By Micah Anderson Self Published Generic/Universal
Seven rooms filled with traps, magic, monsters, and treasure. Fight a Troll! Help a Halfling! Defeat an Undead Curse! For the Bastards. RPG system, although easily converted to any game.
This sixteen page adventure features seven rooms in a tomb as well as a page of hex encounters. It does have some decent descriptions in places but it suffers from its art house focus, simplistic interactivity, and treasure abstraction. It suffers, mostly, from not knowing what it wants to be.
Someone asked that I review this so I picked it up. Then the designer said my name three times while standing in front of a mirror and I said I was going to review it.[EDIT] Maybe it’s an ego thing? I would certainly understand that, mine being fragile enough. I may wallow in shit all day but it’s MY shit.
I say that this adventure doesn’t know what it wants to be. This gets to the core point of what an adventure is supposed to be: a tool for running a game at the table. Let us say I make a crowbar. It’s a beautiful crowbar. Perfect in every way. Except for the fact it’s made out of tinfoil. Useless as an actual crowbar but fine if you just want a coffee-table crowbar. Or, perhaps, if it brought me joy in making it? There’s certainly merit in that. But, then, I sell it as a crowbar, to be used as a crowbar. Now, lets change the material the crowbar is made out of but stillkeep it a damn sext coffee-table-worthy crowbar. Copper. Glass. Iron. Steel. Hardened railroad steel. There’s a spectrum here. At what point could we generally consider the crowbar useful to most people in most common situations?
There’s a large segment of the diy/osr/indie scene that likes to make beautiful things. That’s great. I don’t need an ugly crowbar in my life. But, it does have to actually be useful as a crowbar. Doesn’t it? Any none of this “but it’s useful to ME” stuff. It has to be useful to 80% of crowbar users. There’s really no difference between Paizo, DMSGuild and the DIY scene, they all are focusing on something other than the actual fucking adventure.
And that’s how you get sixteen pages for a seven room dungeon. You do wide margins. You do digest format. You use large font sizes. You fill it with art. You do an abstracted map with fun font. That’s all great, none of it is bad. But, at what point does your creation become performance art? Because performance art is not an adventure to be used at the table. It has its own merits, but not labeled as “adventure.” (A trap a lot of one page dungeons fall in to, especially the contest ones.)
The map has a list of omens on it. “Cackling” , “Chitterring”, and so on. They just exist as window dressing, adding nothing at all to the adventure. There’s little there to riff on. Why not, instead of perfunctory dropping it, add more to it to make it come alive and help the DM? Why say “place a treasure here” instead of actually listing a treasure to engage your creativity? Or “he knows d3 spells”? Why not list them? Why not engage totally with the creative process?
Because when the creative process is engaged in then it is good. “Ten foot pit trap long ago sprung. Flimsy, rotten boards cover it. Corpse inside has dissolved into a grey jelly, will attempt to schlorp out and drag in interlopers feebly.” That’s great content! When I talk about specifics THATS what I’m talking about. Already sprung, boards over the pit, the ooze is an actual dead body. THATS good! It’s like the grells in Many Gates of the Gann. An extremely tall skeleton a mostly gilt free throne” Krom is the gift that keeps on giving. A lead coffer IN THE MUCK at the bottom of the pool releases a paralyzing MIASMA and contains a random treasure.
You can easily see the quality there. As well as bullshit like “a random treasure.”
But there’s not enough of that. That lead coffer interactivity is lacking. Sure, there’s decent fighting. And there’s decent talking to things (thank fucking god.) But the other interactivity is rather low. It’s more watching things happen than fucking around with lead cofferrs buried in muck releasing paralyzing miasmas. And the writing FORMAT could be more solid. “Conspicuous sword upright in front of skeleton, actually lead painted gold.” This is a short example, but note that an important feature, it’s GOLD is in the second clause. Conspicuous GOLDEN sword upright in front of skeleton, actually lead.” would avoid the cognitive load that putting the descriptor in the second clause. The sword can turn one metal to another … Cool! That’s a good treasure … the kind that is lacking in this adventure.
The final room is the one that is the worst, the treasure room. Beyond the abstracted treasure, the main description is “The chapel built in to the tomb.” That’s the extent of your description. Well, a small amount of loot piled up, let’s call it 1000gp on average. “Piled with hoarded treasure” is an image that is in opposition to “1000 gp.” But, there’s no chapel description at all, which is not cool.
And the hex encounters range from good to poor. A bandit camp UNDER A FALLEN TREE. That’s good. HOSTAGE SITUATION. Thats good. Maybe could use, literally, one or two words more, about the situation. That’s a very good encounter. But dense trees and spiderwebs? Or surly wizard under a stuffed alligator? Ruined fort with valuable eggs? There’s no potential energy in those, not in the way of the bandit camp. You need an energy. That’s what interactivity brings.
This is PWYW itch.io. Yeah, I don’t know how much it was before. $4 maybe? Or maybe free? I can’t remember. I’m gonna try and talk with the designer and see what’s up. Also, please put in a good preview of your adventure. WIthout a preview then the only way of know what we are potentially buying is to either buy it or buy in to the marketing, which is always puffery. The preview helps us make an informed buying decision. You can support that, right?