Hoard of Delusion

By Mark Ahmed, Sean Ahmed, Scot Hoover
Axe mental Productions
Levels 1-4

Hidden below the Black Fen lies the fabled Hoard of Delusion.

This 117 page adventure presents a village, wilderness region, and fifty room four level dungeon. It’s easy to see what it wants to do, but is bogged down with not knowing how to get there. Good ideas marred by poor execution; this needs a full rework to be usable.

This is striving to be like the adventures of Ye Olde Days, the better ones anyway, with a village, a wilderness region, and a multi level dungeon. It’s built around the dungeon, with village and wilderness encounters supporting/proving hints to the dungeon. The village and wilderness have interconnections within thm, and a couple of sub-plotty/other shit going on things going on. There’s even a keep in the village. The idea of a village, wilderness area and dungeon environment supporting each other is great, it’s what adventures of this type SHOULD be doing.

Further, the dungeon environment has some good ideas. New monsters, and classic elements abound. Giant octopus, mimic-like things, a giant eyeball on a ceiling, cracks in the earth that mist flows from, a rope bridge, and brains in jars. 

It’s marred, though, by being nigh unusable because of the description style used. And some pretty hairy encounters.

Level 1-4? Great! The area in the ruins, outside of the dungeon has a 5 HD hydra. The first room of the dungeon has a 7HD baddie with a gaze attack. 10HD black pudding? Toss it in there! A 12HD monster? No problem! I get it, OSR, you can run away. But the first room? And the dungeon entrance/ruins outside? This seems more like an issue of scaling. 

Further, the treasure is low throughout. It notes that the wilderness areas can be used to gain levels/experience before tacking the dungeon. (You know, the one with a HD hydra outside and 7HD monster in the first room? The one with the gaze attack?) But the loot is low, WAY too low, for anyone to be doing much leveling. Not quite comically low, but it’s hard for me to see a party leveling to three, and two might be difficult if you don’t recover everything available.

The village is described incorrectly, of course, most villages are. The mundanity and backstory of the people, with little assistance on the subplots or a reference on where the party might like to go. Villages are not explored like dungeons. You don’t walk down the street looking in to every shop. You get directions to the General Store and go there. And yet, this is laid out like a typical dungeon. 

And then there’s small map issues and other mistakes. No stairs on the map in the first room of the dungeon. Encounters left off of the wilderness maps. Just sloppy stuff.

But, the real issue is the encounter descriptions. As always.

The descriptions can be long. VERY long in cases. Page long rooms. No one can run a fucking page long room well unless the formatting and layout are par excellance. And they ain’t here. It doesn’t matter: village, wilderness, dungeon, the encounters are all done in the same manner and SO. FUCKING. FRUSTRATING. Ignoring, for a moment, the usual tavern descriptions and  how everyone on earth feels the need to redescribe it, the rooms are a fucking mess. This room used to be. However frank looted all of the bodies. A paragraph of backstory. Important details mixed in to the backstory descriptions. Conversational, with no knowledge of how to organize a description. The inn has three or four tables and a booth. Great. A wonderful night of D&D was then had. This fucking shit is garbage. This is a bit hyperbolic, but: Does every fucking word of your description contribute to the ACTIVE adventuring environment? No? Then fucking cut it. And then, when writing a description, put the important and obvious shit up at the front of the description.

When the players open the door to a room I’m not taking ten fucking minutes to read the fucking room description to myself before conveying it to them. The fucking phones come out, and rightfully fucking so. I’d be a shitty shitty DM if I did that. But what other choices do you have? Ye Olde Highlighter, going through the adventure highlighting and making margin notes? Seriously? If you have to fucking do that then the adventure was not written well. It’s failing at its core purpose: being useful to the DM as a play aid at the table. Why the fuck is this so hard to grasp? People bitch a blue streak that they don’t use adventures because they are a pain and require prep, note taking and highlighting. They are fuckign right. 

What’s all the sadder is that you can tell what this wanted to BE. The village, the wilderness, the dungeon. The interconnectedness. The classic dungeon elements. Iconic rooms that don’t feel like set pieces. But in the end none of that matters, because it’s 117 pages of unusable adventure.

