By Sean Smith Self Published OSR Levels 1-2
Rampaging hordes of goblinoids have been laying siege to follies and keeps in the outer regions of the duchy. The palace mage Xi’Gag has formed a plan to blunt the assault, but is missing a key item of power – the time record, which lies ensconced in the mysterious Temple of the Pale Falcon. You have been conscripted to join a party tasked with its recovery.
This four page dungeon adventure features three levels and about thirty rooms. It’s a tight package, easy to run, with some interesting choices to be made by the party and situations. I hesitate to say this for fear of what the future holds, but, the designer seems to understand how D&D is played. Alas, it tends to the “too terse” side of the spectrum, but better there than the alternative.
“YOU CANNOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF [THE] TIME RECORD IS NOT [TAKEN]!” states the first line of the publishers blurb on DriveThru. Ought oh! Sez I, someones got a bug up their ass! This train wreck should be fun … but, wait, no! This is something else! Not a monument to some fantasy heartbreaker regarding the correct use of TIME by the DM, but, rather, some designer poking the fun at an oft-quoted Gygax admonishment. Someone knows what they are doing.
How do I know this? “Doos are stuck 1-in-6.” Bam! Done. Moving on. “Areas 1-6, floors are marble flagstone throughout” Bam! Done! “Roll encounters each turn 1-in-12, or whenever the party makes a racket. 1-4 of whichever creatures are closest will investigate.” Bacm! Done! That fucking shit it T I G H T! Not a lot of bullshit. Just focused directions to the DM. Pertinent information. Information you need to run the thing. A simple mechanic for wanderers that it is easy to handle and makes sense. Nice!
The second level of this complex is time locked. Some rooms are in a kind of stasis. If you touch something in the room with something organic then they room “comes to life”, unfrozen from time. It’s a short, sweet mechanical description, two sentences. Perfect. And those rooms that are time locked? Stuffed FUCKING FULL of treasure and creatures. An ogre wearing three fantastic rings. Some hobgoblins around a chest with 4000gp. Ghouls, one wearing diadem. This is CLASSIC D&D push your luck, in a gold=xp game. You want the loot. The loot is XP. You’re drooling for it. Do you dare? What zany scheme do you dream up for a massive first strike on the occupants? Again, this shows an understanding of the heart of D&D and the scenarios in play contribute to that.
It’s got some issues and they almost entirely stem, I think, from the chosen format. It looks to me like the adventure was limited to four pages as a kind of design choice. And it is here that nuance in critique must take place. If I were judging adventures that could only be four pages long then I’d give this one great marks. It’s stuffed full for four pages, not wasting time on bullshit. It uses its four pages very well. But … only four pages? Clearly an artificial design choice. (I know, from my artificial “two page/six page” Black Maw project.) Because of this there are constraints, I assume, in making the adventure better. The place is a temple, with one antechamber outside, but there’s no real description of it. Most of the rooms are lacking a real visceral description. About the best of the descriptions might be something like this: “Every ten foot section of the west and east walls feature a shallow niche. ?1-6 skeletons remain in these niches, each wielding a scythe and wearing a cowl.” The scythe and cowl are nice details. The niches with scythe & cowl conjure up some decent imagery. But, while above average, not really as visceral as it could be. “Crypt: 1-6 ghouls sit cross-legged. One ghouls wears a diadem worth 900gp.” That description can be better. But, probably not in a dungeon with thirty rooms in four pages. (Although, about half a page is blank and the fourth page is just a “players map” type thing.) There are other weird little things also, like descriptions from level to another or one room to another not lining up. Maybe we can point to the “out of time” effect, but “the hole has a ladder” seems like a simple thing to put in on the top room as well as bottom room.
I like where this thing is going. The designer knows what they are doing. Sure, the thing is a little TOO terse, and could have made better use of the page count they DID have, with the player map and half blank page, but better too terse than too verbose … as long as its not minimally keyed. I can run this. It’s easy. Almost no prep required. Sure, the map is a pain, but maps are always a pain. You have to learn mapping software to make a decent one, or scrawl legible to hand draw one, so features, like “hole in the middle of the floor:” don’t always make it in, or, “caverns” show up as perfect round circles.
A decent attempt though. Better descriptions without greatly adding to the word count of the rooms. Spend some time making a slightly better map. A little more context, but not much more. It FEELS a little procedurally generated and could use more cohesion. But, not a bad effort.
This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is all four pages, so, good preview! Take a look at it; it’s just a hair short of me recommending it but I’m sure many folks will love it.