By Zedeck Siew Hydra Cooperative OSR Level 4?
Weeds trail the water. The sandbar just off the shore shifts. A reptile rumble, a splash. Now a gaping maw. A roar. Claws splintering wood. The boat capsizes. You are in the river, now. He is the Bachelor: a pale crocodile, as long as five men lying end to end. He swallows hunters, families, trading skiffs. Prospectors fear to go out. Witches mutter. They say he causes landslips. They say he is a god, a curse — an old, old sin, staining the river. They say he has been killed, before. He is pulling you under.
This 48 page digest adventure details a small asian-ish river/jungle region.There are about eight wilderness locations and about eight locations in a mythical ancient-civ cave -like place. Flavorful as all fuck, it is organized well and directs its words toward player interactivity, describing situations for them to interact with. IE: a good adventure.
There’s a vaguely SE asian region, a village next to a river in the jungle. Nothing is specifically asian, that I can recall, although just about everything is evocative of SE Asia. The village has locals in it. There are trees in the jungle that can have their essence harvested to great profit. There’s a company, in the business sense, of foreigners there to trade with, who vaguely exploit the locals (paying 1sp and selling the essence for 5gp.) They may be involved in some shenanigans. The locals just want to get by. Well, except for the faction that hates the company and another, a cult, that worships a god-like crocodile in the river (with some faction overlap between those last two.) Also, there are the ruins of an old pre-human civilization, simian. And the wildlife, some helpful and some deadly. And another faction consisting of intelligent dead people that have been eaten by the god-like croc and are not controlled by parasite catfish. Now, let’s add the party to this collection of open drums of gas!
This adventure shows how you do it.A region. Factions. People who want things. Things the party might want, including perhaps “doing good.” And all wrapped in a package that is well organized with terse evocative descriptions.
Organized well. Good use of page breaks, sections breaks, keeping topics to one per page, or making the topics easy to find on the page. Cross-references abound, so if someone or something is referenced in the text there’s a pointer for the DM to go find it if they need to. Descriptions are short and punchy making them easy to scan.
The writing is evocative. The local wise woman is described as “Wrinkled, fireflies around her, sudden trances.” Or the local boss, with silver body paint, left arm missing and suspicious. These are solid NPC summary descriptions from their summary page. Encounters are things like “Half a boat, stuck on a shoal, perfume spices the wind.” Or another riverside encounter with gore-stained stones and drag-marks slipping in to the water. Or a cave floor, wriggling, a luxury rug of roaches and guano. Deafening chips and chatter, with glass-bead glitter of eyes far above you.Or reflected sunlight on steps rising out the water, leading in to a cave mouth, simian statues overhanging, so worn you think they are stalactites, with the murmur of the waves and a breeze like breathe. Solid, solid descriptions. Again, this follows the less is more philosophy, zapping your brain with imagery and leveraging the DM to fill it in for the party. I won’t say this is the best way to describes locations, but I do think it’s the easiest way to describe things for most designers before they, perhaps, move on to longer descriptions … which may not be better. It also helps control the verbosity that plagues so many adventures.
Interactivity is HIGH. All of those factions, all of that stuff going on. In addition to all of this there is a great little section on randomly generated NPC, which gives them all some sort of interactivity, some way for the party to interact with them, or, perhaps, better said, the party WANTS to interact with them. Other encounters are more in the moment. A group from the company is trying to evict a local widow woman. A group of prospectors in a cabin are haunted/hunted by a local with gleaming amber eyes. He took Ludo yesterday! And tonight Ludo will return … changed.This is shit you can work with as a DM. It begs the party to interact and to get involved. Potential energy abounds!
Magic is new and unique, some flora/fauna based, some old empire based and some just different. Effects described rather than mechanics overly detailed. Monsters seems fresh. Cave crocs crawl on the walls and ceilings. Just enough to invoke some realism … and then just weird enough to make the party scream “What the fuck?!” when shit goes down.
This is $9 at DriveThru. The preview is seven pages. You get to see the titular monster, some good in voice rumors full of local colour, the locale summary and NPC overviews, and some of the random NPC generator, including the interactivity. It’s a pretty decent summary, but would be better with perhaps a wilderness encounter and/or cave encounter also, to give an idea of what those are like.
Lorn Song is good. I ran it a while back, and it is good … but:
A) It uses a linear river track for exploration. Reasonable in context and broken up by some elements of the adventure that change the landscape. However, the river, and the 1 automatic encounter per segment make it hard for the party to explore its full length, impossible in a single day (and my players really didn’t want to be on the water at night or camped in the jungle). Unfortunate because few parties are going sail up the whole river to meet some of the factions/content.
B) The dungeon portion is more scene based then I prefer, it’s nice that the dungeon exploration is honed for more contemporary timekeeping and supply/resource free play — somewhat justified even by the phantasmagorical nature of the dungeon — but I like my exploration play.
This is all a matter of taste of course, and Lorn Song is well worth the money for the setting and ideas in it alone.
I’m happy to see a playtest review. Yours made me think: Are river-based adventures inherent railroads? I remember reading some comments about DCO where someone’s group did not like the upriver segments after having just played through the more sandboxy Curse of Strahd because they seemed so long and linear. I mean, if you’re going to do a railroad, you better make it a Disney roller-coaster and have interesting stuff along the way, as Lorn and DCO do, but for some even that won’t suffice. Maybe a river like the Amazon that is more of a river system wih the “final dungeon” being somewhere inland and not clearly reachable by heading continuously upriver could work. Is there a published example of auch an adventure? Of course, it would lack the focus of a traditional upriver journey, but I think them’s the breaks.
If a party “explored” less than a single day upriver, just have some locals giggle at them for not daring to go past where Uncle Snorey does his fishing.
The idea of a few choice points where the river diverges frequently & some become impassable, some lead to features etc. Give PC’s a chance to find clues as to the right path or choices like did they get a river guide? The RIGHT river guide? Or that ally from XYZ encounter who will steer them to XYZ if given the chance?
Probably only need 3-4 of those elements to make it “choicey” enough for an adventure where the river is just a feature, not the main event.
My copy just came in the mail today (along with some other purchases from Exalted Funeral). Thoroughly enjoying what I’m reading in it so far, and I plan on hacking it for my Tomb of Annihilation campaign I’m running with my players.