This is $12 at DriveThru. The preview is 80 pages. That’s what I like to see! Take a gander at room one on page 58 of the preview/54 of the book. Good idea. Some useful imagery. One of the better rooms and MIGHT be salvage if all of the other rooms were as good ths this. Maybe.


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51 Responses to Hoard of Delusion

  1. Nick says:

    Great, hilarious, read… and as usual, spot on. That said, I do think urban environments can be run as crawls. Had enormous fun with the cluster fuck that was Mayfair Games version of City State Of The Invincible Overlord… and when one takes into account crawl mechanics from Vornheim, Last Gasp and Shadel Port, I think we can make a strong case for city aa dungeon. There are multiple methodologies depending upon the campaign (e.g. NPC as dungeon ‘room’), but it’s all a case of encounter description, ultimately.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Are there any modules that have decent towns?

    • Shuffling Wombat says:

      How about Restenford in L1 The Secret of Bone Hill; Threshold in B10 Night’s Dark Terror? Moving to mainly sourcebook materials, the 2E City of Greyhawk Boxed Set is pretty good. If you are willing to try Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay materials, the books on Marienburg and Middenheim are excellent.

      • Anonymous says:

        Talking new modules with villages/towns that tenfootpole likes, but thanks.

        • Shuffling Wombat says:

          OK, how about Kellerin’s Rumble (City of Illanter)? That is more of an outline of how to handle a city adventure. It was a real pity that the City Of Vermilion Kickstarter didn’t fund, but it may well be back in expanded form. I’m sure Malrex would be happy to say more.

  3. Landifarne says:

    You’re absolutely correct that this is not an adventure you can run on the fly. However, I think a significant number of readers that delve through its 80 page preview will be pleasantly surprised.

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      Run on the fly is laudable, but not a review standard. If the designer can’t be bothered to make something that can be run easily then why should I be bothered to buy and run it, particularly when choosing from among the other options available that COULD be bothered to make it easy for the DM to run?

      • Landifarne says:

        I’m not saying that it’s a particularly good module but, unlike what you directly say “…in the end none of that matters, because it’s 117 pages of unusable adventure,” it is certainly usable. The DM would have to sort through much chaff, but there is much to be garnered from this module.

        A significant number of people will find it useful [I actually don’t] and Axe’s preview allows those purchasers to weigh the matter individually. I find this eminently more usable than something like Broodmother, which you creamed all over and which I regret purchasing [based on your recommendation, I may add.]

        • The Middle Finger Of Vecna says:

          It is unusable within the framework of Bryce’s standards. In that regard, he’s being true to his review standards and philosophy. On the other hand, I think you are spot on when you say “A significant number of people will find it useful”. yes, they will and that’s why everyone reading these reviews has to keep in mind what Bryce wants out of an adventure is not necessarily what others want. For me, there are several of Bryce’s Best that I wouldn’t touch with a, pardon the pun, ten foot pole. At the other end of that spectrum, there are others that he didn’t like that I did.

  4. Evard’s small tentacle says:

    There is a fair amount of them scattered in the best of:
    Penbrookshire, Walstock, Terniel, Slag heap, Marlinko, the Kramer modules and many others have towns and villages.

  5. doublejig2 says:

    Reminds of the excellent N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God with its village, temple, wilderness, and dungeon. In N1, the evil cult is what connects the module’s components.

    • doublejig2 says:

      N1 and T1 both feature villages that don’t suffer from poor execution.

    • Yora says:

      I just finished running Against the Cult of the Reptile God for a second time and I had a blast with it. The players also really enjoyed it.
      On first glance the village seems overly described with descriptions for every single building and its inhabitants, but for a village where the players are supposed to talk with the locals to get a picture of what is going on, it does a really good job. The actual descriptions for each farm or house are actually very short and brief, giving a quick impression of its state and only really giving detail about the family member that will be doing the talking with strangers. And usually in one or two sentences you get information how that character reacts to visitors, how he feels about the situation in the village, and what he can tell the players.

