By Ignatious M PPM S&W "Mid Levels"
The village of Novikov is cut off by winter storms. No one can enter or leave. Then a hideous monster attacks and it is down to the heroes of your game to save the village.
So, I was at this local used bookstore last weekend to find a copy of Finnigan’s Wake, cause I’m a fucking idiot, and they had these mystery grabbags of books. $5! So I buy one and come home and excitedly unwrap my present to myself. It’s full of Harlequin romance novels. Fifteen of them. (A brief perusal indicates women like Ranch Dudes, Horses, and Bad Boys. So, now you know.) Anyway, so inspired, I’m going to get a new bookshelf for the Volcano Lair I’m going to go BACK to that bookstore and buy ALL of the grab bags, banking on the fact that they are almost certainly all Harlequins. I’m going to STUFF that new bookshelf full of the romance novels. Absolutely pack it. Then, I’m going to buy one copy of every James Joyce novel and randomly disperse them on the bookshelf. The working title for this object d’arte is “Yeesss!”, taken, of course, from the end of Ulysses and having nothing at all to do with the breathless sighs of women in the romance novels. Which reminds me, I should try and read one.
What? The review? You want a review? I quite assure you that my BS new bookshelf project is MUCH more interesting than this adventure. What? Fine. Whatever. Here’s the review.
This fifteen page adventure sucks.
Ok, ok, ok. It’s an outline, notes, even, with formatting so bad that it CAN’T be intentional. There’s no adventure to be had here.
What this is is one of those “50 adventure ideas on one page” sort of things, slightly expanded, and then padded out to fifteen pages. It’s nothing more than outline, notes, of a general setup. There’s a chick in the inn who hates the dude that owns the town. She has two flesh golems in a mine that sometimes attack miners. In about a month she’s going to unleash her hoard of fifty fletch golems on the town to destroy it. The party are cops. There’s a miner who’s a boxer. You now have your adventure. If you just take what I typed and expand that to fifteen pages (Well, I don’t know, maybe six pages once all of the copyright, title, cover, etc pages are removed) then you’ll have your adventure. But, don’t actually include anything remotely specific.
This is labeled as a great way to start a new campaign. As town guards, finding lost kids, breaking up a bar fight, etc. At “mid levels”. WIth two 8HD flesh golems. And an army of 50 more flesh golems. I seriously have no idea how this all fits together.
The specificity, or slack thereof, is depressing. There are no details at all, on anything. Just “you’re town guards doing town guard stuff.” or “Let the party wander around for awhile.” At first, while looking this over, I though I was reading a summary of the adventure and I was like “Cool! An overview to help orient myself!” No. THen I figured out that this WAS the adventure. It is abstracted to a level I’ve not seen before. There are maps, small Dyson ones, of a, I don’t know, four room mine? But not keyed and no keyring. That 50 flesh golem army? Mentioned, like, once, and no more. There are no rooms. There are no real encounters other than “you meet two flesh golems in the mines if you follow up on the screaming miners.”
“This adventure is based on the principles of Old School gaming. It does not detail every skill test and challenges down to the specific skill and difficulty level. It is left to the Dungeon Master to set suitable challenges for their players and their characters.” That’s what the adventure tells us up front. But, there are NO skills. No difficulties. No details. No encounters. Not even a coherent message to decipher. This is BAD
And, the formatting if off. It’s like paragraph breaks were forgotten in places. You keep questioning yourself, “Wow, this is a long rumor and oddly specific … OH! There’s a missing line return in there somewhere!” And this happens over and over again.
This is not a coherent adventure. If it were, it would just be some ideas that a boring friend of yours in a bar pitched to you one night for two minutes. There’s nothing here. Also … I don’t know that there is any burning? At all?
This is $3 at DriveThru. It manages a better preview than most, at six pages and showing some random pages. Pages two and three are the core of the adventure and display all of the issues. Feel free to check them out. That’s your adventure, mostly.
I sometimes wonder if there are folks out there that plant these types of “break all Bryce’s rules” modules in the hopes that you’ll review. 🙂
Your romance novel bookshelf would make an excellent backdrop for Zoom meetings.
Fletch Golems sound like fun… undercover investigative journalists solving dungeon crime?
“or slack thereof,” is the most Joycean thing in your review
Heh, this comment made me chuckle, and be sad at the same time: Also … I don’t know that there is any burning? At all?
Janice Ranway’s 1984 text “Reading the Romance” is a classic work of literary and feminist theory devoted to the study of romance novels and their readers. I think it has some parallels to TTRPG products (and likely genre fiction in general) in that the readers and the form have a shared set of cliches, tropes and assumptions about language that are confusing and/or simplistic to newcomers or outsiders to the form, but which serve the purpose of efficiently delivering the content the readers want (psychological drama with predictable happy endings that reaffirm their view of the world).
Also one can imagine that because of this set form: strict structure, economy of language and consistent set of values, both genre romance novels and TTRPG adventures might be written by machine — at least to the standard Bryce keeps discovering.
“This adventure is based on the principles of Old School gaming. It does not detail every skill test and challenges down to the specific skill and difficulty level. It is left to the Dungeon Master to set suitable challenges for their players and their characters.”
… but that’s not even a principle of Old School?! In fact, that’s one of those things I take to be one of the antitheses of Old-School: “If the players are level 3, then the lock is DC 12, but if the players are level 5, then the lock is DC 15!” Begging the quantum ogre, not to mention the assumption that player level is uniform.
The fact that this doesn’t rate a “Worst EVAR” label implies that the bar has been lowered of late.
I like the book shelf project, by the way. I don’t have any spare book shelves myself (they’re all overflowing) or I’d be tempted to try such a thing. Once my family leaves me, of course.
It has a “Do not buy ever” tag – no lowering of standards, just changing of tags…
Ha! Missed that.
Please start reviewing old romance novels once a week instead of 5e modules.
What did I ever do to you to engender such viciousness? I mean, besides review 5e …. 😉
Viciousness? After spending years reviewing Dungeon Magazine and 5e adventures, I’d think Harlequin romances would be a welcome relief!