The Temple of the Bear

John Fredericks
Sharp Mountain Games
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 5-8

Explore the TEMPLE OF THE BEAR in hopes of rescuing a hostage. There they will confront an evil wizard and his minions who hope to bring back a forgotten, evil cult.

This thirty page adventure contains a dungeon with fifteen rooms and a couple of outside encounters in about nine pages. It’s just long-form paragraph descriptions of each encounter location. Low interactivity, poor usability, uninspiring descriptions. The usual trifecta.

The DriveThru description does not have a level range. The cover does not have a level range. What does have a level range? The back cover. Which is only available once you purchase the adventure. It’s not even clear to me why these things have back covers. Isn’t that used for marketing purposes in game stores/bookstores … and don’t these products exists only as PDF’s? So the designer is slavishly following some template without regard to the actual purpose? And it results in a blind buy without knowing the level the adventure is for? 

Villagers are missings. The party, I guess, is somehow motivated to look in to it; the pretext doesn’t really exist in this one. Except … someone missing is the mayors daughters boyfriend. She’s 18. The mayor lets the party take her with them on the adventure. WTF? Seriously? I’m NOT giving my 18YO daughter over a group of murder hobos! Didn’t he see The Last Valley? Jesu Christo! 

From there we switch to the road in to the forest … which only leads to the dungeon, so if you kep following it then you’ll arrive there. Big mystery, I guess? Anyway, you get attacked by owlbears because forced combats are evidently a thing in Old School D&D. Oh, wait, they are not? There’s a thread on a forum RIGHT NOW about character death in D&D and the impact of forced combat mindsets? Oh. Well, bad design then I guess.

Oh, wait, fuck, no, I forgot. The town? It notes how it’s a good starting location for the party/campaign. Note again the level range if 5-8. I guess you’re either starting at 5-8 or you bought this adventure for the two paragraph town or the designer has, once again, not given thought to the context the information is being presented in. 

Information in the encounters is relayed in long form paragraphs. Multiple paragraphs per room. With lots of padding. Ensuring that you need to scan everything to run the room. And that the adventure text will be padded out. To nine pages. In a thirty page adventure. “First bob will do this and then he will do this and then he will do this and then he will do this.” Yes. Perfect. Exactly the sort of writing I expect.

A certain trap takes three paragraphs to describe. It’s giant jaws that snap down, kind of like a giant half-open bear trap. Three paragraphs. 

An evocative description in this is “After encountering the monkeybears, the party will come upon the Old Shrine. This area has a stone altar, a broken pillar, and broken stone benches.”

Interactivity is confined to traps, monster fighting and a ghost you can talk to. 

Monetary treasure in this adventure consists of 77gp and a 20gp gem. That’s a joke, right? This is a Gold=XP game, right? LabLord? Yes?

This time I promise I promise I promise I’m going to remember the name Sharp Mountain. Next time I promise I promise I promise I won’t tell myself “its been awhile, maybe they are better now? I should check in …” No. No I should not.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages and shows you nothing of the adventure, so you have no way of understanding the encounter quality before purchasing. Which, while bad for the consumer, is great for the producer

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11 Responses to The Temple of the Bear

  1. There are always so much lessons on module design in your reviews (at least on what you consider a good module), that’s it’s gold to read everytime!
    Thanks also for making us save money,, when there really nothing to redeem a module (in this case, it seems even to be a publisher…)

  2. SolCannibal says:

    Is it just me, or could the name be a reference to (attempt to milk upon) the old Dungeon of the Bear Tunnels & Trolls? Just a thought.

  3. OSR Fundamentalist says:

    Sharp Mountain Games seems to be Filbar-tier from what I’ve perused

  4. Lord Mark says:

    Monkeybears. This has monkeybears, and that alone is worth something. Otherwise it sounds like a confused and fumbling effort – an author familiar with WotC design and trying on a new system for size.

    Things like this remind us that there’s actually a skill to writing, even writing adventures for table top. Description, choosing the write descriptive word instead of a jumble of bland quotidian sentences, flow and creativity. Monkeybears aren’t enough. To be worthwhile, even understanding the way early games play – allowing for reaction rolls and including substantial treasure aren’t enough. Actual skill and talent helps. Practice. An editor. That’s where the bar should be – knowing the genre, having a vision and/or creativity, an idea of how writing works and an editor.

    It’s not so simple perhaps – but once suffused with the immortal vitality of my hidden kingdom – once you become a vampire – you can have the time and energy to hone these skills or anything else you desire.

