes? Something to make them come ALIVE.
I note that this uses the modern 5e adventure convention of noting, at the start of the keyed entries, the sights, sounds, lighting, and terrain. I get the reason, and it’s ok. But that’s not an excuse to NOT include it in the individual rooms also. Bring them to life! Also, wouldn’t this information be much better suited for the map? Imagine 18 point font at the top of the map reminding the DM of the dusty nature and the occasional moans of the undead. From where, the players ask? The DM consults the map to find the nearest room that has monsters marked on it. That’s how all of this is supposed to work together to hel the DM bring the adventure to life.
It does little good to tell us, as this adventure does, That room “10. Kitchen. This was a kitchen …” yeah, no shit, you just told us that. Or that the ruined bridge once allowed people to access the temple. Or that the well once provided water to the temple. Ok, that last one is mine, I made it up, but you get the idea. The trivia, backstory, and repetition does us no favors. At worst, it ills the adventure with garbage that the DM has to fight through while scanning for the important bits. They added nothing to the actual adventure. Use that word count to instead add more interesting adjectives and adverbs to make the place come alive.
It’s an ok adventure, if with a generic vibe. It does integrate the pretext in pretty well, with the halfling eloper/bandits, without making it a railroad. Maybe a little light on treasure. Alas, I have no time in my life for ok adventures and as such I’m afraid this gets buried in with the mountain of 5e adventure dreck on DriveThru. Still, high hopes for the future with this designer. I hope they can beef up their writing and give some more holistic thinking to adventure supporting the DM. Maybe finding a good DM or two that they can use as playtesters, who will tell them what they had to do to run it, so things can be corrected before publication. Yeah, hard work. Same as with the evocative writing. But that’s what separates the garbage with an idea from the good.
This is $6 at DriveThru.The preview is nine pages, with the last three showing you some of the room keys. You can get an idea of overview, hook summary, and how it uses its text to bring it to life (or not.) In that respect it’s a good preview. You can also see how it handles skill checks a little differently than most 5e adventures. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but it’s nice to see a little more sanity in that area.