By Jacob Fleming Gelatinous Cubism OSE Low to mid levels
There could be several reasons to seek adventure in the Gemthrone Wilderness. It is a region that is the subject of speculation on cold nights in the glow of a tavern hearth. Some may talk of the magnificent treasures that have laid untouched for centuries in dark dungeons, just waiting to be pilfered—which is, almost without fail, followed by another who interjects with the dangers of such notions, were such legends even to be believed. There are, however, those that do believe such tales— grizzled adventurers that know there is always some truth to even the most unbelievable stories. One just has to know what rumors to listen for…
This 64 page adventure uses about forty pages to describe a wilderness region with around five settlements and nine dungeons. It’s a real adventure, with linkages between places and one thing leading to another. The writing is concise, but could be punchier. Overall, a nice effort. And I’m pretty sure that “low levels” doesn’t mean “first level”, there’s some rough shit in the wilderness.
So, a wilderness region. About 50 miles on side. Big scary forest in the middle. It’s got this Tower of the Ancients in the middle of it. A human village, an elf village, a dwarf village, and a cyclops village scattered around the map. Also, some weirdo statues on the roads/trails here and there and a couple of dungeon, most of which are triggered through a quest given by someone or a treasure map you find that leads you there. The DM’s map is a nice little topo like thing showing all of the features, dungeons, roads, statues and hill contours that I think adds a lot to overland travel and the DMs ability to describe what the party sees when they crest a hill, etc. Nicely evocative and useful at the same time. If you just wander around the road for a few days you’ll find all of the locations (except one) except for the ones in the scary forest … cause there ain’t no roads there, fool!
The settlements are pretty brief, a couple of pages, and mostly mundane location descriptions with some rumors or a hook or two to get the party moving to an adventure site. Dwarflandia has a theater troupe that is absolutely terrible … but no one wants to admit it for fear of being thought uncouth and not “getting it.” That’s good specificity. Or, their local tradition of “the airing of grievance” after the Sunday sermon. When the adventure is dropping these little tidbits in then it is bringing the locations alive. When it’s just saying someplace has an inn, or smith, or an “eccentric” gem merchant, well, that’s not really saying anything at all, is it? Generally I prefer either no detail at all in these situations, just like “Gem merchant” or for the adventure to say “Gem Merchant who has replaced his eyes with emeralds” or some such. Go one way or another, but don’t describe the mundane and boring.
The various dungeons scattered around have around ten to twenty rooms each. The formatting is clear and easy to follow with good cross-references when needed. Descriptions don’t overstay their welcome … but neither do they tend to bring any sort of evocativeness or quirkiness to the rooms. “A large room with 4 doors and a round 10’ pool in the middle. The pool is purely decorative. Treasure: In the fountain is a heart-shaped locket with some dwarven runes etched in to it.” This isn’t winning any awards for inspiration, particularly given that it’s the room, and item, that the party has been looking for. This is the extent of the rooms description. Large. Pool/fountain, not really evocatively described in any way. If the room descriptions were punched up, without adding substantially to the word count, then this would be a real winner.
There’s some additional rules for hunting, and the weather could certainly add a little variety to the travel through the wilderness. The wanderer table is fairly generic, and brief at only twelve entries and fairly generic like “1d6 hobgoblins” and the like. Given the size of the region, and the probability for revisiting locations (because of mysteries, linkages, etc) travel is likely to be extensive and thus wanderers as well. While the weather table should help, a little more effort on the wanderers, and making them less generic and more linked to the locations, would have gone a long way.
Still, there’s a lot to do here. A lot of places to explore. Explicit quests given “go find my locket” and others discovered by the party “A map to loot!” Places to just stumble upon. Puzzles to discover and decipher. A little bit, just a little, of faction play. (Which, also, could have been stronger.) It does feel a little static at times … as if the dungeons and settlements only exist in their own encounter keys and not interfering or being related to others … even though there ARE explicitly links to other places. Perhaps, I mean it doesn’t feel dynamic?
Anyway, these are small complaints. I’m sure many DM’s will get a lot of out of this, a lot more than most adventures these days and I’m happy to see these larger regional locales appearing. They bring a lot to the table in terms of party immersion and continuity.
This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is only six pages and doesn’t show you anything interesting. Just some brief background stuff. The topo map, or a location key or settlement would have been better to include in the preview so we could all get a sense of the core writing.