      I’ve read the description of the whole village two or three times to familiarize myself with who is who, but after that, running the players through it was a breeze. I never felt so comfortable playing minor NPCs on the fly with no preparation of what I wanted to tell the players before. It really worked brilliantly.

  6. squeen says:

    Thanks for taking the time to review this Bryce. Too bad it suffers in the execution.

  7. Shuffling Wombat says:

    Some interesting comments above. I agree with Bryce that the entries seem wordy, and that placing the hydra (with shriekers to give the alert) followed by another tough beast isn’t a good way to begin a low level dungeon. It would be fine if the hydra could be distracted by a sheep corpse in the former case, or bargaining was possible in the latter encounter. However I do agree there is useful material to be mined.
    Melan has reviewed Broken Castle, and intends to do this one as well: they are linked as being attempts to recreate “the Gygaxian campaign” as described in the 1E DMG (see p.91). As he notes, T 1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil is also an example (which I feel loses its focus in the description of the elemental nodes). His blog is available to those wanting something better than my crude summary!

    • Landifarne says:

      There are reasons why the first encounters are so difficult. You touch on that a bit; Bryce utterly failed to.

      It points straight to the heart of Axe’s (and a lot of other people’s) gaming style/philosophy.

  8. ETOB says:

    I know many managers who simply do not want employees who can’t keep a strictly neat and tidy desktop. Doesn’t matter what else that person has to offer. By making this the first priority winnowing point, they may pass over very good candidates for whom a tidy desk is not their style.

    But I would disagree that, in this case, the “messy desk” is indicative of an adventure that doesn’t provide the meat most DMs prioritize most highly. I think good D&D value is provided here. I’m surprised there was not a single mention of the voluminous art provided throughout the offering; much more than in most RPG products. This wouldn’t make up for an unplayable module (which I don’t think this is), but it is a delightful distinction to most offerings.This drips with evocative RPG art.

  9. Evard's Small Tentacle says:

    It’s weird to have all these posts trying to extol the virtues of a mediocre product. This module is unrunnable as it’s written. The walls of useless text makes it a product that is 80% filler with very little creativity that most lay GMs (including myself, and I consider myself both mediocre and lazy) can make up on the fly without doing days worth of homework.

    If it’s an art book, then market it as such. That’s not an adventure. Paizo products knock the socks of most products from an art and production values perspective, which lots of people value.

    • Lord Mark says:

      As with the last review this is a product for a specific scene, one that wants the wall of useless text, as long as it’s vaguely medieval mundanity. The same folks that would laud a tenfootpole excoriation of something like UVG or Lorn Song of the Bachelor want to overlook the problems in this shard of OSRIC blandness out of scene loyalty.

      “Serious” or “traditional” D&D implies long stone corridors and long texts about former uses because that’s like the old days and clumsy mechanics are transform into a proving ground for D&D virtuosity. I don’t say this out of malice, everyone likes what their friends produce more then what strangers make.

      Unfortunately that scene is pretty much the only one still commenting here.

      • squeen says:

        @Lord Mark: You are not necessarily wrong IMO, but intended malice or not, you do seem angry.

        • Lord Mark says:

          I’m not angry, but let me go on record that Dr. Intombe that death magic spammer is nothing but a conjurer of cheap tricks! Only Lord Mark’s vampiric spam offers ancient secrets and power for a low monthly payment.

      • Anonymous says:

        “Serious” or “traditional” D&D implies long stone corridors and long texts about former uses because that’s like the old days and clumsy mechanics are transform into a proving ground for D&D virtuosity.

        Hahahaha! Someone get him the doll. He needs to show us where the “serious/traditional” touched him. Run back to your echo chamber!

        • Lord Mark says:

          This is entirely typical of the sort of gamer so common here – immediately shifting any discussion to child sexual abuse.If it wasn’t so tragic it’d be so so creepy. I wonder what the correlation between a fixation on mazes of 10 x10 grey stone rooms into one’s middle age and pederasty is?

