By Randy Musseau Roan Studios OSRIC Levels 2-5
Player Characters are hired to retrieve a sample of water from a long-sealed temple atop an island peak. The coastline around the island is the domain of vile fish-folk known as Skulp, and the temple holds secrets best left unopened.
I loaded sixteen tons and what did I get?
This 48 page adventure describes an island with about ten locations, several of which are caves with about ten or locations also. It manages, in 48 pages, to do almost nothing. Abstracted, generic text full of stabbing with little in the way of specificity to fire the soul. Or clues to solve the mystery of the island.
I hate adventures like this. Someone clearly poured some effort in to this, and they came away with something that is boring. And these things are hard to review. How does one effectively communicate the absence of something? In a world in which people talk about Liking What You Like, a reviewer is always challenged to communicate WHY the choices made are substandard. About now someone always pops up and says everything is subjective. Which, I guess it is. But we can also judge things by how the majority of people will accept something. No doubt someone thinks that the Garfield movie is a cinematic masterpiece and Barry Lyndon is crap and they are always happy to chime in. But, with analysis, we can go deeper than “Well, _I_ liked it.” But you have to say why.
Generic Sucks. Abstraction Sucks. They provide nothing for the DM’s mind to latch on to. A well written adventure will cause the DM to be excited about the various elements. They will spring to life in their mind. Andthe DM, with a fuller picture in their head, will better communicate it to their players. Jabbing an idea in to the DM’s head. Brining it to life. This is the essence of the Evocative Writing pillar I harp about. It’s hard. But without it you get:
C. Main Chamber. A large circular cavern divided by a 2 feet (.6 m) high natural stone wall. Beyond the wall are tunnels to the left and right.
Stunning, isn’t it? Is your soul alive now? Are you excited to run Main Chamber? Another room, the Skulp (Kuo Toa) leaders chamber has a small fortune in pearls, coral, and jade. That’s the sum total of the room description. The rest of the key tells us he’s larger than a normal Skulp, making him the default leader, and he’s been in this role for several months. Exciting, isn’t it? He’s not even located in this room. *sigh* How about another room with a “large rock formation.” And yet, these rooms are LONG. They drone on an on with backstory and generic, abstracted descriptions of things using boring words like “large” and “big.” Thirty some pages of this (the rest being maps) and almost not actual detail at all. Detail doesn’t have to be long, but it has to be specific. Ditch most of the backstory. Sacrifice the words that tell the DM what the map already shows. Delete most explanations of HOW and WHY, because they don’t contribute to actual play. Use that freed up word count, or fewer, to add some detail. Maybe an iridescent mane on the leader? Or the rock formation made of skulls,some still dripping with viscera? Hanging tree roots, ala 13th Warrior, are always a good way to spice up a cave. Specific instead of abstracted.
“The alchemist” hires you to bring back some water from the temple. I’m prone is hyperbole, but you get NOTHING on the alchemist. No name. No quirks. No real reward even. This adventure confuses “written for any system” for “needs to be generic” and that’s simply not the case.
The map is a disaster. It shows keys for areas three and four, but they are not mentioned in the text. Maybe it’s the Skulp lair? Who know.
Encounter two is a stone path up the mountain. The crazy priest has left skeletons on it in several places to guard it. That’s it. That’s all you get. This is what $5 gets you on DriveThru.
And the encounters are almost all combat. Just go in a cave and stab some stuff. Repeat. That’s not exciting or fun. That’s not exploration. That’s not social. That’s killing your players by boredom. Roll the dice. YAWN. Did we win D&D yet?
The key to the magically sealed temple is in the Skulp lair, which, I think, is not easily found. There are no hints to this. Just follow the linear path up the mountain and, I guess, come back down again?
48 pages of this. (ok, 35 or so.) This is nothing. NOTHING. There’s nothing to this. It’s like an algorithm wrote this using a boring thesaurus. “Possible encounters along the way will also add to the dangers of the mission.” But, it’s not going to run. Because any sane person, buying this, is going to bit file it and turn to something else.
Yet more grist for the DriveThru mill. Yet more cynicism for buyers and dreamers.
I got a rock.
This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is nine pages. It shows you none of the encounters, so it’s a shitty shitty preview. You need to know what you’re buying, that’s the purpose of the preview. HOWEVER, the generic writing present in the preview is present throughout, even though the preview pages are some of the best of the adventure. Joy.