Willow (adventure review)

By Lazy Litch
Lazy Litches Loot

Deep in a vast wood, a town called Willow sits beside the Lake of Tears. The lake is framed by weeping willow trees, their vines pouring into the lake’s dark green shores. Willow is not what one would call an upbeat town. The rains here are relentless and the grey skies loom low like a giant cage. Travelers do not linger here long; one night in the Blue Brew Inn is enough to make most jump on the ferry and move on. But recently the ferries have stopped running as something terrible has taken up residence on the river. Meanwhile, the town folk will not talk about the noises echoing up from the staircase that descends below the lake, nor the broken stone circle on the hill at the edge of town. The town’s leader, a witch named Morose Morgan, is a recluse and refuses to leave her island.

This 32 page digest adventure describes a small region and the situation going down in it. IE: it’s a sandbox with people and factions who want things, a timeline, and a part full of gasoline. Its heart is in the right place but it comes off both a little bland and it is trying too hard, all at the same time. I’m not mad at it, but I’m not really chomping to run it either.

The way in and out of the region/village is through the river and people ain’t coming back from that ferry journey. Or, worse, they are coming back floating down the river dead. Thus the party and the villagers are stuck, with food slowly running out. There are six of seven factions running around the region, from wizards, to rat people to crow people ton evil treant to various town characters of local color. They all have a decent little description and some goals clearly laid out, as well as some hints as to what they are likely to do and what they think about the other groups. It’s the essence of a good sandbox: terse groups with things they want and FEELINGS about other groups. 

But the whole things feels “meh.”  Maybe because I just reviewed a similar product, Lorn Song of the Bachelor, and it was REALLY good. But it’s not exactly like this is bad. Ug. This is why I stopped reviewing the same publishers stuff in a raw; product needs its own space.

Ok, so, food is running out. And its disappearing from the storehouse. Where you find a tunnel. That leads to the rat people. Who want something. Which interacts with another faction. Which brings you in contact with another faction. While yet another faction is running around doing their own thing. Actually, they are all kinds of doing thing own things in parallel, with their being a nice sample timeline in the back of the adventure to help guide a DM toward a course of events and inspire without it being a railroad. I really like it when these sample timelines show up. They help bring the factions goals down to earth and ground the adventure for the DM in a way that is not a railroad but rather inspires the DM. Most sandboxy adventures could benefit from this sort of thing.

But that’s an issue also; I’m a fan of just about everything this adventure does, at least in principal. The NPC summaries are pretty good, short, with wants and goals and what they are doing now. The local wise woman of this fishing village solves all disputes by gutting a fish and reading its entrails. She cannot be fooled, and only comes ashore to perform rituals. This is all pretty solid stuff to hang your hat on as a DM. The same can be said for the locations. And the various encounters. 

But it all feels a little flat. My notes say “trying too hard?” but I’m don’t think that’s it. The genre here is a little off center, with rat people and crow-people, a little “odd world”-ey, but I don’t think that’s it either. It’s hard to say it’s generic, or abstracted content because it does engage in being specific. It just feels like it’s missing something. Like there something missing that ties everything together … even though there is. Or something is missing that will bring the villages, regions and NPC’s to life … even though I could normally point to the descriptions, etc and say “this is what you should generally be doing.” 

You could take this and run it, fairly well. I just have absolutely no interest in doing so at all. Maybe because, at heart, it’s a “you’re trapped and fetch quest for food” sort of thing? I don’t know. I seriously have no idea. 

Can you do everything right and still not do good? Sure, of course. But I’m not even sure this adventure does that. Not succeed. Maybe I just don’t like it? Is that possible? It’s got lots of stuff I like. 

No, it’s missing something. Maybe some organization? A summary? Something to tie everything together and make it feel alive? Maybe that’s it, it doesn’t feel alive. Not in some gaxian verisimilitude kind of way. In some other way. It feels so … unmotivated?

Look, I’m gonna Regert this. No, I’m not gonna regret this. Fuck I don’t want to run this. I have no desire. Is that a Regert? Or do i want to run Regerts I just don’t want to put the effort in with Regerts? 

