In the Shadow of the City-God, D&D adventure review

By Istvan Boldog-Bernad
First Hungarian d20 Society
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.

This entry was posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, No Regerts, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to In the Shadow of the City-God, D&D adventure review

  1. Anonymous says:

    Awesome review.
    Good of you put a lot of prep into it.
    Love the scorecard bit, people say oh wotc stuff is fine if you make flowcharts and summary sheets.
    Oh really? Do that in the text then.
    I would love a scorecard for stuff like this, I love EMDT and some way to check boxes over time before Y bad thing happens and of all goes kaboom? Actionable criticism bb

  2. Shuffling Wombat says:

    I think this module succeeds where B6 The Veiled Society failed, without quite hitting the jackpot. The combination of urban intrigue with connected dungeon crawls is well crafted, and the more dangerous plot which may be detected when investigating the initial quest is a clever touch. However I agree that the referee needs a bit more help to make the most of it. Maybe some extra material, which may or may not be used according to party action: (I) clues from the scene of the abduction, leads from investigations; (ii) a meeting with a broker of information; (iii) details of the catastrophes that occur if a certain figure awakes, maybe a table of mishaps to roll on. This could form the “missing middle”. Also details of the playtests might help. A bit like the WFRP module Shadows over Bogenhafen, the more the party messes up, the more exciting it gets.

    I’ve picked this module up and I like it. In the hands of a skilled referee this could really shine.

    Very good review,

  3. Evard's Small Tentacle says:

    Good review; I think Melan probably didn’t refine it as much as he does Castle X.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Its another author

  5. Narmor says:

    Thank you for the review, Bryce! It’s a great honor to me that you’ve read my adventure and reviewed it. I shall take your advice, and next time I’ll also pay attention to these things. Greetings from Kassadia, land of intrigue and assassins. 😉

    István Boldog-Bernád

  6. Melan says:

    That’s correct; the adventure was written by Narmor, and I only undertook light editing, and later the translation. I wanted to preserve his style, which is very condensed, very essential, striking to the heart of encounter descriptions.

    I believe you could run a great adventure out of this booklet if you are at least decent at improvisation and connecting the dots (Bryce is right that a reference table could help). It went great for me both when I played it, and when I ran it for a different group. It is more outline-ish than my usual fare; and there will be a module collection next year (by the author of The Four Bride of Xantun, from Echoes #02) which will be lighter still.

    • Evard’s Small Tentacle says:

      I love light adventure design with summary tables, flow charts (why don’t all adventures have them?), with broad arcs that have plenty of openness. I think reference tables definitely help. City of Lies for Lo5R did have some very good design concepts for a city based adventure which essentially could be a campaign.

      Love all the Hungarian Society stuff; I buy them automatically these days, along w a couple of other publishers (Rosewood, Dungeon Age, Chainsaw, Merciless Merchants)

  7. Anonymous says:

    Agreed on light advebtures, but thats a great point. Go light? Put in a scorecard tracker, reference table, flow chart, NPC/ faction relationships table. All the table aids baby

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *