(5e) DDAL-EB-01 The Night Land

By Shawn Merwin
Level 1

The brokers of Salvation pay good coin for artifacts scavenged from the haunted battlefields of the Mournland. In this nest of cutthroats, daring explorers gather to carve their destinies from the ruins of Cyre. They’ll need all the help they can get: it’s no secret that most scavengers don’t survive their first expedition in the Gray.

This 29 page adventure is a collection of three short “one encounter” adventures in sixteen pages. Set in a kind of post-apocalyptic “Bartertown”/salvage-town bordertown, it has you making trips in to a Forbidden Zone to do short missions. Nice concepts with the whole thing, but the actual implementation is boring. There’s little continuity and the “creative” part of evocative writing is missing.

Ok, so, evidently I’m an asshole. All this time I’ve thought of Eberron as a techno- fantasy setting, kind of RenFaire stuff, which has absolutely no appeal to me at all.  Magic railroads and Sphere of Annihilation toilets and the like. But this adventure seems to imply NOT. This is a kind of post-apocalyptic people living in Bartertown kind of vibe going on, or tries to anyway. A less gonzo Rifts or a Gamma World with some magic tossed in? Fuck yeah I’m in! Maybe it’s just this setting and I’ll gouge my eyes out later when magic Zeppelin races appear. Anyway, there’s this underlying vibe of a barely there town and people salvaging things from The Forbidden Zone.

A cloud bank straight out Fury Road, a little ways off from town. Screaming faces and buildings collapsing sometimes appear in the fog. Fuck Yeah! That’s what I want to see! Talk about a transition to the mythic underworld! The description for the threshold is pretty good and gives this great sense of impending danger and YOU ARE ELSEWHERE NOW. The whole town vibe is enhanced by a little newspaper handout with some decently Orwellian writing that again adds to the mood. “Remember: Sheriff is watching. So keep your troubles outside the outpost.” Orwellian inside but a free for all outside! I’m in! And the newspaper announcing 70% of people who go in don’t come back out? Uh huh uh huh. I’m in LUUUUUUV.

Substantial information is conveyed through bullets, with what you can learn from NPC’s being the primary usage of them. Bolding and section headings, indents and a summary table are all present. And, there’s job board handouts in addition to the newspaper. Very nice. And there’s this little NPC, the leader of a fellow salvage gang, with a great little table of how they know you/how you’re connected to you. “Saved from kneecapping” and the like; the table is full of flavour!

And the entire fucking thing is actually implemented lame as all fuck. 

That NPC reference table? Full of the wrong things. Instead of it being a table that helps you run the NPC’s it’s more a writers reference. “Chaotic Good Human Female Artificer.” Great. How about quirks? Goals? A train? Something to help me actually run the NPC? No. For that you need to reference the text and hope that the designer put in a little offset box for that NPC. The table is ineffectual for its intended purpose.

The three “missions” come from the job board in a tavern. There’s really nothing tying the three together at all … which may be ok, I think, if it’s serving as an introduction to the town and the salvage lifestyle. But then THAT becomes the theming and tie to hold them together, and it’s just not there. It feels like three changes of scenery rather than “my life as a salvage worker on the edge.” And that salvage board … a centerpiece of the adventure and the entire town built around salvage? A boring ass bulletin board in a tavern. No mementoes or shrines to the fallen salvagers, no rituals, nothing. This was a SUBSTANTIAL miss in adding to the “Salvage Life 4EVAR” thing that should be going on in this adventure.

Most of the writing it boring. A ghost train comes across as boring. The writing is just not evocative at all. Now, we should all know by now that I’m NOT looking for a lot of text, but I expect the text that IS present it be interesting and describe the scene/thing in a way that makes it comes alive. “The air around you suddenly fills with cracking, ringing noises. Some of the larger black glass shards twitch and fragment, reforming into lizard- like beasts with maws of razor-sharp glass teeth.” B O R I N G. Nice idea, ozone, crackling, maws of obsidian glass … but a “lizard like creature” is boring, as is anything with the fucking word “Suddenly.” This is poor writing. 

