(5e AL) Where the Dead Wait

By James Introcaso
Self Published
5e
Level 3

On their way back to Salvation, the adventurers are ambushed by a large force of undead and forced to seek shelter in a ruined cottage. As the dead close in from all sides, the survivors turn to the Oracle of War for a lifeline. Only this time, things don’t play out as expected….

Oh Adventurers League, never change!

This 28 page adventure is the usual “Night of the Living Dead” scenario, with undead attacking you while you are trapped in a house. Bad novel writing abounds and there is woefully little advice for handling the fortifying and undead assaults. It’s only got about ten pages of actual content, the rest being AL padding. A railroad from start to finish, choke down the crap you’re being fed you AL suckers!

I find myself really looking forward to the newspaper included in each adventure! I love how it sets a great vibe for the greater world. There’s very much a frontier/Deadwood (HBO series) thing going on, if all you ever did was read the newspapers in these adventures. Pretty cool, even with the basic typo’s. There’s also a reference sheet included for the NPC’s in the adventure. 

Annnnddddd…. That’s the last kind thing I’m going to say about this adventure.

This is a hack railroad of an adventure. Not a hack because it’s a railroad, a hack because the designer doesn’t know how to write an adventure. That’s pretty common, very few designers DO know how to write an adventure. So, a hack AND a railroad. Let me count the ways …

The hints are there in the marketing intro “things don’t play out as expected …” This is your first hint that you will not be playing a D&D tonight, you will instead be playing a railroad and be expected to do exactly as the designer intends. Other hints of this include: “The story thus far …” and “Kalli also stars in this adventure …” Let’s add insult to injury. As undead show up on the horizon the scav gang you rescued in the last adventure heads to the house. YOU WILL FOLLOW THE PLOT. THE PLOT SAYS YOU DEFEND THE HOUSE BECAUSE THE DESIGNER THOUGHT THAT WOULD BE COOL SO YOU WILL DO IT AND WE WILL MAKE SURE OF IT BY HAVING THE NPCS GO THERE. EAT YOUR CRAP!

Look, I’m not an asshole. Well, maybe, but I’m not hating on this for no reason. I understand that there are certain assumptions that must be made if you are going to write a ten-adventure arc, or whatever, especially given what I assume to be an assumption that the gaming group will change every week because of musical RPG tables at gaming stores and cons. Yes, I accept that. I object to the ham handed and railroady way this adventure is written. The NPC’s from the last adventure are alive again, except the one that the plot decided might die. That’s bad. The way the adventure is written, to dictate that the party WILL go to the house, implies rather heavily that the designer thought that would be cool so that’s what is going to happen. It’s the pinnacle of bad design: the designer thought it would be cool so it’s going to happen. This stands in contrast to emergent play, that special something that makes D&D special. But you don’t get that.

In fact, the party is punished for not following the script. If you don’t hang out in the little house then you are attacked by all undead at the same time, instead of facing them in waves. Fuck. You. That’s adversarial DM’ing. You’re changing the rules to punish the players if they don’t follow the little plot you’re masturbating to. Bad bad bad design. Oh, until the end, of course. Then you have the option of running away, thrown in as an afterthought. Basically, you take 10HP and get to run away. Yeah! I do that.

The writing is hackneyed. “A few moments later …” or “Th dead want you to join them …” or “They dies in the last war and yet …” or, how about the initial read aloud that has the other scav gang dragging your artifact through the mud? No, no they fucking do not. They don’t get anywhere near MY artifact! (OUR artifact. THE artifact, says Piter.) The writing tells you what you see, feel, and think. It’s fucking lame. It’s TELLING you instead of SHOWING you, and thats the definition of bad writing. 

But, it’s AL, so you get told that “If you gain a level you MUST tick the box on the adventurers record sheet showing that you have gained a level.” Great. This is the kind of padded shit that makes up the bulk of all AL adventures. Recall, this is a 28 page adventure with about ten pages of actual content, for $5. That everyone is going to buy. Nice work if you can get it. It smacks of that Adam Sandler rotating cast of friends that get fat paychecks for doing nothing. But, hey, at least EVERY. SINGLE. FUCKING. TIME. a door or furniture is mentioned it tells us that it takes no damage from psychic or poison damage. Seriously? Is AL D&D THAT pedantic? “Well, the adventure doesn’t say that the boulder doesn’t take poison damage, so I guess it’s ok.” My objection here is that they waste time on this shit instead of on actual content. 

