By Jonathan McAnulty AAW Games Pathfinder Level 3
Waves of supernatural darkness sweep over the subterranean city of Stoneholme, quenching lights and bringing with it foul creatures of shadow. After heroically defending a group of dwarven children from being ravaged by a group of these shadow beings, the PCs are approached by Shtawn Deppenkhut—one of the king’s own advisers—and are offered the task of finding the source of the darkness that threatens the city. The PCs investigation takes them through the Underworld to hidden caverns, where demon worshipping priests offer living sacrifices in an attempt to plunge Stoneholme into everlasting darkness, a first step in destroying the hated city once and for all, but as it turns out the priests aren’t the only ones behind this unfolding plan to destroy Stoneholme.
This thirty page adventure details an eleven room dungeon in the underdark, and a couple of linear city and “journey there” combats. It shows no understanding of formatting or organization, other than the stat block. Wanna fight? That’s all you’ll be doing here.
Evil McEvil-man hires the party to look in to some evil. He’s got an evil plan and, for some reason, hires the party to meddle, no doubt to further his evil plan. This is like, what, the six billionith time an adventure has done this? Whatever. It’s all crap anyway. SO you save some dwarf kids from baddies in the streets, get hired to look in to a warehouse, and from there get hired to go through the underdark to kill some goblins in their lair. Then you find evidence that … some fellow dwarves were behind it all! Oh the humanity! Errr, dwarfmanity.
The typical massive amount of stat block place is present. Also present are HUGE amounts of poorly formatted DM text. Just long paragraph blocks full of words running on and in to each other. The paragraphs are all left justified as well, so you can’t really tell where one ends and another begins. Excellent for for making your content as incomprehensible as possible. Seriously, this thing has NO idea how to format a paragraph or convey information. To quote Gauntlet “I have not seem such bravery!” or something …
Information is repeated time and again for no reason. Dwarf construction is weak-ass stuff, wil recent constructions breakings. Huh. I thought the trope was the opposite? Shadow rats, which could be cool, get no description at all and instead are just black looking rats. There was some real opportunity to generate horror and mystery with them, but no. Not to be. At multiple times in the adventure there are DC check gates. AT the end, find a DC14 letter to reveal the dwarven conspiracy, the rest of the adventure/dungeon essentially just being a pretext for this skill check. I wonder what would happen if the party failed it and the DM didn’t fudge it? That would be fun.
This is just crap on top of crap. Linear design. Fight a monster because it’s in your way and you’re on the way to that final skill check. Combat after combat. Tactical information but no real exploration or interactivity. Boring ass writing that’s not evocative at all. Absolutely NO attempt to make the text usable by the DM at the table, instead just vomiting words with no thought or care to their presentation.
This is $7 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages, but you don’t get to see anything of the adventure, just the preamble. As shitty a preview as one could possible provide while still providing a preview. These things just scream “Look! I paid for a pretty background text and art!” while giving you absolutely no idea how useful the actual adventure is.
It is also marked as U01, which could be a start of a series/Adventure Path.
Ugh. The letter code was cool at first at the beginning of the d20 era, a nice flashback to 1st edition modules, but after the first twenty times it lost its luster. If your going to do letter codes, just use one letter and at least make it meaningful, like the F series of modules from Chaotic Henchman (for Fullerton).
I’m baffled by the continued prevalence of ‘and plunge the world/city/this one hill in particular into a thousand years of darkness’. Why? Are you vampires? Nocturnal predators who need the sun gone to start taking over stuff?
One of these days I want a campaign that *starts* with plunging into darkness. A slowly-uncoiling doomsday scenario as forgotten terrors from the deep, hiding from the light, gradually realize the world above is ripe for plunder. Resources for making light dwindle, civilized peoples are huddled in corners of great cities to conserve the dwindling fuel for light. Rescue people and bring them to safety. Use subterfuge and guile, or negotiate with the beings from below, who doubtless have goals and character of their own.
Of course, this wouldn’t work so long as the whole party has darkvision.
I wrote a poem about that – people should check it out. It’s far better, much more evocative and much more useful for a starting point of adventure design then anything ever written for Pathfinder…
“Happy were those who dwelt within the eye/Of the volcanos, and their mountain torch” alone is a better start. Considering I’ve already kicked around a post-apocalyptic volcano based campaign, you may just see something like this from me in the future.
I misread the title as “(Pathfinder) Dark Days in Stockholme” and thought Bryce had finally broken down.
I have discovered a pattern!
Create tour monsters encounters. Three. Whatever. Whatever some ass-backward advice gave for an adventure having three or four or five encounters. Pick that number. Make a couple of them with similarly themed monsters and maybe one rando monster. At the end of those encounters put in a skill check that it tangentially related to the theme. Now, surround it with two pages of background. Include an appendix with “new monsters and three new magic items” that are nothing by generic. Put in a small lair dungeon with about a dozen rooms and fill them with 75% of your monsters, leaving one encounter for a hook and one for the journey to the dungeon.
That’s my guaranteed success 5e/Pathfinder adventure generator!
But I would still have to write at least 30 pages, for that. To much work for the payout, and I can’t even do it for the creative/intellectual challenge. Why bother?
Are you going to test this theory out, a la Black Maw?
I can see, now, a streak of cruelty in you sir!
And when I read your message I was sorely tempted … but it would be intentionally producing something bad? Is there a framing that makes it good?