More than that though .. The Mournland, inside the fog cloud, is boring. The fog is a barrier. No dust storms. No 70% death rate. No littered landscape. Just more featureless plains. And no wanderers. No hint of danger. I was excited for this shit! “In the morning of the second day of travel …” It’s not even the slow burn of Stalker or Annihilation. Just nothing. No text to speak of and what there is “decrepit wood buildings.”  The whole place comes off as dumb and boring. Just Another Shitty Lame Ass Boring Generic D&D Setting. Go somewhere, have an encounter, mission over.

It tries. With that Mournland text. With a sculpture made out of corpses. But it fails. It feels thrown together and as if not much work in to it beyond a draft. Repetition of text, and not in a Salome way but in a Didn’t Think About It way. Some read-aloud gets long. There’s a section in the beginning, in which bar patrons gets hushed when an old salvager gets on top of a table to speak … a load of nonsense. I’d guess it has to do with the overall plot that will eventually show up in these, but it telegraphed HORRIBLY. Everyone should recognize “yeah, this is the evil cult thing we’ll eventually have to stop,” and, at the same time, it would have been MUCH more effective if introduced as a part of one of the other missions (NO! NOT A FUCKIGN DIARY!) or somehow his exposition had an impact. The hushed voices of the rowdy scavvers? Great! Just anti-climactic as fuck. “Oh, it’s a fucking monologue. Great.”

Missed opportunities include a little construct Dog, which should have been called Timmy, or had a Timmy/well codeword/connotation/theming. And a goblin turned to stone with a ghost train hurtling down on her NEEDS to be her caught in the train tracks. No, I don’t know how it works … that’s the designers job. But fuck me if rescuing people from train tracks isn’t iconic.

And then again that scene shows the problems. The train arrives in five rounds to crush the little girl. How far away are you? Who the fuck knows, we’re never told. And this sort of Missing Information thing, critical information for a scene, is not  uncommon. The overall impact is that the 70% of people who die in the Mournlands do so of boredom. 

It’s so full of promise, you can see it in the edge. But the actual implementation, the writing, the “now the D&D encounter starts” format … it’s kills the thing. It should be enhancing that half-glimped themes and vibes. I’m not sure I’d tout my MFA in Creative Writing if I turned this out.

This is $5 at DmsGuild. The preview is four pages. The last page actually has something for you to look at. You can see a long/useless read-aloud for the tavern and then the little gnomes speech … that has no impact on the adventure. Bad preview. 


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7 Responses to (5e) DDAL-EB-01 The Night Land

  1. AJ says:

    ? This is actually super helpful, even though it doesn’t paint the best picture of the module. I plan to run the whole series, so reviews like this show me where I can look to beef it up for a better player experience. Thanks for taking the time – and would it be cruel of me to hope you review each of the modules with such a keen eye? ?

  2. Ron says:

    That took a quick downturn. Sounds, definitely, like some interesting bits though!

  3. Evard’s Small Tentacle says:

    This is interesting. I find what Bryce points out here to be an issue for a lot of adventures; the broad summary seems awesome, the details are so mundane and bland that it is horribly misaligned and makes the broad summary a lie.

  4. Bigby's Affirmative Consent Lubed Fist says:

    it has you making trips in to a Forbidden Zone to do short missions. Nice concepts with the whole thing, but the actual implementation is boring.

  5. Shuffling Wombat says:

    So interesting ideas, imperfect execution. There appears to be a sequel, with hero points available for successful completion of missions, and an extra item available for groups that saved the goblin in this module. Some sort of notoriety score would be appropriate, a “town reputation”. I would prefer a much more open-ended set-up, rather than mission of the week; having a list of starting adventures is fine, but then I would let the PCs find clues to other quests, and let them pick which ones to go on, and sell information to other groups for others. I agree “the big enemy” should be shrouded in mystery, tantalising snippets of information rather than some old codger spelling it out.
    One point I would not quibble with is that the 70% death rate applies to NPC parties, rather than the PCs. I don’t mind a few fatalities, but there is a limit to the amount of time I want players to spend on rolling up new characters.

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