By Neal Orr Self Published 5e Levels 1-2
The forces of Law and Chaos engage in open war across the continent of Dorangar. Will your players choose a side or walk the tightrope between warring factions until harmony and peace prevail?
This twenty page adventure features ten-ish adventure locations, mostly in a cave. It’s full of page long read-aloud, first person read-aloud, and an emphasis on physical dimensions in the read-aloud. “Not your kids 5e” and “harken back to the days you remember of TTRPG’s” are the marketing lines used. Dis-a-fortu-nata-mente, it’s not the glory days that you’ll remember, but rather the 2e-3e era. It makes me rethink the choices I have made in life.
There’s a ring of regeneration in this. It lets you get 1HD of HP extra back after each short rest. And every time you use it it shortens your life by one day. That’s a fucking kick ass magic item! It’s specific. It has a downside. It tempts the players to use it for the bonus at the cost of something bad. I fucking love the tension it creates!
In short: you wake up in your army tent as your camp is under attack by gnolls. You run in to the forest and fall in to a pit that have a seven room cave and then emerge in to a bullywug village.
As I pondered my life choices that led me to this point I was diverted in to two other tangents. First, what is the breakdown of “I use numbers on my dungeon mamp” versus “I use letters to key my dungeon map?” What’s the percentage breakdown and what chooses one designer to pick letters over numbers? I mean, there’s nothing wrong with it (I think?) but I’m curious.
Second, I now know why lair dungeon are popular and they all have seven rooms! A revelation! Also, “PC stands for personal computer, I just got that” remarks Killface. It’s because that’s what you can reasonably get through in one session of 5e and everyone writes adventures for one session of D&D! I know, it’s fucking obvious! But, I just got it. It’s ok Megatron, I would have brought Starscream back also.
Ok, I’ve avoided this adventure enough now. It’s written in single column format. Single column is hard to read. SSeriously, studies have proven it! Your eyes have to travel ALL the way from the left side of the page to the right side of the page and that causes more eye fatigue than a two column format, as well as it being easier to lose your place as you track back to pick up the next line. Don’t use single column indiscriminately in your writing. It’s a pain.
The read-aloud sections in this are long. I mean REALLY long. Like, four or five paragraphs each. Or a page. Or a page and a third of another. In one long chunk. Players don’t pay attention to long read-aloud. They get bored. They pull out their phones. They stop paying attention. You get two to three sentences of read-aloud. Maybe four. That’s it. Again, there was a study. WOTC did it! They watched a bunch of tables in the 5e room at GenCon, iirc.
[It is, at this point, that regular readers will be complaining about the repetition of this point. It seems like every weekend, or even every review, mentions this point, in almost exactly the same way. I know the RA rule. Almost everyone who has seen this blog know the RA rule. But Neal doesn’t know the rule, otherwise why would he have done it? Someone once suggestedI just write some articles on it and just put in a hyperlink to it when it happens, but that seems unfair to Neal. Disrespectful. Yes, that’s right, I said disrespectful. I, the potty mouthed asshole, don’t want to disrespect Neal. Because Neal is different from the thing-that-Neal-wrote. Neal is not a bad person and deserves respect. Unlike the-thing-that-Neal-write, which is total crap. This is fun. Hey, am I actually a review blog? Am I really just one of those “don’t really talk about anything useful in particular” blogs, but I disguise myself as a review blog, all Cute Little Bunnoid On A Stump style?]
Ok, so, four or five paragraphs of read aloud, three sentences of DM text, and then another four or five paragraphs of DM text. And the read-aloud is in first person. YOU are dreaming that … YOU are listening for sounds. YOU open the door. This assumes the players have their characters do things. It assumes that they have written their characters a certain way. It takes away agency from them. It’ TELLS them what is going on instead of SHOWING them what is going on. I’d explain more but right now that “link to the article thing is looking for and more appealing. Also, I’m now out of whiskey. (Remember: contemplating life choices? And you thought I was kidding.)
Agency Agency Agency says Marsha Marsha Marsha. The read-aloud tells you that listen cautiously, even if you don’t want to. As you flee some attackers you don’t get to climb down a cliff, or be cautious, because if you do then more gnolls attack. You WILL do what designers script tells you to, or else you will be attacked! Shut the fuck up and do what he says! He knows best! Fuck you and fuck your players agency! Jump off the cliff in to the damn river like I want you to!
Read-aloud (why the emphasis on read-aloud? Because it makes up up a hefty chunk of the adventure, that’s why) also tells you that “the bulk of the gremlin tribe resides here” or that “2 gremlins rush to attack anyone emerging from the tunnel.” In the first, the read-aloud is revealing too much information. This is a conclusion and not information that the players would have knowledge of. By stating it explicitly you’re removing the uncertainty that drives the decision making inherent in the tension in an RPG. The back and forth between DM and player is what RPG’s thrive on and read-aloud that is too in-depth removes that. Second, I just don’t even know what to say about that other sentence. There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding about read-aloud? Or DM text? Or … something else? “They rush to attack anyone emerging from the tunnel.” I guess maybe, in the Bryce taxonomy is sins, that’s abstracting a description? They should instead rush to attack when they see you emerge? Which is still embedding PC actions (But we were invisible!) in to the read-aloud, but at least it’s not abstracting it to some … fourth-person viewpoint? I don’t even know what to call it.
This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages long, with only two being relevant. Those two show you the read-aloud and DM text that is typical of the adventure. Not exactly easy to intuit that this is what the entire adventure is like, since it’s the intro scene, but, it IS what the entire adventure is like.
Where is that large automobile?
No, where does that highway go to?