  5. Robert says:

    Okay, dumb question time. Yes, gold=XP. BUT. Do people in the OSR movement still keep that careful track of xp? When I played 1st and 2nd in the 80’s and 90’s as a kid, I was religious about it. But now, as a PFRPG DM (who prefers the versatility of OSR modules) that all seems like pointless recordkeeping. Instead it’s more like, “You completed this adventure and did this in this. Sure, it’s time to level.”

    Also, do any of these retroclones use the old level training rules, or has that mercifully gone away. I suppose it made sense at the time as a way to get rid of excess treasure. Ed Greenwood seemed to make good use of it. If you read his fluffy magic item histories you’d always notice they’d have a lot of ‘jharjhar traded Bigby’s Lubricated Fist to Elfinster for level training’.

    • LL says:

      XP-for-(specific thing) connects leveling up to real, identifiable player actions. If you level up, then it was all earned. With XP-for-gold it means every gold piece you hauled out of the dungeon mattered (and by association, that every action involved mattered). That you could have gotten a lot more, if you’d been more daring. Or a lot less, if you’d been too cautious. That if you hadn’t grabbed that gold idol, you might have nearly missed a level up!
      In addition, XP-for-(specific thing) is a very concrete form of positive reinforcement for specific behavior… and also, watching the number increase and bring you closer and closer to a level-up is exciting, ’cause our brains are like that.

      By contrast, if you level up because the DM “feels like you deserve it”, it’s a very passive way to engage with character progression, with very little player agency to it. You progress thanks to a nebulous “having gone on an adventure”, which might as well be “because you showed up to the session”.
      That’s not the end of the world, mind you. But in a game like D&D where character progression is a core mechanic (as opposed to many other games where it isn’t), then you’re better off making that core mechanic FEEL GOOD.

      Also yeah I’m pretty sure the vast majority of retroclones don’t enforce training to level up nowadays, but I could be wrong.

      • Robert says:

        Hmm, it’s not *quite* like that though. It’s more of an old fart “this is tedious, let’s minimize this so we can get to the roleplaying” rather than “You get a gold star for being you!”

        Being more exacting about XP does make sense for 1st and 2nd edition, though. Each class had a different amount of XP to level, and if you messed with this you messed with some of the intended game balance. It’s been…decades…but in the old 1st edition PHB wouldn’t a thief had reached level 3 by the time the magic-user made it to level 2? (1250 xp for level 2 thief, 2500 xp for level 2 magic-user).

        3rd edition kept the incentive with the magic item creation system. Now everyone needed the same amount of XP but the XP amount mattered if you wanted to make yourself a few wands, scrolls, or potions.

        When Pathfinder went to gold only for magic item creation, it made the whole system pointless.

        (I have no idea about 4th or 5th. I’m old. It seems pointless to buy all the books YET AGAIN)

        I suppose it all depends on play style and personal preference. To each their own.

        • LL says:

          I think you’re missing the fact Bryce reviews a lot of old-school-style adventures, for use with old-school-style systems, so of course everybody in the comments of an old-school adventure will tell you they track XP. We’re all running 1e or 2e or B/X or OD&D or some hack of these editions.

          Obviously, if you don’t run a game about delving into dungeons to get rich and powerful, then yes, you don’t need XP for gold, and if character progression doesn’t matter at all, then yes, you don’t need XP at all.

    • OSR Fundamentalist says:

      >But now, as a PFRPG DM (who prefers the versatility of OSR modules)
      Opinion discarded
      False OSR Enthusiast, get ye gone

  6. squeen says:

    Yes. I tally XP whenever the party gets to a safe haven. I just look back through my DM’s notebook and see where/what they did the past few sessions (and how they split the treasure). I also use training costs to eat up cash (and time). NPCs get a half-share of non-GP XP. Sometimes PCs have a hard time finding someone higher level to train them. It’s a good system that works reasonably well.

    I am a strong advocate of the low-level game, so all these things retard level progression—which I see as desirable. As Byrce said, 4-5th level PCs are kind of a big deal in OD&D. I think it’s more balanced that the players aren’t demi-gods when compared to the average human villager.

    I’m sure every player in the world wants exactly the opposite—they want to “win”—but I believe it’s the DM’s job to keep the brass-ring dangling just a few tantalizing inches out of their reach. Anything else dulls the edginess of the game and it can quickly turn into a farce.

    The difference might be we are playing to “long game” and not just going after a single night of thrills.

    • Robert says:

      Thanks for the very interesting response. In me and my group’s case, it’s not that we’re not into playing the “long game”, it’s that we’re focused on other things. My current group is awesome. We click. They’re willing to roleplay and consider their character’s motives than the player’s motives. It’s easy enough to get them to interact with the world. Now if I was with a group of power gamers it would be different.

      But also…I’m not quite gonzo as many OSR people seem to be. I can see the appeal. It would be fun to try after the current campaign ends.

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