The Evils of Illmire, D&D adventure review

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. 


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/343439/The-Evils-of-Illmire?1892600

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30 Responses to The Evils of Illmire, D&D adventure review

  1. Daniel says:

    This is a great product, indeed. Kickstarted it and couldn’t be more happy with the result. Works very well as a campaign starter.

    The author (Zack Wolf) has two upcoming Kickstarters for ZineQuest 3, IIRC.

  2. Nobboc says:

    I loved this one too. You read it and just want to play it. I had the same problems with the organisation, but stil, I suspect the things will still set up easily once running it (I should run it soon)

  3. Anon says:

    One glance at the hex-map: they are numerically arranged top to bottom, left to right.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I wonder if the author or others could make hex summary and NPC relationship sheets for this?

    There are a ton of great value added Ref sheets for adventures out there, something like that would be great for this. Help us Zach Wolf/ internet you are our only hope

  5. nfbenson says:

    I’ve been running it for a while, it’s an excellent hexcrawl, lots going on, loads of things for the party to explore

  6. Anonymous says:

    Any review that earns “the best” tag from Bryce is a guaranteed sell to me. Picked it up immediately. I’ve only skimmed it, but it looks great so far!

  7. Stripe says:

    “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.”

    Wow. Yeah.

    Purchased.

  8. Kaique de Oliveira says:

    The Evils of Illmire and Hot Springs Island.
    Now we have two amazing sandbox hexcrawls to choose from (:

  9. Zack Wolf says:

    Hey this is Zack, the creator of Illmire! Thank you for the review! This is awesome!!! Much appreciated 🙂

    All of your points are totes valid. I made some poor assumptions during the design, but luckily these are all mostly editing and organizational adjustments that shouldn’t be too terrible, and I plan to release a re-organized version in the future.

    Glad you dig it otherwise!

    I’ve added a preview to the page. I didn’t realize they generated the preview from the uploaded PDF, and the adventure usually comes in a big zip file, so I had to split it up for DriveThruRPG.

    • Anonymous says:

      Illmire is such an awesome adventure! Nice to hear that you plan to re-organize it (:
      If you allow me to make a suggestion, it would be nice to have some references in the text to the hex where certain people or items are located.

      For example, there’s this Adventure Hook concerning a party of elves looking for a stolen elven artifact. And there’s a random encounter in Hex 8 with elven rangers looking for a lost elven artifact. They’re probably looking for the lunar sapphire, located in Hex 1. But neither the sapphire nor it’s location are mentioned.

    • Anonymous says:

      “totes”? You just lost a sale

  10. Anonymous says:

    Whaaa the author reads Bryce! Super cool thank you for your work!

    Thats what gets my Jimmies all excited, people reading Bryce and authors adjusting to make material better for the table!

    You seem cool Zach

  11. Zack Wolf says:

    Aw! Glad to be part of the community for sure! ??

    Yes, definitely going to swing back and adjust Illmire to correct some of the glaring problems. Now that Mixam can staple 80 pages for zines, I think I’m going to do a “2nd Edition” and add in the expansion material plus clean up the organization.

    By the way, you can also get the PDF from https://gumroad.com/spellsword or from https://spellswordstudios.itch.io

    You can get the print version from the gumroad store (when not sold out) or from ExaultedFuneral.com (when not sold out). Physical copies are sold out right at the moment and I think I’ll adjust the ordering before sending to print again.

  12. Edgewise says:

    I know art doesn’t make the adventure, but it’s worth noting that this has a great cover and some very nice interior illustrations. Just like evocative language, high-quality art with character can add to the GM’s ability to appreciate the work and translate that to the experience.

  13. Yora says:

    This description very much reminds me of Qelong.

  14. Quick update! The book now has the hexes presented in order and I’ve added the Underdark expansion to the main document, increasing the page count by four pages. You can re-download now to get the new version. We also have updated print copies now available at gumroad.com/spellsword! Thanks again!

    • Brandon H. says:

      That’s great, Zack! Question: I ordered the print book from your site and the pdf through there. Is there any way for me to get the updated pdf?

  15. Anonymous says:

    cringy

  16. Anonymous says:

    I looked and the Hex descriptions in the Gaz are in order now!

    The only issue is the Dungeons and such seem to be in the similar non numerical order!

    You fixing things after a review is amazing but I feel like this extra step would do a ton!

    The other thing is even if you want to keep the dungeon order the hex descriptions in the Gaz dont give page numbers for the dungeons.

    In addition the Table of Contents does not tell you what dungeon is in what hex which would help a lot too!

    Thank you for being awesome Zach

  17. Anonymous says:

    This looks absolutely awesome. Setting this up now and new to Old School Essentials — one thing I don’t understand is the strange differences in Saving Throw Values (SV) in the Bestiary stat blocks. Some list the numbers from the monster saving throw table, some list the hit dice to look up in the reference table, and some use a letter before the number value, which I can’t seem to find anywhere. (eg C1, T2 — which I can’t find anywhere in rulebooks). Does anyone understand this?

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