By G. Hawkins Self Published 1e Levels 5-6
Deep in the fetid swamp lies abandoned Nekemte, ancient serpent man city of the Jade Empire and home to the royal house of Nekemte – cruel, tyrannical sorcerers and practitioners of necromancy, corrupted cultists of Yul. The great swamp consumed Nekemte following the fall of the Jade Empire, its buildings crumbling and falling into decay. Throughout the centures, terror of the serpent man sorcery hung over the ruins, and shadowy creatures stalked the crumbling edifices at night, feeding on the warmth of the living. A party of looters recently dared the ruins and stole into the lower tombs where they unearthed the Arimax Stone, an artifact of great power, in the process unwittingly awakening an ancient, slumbering menace…
This 54 page adventure uses sixteen pages to describe about seventy locations in the ruins above a dungeon, as well as the dungeon below. Evocative. Good Organization. Interactive. This is a solid, solid adventure. Not necessarily breaking new ground, but a good, solid adventure is a rarity in and of itself and worth checking out.
I harp a lot on ease of use. The primary objection many people have to pre-written adventures is that they are hard to use, and therefore not worth the trouble of prepping and using them. In this sense, almost all adventures fail at that most basic of tasks: being of use for their primary purpose. There are a lot of ways that an adventure can fail in this regard, but, commonly, it has something to do with it being hard to scan at the table. When the party enters a room you want to be able to glance at the entry, for just a brief couple of seconds, and take in what you need to relate to them. This keeps the interactivity between the party and the DM high, since that’s the core of the game, and there are no lulls as the DM reads the room. Likewise, as they investigate things in the room it should be able for the DM to VERY quickly locate the thing and scan it, to run it. “Effective Writing” might be shorthand for this, but adventure writing is really technical writing, something most designers miss. Effective writing is GENERALLY terse and well organized. This adventure does that well.
The room headings are clear, using a nice bold font that, while not Time New Roman, are still easy to read. They provide some sort of room description through their name. Thus rooms are “20: The Pit” or “21: Broken Urns.” The DM is immediately oriented toward the room. The mind is now ready to run a pit room or a broken urn room, and receptive, oriented, toward the description to come. It then follows with ONE of the formats I think is the easiest for a designer to follow. There’s a brief overview of the room, with certain elements bolded in it. The overview is almost read-aloud, but not quite. Terse, just a few sentences. The bolded words are then followed up with in their own paragraphs, that start with those bolded words. It’s easy to scan and locate information. This is a relatively simple format to follow, and if a designer can manage it while keeping the writing terse then it’s pretty hard to screw up. It’s not the ONLY way to write a good room, but I do think it’s one of the simplest and easy to grasp.
Ok, so, I’m not writing this review in order. I just drank half a bottle of Japanese whiskey and stumbled down to the gas station to buy a chocolate ice cream cone, a bag of Ruffles, and a pack of menthol cigarettes (I don’t smoke.) Yeah, #LifeDuringWartime. Got a couple of sofas and sleep on the loveseat. Don’t even know my real name. It’s Fritz, by the way. Anyway. I regret not buying some 100% sugar candy. And I’m out of WHiskey now. Which means I have to drink that crap Blackberry wine from Ohio I forget to pawn off on Prince or TGI Fridays Mudslide mix from my kids room. I’d have some delivered but it would ake too long. Maybe Lyft?
(<—–WOKE! Not using Uber!)
The writing is decently evocative. That Pit, I referenced earlier, is lost in darkness. The walls are rough AND hewn. Cool winds waft up. Deep charms bisects rooms. Air is hot and stale. Dude knows how to write a brief little evocative snippet that brings the rooms to life in the DMs head. The DM can the expand it; it comes to life in their head, an image formed, and their brain fills in the rest. Good writing. This is a non-trivial skill and it’s present here.
Likewise, interactivity. There are things to do. Coffins to open. Urns to mess with. Holes in the ceiling. Crevices to navigate, waterfalls, chains hanging from the ceiling. This is a real environment full of things to intrigue and mess with. This is one of the cores of any adventure, especially an exploratory one. And … there’s a timeline! The serpent men will be doing things out in the world if the party fuck around too much, and the environment arund the deungone changes. Nice!
This is supposed to be themed as “Serpent man” and that falls a bit flat. Oh, there are carvings of them, and undead ones, but it tends to come off more as a city of the dead, or mausoleum more than fetid jungles. This in spite of it taking place in a fetid swamp. It’s not bad, but I think maybe the designer missed what they were going for and instead hit the next target over over very well. I’m not even sure what “serpent man” means, not being in to that genre, but that’s not the vibe I get from this. It certainly DOES bring an ancient ruins/civilization theming though, so, no harm no foul.
So, WHAT IF I sold my house and moved in to the place that was closest to the gas station? I could stumble over and buy booze, Noble ROmans, DQ, and snacks at any time of the day of night. I wouldn’t even need a kitchen! HARC CORE! I WOULDNT EVEN NEED A BATHROOM! HARD CORE!
It also suffers some, in two ways, from a lack of overview. The swamp and ruins are just thrown out there without much introduction or an overview of them. Taking just a paragraph or two to describe the locale, an overview of the entire region, to place this in its context, would have been helpful. And, then there’s the above ground ruins. This suffers from the Vista Overview issue. Let us assume that you come to the top of a small rise and look down in to a valley on the other side. What do you see? What catches your eye as landmarks? A towering spire glowing green? A bonfire with figures dancing around it, scattered ruins throughout? Whenever the party see SOMETHING laid out in front of them it’s wise to provide a brief overview of the highlights, otherwise the DM is left digging through the encounters, before or during the session, trying to relate a general overview of the situation. This might go hand in hand with noting sounds and light on a map; what is obvious before you get to within 30 feet of it? The adventure has a room or two with loud sounds, or lit rooms and those could be better noted on the map to clue the DM in to things needed to be related to the party.
Rock solid little adventure. If most adventures were this good then I wouldn’t be reviewing adventures.
This is $7.50 at DriveThru. The preview is twelve pages and shows you several (above ground) encounters that are representative of the writing throughout. You can get a good idea of what you are buying, so, great preview!