Sea Caves of Doom

By James Abendroth
Black Guard Press
Level ?

Ruined lair of a bloodthirsty cult. Home to a pirate’s treasure. Anyone who dares explore these sea caves puts their life in Fate’s hands. Do your treasure hunters have what it takes to venture into the Sea Caves of Doom? Do they have what it takes to make it back out?

Look man, it’s in the OSR section DriveThru … what exactly am I supposed to do when indie games show up like that? I guess, maybe “Rooted in Trophy” or “A Trophy Incursion” is supposed to tell you what the system is? I guess I thought that was just the publishers “line” for these adventures. Meh.

This sixteen page adventure describes five rooms in a indie storygames system. At least I think it’s a story game. The system is in some $7 zine and the “adventure” has some notes that make it seem very scene based. That, plus, the sixteen pages for five rooms. Still, it has some decent ideas deriving, I think, from the story game concepts but relevant to evocative writing and interactive adventuring.

It’s a story game system and I don’t think I’m qualified to review a system that far away from B/X. And thus, how do I review this adventure, WHICH WAS IN THE FUCKING OSR SECTION OF DRIVETHRU!!!!   So … not super happy about that. I mean, I was looking for an OSR adventure to review. Is an indie game system an OSR adventure? Is it fucking compatiple IN ANY WAY with B/X? No? Not OSR sez I. Shouldn’t be in the OSR section sez I. Fucking rip off sez I. Not happy sez I. But, it’s got a few interesting things about it so I’m going to talk about that. If you like story games then, I don’t know, buy this? Most 3x/5x D&D is story game anyway, so scene based stuff isn’t really THAT far of a stretch. I suspect some enterprising young lad could convert this to a 5E adventure with various scenes, or at least “fake scenes” called “linear dungeon” pretty easily. Maybe I will? I don’t know, I’ll ad it to the fucking ToDo list.

Anyway, let’s look at room one. It starts as:

“Overview: The entrance to the sea caves is barely visible just above the waterline at the base of a crumbling seaside cliff. Large, jagged rocks thrust above the waves, hinting at even more flesh and boat rending stone below the surface.” Ok, that’s not a bad start, imagery wise. Barely visible just above a waterline on a crumbling seaside cliff? I’ll buy that. Up until this point it could almost be read-aloud but then switches to “The rocks attract fish trying to hide which attract seals which attract sharks, although the last don’t need such mundane reasons to haunt the area as ancient magics still linger and draw them close. The tide here is as vicious as the aquatic occupants and batter anything not accustomed to the currents against the rocks.” This is a switch to “explainer/god mode” description.From a design standpoint I suspect that, even in the story game system, one type or the other of description would be appropriate but not a mixture of both. But, let’s ignore that, and look at the scene the designer is trying to imagine.

Crumbling seaside cliffs. Seacaves barely visible above the waterline with water/wave lapping up against it. Jagged rocks in the water with seals on it … that alone would not be bad. Seeing seals, diving and eating fish, would normally be a good clue for the party to ask more questions … hinting at but not explicitly telling the party that there are seal predators on the loose. That’s exactly the kind of hint of a trap/monster that good adventures contain. It’s not exactly what the designer is doing here, with the mixed meta flat out stating sharks, but ignoring that then the “little vignette for the party to see” is pretty evocative. 

What follows is then a set of bullet points for “moments.” It feels like this means something in the system I know nothing about, but, let’s look at those moments anyway: “

• The entrance peeking above the surface for a moment before being submerged again.

• Water rushing toward the jagged, unyielding rocks.

• The boom of water violently smashing again stone.

• A triangular fin breaking the surface of the water nearby.

• Sea spray coating clothing and skin

You can see, from this, imagine if you will, a series of “events” in this room that are happening to the party. Or things for them to see. That lapping water at the cave entrance. A BOOM of water r someone getting splashed. As a series of little things the party could see or experience I’m a big fan of these moments. You can imagine what they might be like in a chasm room, or so on. A series of window dressing for the DM to toss in. Nice.

After this things get more boring with “props” just describing things in the room. Oyster shells on the jagged rocks a little rowboat, etc. Nothing much interesting there. Traps continues in the same vein, Sharks and Unpredictable currents. That’s ok, I guess, as an obstacle or challenge section for the room, but nothing that unusual. There’s a treasure section also, but, what I really want to focus on here are the descriptions of both the treasure and the monsters.

“An ancient amulet of a petrified sharks tooth the size of a dagger with the image of a single eye carved in to it.” Hey, that’s a pretty decent magic item description. Non traditional dagger. The single eye thing. Petrified. Nice! And then, for the monsters, a shark: “a stream-line fish as long as a man with sharp find and mouthful of jagged razor sharp teeth. A murderous hunger fills its otherwise dead, soulless eyes.” Good description! That’s full of shit I can steal as I describe combat with the shark to the party, from staring at it in its dead, soulless eyes, to the hunger thing, to the man-sized, to the jagged ror razor teeth. Those sorts of descriptions are very visceral and help me convey a vibe to the party. And that’s what the monster description is supposed to do. Nice!

So, as an adventure? Meh  … I don’t know. It’s for a story game I know nothing about. But I”M NOT HAPPY it’s in the OSR section. If you were looking for a B/X adventure then you just wasted your $3 … and no one feels good thinking they were tricked. 

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages. You can see that first sea cave/shark encounter. I’d encourage you to check out the preview for that reason alone. You can see how the moments and shark description and actions could be used/stolen for some kind of system for a real OSR game.

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7 Responses to Sea Caves of Doom

  1. Anonymous says:

    Happy Wednesday. Bryce!

  2. whereismywizardhat says:

    Trophy is The Gauntlet’s pet system, it’s a horror game about treasure hunters getting lost in the woods or something. Never played it but I keep seeing stuff for it.

  3. Robert, OSR Heretic says:

    That’s a sinister looking piece of pizza.

  4. Gus L. says:

    Trophy is an interesting thing. It’s an indie/story game that’s effectively OSR/negadungeon genre emulation. Adventures are structured into 5 “rings” as the party slowly gets corrupted and is forced to turn on each other etc. It’s about losing in an exciting manner, not surviving through wit – a “tell a spooky story” sort of game. It’s fun enough if you enter into it based on its rules.

    Trophy Gold is Trophy’s more robust system, an attempt to restore some of the puzzle/exploration elements of classic play within an ultralight/story framework that’s not Dungeon World at all — I’m not sure how well it works, but it’s interesting effort. Parts of its community sometimes says it’s part of the OSR – because OSR is a marketing term.

  5. Bigby's Affirmative Consent Lubed Fist says:

    Now, Bryce, adding the phrase ‘of doom’ to any title immediately garners five star status for a product. Even the Edsel could have been redeemed if it had been named the Edsel of Doom. Go ahead, try it… Ishtar… OF DOOM!

    I don’t make the rules, I’m just stating facts.

  6. Oswald says:

    Does d&d have a colonialism problem? Yes. Storygamers have landed on the shore, spread their smallpox, founded their Jamestown and are now getting ready to slaughter the osr natives! In 5 years there will be dungeon world settings winning awards for osr game design and indie gamers selling “authentic old school modules” out of tourist traps(with not a single hit dice or saving throw to be found in the modules) while true b/x gaming survives only in the reservation of dragonsfoot forums.

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