Let’s take that NPC reference sheet. Instead of personality we get things like “Kalli belongs to the grey dogs” … just like she has in the last two adventures. Or, Sprocket, another NPC, having no personality at all on the reference sheet. What do you think the purpose of the sheet is? It gives the DM one place to look for how to run the NPC. This don’t do that. It’s a bad reference sheet. And it wastes an entire page with like five rows of a table. How about you overload that sheet of paper and put a few other reference things on it, like that “environment” shit for the house, how it’s dusky and full of leaves and dirt? Then it would always be at my fingertips, ready for me to add flavour? No? You’re just going through the motions? Ok …

But, again, the major failing is in the lack of supporting the DM. The adventure spends massive amounts of time on combat but, as in the last one in this series, seems to avoid any DM advice in the rest of the adventure. Coming down the chimney is mentioned off hand, but that’s essentially the only thing you get for advice in running this. Moving the furniture, it’s impacts on blocks doors and windows? Absolutely NOTHING. But you’ll drone on about the combat. Is that all D&D is? 4e mini battles? No, there are other pillars of play but you don’t know how to write for that?

There are a couple of climaxes in the adventure. First you are, of course, betrayed by the people you saved from certain death. The adventure justifies this by making them all “Alignment Neutral.” Fucking lame. Second, there’s supposed to be this thing you can do to make all of the undeads heads explode, but only in at the appointed time, after you’ve been betrayed! The clue says you must destroy the five undead focuses. What are they? No idea. 

Oh, it’s the things in the house that are one note? There are multiple features that, if damaged, spew blood everywhere and cause everyone to make a save vs Madness. I guess you discover them during the house exploration. But, all of the house exploration results in these kind of “Take Damage!” traps. No warning, just “did you pay your skill tax and min/max your character build” tax traps. Spew blood. Save vs madness. But, don’t worry! If the madness effect is too serious the DM is encouraged to roll again or use something less serious. So, don’t use the madness table then? It’s, ultimately, a pushback against exploring the house. 

This is bad writing on top of bad design. I make no judgements on the designers ability to write a blog piece, or world build, or run a podcast network, but they have no ability to write a coherent adventure that is useful to the DM at the table. But, hey, they managed to make it on to the writers circuit for this series, so, I guess it’s like a guaranteed $15,000 for every one they write! 

Eat your crap plebs. You wanna play AL? Your DM has to suffer through this.

This is $5 at DMsguild. There’s no preview, so you can’t tell what you are buying before hand and I can’t point you to specific pages to show off the examples of bad writing and design. 

I will, however, make a point here. If you have fun with this adventure it is because of the DM and not because of the designer. The purpose of an adventure is to help the DM run it and this fails at that. 

https://www.dmsguild.com/product/302373/EB03-Where-the-Dead-Wait?1892600

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11 Responses to (5e AL) Where the Dead Wait

  1. Evard’s Small Tentacle says:

    Man this makes me wish someone updated or designed something based on Kratis Freehold from Dungeon. That thing runs so well no matter what; tense, evocative, almost a Predator vibe (one of the best action movies ever in terms of pacing and cadence).

  2. An other great review. Also,thanks for being on the podcast reviewing this. In addition FYI Shawn Merwin made $15k for one adventure over a number of years. I have herd from James Introcaso that he has made $2K or $3K in one year for one of his adventures.

  3. Bigby's Affirmative Consent Lubed Fist says:

    There are multiple features that, if damaged, spew blood everywhere and cause everyone to make a save vs Madness.

    Why would something spewing blood cause madness in adventurers who, at third level, are no strangers to the arterial spray of combat?

    • Reason says:

      Seems more like a WHFRPG type mechanic/effect… Common enough in that game (roll or gain insanity point) but you all accept that when you play.

      Not generally part of a D&D game. Foreshadowed by the “driven mad” NPC’s you can meet or hear about or see being gently rocked in their new cot… then it could work for a module. But if it’s not- yeah seems odd.

  4. Jeff V says:

    I have acquired a few AL adventures (mostly from the bundle they did to help with relief for the fires in Australia) and the alphanumeric codes they use confused me so much I ended up downloading the (free) AL Players and DMs pack in order to make sense of them.

    (For example this product is DDAL-EB-03 which means, I think, that is an official AL product (hence the “DDAL”), and it is third in the “Oracle of War” series, (hence the “EB-03”) – which is the current series.)

    Anyway, if you are wondering if AL really is that pedantic, the answer from reading the Pack is a resounding yes.

    They tell you in several places that Eberron: Rising from the Last War i.e. WotC’s Eberron sourcebook, is legal in their Eberron campaign. OK, fair enough. The question then arises as to whether Keith Baker’s “third-party” sourcebook Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron is legal. The answer is No …. “except in the case where the content of that source matches Eberron: Rising from the Last War exactly.”

  5. Jonathan Becker says:

    Just a hearty thank you once again. Every time I read a review like this, it reaffirms my choice to stay the fuck away from the WotC machine. AL appears to have been made for masochists.

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