By James & Robyn George Olde House Rules Barons of Braunstein
Set in dark age (Saxon) Britain, the characters have found a strange map promising riches among the cellars of a forgotten Roman villa. But beware, for the land is wild… Brigands and beasts prowl, faiths collide, and lost treasures await! But this is no fantasy dungeon where the heroes go room to room killing monsters. It’s an adventure setting where anything can – and will – happen. Visit the village of Stânweall, uncover mysterious factions, and witness the collision of old and new, Christian and pagan. All of this awaits the hand of willing heroes…
This 24 page adventure uses eight pages to detail a 24 room ruined basement. It has a Saxon England in te 8th century thing going on, with primarily human enemies (yeah!) and a snake or wolf or two. It’s rather pedestrian, lacking much in the way of interesting detail or advice for the DM in running its somewhat unusual environment.
You find an old cracked leather map with an X on it and word DIVITIAE near it … Latin for “riches.” Hot damn, I’m in it to win it! More than the usual generic “treasure map” those few words help bring just a little more depth to something that would otherwise be boring. Likewise the hooks, while the usual perfunctory stuff, offer at least a few extra words of detail to help the DM. “Locale clergy recognize the old wall and can translate the maps promise.” or a guy running bandits he stole the map from. Ok, so, of the four hooks those are the two highlights. And that’s going to be the story of this review. It’s got a turn of phrase here or there but is otherwise lacking.
The village is the usual mean Saxon affair, described briefly, with the little offering that the locals turn to pagen gods (when Christ alone is not enough.) That’s exactly the sort of tossed off comment that can add so much depth to a place. Which is in no way found on the rumors table that contains such wonders as “Brigands are a problem on the old south road.” So, “old south road” is good. It speaks to specificity. But Brigands is an abstraction. It shouldn’t be Brigands. It should be “Hanks gang”, or “Fat Mamma Cass’ Boys.” Specificity is the soul of narrative, and just like with the old south road, when Christ is not enough, and “RICHES” in Latin, just a few extra words can make all of the difference. And the rumor table doesn’t give us any of that.
The general formatting of the thing is emulating the old typewritten pages of the early days of the hobby. It’s not bad, and it’s single column is actually not so hard to read to scan, with most paragraphs being short and not taxing on the eye to move back and forth. It does fall down at times, generally when NPC’s and Dudes are encounters, as it tries to present them in a stat blocky way without any of the modern features to help bring recognition to the various sections. This means that things run together and are hard to distinguish when one thing ends and another begins, making scanning much harder than it should be.
And then there’s the cellar, proper. The object of your search and the location at the X. It’s a “Real” basement, with some caves attached. Doorways, but not really doors, close and cramped. “Daylight reaches the bottom of the stairs, but no further.” Nice imagery that. Of course, it kind of ignores the fact that there is flickering light coming from every room, but, hey, I’ll latch on to what I can.
There are a couple of problems with the cellar. First, the various chambers are rather plainly described. There is none of those choice words to help bring the various places alive, as with the examples I quoted above. And while there’s an NPC or two with an interesting backstory, it doesn’t really help when all you’re going to be doing is likely stabbing them. And then there are little bits of padding, adding nothing much to the adventure. “There is little chance the characters will know this unless they take prisoners or manage to engage them in conversation. The players can use this as they wish” And then there are confusing bits that seem out of place. A description of the boss’s room contains information on how the prisoners, tha the party may have freed, react to combat. It seems like that should be in the prisoners room description … where you find them?
Which leads to the lack of an OOB in general. Given the small cramped and open map I should expect that the parties actions will bring down the wrath of the bandits as they all respond to an incursion. A response that we’re given little advice on. The best is that one guy yells for his buddy so they can set up an ambush … although what that is goes unmentioned. There are casual references to “patrols” that go undescribed, and potentially returning bandits … all left out.
