By Simon Goudreault WanderingDM 5e Level 2
… you will search the Witchwoods for missing people, overthrow a tyrant, and bring peace and justice to a small frontier town by the name of Bromwich.
This 54 page adventure uses about 25 pages to describe a hunt in the woods, avillage, and an small fight with the mayor as the climax of the adventure. Weird mechanic choices abound in this, as well as the usual “I don’t know how to write an encounter description” issues that plague nearly every adventure.
There’s a convoluted backstory to this which I’ll complain about in a bit, but, first, the basic adventure outline. You’re hired to find some missing lumberjacks. Each day, when you are searching the woods for the lumberjacks, you roll survival. If you roll over X then you could encounter any of the encounters, on the chart, with a survival DC<=X. So, a chart full of fourteen encounters of various DC’s, once of which has the lumberjacks. After finding the lumberjacks the party is betrayed by the person who hired them. They are then rescued by the sheriff and given the “real” mission, to find someone to replace the corrupt mayor of the town. You go talk to some people, and then tell the sheriff who you want to be the new mayor. You then ambush the corrupt mayor, who offers to reward you if you take his side. And then the adventure ends, one way or another, with the party choosing a side and finishing up the combat.
The adventure is trying to have some complexity to it and be a little sandboxy. There are other quests to perform in the lumberjack camp, little fetch things, etc, and the “mayor candidates” that you talk to, pre-revolution, MIGHT have some things to do. The NPC’s are laid out up front, for the town, as well as descriptions for ten or so town locations. There’s also a pretty open-ended “get your stuff back” section, that is not supported by the text AT ALL, but feels like an infiltration from the few words there are about it. Further, there’s at least a bit of complexity to the otherwise stock characters, in places. The corrupt mayor COULD actually surrender, and he COULD keep his word, if the party throws in with him at the end. Further, his (nice) son is probably the best equipped to be the next mayor but, of course, no one trusts him. There are a decent number of opportunities to roleplay and gain allies as well. So, Simon tried.
Tried and failed.
The mechanics of this are terrible, and you know I seldom talk about mechanics, so they must be egregious. Fourteen locations on the forest chart, you can find one a day and only one has the lumberjacks. Further, the other locations do NOTHING to make your search more productive. At most, you might get rid of wandering monster checks. (which are fucking lame in an adventure like this, especially in the throw-away form they are presented here. Wanderers do different things in 5e than in OSR. Just make some decent encounters to scatter in instead of a traditional chart, if you’re going to use them.) So, just roll a check every day, have an encounter, and hope that, randomly, you get the one you are looking for. No chance to influence. The worst kind of random. Just suffer through without ANY ability to influence your fate. The journey IS in fact the destination, but no ability to influence your fate is a shitty shitty journey.
Likewise, when you talk to people, mayoral candidates, you need to convince them to take the job. They each have a different chart. If you do X things from their chart then they will take the job. BUT YOU DONT KNOW WhaT THE THINGS ARE, as players. It’s just fucking random. Did you do all of the bulltin board tasks? Do you know Bobs spouse was kidnapped? He won’t tell you that. This is all BS. You can’t engage in meaningful decision making unless you know the decisions you are making. “HAhA! Gotcha! You should have carved your initials in to random tree #2353 in the forest! You didn’t, now you loose!” Of course the DM is gonna cheat and fudge to make things happen and keep the action going. Is that the point of a DM? Maybe, but it’s more the job of the designer to keep that shit from happening in the first place.
So, you find the lumberjacks. And are then backstabbed by Mayor McDickCheese. He’s taken all the money he would have paid you and instead bought sleep poison. He poisons you and throws you in the river, tied up, to drown. Why not just kill you? Why not use killing poison? Why not just PAY YOU? Because, gentle readers, Wandering DM thinks they are STORYTELLER. FUCK YOU AND FUCK YOUR STORY! IT”S THE PLAYERS STORY, NOT YOURS! This sort of forced shit really pisses me off. If you make your save DC then bandits burst in and shoot you with sleep poison crossbows. The room has no doors or windows ,locked, everything set up against the party. Fuck you. Adversarial, railroad designer. Fuck. You. All so you can tie them up and throw them in the river so they can make a DC10 check or drown. That’s fun. Or, they missed? Don’t worry, the sheriff will rescue them. Because fucking plot. Shitty, shitty, shitty design. The players are viewers in their own adventure instead of participants.
Read-aloud is weird. There’s not much, but it’s long and in italic (bad!) when it does poop up. You have to read the fucking backstory to udnerstand the hooks and what exactly is going on. Again, terrible design. Encounters and NPC descriptions are full of meaningless trivia and backstory instead of tools and ideas to help the DM bring the adventure to life. “Karl moved here 25 years ago after a life of adventure” is meaningless trivia backstory. “Karl runs an underground booze ring and is looking to X with Y if he can” gives Karl a reason to be in the adventure and the ability of the party to interact with him in a meaningful, adventure driven, way.
Blah blah blah, says the generic ad copy, “discover a dark secret.” Zzzzz…….
This is $5 at DriveThru.The preview is fifteen pages. You get to see the setup, the NPC’s and town locations and their lack of adventure-driven focus in their writing styles. That’s about it though. A fifteen page preview should also show some encounters (and yet, the NPC’s COULD be encounters, so, ok, it does show some, but, still, real encounters also, please, so we can make an informed decision.) Two five star reviews as of my blog post. Geee, that’s surprising.