Off The Books

By Dana Floberg
Self Published
Level 5

A magical mishap occurs when a handful of freshmen enchantment students cast a modified version of the awaken spell on a fantasy epic in the university library, and now characters are leaping off the page – literally! As heroes, villains, and damsels come to life, the librarians need someone to restore narrative order to the unruly tales. But as the lines between fiction and reality blur, some of the characters begin to suspect their stories are cages they’d rather not return to at all.

This 19 page adventure details a few encounters in a library with fiction characters from books. It has a certain funhouse design aesthetic. The core encounters have interesting fundamentals, but lack in their implementation, both mechanically and in terms of presentation.

Our exploration of The Storyteller Collective Workshop continues, I assume, since this adventure thanks those folks. As with previous entries, there are some decent foundational ideas marred by a lack of experience. But, again with this one, that’s what being a first time writer is all about. 

We are once again in the default 5e setting of magical RenFairre, with this time the issue being in a large library. It seems that characters are coming out of storybooks and appearing in the real world. Someone has to get in there and, literally, close the books. I think I remember a Dungeon adventure like this? And, certainly, a room or two in old FunHouse dungeons. This, also, has a bit of the funhouse vibe to it, with contrived situations from fiction being the reason for the season. If you’re gonna have a RenFairre world then you’re going to have libraries, and they are going to have issues. Not my thing, but certainly A LOT of other peoples thing. Our hooks are short: maybe you’re here to research something and need to solve the situation efore you can, or, a buddy caused the problem and begs you to help out so they won’t get expelled. The first is the standard “I placed the McGuffin here” that can be relied upon in any adventure while the second at least has a sheepish student begging for help, both better than being hired. 

Chick from a romance novel gets out and starts reading her own book, bringing the villain and hero in to the world … and some self-awareness on her part. You go from room to room (about seven in total) encountering some situation, resolve it, and move on, until you close the last book in the last room and deal with the fallout of nulling out, or not, someones existence by closing the book on them.  Along the way you pick up a side-kick or two and deal with the asshole good guy from the novel.

The strength here is in the room encounters and the hints of personality that come with them. A troll asking a riddle, a wishing well that knows the absolute truth about the universe that you can use as a lie detector, a toad needing to be kissed that can gets larger each time … and can be used to solve a puzzle, or a band of merry pirates and their White Whale they hunt. Good concepts, solid and recognizable and good pretty for the cultural memories that can bring more to an encounter from the players and DMs own backgrounds. And a little extra here and there, n the way of words, a sly recognition or the tropes. Our pirates “Like many fictional pirates, they don’t actually do a lot of murder or pillaging, but they are extremely cool.” So, conceptually some good ideas with some hints of personality that’s unusual in a 5e adventure. Someone’s soul hasn’t yet died from writing. 

Fear not, gentle designer, the ennui will come. Until then, let me help you with the self-doubt …

The biggest issue here is one of parties ability to impact the adventure. Yes, the old Quantum Ogre and his pal the {fuck, I’ve been driking and can’t remember the name. The party has the ability to make meaningful decisions and their actions are not irrelevant. What the fuck is that called again?] So, major issue.

We need to deal with the doors unlocking when you defeat a monster. This means one thing: YOU WILL FACE MY ENCOUNTER THE WAY I ENVISIONED AND FUCK YOU FOR TRYING TO AVOID IT. Perhaps a little overly harse, especially for a new designer, but the ability for the party to use their own wit and abilities to avoid/overcome something is a key point in roleplaying. This shows up in myriad different ways in the adventure, including monsters that spor you as soon as you enter the room, Ye Olde Door Unlocyky, a disguised baddie who has no sign of ill intent on you Detect Deceit roll, and, worst of all … the goody goody guy who has been brought back to life if you kill him too soon by Sir Not Appearing In This Movie. I know, I know, you want to set up a cool moment. You want him showing up in the final battle. But you don’t get to write cool moments, as a designer. Oh, you get to POTENTIALLY set them up. But this isn’t the designers story and it’s not the DMs story. It’s the fucking players story. We do not take away their [fuck! Whats the word?]  As a designer I appreciate some tips on what to do if that happens (WHEN, if I’m playing) but you can’t rob the players. 

