War of Wolves

By CS Barnhart
Mad Martian Games
No Level Given

The peaceful villages of Eastern Thanegard are under attack. Fenrir raiders have taken up arms against Einheriar colonists. Or have they? And if they have can they be stopped? These are the tasks Thane Egil has assigned to a small band of adventurers. Travel east, interview the victims, track down the culprits and deliver the Thane’s Justice. But all isn’t what it seems and foul sorcery and blood thirsty revenge may be behind the recent uprisings. Can the brave adventurers uncover the truth and stop further bloodshed, or will war consume them and the Thanelands?

This 26 page adventure is a hunt for wolf barbarian raiders who are a whopping and a whoomping every living thing in town. It’s core ideas are decent, if not good, but the designer has, rather euphemistically, no idea how to write an adventure.

Essentially, you’ve got some bandits who are impersonating the local Wolf Barbarians. They rob and raid, leaving the blame on the barbarians. The thane has you assigned to stop the wolf barbarian raids. You figure out it’s bandits about the same time you’re slaughtering them, and then face down the leaders and an evil wizard allied with them. It’s an oldie of an idea, but still a goody.

The execution in the idea is what is lacking. There’s a regional map provided, for the party to explore. But there’s no scale provided. The adventure mentions hexcrawling  the map, but, again, no scale on it. The map, which has incorrect location keying on it (Editor!), lays out a number of locations and and provides for some wanderers, even with a little color to them. But then the locations, proper, are then laid out in “plot” order. First the village that was just burned. Then the village that will be burned the next night. Then the bandit camp. Then the bandit HQ. Then the evil wizards lair. You’re clearly meant to do the adventure in this order. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, except in the mismatched styles used.

It’s initially laid out like a sandbox. It’ mentions hexcrawling. But then it switches styles to linear plot adventure. Then, the five actual locations, are detailed in a very conversational format, like it was a plot adventure. This is the village. These are the people. These are the reaction rolls. Then the baddies show up. Then the baddies do this and this. Then a fight starts. The next encounter on the linear path will detail consequences, like questioning people from the last encounter that leads to this encounter … at least sometimes it does that.

NPC’s and local color are very inconsistent. The first village, burned out, gets a few NPC’s to talk to. The wanderers have at least a little color to them. But then the second village, not burned down yet, gets no local color or NPC’s at all. Then, the integration of the “events” in to the main text, in long paragraph form, just like how all other information is presented, makes following the adventure hard. You need to hunt to pick out information. Or maybe you don’t if you just run it like a linear railroad, running “one paragraph” at a time. 

And then information for the DM is inconsistent. At one point you can track baddies. “How many” is a natural question for a player to ask. Nothing provided for the DM to help them. Or, where do the tracks go? At least some page cross-references would have helped. Instead turn to encounter three and do the math, provided you remembered that encounter three, which you have no reached yet, has the formula for calculating how many baddies. And then, the placement of the “questioning of the prisoners” in the NEXT section is weird as fuck. It’s not actually the next location, it’s more “what happens after the last battle” formatting. Weird as all fuck, that.

Information is sometimes spread out over pages that makes it hard to follow. Guy’s Chaotic Henchman blog had that excellent series of articles on basic layout that would have helped with that.

I think perhaps beefing up the wilderness section with scale would have helped. Describing the villages, bulleting out or using whitespace to call attention to differing sections and important information would have helped. Sticking “event” information in a separate section for each location, or at the end, would have helped. Adding more local color to the locations and/or sticking in NPC’s would have helped. Handing this adventure off to other DM’s to run and then really interviewing them to ensure you understand what was confusing and what thir problems were would have helped.

I shall make no mention of the 8th level wizard, by himself, with 42hp. WTF is the CON on that dude?!

But, it does have some interesting design. If the designer can learn how to write, edit, layout, and form coherent sections then this guy could be going somewhere. Those are all skills you can learn, I think, much more easily than coming up with good ideas, which they have already.

Also, THERES NO FUCKING LEVEL PROVIDED FOR THIS ADVENTURE! We the consumers, are generally buying an adventure based on level. It needs to go in the DriveThru description, and maybe put it in your level AND in the adventure title page also, for future reference.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is the first six pages. So you don’t get to see anything of the actual encounters, but you do get to see the regional map and some of the “page overrun” formatting issues. Show some encounters in your preview. That’s what the preview is for: to give us an idea if your “real” writing style is worth the $5 to us. And the “background” information is generally seldom representative of encounter style.