Who fucking knows. Why does an adventure cause such an existential crisis in me? It’s not the adventure it’s what is symbolizes, something new under the sun, a way of not being good that you seldom, if ever encounter. Reall? It’s not good? Or it’s truly just something that doesn’t meet your tastes? What tastes? It’s got stuff I like! Yeah, but you don’t like it ergo it must have something you don’t like, something large enough to be substantial enough for you to not like the whole. Well My Smrty, if that were the case then I could point to it, if it were that substantial, right? And I can’t, right? Ergo FUCK YOU I’m right and you’re wrong. I forget, which side of us is talking and what is this sides opinion supposed to be? I don’t know. Nothing has meaning anymore. The adventure, right? No dumbass, its the Corona, as always, you know that, you’re just saying the adventure to make a funny and it’s not, not even in the meta. Lighten up dude, its just afucking adventure and a joke. Well I don’t like this. I like knowing. But this felt like a chore. Like, maybe, going through the motions. Maybe going through the motions and hiding behind the Art Punk aesthetic. You like that aesthetic. Do I? Really? Or have I just like a bunch of products that HAD that aesthetic? When are going to go correct those aesthetic misspellings. Now. They seemed to have thought about shit and grokked the knowing of it. Because they didn’t suck donkey balls. Like this one? It doesn’t suck donkey balls. It’s good then? I don’t know if its good. Isn’t that the entire point of the fucking blog? To fucking know? It’s a process dipshit. And this is just one more element of that process. And now throw in the truth shit. Quaint. Resting your head on the desk won’t help. No, nor will another cup of thai iced coffee, sin ice. Ok, we’re gonna finish this thing up.  You can come back every day for the next three days, or even ten, to figure it out. Cause this aint working.

No Regerts. Maybe?

This is $7 at DriveThru. The preview is seven pages. It don’t show you shit except some art, maps, and a “How to play D&D” page. Bullshit preview. Show us some real pages, some encounters, locales, people. Give us an idea of the writing to expect inside.


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11 Responses to Willow (adventure review)

  1. squeen says:

    I haven’t bought it, just peeked at the preview, but I offer you a theory—perhaps you didn’t like it because it dithered between the Art-Punk-Weird aesthetic and something more traditional.

    Sometimes being half-and-half is bland. Feels small.

    Think about movies….all the ones that never really hit that sweet spot for their genre. They felt like somehow they were just copying the great films.

  2. Robert, OSR Heretic says:

    I think you should do a No Regerts with it. It’s not your cup of tea but it’s designed well. People are people so why should it be that you and I get along so awfully?

  3. Brandon Hale says:

    I can’t find your Lorn Song of the Bachelor review; I assume despite the past tense that it is forthcoming? I mean, I already own it and know it’s good, but validation of my opinion is always welcome.

    • Gus L. says:

      I am looking forward to Bryce’s thoughts on Lorn Song as well. It’s an interesting, fun to play/run adventure: faction rich, with novel river travel/point mechanics and compelling setting — but also lacking in more traditional exploration style locations.

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      Lorn should have popped 7/1, but failed for some reason. I’m jiggling the schedule.

  4. Knutz Deep says:

    Is this the first review where several of Bryce’s personalities argue with each other? 😉

  5. Bryce, I tend to agree on this one. Upon reading, I was more inspired to run Woodfall than this: Woodfall was wackier and pushed against my sensibilities more than Willow. I think that helped it to convey a sense of excitement and a desire to try to make it work at my table. Willow, however seems really more workmanlike and a bit easier to bring to the table. Playing this may be a much better experience than reading it. With all the moving parts in place there’s a lot that players can bring to the experience. I would give this to anyone as a great tool to run a small area adventure. So many of the pieces you review are pure dumpster fires of incompetence, that this one while lacking a bit of spark could still be considered good. Not just “better than most other crap” but solid. Can it be good, if it’s only really solid? I appreciate the time you took to explain your ambivalence. This seemed to encourage more of a deep dive for you, a challenge to look into your art/craft/Sisphean task.

    • Brian…..Yep, I own Woodfall and Willow and have loved them both. Woodfall feels much more fresh, outside the box, and thus very attractive to my group who has been playing for 35 years. Willow—I think— suffers from its own hook. A massive malaise of melancholy? The “adventure” is simply to leave the morass? The details, parts, and personalities are terrific, but I think what Bryce is craving is a shinier central theme as opposed to the cloudy grey one the setting offers.

  6. squeen says:

    “…dumpster fires of incompetence…”

    Nice phrasing.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Absolutely love your reviews. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

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