        • Ebbeneezer says:

          Gus’s main problem is not his woke-sickness, which causes him to lash out rabidly at fellow hobbyists for liking ‘the wrong DnD’ but the bone-deep hypocrisy that underlies it. He has already seperated from the hobby, yet insists on remaining, haranguing and complaining, a wraith twisted by habitual defeat.

  10. Terrex says:

    I wholeheartedly disagree with this review’s main conclusions about this adventure module. I ran an AD&D/OSRIC session at Winter War 45 based on the pre-published manuscript of the Hoard of Delusion. I was able to easily carve out the Tower of Bones section as a single course for my 4-hr session. The dungeon approach/dungeon proper played very well, although a 6-hr session would’ve been more appropriate. The portion of the module I ran was highly playable and extremely well designed, particularly in the following respect: the dungeon design expertly balanced the agency of a non-linear design with a scope that allowed for both rewarding AND very fast-paced play. For people that really play the game, you’ll see and appreciate what I mean. It was the right balance of leveraging the AD&D lexicon with a twist and supplementing it with the completely new that still felt in harmony with the old. I will add, this is probably the best illustrated adventure module I’ve seen for people that are actually intending to play the adventures they own. The illustrations were a fun and useful enhancement to play. The art was unique in its union of a) high quality, b) spirit of the game, and c) utility like no other module I’ve seen.

    I’ll add I don’t really consider this an OSR module. They’re something in the approach, here, that’s so veteran and engrained in playability. It’s clear that this product is not replicating an older style, it is a personalized version of that style. For veterans of the Gygaxian style or for those new to it that want it in a current product, Hoard of Delusion would be one of my top recommendations.

  11. Anonymous says:

    The art in the preview does really compliment the text—and there’s a lot of it. Which is good. The vibe is old-school too…in a nice, “non-hipster”, way as well.

    The truth is, I am struggling a bit lately with: “What DO I want in a published product?” This seems a better fit to the way I play in terms of content, but Bryce is not wrong—from the very first published module to the very latest—D&D has struggled with presentation. AND IT HAS HURT USAGE. How many old TSR modules do I own, that never appealed to me in days-gone-by because they were difficult to get my head around? Answer: too many.

    So far, the only one to have reached that Holy-Grail of balance (per Bryce) seems to be Melan’s Castle X. I am waiting to order my hard copy (and hoping for a masterclass).

    • squeen says:

      Was me. Comments seems buggy today.

    • EOTB says:

      Eh, HOD is a first module. It is verbose. That’s true. I didn’t expect Bryce to review it well – It admittedly doesn’t meet the form-of-design criteria he prefers, and that is fine.

      But I think there is such a thing as “plays better than it reads”. Bryce’s reviews serve very, very well to identify “plays as shitty as it reads” – and of modules that read poorly, most play poorly also. So the criteria has value, especially in today’s marketplace.

      But is there room in the criteria for identifying “plays better than it reads”? For me, that’s still a very valuable classification I’ll invest in. (And how I would classify HOD).

      • oswald says:

        Most classic modules run better than they read. Look at anything from the 80’s and it’s endless slabs of small text with little to no organization. If you didn’t run these back when they came out, it’s hard to justify the amount of highlighter needed to make most of them useable. The adventure design is often solid but with the wealth of good adventures out there, does solid adventure design justify poor presentation anymore?

  12. squeen says:

    I was going to try pulling at this thread a bit in the forum, but what-the-hey. (Pandora’s box has been opened!)

    Coin a phrase, is “cold play”, i.e. playing a product with zero-prep feasible? Or better still, is it desirable? If it’s possible, then is the depth of the material severely limited? Is it forced to stay very close to common tropes so that it can be instantly absorbed? Dunno.

    Here’s an example: I really like Matt Finch’s Cyclopean Deeps. It gets my imagination whirling — but, as written, is it playable? I haven’t hard of one example of someone “in the wild” using it.

    Contrast it with his Pod Caverns—a much more accessible (and popular) product. But The Deeps has SO MUCH more going on. The creativity and possibilities are through the roof. It’s potentially a spring board that would require massive DM input….but I still think it’s great. I WANT to use it.