Good is in the eye of the beholder. You might find it to be awful but I’m sure it would still get at least 4-1/2 stars on drivethru.
(also, are you going to be releasing more levels of Black Maw or is that all there is?)
I’ve got another level almost done. Then I have some work on my book to do, then I think a town and wilderness level outside the dungeon, etc.
Are you sure you just didn’t have other players to explore the svenario with you? You sure you’re not just grumpy about that?
argumentum ad hominem
“Typically refers to a fallacious argumentative strategy whereby genuine discussion of the topic at hand is avoided by instead attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself.”
Bryce, your first mistake was buying a Pathfinder adventure. That system is the antithesis of old school design philosophy and you know that.
But it doesn’t have to be! And there are some good 5e adventures! Why can’t there be good Pathfinder adventures hiding in the cesspool?
Have you found any good Pathfinder adventures? I can’t remember. At least the designers of 5e gave it somewhat of a nod to old school design. However, that hasn’t really translated into good adventure design by many of the people churning out dreck for 5e. Yeah, a few stalks of wheat buried in a mountain of chaff. Pathfinder, on the other hand, makes no allusions to old school design in any way, shape or form. Pathfinder was built on the bones of D&D 3x and you are well aware of the state of most 3x adventures. Meanwhile, you still haven’t reviewed these two Keith Sloan adventures. Good stuff
Interesting. I’m going to review sea lords soon, and I’ve been thinking about splitting off the 5e/path stuff from the main blog. The main blog would be OSR and I’d have a splinter blog with 5e/path. To keep up three a week though that commits me to writing three more a week. And I just started rdr2, learning fiddle, and am deep in to my daily 2-hr of Spanish lessons. While trying to make progress on my D&D related non-review writing. Gimme til the end of the year to figure things out.
I suppose there could be but why wade through a mountain of chaff to find one or two stalks of wheat? All you do is complain when (SHOCKER!) you’re disappointed. Aren’t there better options? There are a couple Keith Sloan Advanced Adventures modules that were recently released that you haven’t reviewed yet despite saying that you added them to your to do list.
Of course, just because an adventure is labeled as “old school” it’s no guarantee of quality but if you’re going to waste your time with Pathfinder (a system built on the bones of D&D 3x) then you might as well track down some old 3x modules and review those. As far as 5e is concerned, at least the designers gave somewhat of a nod to old school when they created the system but that doesn’t mean, and you are well aware of this, that adventure designers take that to heart when creating adventure content.
Weird, I thought my first reply got eaten by internet gremlins so I created another reply, and now both are here. (sigh)
Yeah, gotta agree with Vecna here. It’s bad enough that you’re reviewing 5e adventures and lamenting the lack of old-school style: now you’re starting on Pathfinder? Might as well grab Star Fleet Battles modules while you’re at it.
I really enjoy the Pathfinder and 5e stuff. There are a few of us out here who run very OSR Pathfinder games, and finding the gems amongst the dreck is important. Bryce has several Pathfinder and 5e modules on his best list (e.g. Book of Teniel) and I’d have never known about them without his reviews.
There’s dozens of us!
Looking specifically for Pathfinder and 5e stuff to convert back to old school seems odd and counter intuitive. There are TONS of great adventures written for old scholl rules sets and clones that would be usable with little to no conversion needed.
I think there are Pathfinder diamonds in the rough if you look hard enough. Your settlement invaded by humanoids, and your group leading the resistance movement? That is Ironfang Invasion. Shanghaied and put to work on a pirate vessel, later escaping on your own ship? The Wormwood Mutiny. Pretending to be a noble, trying to command a community by making friends with influential people, solving local problems, and reinvigorating the area? War for the Crown: Scion, Songbird, Saboteur. Acting in a play where the performers die for their art? The Sixfold Trial. All potentially exciting ideas. A pity that Pathfinder’s presentation tends to smother them.
And that’s the inherent problem with Pathfinder adventure design philosophy. Some potentially good ideas smothered by a mountain of words. Trying to wade through that with a highlighter simply isn’t worth my time. Give me a Pathfinder adventure that embraces Bryce’s terse and evocative ideas, and is not a linear hackfest. I’ll give that a look. If you want to write a novel then save that shit for your book.
Book of Terniel. It’s reviewed here and considered one of the best. Frankly in many ways better than some of the OSR ones rated highly here (looking at you all the troll lord games adventures with weird names and walls of text).
I just re-read the Book of Terniel review. Seems like a much better PF product than your typical PF product but I don’t know. It’s still a butt ton of pages and would require several reads and highlighting as Bryce notes.
The content is pretty concise and well worth the money.
I so much agree with you on Pathfinder – good ideas, even good setups but constricted and smothered by everything else.
I just picked up the Paizo adventure Daughters of Fury fairly cheaply, and it’s like the platonic ideal of a Pathfinder adventure. An interesting set-up, lots of (unavoidable) combat and some challenging non-combat encounters, horribly bogged down by its insistence on giving the entire life history of every NPC and their dead ancestors. The initial multiple-page introduction is so overly-detailed and unnecessary (you could replace it with two sentences and not lose anything you need to run the adventure) it is bordering on parody.
I’d mention it on Bryce’s to-do list thread, since I think there is a good, straightforward adventure at the heart of this module and I’d be interested to see if he agrees – but I don’t think he’d make it past the introduction …