Sulphur & Snuff, D&D adventure review

By Rook
Self Published
Levels 1-3

A wicked theatre, a blue-skinned vizier, an imprisoned demon, evil noblemen and lots of torture, mutilation and cannibalism (and more within!). Sulphur and Snuff – A Devilish Performance  …

This eleven page landscape adventure features about twenty rooms in a debauched theater in a city. It successfully creates the debauched theater environment, but, is more locale than adventure. A certain degree of motivation is missing.

The closest analog I have for this adventures design is the one page dungeon contest. If you took a bunch of the better one page dungeons and strung them together in to one project then you’d have something like this. One page dungeons are interesting because of how they force the designer in to new and more interesting choices and really focus the efforts. And they suck because they are artificially limited by what you can fit on one page … and they can slip, far too easily, in to pretentiousness over delivering the goods. You have things like Stonhell or The Fall of WhiteCliff which take one pages and fit them together to form something more. This adventure is like that.

You get a one page overview map and a page or so of overview information integrated in to it, along with a page or so of “what does eating a demon organ do to you?”, “things people are talking about” and random people walking around the theater tables, etc, as well as monster stats all located in the rear. Then you get little mini-maps, each with three or four locations on them, blown up, with the text for the locations on the page surround it. The map, proper, has some color on it, noting doorway types, as well as some icons in the room, Blue Medusa style, to help trigger the DM in to what is in the room and how to run it, as well as what might be in the next room and splashing over in to this one. It’s an effective layout style for this sort of thing.

The rooms, themselves are written fairly well, both in terms of evocative writing that helps the room/situation spring to mind as well as presenting situations that are going to be interesting to interact with. The situations are familiar enough that the DM can grasp them, or, perhaps, the writing is good enough that the situations SEEM familiar enough to grasp and run with them … which would be either good writing or good design or both. Outside the theater, for example, we get a throng of locals fended off by two theatre guards in half plate. Prove your worth to get by them; 25gp. Or, the first real room, the foyer. Dimly lit, deep red carpets stretching out over the floor, walls lined with dripping black wax candles, a woman with a noble accent heard arguing with a clerk in a barred window, another guard trying and failing to hide a large streak of blood on the floor. You know this. You know these situations. Either because they are familiar to you or because the writing has CAUSED them to become familiar to you, you know them. They are inside of your head. You know how to run them. You know the attitudes to take. And if you know this then you can relate it to the players. And that is the entire fucking point of the entire exercise. Decent writings, good situations, they combine to form something greater than the sum of their parts. 

Blah blah blah blah blah blah. There’s more of the same. A pusher in the alley, bored and jaded nobility. Secret torture club. A demon on stage in a magic circle that is also being tortured for the delight of the social circle milling about in the main theater.

There are some challenges here though.
First, your gonna need a place to set this that has a fuck ton of jaded nobles. This place is stuffed like Biohock is full of rich assholes. But while BioSHock could put all the assholes in the world in their libertarian utopia, you’ve only got one city/kingdom to work with here. 

Second, there is some issue with the point of the adventure, and I think the designer recognizes it. They talk about it being a heist, a kidnapping rescue, etc, and not a dungeoncrawl break down the door, kill, loot, repeat adventure. But, then, we get to the SUPPORT of those other play styles. Lets say you wander about until you find the torture room or the treasury. Ok. The entire thing is written in a kind of a non-committal style, at least with regard to how things can/should go down. We get a very neutral description of a place with few comments on what can happen when the party fucks up or how to support those heist/rescue play styles. There are no real personalities to the NPC’s, or many “named” NPC’s, for that matter. The reaction to violence is given about three words … there’s just not enough here to support play beyond “go in to room and look around a have some fun isolated in this room.” It needs more … interconnectedness. 

“A languid, alabaster noblewoman reclines in a basin of blood. It seeps onto the floor as she

rises to meet the players. She is the Baroness Melvelia. She is a detached gossip and for d4 HP worth of fresh blood she will answer one question the PC’s might have about the adventure. She apathetically and effectively knows everything and will answer truthfully.” Well, Hello there! …. in my best Jerry Lewis … “Hey Laaaaaady!” How much do you really want to get your questions answered? Man, do you invite a woman like this to your parties? I mean, she’s interesting to have around, but you’ve got to get those blood stains out of the carpet and the apathy … ug, what a let down when you’ve got the tunes pumping!

This is free at the designers blog. I’d check it out.

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6 Responses to Sulphur & Snuff, D&D adventure review

  1. Let down? I could get that blood liking noblewoman into bed. Well, I mean… my character could.

  2. Franky Panky says:

    No thirst posting, Hoss.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Exciting thing and free too

  4. Rook says:

    Thank you for the review, I’m pleased with the result and find the criticism valid. It was a good first attempt and I know I can improve.

    Some of the flaws mentioned are in a way, design choices. I’m interested in making the kind of dungeons/adventures I want to see. Primarily, dungeons that are short, simple, plug-in, have a visual layout (beyond numbered paragraphs that correspond to numbered rooms) and importantly, free. Stuff like PC motivation and NPC personality is part of this.

    So, regarding PC motivation and NPC personality. I’ve never enjoyed reading character biographies. I feel NPC personality can be described in a single sentence (or less) and anything more is a waste of time and words. I relied on this and by keeping all the characters tropey. The Vizier is creepy and otherworldly, Bullwain Boque is a violent idiot-savant – these are fairly clear characters and in pulp tradition, character personality is reflected by (or identical to) their appearance (you know how the Inquisitor is going to act). How much do I really need to tell the reader about a character’s personality? The DM can do this and I bet probably does so, naturally in the reading of the dungeon. I do agree that I could have included more about how the dungeon as a whole reacts to various PC actions and Dilys especially could have been characterized more. I guess I can’t write women.

    Likewise, I don’t much care for explicit/canon motivation for the PC’s to visit a place/do an adventure. As it is either ignored and the dungeon is placed with rumours into a sand-box campaign or rewritten, bespoke to fit the DM’s setting. Should something be included that will be ignored or rewritten?
    I think part of the problem is that the document is an unconventional dungeon, not a dungeoncrawl or an adventure and is meant to be placed in a sand-box (which I don’t think would be as difficult as you think, any big/imperial capital would do). I think that I do include some motives for PCs to go into the dungeon via the rumour table, from memory; nobles are evil – rich and robbable, the church will pay you for ending the operation, various commoners have been kidnapped – save them, even Satan offers you a blank-cheque reward if you save the demon. It’s meant to be a place PC’s would naturally be drawn to investigate even just hearing a demon screaming in pain in the middle of a city is enough of a hook for some groups. It’s a signal.

    I agree about interconnectedness, I thought the hunt for the demon-freeing ingredients helped as it forces the PC’s to roam around the entire dungeon. I also couldn’t stop laughing about the noncommittal writing style as it’s more of a personality flaw!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Not Bryce, but I think it is good to include these things even if they will be ignored. As a GM myself I know each GM ignores specific things that change depending on the game state.

    Having these things even if I will not use them? I know others will but also I might if players ask questions that throw me off base.

    For NPC info I really like the Waking of Willoby Hall/ Hot Spring Islands approach.



    • Rook says:

      You are completely right. I take back what I had said. Out of an effort to keep the word and page count down I had (not entirely consciously) put/hidden NPC motivations within the main dungeon text; this NPC is in love with this NPC, this NPC wants to save that one. I agree it would have been better to flesh out these motivations, express them succinctly and to collate them all together somewhere. That would probably have made for a better dungeon. Thanks.

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