The Spire in the Hills, D&D adventure review

By Bill Reich
Self Published
Levels 3-5

It is mid-summer, a time of hot dry days and cool, almost cold nights here in the basin.  Someone, perhaps the Saka scout from the previous adventure, has heard that shepherds on the north edge of the basin have seen a tower or spire that was not seen last summer, the last time that they brought their sheep to graze in the cool hills. Others have probably heard about it but there has been no word from any of the guilds in the town or any of the nearby bands of Saka that anyone is doing anything about it. Someone the group knows, very likely the High Priest of the Blue Pool, looked for mentions of a tower in those hills in the library. They found ample mention, from before the basin dried up. There was a wizard in the hills who was creating new spells and had not accepted any apprentices in many years, so little was known about his activities. He married a wealthy merchant widow and had a tower constructed and was not seen in towns or cities again. The word “wizard,” sometimes “true wizard” meant something other than “a powerful mage” back then and it still does. He was reportedly quite wealthy in his own right. Nothing has been heard of him in centuries and the Initiate thinks people stopped seeing his tower several hundred years ago. They think that the tower must have been hidden by a spell and either the wizard had intended it to reappear or the mana powering it ran out.

I’m not gonna regret this. I’m not gonna regret this. I’m not gonna regret this. I’m not gonna regret this. I’m not gonna regret this. I’m not gonna regret this. I’m not gonna regret this. I’m not gonna regret this. 

I’m going to regret this.

I just said it. I JUST said I would take more time to find things. “This looks great! I’m sure it’s gonna be wonderful! Small things from new publishers are great!” I’m not making fun of myself. Well, I am a little. That’s what I actually thought. Never get off the boat.

This 32 page adventure has some kind of overland adventure through the desert and then a wizards tower with four or five levels and about ten rooms, with a dragon and lich in the tower. 

For those of you new, a Dragon and a Lich would be pretty serious opponents for a party. And a third level party? TPK. “But, it’s the OSR, I thought you people were ok with unbalanced.” Sure, absolutely. But that assumes a sandbox, not a linear railroad. When you can’t skip fights, maneuver, plot, then its a Fair Fight. And the OSR don’t do Fair Fights. RUN AWAY! Only works if you can run away.

Usually, when I talk format I’m speaking about how an encounter/room is organized. Is it easy to scan and find information etc. There is, though, another definition that I seldom mention: basic breathing and heart pumping. Does the product use words. Are there sentences to comprehend? You can see an occasional appeal to this when I mention the horrors of single-column formatting and maybe even my tirades against long italics/legibility. I don’t feel I’m too harsh on this account; I generally give our foreighn friends a pass with some awkward verb tenses and word choices. But Jesus H Christ there are bad things out there. Take for example, this adventure.

Single column, of course. Single column is hard to read. You lose your place as you travel from line to line. Remember, this is technical writing, and as such a reference work. Single column is almost always bad (certain digest formats excepting. This is an 8.5×11 issue.) You know what else is bad? Left justification of your paragraphs. You know, when all of the left hand words are exactly in line? Which means you can’t really tell where one paragraph ends and another begins, except by looking at the last paragraph to see if it ends ealy. How the fuck is this supposed to contribute to legability, scanabaility and ease of use? Certainly, not all of the pages are left justified, but the fact that even a few are is crazy to me. 

How about some basic sentence structure? “The pride of one male and five females, with a number of young.” Hmmm, that don’t seem right. How about: “Unfortunately, the pool where the party was going to replenish their water supply and camp for the night.” Weiner weiner chicken dinar! (A dinar being a unit of Kuwaiti currency, of course. What, you thought it was a misspelling?!) This is nigh on unusable because of these basic walking & talking at the same time issues. (My apologies to Bill if this is a English as a Second Language issue. But, still, get yourself an editor.) 

Encounters are weirdly inconsistent in length. One of the first is a wilderness encounter with a pride of lions. It takes three pages, if I include the page of clip art to be shown to the party. Three pages for some lions. But when you get to the wizards tower you get encounters like “This door is open. Barrels and jugs and bottles here once held wine but all is now dust.” This feels like baiting me. Like someone is emulating that old Dungeon Magazine example that I held up as the worst room description ever, the platonic example of bad room backstory and everything wrong with Dungeon Magazine. How about “4: Another open door. From what you can tell, this room held more kitchen supplies.” Conversational. Not evocative. A mix between DM and read-aloud? I don’t know. 

The map for the tower is drawn on hex paper. 1 hex equals ten feet. But then the rooms are drawn in white boxes that hide the gridlines, so you don’t know how big the rooms are. “The ghost registers as undead if you cast Detect Undead.” You are in a narrow hallway, you must provide light.” 

Sadly, this is the state of D&D. 

I assert that WOTC D&D adventures are only a little better than this one. Sure, more art, and better. And they are, at least consistent in their (bad) formatting. But the hollowness of their evocative, interactive, and ease of use match this.  And while that might be a LITTLE hyperbolic, it’s not exactly too far from the truth. 

This is $1.50 ast DriveThru. The preview is twelve pages. It’s enough to know what you are getting yourself in to.

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2 Responses to The Spire in the Hills, D&D adventure review

  1. Evard’s Small Tentacle says:

    You should posit your positing by reviewing the latest WOTC D&D offering, and I will point out that your last WOTC review was largely positive.

  2. Yora says:

    The opening sounded really good.

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