(5e) Voice in the Machine

By Will Doyle
Self Published
Level 2

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. The adventurers head deep into the Mournland to rescue a missing salvage team. In the heat of battle, they unearth a strange device from the ruins: the Oracle of War. This machine knows all the secrets they need to overcome their enemies—if only the adventurers can figure out how to operate it!

This 32 page adventure has the party exploring an old marketplace to rescue another salvage crew. The big payoff, half the adventure, is a handwaved open tactics sandbox. Poorly implemented, as usual, and as usual, you can see where it WANTED to go and those ideas are quite good. I look forward to the day they actually deliver. If it ever comes.

Right off, let me say that this series as won me over to the Eberron setting. I don’t think I ever understood it before but now I see promise. A STALKER (or Stalker) like experience in a post-apoc setting. These are all things that speak to my soul. There’s been this little newspaper handout in each adventure thus far that has some colorful little things in it, adds for leaving your will to the war orphans, notes that the last group to explore was drown in a pool of living mercury … the whole series has these little things it drops in that adds a lot of brief color. It’s doing some other interesting things as well, like placing good effects from mournlands travel hazards in a table with bad effects also. I’m a big fan of mixing in good effects with bad ones on choices the players make: how else will they ever  be convinced to eat the glowing tree fruit if ALL glowing tree fruit fucks them up? It’s mis-implemented here, on a table of “what happens if you fail your survival check”, but, still, their hearts are in the right places.

Speaking of, the thing has a lot of ok ideas that are mis-implemented. It REALLY like to abstract descriptions. “In here, the town’s brokers do business from behind armored counters.” Well, that’s fucking boring. This was a perfect opportunity to describe a Thunderdome like weapons check, or something else, and instead it’s all “behind armoured counters.” B O R I N G. Because it’s an abstracted description. Specificity is the soul of narrative. Instead we get words wasted on “The Salvage Market is a dirt-floored warehouse built from scorched wood planks scavenged from the Mournland. The room reeks of dust, sweat, and oil.” Dirt floored? Great. Scorched wood? Great. Dust, sweat, oil? Great (I maybe would have thrown in “sweltering” also) “scavenged from the Mournland”? Who gives a fuck?Do they have twisted faces and scream? Otherwise who cares? Better to stick in a couple of more words and/ore rewrite the last sentence to describe someone behind an armoured counter. Now, I’m being pretty specific in this one example but the adventure does this abstraction over and over again. “Leaving Salvation, you’re soon swallowed by the fogbanks that encircle the ruined nation of Cyre.” I thought it had a bunch of faces that were screaming and buildings collapsing and other freaky deaky shit? “Fogbank” ain’t that. The writing does this over and over and over again, taking an idea that should be cool and then abstracting it to boring placeholder drivil. 

You travel eighty boring miles in to find the other crew (proving once again why adventurers never have love interests, family, or friends: the DM will use them against you.) Once again THE FANTASTIC is reduced to boring. Once there you see a marketplace where the other crew was and you explore it. You find the crew, they are under siege by a raiding force … and then the raiders allies show up. The party is supposed to use the marketplace things they’ve found/been informed of against the LARGE raider force in order to escape with the other crew.

I have about ten thousand VERY valid critiques of this, the main part of the adventure. 

The map is linear. It’s unclear if it’s buried or not? Or what the roof situation is? This is important because the party will face a VERY large number of raiders and be given advice on how to deal with them, using elements found in the marketplace. But how do you GET to those elements in a linear map? And who the fuck doesn’t use rooftops to travel when you can? What’s interesting is that the adventure DOES provide some DM guidance on several points, like using mending on a torn and faded map that is found. But on other topics, like the roof, and others, its as if there WAS no playtest feedback. How many raiders spill out when they all show up? A dozen? A hundred? This is an obvious question and is left for the DM to dig through to discover. If you have to take notes, or highlights, then the adventure was not written well.

A lookout hides in place and tries to get to their buddies if he sees the party … but there’s no way (linear, remember) for them to do this without the party seeing. An elf hologram has it’s “stuck in a loop” saying related as “stuck in a loop”, destroying the joy by summarizing a conclusion rather than letting the players do so. The marketplace encounters are all a little samey-samey, with animated brooms, animated armor, animated rugs, animated … you get the idea. (And, maintenance bots in the shape of brooms? Unless these are Mickey references I think you can do better than this. Or a fucking suit of armorfor that matter. THEME the monsters. Trashbots, use stats of animated broom, for example. Mannequin, as animated armor, for example. That’s what you’re being paid for, after all. To add color.) 

The last section of the adventure, where the massive raider force shows up, is terrible. It takes up, like a page of text, if you delete the unique magic item (that gives the party advice on how to use the marketplace.) No advice to the DM on how to run this part, which should take up half the time. The most complex part. Where are the raiders. What are they doing. How does the linear map and advice mesh together with the raiders. Where’s the fucking giant hole they smashed in to the wall?  The idea here, using the marketplace against the raiders, is a good one. The cat and mouse, the hidden goals of finding other missing scavengers, roaming raiders. It’s a classic trope. But instead the adventure is padded out with useless repetition and padded entries instead of helping the DM run the more complex part of it. 


This is $5 at DMSGuild. The preview is four pages. It is completely fucking worthless, showing you nothing of what you are buying. It’s all just Adventurers League padding. The preview needs to show us something of what we’re actually buying. An encounter, the encounter writing styles, etc.


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4 Responses to (5e) Voice in the Machine

  1. marked one what the hell says:

    fantasy STALKER is a wonderful thing and I share your frustration at these modules

  2. Allan T says:

    A bit surprised at how much this one falls flat considering the author, Will Doyle, has some really great one page dungeons. Maybe it’s a different author?

  3. Beoric says:

    Like Khan Noonien Singh, new players and DMs often think in two dimensions.

    I love Eberron. The Mournland is one of many areas in Eberron that could be run as outdoor dungeons and are just begging for someone to write a good hexcrawl.

    In addition, the actual underworld is, according to legend, the slumbering body of one of the three progenitor dragons who spawned the world. It is where fiends are spawned, and is called out as being actively malevolent to adventurers and a place where the laws of nature do not apply. It is also the place where invading alien Lovecraftian horrors were bound in the third age. 10’ wide doors that only open for dungeon natives and tricks intended to tempt adventurers are entirely appropriate, and the tables in Appendix C of the 1e DMG are a perfect fit. Furthermore, the entrances to the underworld are usually suitably imposing transitions, like a great chasm that is home to a dracolich who claims godhood, and is rumored to snatch the souls of the dead on their way to the afterlife.

    As for reasons to go there, there are extremely valuable setting-specific resources that can only be found in the underworld. So, riches! And resurrection magic is rare and dangerous in Eberron; you just might have to visit that dracolich’s lair to recover your comrade’s soul first.

    An adventure written according to setting cannon could easily include a hexcrawl through an Edward Rice Burroughs flavoured jungle (with dinosaurs, scorpion-worshipping drow tribes, degenerate giants, rival adventuring parties and a curse that can screw with your mapping) to reach an entrance to the mythic underworld that might lead to Pellucidar, or the Great Old Ones, or the Vault of the Drow, or the Demonweb Pits, or the prison of the Elder Elemental God.

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