The Stolen Child

By Dave Tackett
QuasarDragon Games
OSR
Levels 7-9

The pleasant town of Sligo has its tranquility shattered when a young boy vanishes in the middle of the night. Investigating the disappearance, the characters discover lost ruins and an ancient plot for revenge and a long forgotten enemy of humanity. Will the characters be able to rescue the stolen child or will a cruel, wronged race be able to wreak vengeance on all humanity?

This 39 page adventure details a two level guardhouse with forty rooms on a demiplane full of evil elves. It’s trying to build a fairy/fey theme, since it’s based on a yeats poem. RA is in the characters perspective and the ancient evil elves have no order of battle. Treasure is quite light and rooms have backstory. This seems like an adventure out of the early days of the OSR when the excitement of rediscovery of D&D trumped meaningful design.

So Mr. Levels 7 through 9, you’ve stopped in a small village and a child goes missing. Your do-gooder heart goes off to find it. You wander through a forest, find an island, and teleport to a demi-plane of evil elves. Because, I guess, it was in the poem. There you fight a bunch of elves who never leave their assigned rooms, until you find the kid, or don’t, and come back. End.

There’s an opportunity lost here, I think, to orient this towards domain play, where the village BELONGS to the party. The bosses can torment the village to get their taxes, solve the problem themselves, or assign troops, etc. That would have been an interesting idea.

A middling effort in every way, it starts out with describing three buildings in town. Fine, you don’t need to do an entire town, just the important bits. But the blacksmith and general store still has to go in to t detail on item availability and markups, with nothing else interesting, and the inn takes a column of text to tell us it was once called the Dagon’s End, with a pic of a dragon mooning someone. This is not the tight, terse, evocative writing style that I think makes an adventure both easy and interesting to run.

You’re supposed to go in to the nearby forest and look around for the missing child. There’s no scale on the hex map though, so who knows how long it takes. The town lays out in four hexes long by 2 hexes wide, and the forest is about 8-12 hexes away, so, I guess it’s a minute walk? And the lake with the important island is inside of two hexes of trees, so I guess you can see it from the edge of the wood? Or maybe not? The wilderness text implies this is supposed to be a long search. I don’t know.  In fact, I’m not sure why the players even go to the forest, other than “it’s there.” There’s not really any information that leads the party to it. Oh, a couple of rumors on the inn table mention it, but, ultimately, it’s the DM leading the party by the nose with no support from the adventure. 

A focus on going through the motions of adventure design format, instead of concentrating on what’s important for the adventure, is revealed by this. “Pretending to be grown up” is what I call this at work. People using big words and doing things because that’s what they think grown up business people do. A kabuki. But there’s no understanding of WHY something is done, ot when, and thus it’s generally just a time waster that doesn’t lead to anything worthwhile. 

Read-aloud is atrocious. It’s full of character perspective. “As you walk by” and “At first you are uncertain “ and “Someone walks up behind you” and “As you walk along …” This is quite a weak writing style, putting things in this voice. It’s far far better to describe just a scene, the environment, then it is to try and insert the party in to it. There’s little to no benefit to inserting the routinely, except perhaps  in special circumstances, It comes off as amateurish, pedantic, and removes the agency that a 7-9 party might have. And no, “the DM can just summarize it” is not an appropriate response. If that were the case then why put it in like this as all? Why not put it in a format that’s easy for the DM to scan and summarize? “Why, because that’s a spurious argument bryce.” Indeed.

So you make it to the island in a pond/lake in the woods and on it find some evil elves guarding it. That’s all you get, so work with that. In the middle of the island is a fairy circle of mushrooms. You stand in the middle and say “Shiek” and go to the fairy demi-place. How do you learn the code-word? Or even that there is a command word? Fuck if I know. Why is there even a demi-plane? Probably as a callback to the Yeats poem, which I refuse to read out of ennui. The lockdown impacts us all in different ways.

So, you teleport through and see a fairy castle in the distance. And then a bunch of elf knights ride out and attack you straight away. I guess they say you teleport in? From the distance that’s implied is far away? Whatever. It’s a guardhouse, the text tels us. But the elves riding out will be the last interactive things the elves do. They all just wait in their rooms to die, no order of battle. 

The rooms inside are just boring old things stuffed full of, usually, elves. Lots of backstory. Lots of history. An unfocused writing style. Treasure is quite light for levels 7-9. GOLD=XP! GOLD=XP! GOLD=XP! Jesus, I wish people would learn that.

The kitchen tells us “There is little here to interest the characters” Indeed. No truer words.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $2. The whole thing could be a preview since it’s PWYW, but the real preview is nineteen pages long. That’s a good preview and gives you a good idea of the writing style for the adventure, both the town, wilderness, and guardroom/dungeon rooms. It shows you exactly what you’re getting, so, very good preview, and also happy to see PWYW.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/134488/PO1-The-Stolen-Child?1892600

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13 Responses to The Stolen Child

  1. Solcannibal says:

    Bryce, care to tell the poem’s name,
    for the sake of bored ones to seek It in Google?

  2. Beoric says:

    It’s “The Stolen Child”, and given Bryce’s predilection for fairy tales and evocative language I think he would really enjoy it. It has very little to do with what he described of the module, but could inspire an interesting (and possibly creepy) social adventure.

    The poem always leaves me with the impression that the child’s mundane life is pretty crappy, and I ambivalent about whether he is better off with the alienness of the fairies. I am also left wondering about the purity of the faeries’ motives in luring the child away, or whether they will grow bored of the child once the novelty wears off.

    As an adventure I’m picturing a superficially idyllic village, whose lord has a mean streak, offering a reward for the missing child. Asking around the village hints at the darkness of the lord, and eventually points the party to Faerie, which is like Smith of Wooton Major but edgier, the kind of place where the faerie will trade for a kiss or your fondest memory. Faerie is also superficially idyllic in a different way, but perilous and filled with dangerous temptation.

  3. Jeff V says:

    The Waterboys’ put the Stolen Child to music.

    (I think it’s wonderful, but YMMV – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jg-oJKYIinQ)

    Thanks to Bryce, I now know it was a Yeats poem.

  4. Gnarley Bones says:

    That cover! So evocative! Such action!

  5. Stripe says:

    QuasarDragon Games again? After that last one?!

  6. Anonymous says:

    WHO WATCHES THE WATCHMEN

  7. JB says:

    As I go back through these old posts (did I miss the entire month of April? Sheesh!), I wonder if maybe you, Bryce, should add your own suggested price/value on these PWYW adventures. It need not be on any particular scale…hell, it could just be a quick glance in your wallet at the time of reading and thinking about what fraction of your pocket money you’d be willing to part with for such detritus.
    ; )

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