By Fiona Geist, David McGrogan, Zedeck Siew, Adam Koebel Free League Publishing Forbidden Lands
This eighty page booklet has four adventures from four well known designers. I’m going to review this one differently, doing one review post per adventure, in an attempt to give their fair due, something that I think is missing in my previous anthology reviews. This is this fourth and final installment, and the general comments from the first, regarding publisher style, still apply.
The Dream Cloud of E’lok Thir (Koebel)
This seventeen page of emptiness is another one of those dream bullshitty things. Not an adventure, maybe a toolkit to build one, and too high concept and lacking support for the DM.
I went to a Disney costume party over the weekend. I painstakingly researched The Absent Minded Professor and put together a costume, complete with “leather” chemistry apron. In a room full of pirates and animation characters I don’t think my outfit worked; I was just a guy in a tweed suit and hat. This adventure is me at that party.
I think, what was it?, part of Raggi’s Gran Quest adventures, there was one “Adventure” that was just a bunch of tables. “What color is the wizard’s eyes?” was one I remember. I think I mocked it by noting my own adventure, and linked to the Unabridged Oxford English Dictionary. This is that, with the typical dream bullshit layered on top of it.
You know the dream bullshit deal. No map, and going back the way you came leads to somewhere else because “Dream.” And a whole lot of asking the party “What is something you regret?” and then having the DM work that in to the room on the fly. Woooo … classy! And totally not something that has been in about a hundred “adventures” before this one. And don’t give me any of that Jusir-my-dick-tpion shit either. Yeah, I get what it’s trying to do. And, thanks to my generations bullshit my cynicism detector IS quite twitchy. But if you’re going to for this high concept Absent Minded Professor shit, in a room full of Disney characters, then you better fucking bring the goods. And the usual throwaway comments about “doors don’t lead back to where you came” ain’t gonna cut it. No half measures. You want to bring the Dream then you better sweet your ass off delivering.
“Roll a d66 on the 18 entry tables five times and pick one entry from each column to determine the wizards background.” Again, I will flog the horse, RPG designers don’t seem to know how to use a random fucking table. This is NOT OSR design. This is some kind of adventure toolkit stuff. It you’re writing an adventure, which this professes to be, then you, the designer, pick something. And then you integrate that background in to the entire adventure and theme shit and put things together in to a whole. “These entries should inform the dungeon in ways both vague and specific.” Uh huh. On the fucking fly. OR … and now this is a novel idea, YOU, the designer, could do the fucking work. You could spend a few weeks sweeting over it and put together something better than a bunch of randos can put together on the fly.
“No map, no room description, no paths to follow.” Right. Got it. Typical bad dream adventure nonsense.
“The foyer might take on the qualities of anything just beginning – the foundations of a home, the empty stage just before a play begins, the first day of school.” Uh huh. Or … [repeat after me] the designer could put this in, based the wizard they designed, to make something more cohesive.
“When the characters spend time in this chamber, choose one and ask “what is some- thing you regret?” then weave the answer into your description of the room.” *sigh*
Treasure? Oh no. How about “Treasures found here will shy away from violent expression, but otherwise any magical treasure could be appropriate.” That’s content worth paying for, right?
There;s I don’t know, twelve rooms? The description of the trophy room, the read-aloud, says its quiet like a library. The DM text says the wizard “was an accomplished student of the magical arts who uncovered mysteries, bent reality and endured the very special sort of hubris only sorcerers can suffer. The Trophy Hall is a reflection of accomplishments real and imagined.” That’s it! That’s your fucking guidance for running the trophy room. No notes. No ideas for the DM. That’s the fucking help that the designer has included to help the DM create this room.
So, not an adventure but rather an adventure toolkit. And a pretty shitty one at that, with almost no assist provided to the DM in creating something. Just some vague ideas about a room called Regret Made Manifest.”
I don’t know, in retrospect I might buy it for the Geist adventure, but that’s about it.
And FUCK YOU, gentle reader. There is room in my life for high concept shit. But not high concept shit that makes a half-assed effort.
This is $10 at DriveThru.
Now, onward and upward, to the next thing on my wishlist that I haven’ reviewed yet because it was too big/expensive/I knew it would suck, etc
Thank you for writing about what some of us think about the high concept stuff. Asking, “What is your character’s greatest regret?” is already unoriginal and overused. Isn’t there already a randomized table for a more original question?
