The Laboratory of Melifex the Mad, DCC adventure review

By Stuart C Killian
FSH Professional Ltd.
Level 2

The city of Pinecliffe has tolerated the presence of Melifex the Mage for years, but his corruption and increasingly unusual experiments eventually had him driven out of town and to a secluded tower on the ridge overlooking the city. Now, no one has heard from Melifex “the Mad” for two months, and the city is becoming worried. Did Melifex die from his corruption or has he unleashed a sinister force that could destroy the land! Answers, adventure, and priceless magical treasure await the party brave enough to find out.

This thirty seven page adventure uses twelve pages to describe an eight room dungeon. It makes me loathe my life. 

This is my usual “oh my god why do I do this. Hey, I’ve got a Pateron, why not drop me some cash so my life can be a little less meaningless and I can buy some whiskey and cigars.” section.

“Hey, Bryce, you should review more DCC adventures!” they said cheerfully. “That 5e stuff is garbage” they said. “I can sometimes salvage stuff from DCC adventures” they said. Yeah. You people know who you are. I’m looking at you. Glaring, actually. 

“You know, they’re right!” I said to myself. I was just talking to someone about how I’m a sucker for marketing, reveling in it. Swallowing wholesale the constructed reality I quickly assemble in order to justify the asserted reality that the marketing vomits up. I mean, I basically sopped reviewing DCC because they *tend* to be linear. Look, I know this is the way people play D&D. I’m ok with people playing D&D like that. They’ve been playing stuff like this, in home games, forever. Very loose plot, a little lair dungeon. Since the 80’s at least. *I* think it can be a substandard experience to a more free form game, but, I’m not gonna shit on someone elses fun. I mean, drinking pretzels and eating beer with a little escapism is the ultimate point of it all, right? I do, however, find the more free form stuff more satisfying, and encourage people to go down that path when they are ready and want to. But, I digress. I stopped reviewing DCC because the adventures were linear. “Hypocrite!” my own inner judge says. “5e adventures tend to be linear as all fuck and you review them all the fucking time!” Hmmm, inner judge is correct. A little brutal in its assessments sometimes, but ultimately correct. And, these other folks want me to review more DCC. I DO like DCC. I think it’s the perfect system for that linear beer & pretzels D&D experience that 99% of the people on the planet want. It encourages the stupid shit happening at the table that makes for an enjoyable time and the inevoatable boring-to-everyone-else “let me tell you what happened last night at D&D!” stories. So. More DCC reviews.

Yeah, yeah, I’m getting to the review. 

And, you know, I AM a sucker for small press and indie works. It’s the romantic idealist in me. A small designer, slaving away, creating an uncompromising product that adheres to their own vision. None of this corporate garbage. None of this publishing guidelines. None of this THE MAN telling you what to do and the money men ruining Don Quixote! Hmmm, I may be projecting there. 

Oh course, none of this is true. Well, ok, it COULD be true and there are examples of it being true. In reality its just someone sitting around pounding out something. Hopefully because they are excited about it and not because of money. I WANT them to be excited and to share their vision with us. I want to be excited with them.

Instead I get The Laboratory of Melifex the Mad.

So, I’m trying to cut 80/20 aluminum for my truck camper build. And I’m programming my Baofeng, amused at the antics of the virtual Hardees coffee club on the airwaves. Maybe I should do forty spanish lessons today instead of twenty? That would let me put off writing about Melifex some more. Downtown, the Air War over Hanoi is a nightmare. I could read those rules. And there’s always Federation and Empire. Maybe a computer game? Hitman 3? Dark Souls? Nuclear Throne or Crossroads inn? Crusader Kings? WW2 squad tactics running on WIn95? Staring out the window drooling mindlessly for hours on end? ANYTHING to keep from writing this “review.” 

That’s what this did to me. ALl I want to do is ANYTHING other than write this review. It’s just another crap product. It doesn’t matter if it’s DCC, or 5e, or OSR. It’s just another crap product. And I get to find something to say about it. I could rant at it. Let The Feels out all stream of consciousness style. But it has sapped all of my energy. My will to live. And yet, I must. I must, I must. I must increase my bust. And, I can’t do what what I really want. I really just want to say “it sucks.” A two word review and leave it at that and move the fuck on with my life. But oh no, mr inner judge is back. “You need to write more asshole. Writing more is training. Also, you feel obligated to [I fucking HATE feeling obligated] This is only review this product is likely to get. The designer deserves some feedback. What the fuck, you have something actually MEANINGUL to do? You know that’s not true, Mr Camus.” And do, instead, I go to the store and make Rio Grande Egg Puffs so I don’t have to say the same shit I always say. [Whipping meringue and deep frying at 7am in the morning for breakfast is not something I can get into.  The onion & adobo sauce is great but, again, not something to be cooking this early. Tomorrow I’ll be making home made cottage cheese on the stove for breakfast, because I never learn.]

The read aloud is in italics. There are COLUMNS of it. Routinely, column of read aloud. Now I get to explain why both of those are bad. For, like, the three thousandth time. But it doesn’t matter. THIS designer hasn’t read those three thousand explanations. This is the first time they are reading about it. AAnd, no, I won’t take a shortcut and link to  an article explaining why. That is pragmatism and pragmatism seldom leads to anything interesting. Ug, there’s mr inner judge again, noting that this Life Less Ordinary shit is what leads to this and mr I don’t define myself with labels, aren’t you just doing that with your turn left when everyone else turns right identity? Self reinforcing bullshit.

