(5e) Silent Screechers review

By Maximillian Hart
Levels 4-5

An ancient shrine in the center of a small jungle island is filled with small, lifelike statues and ape-like monsters. Dangerous fruit and a deadly fountain round out the perils in this short adventure for the world’s greatest roleplaying game!

This seven page adventure uses 2-3 pages to describe about six encounters on a small jungle island. It waffles between decent organization and evocative writing and the usual bland and unfocused writing that is the hallmark of most adventures. It gets closer than most though, leaving me hopeful for the future.

So, island, covered in jungle. From your ship you can see some ruins poking up through the jungle … as well as three wrecked ships on the beach. You stop and go check out the ships and ruins because that’s what we do on Wednesday nights. More seriously, the usual pretexts are included, from on the trail of an evil cult to some kind of treasure map. There’s a gap niche, I think, in adventure pretexts and complications. How does a ship and/or sea voyage actually work? Something that told you that would help you run and/or design adventures that include a sea voyage. Like, the ship needs to take on water and therefore stops at he island. Or, the mill has flour in the air that can explode. Interesting things, oriented at adventures, that matter in actual play and.or design. Anyway …

Having diverged once, let me diverge again. A 2-3 hour adventure? “Explore a forbidden jungle island”? World’s greatest roleplaying game? I guess the last is a reaction to the trademark stuff from Teh Hasborg? But, I would suggest there’s a slight disconnect in the marketing of “Explore a forbidden jungle island” and a 2-3 adventure, along with everything implied in “forbidden.” Marketing is marketing, but, still, it backfires when you get peoples expectations up and they go away disappointed. IE: the story of my reviewing life. Finally, 2-3 hours? Is four hours not the standard anymore? I’m being serious here, not a douchebag (for once.) I know that gaming store play has changed the culture a bit, but is the norm now 2-3 hours? This adventure, in particular, feels like it could have done better if it were a bit more open/larger/longer. You could get a 4 hour session out of this if the designer put in a little more work, and easily another session if the island were opened up a bit.

It is, essentially, a bunch of linear encounters. I’m no fool. I know that this is how people play D&D at home. But, as I mentioned above, it feels like this could have been more if it were opened up more and has a little more freedom. As written, you go down a jungle path, part some vines, and get attacked. There’s just a little too much linearity/”lack of pretext” in that for my tastes. 

Enough of my bitching though, let’s cover the good in this. And there is good! More than usual!

It’s sprinkled with little boxed sections, a sentence or two at most, that have designer notes, advice to the DM, and so on. This is great. It’s SO hard sometimes to try and figure out the vibe a designer meant. This sort of inspiration for the adventure, what I was going for, etc, is great. It’s boxed off, doesn’t get in the way, and can be full of advice to help the DM run the adventure. It FEELS like the designer is a part of the community, referencing online tools and the like, rather than just a pure simple “PAY ME! PAY ME NOW!”

The organization is a mixed bag. At times the adventure uses bullet points to convey information, and it does this relatively well. The wrecked ships, for example, just get a couple of passing lines in a bullet point in the beach section, telling you whats up with them. Not too much detail for an elements that doesn’t really drive the adventure. That’s great! (I might complain a bit, though, that while it’s not too much It might also not be enough. A ship name and or one or two sentences each, for the party, might have been in order. They are sure to search the ships and try to figure out what’s up with them? Especially since it’s the first thing they encounter? And maybe a missed opportunity for future adventure hooks, or petty rewards from brining back a sailors boots to his wife or some such? Yes, it can be hard finding the right balance. I am hartened (get it?! Get it?!) though that there’s not too much detail.) In other players the lack of formatting is telling. Monster and room information buried in paragraph text. The long-form paragraph is not the best wa for communicating some data. I’m thinking, specifically, of the text for the four or locations in the ruins, the shrine. 

I note also that sometime it feels like overview text is left out. There are fruit trees that play an important part of the adventure, but they are handled just as a bullet. A) Good! B) This could have been mentioned perhaps in a bit more detail in some kind of overview text. IE: “you see three ships and also some trees that seem to have fruit on them.” 

There’s good DM advice, as I mentioned, especially around tactics. Many designers can either leave this out or go full on tactics porn on the issue. Here it’s covered briefly and flavourfully. Apes, being the main enemy, get some flavour in their combat. They tear off huge chunks of bark ad throw it at the party! Flavour! A thing an apre would do! They hang upside down and swing from vines! Not just a throw-away monster, but it FEELS like an ape monster. Nicely done . Irrelevant background text is generally handled well, at least in the beginning, it being just afew words at the end of a scene surrounded by parens. It doesn’t get in the way, being both at the end and signaling to the DM via the parens. It’s also inconsistent at times, with other background information deeper in to the adventure not doing this and just appearing. “This ledge used to be.”

