By Robin Fjarem lalath OSR/Generic Level ?
A bright red star has appeared in the sky. People call it the Evening Star. Ever since its arrival strange things have started to happen. Wild animals are going feral, odd abominations roam the lands, and there are even rumors that the dead wake up from their graves when the light from the crimson star shines. Odd creatures and cosmic mystery awaits in this adventure set in the frozen wastes of Australis!
This thirteen page dungeon adventure in the frozen Southlands wants to do good. It tries, and fails, at a new formatting style that, while interesting, is not followed through on enough to bring clarity and evocativeness, with little interactivity beyond combat.
This is, in essence, a four page adventure; about a page and a half of maps and about the number of keyed locations, around thirty. Thus while not a one-page dungeon (Which I shy away from reviewing these days because of their Performance Art nature) it is close to it in formatting. When limiting yourself to just a page of keys per map you really need to bring your A game to pack in the exploratory/interactive/evocative/formatting. And this adventure tries to do with a kind of “exploding detail” style format.
Room eight is detailed as:
8. Natural Cave
Watermill wheel? [powers the sledge and bellows in (7), ?Waterfall [drops 10ft], ?Crates? [mining picks, nails, skillets], ?Secret door? [behind the crates, leads to (?16?)].
I’ve seen this style suggested in several forum threads and have even encountered it a time or two in past, to varying degrees of success. It’s meant to be easily scannable at the table, what with it’s bolding and the like. And, in theory, it brings several nice features. Note that the room is given a room title, in order to orient the DM to whats coming. Once reading “Natural Cave” your brain is ready to start the rest of the description from that standpoint. I think it could have included a better adjective/adverb in that title to overload it even more, and the concept is a good one even if it isn’t exactly implemented in the best way. Note also the bolding of the keywords. You get the major room elements front and center, easy to scan and pick out. The follow up information for each element, being included in braces immediately after the keyword, are also easy to pick out. This style can work. I don’t think it’s the easiest for a new designer to be successful with, but it can work.
I don’t think, though, that it works here. From a scanability standpoint, sure. But the rooms are dry, and thus from a evocative standpoint they tend to fail. A millstone, a waterfall and some crates. Not exactly the height of excitement. Rather than inspire the DM I am left feeling kind of *bleh*. Thus leg two, evocative writing, is left to suffer. Better use of that room title, better adjective and adverb selection, a real imagining of the scene in the room, that would have helped. Or maybe an intro sentence or two for the room, to bring the wonder and a better description, and then leave the existing description to help point the DM to the details. But it needs more.
It’s generacially formatted, with no real stats, just noting how many of each monster and mentioning treasure such as “a few coins” or “1 diamond.” It does have stats in the back for OSR creatures, but the lack of a level range, and the generic nature of the adventure, is, I think, a detriment. From a usability standpoint, a good adventure is a good adventure and any DM can restat/convert a good adventure. Better, I think, to be specific in your system and not worry about explicit cross-system sales. But, I’m not a salesman, so what do I know? The abstraction of the treasure is annoying though, and I don’t think it needs to be done, even if it IS meant to be generic and converted to other systems. Be specific! Not wordy, but specific! Avoid the generic abstractions that seem dull and bring the specificity that makes the mind excited to run it!
The overland “map” is a hex map, with no scale. It’s hard to read, with the font color running in the background color. With no scale ever mentioned, and a hard to read labeling system, it’s more “Art” than map. Sad. The rest of the adventure is really just padding. A small town on one or two pages. A little background information. The monster stats. A few pages about ancient aliens.
A more serious issue is the lack of motivation. The town is described, the situation is described, and then the dungeon is described. There is not really much of a way described, AT ALL, on how to transition from the town to the dungeon. Hints and rumors of its location? The mayor sending you there? The red star hanging over one spot? A red beacon shining up from the ground? None of it. And thus HOW the players learn of the dungeon is an issue. Maybe make the main dungeon the town graveyard and have the bodies coming back to life (as the star does) would solve the issue. There’s also these notes where it says dead bodies, inside the tomb, come back to life “if the red star shines inside”, but I can’t figure out any way for that to happen. Maybe a language barrier issue from a non-native speaker? In other places it feels like it’s just a “bodies reanimate at night” sort of thing, but in others “if the star shines inside.” Weird.
So, it tried. A little lite on the non-combat interactivity. REALLY lite on evocative writing, a few missteps in legibility and cohesion, and support information that doesn’t really add a whole lot. Specificity, not abstraction, is needed.
This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $1. Check out page eleven of the preview (book page ten) for the keys for one of the levels. The promise of the formatting choices can be seen, as well as the drier nature of the writing and the combat-focused interactivity.