By Allen Farr WinterBlight's Challenge Generic Level ?
The River Of Frozen Souls has shattered. As the remnants of this once mighty frozen fortress drifts south on the Sea Of Broken Blades, it carries with it the Anvil of Ice, a powerful artefact capable of bringing eternal winter to the world. Will this winter be your last?
This 49 page adventure tries to describe a northern town in the middle of winter, along with a series of dungeons in iceberg fragments. It’s very creative and has all of the elements required for a good adventure, it’s just that the designer has absolutely no idea at all how to put them together in to a coherent package for use. And I mean that more than I usually mean that.
You get hired on as town guards. You get sent to a northern town for a few months. Your first day you get assigned to a murder that is causing a gang war. That leads to a series of dungeon fragments contained in icebergs off the coast.
There is a pattern to these. After mountains of text laid out in a near-incoherent paragraph form, with embedded encounters, there will be a period of more free form player action. These are supported by terrific little vignettes for the party to interact with. There is a surrounding world here, or at the feel of one, that is terrific. It’s alive and full of potential energy. This is augmented by “themes” for the various sections, which are usually just environments conditions or some such. This adds to moods trying to be created, like the hostility of the weather or the strangeness of the north. Evocative writing can be almost good in places, like “At the far end of the room is an ancient throne entwined by the dragon’s tail and bedecked by large luxurious furs.”
As guardsmen some of the “one liner” encounter range from a group of children challenging the party to a snowball fight to a distraught woman begging the party for help, because a ship sailing out has her son on it as a stowaway. There’s nothing else, that’s it. And it’s clear that you mind can run away with these little things. They are full of energy. Likewise things like your sword freezing to its scabbard, or an increasing number of villagers found froze to death in their homes, to bring home the severity of the winter. A great job.
Of course, the formatting is atrocious and makes the entire thing almost incomprehensible.
Columns of information, combining backstory, justifications, multiple plot events, and the like are the normal course of business. It almost makes you think that you are reading a summary of whats to come, but, you soon find out, no, this is the actual adventure. Arriving in town, hired on, ambushed by thugs, trained by the guard sergeant, these get just a couple of words each, almost as much as I just typed about them, embedded in longer paragraphs. This is no way to run a railroad, or format an adventure for use.
Bold italics for read-aloud sections making it hard to read. An appendix compsigin almost half the page count, subtracting from actual value. A generic adventure, with no stats, written in an almost abstracted way, making it hard to pick out traps and creatures and certainly no detail on what they could be. Just stat the fucking thing for D&D man! Any decent DM can convert it and the non-decent ones are not going to use it anyway, in its generic form.
“The entrance to this room is constructed from the open maw of Blizzard, an ancient dragon that pledged its services in death to the master of the fortress.” You can see, from this section, how we both get a nice little feature, an entrance from a dragon maw, and how its ruined by all the backstory. And this is one of the more terse backstory elements. They go on and on, adding depth that will never be encountered during play. “… his hand outstretched as if holding something defensively. That something was the Rod of Thunderous Upheaval. It was the Rod of Thunderous Upheaval used in the heat of combat that shattered the River of Frozen Souls and Fortress Frostfang, see Arcanum.” There we go, a load of backstory for a corpse that adds nothing to the adventure. The adventure does this time and time again.
It’s a shame because there’s some interesting things going on in this. It needs a TOTAL rework, with a complete focus on running it at the table and the expansion of the section where the party investigates the murder and the factions in the town compete. Then this would be an adventure to write home about!
This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages and gives you a look at some of the seventeen “iceburg dungeon fragment” locations. These tend to tbe the shorter elements, with some decently evocative writing in places. It’s good for getting a eel for the generic nature of the adventure, as in system neutral, and how that detracts from the adventure overall.