By Shane Ivey Arc Dream Publishing 5e Level 2
The adventurers have journeyed uncounted miles to the vast plains of the Sunlands. A merchant in a faraway city told them that a great treasure rests in an ancient, cursed ruin called Juakufa. Where can the ruin be found? What is the nature of the supposed curse? What dangers lurk along the way? What are the Hyena Giants? And what were the mysterious Not Heres? The adventurers may learn all that from the people who abandoned Juakufa long ago. But first, they must survive being guests of the Sun Queens.
An average rating of 4.5 on DriveThru?!? You just KNOW this one is going to be good!
This forty page adventure uses about twenty pages to describe, I don’t know, six encounters? Maybe? The rest is appendix and pregens. It’s got an Africa theme. It’s a fucking mess of a mess, almost incoherent in how the adventure is laid out.
So, Africa theme. They ride around zebras. No joke. They hunt ostriches. They all get together to sing and dance for your entertainment. Yes. That’s right. No joke. Also, the friendly queen in the adventure wants to have sex with you since you’re an exotic foreigner. And she claws your back “during an intimate moment.” So, creepy African stereotypes and creepy sex shit. A perfect combo for your lighthearted D&D game. [For what it’s worth the African guy here at work says that the African version of “Everyone in Africa rides zebras” is that the streets are made of gold in the US. Immediately upon residence you become rich.] Ok, weirdo shit out of the way, there’s more than enough disgust with this adventure outside of these elements in order to call it bad, so, non-issue. [Oooo, what if it WAS a really well written adventure/good adventure, but was FULL of creeper stuff? What then? “The Supreme Court does not deal with hypotheticals, Sir!”]]
There’s some “you heard about a ruined city full of treasure” thing, but the adventure starts with the party on the plains of Africa and in the court of these two queens. Kind of. It’s hard to say. It’s ala a mess. There’s some description of the queens and their court and how they hate each other, and then an ostrich hunt. There’s no real “Arrival” or anything. It’s just got background on the “the Sunlands” and then launches in to “The Ostrich hunt” where your on the plains with the queens and a bunch of africans hunting ostriches. It’s jarring. There’s no pretext at all. Just: hey! Here’s scene one of the adventure and it’s not an introduction!”
Another example of this sort of “things not said” issue follows immediately. The hunt is attacked. Now, the party is out riding zebras catching ostriches or out int the field kind of “beating” to drive them. The hunt is then attacked, the ostriches anyway, but some, I don’t know, bird monster things. But the SCENE is an advisor running up to the queen saying that the hunt has been attacked by some Ghjkdfgdfhgdef. Whatever, some foreign word that the adventure keeps dropping the fuck in because it thinks that I, the DM, wants to keep track of this shit in my head. That shit is for the players, not the DM. Anyway, the dude is yelling that a Ghdkfghdk is attacking the hunt. The hunt that is RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. That YOU ARE A PART OF. Do you now see it? The queen responds: “is it a HKDJHDDD?” No, bitch, it’s right there, look! Does it look like a Hhdjfhjdkfd?” Ok, so, not fair to the queen, it’s not her fault, it’s the designer and editors fault. It’s their weird kind of disconnect where it almost seems like two different people worked on this and a third blindly put it together without marrying the two writers content. And the fucking adventure does this REPEATIDLY. It’s a basic continuity issue.
Good news though, you do get XP is you are good-aligned and save someone in the hunt. Yeah for enforced morality by the DM! I guess if you want to play D&D then you’ll play the fucking game the way this designer wants you to and FUCK YOU PLAYER if you deviate?
There’s more singing and dancing by the happy africans and then the queen sleeps with the exotic foreigners.
You go visit a few villages. The locals sing and dance for you and tell you that you should leave all your gear with them since you are going to die anyway when you get to the ruined city.
The adventure is linear, with a brief walk up a mesa, getting attacked by gnolls. Err, giant hyena people. The maps all fucked up and doesn’t show the encounters in the right place, one of them being off to the side. I guess no one cared to fix that mistake? Up top there’s a fortress. I GUESS that’s the ruined city you were looking for? It’s never mentioned that it is? Or that it’s your destination? I thought it was just a side trek, but no, it’s the object of your quest. Inside is a ruined keep with about, I don’t know, 25 rooms? Al are unnumbered, undescribed except for four. Three of those are just some dream sequence stuff where you hear a voice in your head and maybe a will o wisp does a hit and run. The last room has a devil in it for you to kill. Yeah! You freed the land from the curse and laid some ancestors to rest so they can be reincarnated as elephants! You get 120gp in coins and two objects worth a total of 65gp! I guess it was worth that ten day journey to get here. Plus that trip to Africa. How long was that boat journey here, and how much did it cost?
