The Basilisk (review)

By Louis Kahn
Starry Knight Press
Levels 6-8




This 32 page adventure describes about twenty rooms in a six-level wizards tower, all with a “turned to stone” theme. It’s just combat, and hard to read.

What IS an adventure? Yeah, you know its a good review when I start with shit like that. 

If I buy a laptop and open up the box to find two pieces of cardboard hinge taped together then you can expect I’m not going to be happy. Yeah, it’s a laptop, you say (as the seller) but I didn’t say it was a GOOD laptop. Or, maybe you say it’s a prototype laptop. Or, maybe you actually believe it’s a laptop. If I manage to get Windows 10 running on an 8086 with a 80×40 resolution, is it still a laptop, even if it takes two weeks to boot up? If you advertise it in the Laptops section of Amazon, do you implicitly make promises? 

I don’t assert these are easy questions. Is something like The Habitation of the Stone Giant Lord an adventure? A “retro” product? An art/design heavy product? I would assert that these things are not laptops, or adventures. They are something else. Art, maybe? But I don’t think the primary usage of them is as an adventure meant to be run at a table. At some point a product gets close enough to the line that we have to start asking ourselves “but is it just a BAD adventure?” Pathfinder adventures might traditionally fall in to this category. If I make the adventure fun to read but hard to use at the table did I cross the line in to Not An Adventure or is it just A Bad Adventure?

This thing emulates a typewritten adventure from the 70’s. It uses a typewriter font, full of weird kerning, misplaced keys, and sloppy and light ink. Bolding is not really bold. Legibility is sacrificed to the gods of aesthetic, something that the “I emulated the old T$R style!” and something that out Art Punk friends fall in to. I suspect no ones goal is to produce something unusable … or maybe I hope that, but at some point the appeal of authenticity of the style sacrifices enough legibility that the product is no longer useful as an adventure, or even a bad adventure. It stops becoming an adventure and becomes a curiosity or an art piece. And yet it is still listed in the laptop section of Amazon.

A discussion in a similar vein might take place over what it means to be an OSR adventure, or a 5e adventure, or some such. If you are writing for a Gold=XP game system and the GOLD is light to non-existent, is it really an OSR adventure? Or does it just have OSR stats? Or is it just a BAD OSR adventure, or at least one with bad OSR qualities? If my Boot Hill adventure takes place in space with everyone being surgeons on a spaceship is it still a Bot Hill adventure? Even if I just take a normal Traveller adventure and change “Traveller” to “Boot Hill” on the cover? (Your homework assignment class, is to describe why Ulysses is literature and not Performance Art.) 

Do I really have the high standards that others seem to think I have? Is it so much to ask, in a sea of crap, that something be easy to use at the table? Particularly when the chief complaint against pre-written adventure is that they are impossible to use and take too much prep? Usability is not the only thing. Something like Thracia can be good and still sacrifice usability. But, fuck man, how many things arise to the level of Thracia? A sea scallop, cooked for ten minutes on a side, is no longer a sea scallop, I assert. And yet we gulp them down and shout “Delicious!” when WoTC and Paizo serve them to us.

Nineteen rooms in ten pages. The map is very small, being a Dyson affair that the designer did not format correctly for the adventure. They just dropped the PDF?JPG in, so all six levels take up about half a page instead of them being arranged on a page, blown up, and easy to read. Legibility. Hard to read. 

Typewriter font. Hard to read. Weird kerning. Faux ink ink and heavy ink. Hard to distinguish bolding. And, generally, hard on the eyes to read.

LONG descriptions. They can be a column long. Little bolding, no real use of section headings or other organization techniques to help scan the text. Just long paragraphs of data dumped at you. The descriptions are full of what the room was used for in the past and who lived in it and other details that just get in the way and clog up the ability to scan the text effectively.

Weird organization at that. The path to the first room/entrance/outside is described in the room one text. Order of battle stuff is described in the room with the responding creature and not the room when the response should occur, required you to be a precog to know what is responding. IF the adventure do X THEN Y will occur, a kind of quantum writing style that is just padding and and further obfuscates the text.

And, it’s really just a hack, with little to no interactivity beyond combat with a theme of monsters turning you to stone. Little to no treasure, at least level appropriate treasure. Two pages of backstory. There’s just nothing here but padding and stabbing.

Which is too bad. The designer has flashes, sometimes. In the hook a merchant can, if initially refused, debase themselves in front of the party at the inn common room, getting down on their knees and begging. That’s good! But that sort of thing is missing from the general room descriptions. It’s just expanded minimalism in the rooms, rather than useful detail.

Yeah! You did it! You successfully emulated a bad adventure from the 70’s! Well, except, they never had as much text as this one does. Not An Adventure. Just some curiosity masquerading as an adventure.

This is $7.50 at DriveThru. There’s no real preview, just the mii “quick” preview. People, put in a real preview. Let us see what we are buying BEFORE we buy it.

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14 Responses to The Basilisk (review)

  1. squeen says:

    The formatting in the (tiny) quick-preview does not appear match your description of the text layout.

  2. Beoric says:

    A Boot Hill adventure that takes place on a spaceship is definitely a “Bot Hill” adventure!

  3. Edgewise says:

    Bryce is fighting the common man, FOR the common man. One problem is that the barrier between thinking and printing is so very very low. It’s all too easy to take something that worked at your own table, dress it up a little and throw it on DriveThru. That will probably make you enough money to buy a couple of similar adventures that some other schmuck tossed onto the internets. It’s an easy impulse to understand, but it floods the market with half-assed crap.

    In an environment like this, people like Bryce are necessary! And we really only have one Bryce. The hobby could literally choke under the weight of its own creativity.

  4. Melan says:

    I am all over dodgy 70s-aesthetic adventures with a bad typewriter font and scribbled art. That’s great! I would be happy with Judges Guild-era production values and nothing else. (Especially if the maps were as good as JG’s.) But after that, the dodgy pamphlets have to satisfy as an adventure, too. That’s where these attempts fail.

    Here is something more fun: A two-page OD&D adventure, one for the map and one for the key. Now, one-page dungeons are usually a bad old-school meme, and should be put out of their misery, but this here is funtional, reasonably complex, and it has the OD&D spirit down pat.

  5. Sully says:

    I’m at the point now where I welcome these crappy modules because the negative reviews bring out the best in Bryce.

  6. Gnarley Bones says:

    Some (who never played Old School) seem to believe that crappy production values are an homage to Old School.

    Nice cover, though.

  7. Suffering says:

    I do think entreating the players to stop the petrification-loving wizard before he ‘solidifies’ his hold on the valley was pretty funny

  8. Bigby's Affirmative Consent Lubed Fist says:

    This 32 page adventure describes about twenty rooms in a six-level wizards tower, all with a “turned to stone” theme.

    That’s a big ‘NOPE NOPE NOPE’ from 99.9% of players, Looks like wiz’ control of the valley will be rock solid.

  9. the Critical DM says:

    At least the artwork is good? 😉

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