By Matija Pilepic Eight Pointed 5e Level 3
Blood on the traitors’ hands never dried. Instead, it flowed from Cup until it bathed the temple and valley in a flood of profane holy blood, thick and dark and hateful. Life withered and rocks crumbled under the weight of sin. And when the last of the murderers’ grandchildren died, Cup of Hands stopped bleeding.
This fourteen page adventure features twenty rooms in five pages. It’s a delightful surprise of evocative text, interesting situations, and usability. It can also be maddening at times. This designer, their first effort, is about 80% of the way to Rock Star.
There’s some backstory here and, in fact, I’ve replaced the normal publishers blurb with a paragraph from the backstory, which I find much more interesting. A gods avatar, murdered, three holy relics stolen, one, the Cup of Hands, flowing with blood, as the blurb states. Pretty fucking badass. The entire backstory, in one column that’s a super fast read, is written in this almost mythic style. It sets the place up well, creating a vibe immediately in the DM that gets them oriented. They then view the rest of the adventure through that lens, that feeling that the designer has imbued in to them, and everyone benefits as a result.
Creatures are unique. There are only two stat block present in the adventure, for Blood Bests and Voiceless. Voiceless, with a name that harkens back to the Madlands, are some kind of zombie undead and/or puppet undead. Blood Beasts are composite creatures, hybrids each different. This is represented by two d12 tables that modify the base stat block and give some physical attributes. A centipede with long rubbery arms, for example, giving +AC and Venom from the centipede, -AC and +Range from the arms. A new stat block format is used, with the intent of being clear. And it IS clear and concise, easy to read. The designer saw something they didn’t like, traditional stat blocks, and did something about it. This is a thinking person. I might quibble some with the random hybrid table. It’s inclusion is good but I might have included a one page summary sheet of fifteen or so beasts, rolled on the table, with their stats already adjusted. I like the option of random, for further expanded play, but I also want something I can use NOW.
There are a couple of other appeals to randomness in the adventure. Rooms have a 33% chance for a random “evocative element” to be present, like howling wind, etc. Again, I might have just done this up front; the random element adds nothing. There’s also some random “number of creatures appearing” in various rooms. So instead of 3 Blood Beasts it’s d4 Blood Beasts. Again, functionally no difference and the random element adds little.
But, a major feature of this adventure is both the evocative writing and the formatting used. I’ll reproduce the first room here, in toto:
1. TWISTING ENTRANCE
• Fat and grotesque vines and branches
• Wet soft ground soaking through boots
• Heavy damp smell sticking to the skin
Pretty sweet. Wet soft ground, soaking through boots? Fuck Yeah! Fat grotesque vines? Fuck Yeah! The bullet format makes it easy to pick out these individual elements. The strong language imparts the vibe of locale. This isn’t the only way to get an evocative and easily scannable encounter description; there are many paths to that goal. But this one works for this adventure, generally. When you come in the locale for the first time you can hear Blood Beasts feeding on bodies in a courtyard beyond. Fuck Yeah! HEAR! Setting up anticipation and putting people on edge! Excellent use of both language and design principles to create an impact.
The bullet format fails at times because of small things. One room is separated from another by thick vines … but that’s noted in the later room and not the former .. better to note these impediments on BOTH rooms, if you expect people to go both directions, or in the “leaving” room is two rooms are directly connected. There’s also a bullet or two that should be higher up in the list. A black pit in the ground, we’re told, and then later that there’s a Voiceless kneeling in front of it. The pit may be the more detailed feature, but the Voiceless is more noticable and likely what the party will see first. First Things First in encounter description is almost always a good idea. Likewise, monsters could be called out more in the bullets, they sometimes seem to fade in. Mostly, thought, there are points at which things don’t get fully explained. One note tells us that a trap is rearmed, and we’re left to infer from “eyes turned to jewels by electricity”, in a body description, that the trap is electrical. Just another edit pass, perhaps by a third party, would have done the trick, IMO.
The map is another issue entirely. It’s an evocative map, meaning arty. It’s not that’s its bad, or I have no soul, but it’s not as effective as a more traditional map. I’m not saying that a more traditional map should have been used; the more artistic map helps convey the vibe of the adventure and I’m all for overloading and layering a vibe. But there are elements that are not clear. In particular, the connections BETWEEN the various maps. There’s a tunnel in once location, and maybe some stairs in another … but they don’t come across well AT ALL. Further, it’s sometimes hard to tell is things on the map are “artistic” or real features. Again, more clarity is needed, without, hopefully, resorting to a full on traditional map. (Which I like, but clearly the designer is going for something else in this case.)