    It’s the same with Operation Unfathomable. Gonzo great! But, like The Deeps, not reviewed here terribly well, and few reports of actual play.

    Both work well, I’m sure, for the authors. But the casual buyer, and “Cold Play” DM (such as Bryce) is never going to put the time in to make it work. The paradox is, if you have that kind of time and commitment—you are going to write your own stuff!

    The one exception seems to be Barrowmaze. Highly regarded and frequently used. Is it the accessibility factor? We immediately “get it” at first glance? (Full disclosure—I don’t own Barrowmaze.)

    Last shout out. I mentioned Melan—he walks the line with practiced grace…but Guy Fullerton does too. Bryce lauds both of their work, and I can see why. They are right in his wheelhouse, and remarkably disciplined in their brevity and creativity.

    • John N Whyte says:

      I have run cyclopean deeps. I even posted some comments on rpggeek.com about it. It is very good and definitely something I’d run again.

      However it definitely worked against me as a GM in parts. The cross referencing in between chapters was abysmal. There wasnt a faction reference. Honestly it felt like it needed a good editor to just give it that more polish.

      • squeen says:

        John, Nice review and session reports.

        From your conclusion,

        “The experience caused me to improve my rating of the books. It was an excellent campaign, but it was probably my most prep work intensive campaign I have run. ”

        I do wish Matt would let someone re-edit this product and fix it’s flaws. Ultimately, the writer of the Adventure Writer’s Guide believes in a DM that needs only a minimum framework upon which to improvise.

        While it sounds like the Deeps brought out the best in you as a DM, I think it’s off-putting for exactly the same reason it is/can-be great.

        I imagine HOD falls into a similar classification: can be excellent, but demands your active participation.

  13. Melan says:

    I am fairly surprised by the “unusable” type comments, since this is one module which has apparently seen a lot of co-author and third-party playtesting in home games and at conventions through its long history as OSR vapourware (to give readers an impression how long, not even the term “OSR” had been coined yet, and OSRIC was yet to be published when it first made the rounds). That’s a lot more actual play than even well-tested modules tend to get.

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      THe LaKe:
      About 15’ to the west of the statue is a small
      spring fed lake (complete with aquatic plants,
      fish, turtles, frogs and the like) A stream leads
      away from the lake in a series of falls before
      finally disappearing into multiple cracks in the
      earth some 30’ to the south The water feels cold
      and tastes like normal clean water, but just as the
      legend states, it offers no relief from thirst when
      drunk If the water (or anything found within) is
      carried 30’ away it will vanish The lake, attached
      stream with falls, plants and animals living within
      it, are in fact, illusions that serve to disguise a dry
      limestone quarry of the same dimensions as the
      lake, roughly 100’ in circumference and 10’ deep
      on the sides, dropping to 25’ near the center

      At the center of the quarry is a 3’x6’ cave
      entrance leading to Warthtraw’s subterranean
      hunting lodge (the lodge was placed underground
      and hidden to make it more secure against
      enemies) The lodge entrance at the bottom of the
      illusionary lake appears to be nothing but a spring
      pumping out a high volume of water into the lake

      Only those touching the water have a chance
      of detecting the illusion (Save vs Spells) If a PC
      jumps into the illusory water (to swim, etc ) he will
      drop like a stone to the bottom (despite feeling
      the splash and coldness of the water) taking 1d6
      points of falling damage (complete submersion
      in the water affords a second save against the
      illusionary water at +2) Unless disbelieved, the
      person submerged in the illusory water will
      begin drowning in one round, and die within 3,
      succumbing to the potent illusory effect Of course
      no attempt at swimming will work, as there is no
      actual water here (note: other types of movement,
      such as walking, running or climbing the steep
      wall are slowed as if in real water)

      A lowered rope, or something similar, may be
      used to rescue anyone stuck in this illusion.

      A small stairway made of mortared stones
      leads into the quarry on the south side, continuing
      to the floor of the illusionary lake The stairs are
      difficult to spot due to the overgrowth of real
      plants and being partly covered in dirt (spotted
      on a 2-6, 3-6 for elves and rangers) If spotted the
      victim can easily climb out using the stairs.