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18 Responses to War of Wolves

  1. Sevenbastard says:

    I remember back in the day running a 1e adventure I wrote and right before an encounter with a 10th level wizard i realized i hadn’t rolled his hit point. I said hold on guys I forgot to roll some hit points. And one of the players George not knowing what the encounter was said we are fine if it’s just 5 per hit dice to keep the game moving. I said ok sure and gave the wizard 50 hitpoints. When they complained later how hard the wizard was to kill I told them they could blame George and they did.

    Maybe this wizard is a result of George, God of Egregious Wizard Hit Points.

    Or more likely a 5e hold over with +1 con bonus. The math would be 7 at first level 5 at each additional level which fits.

    • Robert, OSR Heretic says:

      Bryce has written before that if you want to do something, just do it, don’t try to make it logical through the rules. That was mainly a complaint of his back when he was reviewing Dungeon magazine and its ‘magic renfaire bullshit’.

      But I think the latter is probably what happened. This must’ve been made for a different system and reverted back to OSRIC. A 1e edition magic user would have an average of 25 hit points.

      (I’m glad Bryce hasn’t found my comment on Black Maw at DriveTHRU, or he’d probably ban me like that Kent fellow!)

      • LL says:

        While a magic-user with +2 CON has only a 4% chance to have 42 HP or more, a magic-user with +3 CON has a 78% (!) chance to have 42 HP or more.

        Doesn’t sound all that wild to me provided he has +3 CON. Makes sense to me that high level NPCs are the ones who’ve managed to survive thanks to high stats.

        • Robert, OSR Heretic says:

          Depends on which system you’re running too, though. IIRC only the fighter and its sub-classes in 1e were allowed to have Con bonuses to hit points above +2. I don’t think B/X and its clones have this restriction though.

          • Shuffling Wombat says:

            I believe OSRIC only allows +2 hit points per hit die for magic-users; an 18 CON in B/X gets +3. If the (presumed 16 CON in OSRIC/AD+D) magic-user had only a few less hit points, say 38, it becomes a much better chance (around 32%).
            Of course an old school magic-user might have eaten one of those magic apples that turned your hair orange and gave you 1d4 extra hit points.

          • LL says:

            Oh yeah, that’s for B/X and derivatives. Didn’t remember those CON restrictions, for what I’ve skimmed of 1e and its retroclones, thanks for the correction.

      • CS says:

        In their a 1E 8th level magic user with a 16 or better constitution could have up to 48 hit points (8d4+16). Using rule of averages a d4 nets 2.5 hit points per level. If you let players star with maximum hit points, as many people do, the average at 8th level is 22. While it is highly unlikely to have 42 hit points it isn’t impossible. Especially as a dual classed character.

      • Edgewise says:

        Ha, Kent had to practically murder a pope to get banned. I think you’re safe for comparing Black Maw to Castle Greyhawk.

  2. Lord Mark says:

    It strikes me, as I ponder over the complexities of my secret spampire kingdom that making functional regional sandbox requires more then 1 faction. I’m not fond of Viking werewolf settings under any circumstance – reskinning every village “mayor” as a thane or jarl amd a bit of runic font doesn’t make something an icelandic saga. Feelings about setting aside, a regional sandbox only comes alive when there’s some relationships in it for the players to interact with and upset. Here it sounds like there’s a bandit coalition, the PCs and a distant “questgiver” with some utterly defenseless villagers to save.

    As a scenario that may be simple and straightforward, but it’s a very shallow sandbox. Even my well run operation is a constant balancing act: juggling the needs of my SEOmancers, Subscription Thralls and lesser Spampires – all have power, all have unholy desires for dominion. A good regional sandbox, or even a good non-lair location, needs at least some level of faction complexity.

    From the review there seems to be none of this – leaving a flat slog from direct confrontation to direct confrontation, without room for intrigue and complexity. Even the bandits’ disguises become functionally meaningless because they effect nothing without the risk angry settlers retaliating against wolf barbarians and plunging the region into conflict.

  3. Gone Barleycorn says:

    The ‘Ol Number 6 treatment, eh?

