Keep of the Blood Countess, adventure review

By Jesse Burneko
Bloodthorn Press

Exsanguinated merchant families found dead, their homes stripped of all wealth. A mysterious benefactor leaving gifts for the poor. And rumors of activity near the sealed up old keep deep in the forest, stir barely forgotten memories of a countess, her demon child, and an act of mob justice.

This 27 page digest adventure is a clumsy attempt to present a dungeon adventure environment that also has a moral/ethical component to it. It’s clumsy in its dungeon elements and the form and function of the dungeon, with a couple of conceptually nice ideas that just never get explored in any meaningful way.

I’m a fan of a little moral complexity in an adventure. Not orc babies. Those just get stabbed. But, a witch who you are pretty sure is evil, but has nice heals. Or a friendly ogre offering protection who you are pretty sure has bread with an interesting texture. Dungeons & Dilemmas tries to help a DM with that. This isn’t Dungeons & Dilemmas, but rather an adventure that uses that zine to try to make something more interesting than the usual stab fest. It doesn’t succeed in that.

Dude loves his wife. Makes pact with demon to keep her young looking forever at cost of first-born child. Child is born, looks like demon, wife kills husband for it, and she and kid get bricked up inside house, where she turns in to a half-vampire and he just loves his mommy. Robin Hood shows up, worries about demons in house, tries to kill them, ends up figuring out how to make vampire lady give birth to demon children who kill the (merchant) families that Robin Hood leaves them at, making his looting of their manors much easier. 

Thus our personalities are: crazed vampire lady; mostly an animal. Crazed vampire lady babies; just mindless beats to be killed (although some beg to held. Nice!) Original demon kid; mostly just loves mom and the only innocent here, probably. Robin Hood, slaughtering people and using a vampire as a resource to do it … as well as feeding his own men to her.

None of these issues or themes are really explored in the adventure. They are just stated as facts up front, mostly in a multi-page backstory, and then the actual adventure text is just standard stuff. The horrors of the Robin Hood are not explored. There’s no meaningful interaction with him, his men, the demon kid, or the mom.  It’s just room after room of boring typical text and no opportunities to get in to the meat of thing. Not that, as written, there IS any meat to this. You have mom, a vampire. That’s an easy decision. You have a Robin Hood slaughtering families, feeding his men to the vampire (in secret) and mining the vampire lady for babies. That’s an easy decision. The demon kid looks like a full on Tim Curry Legend demon, but with the mind of a adolescent. He can get a pass, morally, but the party is unlikely to know that. 

The best stuff is a throw away line here and there. Like the demon babies begging to be held, or the kids room full of kid drawings (which the party is unlikely to know is his, given the disparity.) Best of all are a throw-away hook. Most of the hooks are the boring old “hired to investigate” type of crap, but, one is different. You meet bandits, who have split from Robin Hoods group because of his evil. Taking this further, I would make them desperate to take him down, rough men who have done evil things who are faced with a more serious problem, maybe their brothers/friends were disappeared buy Robin Hood. THIS is the sort of ambiguity that can lead to good morality play.

But the adventure. No. A half page taken up describing the room exits? That’s where you want to spend your effort? No order of battle for the bandits. No notes on how to run the bandits or kid or mom. It’s presented as just another hack. The height of encounter description is “During the day and into the early evening, a group of Tristan’s bandits (a few more than the PCs) sit at the table illuminated by lanterns. They are eating off crude tableware that doesn’t match the splendor of the rest of the room.” Better than nothing, I guess, but nothing there. One room will say that the creature within reacts to noises in room one or two, instead of rooms one or two telling us that. In oneplace we’re told the bandits are gambling with coins taken from merchant homes. But, that’s not relevant, is it? Unless the party is talking to them But they are not? It’s just stab stab stab. IN another place you get a note that Robin Hood is arguing with his second in command. But no notes on the argument, or notes in other rooms that it can be heard.

