By Derek Jones Self Published Castles & Crusades Levels 4-6
Blovar Thistletine, a wealthy halfling, decided recently to remodel the wine cellar in his summer home. Work progressed well for a few days until the crew arrived one morning to find a tunnel had mysteriously appeared in the floor of the cellar. The crew tied a rope to one of the workers and lowered him down the shaft to explore. A few minutes later, they could hear the poor worker’s brief scream of agony and the rope went slack. All they recovered when they pulled up the rope was a charred end. The workers refused to continue their work. Mr. Thistletine is offering a handsome reward for a party of adventurers to explore the shaft and eliminate any threats to his beloved wines.
This nineteen page adventure uses six pages to describe 31 rooms in an underground bandit lair. It’s a hack-fest. It has some hints of knowing how to format things, but falls down on implementation.
I’m not going to judge this negatively for just being a hack. Some people like that. And, not even an exploratory game has to explore all the time, hacking IS a part of the game after all. This IS a little lop-sided in that direction, but then again so were the B2 kobold caves, I guess. (Although its been fifteen years since I looked at it.) So, it’s a hack. At the end there will scores and scores of slaughtered 1hd gecko-men and the water floors will run red with blood. The gecko-men looks like normal men, mostly, and can stick to the walls. That’s kind of fun. It combines both the “use a lot of humans” stuff that I generally prefer with actually having some monsters. Eel-men, etc would all do the same, I think? It’s aking to using chaos-men and mutants in Warhammer, I think. Keeping it grounded. And, there’s an order of battle for their getting indeed, which is nice to see.
The map is hand drawn and clear enough. The adventure notes that all but two areas are flooded to 4” of standing water, and others have lights on. This should have been noted either on the map or by text on the map. These sorts of “always on” things should be front and center for the DM to refer to throughout the game. Either shade the map, etc (not feasible in this case since its hand drawn, at least not easily) or just put the text on the map. I note, without comment, the abundance of magical torches in the hallway that light the way … that only work inside THIS lair. *sigh* There goes immersion. Wait, now I’ve commented. Fuck.
Wanderers are doing something, although they are almost always gecko-men. A hint of humor is present in places, with them tormenting small cute animals or their leader pissed at the magic tapestries that show his mens devotion being transferred to his fire priests. Treasure is … ok? There’s about 5k in “normal” treasure and then also a scroll work 10k to certain buyers. That feels low for a a hack, and a little strange that its so portable. And the 10k scroll could use more to it, given the lopsided nature. It would add a lot to a game if it were.
The adventure is using room names in combination to the room keys. So, something like “10. Larder.” Using room names is good, but they could be overloaded with a descriptor, such as “Viscera Larder” or some such. Set the DM’s framing early so they absorb the text in that context. There’s also a decent number of rooms that are empty. Such as that larder. And by empty I mean “the room has no text at all.” So you get “Larder” and nothing more. Or, for a living quarters “Empty. They are all out raiding.” Thus the descriptions of the rooms are VERY MUCH on the extreme minimalism side of the spectrum. So much so that I would suggest that there is not much here at all to work with. This is one step more than Palace of the Vampire Queen, and not a big step at that.
This feels like the outline of an adventure. Something that gets produced that the final draft is then created from. While it states its a hack, it could do a little more to enhance SOME interactivity to break things up. And it could do more with its writing to create evocative descriptions. You’ve got a lot of choices in what you use at the table, why not choose something that does those things?
This is $1 at DriveThru. The preview is all nineteen pages. I can’t fault the dude for either the preview or the price. Like I said, the designer has some ideas of how to do things right but just isn’t there yet in implementing them.