      • squeen says:

        You point being: this is interesting content stuff, but rambles?

        • Stripe says:

          You can’t run that on the fly at the table.

          It’s 400 words to basically say, ” THE LAKE: Illusionary water full of illusionary fish. Can’t swim or float in it, but can fall to the bottom, taking 1d6 damage, and drown if a save +2 isn’t made.”

          Bryce might add the rest of the stuff is the map’s job.

          If you could take all those 400 words and turn them into three short sentences—at the very most—it would pass. It gets high marks if it uses evocative wording.

          If more is said than an entry in Stonehell Dungeon, it’s not making Bryce’s cut.

      • Melan says:

        If the point is that this is written in a counter-intuitive order, and should have been edited for length and clarity, that’s fair criticism. However, I also see a potentially good set-piece encounter beneath, well, the illusion. Style and substance. This review just stops a third of the way. I can’t agree with that, based on the pieces I have read so far.

    • Gnarley Bones says:

      I think the issue is subjectivity of any review

      • Gnarley Bones says:

        [having issues posting]
        I think the issue is that these reviews are simply subjective opinions. That’s all they are. This reviewer likes some things and dislikes others. No tremendous stock can be put into any one review, which why most products in the world list hundreds -if not more- of reviews do a consumer can base their decision on an aggregate.

        In our gaming world, that model simply never happens. DriveThruRPG reviews can never be trusted (every product has 5 stars! What a Brave Gaming World we live in!) and the number of actual reviews is usually less than five.

        As result, when a review comes out and the reviewer is less than thrilled, people invested in the product take offense. There is no thinner skin than gamer-hide, and no rage like nerd-rage. Bryce liked some of my modules and didn’t like others. That doesn’t mean anything and no one can be heard to take offense at

        • Gnarley Bones says:

          a subjective opinion.

          I can say that Bryce got me on were-toads module which was, in my subjective opinion, a middlin’ outline of a module, but then the Metagorgos was not a adventure I would have picked up on my own, and I agree: it’s a little treasure.

          Don’t like Bryce’s review? Post your own review or, if the review contains objective items from the product and one feels they’ve been mischaracterized, that what these comment fields are for. Subjective eviews of subjective reviews tend not to fare well.

      • Bryce Lynch says:


        The Story of my first Mac Laptop
        I had heard about Mac laptops. I had also heard stories of people who were unhappy. “I can’t use a mac laptop” “they suck” “its just easier to write things out longhand.” “its not even a real laptop”. So, I go out and buy one. I get it home and open the box and there’s a brick in the box. Huh, I say to myself. I take it back and try to return it. “Whats wrong?” uh, it’s not a laptop? “Sure it is, it says it is right there on the box. Laptop.” Uh … it fails to meet the definition of a laptop? “That your subjective opinion, buddy, No fucking returns,” But there was this cult that loved their mac laptops. “It inspired me!” “i used it to hold up my trailer blocks!” But they were not using it as a laptop, and it wasn’t a laptop, in spite of what the box said.

        The primary complaint of adventures is that they require too much prep to use. Highlighting. Note taking out the ass, etc. Not made for running at the table for a real game, their intended purpose, I assert. Where does the line begin and end? When it is just a bad implementation rather than “not an adventure?” When it something good enough to run at the table without mountains of prep? (Not zero prep. 0 is laudable, bit not in any way realistic,)

        So, sure, there’s a little bit of subjectivity on where the line is. But any appeal to subjectivity means we can’t actually have a discussion. “Frank likes his steak well done” and “Bob gets inspiration from his brick.” No accounting for taste, or for mis-aligned purposes.

  14. squeen says:

    Bryce’s reviews are so valuable because there are uncompromising. He has his criteria and he sticks to it. No quarter is given.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I heard Melancholy is running this right now as a campaign.

    I know he thought higher of it than Bryce.

    That said, I would be interested to know how it has gone in play and if he has/ has not found more reasons to provide an alt take

  16. Anonymous says:

    Melan, autocorrect bad

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