So, italics are bad because they are hard to read. Long sections of italics I mean. And read-aloud should be kept to a couple of sentences, if you choose to use it. Players generally don’t pay attention after that. There have been a couple of studies on both topics, so it’s not me spouting off. 

The adventure is clearly meant to go a certain way. You have the plot imagioned in your head and, the final fight/encounter with the dragon, reinforces that. You have these cool moments in your head, both with the setup and with the conclusion of the adventure. That is wrong. This indicates an over-investment in the adventure on your part. You’re trying to force outcomes. Instead of this just write it in such a way that an adventure can flow from it, rather than trying to force an outcome to the adventure that you think will be cool, or result in a cool moment, etc. The DM text is too long also. It shouldn’t take a column to explain a room. You don’t need to tell us that the +1 Gallant Longsword is described later on in the adventure in the appendix. You don’t need to tell us that the +1 shield is undamaged. That’s like saying that the air in your house right now is breathable. Yes, of course, we assume that. This pads out your word count and a padded DM text makes it harder for the DM to find the information that IS important to running the room. 

That’s enough. That’s all I can muster. The usual stuff. My will to live is gone. I’m off to take twenty spanish lessons and a couple of HAM practice tests. I will now be flooded with messages from HAMs telling me that my Baofeng sucks and I should …. You should prepare yourselves, though, as I will then thoroughly, and quite undeservedly, destroy you with Socratic methods around Use Cases. If I’m bored and drunk. Or, I will politely ask for more information and engage you in conversation. Am I just humoring you to be polite, or am I actually interested? Can both be true at the same time? Everyone is self-centered. It is the acknowledgement of that basic fact and the attempt to move beyond it that defines not being self-centered, not actually not being self-centered. At least, that’s the lies I’m framing for myself to live with my hypocrisy today.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. There are no encounters shown, so It’s a bad preview. You do get to see some of the italics read-aloud, and DM text, so, just pretend that all of the pages for the preview are the text for one of the rooms. That’s hyperbolic, but it will still leave you will the feelings of …despair? Ennui? Resignment? That I got from the room encounters.

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21 Responses to The Laboratory of Melifex the Mad, DCC adventure review

  1. Shuffling Wombat says:

    I shall pick up the Gauntlet of Grumpiness. Amongst your recent likes was Shadow of the Beakmen. What system was that for? The Palace of Unquiet Repose has a DCC version. And you steadfastly refuse to take a glance at Gang Lords of Lankhmar, Unholy Nights in Lankhmar, or indeed any of that line. In a blatant piece of reverse psychology, you are forbidden to review Acting Up in Lankhmar until the Prince of Nothing has had his say.
    Get back to reviewing circus/carnival adventures I say. They are all marvellous, and the higher level ones are like gaming with the gods, especially the 15th level illusionist spending his time tricking peasants. (I may have found an exception to the rule: Adventure Framework 16: Delecarte’s Carnival of Wonders is short and sweet.)

  2. squeen says:

    “..I’m not gonna shit on someone else’s fun. I mean, drinking pretzels and eating beer with a little escapism is the ultimate point of it all, right? “

    🙂 Technically you do eat beer…especially Guinness

  3. Evard's Small Tentacle says:

    DCC has the same mix of good and bad adventures that other editions have (the underdark stuff is great). Anything outside of Harley Stroh is of unknown quality. A lot of the adventures seem to be super linear, which folks seem to overlook in comparison to adventures.

  4. Edgewise says:

    I feel like I’m being glared at.

    In fairness, I wanted you to review Goodman’s DCC adventures. Third-party DCC is, overall, nothing to write home (or a review) about. With the exception of my own DCC adventure and the Palace of Unquiet Repose, of course. That should go without saying.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Yes, I did suggest DCC (and also AA!; come back and visit anytime), but non-hypocrite Bryce seems to understand why it was a decent suggestion. In any case, if you’re going to be wading through shit, at least it’s shit that has at least a pretense of being old-school and that the people reading your blog might actually consider buying, vs. shouting into the void that 5e shovelware isn’t worth it to a readership that largely doesn’t play 5e in any case.

    Considering the mountain of garbage you’ve gone through here over the past number of years, I’m not exactly sure why this one broke you, but I get a sort of Wild World of Batwoman vibe where perhaps a break was inevitable. I prescribe one Lagavulin 12 2019 release and yeah, a Melan module or something you can count on not sucking.

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      Point taken. And, I was fishing for a comment from you. Catch & Release. 🙂

      • Anonymous says:

        For the record the Annon above is a bit blunt and not nice! Thank you for not prescribing Google comments. Google bad

      • Anonymous says:

        Zwounds, I have been played!
        Funny enough, I don’t even play DCC. I was just really taken with that initial post-4th ed run of the mid-#60s to the mid-#80s which was remarkably high in quality and adaptable content, and wondered if you thought they’d managed to keep that up.

        Anyways, thanks as always.

    • OSR Fundamentalist says:

      “at least a pretense of being old-school”
      Linear hack-and-slash garbage using a 3e shitbrew engine isn’t oldschool just because it makes cringy invocations of Arneson and Gygax

  6. Gnarley Bones says:

    “But, aside from that, how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”

  7. Bigby's Affirmative Consent Lubed Fist says:

    Maybe I should do forty spanish lessons today instead of twenty?

    Podrías escribir una crítica en español, chico. Combinarás la tarea de estudiar con la tarea de la crítica.

  8. Nick Kenyon says:

    The paradox in play, is that shitty products lead to extremely entertaining writing. A distinctly Sisyphian pickle.

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