By Gus L Ratking Productions OSR/“the wayward offspring of older editions of the first roleplaying game and easily converted to retro-clones such as OSE” Level 3
A derelict spire stands landmark on the Crystal Frontier’s Northern border. Glassy pink masonry shattered, pillars tumbled, and the entire edifice driven into the earth – an arrow from beyond the fixed stars. Ignored as too small and inaccessible by the larger bands of Gem Robbers, perhaps there’s still treasures beneath the Broken Bastion’s ruin? GAZE upon arcane works of the Empyreans! FLY from the ominous tread of their War Automata! SALVAGE wonders from beyond the terrestrial sphere!
This fifteen page adventure features a fourteen room dungeon with a substantial “learning” aspect to it. It’s a nice adventure, evocative and interactive, with some map & wall of text issues … unusual for Gus.
He explains that this is a bit of a departure and more of a “classic” dungeon, sans factions, etc. In essence, perhaps, a tomb dungeon, with some vermin and undead and the like prowling about along with traps, etc. All set in his Crystal Frontiers thing hes doing. He keeps it fresh and interesting, and, offers advice to GM’s and designers.
This advice is a major part of the adventure and, I suspect, makes up half to a third of the word count. In it, a kind of designers notes and DMs advice rolled in to one, he offers the rationale and intent behind several of the encounters as well as some suggestions on how to run them. In this way you might think of this as filling much the same role as Skerp-a-lurk-ding-dongs Serpent Kings (all of which makes a lot more sense if you imagine I’ve been listening to a Kasabian and MIA mashup, Galanga, for three days now. ‘Purple Haze, Seek a looka ding dong, lazy days, skerp a looka ding dong!)
So, the very first encounter area is the front door. Sealed shut. Impossible to open. Well, unless you have a knock spell. Then it pops right open. The commentary from Gus notes the role of Blockades on an adventure (roll to continue) and how the intent here is to learn the power of the utility Spell. All that shit that is not combat (or, IMO, divination, which fits another purpose, I think) and how they let you break the rules of the game to come to creative solutions to problems. Some of which Gus states and some of which I’m filling in with. 🙂 He does over this sort of advice in room after room. One room notes that the Glass Spider monsters in it serve more as a trap than they do a standard combat encounter and explains that role and how it works. Good advice for DM’s and designers alike, and lessons for players to learn.
One of the major lessons, therein, is the timer. Walking around the place is a combat robot with 10HD. FAR too strong of an opponent for the party to handle face on. Gus goes in to detail on how the robot is more of a puzzle than a combat encounter. How avoiding it and play cat and mouse, and sneaking about, are the aspects that the robot encourages. He tells the DM how to handle it and how to present it to the players. I’ve talked in the past about the 20HD orc. In a group of five orcs you have one with 20HD. He looks just like all of others. This is not a fair encounter. There’s no way for the party to understand that they face something other than a combat encounter. Gus goes in to that and describes techniques to communicate its power. “Each step echoing and shaking like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park.” This, along with other techniques, helps communicate the nature of the encounter to the party and suggests that, perhaps, face on is not the correct approach.
Gus does most things right, filling the place with interesting treasures and loot. He uses a “intro paragraph” format with bolded keywords that then get little break out sections of their own. This format is generally easy to scan and locate information. There’s good interactivity in both the traditional and nontraditional puzzles and traps and buttons to push. It’s not just all hacking.
There are some things that feel wrong though, which is unusual for a Gus adventure.
The first is the map. A key component of the adventure is avoiding the stalking war machine. I would suggest though that the map here is not as clear as it could be. It feels cramped to look at an pick transition details (doors, up & down stairs and grav tubes) out of. I’m not really sure what’s going on. Some combination of the selected style, the scale, and the color choices maybe? I might note, as well, if the font choices are going to be an ongoing thing, I might look in to some changes for the 4’s and 9’s; the 4’s look like 9’s and I don’t like spending my limited mental resources on cognatizing such things. I can nitpick a few other issues as well, such as the lack of a good description of the glass spiders and lith wights.
The much more serious issue, though, is a kind of wall of text issue. I’m not sure what is going on here, but I know it’s there. Gus is using a triple column approach and the intro/bullet format is a good one, time tested. The default “download” format is a double page layout, so there’s A LOT of text up on the screen. Triple columns. Magenta highlighted boxes. A smaller font? The eye wanders. It glazes over. So, while the individual elements are well done, the total effect is one of TOO MUCH! TOO MUCH! CAN NOT PROCESS TOO MUCH TEXT! I think this is interesting because I don’t recall seeing an adventure before that is well organized in which this happens. But, then again, there is the triple column text and the double page layouts. Thus, printed, maybe it’s NOT an issue? I don’t know. A weird combination of the double pages, triple columns, font size, and color scheme? Something is going on.
But, still, a fine interactive adventure. I’m going to err on the side of Regrets here, mainly because I think if its printed out its better, if for comprehension is not for my color toner cartridges. (I’m pretty sure my color laser uses the EAXCT cartridge colors Gus is using.)
This is $2 at DriveThru.The preview is all eight double pages. A great preview, and show you all of the content you ned to see, and perhaps hints at the wall of text issue? I don’t even know what to call it.