  4. CS says:

    Thanks for the review. I see it wasn’t thought highly of. I’m not here to defend it or counter your comments. But I do want to clarify the hit points issue. Azra-Loki is a dual class character. Before becoming a wizard after he was a 5th level fighter. Thus his hit points at the climax of the adventure are 5d10+3d4 (1d10 per level of fighter, 1d4 per level of magic user over 5).

    I appreciate you taking time out of your schedule to give the adventure a try. Even if it wasn’t to your liking. I will keep your comments and critique in mind as I move forward with the Ice Kingdoms.

    • Luke says:

      As someone who is very happy with Ice Kingdoms, I’d like to thank you for giving me the setting, supporting it with content, and, as I see here, listening to critique to make the Ice Kingdoms better.

      Even as a fan, I agree wholeheartedly with what Bryce is saying about the presentation. The editing is sloppy, I need to rearrange and clarify a lot of stuff myself before I run it. It’s still worth my time and trouble, but I often run something that’s half as good, because it’s still good enough and immediately usable after an hour of prep.

      My best wishes to the whole crew behind Mad Martian Games.

      • CS says:

        Thanks for the support. You know, very few adventures I buy can be used as is. I’ve spent hours and hours working on published adventures to get them ready for play. I should keep that in mind as I work on my own material.

        I am looking over War of Wolves to see what Bryce is saying. Though I don’t 100% agree, I accept that I have a bias and may be defensive. Though I have to be careful to not let one review’s opinion define what I do.

        • Luke says:

          Oh, I do know that few adventures can be used as is. As I wrote, I consider an adventure perfectly usable if it requires one hour of prep before every session. It seems like a reasonable amount of time, and there are so many examples of this level of decency, that I don’t think it’s impossible to aim for.

          Be careful not to let a single reviewer define what you should do, but some things are sad facts, rather than just opinions. A single look at the map tells me that there was little to no proofreading done here. “The Village of Zulern” is listed as 1 and 7, the constant “See Encounter Three”, “See Encounter Four” does not look good (even page numbers would be more useful). Consecutive sentences starting with but (“But never let the dice dictate role playing. But don’t punish characters…”) suggest sloppy or nonexistant editing.

          Encounter Three contains a note that “if the characters capture one of the bandits during Encounter Two” they might persuade the bandit to give up their allies. Since this is relevant to the bandit raid in Encounter Two, why is there no mention of it there? Again, it looks like someone thought of it when writing Encounter Three, and no editing was done afterwards to move it to a right place.

          Page 24 contains multiple examples of rushed, unedited writing. “Those familiar with (…) will be familiar with”. “Could they interfere other ways?”. “cluing them in”. All of this is stuff easily spotted by a proofreader.

          If you are willing to update the PDFs afterwards, I can do a re-read of the adventures I own and send you a list of typos I find. This would make the modules a bit more polished, and I think they deserve it. More people should know and run this setting. I think it’s great.

  5. CS says:

    That would be appreciated.

    • Luke says:

      Here’s a list of typos in this adventure alone. I have a second list of editing suggestions, but I’ll start with the obvious errors. You definitely need to proofread the stuff more:

      Typos and other obvious errors:

      – “on the trade route the leads directly” (p. 4)

      – Village of Zulern listed under 1, 1 points to Bandit Camp on the map (p. 6)

      – “several Einheriar travelers” (p. 6)

      – “may come in useful latter” (p. 8)

      – “and an occasional skulls” (p. 8)

      – “sets of footprints leading out the village” (p. 9)

      – “Inside the circle are a line of ancient runes” (p. 9)

      – “scroll remnants little the circle” (p. 9)

      – “She is gruff (…) buts she can drop a hint” (p. 10)

      – “until they submits” (p. 18)

      – “studied for one a week” (p. 18)

      – “they permanently gains” (p. 18)

      – “they were led hear by one of the bandits” (p. 19)

      – “stumble across the hide out by accident” (p. 20)

      – “a seeming frail man” (p. 22)

      I tried to find an email to you or Mad Martian Games, to no avail, so I’m just posting it here. Hopefully, you’ll fix the errors and update the PDF, until then, people interested in this adventure may use it as an errata.

      If you want it, my offer to proofread the rest of the adventures I own is still valid, but I’ll wait until I see that the errors actually get corrected.

  6. CS says:

    You can contact me through Ice Kingdoms Fans on Facebook.

    • Luke says:

      I can’t. It requires a Facebook account. If the changes make it to the PDF, I’ll think of a way to get in touch. All the best to you and the crew in the meantime.

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