Xanadu, D&D adventure review

By Vasili Kaliman
Singing Flame
Levels 2-3

A cult in the temple of Xanadu has opened a portal to another dimension. It was activated by adjusting the hands of three pendulum clocks in a particular sequence. Once the veil of reality was ruptured between this world and another, The Tooth Fairy stepped through, a winged creature from a dimension made of sweet stuff. The Tooth Fairy slaughtered everyone in the temple for their teeth, which she extracted and ate like candy. Rumors are circulating about unusual happening involving the temple, many are concerned. The Tooth Fairy is currently in her dimension, her appetite is ravenous, waiting to be summoned again. Rewards and riches may await those who venture forth to explore the temple, or dare to perform the ritual!

This forty page adventure features a one level dungeon with about 33 rooms described in about 23 digest pages. Good interactivity is complimented by good layout and organization to create an environment that is easy to run and fun to play in, with a hefty complement of Creepy Shit thrown in. 

It’s digest and it’s full of hipster 8-bit art, as a throw back to the early era of computer rpg games. It’s also a good adventure.

Interactivity is a hard beast. I comment frequently that it’s one of the three main pillars of a good adventure. There’s two sorts of interactivity in an adventure. The first is the back and forth between the party and the DM. This is the soul of every RPG; the art of the DM providing information and the party following up. Adventure text can support this. But I’m usually using the term interactivity in terms of Things To Do in the dungeon. Stabbing people. That’s pretty much a given. I like stabbing people, but that can’t be the totality of the dungeon, otherwise it’s just a tactical minis game … which could be fine if you’re in to Warhammer, but this is an RPG. You can talk to people before you stab them. I always like that. It’s not always required but it does provide a few more opportunities for the players to exploit the monster and the monster to exploit the player before (potential) stabbing starts. But then, what’s next? Traps, maybe? Puzzles? Yes to both! You want things in the dungeon for the party to mess with. This creates a risk/reward structure and delicious delicious tension as the party, hopefully, sits on the edge of their seats waiting for a result to their actions, with shouts of glee when things go well and groans of despair when they don’t. 

How about a statue holding a bowl? With gemstone eyeballs Obs, you want to put something IN the bowl! Also, the statue is carved from compressed human teeth. Hmmm, I wonder what goes in the bowl? That’s good interactivity. Secrets to discover! Hints in a mosaic that reveal deeper truths further inside the dungeon! A chess game to play! You need this sort of stuff in your dungeon. I don’t care if it’s 5e, Pathfinder, Warhammer, or something else, you need things for the party to play with and explore. And this adventure has that. Not quite every rooms, but enough stuff in the dungeon that you feel engaged as a player.

It’s also using one of my favorite style for laying out/organizing rooms. [Standard disclaimer: this is not the ONLY way to do a good job, but I do think it’s an intuitive way to do it for a new designer.] The first paragraph of each room generally provides a quick little overview of what the party sees, with certain keywords bolded, like “wall paintings”, “dead bodies” “candles” and the like. There are then bolded section headings for each of those points, with the details of them under each section. Thus the DM can easily locate the overview to relate to the players and then find the follow information instantly. I’m a fan. The Hall of Everlasting Light has the general description: “Pillars, running down center. Wall paintings throughout. Candles, high up on walls, regular intervals, piercing blue flame. Dead bodies, 2d4 of them, randomly distributed around room. Smells fragrant, like fresh air.” It’s a nice job.

Most of the decisions made in this adventure by the designer are great ones. Monsters are new, and creepy, to keep the players on their toes. The map is a good one (although light sources could be shown …) there is a good overview of the adventures, themes notes, major enemies, what the party can accomplish in terms of mysteries to solve. There’s a little map overview key … I like it a lot. 

The descriptions could be punchier. The “Wall Paintings” above, reads “Full-body portraits of multiple races, including beings not of this world, all wearing red robes, emblazoned with the cult symbol.” Not exactly the punchiest of descriptions, and tending to the abstract side of the spectrum. A good evocative description, kept short, is a hard skill though, and one of the hardest to master, I think, after imaginative interactivity. The outside of the temple doesn’t really get a description, for those would be “use the back door” crowds. 

And, there are a lot of If/Then statements. This is a writing style that just clogs up writing. “IF a read magic spell is cast ..” “is something is put in the bowl …” or “if a search for traps is made …” This is actually a stylistic choice made by the designer, so it’s not just poor writing, as it usually is. Actions are preceded by an IF as a formatting decision, consistent throughout. I don’t think it’s good. I think it adds words to read and parse while you are digging through content, but, hey, that’s just me. The reviewer.

Still, even with some weakness in the descriptive text, it’s a great adventure. Lots oto explore, Easy to run. Really good interactivity (OOOO! Glass coffin!”) and just a tough of gruesomeness (teeth related, generally) to keep the theming together and let you know they ARE baddies for a reason.

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is fourteen pages. You only get to see the first two rooms, since it’s the first fourteen pages. I would have preferred a couple of more rooms to look at as well, but you can get a good idea of the writing style, layout, interactivity, and so on from the preview, so it’s a decent preview.


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11 Responses to Xanadu, D&D adventure review

  1. Dekkion, Celestial Knight says:

    This is Pay What You Want at Drivethru, at least at the moment.

  2. Avi says:

    Thanks for your review, the link is too long – remove the “preview.” part please.

  3. Knutz Deep says:

    Tooth Fairy who eats teeth? Someone is a fan of Teen Titans Go

  4. Jody says:

    Thanks for the useful review.

  5. Stripe says:


    I LOVE the art! The map’s layout is really good, too. The whole book’s layout is great.

  6. Arthipster says:

    Why is the art hipster? What is hipster about 8-bit?

  7. The Middle Finger Of Vecna says:

    Xanadu? I can’t wait for my PC to eat some honey dew, and drink the milk of paradise

  8. Melan says:

    I admit this is a book I bought specifically because of its cover. Time to put on the horn-rimmed glasses and learn to ride a velocipede ironically, I suppose.

  9. Toby Vandal says:

    I’m curious, what did you think of the clock puzzle?

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