By Chainsaw North Wind Adventures AS&SH Levels 6-8
In the far reaches of Hyperborea’s Crab Archipelago lies a small, mountainous island known as Crystal Point. Passing sailors recently have witnessed a crimson glow in Crystal Point’s waters and beams of russet light shining up from its steep cliffs. Too, unusually frequent lightning storms in the area have torn the sky in blinding flashes, shattering the air with their awesome sound. The seedy wharf taverns of Khromarium and elsewhere buzz with these strange tales—some even speculate that Crystal Point may hold the lost treasure of Atlantis!
This 68 pages adventure OOZES with flavour. Primarily a “dungeon” of tunnels & caves, it also includes an island exploration to get there and little social adventure in an “evil” village to learn of the island. It, finally, lives up to the promises made of AS&SH. Flavour & interactivity abounds … diminished only by the layout (and editing?) choices made. Buy More. Buy More Now, and Be Happy!
I was not looking forward to this review. I’m off, and lazy when I’m off work. And it’s an AS&SH adventure, and I’m not fond of those. And a 68 page slog through crap is no fun AT ALL when you have holiday things to do. But wait … what’s this? Talanian didn’t write this? Chainsaw did?Hmmm, He’s on my internal mental list as “Not a complete fucking idiot.” (And to be clear, this ranks right below “Bryce is fanboy Of” … there’s a big gap there that explains many things about me psychologically speaking.) To my delight Chainsaw has finally produced an AS*SH adventure that FEELS like a pulp adventure. It’s full of flavour and action and interactivity and is evocative as all fuck.
A zombie has a map tattooed on his back, or a toothless sailor with glinting eyes grins and shows you a platinum coin, or a noble “of little renown” has gone missing. Even my own fucked up summaries of the hooks communicates some of the awesome of these hooks. Not long, but PACKED with flavour.
And this continues in every part of the adventure. Onboard ship to get an island there’s wandering monsters, of course. I often lament “they attack!” encounters … but these are different. They have flavour. “A group drifts into the party’s path and crawls hand
over hand up their ship’s sides.” or “Giant tentacles burst from the water,
attempting to rip the party’s ship to pieces.” This communicates the encounter vibe well. One short sentence and the DM has something to work with. Evocative writing is important in an adventure, especially these days. Most of us have packed lives. By writing evocatively the designer communicates tone, tenor, flavour of an encounter directly to the DM’s brain, and then the DM can take over and build upon it. Encounter after encounter after encounter does this.
The very first location is an “evil” village. The people paint themselves red, like crabs. It’s full of crab parts. The blacksmith has a birth defect that looks like a crab hand. They keep slaves. They have two dudes in hanging iron cages …errr … one, the other, his brother, was burnt to death in his cage. There’s … oh fuck, why am I even trying. This is place is PACKED. Several subplots in just the opening village. The dude in the cage, another brother trying to free him, the village elders hiding a crab conspiracy (duh …) and a villanous merchant, a … it’s just fucking packed! And the island is also … including a mi-go automaton with rudimentary intelligence that has broken free and is repeating why me WHY ME” over and over again. Fucking Flavour. And, it should be obvious by now: Fucking Interactivity. More than just combat. Telegraphing. Plans to be made. Plots to be foiled. ADVENTURE!
And, as per usual, it’s fucked over by the layout and editing. There ARE cross–references, and bolding, and some indents, all of which make things easier to find. There’s also the usual mania found in all Northwind adventures to laying out every word in a paragraph style. I don’t know if it’s in the designers manuscript or not. But I do know that the editor and “development person” should have done something about it no matter who did it. Unless they did it. In which case BAD! YOU’RE BAD PEOPLE! You can’t just bury information in a quarter page paragraph of small font type. I’m scanning the page, looking for the encounter description. I can’t read a column before relating it to my players. Get it? Do you get it? No? You don’t get it? That’s why it continues to show up in adventure after adventure? Look, I’m not saying you have to sell your soul down the river. What I AM saying is that you need to find another layout and editing style that both works for the “Howard wrote this a hundred years ago and look out layout looks like that!” and “usability at the table for quick scanning.” Do some work and find something that works for you from now on. And keep publishing from people like Chainsaw that know how to write.
I can poke some more holes in this. A reference sheet for NPC’s in the village. A kind of “overview look” for the large open vistas, like when you enter the village, see the island, etc. Landmarks, first things you see, etc.
Chainsaw writes viscerally. You FEEL the encounter, NPC, etc.
Plus, there’s a Lightning Reactor in this adventure. With levers you can pull. FUCK! YES!
This is a great place to adventure and a great adventure module.
This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is broken! Fix the preview!
For what it’s worth, I found this review spot on. Incredibly well done adventure, but would have benefitted from the use of bullet points in addition to the text.
