By WR Beatty Rosethorn Publishing S&W Levels 5-7
Beavers have dammed up Stoney Creek… but the villagers who went to break up the dam have not returned. Perhaps something sinister is going on here?
This nineteen page adventure details a small wilderness with ten locations and a troll cave with eighteen more. I might call it a Lair Adventure & Environs, since it’s a small-ish location and is … a lair. It’s firing on all cylinders with good usability, creatures doing things, good treasure, and decent interactivity.
Do I like Rosethorn? I recognize the name but I can’t recall previous quality. Anyway, this one is good. The monsters have arranged for a beaver dam in a remote section of a road. They they ambush travellers who are camped for the night in front of the new lake. In the village, a couple of villagers went up a month ago to clear the dam. They didn’t come back. Then two weeks ago four more went to look for the first. They didn’t come back. Then a mob went up with all the villages weapons. THEY didn’t come back. Ouch! One of the hooks has a trapper going there to bust the dam, and looking for protection, which could also slot in well as to Why The Local Lord isn’t Involved; he hired the trapper. Then again, at levels 5-7 in OD&D the party is pretty Big Shits themselves … which I choose to ignore.
There’s a nice little wilderness area described around the dam, lake, road, and cave. It all makes sense. A dam, a stream, a stirge tree, an attacked campsite, an inviting campsite, a lookout. It feels like it all works together well and makes sense together. A lot of this can be summed up as “they are trolls, they don’t care about the piranha/stirge tree/razorwire.” Take the beavers. D&D being what it is, you could spell a conversation with them, and the designer has provided notes on what they knew. Along with other creatures you might capture, just a few bullets on what they can relate. The piranha are attracted after a few rounds. They patrol the banks for a few rounds after a feast. Too much blood and MORE piranha show up from pools deeper in to the caves. A retreating troll might shake a tree full of stirge; he doesn’t care about them. A stirge, injured, flees to not return. It all kind of makes sense.
And then there’s some monster actions mixed in. The troll, fleeing, might shake the stirge tree. A goblin, fleeing, might jump in the water … and get attacked by the piranha. Another might be thrown in elsewhere to attract the piranha and creature a diversion. There are some charmed trolls inside … but charm works both ways; they tend to ignore the party is they don’t directly attack them or they are ordered otherwise. It’s this very neutral way of writing the adventure that leads to opportunities.
Obstacles present themselves. The aforementioned streams/pools of piranha … I mean “NeedleFish.” In the water there is some razor sharp wire strung as obstacles to overcome. Treasure is stored in a steaming hot 180 degree mud pool, or deep in a pool of piranha or a water monster. These are open-ended, with no suggestions given, just something for the party to devise a way to overcome. And it doesn’t FEEL like it’s a gimpy set up, it feels like this is natural and how things should work.
For the most part. The razor sharp wire is pushing things a bit as is the existence of a MU with charm in service to the troll king. I’m not sure the Charm MU is really even needed; it doesn’t feel like the charms provide that much of a needed background explanation.
Treasure is good. Magic Lead. Weapons with names and (brief) histories. Items described sometimes with non-mechanical states, like chains that cannot be broken. Mundane items also get a little description, adding to their flavor. There’s a wandering monster table that has them doing something. There’s a monster reference stat chart at the end. The map is interesting, for a lair, with water features, terrain, collapsing tunnels, various levels and the like. Good job on it. There’s probably enough treasure, also, which is rare for a GOLD=XP game. You’re not gonna level, but there might be 40k or 50k, which is good for a lair.
On the weird side of things, it sometimes engages in tables for the sake of tables, it feels like. A goblin has four possible reasons for being outside. A water monster has a table of random special abilities and weaknesses. The wanderer chart is a full page … which is great from a usability standpoint, it’s easy to find. But in all of these cases it feels like there’s more content than is needed/expected. That’s not bad, i just found it a bit strange.
The map and text, while both good, could work together a little more. In particular light is strange. Room ten mentions it is lit … and also that room six is … but room six doesn’t mention that. With a simple map, like this, you don’t necessarily need to note light/sound on the map since it’s easy to scan ahead in the text as the party leave down the hallway to the next room. Nut … it’s also nice for those details to somehow be conveyed to the DM ahead of time. It’s related to the “outside vista” issue where the party can see a lot of an environment at once, looking down on a ruined keep for example, but no overview is given, focing the DM to scan everything to tell the party what they see “in one go.”
These are minor though. The evocativeness of the writing is the major shortcoming. And by “major shortcoming” I mean the area for most improvement that the adventure has, not that it’s a major problem. The writing is terse and the environments well described and interesting, but the writing is also a little flat. Hmmm, no, not flat. It’s not generic. But it also doesn’t really spring to life in your minds eye. And let’s be clear, I’m being kind of a jerk here. The language use is fine. But of course I want everything to be perfect. Tersely writing an evocative description that springs to life in your mind is not an easy task. Again, not that it’s bad here, but it could be better. Have I inserted enough qualifiers yet?
This is easily a Best. When you want an adventure and go to DriveThru to buy something THIS is EXACTLY the sort of thing you are hoping for. I wish every adventure ever written were at least as good as this. Yeah? Fuck it. This is my new baseline. I now hold your Rosethorn adventure up as the platonic example of a journeyman quality adventure. Writers could do A LOT worse than emulate the format & style of this adventure. There may be other ways to achieve the same thing, but this thing is easy to relate to.
This is $2 at DriveThru.The preview is five pages and shows you outside encounters and a few inside, including most of the piranha pools, the fleeing goblin, troll, stirge tree, etc. It’s a good representation of the type and quality of writing/adventure you’ll be getting. The last page, has room I3, and shows some of the “not flat not the best” writing I spoke about.