By Ben Gibson Coldlight Press OSR/5e/Pathfinder Level 2
The thunder of the falls is nearly deafening; the mist is nearly blinding. Even so, your mules seem cheerful as they pick their way up the narrow stone path. Another turn around the canyon, and before you stretch the great Mistrun Falls. It’s a breathtaking sight. But out of the houses’ windows, there is smoke curling. And over the roar of the falls suddenly you hear screams.
This 46 page adventure features about four pages detailing around twenty or so locations in a cliffside village with a thundering waterfall in it, that has been attacked by bandits. It is, essentially, a two-page adventure with a lot of stuff like battle maps, pre-gens, paper minis and the like. It uses its single page of room descriptions as well as is possible given that limitation, fighting above its weight class.
While strolling about on your way to somewhere you come across a small village of a few houses, built up the cliffside on either side of a waterfall, it splitting the cliffside village in half. “How quaint!” you say to each other. As you get closer some dudes on the right hand side start taking pot shots at you will some bows, while a door at the base on the left side opens with some villagers urging the characters to get inside with them before they get shot. The village is vertical, so stairs, or one sort or another, lead up from the ceiling of one room to the floor of another, with two bridges across to the other side. Lurking in the various rooms are things to discover, but, this is primarily an assault mission with perhaps some stealth. As the first room tells us: “This humid little room is packed with mules, women, and children, they would flee if they could but the archers stop them. Weeping, some of the adults beg the players for help.”
And that room description is a pretty good example of what this an above average adventure, even given it’s “one map page and one page of room keys” design. Humid. Little. Packed with bodies of mules, women, and children. No doubt very loud, chaotic, and smelly, is what that description says to me, as the DM. That’s what happens when you’ve written a good description. The DMs mind leads to other things. Implications are explored. The brain fills things in. The description is more than the sum of the words presented on the page. You automatically fill things in. Less is more. Plus, it’s easier to scan and run at the table! Amazing! The NPC descriptions are the same, using that little “three keywords” trick I like so much (sometimes two keywords.) Villagers are scared, Angry. Elder Folga is despairing, confused and resigned. Elder Wystle is Gruff, ashamed, and aggressive. You get a sense on how to run them, and run them WELL, with just a couple of words. No need for an entire paragraph to have to dig the fuck through while running it at the table. It’s all you need, right there. And it’s oriented towards play. Not just some bullshit words, but words that will lead to interesting play. Again, the DM’s mind leaps to fill in things and contort it to make some play.
The rooms here are not dungeon rooms. There are not really puzzles to solve. This is an assault on the bandits and maybe some stealth thrown in. The room descriptions support this. In one room there’s some bandits, keeping watch over the cliffside. But … there’s a wounded warrior from the village, hiding in a pile of blankets. You can imagine the party, a fight breaking out, the wounded warrior grabbing a bandit leg, or stabbing one, at some moment. SO the rooms are designed to kind of support this sort of assault style play, adding some freshness to what could otherwise become monotonous combat.
Oh, and then there’s village Elder FuckWit. He’s gone in to the cave, tha the waterfall comes out of, to summon the villages protectors to kill the bandits. Stone guardian statues. These have stats as gargoyles WHICH MAKES PERFECT SENSE! So, crazy old village dude goes off to summon mythical protectors, who ALSO end up showing up at opportune (inopportune?) times to kill everyone in sight and are especially fond of knocking people off of precarious spots and down the thundering waterfall, bandit, player, and villager alike. Nice touch with this part.
The map here is interesting, with its verticality. That does, however, create a some issues with comprehension. There are some parts of the design that are tough to figure out where things lead. Stairs up and down are generally ok, but there are little rooms on the map art that are not obvious which they are, in the 2d, or where a certain area leads on the leads art rendering on the “normal” 2d map. And that mouth of the Waterfall. Oof!
That’s pretty light criticism though.
It’s an adventure designed around a single session. A single session of an RPG probably takes just a couple of pages to describe. MOST adventures drag that out to a bajillion pages of content. Ben focuses in. You get a couple of pages (one of maps, one of keyed locations) with a coupe of support pages like background and notes. That’s about the right size for a single session in what is a pretty much straight forward assault with some sneaking about between assaults. A one night assault adventure? Yeah, it should be short. And it is. I might suggest that the product description could be oriented a little more towards “four pages of adventure and a lot of pregens, maps, etc”, while emphasizing the “ready to run!” aspect, but, yeah, this is what you need for an adventure.I might call it a very journeyman effort. Not gonna be flashy, but gonna get the job done.
This is Pay What you Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $1. The preview shows you the four pages of actual adventure content, so its a good preview. Take a look at that map and those keys. Nice job with them, eh?