The Fires of Mount Surtur

By Grant Hoeflinger
Mad martian Games
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 3-5

Welcome to Mount Surtur. Once home of the evil fire giant lord Hadel, now said to be an empty tomb over a long dormant volcano. But evil omens predict danger and treasure within. Something evil is stirring, and something foul lurks within. Can you survive the Fires of Mount Surtur?

This eighty page adventure features a three-ish level dungeon with about sixty rooms. If someone were to ask me “what does the usual bad adventure look like?” then I would point at this adventure. Extensive useless backstory, embedded history in rooms, read-aloud that is too long, and almost nothing more than hacking down monsters and “the usual” traps that take too much text to describe. 

Many bad aventures share the same bad traits. A group of these tend to fall together and create what I like to call “the usual bad adventure.” A typical complaint of published adventures i that they are hard to use in play; it takes a lot of prep work and notes to make them playable and understandable. They are too long and hard to use at the table. Many MANY adventures fall in to this category, so many that I would group them as “the usual.” 

The traits that make this happen are pretty well known at this point (which would beg the question: why the fuck do writers still do it?) Read-aloud. Read-aloud has been a discussion since the early days. There’s nothing inherently WRONG with read-aloud … except for the fact that it’s implemented incorrectly in about 99% of adventures that use it. This adventure illustrates that fact. Read-aloud here is long. Multiple paragraphs in many rooms and a paragraph in most. People don’t listen to long read-aloud. Do you know why players are not their phone? Because you’re monologuing in a game that should be about interactivity between players and DM. You get two, maybe three sentences of read-aloud before players stop listening to you. It’s a fact; WOTC did an informal experiment/observation at a GenCon and reported on it. (I think it’s linked in my review standards page … although the fuckers seem to move the article location every few years in order to break my link. grrr…) Your read aloud, if you use it, needs to be short and evocative. 

You know what it DOESN’T need to do? It doesn’t need to tell players what they think. And it doesn’t need to force the players actions. “You feel cold as you …” No, I don’t. “As you pull aside the curtain …” No, I didn’t, I used Wizard Eye. “You feel like … “ No, I don’t feel. Stop fucking telling me what my character does, feels, thinks. The point of this is write so that I, the players, DO feel cold, gloomy, etc. Don’t fucking TELL, instead SHOW. This adventure TELLS over and over again in it’s read aloud. Long read-aloud. TELL read-aloud. BAD ADVENTURE WRITING.

Then comes the DM text, another staple of the usual bad adventure. The players enter the room. Th DM reads the three paragraphs of read-aloud. The players are already on their phones. Then the DM looks down and starts to read the column or page long room description. Several minutes later the DM find two players on the XBOX. Well no shit. The DM text CANNOT be long. Or, rather, it can be, but it has to be organized in such a way that the DM doesn’t have to read the entire thing in order to run the room. “The usual” bad adventures pad out their DM text. They tell the DM what the room used to be used for. What the architects name was. The meal he had on a Tuesday three hundred years ago. In short, the room description is padded out with trivia that doesn’t matter RIGHT NOW. The purpose of the adventure is not to have a fully fleshed out history that makes sense. The purpose is for the party to adventure in it. SOME detail can contribute to that, but there’s a difference, it has to be relevant to the adventure at play. The only fucking reason we care about the original use of the room is if it impacts play now IN A SERIOUS MANNER. Now look, I’mnot talking about sticking a line that says “Former bedroom.” Sure, as a DM i can then stick in some torn up bedclothes or something. Fine. I’m talking about multiple sentences describing the former use of the room, or other useless trivia. 

This adventure does all of that and I consider it unrunnable because of that.

But, let’s say it DIDN’T do that …

It’s still a bad adventure. Almost every encounter is a hack. Just jump in to combat, many of them triggered from the read-aloud. That’s not interactivity. Throwing in a couple of traps is not interactivity. D&D is not about getting in to fights. Fight after fight after fight after fight after fight. That’s not fun. Opening an iron maiden. Fucking with a glowing pool. That’s fun. But that interactivity is almost universally NOT present in this adventure. This is a stereotypical D&D adventure: killing things. D&D was never about that, but that’s what this is about.

