By Christian Toft Madsen Self-Published S&W Levels 2-4
Beneath our feet is the mythological hollow world – a realm of dense jungles, putrid swamps and rugged mountains. Here a brave party will struggle for survival as they seek to fathom the unseen expanse and to prevent a once defeated god to rise again.
This adventure describes a kind of Lost World, the hollow inside of the planet. This does this primarily by describing some “story point” locations, tied together in a loose series of events, thus providing examples of the location types and how they can used to build a narrative larger than the individual points. It hits all of the major design points, but I can’t help but think it comes off as a little dry … and I’m not really sure why. It reminds me, in many ways, of Valley of the Five Fires, by LeBlanc. For better & worse.
Ok, so, Lost World. The world Inside of Our World. The party finds a diary, it tells of a mysterious tower that is a gateway to another world … with caves full of gems. The tower is actually a boring machine with enough juice, unknown by the party, to make one trip to what turns out to be the hollow inside of the planet. (I’ve got a long standing hatred of diaries in adventures, but, not as hooks. My hatred is reserved for their use as Monologue/Explanation and not as a treasure map/hook.)
This is, in fact, the first four or so story points. The way this works is that the adventure presents something and then says “hey, and this is how you can string it together to make a longer narrative.” So, you need to get the party to the inside, right? So, here’s a boring machine and here’s how could work (oh no! It runs out of magic crystals and we need to find more to get home!) to string it together with the other elements. So, there are, like, five human villages scattered around about a 200mile on a side area. You get a map and a description of a village, and then some notes that, when the party arrives in the machine up through the ground, they see the smoking ruin of a human village. And, oh yeah, a couple of survivors and some tracks relate that the evil cavemen raided them and took their chief and slaves back with them to some horrible fate. Magic Crystals? Yeah, we know some rumors about that … and how it fits in with the cavemen … So you get the core element, and then an instance of how it could be used to strung together. Likewise the evil caveman village example, or the lizardman lair, or the evil bat-people lair. Both generic and, at the same time, how they could be localized to a narrative. And while the human village does explicitly contain text about “if this is a the burned out village then this is the other description …” this is the only location that does that. The others are just presented as is.
I find it interesting because it can both be used as a kind of hex crawl (albeit with not so many locations) and used like a hex crawl, kind of riffing on whats going on and localing on an ass needed basis, and also giving example of how that could be done … resulting in what is a self contained adventure as usable as nearly any other well designed product. So it’s both a resource for a lost world game and a specific adventure in the game. Nifty.
This is doing a lot right. It has notes about how to get replacement PC’s in if people die. It’s using bullets and quick hit descriptions. It’s got a format that uses about ?’rds of the page for descriptions and then a second column, taking up ? or the page, that has reference material like wandering monster tables, monster stats, little art bits, etc. That’s a great way to integrate more reference and support information. It’s god monster summary sheets to work from, and, in general it hitting the points it needs to in order to be usable and useful by the DM. And it is NOT fucking around with padded text. It moves through things pretty rapidly while still have some in-depth information … but the movement of summary information to the sidebars means that it moves rapidly from one location to another with extra text there.
It’s also got a couple of problems. The regional map is a pain in the ass. It tries to locate human, caveman, and bat people villages on the map but the icons are hard to find. They don’t stand out and, in fact, I simply could not find the bat people locale. But, as a 12-mile resource for a hex crawl from locale to locale? Great. Better icons. Some village names maybe. Perhaps a little note on how to cross the sea, since the map is divided by a sea and the impression I get is that the villages DO NOT sail. Treasure is also a little on thin side (unless you collect it all, I’m guessing) and bookish. A potion of healing. A ring of invisibility. Little to no localization.
And this is maybe the worse part of the adventure/location. It feels dry. Very workmanlike. It’s trying. For example, Bottomless pit get the description “? Circular pit stretching down into darkness.? Cold air and howling sound from the pit.” Well, ok, I guess I get it. It’s not the worst. But it’s not exactly screaming “evocative” either. And this is the same for all of the encounters. A substantial amount of art is from Lost World source material and I don’t think it lends itself to firing the imagination as it once did, at least for me. And thus I find it also pulling things down in my head also. (Which is interesting, because I find Clarke’s stuff super bad assly evocative, so it’s not ALL older art that drags on me.) Anyway, I think evocative writing is one of the hardest parts of adventure writing, so it’s not exactly a crime against man that its not super great. It just takes practice and the designer clearly knows what they are trying to do, even if they don’t reach my own standards yet in that area.
I would note, also, that the interactivity is non-exploratory D&D. It’s not the usual dungeons with things to play with. It’s more of a John Carter thing. You go some place, talk to people and make friends, make plans, expedition somewhere else. Fight the beast people through some sneaky plan and/or get ambushed by them, rescue some people, maybe fuck with some giant idol. Which, I might note, is the more open ended hex crawl nature of D&D than the traditional exploratory/puzzle/play with shit game. I like that style … I usually use it as filler in between the exploratory game sessions. (Filler doesn’t give it justice. It’s great and one of the pillars of a good campaign, I think.) What the fucks that blogs name? The one with the starship people visiting D&D worlds? Planet Algol? Carcosa? Fuck, someone told me, and I read a few more session reports and forgot it again. I suck. Anyway, Valley of the Five Fires, from LeBlanc, comes to mind as a similar adventure with similar pluses and downsides.
I’m gonna regret this. It will be fine for a lot of people.
This is $4 at DriveThru. Preview is ten pages. You get to see an overview of the Lost World, which takes about a page, and a good wanderer chart. A few encounter descriptions would have enhanced the preview immensely. As is, you get to see very little which would let you judge the writing quality of the actual adventure content.