It’s all just clumsy like that. Jst vague ideas not integrated together. You could do something with this, but as written its going to take a complete redesign to make it come together. It’s really just an idea with the actual adventure text almost completely disconnected from that idea.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is only three pages. You get to see the backstory (ug!) and the throw-away hooks and the one little hook that I thought had potential. A previews purpose is to let the buyer know if they want to buy the thing. That means it needs to show encounters. This don’t do that.–Dilemmas-Keep-of-the-Blood-Countess?1892600

I leave you with some marketing quotes from D&D:

Dungeons & Dilemmas treats deeper emotional engagement as an additive dimension of play on top of the exploration, hazard avoidance, monster fighting, and treasure collection elements of traditional fantasy adventure games. All the ideas, tools, and techniques presented speak to the strengths of existing rule systems in common use. GMs and players won’t have to hand-wave away or house rule their games to accommodate this materi

“You are exploring a tomb in search of a mirror fabled to foretell the future. You discover the tomb is inhabited by an undead queen and her spectral knights. In your exploration you have learned that she was murdered by the patriarchal structures of her own holy order. The method of her execution has denied her eternal rest. She plans murderous vengeance against the living but offers mercy under two conditions. First, help install her as an eternal monarch upon the religious throne. Second, eradicate the bloodline of those who betrayed her. What do you do?”

I stab her and taker her stuff.

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10 Responses to Keep of the Blood Countess, adventure review

  1. Artur says:

    I stay in Dungeon as the Mytic Underworld and encounters as beer and pretzels fun. Thanks!

  2. Fabian says:

    Our hobby have a problem. Why would a functional adult (you know, with real moral dilemas) want to spend time to play “encounter as moral dilema”?

  3. Alex says:

    I’m just echoing Bryce here, but I like moral dilemmas in D&D, as long as they’re actual dilemmas in the context of the game and we’re not all just pretending to be affected by it. E.g. an NPC who is clearly evil but gives free heals to the PCs. That’s a classic.

    The example in the marketing material is not a good dilemma because: a) it has no direct implications for the core D&D gameplay loop and b) it relies entirely on the players empathizing with the insane undead lady’s struggle against “patriarchal structures”, but…that’s pretty abstract compared to her immediate plan to murder the living. I mean, in D&D-land I would expect rulers to be plotted against and unlawfully deposed fairly often, for all sorts of reasons. Uneasy lies the head under the Sword of Damocles and such. Not an acceptable excuse to become an undead monster who wants to kill all living people, even if you got called a bitch while Queen.

    • Matt says:

      Yeah, if that blurb is the Dungeons/Dilemmas author’s idea of a difficult and interesting moral dilemma I think I’m going to enjoy the zine considerably less than I’d hopes to.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Prince had a point about the ose format by not Gavin hiding nothingness in writing.

    But this one? Apply the format to this and we set

  5. a different Alex says:

    I feel like “morality” adventures are the same as “comedy” adventures: if you try to force it up front, it won’t work. The players will always find a way.

  6. Stripe says:

    “No order of battle for the bandits. No notes on how to run the bandits or kid or mom. It’s presented as just another hack.”

    Could I get some examples of good “order of battles” in print? Thanks!

    • Hector Frankenthal says:

      “This group is deployed so as to be able to defend the entryway into their homeland. The advanced guards are chosen for swiftness, and when they sight any enemy or other intruder, two runners are sent to alert the camp. The force then takes position behind a stone wall, archers mixed with pole-armed troops. The leaders and bodyguards stay behind the archers as a second line and reserve. It the lorce is attacked, the stingers climb above the enemy and fire from flanking positions. Several will work their way back to break off and alert the clan chief. Reinforcements will be sent from the gnome lair in four groups, each arriving at intervals of one half hour…”

      Module S4, The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, page 9 (Gnome Vale)

    • Reason says:

      The entire moathouse in T1

  7. Anonymous says:

    There is no morale dilemma that bothers Bryce Linch! Transphobes in his comments? he doesnt give a fuck something something hatespeech

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