By Jeremy Reaban Self Published 1e Levels 6-10, or so
From the depths of space come the Outer Ones, better known as the Mi-Go. They travel the universe looking for metal to mine and brains to steal. Now they have landed on a planet ruled by sorcery and steel…
FYI: Google docs knows how to auto-correct shub-niggurath. Ponder the implications of THAT revelation of Glaaki …
This twenty page adventure describes a 22 room alien Mi-Go outpost. It’s got a decent mix of elements that are relatable and does a good job of fitting in with a D&D campaign world. The writing is flat, lacking the ability to communicate an alien vibe evocatively. Interactivity is pretty good, primarily being alien machines to play with and experiment with. The writing can get long and it uses an encounter organization style that kind of makes sense, but is difficult to scan quickly.
Jeremy runs OSRNEWS, a blog that watches DriveThru for new adventures and supplement and, as such, is one of my goto sites for discovering new releases. He’s been writing adventures for awhile now and while this one is older (2015?) it shows the same kind of fundamental understanding of D&D that his more recent adventures do. And it also shows the same flaws.
This is a site based adventure, so, a dungeon. The local village has a rumor table, and it’s pretty decent rumor table at that, imbued with a little local color. It’s all kind of pretexts to get the party looking for the base. The rumors are pretty good, a little bizarre (my haystacks walked away!), and I would probably use all of them at the same time. (Although, the reference to the “sky-visitors” in one rumor is probably telegraphing a little too much, IMO.)Locating the dungeon and travel to it is not covered, it just jumps from the rumors to the base.
Inside are the usual assortment of sci-fi things. There’s a kitchen. There’s an operating room. There are medical devices. There are weapons. Jeremy does a thing that I really like in adventures: he uses a kind of real-world thing. In most adventures this would be things like a pool full of piranha, or a giant tarantella/black widow, or a giant komodo dragon. This is a kind of specificity that players find relatable, as opposed to the more generic and abstracted “giant lizard, giant spider” stuff. In this adventure it comes across as “a chainsaw attached to his arm” or a bionic sasquatch, or a griffin that can shoot out chaff. There’s this appeal to the world we understand combined with a specificity that make these things instantly recognizable and visceral. Combine this a bit with a little bit of Cthulhu, like a Hastur-cult or Shub-niggurath, or even the mi-go themselves. But it’s all pretty lightly done, in a way that makes sense without going to extremes. Likewise the magic items “fit.” A lightsaber knockoff is really just a slightly modified sword of sharpness, while a chainsaw is essentially stat’d as a sword of wounding with its bleeding effect. Like I said, he knows what he’s doing.
And this continues with his background, intro, and designer notes. Short, just a paragraph or so for each section to ground the DM before they get in to the meat of the adventure. Preparing their minds for what’s to come instead of droning on and on about useless backstory. And, at times, injecting a bit of wit for the DM through the use of asides and a few words of commentary. A failed attempt at the “Dismiss shub-niggurath” incantation has no effect. Except for annoying shub-niggurath. These kinds of little asides, DM advice and so on are great. They inject some of the designers personality, are a delight to discover on a read-through before running the adventure, offer great advice to the DM, and do so without droning on. Four extra words to bring all of that to the table! His wandering monsters have this same little bit of life in them, just a touch, to get the DM going down a path to running them. Just a little bit is all a DM needs to get their brains going down a path to riff on.
There are a number of minor issues in the adventure and two major ones. The base map is roughly symmetrical and those tend to be boring for exploration purposes. While there’s a certain “hub and spokes” design to this one, and that does leave room for “the unknown menace coming from behind us”, at least in the players minds, it’s also a little boring. The order of battle for the mi-go is essentially not present, except for a brief note on how they respond to an alarm in the prison. Good for the prison, but maybe moved up front with a note about it being an alarm in general would help finding it during play if there’s an alarm in other areas of the base. And then there’s a group of rival’s a Hastur-based NPC party. They can be used to get the party out of the prison if captured, or as a rival group they encounter. Both kind of work, but they also feel under-utilized … although I’m at a loss to figure out how to fix that. Maybe with an expanded role for the village/wilderness nearby?
The major issues though are with the flat writing and the encounter/room organization. The rooms can get lengthy at times and kind of explain one thing fully, and then another, and then another. Because of this is can be difficult to get an overall sense of the room, especially when it’s three or four paragraphs. Several rooms have creatures in them but they are buried in the second or third paragraphs. Because the first is totally devoted to all of the details related to, say, how a latch on a box opens. Switching formats to an “overview and then detail paragraphs” style could fix this, as could better use of bolding to call out the pertinents overview/”first impressions” data for the major parts of the rooms. I do find the writing flat. This should be an exciting place, full of bizarre things, but the overall first impression, from the writing, is that this is just another in the long list of slightly generic dungeon environments. And this is in a place full of brain cylinders and the like! This, I think, is something that many people struggle with. Getting over that hump of abstracted slightly generic descriptive text to a place where the room/encounter comes alive, without it resorting to verbosity, can be quite a challenge.
As such, with the non-evocative writing and organization issues, it would be a pass for me.
This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $1.50. The entire thing is in the preview, which is great. Also, it’s PWYW, so it’s entirely a preview anyway. 🙂