By Istvan Boldog-Bernad First Hungarian d20 Society OSRIC Levels 3-4
Mur’s fortunes have been built on tear salt, and merchants from distant lands travel to the city for this healing elixir. There are two tear salt springs in town, owned by two rival patrician families: the Falconi and the Capullo. Mur’s laws forbid open conflict, and like most crimes against citizens, the punishment for breaking the peace is severe: live entombment within the living city’s ever-growing walls! Nevertheless, cloak-and-dagger intrigue always claims new victims, and discord between the two families has now escalated into almost open warfare after the elderly Ercol Falconi’s young wife has disappeared. Time is ticking away, and only a bold company of outsiders can resolve the feuds and discover the masterminds behind it all… under the watchful eyes of the City-God!
This 32 page adventure details intrigue, Fair Verona style, in a small city. Two great houses avoid open warfare, with the party mixing things up, perhaps going all Yojimbo. There’s too much to keep straight, though, without a scorecard, and it could use a little more intrigue to mix things up. It’s a pretty cool little setting, even if I do think it’s a lot of work to run.
You’ve got a setting and you’ve got shit going on in that setting. And then you’ve got three dungeons related to the adventure. (And, also, a separate wilderness adventure that I’m ignoring for this review.) The setting here, the city, is flavourful, with enough detail to make it spring to life in the DM’s mind, easing their ability to run it and make up new stuff. The Shit Going On in the setting is … plentiful, to say the least. You’ve got a fuck ton of people running around with differeing motivations, generally acting in opposition to another group. IE: a fuck tun of faction play.
The city, proper, is pretty interesting. Worshipped as a god, they bury people in the walls of their houses. Alive, if they are criminals. They export some magic vials of water (actually tears of a crying titan …) and, like the cities of old, foreigners have essentially no rights in the city.
To this lets add two factions, the Gold and Blue, based around two old families that have a stranglehold on the potion business, being the only two (legit) providers. (See that throwaway word? Legit? There’s one throwaway line in the city description that mentions imposters and crooks and fake potions … and like all good one-liners it provides ample inspiration for a DM to expand the adventure. It’s not just some shitty window dressing, its a line that directly contributes to further adventures and complications … the way these things should!)
Ok, then You’ve got their own personal guards, the Blue and the Gold. Then you’ve got the commoner filled Greys, the city guard, who take advantage of foreigners. The lesser criminal elements, always willing to place the blame on foreigners (IE: the party.) Oh, and the two great houses in Verona like to use outsiders since they can’t openly go to war and they are essentially disposable. Let’s see, you’ve got an independent wizard upset that the local library has burned down and is interested in bringing people to justice over it. You’ve got a beggar king with a secret to hide. You’ve got a ½ orc with plans to score ig at the expense of a family. And then you’ve got the main plot, with the child bride of one of the families gone missing and rumors abound, with Fake News, on who did it. And then you’ve got the beggar king, with his own secrets, and desiring to Bring The Noise and destroy the city. And then a couple of other independent places, like The Hotel out of John Wick, this time a small neutral ground inn for merchants. There, I think I got about ?’rds of the shit going on. This is my kind of place! A fuck ton going on and two seperate timers, unknown to the party, driving the action, before two different people end up dead … one with normal consequences and one with apocalyptic consequences. FUCK! I forgot the cult. And the thieves guild. Anyway, a shit ton going on. This is totally my bag baby and I luv it! This is the fucking way you create a setting!
The dungeons, three of them, do a pretty good job also. Hands reaching out from walls, ghouls bursting through them, weird lifelike mouths, statues that are guresomly real, cannibals, and a shit ton more, all described and brought to life with a minimum of text. I could, mayhem use just another sentence, since a lot tend to be one sentence long, but the core concepts are good ones and the brief descriptions do a job job lodging them in your brain, which is what they should do. Nice writing, but could be better.
But, alas, all is not well. There are four things that spring to mind, in this adventure, that do not sit well with me.
The first is, I think, a subset of a larger problem. The city wanderer table is about half boring. Meaning about the encounters are just “merchants” or “Bandits” or some such, with nothing more. The other half might have a sentence of something like “Rakes who like to humiliate foreigners, especially in front of a crowd.” Devoting a page, or even doing an inline table, to spicing these up would have gone a long way to giving the DM a springboard to launch an encounter from.
And this “springboard”, or lack thereof, is the larger issue I find in this adventure. The city setting is interesting. The factions and all the shit going on is great. There are good hooks that abound. One of the first is from a relative of the missing girl, “find her … or avenge her!” (As an aside, this Realpolitik/Men Of Power thing is a theme in this adventure and I LUV it!) Fuck yeah man, Permission to Stab received and understood! But, there is some level between the down and gritty detail and the high level faction plans. SOme way to ge the party involved more, after the mission brief, some way to get them in to the thick of things. This is, I think, sorely missing from the adventure. The middle is missing. It didn’t have to be much, maybe a sentence here and there, but active party involvement seems to be missing.
On top of this, or, perhaps, as a symptom, the thing feels more like an overview or guidelines than an adventure. I understand that, when writing a Tv Show, there is some document produced that has all of the backstory of each character and the places. This FEELS like that. Not in the amount of extraneous detail (that is thankfully not present) but rather as a kind of “high level briefing document.” That can be ok, for a setting, but as a part of a city, to run an adventure in? It leaves more than little to be desired. The various locales are both thick with information (dense, maybe?) and high level guidelines. I LIKE guidelines, but, somehow, here, it feels off?
Finally, and most importantly, this thing needs a fucking scorecard. There are SO many people, and SO much going on, with their funny fucking names, that its hard to keep things straight. I’m not sure, after two read throughs, whos up to what and why, if you mentioned a name to me. A summary sheet of this shit would have been VERY helpful to run the adventure/city from. A necessity, infact.
I’m ending this review early to go pass out. It’s the day after election, I’ve been ignoring all of the news channels and instead drinking.
This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is eight pages. The writing style, used in the preview, is the one used throughout. A better preview would have a page of dungeon encounters and perhaps a page of the city locations as well.