Yes, the DM does need to bring their skill to an adventure to make it come alive. But it is the designers job to both inspire the DM through evocative writing and to assist them … through things like an OOB or responses. And that sort of thing is not present here at all.
I’m also left perplexed by the room WITH the riches in it. And full of carbon dioxide. Such that you can only make one attempt a day to enter the room to recover treasure. Ok. So? You agro all the dudes in the dungeon in the first room, have a big fight, and then having a boring old time going from room to room pulling loot. And, hey, if I only get one attempt a day then you better telegraph it to the players and you I expect some dope ass descriptions on the effects, etc. Not “once a day.” Similarly, treasure of “a vintage statue” ain’t gonna cut it. That’s abstraction.
This is $1.50 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages but really only two are useful. You get to see the hooks page and the village page. They should give you a decent idea of the formatting, it’s issues, and the abstraction problems. A page of room descriptions would have been good to include in the preview also.
Hm, I could run it with Kevin Crawford’s Wolves of God…
Order of Battle.
Ah, guaranteed method of prompting memory: post a question, realise answer 1 minute later
The module is pretty consistent with the ruleset it was made for (Barons of Braunstein), a minimalist, free Kriegspiel system designed with freeform play in mind. Those who like and play the game are presumably good with its approach. That said, the module can be placed anywhere south of Hadrian’s Wall over a 200-year period, so we were necessarily limited to those historical facts universal across two centuries of constant change. Sure, we could have set it in a specific time and place and added more detail, but then it would have been less useful to the vast majority of judges, especially those with existing chronicles set elsewhere in the period. Moreover, there’s more than enough about the NPCs to get their measure. They’ll grow through play with little additional effort because each judge will already have their own idea of how a grieving chieftain (for instance) would act; and soon enough, they’re reacting to events in the game. At any rate, we didn’t want the area descriptions to be too long either, as this would limit the product’s usefulness at the table. Had we done so, I suspect this would have become the central complaint. Roman Silver, Saxon Greed is an initial configuration of people, places, and things that will change depending on what the characters do. It’s a side trek by its own admission, and one best evaluated against the assumptions and requirements of the system it was actually intended for…
I don’t think Bryce is saying what you think he is saying. He is not suggesting you need to ground it more clearly in time, and he is not suggesting you add much more in the way of description. Generally he wants you to use better words, not more words, so that you convey more meaning and more flavour in the same space. Kind of like poetry.
Responding to your post below, it isn’t a question of style, it is a question of utility. Conveying more meaning in a similar space makes the product more useful to the DM. Adding notes about who responds to commotion in a given area, and how team monster works together generally, makes the product useful to the DM – although those order of battle notes also need to transmit information efficiently.
I got that, but you said it better. Bryce’s finer points are often obscured by his vitriolic tone. The module is hardly a bullet paper or a dry treatise, and we tried to balance flourishes (they’re there) with utility. Some of this definitely comes down to Bryce’s personal preferences. We do address how the various enemies work together – all the relevant encounters, actually, including how different groups respond to the commotion, as you so nicely put it. Bryce just seems to have overlooked them. The so-called dungeon is internally consistent, its denizens organized rationally, and their motivations for doing various things clearly explained. It’s not perfect, but the product isn’t a bunch of scribbled notes devoid of useful information either. I don’t think a rational person could even say that after reading it. They could wish for a more flowery style (fair enough), and more backstory to each NPC (always nice). But to present the module as devoid of these things, or even inconsistent in presenting them, is just inaccurate, especially in light of how Barons works. When I argue for the FKR, I’m not defending barren products that don’t assist a GM in their necessary work. We like that too. Truth is, I sometimes agree with him; but I find Bryce’s style personally off-putting. His profanity laden diatribes aren’t elegant or dripping with flavor (aside from bile); and his prolific output means he skims through a lot and makes demonstrable mistakes about content. I think Chris Vermeers just posted a good example regarding the carbon monoxide trap. It’s not what Bryce describes at all, but he cites his erroneous version as a failure. How is this remotely helpful to the buyer? Or fair? It’s not the first time either…
You know, the incident with Anne Rice should have taught people not to respond to reviews. You are not coming off well here, as far as I can see. But as always, do what you feel you have to do.
