By Joseph Lewis Dungeon Age Adventures OSR (&5e!) Levels 1-4
Yesterday, young Tobias went to investigate an old tomb by himself. Everyone told him it was a bad idea. Everyone was right. Today, you and your companions awaken to a town in chaos. Why is the temple sealed behind a divine shield? Why are children and worshipers trapped within? How do we get inside? What did Tobias do?!
Quick reminder. There’s a Patreon button off to the right. It helps me buy these adventures, uh, so, uh, you don’t have to? But if you donate then you are, also, buying them? Hmmm, I should work on the marketing related to this. One day …
This forty page adventure is PACKED FUCKING FULL. It has a small town/village, about a dozen little mini-adventures, and a temple, sealed off by the powers of good, with about forty rooms in it. There’s good layout, evocative writing, and things to talk to in, what turns out to be, a nightmare madhouse of a temple. Non-combat/NPC interactivity may be a bit low, and the level range may be off also.
You wake up one morning to find the neighbors all rushing towards the temple in town. Seems it’s now surrounded by a strange golden glow and no one can get in or out. The clerics offered free schooling, so, you know, the villagers kids are inside. So, could you, you know …? Also, as one hook explicitly points out “… which is full of rare books, valuable religious art, and magic items!” Yup! Sore would be happy to help! Only one problem … getting past the magical golden force field. Fortunately, the bell tower, 60’ above, it sticking out beyond it. Alas, there is no way to get to it.
This then is what sets this adventure apart. To get to the site, sitting right next to you, you have to find a way in. There are a few items scattered around the surrounding countryside that could help. But it’s not really pointed out anywhere at the start. Talking to people in town will get you some adventure hooks, from the vermind basement to the poison well to the witch that lives in the woods outside of town. There are, I don’t know, a dozen or so of these? Talking to the townspeople might give you three or four, but those lead to others which can lead to others. The formulae might be: the mundane quest in tow leads to something fantastic, which leads to something even more so. The poison well has a mutant frog-man with open sores in it, laying injured. He cna plead for his life, telling the party of a haunted house nearby with a pair of metal jumping shoes. Ah ha! A way up to the tower! And thus it goes.
From a design standpoint this is one of the few misses in this adventure. It feels like there’s a time crunch, to get inside the temple and save people, and it is perhaps a bit non-intuitive that you need to run around the countryside to get in. It’s natural to talk to the townfolk to see what they know, in order to get in, but “clean out my basement” or “the well is poisoned” seems like things to NOT pursue, although The Witch outside of town is a rather obvious follow up in looking for help to get in.
(I might note, as well, that this adventure comes with both 5e & OSR versions. OSR healing being what it is, having substantial adventures before the “main” temple adventure is likely to result in drained HP, and days of recovery time. Perhaps some fun to be had there with nagging villagers, worried about their children, while the party recover from their wounds. Again, a bit of a system/tonal variance in the OSR/5e, but neither this or the “countryside” thing is enough to worry too much about. It’s noff, not a deal breaker.)
The town is nicely done, terse, brief hits of shopkeeper personalities. A little note on “what they know”, IE: the actual play stuff. It’s organized well, with bolded heading and doesn’t go on and on about extraneous details. Really well formatted. In fact, the entire adventure is well formatted and organized. It’s easy to find information and it writing is tight and evocative. A “a town, a main 40-room adventure, and a dozen side quests in 40 pages” would imply. Top notch. It’s three column layout but feels clean and modern without using an avant garde layout, and doesn’t feel cramped at all the way three column can.
I don’t know what else to say. It’s fucking great? A barrow with a hag eating people. An old woman in the woods who people say is a witch. And bakes cookies. And is a witch. But a nice one. A fey goblin market full of shuckers AND chock full of minor magic, like apples and dolls and their ilk. The town is full of events, at night, the stuff of nightmares, since they ARE nightmares. But it doesn’t FEEL like one of those terrible consequence-free “it was all a dream” adventures. Or even a dream adventure at all. It feels like the real-world, but twisted, but not so much as to stretch disbelief. Well, until you get inside the temple. Then things start to spiral a bit … “An exploded pig lies screaming on the floor. A silver key glint in its mouth.” A) Uh, oooo, that’s disturbing! B) A golden key in it’s mouth?! Sweet! Temptation! I love temptation in an adventure! It’s what D&D is all about!
I would note a few other nits. While the adventure does have some cross-reference, a few more could have been in order. I’m thinking specifically oft he section where it mentions the three items that can help the party get up in to the tower … those could have used some cross-references. There’s also a bit of an issue with what the party sees. It’s natural for the party to explore the outside of the dome, to look in, to see what they can see. There’s no overview of what the party can see, even though there ARE outside areas. This means the DM needs to dig through the adventure for those sections and, kind of ignore the upper levels and the like. A nice overview of “what walking around the place shows you” was in order. Likewise, windows and the people inside? No one at the windows screaming for help, or vignettes of horror? Finally, I would be a bit worried about the party focusing on getting in rather than pursuing the mini-adventures. Like I said, they are behind some barriers and “lets get 100’ of rope and string up a pully system” is, I think, something my party would turn to first rather than a quest for a quest for a quest. That may be an actual play thing, but some guidance in that area would have been nice.
Still, overall, a GREAT adventure. Even the magic broom has a personality! Great new creatures, good new magic items. The oSR version might be a little light on loot and a little off in level range, but this thing if chock full of flavor and and is easy to use. The nits are easy to overcome.
Dungeon Age Adventures is one of those publishers/designers to keep an eye on.
This is $5 at DriveThru, and comes with an OSR version and a 5e version. The preview is fifteen pages and shows you the town, rumors, the layout and design choices, the way it organizes data, and a couple of the side quests. If I were being a hard ass I might have also like to see one page of the encounters of the main temple/adventure to get an idea of what “core encounters” look like also, but, still, good preview.