By Marius Brunner Self Published 5e Level 1
Goblin Bathwater, a magical drug, has taken hold in a sleepy coastal town at the edge of the Empire. As the characters investigate the origin of the drug, they uncover an international criminal conspiracy, wild and ancient magic, and a threat to reality itself.
This 54 page adventure uses about 35 pages to describe some political intrigue in a town and a couple of dungeons around in, in the usual sort of plot based “investigate and stop it” adventure. The designer has an interesting ability to slot in some relatable and gameable details, although the entire thing ends up being too complicated to get a good handle on. Which doesn’t make it impossible to run, but rather hard to get the fully intended effect. Also, it’s one of those modern D&D worlds where no one is human and everyone is half-genesai, blah blah blah etc. It really has no impact on the adventure though.
New in town, the party shoots a man in Reno just to see him die. Locked up for the night, they are told the next morning to go look in to some ghouls that appeared in the local graveyard. The trail of which leads to a farm. At which time the party is sent to look for the farms missing kids. At the old wizards tower. Who wants them to go to some caves. [Interlude with some events that can happen in town while the party is investigating something] And in the caves the party meets the creator of all goblins, and a magical portal to Cthulhu-land … bringing in some of DCC “Meet Gods at Level 1!” vibe. I won’t ask if 5e players ever get bored saving world every adventure; whatever floats your boat man.
What’s supposed to be happening is that the goblins are selling the bathwater from their creator-god (which lives in their cave, asleep.) Some guy in town is using is to sell drugs and take over the town from the other boss in town who controls the other half of the town. This rivalry creates the initial bar fight in the first scene, as well as being the instigator the ghoul shit and is SUPPOSED to serve as what the party is investigating … which I guess is supposed to lead to the weirdness in the goblin caves. This sort of breadcrumb investigation and then base assault is the usual part and parcel of modern plot games and this one does go the extra mile, throwing in a few more stops along the way than the usual adventure. In principle, the idea is not too terrible.
But before I get in to it, let me note some of the high points.
The designer seems to have knack for putting in relatable things and or the farcical, or, perhaps, ALMOST farcical sorts of detail that a DM can leverage to really bring a game world alive. We get little one liners scattered throughout the adventure that really do a good job conveying things. Each 5e character background gets a potential hook, with the Nobles being “You won a sizeable plot of land in an auction in the capital. Little did you realise just how far south this ‘rustic farmstead in the foothills near an important local travel junction’ would turn out to be.” So, a little bit of wit which does a great job conveying information and tone. Everyonein town belongs to one of the two factions …with a dumpling town guard. Kids who will pass along information for a swig of booze (which then leads be say “or cigs! Or cigs!” Thats what good writing does, it excites you and leads you to other places.) A wizard who watches the town in his scrying and treats it like his own soap opera. Or a found note right out of Jr High where one kid is asking another to be his girlfriend. It seldom forces the DM in to the farcical, but it does tend make the mind leap to there, and the possibilities for play it implies. And that’s a good thing. When the writing is doing this its strong. The ANCIENT cleric who everyone discounts because he’s so old. And the kids that trick him in to creating new effigies for his Temple of the All Faiths. GOLD!
And now for the rest of this is (according to the ad copy) “beautifully made” adventure with “faceted intrigue” and “balanced and devious encounters.” I have noted, in the past as general advice, that putting adjectives and adverbs in front of verbs and nouns can spice them up. Used too often though, or in ad-copy, and it raises my cynicism eyebrow.
The maps are in a .rar format (Do people still do that? I guess they do?) that my on rar unarchiver can’t handle. So, I don’t get some of the maps I guess. The hooks, one for each background (Yea!) are a little open-ended. Like the sage coming to town to research an ancient civilization. They could be a little more self-contained. Don’t get me wrong, great idea … but just a bit LARGE. The read-aloud says things like “Newcomers, eh?” and does other things that betray players with more local characters. Read-aloud, especially around the first barfight, is a little bland and there are leaps of logic … like the ghouls travelling three hours from the graveyard to the “special” farm and a Pegasus showing up out of nowhere. That, combined with the goblins in the cave system having two captured basilisks to turn loose on the characters, feels a little too 4e/5e to me, and not in a good way. I wish there were more examples, in the barfight for example. And, things like the local tax collector assessing a 50% fine BEG for some stabbing … which I guess is not a desired outcome since there’s no guidance in that area.
But, no, the big thing is that the plot doesn’t really come through at all. There’s supposed to be this faction rivalry in town, and some drugs stuff going on. That feels VERY disconnected from the surface level main plot. In a bar, a boxer goes crazy, the crowd goes wild, the ghoul uprising. Leading to the farm. Leading to the tower. Leading to the caves. You don’t even actually need to get involved in the faction/drug thing at all. And it might not even be obvious that IS going on. The adventure doesn’t push it enough. There ARE town sections, and there ARE mentions of it, but it just doesn’t come through in a coherent manner.
But it tries. It takes ten pages to cover a barfight, getting failed, and looking in to the disturbed graves. That’s too much. There too much extraneous detail, background, and motivations. The adventure jumps back and forth at one spot, with the farmers sending the party to the tower, and then the farmers telling the party, maybe, about a dream that leads to the caves. But this isn’t in plot order it’s in location order … so he post-tower section is also in the pre-tower section … both under the farm. TO be clear, you COULD organize things this way, but if so it just needs to be clearer … and it’s not.
This could be a delightful little thing. The jaunt in to the tower, or to the political bosses lairs, or little events in town …, there’s a lot here that’s not actually required but could be delightful spice to an adventure. But, when your rumors says “the city council is corrupt” then you need something about that. And the space that could be used to support that, or to make the adventure clearer, is taken up by a lot of padding. This thing really needed a lot of focus to bring its true possabilities out.
It’s clear, I think, that I found some things in this to like. The little bits of local colour do a lot to liven it up and those little bits are what are missing in A LOT of whats commonly sold. And, along with this, little bits of relatable content, like one of the boxers drinking before the out, the bluster and bolster to psych up. And then there’s he extra effort this thing goes to. The additional vignettes and areas and the “not just Yet Another 4 Hours Adventure” length, going just a bit farther. And while 25-30 hours to complete, as claimed in the intro, seems a bit long I can see this being 16 or so hours without much trouble. And then, toss in the ending with both the goblin creator … which you can totally fucking kill, and some Guardians Of The Cthulhu Realm shit … yeah, I can take an element of the fantastic, dcc style. It just needed more clarity and more integration of the political element and the actual plot and a trimming of the BS.
This is $8 at DriveThru. The preview is seven pages. I might suggest the fourth preview page (adventure page 8) as an intro to the writing style that you can expect.