First Season in the Marchlands, D&D adventure review

By Tyler A Thompson, Joshua Mahn
Sad Fische Games
OSE
Mid-Levels?

An adventure compilation set in the Marchlands- a clannic, pastoral region beset by monstrosities, corruption, and banditry. 

This 123 digest page adventure describes a region and includes four adventures with extensive page counts. The adventures, while seemingly short, are verbose and use a meandering text style that must be fought through to run. More ideas than adventure, in spite of the keyed locations.

25 pages to describe the region and then, roughly 25 pages each for the four adventures. Ignoring the region, I focus on the adventures. There is a great ide used in one of the adventures. The party is exploring/raiding/clearing an old ruined fort. Inside are a very small number of bandits. There are some short snippets of conversation, in voice, tha the party can overhear as the bandits talk amongst themselves. This is wonderful. It gives hints to other things going on, like a minotaur in the area and the snippet being something about “it just picked him up and snapped his neck!” In voice adds character and gives the DM something to work with when roleplaying out the scene and this sort of “in the moment” element can add great depth to adventures.

Otherwise … oof! This one is rough!

The adventures are relatively short. A small four or five room ruined fort with six or bandits in it, for example. And yet it takes almost 25 digest pages to describe it. There are a few reasons for this. First, on the positive side, there are some ongoing situations. Thus, should the party clear the fort and perhaps take it over then there are some adventure seeds, such as the minotaur r thieving ratmen, that can be used to expand and provide events on an ongoing basis, generally ending with some climatic event, like the storming of a lair … or the party being stormed. This is a good thing. I always enjoy those little paragraphs at the end of an adventure that describe future implications of the parties actions … something to make it seem like the adventure is integrated in to the longer campaign, or, rather, giving the DM some hints as to how to do it, rather than it being a one and done situation. 

But the larger problem is how things are described and laid out. Just about everything in the adventure is described in trems of its history. This used to be a strong wall but now it is crumbling, for example. But, lengthen the history quite a bit more. This is seen in nearly every location and with every person, which is great if you’re reading a history book or doing an ethnographic discussion, but less important in the moment of the adventure. Thus, a significant portion of the text, at least a third? Is devoted to things that don’t really matter in actual play. This has the effect of clogging things up and making it harder to find the information you DO need to run the adventure; what’s happening now? Further, they do tend to arrive at the beginning of the description, meaning you get to skip down several sentences in order to find what you need. If this sort of stuff is the kind you like to put in an adventure then it needs to be out of the way, an  appendix, sidebar, or something, so it can skipped over while running.

And then, the organization, is quite wonky. For the fort, there’s an extensive write up on the bandits and their situation. Then there’s an extensive keyed location write up of the various locations. And then there’s ANOTHER extensive write up of the keyed locations, that includes information from the first write up as well as information about the bandits. All extensive. Thus you’re digging through three different places for information to run a room. I suspect it was meant to be a kind of overview, or summary, but it comes off as something different, something you need to consult during play. The effect is a kind of bizarre hunt for information as you try to figure out what the current situation is in a room.

This happens time and time again in the adventure, so much so that it’s the normal state of affairs. And, I think, makes the adventure unrunnable, at least for someone who doesn’t want to print it out, read it completely several times, take extensive notes and highlight it in order to make sense of it. And that ain’t me. It’s not worth it for a simple fort/bandit thing, even if it does recall that Dungeon adventure where you get to own a fort after you take it over. (That one was good. What was it?)

And then there are other weird choices. Most maps are keyed … except for the one adventure in which the map is not keyed. This is, of course, on a Dyson map. I have no idea what makes people not key his maps, but they resort to things like “The big room beyond has …” instead of just keying the damn thing. It’s weird. And then in another adventure, with a dragon, there is an extensive plot-like thing full of setting up a trap for the dragon with livestock. A LOT of pages. I guess that’s what the party is doing then? It’s out of place when compared to the more free-form of the other adventures.

It claims to be in the Old School Style, because of its looseness. I don’t equate the old school style with that. This feels more like some loose ideas, ala the MERP supplements. I liked the MERP supplements, but they weren’t really adventures. Just descriptions of regions and rough location ideas. And that’s what this feels like. Some ideas over a bar with a buddy about how things might go down in certain situations in a game they are running. Except it also has keys. 

I’m not really sure I can make out the intent on what was trying to be achieved. Verbose, and lacking clarity, or confused because of the verbosity? Or the intended formatting so obfuscated you can’t really figure out how it was meant to be used? As a result, it’s just a bit old book full of ideas and places and things that could happen, more than it is an adventure, even though it is clearly intended to be an adventure.

This is $7 at DriveThru. You get to preview the entire thing. Yeah! Rock on dude! That’s the way it should be. I might try pages 35 through 40 of the book to get a good idea of the writing style in this. Or, maybe, 29 through 32 to see the hook (i think it’s the hook?) and see if you can ferret out the supposed adventure from there. 

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/336113/First-Season-in-the-Marchlands–Adventure-Compilation-Compatible-with-Old-School-Essentials?1892600

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3 Responses to First Season in the Marchlands, D&D adventure review

  1. squeen says:

    Thus you’re digging through three different places for information to run a room. I suspect it was meant to be a kind of overview, or summary, but it comes off as something different, something you need to consult during play. The effect is a kind of bizarre hunt for information as you try to figure out what the current situation is in a room.

    This smacks of stream-of-consciousness writing without an editor (or second pass at a much later date). I do it too—one written idea leads to another…and another…etc. You are so happy to have gotten it out of your head, you don’t stop to consider what now needs to be trimmed/moved.

    • squeen says:

      Looking at the preview, the layout doesn’t quite evoke “a D&D adventure” until you start to hit the maps almost half-way through it. With the verbose writing style, compounded by the small amount of info you can fit on a page with digest format+large font, it comes off more as a historical pamphlet or visitor’s guide you pick up in a place like Colonial Williamsburg. It lacks that potential energy of “OK folk, you know the drill—here’s how your going to play this puppy…”.

  2. Bigby's Affirmative Consent Lubed Fist says:

    generally ending with some climatic event, like the storming of a lair

    This is, by far, your best typo yet, if typo it be.

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