(5e) Citadel of Terror

By Paul Riegel-Green & Ben Burns
new Comet Games
Levels 1-4

Spring time has arrived, the fields planted, the trade routes are opening and the Orc raids will be coming soon. It also means the arrival of the mysterious but powerful mage Melius. But this year, he has yet to make his appearance. What chance does the small city of  Adwick have against the ravaging hordes of Orcs without the wizard’s assistance. Every day that slips by, causes the leaders worry and concern. You and your small band of adventurers have been tasked with traveling through the abandoned ruins of Rochdale, then into the swamp known as The Moors. To seek out Melius’ tower and discover what has become of the wizard.  What evils lurk in the ruins? What dangers will The Moors hide? What will you find at the Citadel of Terror?

This 68 page adventure details a wizards tower with about twelve rooms as well as a couple of overland encounters. It’s massively overwritten, both in DM text and read-aloud, and is one of those “make a skill check to tie your shoes” adventures. At least I got to pay $15 for it …

I’m supposed to be nicer. I’m supposed to explain more. I’m supposed to describe why things are the way the way, or should be, in detail. I’m supposed to do a lot of things.  And then something like this comes along and saps all of the life out of me.

It starts with the party being ambushed by 24 orcs. “That’s a lot” I thought “for level 1’s.” Not to worry, it’s not an actual encounter. A calvary of gnomes and halflings on war dogs come to your rescue. Well Buckher, some strings are more obvious than others. 

This then degenerates in to the town where the party is sent to find a missing wizard in his tower. And it’s all done in third person read-aloud. “He tells you that …” “he explains that you have been selected” “when you enter the bar the dwarf behind the counter welcomes you and introduces himself as …”  Jesus. H. Fucking. Christ. Abstraction. Filthy fucking abstraction. Read-aloud, when used, should immerse the listener. Abstracting to the third person and abstracting thing like “your welcome” is utter bullshit. Specififty is key. He raises a tankard drains it and slams it down spraying out “Your Health!” through foam. Contrast with “the swarf behind the counter welcomes you.” Abstracted vs specific. 

Not to mention the fucking length of the read-aloud in this. It drones on and on and one, in spite of people not paying attention to long read-aloud. There’s even a faux-study by WOTC proper! But out designer friends don’t know that. 

This is joined by the WAY TOO EXCESSIVE dm text. Mountains of it. Mountains of mountains of it. A five goblin fight takes a page. Some stirge around a pedestal takes two pages. Excruciating if/then clauses. 

You need a DC 16 persuasion to have the bartender tell you about the missing wizard. The most mundane of information. That’s in his own best interest to relay. And skill checks of this type are generally set low. But not in this adventure. But don’t worry, they are everywhere! And All of the conditional clauses take up lots of extra room! Are you an elf? There’s a special line for you in the column long perception check results … your DC is 2 lower than everyone else! THis is a total and complete lack of understanding of how skill checks are supposed to work. No doubt learned from other badly written  adventures. 

One of the outdoor encounters, with five goblins, has a master goblin thespian pretending to be an old woman. I’m pretty sure that’s not meant to be literal, but it still trends the wrong direction. And DC 19/24 skill checks at first/second level? Is that even possible in 5e?

No real overland map, in spite of their being an entire swamp to cross with multiple random encounters in it. Or an entire series of woods encounters … that are essentially linear since you get led to each and need to find some rings at each to get in to the wizards tower. 

And the actual writing? “They appear to be dead.” Well no shit. That means dead. This REEKS of just about every bad writing/editing decision you can make. What’s the name of Ray’s editing book? These people need that bad.

And our 8th level wizard, who can’t rescue himself … I just can’t go on. This. Is. Bad. 

This could easily be a one page adventure and loose nothing, in spite of the massive limitations of the one page format, it’s that overwritten. It concentrates text in all the wrong areas, giving painstaking room descriptions that are meaningless to the adventure. 

