Garden of Bones

By Diego Nogueira & Guiseppe Rotondo
Gold & Glory
Non-novice Adventurers

The Garden of Bones was created by a powerful necromancer to be given as a present to a love interest of theirs. Once the gift was rejected, the necromancer turned the garden into a place of nightmares and horrific creations they built to externalize their frustration. It fell into obscurity after the ages passed away, and it became a myth. Now, a scholar with sinister interests has located a map they believe to lead to this mythical garden and desires to be taken there to admire the garden and possibly collect the legendary Ghost Lotus.

This 24 page digest “adventure” is just a series of random room rolls. It has a touch, here and there of evocative writing, but overall fails to deliver any meaningful interactivity from it’s poor encounters and descriptions. 

Gold & Glory is a Savage Worlds D&D-like adaption. It’s well disclosed on the product, so no hints of deception in the marketing. The blurb for the game says it delivers an OSR-like D&D experience. Does it?

Well, maybe? I don’t know. The adventure certainly doesn’t.

It’s another in a long line of rando adventures. There’s no map, you just roll for a new location every time you enter someplace. And “entering someplace” means “walking through a wall of fog that surrounds the current area you are in.” Of course, everything changes behind you. And, of course, this means that the exit is not fixed. The DM needs to roll a 20 on the random room table and then an exit appears. And when you leave that area, not going through the exit, the exit disappears, because the place changes all behind you. 

This is lame. I have no idea why designers think this is fun. It’s not delivering the exploratory element of OSR D&D. It’s delivering a “suffer through the random rolls” element. Just sit there, bored, with no control over your own fate, until the DM rolls a 20. That’s fun, right? You need some direction over your own fate in order to create tension. Do you continue or not? Are we pressing our luck? Delicious tension … absent from these random things.

The random rooms are, for the most part, not interactive and just window dressing. “A crushed skeleton under very thick dark vines.” reads one entry. “A 3 feet tall fanged skull with a small fire burning inside.” reads another. That’s the entirety of the encounter. A few years ago I made an observation that helped ruin the DisneyWorld magic for me. You sit down on something and it moves through a track and you look at little vignettes. This is the same thing. Walk in, look at something spooooooky, but there’s nothing really to do so you move on to the next vignette. Unless there’s a wandering monster. I guess you roll for one of those in each room also. 

You roll a d20. If you get a 2-10 then there’s a wandering element present. If it’s a 5-9 then it’s a creature. Why leave out the 1? Why put the monsters in the middle? Why not have it be 1-5 are monsters and 6-10 are “some other freaky thing?” I don’t know. Maybe a 1 means something special in the game? You got me. It’s a bizarre fucking way to organize things though.

The rumors are not in voice, which is lame, and you have to succeed on a roll to get one. I’m not a fan of hiding fun behind a roll. Just give the party a rumor. It’s fun. There ARE some more powerful rumors present, generally on the separate “i go to the library to research” table. That’s ok. Maybe a roll that’s modified by a skill check success level would have been better. Roll a d6 and 7-8 are the really good ones, that you get to by adding a +3 from reading a book? 

The descriptions are meh. At least they tend to be quite short. Too short. Monsters, in particular, you get bad descriptions for. “Half undead cultists” is a conclusion not a description. There’s just nothing about them, physically, to help bring home the mystery, wonder, and horror to a party encountering them. AGain, not an argument for a much longer description, but rather a much better one. I don’t care about the origin or backstory, what’s important NOW is what the party experiences. Perhaps the best example of this is a bone spider that shoots sticky blood from it’s mouth. That’s decent. The rest, though, are meh.

The general description of the garden is ok. “… extensive valley hidden by deserted rocky hills in a cold, mountainous region. The ground is completely covered by loose bones that rattle when walked upon …”  But then, of course, we’re told later, far deeper on the page that the place is covered with a constant greenish cold fog. That should have gone up with the general description of the valley. As you crest the hill, what do you see? You look down upon a valley. What do you see? You get an expansive overview of the area … and the general description should cover not, not put the fog in the “Walls” section. Yeah, it’s serving the purpose of a wall, but the party should be told about the fog initially, and for ease of use that should go up with the general description. 

So, it’s a wander around bored adventure, experiencing random things and maybe, occasionally, one of the unique encounters to interact with, until you find the flower you’re looking for. Then wander around some more until the DM rolls a 20. How about, insead, I roll a d6? On a 1 you find the flower on a 6 you find the exit. On any other roll I just roll again? That’s a fun night of role-playing, right?

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is seven pages. You get to see the two rumor tables. Suck ass preview. It should show up a wandering monster page and/or an encounter page. We need to be able to actually see the content we’re paying for, not the supporting material or title page nonsense. Bad preview.

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17 Responses to Garden of Bones

  1. Hooded Man says:

    Procedural generation is hot! Procedural generation is also a gimmick.

    It’s the little cardboard buildings in “B6 – The Veiled Society” all over again — a cool supplementary idea, that when made the focus of the entire adventure takes up too much space and fails to create decent play on its own. Sure have a few tables to generate ideas for the GM, stick them in an appendix – that’s cool. The idea of randomly rolling up each room at the table though leads to a lack of inter-connectivity. Disjointed play – like the painful difference between improv theater and actual theater.