Yeah, I owe folks an apology. There’s a fine line between private citizen and publisher, especially for a small-press person; but decency matters…
Meh, everyone has bad days. It doesn’t define who you are. Also, it just saved you from An Official Response From The Reviewer. I might wallow in shit all day long, but it’s MY shit.
“They could wish for a more flowery style (fair enough), and more backstory to each NPC (always nice). ”
“No”, and double “no” for me thankyouandplease.
Similar comments were sent in Gabors review. Likely the same people. I can see what you are saying. I also see the frognards point. Adventures over creation are good for helping the DM. Too much work means refs should go elsewhere.
Solid critism to make your next work better regardless of system
Nope, wasn’t me. But if others are posting similar defenses, it just reiterates my point that these are differing styles – and that products should be judged against the systems they were designed for and the intentions of the designer. I don’t care about Bryce’s personal opinion on pretty much anything. Would a product appeal to me as a fan of FKR? I’d never know from a guy who clearly doesn’t like it. That was my only point…
Bryce is not an FKR fan, and neither is his fanbase. He can’t provide an FKR viewpoint, and neither would his viewers be interested in such. Also Timeshadows also brought up “intentions of the designer” to which I say death of the author.
Totally reasonable. Adventures were meant to be consumed by others, so author intent only goes so far…
Anonymous said: “frognards”
That’s my new favorite non-Bryce typo
Patrick Stuart intentionally coined it as a quasi-politcal statement. Yuck.
It’s the PWND of our time…
Agreed FKR stuff like Troika does not give enough. Tables are ok but they are not yoon suin good. Which is where they need to be
Help an Anon out, what’s an FKR?
Free Kriegsspiel (German for wargame). Specifically, a minimalist, rules-lite variety of the sort engaged by Wesely and early Arneson…
Fair enough, but that’s a personal opinion. You can’t really say one style is objectively better than another. Roman Silver, Saxon Greed has been very well received by the Barons of Braunstein community it was designed for. Are they wrong? That’s why I prefer reviews that identify who might like a particular product and who wouldn’t. And why. It just makes things more useful…
I was going to buy this module after what Bryce said about it. Then I read your comments.
Olde House Rules said: “Roman Silver, Saxon Greed has been very well received by the Barons of Braunstein community it was designed for. Are they wrong?”
I can’t say that they’re wrong but I can’t say they’re right either. Fans of BoB might be not necessarily be the most objective folks to ask about the product. We need varying viewpoints.
Love the name! You’re right. I don’t believe in badwrongfun, and writing for the needs of a specific audience is good marketing. But everything benefits from other viewpoints for sure…
To clarify one point: only characters who fall unconscious (and thus need to be rescued) need to spend a day recovering. If they make it back out of the room before losing consciousness, they can go right back in.
I owe Bryce, and this forum, an apology. Real like took a turn for the worse, and I guess I lashed out at the only thing I thought I could still control. He was good enough to buy and review our product, and the other commenters here have been constructive and thoughtful. So please accept my apology for yesterday’s vitriol. It’s heartfelt and sincere. I don’t want people buying our stuff only to be disappointed, and Bryce’s approach actively supports our efforts to avoid this…
For what it’s worth I considered getting it after the review. Ticked a few boxes for me- low magic, simple set up, interesting environment (with the bad air room), opposite of gonzo, minimal page count means I can scrub it up easily enough if I want to.
For $1:50, sounds fair enough. Not like it got savaged by Bryce, he just didn’t love it.
Thanks! No, it wasn’t a savage review by any means, and I appreciate your kind consideration. Lol, back on my meds today…