(5e/OSR) The Obsidian Keep

By Joseph Robert Lewis
Dungeon Age Adventures
Levels 1-3

Last month, a fleet of holy warships sailed out to destroy the evil sorcerers of the Obsidian Keep. The fleet never returned. Today there is a call for righteous heroes (or brave treasure hunters) to find the fleet, rescue the sailors, recover lost treasures, and discover the fate of the cruel masters of the Obsidian Keep!

This 35 page adventure is good.

What, you want fucking more? Ug. Ok.

This 35 page adventure is REALLY good. 

Still not good enough? FINE!

Tremble! Tremble in the presence of Joseph Robert Lewis. You are not worthy! None of us are worthy. Fuck you Joseph Rober Lewis! Fuck you for writing this! Now, for the rest of our days we will all live in this shadow of this work. Now, every fucking adventure I review, every fucking adventure I ever pull out to run at a con has to be measured against this one. What kind of life is that? What terrible future lies ahead for us all, knowing that this exists? This fucking thing is CLEAN. Clean, and sharper than the sharpest scalpel. It’s as close to pick and run as you can get, I think. 

Good enough now?

Obsidian Keep, Evil Duke 7 Duchess live their and raid the sea lanes. Empire sends ships to destroy it. They don’t come back. Terrible storm. Now word from anyone. Now, it’s two weeks later. 

This has four separate sections: the harbor, the beach area, the grounds of the keep, and the keep proper. Let’s say that each one has about fifteen encounter locations. Each section has a little overview to start, easy to scan. Each section has i’s own full page map, easy to read. The layout is three-column, with good use of bolding, underlining, bullets, indents and whitespace. You can tell IMMEDIATELY that this is easy to use. I mean that. Glancing at it you’re like “well, this is obvious.”  The formatting here is SO good that it it appears simple. Trivial even. And yet … A general read-aloud overview, with sections underlined. The underlined wors lead you to bullets, with bolding. It’s all super easy to find the information you need and the writing is terse, easy to scan and easy to hold in your head. There are boxed offsets and … ?vertical lines? That serve to further organize text. It’s crazy how usable this is. Monster stats for that section are at the end of that section. Magic items appear in offset boxes and again at the end for ease of reference. Maps are clean, easy to read and reference (and generally non-linear, since only the keep is constrained by walls.)

The first three parts serve as a gateway to each other and to the keep proper. You see things. You hear things. You are slowly getting closer and closer to the thing in the distance: the Obsidian keep. Entrance to the Mythic Fucking Underworld indeed! Maybe it needs just a little mist (well, in the three outdoor areas) with things barely visible in it and sounds … but I’ll give that a pass. Cause its obvious you should do that.

You find survivors in the harbor, of the shipwrecks. They want rescued. You gonna do that? How bigs the rowboat *the designer tells you) You gonna take them back to your main ship, anchored in the distance? Gonna risk more wandering encounters for that? And the people on the beach, gonna do that also? Fucking wanderers are great. A sailor on flotsam, paddling toward you, calling for help, a shark fin circling him… desperate sailors. Creatures seen but disappearing again in the water. These are SUPER brief. One sentence. Sometimes two. But evocative as all fuck and each DOING SOMETHING. Building dread. Actionable situations. Lots and lots of things to talk to. Clues to other areas. Interesting situations. 

NPC’s are brief, just a few words, but memorable. 

The writing is clean, terse, and evocative. “A mass of tiny legs and tails wriggles on the surface, but makes no progress in any direction.” or A“n overturned hull rests above the waves on a rocky point. From a square hole in one side, a woman sits fishing.” or “Five harbor sharks thrash just below the surface. A few logs and a yellow jacket bob away. The frothing waves are red.” Terse. Packed up. Pretty good writing and descriptions. 

Magic items are well described in just a sentence or two and generally unique. “MARINER’S LANTERN The dim red glow from this magic lantern offers little light, but it clears away fog for 100 feet in all directions.” Yes, please!

My complaint, here, is that after all of the lead in the keep proper is short, with only about seven rooms, in a row. Very good rooms, but a bit anticlimactic after the journey to get there. This thing could support a sequel, concentrating and expanding on just the keep. 

Like all of The Best, I do a shitty job describing it and why it is The Best. Yeah, the keep could be better. Yeah, I can quibble with word choices and suggest even more in the way of evocative writing. But, come on man, it’s immediately obvious, from every aspect, that this is a good adventure. Not just Acceptable (9/10) but Good.

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is sixteen pages and shows you some of everything. Perfect preview. And this thing is only $3? Jesus Christ, how much fucking money have I wasted in my life on adventures that were NOT this?


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11 Responses to (5e/OSR) The Obsidian Keep

  1. Evard’s Small Tentacle says:

    Becoming a fan of Dungeon Age, to the point where I would pick up their adventures no matter what. These adventures are evocative without being overburdened by the variety of crap that people load stuff with. It’s the Mediterranean Diet of D&D.

  2. Mark Sable says:

    Bryce, you usually have an aversion to adventures that are statted for multiple systems, like OSR and 5E. What makes this one different in that respect?

    • Evard’s Small Tentacle says:

      The simplicity of information conveyed. It doesn’t go crazy with information and I think what is relevant at the table for d&dish stuff is only a handful of information. And it also specially calls out the lack of any DC Check mechanic since most solutions are expected to occur through interaction and RP (with a blanket, if you want to use checks, it’s a DC x)

  3. Anonymous says:

    Has anyone read these books? If the adventures are this good. Would love to hear from voracious readers

    • Evard’s Small Tentacle says:

      I have picked up 3 of them. They are pretty good; the only observation I have is that they are all very specific and situationally focused. I think that makes the design a little easier than say, developing something like Castle X, or DCO (I prefer these broader adventures because they tend to inspire me a bit more).

  4. Anonymous says:

    A TMNT reference on the harbor encounter table!

  5. squeen says:

    I just picked it up. Clean and simple. Super easy to follow. Nicely done.

    Dang! Even has little boxed text labeled “Lore”. Has Mr. Lewis been paying attention to the forum posts?

  6. squeen says:

    I have to say, the new magic items are quite original and outstanding!

  7. Shannon Ferguson says:

    I bought this module purely from the review. It doesn’t disappoint. The 5e version is very old school in tone. The encounters are creepy as all get out, and I like how one encounter can influence another. I will be running this adventure using 5e and BFRPG in the future, and I am looking forward to the expressions on my players’ faces. Thanks again for the review.

  8. Baldo says:

    “And this thing is only $3?”

    Don’t worry, it’s $7.99 now…

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