Runehammer Games 5e/"OSR" (not really OSR) "Mid Levels"
The sinister influence of an ageless dragon is plagueing the Westlands with vampiric evil. Can the heroes confront these undying dooms, and solve the riddle of the magic mirrors?
This 39 page adventure describes a castle with a fuck ton of rooms. It’s doing it in a new manner and I can’t, for the life of me, decipher how this thing is supposed to be run. It looks like it’s mostly combat with a lot of abstracted detail, to the point of being an outline. Which doesn’t have to be bad, but in this case is.
Most people run a sort of plot-based game, especially in 5e, and I’m always interested in how those adventures could be done better, to more align with their style without throwing out the important parts of the game. This adventure is trying something new towards that, but it just doesn’t come off right, for with a traditional exploration game or a more common plot-based one with light exploration.
As best as I can figure out, each major part of the castle is called a “scene.” It’s not like you’d think, based on that word. It’s more like a zone in a dungeon, an area. Each “scene” then has “zones” in it, which you could think of as unnumbered, but labeled, rooms in which something could occur. When you move between castle “scenes” (which are just major parts of the castle) you make a kind of survival roll for the transition, with a failure indicating an encounter before transition and a success meaning you simply transition, with the whole thing being narrated as a montaage. Each scene has about 3-5 zones, just labels like “Causeway, Gatehouse, Crumpled Gate, Battlement, Interior Court”, for example, for the “Main Gate” scene. There are bulleted notes (Yeah) in each scene about “action.” There are about three major areas in this (we’ll call them “levels”) with about eight or so scenes per level. I have absolutely NO fucking clue how the action is supposed to fit in. Are these the things that happen if you fail a survival check? Or they happen in each zone? How do you move between zones? The maps are, essentially, abstracted, although they look like maps, so it’s not real clear how you move from zone to zone or transition to a new scene, or know that you COULD transition to a new scene. Maybe the action happens throughout the scene, with zones just there as “fluff” for the DM to narrate as the action takes place? I have no fucking clue. There’s a supplement, called “5e Hard Mode” that is a separate product that maybe goes in to more detail. In any event, there’s an overview in this on how the scenes and zones are supposed to work, but it still isn’t clear, so that could be improved.
It’s also not real clear to me that there’s much more than fighting in this. The “Action” notes are GREATLY abstracted, to the point of it being almost an outline, in spite of the scenes being about a column each. At one point one early room tells us “The machine can be used to glean all kinds of secrets about the castle.” Uh … like what? How does this all fit together? There’s o real summary, or overview. There’s no understanding of why the gate guards attack you but then there are miners in one room that will help you. There’s no order of battle for responses, or even, I can’t tell, if there should be one.
There is a section early on about themes in the adventure to get the DM to use while describing. Many worlds, vampires, and a dragon. But it’s not really themes, as I would think of them, more “this is in the castle.” There is a dragon under the castle. Uh, ok, great? How does that theming work? There’s nothing here to suggest how to do it, or how to frame it, and it’s described as a fact about the castle rather than a theme.
There’s a bright spot or two in the town description, with some of the NPC’s having the right kind of description. One dude always seems to be relieving himself outside. ANother is a group of loyalist troops looking for a reason. Those are GREAT NPC’s, they provide a lot for a DM to work with. You instantly know how to run them. To my surprise, about half of them were decent like that, so the designer clearly has some idea of how to write something good, even if the rooms/scenes/zones themselves are a fucking mess. There’s also a hook or two that is more than a little interesting.
I think I get what the designer was trying to do. Major areas with common elements, and then some sub-elements in ear areas, the rooms. Some things that could happen there. I get it, and I think it has potential as a good format for these sorts of games. As implemented, though, it’s a disaster. There’ nore real anchoring concepts. No real anchoring interactivity (although there does seem to be more than a few role playing encounters, or potential ones, to the designers credit.) The amount of interactivity beyond that is lacking. There’s no real summary of how things fit together, or are supposed to work, as in how the castle and its various groups function. It TOO devoted to the bullet point to convey information, and each scene needs a little overview for the DM, rather than everything laid out in bullets. And the Magic Mirrors? The thing that is supposed to be a major element of the adventure? That’s a WHOLE confusing mess.
The format here is more than half done. The designer is one to something. It needs more work though, on communicating the ideas to someone OTHER than the designer.
This is $3.50 at DriveThru. The same is ten pages, with the last two showing four of the zones. I strongly encourage you to check out the preview and those two pages. It’s interesting. The one that makes the most sense is the last, the watch tower. From that you can get, I think, the best idea of how things are supposed to play out.