By Hein Ragas Capybarbarian 5e Level 1
Kingshold is a sleepy garrison town at the edge of the kingdom. Bertu Arnels, the respected herbalist in town, sent out an expedition to Cedar Peak Forest, about a day’s travel across the border, to look for useful herbs. When the expedition does not return, she seeks adventurers to investigate and make the forest safe for herb picking. Will you travel to the base camp, and discover the truth behind the horrifying Secret of Cedar Peak?
This 27 page adventure details a small seven room cave and a couple of outdoor encounters using about eleven pages to do so. Straightforward hack/explore of the usual “figure out what is going on, sneak around, kill shit” variety, it uses a good room format to support its weaker evocative and and interactive elements. Continuity problems stand out. With work this could be on the duller side of “ok.”
There’s this thing I like to call “Pretending to be an adult.” This is where you ape the behaviours you’e seen or heard about, thinking that’s the “right thing to do.” Without understanding though, it appears to be just going through the motions. What if you have good ideas, though, or at least not bad ones? Then it’s surrounded by this ape’ing. And thus, this adventure.
This is not a bad adventure, or a good one for that matter, in its core concepts. The party is hired to find some people who have disappeared, an herbalist expedition. Investigating, they visit a small village, “explore a forest”, find some caves, and kill the thing in the cave. I might call this “the usual layout for a plot based adventure.” Hired, investigate, village, wilderness, lair dungeon. To generalize, interactivity in these affairs is usually limited to a little sneaking around to get in to the dungeon and some roleplay in the village. And thus it is with this adventure as well. The usual beats happen. Interactivity is low, with a little roleplaynig and maybe sneaking up on a guard post being non-hack highlights.This doesn’t have to be a bad thing in the plot-based world. Yes, it’s a bit formulaic, and I’d like to see better, but reality is that most plot-based games and adventures follow this formula. They almost all need to up the interactivity element, but, if they can solve the ease of use problem then you’d have a great sea of Marginally Useful Generic Adventures … instead of the great sea of crap we have today.
This adventure DOES try to excel and rise above the usual dross, and it largely succeeds. Yes, the villagers are in on it, they are always in on it, but at least these villagers have some self-loathing. And, if confronted by the party, they attack the party. But, it’s not a combat! The advice is to let the party slaughter them as the villagers die to the last. Oh, and what do you do with the three young children left behind? I was surprised, and delighted, to see the designer breaking out of the usual formula. And, if the party comes back to the village after defeating the cave monster (assuming they did not confront the villagers beforehand …) they will either find the village burned down (if they were warned by an escapee) or the villagers will throw a huge party, their relief at the end of The Situation, being palpable. Also, the party gets out of hand, there’s a fire that burns everything down, and the villagers disappear. Weird to end all plots threads on this point, but whatever, they all work as a real conclusion in one way or another. Both the village slaughter and the party/burndown show that a little extra thought has gone in to this adventure. And you can tell.
The singular enumerated village encounter, with the smith, shows signs of life also. Is reactions make sense. Further, there’s a nice little bit of formatting with bolded heading and short little sentences that relate his responses to common questions. A similar format is followed by the room entries in the dungeon, with a short read-aloud followed by some bolded heading that have more information for certain things on the read-aloud. This sort of formatting makes it easy to locate information, allows for easy scanning, and therefore ease of use at the table. All nicely done.
There’s some X-card warnings up front, for, I think, a little kid who survived an abduction. His mom might get eaten in front of the party by the cave monster. There are a couple of possible “gruesome” little vignettes with the kids mother/family being eaten. (As an aside, aren’t we ALL responsible for the X card shit, because we didn’t push back on the edgelords hard enough when they did their edgy shit? Or do we blame it on the indie RPG and their Psychological Growth RPG’s?) Again, a nice little element to heighten the horror. SHOW don’t TELL. And this shows. He’s not an evil monster because the villagers, or diary, says so. He’s evil because he calls people “meat” in conversations with them (Objectification! The true definition of evil!) and gruesomely eats still living people. No fucking moral quandryies there. I presume he won’t be arrested with non-lethal combat?
This is not, however, a good adventure.
Read alouds tends to the dull side with boring words like “large cave” and other such descriptions abounding. There’s a two paragraph section on spotting a wagon. And two paragraphs up front on “roleplaying” that seems to have nothing to do with roleplaying. The start town gets one and half pages of description in spite of it having nothing to distinguish itself from every other generic border town.We do get a paragrapgh, multiple in fact, on the entire life fucking history of the person who hires them, including her life as an apprentice. All of this padding takes seven pages before the hook shows up. IE: it’s padded to all fuck out.
This also shows up in long DM notes section. Rather than emulating the bolded section heading style, perhaps augmented by bullets, whitespace, tables, etc, it instead relies, as per usual for these sorts of adventures, on the long multi paragraph exposition, a nightmare to dig through at the table. It repeats information, telling us the same information about the “telepathic” monster over and over again. Offering justifications for people’s behaviour, or why cultists believe what they do. This is all padding.
Worse are the basic editing/continuity issues. The blacksmith can show up one point “with the little girl in tow.” This being the first time the little girl is mentioned, I have to wonder “Huh?” Or Telling the MD that by now the party has had a few encounters with the cultists … when in fact they’ve probably had none at all. Other misses include room descriptions that don’t actually mention what the room is (the Chapel being a major offender here … just mentioning a few details and nothing much chapel like in the RA) or burying monster entries in the DM text instead of the RA. You have to tell the players the obvious/important things first, and ten bloodthirsty cultists seems like an important room detail to me.
Or maybe not. “The rest of the cultists are found here in this room. “How many is that exactly? We don’t know. The Rest. But there’s no number to begin with. Other examples include the monsters being buried in the last sentence of a text entry, or things like that, things that make the DM hunt for the information instead of ordering the information in a logical manner that’s easy to use at the table. This is not a Nit. These are core usability issues when the text runs long, as it does in this.
And, ultimately, the party never does really find evidence of the people they sent to go looking for. I guess you can make an assumption, but dropping a few details in a room about bodies or gear would have seemed appropriate. Combine all of this with what is an abstracted “forest/wilderness exploration” section and this is worth a pass. It’s got some ok elements that do try to elevate and show more talent than is usual in these things, but it needs to stop pretending to be grown up and learn how to relate information other than in long-form paragraph form. And write descriptions that are more evocative (while staying terse!) and look for opportunities for more interactivity.
This is $5 at DriveThru. There’s no preview. Put in a preview! And make it a good one that shows us a bit of the dungeon encounters and a bit of the wilderness ones (if there actually were any instead of a handwave …) a bit of social. Let us know what we are buying!
As an aside. This takes place in a sleepy frontier town. Are there such things? Or are all frontier towns bustling affairs with people going out to homestead and seek their fortunes? And the guards don’t give a shit because it’s outside the border of the kingdom, the kingdom ending, evidently, right outside the gates. A) these people deserve what will inevitably happen to them. You keep problems from becoming End Of The World by taking care of them early. Besides, they threaten your tax base, even if they are outside your border, proper. A border that doesn’t exist since there’s no else who owns the land out there. So why didn’t the lord claim it anyway?
Also, I’d totally have some tourist traps. “Come see the egge of the World!” and a Four Corners type monument. Tours, An official “kingdom border” line. Trinket shops. The whole nine yards. Why yes, I did just take a road trip last weekend in which I passed many roadside attractions, why do you ask?