The Misty Halls of Kalavorka By R. Nelson Bailey Dungeoneers Guild Games 1e Levels 5-7
A lost vale located in a high mountain range is home to a clan of mysterious giants. Sages believe the giants have strange powers that no other of their kind possesses. Yet, no one has heard anything from these giants in decades. Do they still dwell in their misty fastness? Do they really possess these reputed powers, and if they do, what are they? Crafty giants, evil gnomes, and a weird guardian await any adventurers who go seeking the lost halls.
This 44 page adventure features an overland journey through the mountains ending with a four level dungeon with about thirty rooms that used to be a cloud giants home. Social notes abound and one or two interesting rooms are highlights, while a dense DENSE text, hack-a-thon, and the text density subtracting from usability make this a miss. If you lied Gygax’s later TSR adventures then you’ll like this.
Ok, cloud giant dude lives in the mountains and you’re going to see him for pretext reasons. This is more of a location to drop in, so reasons exist in your game and you dropped this in, which is fine. You journey through fog covered mountains for a week or two, arrive at dudes house, and meet his fog giant servants. Who eventually attack you if you don’t attack them. Turns out dude is dead.
R. Nelson has created something that trends close to the simulationist side of AD&D without going over the line. Multiple encounters have a social aspect to them, folk react the way you would expect and are doing things you would expect. It feels like a realistic environment … if that environment had giants and such in it. And then it has a room or two of weirdness in the end is one of the better, if not best, representations of the ethereal plane and other dimensions that I’ve seen. So mundane adventure. And then the end is weird, much like Tharizdun.
Wilderness encounters, both random and set, as well as rooms in the manor are relatively lengthy, taking up a column or a quarter column is not uncommon. This generally involves some sort of reaction roll and social encounter notes and then maybe some monster tactics porn. The concepts behind both these are good but their execution is lacking. This is how the Berserker tribes reacts to you, and if you do this then they react that way. These short notes are great. Likewise, combats starting with the baying of the yeth hounds from a distance … great evocative notes. And in fact the adventures writing is at its best when it is dealing with those more evocative areas. It then, though, devolves in to overly prescriptive text, with the tactics porn being a good example of this. First the monster casts this spell then they do this. Then they cast that spell then they do that. These overly prescriptive parts of the adventure are not the best. Skippable, yes, but …
The writing and layout choices in this thing makes my head hurt. The font, spacing, kerning, font size, and layout all seem to contribute to an extreme feeling of DENSITY of text. This is then combined with those prescriptive paragraphs. This is then further exacerbated by a more conversational tone in places and brief sentences or phrases about history and purpose of rooms, areas, etc. Brief adds up. It all combines with a lack of good bolding and whitespace use to create long sections that feel like wall of text. When my eyes can’t focus on the text that’s not good.
“Thorogang’s ancestors designed this octagonal room to thwart uninvited visitors to the complex. This area holds a large pool, and four false doors.” This is the main description for the Chamber of the Pool, room two in dudes house. Note how it tells us nothing. We already know its octagonal, and has four false doors, from the map. We know it has a pool, from the map. The history of the room doesn’t contribute to the running of the adventure for the players in any way. This is a bad description in every way. There are seven more paragraphs to this room to dig through. The only thing uncommon about this room is that the initial description is a bit short and not wholly representative of the writing.
The text is padded out. “Furthermore …” or “Simultantionaly two things happen …” This all leads to the extreme length of the text which further contributes to the wall of text issues. Other rooms repeat text. Bobs sitting room is the title of the room and the first sentence tells us that the room is Bobs sitting room. This shit matters; it contributes to the eyes glazed over thing going on in this, and that’s not good. In the end we’re left with writing that is quite long, for a variety of reasons, but not that evocative.
But there are some good things going on in this which makes the rest of the issues a shame. There’s a decent order of battle presented for the giants, and the briefer tactics notes (maybe “guidelines”) are appreciated. But the general text length and formatting makes it hard to take advantage. Likewise the emphasis on social elements is great. Encounters are likely to start with some kind of social element and then perhaps devolve in to combat. This FEELS right. The design here is pretty strong, if not the execution. The baying of the Yeth Hounds and brief little occasional sentences describing fallen and ruined gates, the entrance to the mountain steps of the cloud giant manor, these are section that are short, a sentence or two, and quite evocative. Maybe a little on the drier side, as the entire adventure is (probably due to the length of the text) but you can see these flashes of good text in it that INSPIRE You to run a great encounter. It just doesn’t fucking happen far enough.
A special shout out to the last couple of encounters in this. There’s a brief otherworldly/ crystalline entity room, with some ethereal shit going on in the room right before it. This combines with excellent use of a Thought Eater and some imagery ideas that are quite good. Again, execution could be better, but the ideas are sounds and the imagery that IS present is pretty good, you can recognize it without squinting too hard. Silvery puddles of liquid on the floor … hmmm, I sure that’s ok …
In thinking about this I am reminded both of the wilderness section of Tharizdun (or was is Lost Caverns?) and the steading in G1. There’s an overland travel journey in this and then a giant home that is mostly a tactical hack with the giants using hit and run tactics and making a last stand in a certain room, etc. And like Tharizdun, Lost caverns, and the Steading, most encounters are combat, with a little social roleplaying thrown in, generally based on reaction rolls. Exploration and Interactivity are on the low because of this and, I would suggest, essentially non-existent, comparing it to the interactivity, or perhaps type of interactivity, found in G1.
One of the better Dungeoneers Guild products, if you thought Tharizdun was the pinnacle of adventure design then you’ll probably like this.For me, it comes off too day and too wordy/hard to use.
This is $7 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages. It’s just the first five pages though and doesn’t show you any of the encounters, so it’s hard to really tell about the writing style and encounter style. I think, though, that if you read that fourth and fifth page of the preview you can get an kind of idea as to the general writing style and formatting issues. If you can handle that and the review seems appealing then you’ll no doubt like this.
Also, Dungeoneers Guild adventures seem to be getting better. Which is GREAT!