Anticlimactic bullshit, that’s what this is.
This thing has a couple of decent ideas. A ruined land/forbidden zone under a curse is a classic trope. WIll o’the wisps representing the souls of dead people is nice, as is their nature of just being on the outskirts of the scene/vision in the ruined fortress. All but one leave you alone, and he’s a bad guy/traitor, or, was, in real life. A devil on a throne in the middle of te ruined fortress, sending you dream visions in your head, taunting you, while these dead people wisps float on the periphery, in a ruined and blasted Forbidden Zone? That’s great!
It’s just terrible as implemented. It’s linear, essentially an empty adventure, ham handed in its culture use, and an INCOHERENT MESS when it comes to scene transitions. And I haven’t even mentioned it’s reliance on the “long text paragraph” to relate information; perhaps the most common sin in all 5e adventures.
This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages long, but only shows about two pages of text. You do get to see the intro. Literally “you journeyed here and are at the court.” And you get to see the transition to the ostrich hunt. So, VERY representative of the writing you’ll get.
All the stupidity here feels like laziness – and the design feels lazy as well. The lazy characterization and lazy design go hand in hand. This is the new D&D, a game about having fights you can’t lose on a clockwork schedule where the choices are made for you and every adventure saves a grateful populace. It’s lazy imagination, spit out in a rote manner to sell a bloated pamphlet.
It’d be easy to remedy at least half of it. Africa’s a big place with multiple biomes, a long history, a varied set of states and peoples in the present, and of course a growing Spamire Empire. All of these with slightly more then a minute of thought would make for a more interesting adventure then zebra riding, ostrich hunting, happy dancing stereotypes. Holy Blood! WotC did a better job – a Chult is an unvariegated “Lost Continent” jungle, but at least it’s people drag race dinosaurs and live in a Port of Mogadishu/Sarapion pastiche.
The issue of design and playstyle though are harder. Bryce notes the failure of the map: an absence of keys and keys in the wrong place, but I suspect that’s simply because the map doesn’t matter – there’s no need to track PC movement through the space of the dungeon when there’s no ticking clock of random encounters, no supplies whittling down, and a short rest is available after combat to top up the party. Keying mistakes don’t matter. The map, and non-‘encounter’ (i.e. non-combat) spaces, are simply genre emulation, the trappings of how a D&D adventure is supposed to look. A prop to indicate that the adventure is complete – when really the adventure is a series of encounters along a linear narrative path.
WotC is actually getting good enough at writing these sorts of things, it’s doing better on the details and setting stuff, while hiding the horrific design a bit more effectively, but I do wonder if adventure path writers might be able to produce something interesting if they acknowledged and worked with what they are actually doing (linear series of combat and skill test encounters) rather then pretending they were doing location based design?
Oh buy Vampire Bonds.
Bird monster things? Bryce, old chum, the cover depicts a dromeosaur, too big to be a Velociraptor, but a decent depiction of current scientific models of predatory dinosaurs.
Of course, ‘dinosaurs in Africa’ is another worn out trope.
Heh, Dwellers of the Forfuckssake City…
Don’t know if you’ve reviewed it before, but World of the Lost for Lamentations of the Flame Princess by Rafael Chandler is a good Africa adventure. It takes place in actual Africa in the 1600s, and is sandbox with a crashed UFO and other weirdness that might appeal to your UFO sensibilities.
I meant OD&D, not UFO
But if I do have UFO sensibilities, will it appeal to me?
I used to argue that no one would care if the product is good. But know I’m not sure anymore if no one notice the creeper stuff in good adventure/novel/movie, or if people who write good adventures/novels/movies just sidestep this stuff.
I seconed the recomendation for World of the Lost, for everyone who is searching for a Africa themed advenute btw.
>Also, the friendly queen in the adventure wants to have sex with you since you’re an exotic foreigner. And she claws your back “during an intimate moment.”
based, and dare I say it, redpilled