English is a Second Language here. I didn’t have a problem with the adventure, it’s language use is pretty good. But it can be jarring to some to see preposition drops or some of the weird english plurals mishandled. Again, maybe an editor would help. And, once again, I don’t think it matters enough to be an issue, at all.
This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $4. It’s worth that. The preview is six pages and gives you a good idea of what you’re buying. Nice overview sections with flavour included, as well as room encounters. This is well worth checking out, especially for good, but non-traditional, 5e.
Also, some jackass gave this 3 stars at DriveThru. Pfffft!
Also, man, I gotta finally learn how to use wordpress, this <p> shit is killing me!
Here’s another sample entry. I feel like the vibe, a pool of coagulated dead people?, isn’t really communicated well. The individual elements are strong, but someone the “main” vibe doesn’t come across.
2. POOL OF DEAD COAGULATION
• Outer wall ruined and submerged
• Smell is overpowering
• CON DC12 or vomit for d6 rounds
• Severed arm floating, holds a scrollcase with a random magic spell
• d4 blood beasts lurking below surface
Sounds interesting. How difficult do you think it would be to convert to, say B/X? I’m willing to consider a good 5e adventure but only if the conversion effort would be low.
It wouldn’t be difficult at all, I think. The whole document has only two simple stat blocks (one of which can pretty much be directly translated to Zombie), and a few triggered traps with damage numbers.
To be honest, I thought of making it into a B/X module at first, but because of my greater experience with 5e, I decided to make it with the latter in mind. It was an excercise in reimagining the stat blocks for simplicity’s sake, and also giving my own 5e-familiar groups a sense of the B/X aesthetic through the setting. 🙂
A shame more producers of 5e content don’t take your approach.
That’s a little too terse for me. Your second example with the bulleted text would be much better as a short paragraph. That’s probably why the ‘main’ vibe doesn’t come across. It’s also a little too random I think.
Oddly that’s the perfect amount of detail for me. Especially running it at the table with short to no prep.
That’s awesome. What was that saying from Sly and the Family Stone? “Stroke it to the left, stroke it to the right”? No, that’s not right. Oh yeah, “Different Strokes for Different Folks”.
That’s a sign that Bryce’s review did exactly what it was supposed to do.
Pool of Dead Coagulation is a pretty great name
Author of the adventure here – Thank you very much for the review and comments.
While writing it, I always felt the tension between the need to be evocative and moody with the text, and the need to have a usable table-ready document. I believe this is why some of it is suffering. If I had to choose, I’d rather have clean and functional material than wonderful but dense prose.
To that point, the first draft had room/location key written in paragraphs. Later, I changed it to bullets for the sake of readability, but lost some consistency along the way. 🙂
Thanks again for checking it out!
it’s definitely one of the better rated 5E modules by Bryce, so well done there! Sounds very old school too… I’m a 1E guy, but I might have to check this out. Continued good luck Matija!
Bullet points are cool and all, but not a fan of the mixing of diegetic and mechanical. I can imagine a GM going “Uh, right .. here there’s a pool of .. uh .. blood? .. the outer wall is ruined and submerged.. and uh .. there’s an overwhelming stench .. and you can see a severed arm floating, holding a scroll case with a random .. uh, wait .. a severed arm floating, holding a scroll case. You don’t actually know what’s inside. Also, there are 3 blood beasts lurking below the surface … oh crap, I did it again. Forget I said that. Ahem, right .. You see a large pool of blood, there is a severed arm floating on it holding a scroll case. What do you do?”
When going with bullet points, authors usually forget that there can be further levels of indentation for sub-bullets, which is ideal for differentiating between the stuff you can see immediately vs. the stuff that’s hidden or not immediately apparent.
That is true too. In this case the CON save is indented below the smell description item .. but the d4 blood beasts lurking isn’t indented at all.
Still, a busy/rushed GM shouldn’t need to parse the text to determine which is safe to relay verbatim vs text which is GMs Eyes Only.
Feedback well noted guys. It’s definitely something I’ll look to fix for consistency and readability in further releases / revisions.