By Simon Todd Monti-Dots Creation OSRIC Low Levels
The Tales of Highcliff Gard contains complete mapped building descriptions of the valley of Highcliff Gard, each with their own adventure hooks, characters and their histories and at least two full dungeon adventures. Whether you have bought The curse of Highcliff Gard or Necromancer’s Bane or not, The Tales of Highcliff Gard provides a rich resource for a campaign of your own making or an inspirational read for fantasy gamers of all systems.
This 73 page thing is … I don’t really know what it is. I guess it’s supposed to be a regional guide for the village of Highcliff Gard and some small environs around it, where two other adventures are set. It has a small dungeon described and several event-like things that could happen in the area, as well as about ten locations fully described. In detail. Excruciating detail. It’s more a … I don’t know, maybe one of those little books that local county historical societies sometimes put out?
This was going to be the bonus feature for my last review, since I didn’t think it was an adventure. But once I opened it and saw the page count and saw “two full adventures included!” and about twenty pages devoted to encounters, about a fourth of the book, I decided to make it a main review. My bad. I’m not good at regional settings.
I like towns, and regional settings. I like the concept of local places for the party to get in to, to have little things sprinkled around during their downtimes that build up through emergent play between “the real adventures.” Recurring personalities and places; I think it adds an enormous amount to a game. I just don’t know how the fuck to review them.
I do know that there is a level of detail appropriate to a location, and its purpose. The full history of every rock is probably not appropriate. Nor is never mentioning the rocks in an adventure about rock people. As the region is zoomed further and further out the degree of detail should be less, and more targeted at what’s relevant. Which is not to say that you can’t mention the old quarry close to the town, if it has nothing going on, but maybe you don’t need to fully stat it out. Further, the emphasis on what is described and how it is described should probably be on things that could lead the DM to real play, either directly, as in an adventure, or indirectly in the case of a regional guide, serving as something for the DM to sprinkle in and use. If you’re going to write three paragraphs on the various quantities and varieties of trees in the local woods then that should probably either be directly related to something going on or have some potential for the DM to use it in an obvious way. Otherwise we enter the realm of the simulationist and anecdotal … hence my comparison to the local county historical societies booklet on the history of the Robinson household and their 2000 acre holding. (Church cookbooks and local historical society booklets: Fascinating!)
“Tales of Highcliff Gard has entered the chat”
This is a small town, Highcliff Gard, as well as just a little bit of the region around it. Just a bit. It’s the setting around which two other adventures take place, The Cure of Harken Hall and Necromancers Bane, both of which I believe I have reviewed in the past. This place is a mess. And not from an adventuring standpoint, but from a purpose standpoint. It covers the wrong things and covers them in the wrong way. What we have here, for the locations described, is far far too much detail about the wrong things. One of the described locations is an inn. The innkeeper has a family. Here’s the description for one of his kids:
“Lavinia, known as Little Vi, is 13. She has spent her childhood having adventures of her own and getting herself into trouble. Arno remains both proud and perplexed by her and swears she is the reincarnation of Marduke. Arno has the burning desire to see his family linked with the nobility beyond association and plans to marry Lavinia off to one of the Harken sons. Lavinia is horrified by the idea and currently ‘hates’ her father. Her mother maintains a tough stance advising her to do as her father bids. Vi can often be found with the Harken daughter Leonora and they plan to adventure together when they are older.”
This is how you get to 73 pages.
Or, perhaps, the description of a washroom?
“6. THE WASH ROOM. Water is brought up using the attic pulley on the north side of the building (7.) then heated on a small stove. This room is humid and often filled with steam. Most linen is cleaned here in baths before being hung on lines in the court yard of the tavern. This also doubles as the washroom for the staff.”
Very nice. Irrelevant to anything going on, but very nice. The major locations, about of those described, take a lot of pages to describe, with descriptions of mundane bedrooms, common rooms and the like. After each there might be five or six adventure hooks like “Someone at the inn has been killed. The owner wants the party to find out who did it before his reputation is ruined.” Very, very general.The location descriptions, the people, etc, are generally very focused on the LOCATION as being the primary important (or person, etc) rather than how they might interact, or be interacted with, by the party and the potential energy of situations that might develop. The focus is on the wrong aspect.
In the rear is twenty pages of encounters. There’s a wandering monster section that is little more than a table, and a little section on how winter changes the place. Then there are a number of little adventure ideas, or sort little things. Like you are escorting a messenger and they get attacked by an overwhelming number of bandits … the party is expected to run away and then come back to find out they are soldiers from a neighboring kingdom. That’s the extent of it. Or some mob villagers picking on a gypsy to lynch them. Maybe a couple of hours of play from most of these. One is a tad longer and might take an entire evening; the sighting of the local “if you see her you die within a month” ghost of a weaver girl. Tracking down the why of her ghost and then fixing it. This is about two pages of a mix of high level content. Then there’s a little dungeon with twelve rooms. The first room takes about two pages to describe. A column or a page is not uncommon. This is unrunnable.
Too much detail, covering the wrong things, that’s the best I can do to review something that is not an adventure.
This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is the first six pages. While not perfect, you have to imagine the writing style on those pages is present throughout, for everything, at this level of detail.
This has been episode “No one really gives a fuck, Bryce” of Bryce revieweing everything on his wishlist.