By Joe Raso Self-published 5e Levels 1-3
The characters stumble upon the survivors of a doomed expedition and learn of a shipwreck that may still hold items of great value. Can they overcome an abomination that now claims the vessel, or will they fall victim to the Hatred in Strale.
This 25 page “adventure” details three combats in two locations. Padded to all hell and back, it’s just an excuse to have a couple of combats, 4e style. Some days, it just don’t pay to get out out of bed and be excited about the world we live in.
“Operative of the Vigils of Vesh obtained credible intelligence suggesting Calastian agents were actively searching the Gifts of the Gods archipelago for a titan artifact of incredible power. The Semanye Vigil in Durrover organized …” Those are some of the first words of this adventure and just reading them makes me groan out loud.
Why? Because this adventure has three fights in two locations. It advertises itself as having 25 pages, but half of those are appendix. So, about eleven pages of adventure. Plus, you know, two or three in the beginning for intro/title page/cover. So eight pages of adventure. It’s possible, however unlikely, that this adventure is going to cover a bunch of political intrigue in eight pages and really involve the party in it. It’s much more likely, though, that it will involve three rando combats and a whole of lot of backstory telling the DM what a particular rock on the side of the road happens to be there. Guess which this does?
This is classic bad design & writing. The vast VAST majority of the text deals with information that is not actionable in the adventure by the party. Machinations, reasons, explanation as to why a certain thing is the way it is. The backstory. The reason. The explanation. “This portion of the beach has always been plagued by giant crabs.” *sigh* Every thing must justify itself, it seems.
This is why people hate RPG adventures. This is why they say they don’t use them. This is why they say they are hard to use. Most adventures fail in their most fundamental aspect: helping the DM run it at the table. And you don’t do that by padding the adventure out with text. The adventure text needs to focus on the content that the party will interact with. This is almost ALWAYS direct interaction, and not passive or “might happen” bullshit. The content needs to be focused on that which supports actual play, with nearly all the rest cut or placed in an appendix where it can safely ignored during play.
If this happened in this adventure, all of the useless backstory/explanation garbage moved to an appendix, the actual adventure would take a page, maybe two. You see three drunk human in an alley about to kill a Yuan-ti. You talk to someone in a tavern to get assigned your quest. You fight some crabs on a beach and an octopus under the boat on the beach. None of the combats are that involved. Maybe the beach has some rough terrain, that’s it. The locations are not richly detailed. They are not evocative. They are not interesting in any way, just a beach, an alley, “a shipwreck.” Nothing to inspire or for the DM to use as a springboard for their imagination.
Re told something like six times that the humans in the alley are drunk xenophobes and the aggressors. I guess Yuan-ti are good now? Or they are not yuan-ti in this world? Whatever. To the adventures credit it does let you ignore the fight, help the drunks, or help the yuan-ti. Errr, “snake man.” And, the quest assigned in the tavern also doesn’t assume you saved them. It’s a little too “if this then that” in terms of writing, literally saying that several times, but maybe that’s just a preference. It feels forced and mechanistic instead of natural. Natural inspires. Mechanics bore.
On the walk from the tavern to the beach there is a trail. It takes a page to say that the party could encounter someone there to fight if the DM wants them to. The fight with the drunks in the alley takes THREE PAGES. Three fucking pages. For three drunks.
Someone had an idea. They then padded their idea out to 25 pages. That is never a good thing. If this had made the ship, the cliffs, the beach more interesting. Added A LOT more political intrigue to the town, made it a boiling epicenter of anti-slavers and slavers, repercussions for everything you do … then it would have, perhaps, managed its 25 pages better.
As is, this is just more padded out garage that is overwritten and yet also somehow manages to not actually inspire or provide any content to speak of.
This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is all 25 pages of the adventure. Bravo! I salute you! This is what most designers and publishers should do. Let us see what we are buying beforehand so we can make an intelligent purchasing decision. Pages five, six, and seven of the preview detail the fight with the three drunks. They are representative of the adventure content and worth checking out in a kind of NTSB investigation sense.