By James Thomas Frog God Games S&W Levels 4-7
When our heroes return to Ravenreach all is not well. The castle is in lockdown and the town hasn’t heard from anyone there in days. Worse, our heroes learn they are wanted for attempting to assassinate the baron. Sneaking into the castle through a secret entrance at the bottom of the hill they find a way in via a slippery sewer drain. Snaking up through the dungeons below they unearth ancient secrets, encounter deadly monsters, nasty traps and twisted abominations. As they piece together the sinister plot to frame them, the party must take care to avoid killing friends while fighting foes as they navigate through the dungeon and castle. At last they encounter the usurper and his guard of monstrous henchmen for a final boss fight!
This 24 page adventure is a tangle of forced combats, ineffective read-aloud, long DM text and, of course, no treasure. Because it was probably a conversion. Great art though.
I try to learn something from everyone I’ve worked for. I once worked for a guy that was utterly incompetent in everything he did. But he still managed to get an AVP job and hold it for almost two years. So, you can be totally incompetent and still succeed. Why is this relevant in a Frog God Games review, you might ask? At least they use different covers now. Also, both the layout and cover style have been refreshed sometime recently. They are cleaner and easier, nice job! The art in this is really top notch also. It’s quite evocative of the scenes, from the cover to the interior art. And it seems to walk a line in art styles that I find appealing, not going too far in any direction without seeming to pander to a middle of the road approach. In fact, I’d say the art is the best part of this adventure, and I don’t mean that as an insult. Later on I’m going to comment on the mess of text the rooms are. But, the artists have taken that and really imagined the hell out of it. I would have NEVER envisioned that room on the cover that way. I doubt anyone would have. Except for Joshua Stewart. Interior art also, especially a scene with characters exploring a dead dragons cave by torchlight, skeletal bones in the background. Not actually in the adventure, I think? I think the text states the bones are elsewhere, but, still, nice art. Art art art. Are you sick of me talking about art yet? Well, what the fuck else nice am I going to say?
I guess the inn in town is done well. It’s described in about two sentences, which is about the right amount of text to describe a building in town. A small appeal to a description featuring animal pelts and bones and the two people that work there, with a couple of words on their personality. Just about the right length. And the rumors from the inn are easy enough to scan, using bullets. The adventure also does a pretty decent job in trying to integrate itself in to your campaign. Used as a sequel to another adventure in the series or as a standalone, there are bits of advice on how and why to do things to fit it in. And then, unfortunately, the adventure starts.
The maps a mess. It’s scattered through the book and I still can’t really figure out how the dungeon connects to the ground floor and first floor and reconcile it with the text descriptions. “They will come up in the great hall …” but it looks like to me like the dungeons connect elsewhere? I don’t know.
And all that “how to integrate the adventure” advice? It includes a nice little “if the party kill bob & Ted in the last adventure then they were Raise Dead’d to appear in this adventure.” Yeah. No. Seriously? Are they that important to the adventure that they show up again? It didn’t look to me like they were anything other just someone else to hack down. I guess there’s some “recurring villain” thing that’s appealing? But I remember a Warlord comic (fuck Conan. Travis Morgan bitches!) where Deimos shows up resurrected for one issue just to be killed again. Like, what’s the point? I mean, if Bob & Ted show up in EVERY adventure from now on, then, maybe, but the whole Deus Ex to shove in a villain … and then on top of it they don’t really do anything? Uh, no. Bad design.
The read-aloud can be long in places, going in to great detail. That’s not good. Read-aloud should be short, I’ve harped on that enough by now, but overly detailed read-aloud also takes away from the interactivity of an adventure. When explaining too much in the read-aloud you remove the players ability to go over and read the text on the wall, or see what the pillar looks like, and so on. Besides “A storm subsides as you row across …” is a lame ass style. It’s failed novelist syndrome. Don’t to this. Or, read-aloud that says something like “the carpet is worn away because of all of the fights the regenerating knights have gotten in to.” Seriously? How does the party know that? Was that a fuck up in the layout, and not supposed to be read-aloud? (Oh Frogs …) or just bad read-aloud writing? Also, who cares about why the carpet is worn if it has no impact on the adventure?
The adventure does this over and over and over again, explaining WHY. “This gold is the last of Evil Iggy’s treasure from his kingdoms down south.” So? Does that matter? No? Then why’s it included? No one gives a shit. And, all this background shit creatures a wall of text (Oh Frogs …) that makes it hard to actually use the room encounters.
You walk in to a room and things attack. This, I suspect, if the main conversion error from 5e/Pathfinder, the appeal to the linear dungeon map and “they attack!” sort of interactivity. And the light ass treasure haul. There is NOT enough loot in this for a part of 4-7’s. S&W means Gold=XP to level. Who the fuck does these conversions? Not that it matters, the level range isn’t actually in the product description or on the cover anyway, so you don’t know it’s for levels 4-7. But, hey, speaking of treasure, you, the DM, do get to pick out your own treasure because the designer can’t be bothered to select which scrolls to put in.
Your reward, if you save the Baron held hostage in the castle, is that he gives you 5k in gold. Ok, sure. But there’s no treasure vault in the castle. Where’s the 5k come from? Cause if it were here I’d have looted it. But, alas, no. Deus Ex. I’m not a simulationist. I think that shit sucks. But you gotta at least appeal to a light pretext.
Do not be alarmed. The new cover style, cleaner layout, and better art is not an alarm. This is the same old same old from the Frogs. When Zeitgeist gives it 4 stars you KNOW its not good.
This is $8 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages, three of which are worthwhile. You get to see one page of the maps, andone page each of the intro and the “hook” encounter scene at the inn. Those two are indicative of the writing. Imagine the encounters were in the style of the long-ass intro. And then, the inn encounter, with it’s two sentence inn and bullets, if the high point of the design and layout.