Bryce, The Anthropophagi of Xambaala is another good AS&SH adventure (my opinion, anyways)not written by Jeff T. that does incorporate bullet points in addition to the text. Not quite as evocative as The Lost Treasure of Atlantis but still good none-the-less, and provides a nice campaign starter location.
Now that’s a cover!
And it says what levels it’s for! It’s as if it were written by actual D&D players!
Thanks for the review and feedback! Appreciate it.
Northwind-produced adventures are generally very florid and don’t seem to have any greater Swords and Sorcery feel/vibe to them than those put out by others; they come off as being rather standard-fare. It’s good to hear that Chainsaw’s work seems much better.
Most of the Norhwind modules I’ve looked at have three major flaws with regards to formatting (IMO):
1) Unneeded/undesired border graphics create cramped text.
2) Busy stat blocks…made so by some need to elucidate every last detail and to put things into the preferred AS&SH [insert trademark here] format.
3) Important details taking paragraphs to relate (after stat blocks have been presented.)
Sean makes a good point regarding Anthropophagi’s bullet points – it addresses much of my third complaint [although I would have modified and edited the bullets in that work, somewhat.]
To Jeff’s credit, his modules are eminently usable despite their formatting flaws.
Really looking forward to reading this one when the printed version arrives!
Indeed. Bring on the printed version!
Thirded. One of the very few PDFs I’ll also bother get in print!
I agree with GB…that cover kicks ass!
I agree with the comments regarding layout/formatting made by Bryce and Landifarne. Whilst the index is some help, I would like a brief overview (say one page maximum) of what information is where, how they are connected, and some likely events in play (or details of a playtest). Aside from that this is an imaginative effort, with a swords and sorcery feel. The Best might be stretching things, but well worth a recommendation.
I also enjoyed “Rats in the Walls and Other Perils”: my favourite of the three short adventures was the Brazen Bull, (I believe) also by Chainsaw.
Thanks, SW. I’m now working on something new (an independent, free module), so I appreciate all the feedback on Atlantis from you and others. Will come in handy.
Also, yes, I wrote Brazen Bull. Glad you liked it! It always seems to result in much carnage and hilarity when run, which warms my heart. My good friend Handy Haversack also used it as a funnel, which worked well, he said.
I agree, this is a good adventure but not sure why it made ‘the best’ with the layout/formatting issues Bryce pointed out. I guess if it’s ‘evocative’, that’s what seems to carry the most weight on this site. Definitely going to give this a run though, the maps are great and there is ton-load of stuff happening.
I bought the pdf of the module just the other day based upon this review, the fact that I respect the opinions, perspectives and support that Chainsaw gives on the forums we all visit [my teenage self would say that he’s a “righteous dude”], and the fact that a lot of respectable dudes playtested it over time.
Reading it through, the adventure is very large (easily 3-5 sessions) and is completely packed with innovative material that exudes the Sword and Sorcery vibe that AS&SH has tried to project over the last 6-8 years…and has failed to do time and again. This adventure, however, completely hits that mark.
It is also pleasantly gonzo, in the same sense that ASE and Barrier Peaks were. It fits nicely into that niche and that level of excellence.
It it well written, and descriptions are done in the proper order. That is, a short paragraph of the room’s/encounter’s most pertinent information is given, then the stat blocks, then a bit more info where relevant. The module fully supports table play.
There are three criticisms that I have, and they are relatively minor ones:
First, it is apparent that the text was massaged to introduce unneeded, archaic forms and phrasing…to the work’s detriment. There was no reason to replace “show” with “shew”, “between” with “betwixt”, and so forth [this is done several dozen times.] It feels forced, instead of natural, and I’m certain that it was done after being submitted. David and Jeff need to tone that down a few notches and have a couple respected gents give the drafts a few pass throughs before final publication.
Secondly, about half of the stat blocks could have been whittled down. Some are perfect, while others begin to become ludicrous with all the needless detail [for example, do I really need to know the ability scores of the female pirate captain?] I’d lay 2:1 this was also David’s and Jeff’s doing.
Thirdly, there are two formatting issues that should be rectified: omit all of the needless information and terms [do we really need a glossary at the beginning of the work explaining what MV, AT, ML, etc. mean?]; get rid of the border graphics that cramp the text and make me think of 2E. You really don’t want us thinking of 2E, do you?
Kudos to Chainsaw and, although it’s still a 9/10 in my book, wet noodle slaps to Jeff and David.
Hey man. Thanks for reading and reviewing Atlantis! I appreciate the feedback. I ran this dungeon 17 times for well over 100 people at Gary Con, NTRPG Con and GameHole, always being mindful of what rooms worked (fun) and didn’t work (boring) and making changes accordingly. I like to think that’s shining through!