J.V. West Random Order Creations OSR Levels 3-6
Black Pudding #6 is a zine and I’m reviewing the eight pagepointcrawl adventure “Underground Down Below”, with map by Evlyn Moreau. It’s got 36 encounters described over eight pages, if you count the one page map. Imagine a REALLY large cavern with mesa’s and stuff in it. That’s this. IE: an underground valley hemmed in on all sides with some plateaus in it. It;s very imaginative. And it lacks inciting incidents.
Have you ever been to an art forward gaming con? I have. They’re great! I’m thinking specifically of Con on the Cob. Art people are relaxed, not up their own asses, and know how to have fun and know how to run a game. The afterhours DCC games at GenCon are another great example of this as the ZZ Top gang run for fun. This has that kind of vibe. Mostly. But it’s lacking that certain motivating aspect that drives the adventure forward. It feels more like an Ed Greenwood adventure where there’s lots of interesting shit going on, that you CAN interact with, but why would you?
The map depicts a kind of isometric view of a large underground cave. Very big. Lots of shit going on on what is, essentially an “art map” rather than your usual gaming map. Nothing wrong with that, I love me some on map detail. There’s no scale but it is, essentially, a pointcrawl. I don’t know, maybe the cavern is lit by purple or green light or something, so the party can see points in the distance to travel to. That’s not mentioned but would work. I’m a big fan of “the party sees something interesting” so that they can then decide to travel to it. The isometric view (is that the right word? I think I’ve used it in this context since that DL1 map) does a good job of showing elevation and the map is chock full of little drawings (it’s an art map, remember) that allows the Dm to describe vague half-seen shapes in the (I’ve now added) pale green light. I see the back half of a shadowy colossal stone head up ahead in the pale green light? Let’s go there! This kind of “expansive view in the distance” is invaluable, for those situations in which it’s warranted. For these “I can see a lot so what do I see?” sorts of situations i love a map like this or a brief overview text in the adventure to help orient the players. This does that well.
The little vignettes are pretty imaginative, some interconnected and some not. The first location is a dozen little people washing and feeding and worshipping a giant fire beetle and her three dog sized babies. Her poo glows. Or giant centipede people. Or a cave mouth with teeth that can bite you. Giant demon statues that spit out gems. Giant people buried in rock. Hmmm, come to think of it, there ARE a lot of giant rock people/buried/made of stone elements in the adventure. Whatever, who doesn’t like a giant cracked egg with something squirming inside of it? Or a village that sacrifices every ninth baby to the giant squid monster in the lake and drain their old people of blood to make protein cakes?
But, they lack a certain something and I’m not sure I can fully describe what. It feels a little like one of those Ed Greenwood adventures where you can look but if you touch you die. There doesn’t seem to be much reason to interact with the various locales other than, maybe, the innate desire of the party to fuck with shit. Village of stoic philosophy dwarves. Uh. Ok. And? The priestess lives inside that teeth cave? Ok. So?
There’s a hint, here or there, of something for the party to be driving towards. A 20,000p diamond and an unguarded, but cursed, ancient red dragon hoard. Ok, so, maybe that’s what the party is here looking for? But, still, why am I interacting with the dwarves again? Just like a Greenwood adventure, there’s as much trouble for the party as they make for themselves. (I played with Jim Ward once and his adventure felt the same way. Just don’t fuck with shit. Maybe fun for a one shot you are ok with dying in 90 minutes in to a four hour game, but hard to sustain.)
There are little “hit point tracker” bubbles after each creature and I can’t help but wonder what if those were not there and instead there was just one more sentence? Something to drive the action forward?
What this needs is just a little more for each encounter. Maybe. Or maybe some kind of global overview and/or “what everyone knows and who likes/hates who and what they want” or something like that. There’s no background or intro at all to this, just a few tables scattered in the adventure. “How did we get here?” “a wizard did it”.or “You fell through a hole” and so on.
You could steal a lot from this adventure. Do you want to steal? By which I mean, are you looking for inspiration? That sounds an awful lot like “Adventures for Reading” to me. But, there’s also room in life for Art, right? Is this just art? Art that you’re inspired by? To run a great game? Isn’t that what I implore designers to do? But … is that art? Can it be art AND a good adventure? Sure. But is this everything it could be for the DM? Not without a shock rope attached.
This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $2. There’s no preview, but, hey, you can download it for free, so the entire zine if the preview.