Other issues: there’s a shaft straight down on the first level to a pool of lava deep in the heart of the complex. You can see a small island.  You can’t climb the sides because its obsidian smooth. Ok. Fine. And what if I fly? There’s no consideration of other methods of descent. Rope anyone? How long is it down? Where does it go? Nope. Not here. All of those monsters, almost all of them intelligent and a part of a tribe, with the different ribes working together … how do they react to incurions? You’ll never know … no advice given to the DM on helping them run this. AND NO FUCKING LEVEL IN ThE PRoDUCT DeSCRIPTION ON DRIVETHRU. PUT IN T A FUCKING LEVELS DESCRIPTION!

I could go on. Twenty pages of front-loaded backstory. Three pages to have the village chief assign the mission. No use of ANY formatting to help the DM. 

Platonically bad adventure.

This is $10 at DriveThru … and made $3k on a kickstarter! I swear, I should just grab another alias and crank out bad shit for kickstarter. Anyway, the preview is six pages. You get to see five ages of essentially empty pages, title pages, etc, and one page (of many) of backstory. So, it’s a useless preview, giving you no idea what the adventure is actually like. 

Life is pain.

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26 Responses to The Fires of Mount Surtur

  1. Anonymous says:

    You are a patient person.

    Thanks for all your reviews. They are more entertaining than the adventures in many cases. I appreciate that you revisit your expectations time and again. No review stardards drift here.

    I’d be interested in reviews of older classic modules if you’re ever so inspired

    • Sean says:

      Meh, reviews of the old modules already exist aplenty. Besides, Bryce’s tastes run a bit counter to the classics, so I’d rather he not bother pissing off most of us. It’s the vomit train of new adventures from which we really need his protection.

  2. Ice says:

    Not all sharts come from the ass of 5e

  3. Anonymous says:

    Agreed, the typos were horrendous. It made me question the reliability of the writer as a qualified judge of quality.

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      You know, I can tell when two posts come from the same IP address, even when you post anonymously. I can only assume that you are the designer, Grant, trying to support your original comment with another anon sock, having a fake conversation with yourself.

      Also, you seem to have banned/hidden your Facebook Ice Kingdoms group from me when I asked to join this morning, in order that I might respond better to your comments that you made there this morning.

      Neither of those actions are conducive to presenting yourself in a good light as a publisher/designer. They come across as someone very defensive.

      I invite you to join the design forum (link to your right in the sidebar) and post your comments there. It’s a pretty supportive place.

      • Anonymous says:

        Ice Kingdoms put a link to your site as reference after their rebuttal comments. But it’s got a typo – .com instead of .org

        I liked Chris Barnhardt’s Sea Kings product fwiw. I think that’s the same publisher.

      • Jeff V says:

        I had a look at the Facebook page, and the author makes some reasonable points in defence of the adventure, as well as some points that are effectively agreeing to disagree with Bryce’s review standards.

        However, I hadn’t realised “Gatekeepers like Lynch … think they are an authoritarian voice for the OSR”.

        From my point of view, a positive review on this site makes me likely to buy a product. A negative review doesn’t make me less likely to buy a product, since usually I wouldn’t have heard of it in the first place if Bryce hadn’t taken the trouble to review it.

        • squeen says:

          I don’t have a Facebook account, so I probably should keep my big trap shut…BUT (feel free to stop reading here)…the “gatekeeper” thing is getting a bit old in general. A new Scarlet Letter to brandy about and discount anyone with an opinion. I’m pretty sure Bryce hasn’t ever claimed to speak for anyone except himself.

          He has garnered followers because he is prolific, clear on his criteria, and reasonably consistent. (Let’s not forget shells out a bunch of dough from his own pocket and let’s us sponge off him for free entertainment). Designers should be tickled that someone has bothered to read there amateur product and gone a step further to write about it. (…and most are)

          If what Ron says is true, it sounds more like a knee-jerk reaction to criticism—and we’ve seen much better tact from other authors when swallowing the bitter pill of negative feedback. I think there are two high roads you can take—either shrug and say “You can’t please everyone”, or try and take some of the critiques to heart and either acknowledge that improvement’s could be made…or realize you have a different vision for your art and humbly stick to your guns.

