By Radulf St. Germain Studio St. Germain OSR? Generic? 5e? "Lower Levels"
The city of Shallow Bay is preparing for the greatest social event of the year when an eagerly-expected shipment of ball gowns goes missing. Rumors abound of goblins gathering in large gangs to cut off all commerce to the city. While all seems like a routine job for adventurers there are hints of some sinister ancient evil pulling the strings in the background. Can the party save the Day of the Revered Ancestors and what will they find as they become embroiled deeper and deeper into the machinations of the mysterious Celestial Order?
This 29 page adventure has a loose plot to it combined with a sandboxy format. Probably meant for 5e, it’s presented without stats. Dripping with the kind of flavour I wish all adventures had, this things fatal flaw is its organization, an arrow that has taken down many a sandboxy adventure. I started to ask myself, during this review, “Man, is it worth it to highlight this thing and create some reference sheets?” That’s a good sign.
This thing has style! The city it is set in was founded by a Lich, overthrown many many years ago, with his phylactery rumored to still be around. The hook is a shipment of ball gowns in a caravan that gets raided … what will the local fops wear to the Day of the Revered Ancestors ball? (A little Lexx mixed up in your fantasy, maybe?) The elemental earth cult? It’s not an earth cult. It’s not THE cult of elemental earth. It’s called The Shallow Grave Consortium … and the leader sleeps in a barrow. The local bar, the Drunken Sailor, is known for its knife fights and shady dealings. The local guy who informally heads up the fisherman in town is not opposed to organizing a beating for those who show disrespect. There’s a flying fortress with a giant brass flywheel on it (it’s the air cult, chill out) and it’s been grounded, anchored via … a literal giant anchor with a huge fish … sculpture? swallowing it. And that’s not even described, it’s just shown in a little sketch drawing. Time and time again this thing hits with the sort of specificity that makes an adventure feel ALIVE. Fuck the generic Earth Cults and long live the Shallow Grave Consortium!
Over and over again. The NPC’s are given brief little bursts of flavour that a DM can hang their hat on. The cult leader is highly dramatic and listens to an invisible advisor. The raven spy looks down on beings who cannot fly. (Get it?! Get it?!) People are described as corpulent, or noble matrons, or the Pointy Hat goblin tribe who wears … Wear huge pointy helmets and sport huge mustaches. They have no real boss.” The flesh golem that shows up is not a Frankenstein’s Monster, or even a Frankensteins Monster monster Frankenstein, but in the form of a giant snake. A noble matron thinks the mayor is a vain idiot. It goes on and on and on. The adventure elements are strong. It’s something that the DM can work with … if it does, at times, trend a bit to the absurdit side of the line, hopping over a time or two but not taking up full residency.
It’s also trying to help the DM out. There’s a one page cheat sheet that describes the adventure. There’s a flowchart of events, since this is ultimately a sandbox plot of the villains trying to do something more than linear adventure. It even has notes on the flowchart of what happens if the current “activity” is foiled by the party. There’s DM advice in places, like suggesting fires in the windmill used to grind flour may result in an explosion. There’s even a couple of pages of tables at the end full of charts that can be used to create flavourful little houses in town, full of secrets and plots and the like.
But, it’s TRYING to help the DM, and not actually doing so. The cheat sheet only really makes sense after going through the adventure the first time, so it doesn’t orient as much as summarize. The flowchart may be the best part, but the section headings it refers to could be labeled/organized stronger. For it’s attempts at helping it’s still kind of a glorious mess.
There’s a lot of repetition of information, and meaningless information at that. It’s using a kind of free text/paragraph format, with certain words in italics to draw the eye. That’s not the strongest way to organize, especially given the amount of extraneous text in the adventure. There’s a decent number of NPC’s, and some kind of summary sheet would have useful to help the DM during play. I don’t know how to say this and get it to come across right. The section headings and extraneous text weaken the adventure to the point where it’s kind of hard to figure out how to run it and what’s going on, and that’s with the flowchart and cheatsheet. This is a sandbox sort of issue, in general; finding a way to organize the material for quick reference during play in an unorganized play style is no small feat.
This thing drips with flavor. It references some princes of the Apocalypse creatures, and is a better PotA chapter than a real PotA chapter. I’m keeping it as “generic” since it’s stateless, and the only stat reference is to reference some 5e monsters in the end in order to localize it. I might suggest the same for some LabLord creatures as well; it would be a helpful touch. Treasure, is, of course, light given the generic/5e flavour.
So is it worth it? Not to me. There’s just a bit too much effort in pulling things together. I will say though that St. Germain has their shit together with respect to flavour and “arc without having a plot.” You might even say there’s a nod to Rients with a flying fortress showing up to raid the town. Some serious work in massaging the text in to a format to make it more easily runnable at the table would marry that to the flavour and make it something decent to run. I do, though, look forward to seeing future efforts by this designer to see if they can figure things out.
This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $2. The preview is four pages. It gives you an overview of some of the factions, actors, and locations. For this sort of sanboxy sort of adventure it’s an appropriate preview, showing you the sort of information transfer, flavour, and organization you can expect. Take a look at it and note both the flavour and the extraneous text and how it’s not exactly the best at declaring where you are and what’s important.