By Zack Wolf Spellsword Studios B/X Levels 1-2
A whole classic campaign in your pocket! The Evils of Illmire is a “mini-mega” hexcrawl adventure module designed to provide dozens of sessions of perilous wilderness exploration and dungeon crawling. It features an evil cult, a doomed town, a dangerous wilderness, and a variety of vile monsters. The zine aims to provide plenty of free-roaming adventure content, but with an over-arching threat that looms over the entire region.
This seventy page digest “zine” adventure contains nineteen hexes, a town, and a fuck ton of lair dungeons scattered throughout a region. The designer knows what makes for a good regional area: a lot going on. It is pushing hard up against the limitations of the format, being as big as it is, but is not so off the rails, in verbosity, format or design, as to make it unusable. A de-light-ful little region to toss some PC’s in to!
Rarely do I find myself saying to myself “Holy fuck I want to run this thing!” … but that was the case with this adventure. And it was the case from the very first real page, the adventure synopsis. Illmire is a town that the party ends up at, rumors of treasure in dungeons in the surrounding region. (There are some “investigation” hooks also, but those are as crappy as one line investigation hooks always are. GOLD always works well.) So what you have are the towns hex and the eighteen hexes nearby that make up the region. Each of the hexes has something going on in it, at least one thing (6 mile hexes), and generally a lair dungeon or two … a designer finally figuring out how to make good adventure of the smaller Dyson maps. So the party comes to town and explores the surrounding hexes and dungeon, rumors abound, etc.
But that shits not in the synopsis. Oh no! Kidnappings in town. Bandits on the road that now pose as militia. A cult in town, spreading paranoi and fear-mongering. The temple boarded up, an abomination hidden underneath it. Pod people villagers, the town watch and militia under control, a cult assassin on the prowl, a new priest full of hellfire and brimstone extoling people to confess on themselves and their neighbors to be saved … and blackmailing them while sowing fear and paranoi in town. The town well poisoned, giving the villagers nightmares. A sickness in town, afflicting the elderly and children .. .the mayor on his deathbed. People dying a slow miserable death. And, out in the swamps, THE OVERSEER, a root cause of problems who, academically, doesn’t really care what happens.
Oh, I was so stoked to run it from that description! And then the hexes start in. SOmething going on in each one, at least one thing. And multiple dungeons, usually, in them. Chances to talk and make friends. Climb the highest mountain to the crystal palace of the mountain giant who feasts you and hears your tales of bravery! And challenges you to quests! The lumberjacks with their boss, in the forest, plagued by fishmen. A floating tower. Sylvan glades. Mushroom forests. This fucking thing is PACKED.
And that is fucking great. A homebase SHOULD have a fuck ton going on. I love that the town, the home base, is a center of evil, and related to some sites out in the hexes, but is, also, an opportunity for downtime fun … getting involved in local affairs, brining the town to life and sucking the party in to its drama while they want some phat l00t out in the wilderness. It’s fucking great!
And its greatness is pushing up against usage.
The adventure is generally devoid of summaries, except, perhaps, that synopsis at the beginning that mostly covers the cult in the town. This is rough, because there is so much going on that its hard to keep track of. If would really benefit from a page with the major NPC’s and factions on it and a page of summary for the major things in each hex. You need SOMETHING to be able to integrate the adventure as well as its MEANT to be integrated. This is exacerbated by the scattered way in which the places are described. Each hex is described and then the dungeons are described. And they are in some weird fucked up order. SO the hexes are not numerically arranged or alpha arranged, but something else. And it looks like the dungeons are also. This means a hunt for information. The result is everything scattered throughout the books. The town has the overview cult in one place, the town hex in another, the town “dungeons” in another, a town map in another. I don’t want to hunt the wumpus! Other areas, like the militia/bandit fortress, loose their meaning when the context of the fortress is not found on its page but rather earlier in the book, leaving it in isolate and in danger of not getting the full impact out of it. The entire book doesn’t seem to be arranged to play it as an adventure. It seems more like … the things were developed in isolation. And, this is in spite of the areas ll being pretty tightly integrated with each other! And yet they don’t feel DESIGNED to be used together, at all.
I’m not saying this is adeal killer. THis thing is good enough that I would maybe put in an hour or two to prep my own summary and NPC sheets, with a highlighter in hand. And we all know how fucking much I loathe doing that. But this is GUUUUUDDDDDD.
I note, in passing there is also some confusing word order in use, mainly in the dungeon keyed encounters. A barrel has 50 gold nuggets, hidden under rubble in the NE corner. Compare that to Rubble in the NE corner hides a barrel with 50 gold nuggets. This word ordering exacerbates the already large problem of holding this thing in your head. Add to that a little TOO much backstory in some of the descriptions. I’m all for an occasional few extra words to add some context, but when it gets too lengthy, or too often, then these asides to the DM start to detract from comprehension.
Still, this designer knows how to design. Now they just need to learn how to layout and edit in order to pull the entire thing together. It’s not that it’s a mess, and it would probably have worked fine for a smaller volume. But, as adventures get longer and longer then the effort required, and focus required, to keep them coherent increases to need levels. This needed a little extra bit of love in that area.
This is $5 at DriveThru. There’s no preview. That’s too fucking bad. It needs a preview, as well as the level range in the product description.