Evocative writing, like organization, is hit and miss. Bare masts rising up above the trees is a good bit. Other times it feels a bit on the blander side. Not full of “large statue” boring territory, but as if there were missed opportunities everywhere. There’s a room with an alter in it, a spider alter. But there are jewels in a loot pile. Better, i think, to put them in as a part of the spider alter? Who don’t like desecrating psider alters for jewels? It’s great imagery. Likewise, a folding boat doesn’t get a name or any details other than “it makes a loud clanging sound when unfolding” That’s good, but it’s also a missed opportunity, just like with the other magic items and most of the other descriptions, to add just a little more flavour with better word choices. 

A few rando notes: It comes with both a print-friendly version and a “pretty” version. Nicely done, keeping the greyscale background template off the printer friendly version. Also, the “pretty” version is laid out in such a way that the background imagery doesn’t interfere with the text that’s on top of it, something that more designers should pay attention to. It gets hard to read when your text runs in to the background imagery and you don’t also use a box, shading, etc. The monsters, listed in the appendix, could use a bit of description. As is we get some description in the adventure text proper “tall thin ape-like creature with long curved claws.” Not the most exciting description and, also, buried in the text of one room. A line or two in the general description/monster appendix would have been in order. (And a little more opportunity to be evocative also …) Finally, the map is very clean for ruins. Nice clean lines with 90 degree angles, etc. Black on white. Trust me, I feel your pain. Getting the fucking maps right, with all the shitty or complex mapping tools available, is a serious pain. So, while I won’t hold this against a designer I will say that’s it’s an opportunity to learn, grow, and do better. 

So, an ok adventure, better than most. Limited somewhat but it’s smaller size/shorter length. It doesn’t engage in excessive text sins, which makes the lack of organization tolerable, especially given the attempts to make things more scan-able for the DM. The mantras: better organization, tighter writing, more evocative writing. Once those basics are down you pass the first hurdle: not a fucking nightmare to run. This makes you better than 95% of other adventures and you can then concentrate on evocative writing, interactivity, and holistic design. A little more work to get over that first hurdle, I think. Still, I wouldn’t curse the world TOO much if this were dropped of fon my me five minutes before a AP con game started.

This is $3 at Drivethru. The preview is seven pages, showing you all of the pertinent parts of the adventure. Nice use of bullets in some places (the beach) and less other places (the shine rooms.) In fact, the bullets in the beach pretty much encapsulate everything about this, both from a positive quality (the mast/ship descriptions, bullets, high level/correct level overviews) and bad (ruins lack flavour, ships lack appropriate details.)


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7 Responses to (5e) Silent Screechers review

  1. Richard Sharpe says:

    No regrets, then, eh?

  2. Thanks for the review & great feedback! Better organization, better writing … got it for next time! 🙂

  3. Dave says:

    Very first thing my players would do would be to loot the wrecked ships. And given my GMing style a monster and some trade goods in one would be the first thing I put in. And a ship layout map would be nice to have…

    On the other hand, if the adventure is short and punchy enough I understand not paying a tax in extra writing and mapping just to get it out in front of the public. In 5e especially there’s a danger the GM would think they’re supposed to get the players into the ships if there’s an encounter in there, whereas in old school I’d be content (if surprised) if the players skipped them.

    • Chainsaw says:

      FWIW, in my Atlantis module that takes place on an island, I placed a wrecked ship on the shore. Between me, Dave Prata, Jeff Talanian and others running it at conventions close to 25 times now, I think only one single group bothered to explore the ship rather than proceed directly to the “island center.” Very possible that in a home campaign a party might be more thorough, but who knows. Probably sticks out as too much of side quest with unnecessary risk and questionable loot. Getting people there more regularly would have needed a more critical motivation, I think.

    • I was 100% planning on “we loot the ships!”—but the ape monsters took all the goodies home to their shrine a long time ago. 😉 I admit I didn’t really think very long about not having an encounter on the ship. Lots to learn and a fair few things I plan on doing differently next adventure!

  4. Commodore says:

    The four hour session is still the ideal, I think, but myself I’ve found more and more I’m in 2-hour sessions in 3 of my 4 regular games. While building and designing for 4 hours still works (just break in half), I have tried to keep pacing in mind for those mid-module breaks.

  5. Gus L. says:

    This is an encouraging review for me – it’s good to see the 5E community becoming both a community and starting to think more about usability. It sounds like Silent Screechers isn’t quite there yet, but if you’ve been reading Waterdeep Heist, Bland Underdark or Linear Giant Party and are using them as guide it might take a while to figure out about the joys of brevity, dense descriptive nuggets and internal consistency. Sounds Mr. Hart is on the right track and I’m looking forward to a day when the 5E community produces more content of this quality and better – there’s so much energy and enthusiasm there and it’s about time it gets used for something fun.

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