Zaratazarat’s Manse, D&D adventure review

By Nobboc
The Merry Mushmen
Levels 1-2

Zaratazarat is a mage of dubious reputation and average power. He lives a solitary life in the Fevoriz Marshes, inside a bleak rocky hill he made his abode in. Zaratazarat spent most of his life constructing a summoning platform named Ragga Gyxy’s Random Encounter Table after his inventor. The wizard was going to raise an army of monsters for his own nefarious purpose. He recently completed the construction and was ready to welcome (and bind to his service) the first summoned monsters. But when the fist d4+2 goblins appeared, the overwhelmingly enthusiastic wizard stammered… The goblins knocked him out, argued for a while about what to do with him, and finally left him when an angry ogre appeared on the Table. Since then, Zaratazarat has been hiding and trying to survive in his own lair. The Table is regularly spitting out monsters: most of them try to escape and run back home, or take the opportunity to loot or eat whatever they can…

This ten page adventure features a 24 room dungeon a two story wizards tower. Good formatting and interesting situations aboud, with the evocative writing suffering a bit. Still, I’ll take it over overwritten every day of the week.

What we’re looking at here is a kind of offset two column production. One column takes up about two thirds of the page, the right side, and contains the room key information. The left column, making up about a third of the page, contains the monster stats for the areas on the right. The monsters stats are in a lighter font that could, frankly be in a bit darker font, but its good enough. The keyed locations follow a decent layout formatting. The rooms tend to start with a brief descriptor like “crammed storeroom” or “cluttered library.” I like this sort of overloaded room title stuff. It orients the DM immediately to the type of room to come and puts them in the right frame of mind to receive the description information following. You’re already thinking about a cluttered library and imagining it when you start to scan the description and I believe that helps to leverage the description to more than it is. This is followed by a short description and then a little table of who’s in the room. Basically, you roll a d6 on a little two or three line table to see whats going on in the room. Monster names are bolded to help you scan quickly. This is followed by a little section of “follow up” information. A series of underlined words like “Books – Mundane topics. And then a description of them with more information for the DM. or “Gems – 1 hour of work. 40gp of gems per worker.” Gems (or books) having been mentioned in the room description. IE: it goes from general room description in the intro to a well laid out and easily scannable DM text information section. It’s easy to scan and well laid out, a terse format that can work well and works well here. 

The room contents are interesting and interactive. They fall in to two general type: stuff in the room and who’s in the room. The stuff are things like gemstones in the walls to pry out (noisily, one presumes …) and books to read and search, lab gear, boxes to open, etc. The WHO, from the tables are always little vignettes, terse described. Giant rats nibbling on a barely alive goblin. A dwarf slowly crawling towards you, covered in green slime. A Bugbear with his head stuffed in a keg of honey or a jolly dwarf stocking up on booze. Little situations built in to the rooms. Treasure tends to be unique magic items ( a pipe that lights on command!) or things like silver nail clippers. IE: something different and special on both counts.

You also get a little timeline for exploring the tower, just a way to push things forward in town if the party dallies a long time over multiple days. Town, pepper, has a few businesses detailed, mostly the sheriff and the tavern, to bring if to life with some terse and interesting descriptions. They are memorable places and NPC’s, and don’t overstay their welcomes. Just a brief hit that is memorable enough for the DM to expand upon. The map is clear and easily read, with atmospheric notes written on it to remind the DM. The color coding of some of the locked doors could be a little more noticeable at a glance, but it’s still mostly ok.

It’s a good little adventure that, every once in awhile, slips beyond suspension of disbelief … like the town ritual of the old and sick voluntarily going out to the dock to be eaten by a giant tentacle in the lake as the rest of the town looks on and cheers. Yeah, it’s a fun little thing, but it’s also pushing things just a little too far in to gonzo territory. I guess a wizard with a summoning portal might already be there, but, it seems just a little out of place. I guess I would keep it in the product, since its easy enough to ignore and DOES add local color for those who care. It just sticks out, tonaly.

So, decent adventure.

But …

The encounter descriptions are not a home run. “Comfortable Lounge” has the following description for the room. “4 comfy armchairs. Floating silver bowl. Circular rug.” This isn’t bad, especially in light of the “comfortable lounge” preamble, which places the descriptive words in context, adding an implicit “comfortable” and “lounge” framing to all of them. But, also, not going out of its way to be very evocative. In the austere waiting hall we get “Greenish marble column in the centre, 8 chairs, coat and hat rack.” So, very workmanlike. Very austere, if you will, descriptive text. Andrew Eldritch and I want More. So while the encounters have have something in them interactive to build upon, the framing for the DM is, I would say, rather weak. More than the non-existent that you get from  most adventures, even the overwritten ones, but lacking still.

Really good effort here and the only weak part is, I think, the hardest part of adventure writing: the evocative writing.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggest price of $1. There’s no full size preview. This makes me sad. 🙁

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9 Responses to Zaratazarat’s Manse, D&D adventure review

  1. Robert, OSR Heretic says:

    I’m surprised you were able to muster a No Regerts for this, considering that the premise of the summoning table is very similar to the random monster creator in WG7 Castle Greyhawk

  2. Anonymous says:

    Ragga Gyxy ? Interesting name. hmmm

  3. I’m lobbying for the rarely used ‘god effort’ tag on this one 😉

  4. squeen says:

    I am not sold on 1/3 + 2/3 format.. Seems wasteful of space at times and a bit ugly. Also, the 1/3 column should always be on the outer edge of a double-sided page, I think.

    The tentacle-premise only works for me because of the villagers cheering it like sports match. Hilarious. 🙂

    • Reason says:

      A good illustration of how specificity beats abstract- a single flourish lifted the idea enough to at least let you know whether it’ll grab for your game or not.

  5. Stripe says:

    “It’s a good little adventure that, every once in awhile, slips beyond suspension of disbelief … like the town ritual of the old and sick voluntarily going out to the dock to be eaten by a giant tentacle in the lake as the rest of the town looks on and cheers. Yeah, it’s a fun little thing, but it’s also pushing things just a little too far in to gonzo territory.”

    Not a fan of Le Guin’s “Omelas?” Jackson’s “The Lottery?” Star Trek Next Generation’s episode “Half a Life?” (Wikipedia: “According to Timicin’s cultural tradition, his people voluntarily choose euthanasia to prevent the aged from becoming a burden to the younger generation.”)

    Does this fall under “orc babies?” You know, a trolley problem; utilitarianism vs. deontology?

  6. Bigby's Affirmative Consent Lubed Fist says:

    Andrew Eldritch and I want More.

    Your 80s game is strong, Monsieur Lynch.

  7. Nobboc says:

    No Regrets is a super good enough category for thislittle adventrue. Thanks!

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