          With regard to type-o: Bryce is churning out a massive number of reviews—more reviews that I’ve ever written even measly comments in cyberspace! What do you want? Fewer errors or more content? The man’s time is finite—you can’t have both. I choose the latter, and “Let ye who has never sinned cast the first stone!”

          Hail Hydra!
          (Sorry, didn’t know how to end my rant, and that’s the first thing that popped into my mind.)

          • LL says:

            Yeah, the author’s reaction is ridiculous. Bryce has no connection to any big names, he’s not some twitter tabletop celebrity. He’s just a guy with a blog that gets maybe five, ten comments per article tops (as opposed to, I dunno, someone with enough presence to raise $3k on Kickstarter). And he’s open about having incredibly specific and personal standards. Imagine thinking he’s an “authoritarian gatekeeper” for daring to think your stuff sucks and doesn’t fit those preferences of his!

            THAT BEING SAID… I think he could afford to turn spellcheck on. >:P
            (And actually, I’m sure he could find someone who’d be happy to proofread his articles for free!)

  4. Ron says:

    Heh the typos are a feature, ’tis true. I know that author’s name (designer’s name?) but I don’t see any other reviews for him, though you’ve done a couple for Mad martian. It seems like they don’t like to put recommended levels on their product descriptions, though they definitely like old school systems. I’ll have to search the webs for Grant to see where I know that name. 🙂

  5. Ice says:

    I like the typos. Don’t stop making them, Bryce.

    • Anon says:

      While you’re here; were there any criticisms in the review that you agree with or will at least take into consideration?

      • Ice says:

        Me? Sure.

        I didn’t buy this, but I took a look at the preview.The following pertains only to the first 10 pages that are in the in the preview.

        the first page is a summery and a map. the map is fun to look at. It would be useless to for DM because the rooms are not numbered, but I assume it’s supposed to be a handout to the players and it would make a good handout indeed, especially if something the players wanted was marked on the map.

        The next part in the preview is the backstory. If I was actually going to try to run this module at a table, I’d just skip the backstory entirely because it is too hard to convey it to the players without memorizing it, and there is way too much here to memorize here. If the sections called “Cult of Hadel,” “Hadel: Titan and Demigod,” “The Cult Forms,” and “After Hadel’s Death” were reduced to around 10 bullet points total, it would be a lot easier to use as a DM.

        Story-telling aids are much more useful than actual stories for DMing.

        The last part of the preview are descriptions of the factions.These would benefit greatly from being reduced too. Again, if i was DMIng this, i would probably never reference this page because there is too much description. Each faction has almost three paragraphs of description. This is way too much to easily be conveyed to the players. 3-6 sentences per faction would be more than enough.

        A module should be a tool that easily spark imagination, not a textbook that tell you every detail.

        • PyroArrow says:

          Nothing wrong with going into detail. It’s up to the DM on how to convey it. If there is backstory or history, you can either print it out and hand it out, or gradually give bits and pieces to the players via NPC’s or found scrolls and textbooks.

          • Ice says:

            In practice, the more details you pile on, the more mental work it is for the DM. Nothing about the preview of this adventure looks like it would be easy to use. You’d have to memorize so much stuff. Printing out the backstory and handing it to your players seems like a decent idea, especially if ‘knowledge’ is something they’ve been questing for. But I’ve never printed out anything for the players to read except a really short campaign setting (that they never even read). However, the idea of printing out the backstory and giving it to the players doesn’t make this look any more usable to me.

  6. Reason says:

    I had assumed it was a troll comment, given the glaring typo in the anti-typo post… Maybe I;m too generous.

  7. Dave says:

    The typos are in no way a feature. This review was far from the worst, but sometimes they’re so bad it’s hard to tell what Bryce is trying to say.

    As always though, I am grateful for the reviews. I’d hate to drop $10 on something not up my alley.

  8. Bigby's Affirmative Consent Lubed Fist says:

    Welcome to Mount Surtur. Once home of the evil fire giant lord Hadel

    I find this particularly hilarious.

  9. PyroArrow says:

    The “Ice Kingdoms” setting is all currently on sale! Snatch it up!

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