There are a host of other issues also. The NPC’s descriptions oculd be better, and come off as a wall of text. They need some trimming and more bolding/underlining, etc, to make it easy to scan their personality traits during play. Likewise, I get that they should be turned up to 11 (as advised by the adventure) but that doesn’t really come through. A few hints in that area could be appreciated. Supporting the DM in their efforts. Wall of text, in fact, comes up several places, most notably in three “interlude” rooms, one of which the party will experience, that come come off as three giants hunks of text that is hard to sort through. I could bitch about the other two unused rooms as well .. might as well quantum that n a plot based adventure like this, otherwise its wasted content. If I COULD explore it, and don’t, then its not wanted. If Im explicitly forbidden to explore ? of it then its wasted. And then there’s the “place what you want’ treasure list. Sure, you get to select from the appendix, but, that’s a cop out. Decide it and put it in. That lets you have puzzles that leverage those items later.

And then there’s a couple of things that just DO. NOT. WORK. There’s a polymorphed cat in the beginning that gets too many words and feels like a pet NPC from a DM campaign, the extra adding nothing to the adventure and the DM being explicitly told “but all this backstory is irrelevant since the party wont be able to grok it out.” Outhgt oh! No good that! Mildly related is the “take a bunch of damage each round while trying to solve a riddle” room. But you get to save for half! Again, this feels contrived, and not in a fun-house manner. No matter what you do you take damage. And no, “the trolls gets to decide who is attacked by the flying books” is not a solution to that issue.

Exposition Dump Wolf is out of plac3 and whatever the designer was going for just doesn’t come through with it. (And, I should not, nor tdo the hero, villain, or self-aware woman. I get where you want to go with this but it just doesn’t come through at all. You need to support the DM more in this.) 

And then there’s the final mechanic: getting pulled in to the books. Not only can characters come out but the party can get sucked IN to a book. But, as implemented, this is weak sauce. It feel like the parties actions have no consequences. It’s just a save DC that gets harder and harder, and doesn’t really have consequence since they can be sucked out again and there’s not really anything in the adventure to support whats IN the books they sucked in to. 

And, peaking of supporting the DM, the final battle has some storybook characters showing up … “Whatever the DM likes.” NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You, the designer, get to decide that. You get to pull in some appropriate things and make them relevant and support the DM in their usage. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but thats the value add that you are adding as the designer.

So, some decent ideas in the puzzles and set up, but not really supported well either for the DM or in the formatting of the text. But, it also doesn’t want me to drink until I’m blackout drunk.

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11 Responses to Off The Books

  1. Thunderdave says:


    Thank you for all the reviews Bryce, I enjoy them very much 🙂

  2. Anonymous says:


  3. “default 5e setting of magical RenFairre”, I would nearly kill for a thorough explanation of both what constitutes “magical RenFairre” and what to do to avoid it…. Bryce …pretty please?

    • Beoric says:

      I think its using the less “authentic” brand of renaissance fair as a metaphor for the sort of high magic, culturally modern, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink smorgasborg of races, classes and magic that oldtimers like him (and me) often think characterizes the current implied D&D setting.

      Magic isn’t rare and wondrous but is common: magic items are not limited to hard-won treasure that you claim in a dungeon, but may be purchased at the local magic-mart, every race in every splatbook lives together in the same place but they are all culturally identical, wizards, warlocks and sorcerers aren’t strange obsessives living in towers but can be found in flocks wandering the local market, paladins are as common as fighters, etc.

      • nerrrval says:

        It’s not just 5th edition’s problem though. Magic RenFaire crap has been plaguing D&D since the mid 80s.

        I offer this quote from none other than Bryce himself, from his review of Dungeon Magazine #1 (published Sept./Oct. 1986):

        “I hate 2e. I hate the magical RenFaire stuff and the magical society environment and the streetlights of continual light and the garbage disposals of spheres of annihilation and the way it treated the magic and wonder as routine, ensuring that nothing was magical or wondrous. I would have SWORN on deck of many things that these were 2e adventures. When checking it turns out that issue #1 came a few years before 2e. Wow. I had no idea that 1e adventures sucked ass so much.”

      • Kubo says:

        Well said. Strangely, it is a flavorless world.

      • ah okay ….that’s sorta what I thought….THAnk YOU! ALL!

  4. Reason says:

    Yep. If they can’t sneak past encounters/avoid them or open the goddam doors how can they get excited about pursuing that cockamamy scheme they just came up with that has them all just wanting to get to X & do Y & screw your Z for now, it’s clearly a tarp anyway.

    It’s just dispiriting as a player when you realise you’re fixed firmly on tracks and it’s the DM’s one man stage show.

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