By Scott Malthouse Open Ended Games Against The Darkmaster Level 1
Silence has fallen over the town of Dawnfell. The enchanted ringing of Frostchime, the sacred bell that wards away the clan of wild trolls in the Biting Woods, has vanished. Now Dawnfell is open to vicious attacks – how long can it last?
This 32 page adventure details a quest in a forest to recover a magic bell … before the town is attacked. It has some interesting writing and formatting in places, although it’s missing a kind of continuity to bring the various parts of the adventure together. It doesn’t feel cohesive in any way shape or form. The eternal question: muddle through it or find something better? You know how I’m inclined to vote.
Open ended? Sandboxy? Toolkit to run a plot based adventure? I’m not sure how to label this. Perhaps it is closest to something like “How to run a plot in an OSR environment.” There’s a situation: a town, beset by failing crops, with a troll band nearby that likes to attack the village. Except they are kept at bay by the magic bell the town has. Also, some elves in the forest, who used to be allies of the town but the local Dude In Charge is on the outs with them because his kid died. Also, there’s a woman in town who killed the head troll the last time they attacked. ANd his son now leads the troll band and wants her dead to avenge dad. And there’s some human tubal people in the forest, allied with the elves. And there’s some bandits in the forest, the leader of which kind of feels sympathy for the Dude in Charge because he also lost a kid young. And then the bell goes missing. Oops! Looks like them trolls might a coming!
This is an example of the adventure doing things right. As a kind of open-ended thing, with an inciting event, it knows that you need a lot going on, and it certainly has a lot going on. It knows it needs to do this and it does it, and that’s a common theme for the designer. They manage a pretty competent job at most aspects of the adventure. NPC’s are all grouped together, usually a page for each with stat block and maybe some art, with some nicely bulleted items to help the DM find what they are looking for. It could have used a bit of bolding here and there to focus the attention, but it’s the right idea. Likewise the various locations are terse, but well, described. The starting village focuses on the the places important to the adventure/adventurers, and leaves the rest of the village to a few words like “People generally look malnourished and they whis- per of another bad winter on its way. Upon seeing the PCs, people’s spirits will lift and they will waste no time trying to befriend them, hoping they are here to save the day.” or “They will give them every last morsel on their plate to bring the bell back.” These are strong, strong images to help the DM run the village, communicating the vibe clearly.
The encounters are fairly imaginative at times, or, at least, evocative. A crystal blue italian spring … with a severed bring at the bottom … wearing a ring. With the giant spider Geldor in the trees above it. Sweet! Spiders with names are something from Tolkein that I CAN get behind. A nice abandoned woodcutters hut, well described and evocative without droning on. A riddle on a tomb wall noting that the dead elf queen lays in repose until the day death is removed … with a close examination of the sword she wears on her hip revealing that it’s pommel says ‘Death.’ Good stuff. The kind of stuff where the party only has themselves to blame, with classic situations and imagery.
There’s not enough of that. And, it suffers GREATLY from a lack of cohesion.
There’s a farmer, the guy who took the bell and sold it to the trolls. But there’s no way to actually track things to him. The woods are just a big map with some numbers on it, with no paths, or tracks or anything. Like you took a blank sheet of paper and scattered the numbers one through six on it, with a scale. How are you supposed to know where to go, or even HOW to go? References are made to “prtrols” by various groups, off hand references, with no more words of advice given. The location in the forest, a few of them, have more detailed maps. But these are physically AND themely disconnected from each other, appearing in different parts of the book (this thing could use some cross references in a lot of places.) The wilderness description, the general overview, is more dynamic and situational while the location description is like “three elves sitting on a log.” COmpletely disconnected from each other.
Finally, there’s a timer here. The trolls attack the town in two days. The party doesn’t know this. The party has no way of finding this out. The INTENT is for the party to travel in the forest and make friends with the various groups, to bring them to the defense of the town. But, again, there’s no way for the party to know that they need to do this. The quest is just “go get the bell” not that the town is under imminent threat of attack. You’re on a secret timer, and you have a secret quest objective. Without any way of knowing the context of the citation, the party can’t make informed choices for their characters. Not Cool Man.
So, relatively good formatting, a decent is somewhat basic situation and decent formatting, with some GAPING holes that makes this one I would skip … as per the usual.
This is $9 at DriveThru. Taint no preview man! Not Groovy!
I feel like the cardinal sin here is having a timer that nobody knows about. Is this a book subject? See it a lot. There are few things more fun than a good timer, but if everyone at the table isn’t aware of the timer, then it’s just a random screwjob for the players. If it *is* known, it becomes an excellent addition to almost any adventure.
A possible solution here is divination spells. Maybe someone in town has that capability, but the PCs should be the ones deciding the questions. Failing that, a child got lost in the forest, saw the trolls gathering and performing some sort of battle ritual, and tells the PCs: a veteran of troll battles (in town) knows this means they will attack somewhere in a couple of days.
A recent offering “Holy Mountain Shaker” by Luka Rejec has a timed disaster framework: I’ve only skimmed it thus far but the foreshadowing is much better (and the whole looks very good).
Yeah, I’ve got a section on timers in the book, as of a couple of weeks ago.
Book? There’s a book?
You haven’t noticed the Bryce’s Adventure Design Forum …featuring Book Talk! in the upper right corner? It hasn’t been printed yet but Bryce has been working on it. He’s a true masochist.
I recently reviewed this one as well; just want to point out that the characters should easily be able to surmise that there’s a ticking clock. Initally, Brynjar will point them to the elves to search Frostchime, and once the characters talk to the elves, they’ll find out that THEY have been attacked and robbed by the trolls, so it is pretty clear that there are dangerous trolls around and that they are up to something … that should suffice to drive home the urgency of the situation, and it is also a good opportunity to make amends with the elves.
Vargus and Beltin feel a little disconnected, though; however, the adventure can well be solved without interacting with any of them, so I see their inclusion more as providing some additional options.
You don’t need to catch Hamrick, either, to solve the adventure, but yes, there’s not a lot of clues provided that could point the characters towards him; they might be able to identify his cart or get just get curious about him because of his illness, but it seems more likey that the characters will find out about him only after defeating the trolls or not at all.