By Brad Kerr Swordlords Publishing OSE "Low Levels" (2? Maybe?
Enter a garden of earthly delights. The sun has stopped setting over the king’s favorite garden. It seemed like a harmless curiosity at first but the animals have turned violent and strange alien beings have appeared. The duke has placed a bounty for enterprising sell-swords to end the curse of endless daylight.
This 34 page adventure details about twenty hexes in a walled off garden, along with two “dungeons” (a cave under a well and a hedge maze) of about ten rooms each. The writing is well organized and the situations imaginative, with no “right” way to proceed. A remarkable little gem.
This blog focuses a lot on design. Not out of choice. I would love to just DISCOVER great little adventures and be delighted by them. That seldom happens and, as a result of the origin story, I devolve in to discussing design issues because the vast VAST majority of adventures are ruined by simple things that are seen over and over and over again. But this adventure? It’s exactly the kind of thing you are looking for. Some dude just shows up and drops a bomb of an adventure.
The setting here is a garden area a couple of miles on a side, surrounded by a wall. There’s the usual things inside, a hedge maze, fountains, rose garden, etc. It’s pushing the edge of the mythological Land of Knights from romantic fiction, much in the same way that Gone FIshin did, although to a lesser degree. While Fishin was squarely in the Folklore category of setting, this could just be “real”, or at the hyper-real of some D&D settings. And then, to that, you add in the fantastic elements. It FEELS like someplace else, because of the descriptions, the writing, and the situations placed in front of the party.
And the situation is NOT linear. You can explore, return to locations, see what
S going on in the next hex … and be seen by the denizens. There’s a monstrously large rat prowling around, always a threat to the party, to keep them on their toes. You discover things, both from the main plot and from what feels like a dozen different little situations going on. And this is in light of most hexes just having one or two things going on. For example, one hex is idyllic hills. With carnivorous deer, bloody mouthed (from that fabulous cover!) But … there’s also a dead body, partially eaten by the deer. With possessions and a note, that leads to other mysteries. Other mysteries that could turn very very poorly for the party AFTER the adventure is over.
This is a not-so-whimsical Alice in Wonderland setting, with weirdos, dead bodies, a giant rat and what feels like a thousand other things prowling around and to investigate. The backstory, the only part of an adventure meant to be actually read, is actually engaging, revealing human foibles and people doing their best. The room/hex formats are generally on the shorter side, without being terse, with good use of bolding, summaries, section headings and the like. Perhaps it tends to the longish side, but not to the extreme to make it unrunnable.
And yet …
The hex map has little art pieces to show you whats in the hex/remind you. Important, because you can see and be seen from adjacent hexes, for the most part. Those little diagrams could be a little clearer. For while the hedge maze is easy to remember, a few other things, like the corpse pile, could be better, particularly when there are things to see, smell, hear, chase.
Some rooms have a “secret” in them and that is generally related through italics to the DM. Several sentences of italics. Like the DM text, in general, this tends to the long side but doesn’t go off the rails. In both cases, though, alternative formatting choices would have been clearer.
And, treasure is a bit light, with some “intentional” handwaving in a major treasure room coming to mind. No No No. Stick in the treasure, dude! Made it complete! Just as, for example, a table of “things found on bodies” or a couple of sample “adventuring parties” would have made the wandering monster table complete, instead of asking the DM to prep ahead of time. Do the work, so we don’t have to. Put the imagination seeds in for us, so we can build upon them during play, as you have for the rest of the adventure.
Still, an excellent adventure; the exact kind you hope to stumble upon when making purchasing decisions. Better than most of he Best Of on this blog. I’m excited to run this.
This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages, showing you the (somewhat incomplete) wandering table as well as three of the hexes on the last page. They are excellent example of the writing you are to encounter, with a little whimsy, a little snark to the DM, and a lot of interesting shit/situations to handle.
Bryce, you’re getting soft. Two Bests in a row? What the hell? No, seriously, keep them coming.
Fear not, my spirit is again crushed with the latest reviews, starting the new year off right
PoN’s Palace of Unquiet Repose is on the verge of general release, and I can tell you that the betas look excellent. So you’ve got that to look forward to.
Is that William the Lion, Duke of Brittany on the cover there?
Oh man what a great review. Thank you Bryce!
A very good review showcasing an excellent module. “I’m excited to run this” sums it up nicely. I had already bought this, having read a (very good) review by Melan. The magic items are well crafted, and I particularly like the exploding glass sword which inflicts extra damage but then you had better draw your back-up weapon. As noted by Bryce, the text is not completely stripped back, but I find sentences about “The lazarus rabbit shaking frogs to death for fun” give me a better grasp on how to run the encounter.
My favourite of the Old School Essentials modules thus far: well done.
No level range? Screw you