“As a way to get away from all the terrible stuff I review, I will just review things on my wishlist, in order.”
Are you trying to get us to imagine Bryce’s O face? IT’S NOT WORKING NANANANANA.
PREPARE YOURSELF MELAN
YOU ARE ON BRYCES REQUEST LIST
People always talk about Yoon Suin as being one of the best adventure toolkits.
I wonder what that does specifically that this fails at doing.
Both have tables, what makes Yoons tables better?
For one thing, Yoon Suin does not say it’s an actual adventure. It’s much more of a campaign setting than an “adventure toolkit.” The former is intended to become the backdrop and springboard of MANY adventures, not just one.
A better comparison for this would be, I think, the works of Emily Allen (Gardens of Ynn and Stygian Library). The difference between Dream Cloud and these two toolkits is that they provide a lot more guidance, flavor and specificity. You could almost run those on the fly at the table, compared to this nebulous nothing, which would require a lot more prep.
Personally I think the big difference is whether the toolkit sparks your inspiration to easily fill in the blanks, or whether it leaves you sitting there stumped for how to flesh it out.
“And don’t give me any of that Jusir-my-dick-tpion shit either.”
I promise I won’t if you tell me what it is
Enquiring minds want to know
“This seventeen page of emptiness is another one of those dream bullshitty things.”
I was laughing so hard I had to stop reading for, like, I don’t know how long.
“This eighty page booklet has four adventures from four well known designers.”
Well known for what? Shitty design? I’ve never heard of any of them.
I mean that as a serious question. What makes someone a ‘well-known designer’ these days? Having their name attached to a slickly produced product with glossy artwork? Being a “lead” on some 5E-flavored crap show? Having a twitter account with 10K followers? What? I want to know…for both my own curiosity and to do some self-evaluation.
This adventure sounds like dog shit. The last two reviews sounded like dog shit. Maybe they’re all great and Bryce is an asshole. I’ve picked up some OSR adventures based on his “positive” reviews and found them somewhat “oversold” (i.e not quite as good as expected). What does that make these? Worse, I gather. Mostly, I respect his opinions and his methods of evaluation.
I’ve been drinking this evening (i’m on my 3rd IPA of the last hour) and I think my brain waves must be approaching Bryce’s usual; I totally grok “sweeting your ass off,” for instance. For this particular (set of) review(s) Bryce wanted to give each designer/adventure its “fair due.” That’s nice. But for the future, I think you could just say “only one of these four adventures is worth even a modicum of your time…burn the rest.” And we’ll understand. Really! Life is too short to bleed yourself white on this, man. Too. Short.
Fiona Geist I know from the Mothership RPG.
David McGrogan did/does Yoon-Suin.
Zedeck Siew did/does “A thousand thousand Islands”.
Adam Koebel is best know for “ye olde robot rape” in one of his play sessions (and the following shitstorm with poor nonapology included)… oh and he did that little thing called dungeon world.
Fuck if I know what makes a designer well known these days… show and shine? Drama?
Good product… an insane mixture of all these factors?
I have heard about Forbidden lands and have exactly zero interest in another ruleset… so I’ll file these whole review series under “Nice to know” 😛
Thanks for providing a measured reply to my rather ranty, drunk-fueled comments last night. I probably could have figured that out with a couple search requests on DriveThru.
Jeez, Grogan…I’m always forgetting Noisms has a real name. Siew’s stuff I haven’t heard of, but the other three DO have rather good reputations for design (at least, I’ve *heard* good things about Yoon-Suin, Mothership , and DW…I don’t actually OWN any of them. PbtA ain’t really my cup-o-tea, but whatever). I mean, Ennies and awards and such.
Everyone’s fallible. Everyone lays a stinker sometime(s). But these seem pretty bad considering writers/designers for whom some have high expectations.
I’d like to just ad my 2c that writing a ruleset and writing an adventure are very different things. Hell, being a great DM and writing an adventure are very different things.
“Treasures found here will shy away from violent expression, but otherwise any magical treasure could be appropriate.”
This just makes me angry—not sure why.
Being pretentious and lazy is an ugly thing to see. “No violence, this is a thinking man’s module, this is art,” but also vague and unhelpful, passing the responsibility of picking treasure on to the DM. The author is sloppy and lazy while acting like he’s above it all, an unpleasant combination.