It is for designers like this that I feel sorry. They had an idea. They want to do good, I’m sure (doesn’t everyone?) but they have NO idea how to get there. No doubt they had some design principals … as evidenced by the massive skill check text, but they were the wrong things to concentrate on. Also, I applaud their eschewing of DMsGuild. But, man, ya gotta actually learn how to write an adventure. It’s got nothing to do with the motivations of the NPC’s or the balance of the encounters or how correct the rulings are. Usable at the table, Interactive, Evocative. This is none. 

Also, where my Terror? I was promised terror!

This is $15 at DriveThru. And for $15 (fucking bullshit!) you get no preview. So it’s a blind buy. Of $15 crap. To be clear, price is pretty much irrelevant if the adventure is good. But when they are bad, and they are almost always bad, the fucking $15/pdf shit stings. ESPECIALLY WHEN THERE”S NO FUCKING PREVIEW!


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11 Responses to (5e) Citadel of Terror

  1. Ron says:

    The cover made me think it was a LotFP module. Interesting review, I wonder if there are any folks out there who take your editing/designing comments to heart and either redo their own, or someone else’s module? It’d be interesting, say for this one, for someone to take an axe to the read aloud and see what happens. Thanks for the review!

    • SolCannibal says:

      Me i got more of a DCC vibe from the cover, but i can see what you’re getting at.
      Unfortunately, it seems like that image is the one noteworthy thing about this adventure.

      • Ron says:

        Funny, DCC was definitely my second thought! Sounds like it’s usable, but I don’t DM 5E (I’ve played a bit with my kids) and $15 is way out of this social worker’s price range 🙂 even though I do enjoy PDFs.

  2. Knutz Deep says:

    Bryce, if I may suggest, you should start ignoring any adventure at a certain price point that doesn’t have a preview. Anything over $5? $10? I don’t know. It would likely save you some money, and sanity 😉

  3. Anonymous says:

    I was certain of what we were getting as soon as I saw the world name at the top.

  4. LL says:

    It’s baffling to imagine someone can make SIX ugly writing blunders in the summary alone (just that was a neon red flag to me…), not even understand how skill checks work, and still write 68 pages of… whatever this sludge is called, to sell at this price. I really hope this is their first product ever.

  5. Lord Mark says:

    True terror is a joyless series of skill checks to gain basic information and move a night of play forward. That or the realization that as a non-vampire you face the cold eventuality of death and the humiliations of old age.

    This sounds like a young adventure, design style more influenced by video games then anything else. Its authors having never played an adventure before Pathfinder and perhaps having never read a piece of fiction more complex then a movie tie in novel, because even without the bad design principles this sounds dull. The world of Darknoth is unformed clay unimagined and without wonder because that’s how the authors want it – cliched bar dwarves van only “welcome” adventurers because they exist as a placeholder and plot point – a receptacle for rumors that the players pour skill points in to and advance plot. While better writing, mechanics and design could save this adventure, what would be saved? Nothing to fire the imagination or make an evening rolling dice memorable.

    One starts becoming curious about these kinds of adventures…what’s the core pathology? The symptoms are obvious, but what’s causing them? Slavish imitation of large scale commercial product? An actual desire for comfortable, predictable fantasy worlds? A desire to publish without a corresponding vision of what to publish? Timidity? Who are these authors and what drives them to spend many hours writing clammy, bloodless prose about joyless under imagined fantasy? Timidity? Rigidity? Avarice?

    More then the design problems this lack of joy or wonder destroys fantasy writing.

    • Eddison says:

      Is there any possibility we could receive your future insights in digest-size print format? They seem far too valuable to be left gathering dust in the comments section of a blog.

      • Anonymous says:

        The module, writing, and editing in no way shape or form reflects the actual game world of Darknoth. This was a case of the publisher and module author completely ignoring the game world designers vision and instructions of what the world is like.

  6. Anonymous says:

    As a result the publisher was removed from the project.

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