    To be charitable, perhaps one can chalk this up to an experiment.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Emmy Allen’s Gardens of Ynn and Stygian Library (IIRC-correct me if I’m wrong) follow this broad template and were rather well received, so I’m curious as to what worked with those but failed here. Is it just a matter of better setpieces excused the overall random generation aspect?

    • Edgewise says:

      There’s some similarity but significant differences. In those products, you generate a map as you go, but once generated, it remains somewhat static. There’s a lot more system to it, one you can interact with meaningfully.

      • Reason says:

        The difference there I guess is choice. Head into the unknown or retreat t the familiar. What has _changed_ back at the familiar place as a result of your actions also enhances interactivity/choice/consequence.

        The limiting factor on both is lack of ability to plan ahead or scout for what’s coming next- although if denizens or encounters can provide clues that the giant likes beans or something around here breathes fire, you can ameliorate that somewhat.

    • Sean says:

      I don’t believe Bryce liked Gardens of Ynn, either, which is why you often need to review the review. What many of us are looking for is not necessarily what Bryce is looking for. This site helps surface products that I otherwise may never have known existed, but the reviews themselves are unreliable for my needs given Bryce’s narrow definition of “good”. Hey, I don’t blame him, he’s using his soapbox to steer adventures towards what he’s looking for.

      • Bryce Lynch says:

        That’s part of what makes a good review; your tastes don’t need to match the reviewer in a good review, they surface enough “why” to let you make your own decision.

        But, really? I’ve always thought my tastes were (mostly) pedestrian. I think they are about 90% what the greater community wants. “Rando adventures” aside. Prep, and slow game action stick in my craw; too much bad DM trauma, I guess.

        • Sean says:

          I’m not trying to pull a Kent here. I enjoy reading the reviews, they often give me a good laugh. And, as I said, I like the fact that you surface adventures I’ve never heard of and never would otherwise. But, speaking strictly for myself, they aren’t a reliable guide for what I want. Ease of use at the table, while important, is over emphasized. Give me something inspiring that requires some prep work to run over a pick-up-and-play adventure that feels a bit flat any day – within limits, of course. An inspiring adventure needs to be more than just tersely worded, interactive rooms for me. I LIKE knowing the background and history of things and rooms. I find it makes me a better DM. While I agree completely that it shouldn’t be near the beginning of a room description, there’s no reason it has to be frowned upon entirely. Let the reader decide if it’s good or bad, and focus on WHERE it belongs not IF it belongs. Reviews ding adventures for having too many book monsters and magic. Just state it as a fact and let the reader decide if it’s good or bad. Those are a couple of examples of “personal taste” that come immediately to mind that I personally wish weren’t part of the rating process. As for “Rando adventures”, while you may not like them, many others do. I would suggest that you try to review them within the context of what they are, and put aside the fact that you don’t like them. How well do they meet the needs of those who likes those kind of adventures. Anyway, sorry for the wall of text. I left my email address if you wanted to take this offline.

  3. Evard’s Small Tentacle says:

    I dislike too many random tables immensely. It is a pain to run, frankly one of the main reasons I didn’t run the otherwise well done Dark of Hotsprings Island, and the above mentioned products

  4. Jeff V says:

    I had thought Gold & Glory was a AD&D 2nd Edition retro-clone, rather than Savage Worlds. Turns out that I was thinking of “For Gold & Glory”.

  5. The Middle Finger Of Vecna says:

    Bryce said, “But, really? I’ve always thought my tastes were (mostly) pedestrian. I think they are about 90% what the greater community wants.”

    I don’t know about that 90%. There seems to be a large segment who actually want overly overwritten crap that you have to wade through with a highlighter. Versions of D&D from 3e on (and even 2e AD&D stuff) and Pathfinder are based on that and they definitely have their fans. Just looking at the 2e era on in Dungeon magazine is proof of that.

    • Sean says:

      There’s a difference between well organized “overwritten crap” and poorly organized “overwritten crap”. What this blog would ideally do is understand that yes, there are differences in what people are looking for in their adventures, but could still help shape how it should be organized. Don’t describe what a room used to be used for in the first few sentences. Duh. And yet, how many times do we see that mistake made? Doesn’t mean it should automatically be excluded. Just put it where it belongs – either at the end of the room or perhaps in an appendix or whatnot. The review should focus on how well it does that, not whether or not it caters to one segment’s personal taste of terseness. “This is a wordy adventure, but succeeds within that context. Here’s why…” If you don’t like wordy, you don’t buy it. If you do like that, you can make an informed decision about whether or not to buy. For this particular adventure, Garden of Bones, I have absolutely no idea whether or not it succeeds in its goal simply because the reviewer doesn’t like “rando adventures”.

      • Smitty says:

        Ideally this blog will continue doing whatever it is that Bryce wants to do. After all it’s his blog.

        You seem to describe another style of reviews completely. It’s fine that you like those kinds of reviews, but Bryce’s style is not invalidated by your preference.

        You are unable to determine from this review if Garden of Bones is worthwhile to you or not because you disagree with Bryce’s premise. That’s fine, I’m not here because I always agree with Bryce 100%, but rather because his reviews act as a consistent guidepost for me to direct my own investigations. The fact that you understand what Bryce’s premises are, and how they relate to your own concerns is one of the things that makes his reviews worthwhile, even if it ultimately wasn’t useful to you in this specific instance.

  6. HDA says:

    Wait… Mike Mignola is drawing adventure cover art now?

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