By Robert Nemeth Caulbearer Press Five Torches Deep/5e Levels 3-5
Miners at a copper mine in the foothills of a large mountain range have discovered the remains of an ancient civilization and something more mysterious. A lone survivor of the mine arrives at the nearby town, but is delirious from his experience. Will the adventurers sent to unravel the mystery find out what dark fate has befallen the mine?
This forty page digest adventure uses eighteen pages to describe a mine dungeon with thirteen rooms. Long read-aloud and a “encounter room and stab” design mentality combine with an overly focused attention to mechanics to detract from any sort of an interesting environment.
The mine here is just a couple of room leading up to an underground pit mine about 90’x90’ that, evidently, had about fifty miners working it, given that there seems to be about fifty miner zombies scattered throughout the dungeon. Zombies, and everything else in the adventure, do one thing in this adventure: as soon as you enter the room they shuffle forward to attack you. Or, in the immortal words of the overly-flowery read-aloud “they seek to extract your essence.” And, don’t get your hopes up, there’s nothing special about having your essence extracted. No brain eating or black clouds coming from their mouths or parasitic finger thingies. They just attack with pickaxes. Enter a room, get attacked. Enter another room, get attacked. Maybe make some kind of dex check to climb up something or open something. Or, some kind of int check to find out something meaningless. What was that version of Doom where you basically just entered a room and the doors slammed and creatures appeared? Like a hundred little set pieces. Except these are not set pieces. We all bring a part of of us to what we review and I’m not afraid to say that I find this the most boring type of D&D to D&D. I know, I know, some people like 4e and minis combat. This isn’t that, but it FEELS like that. There’s no real tension in the encounters. No “I wonder what will happen if we open the coffin” or “Oooo, I know this is a bad idea but I’m going to do it anyway!” It feels mechanistic.
And this feeling is probably enhanced by the focus on mechanics in the adventure. The DM text really likes describing mechanics. In detail. And I’m not talking trap & door porn, where the mechanics of the trap are given too much detail. No, this game mechanics detail. Like let’s write a long paragraph on how to walk down the corridor and all the checks one has to make and then the checks after the checks. And then the checks are the parts of the DM text that are highlighted, to call out the 5e specific rules for that system. This draws your eye to them, even if you’re not playing 5e, making it harder to grok the mechanics and other text as a whole.
And let’s talk read-aloud. The read-aloud that makes just about every read-aloud mistake that can be made. It’s long, violating the 3-4 sentence guideline. People don’t listen to long read-aloud. Their attention wanders. They pull out their phones. They don’t care anymore. It’s in italics. Long sections of italics are harder to read and comprehend. And, it’s in a weird fucking italics font, making it all the harder to deal with. It uses phrases like “appears to be” and concentrates on a second-person perspective, saying things like “You can see some tracks off to the left” instead of “There are tracks off to the left.” When read-aloud is a quarter of a page or longer, there’s an issue. It’s focusing too much on exact specifics, where the doors are, for example, instead of giving the impression of the room for the party to follow up on with questions to the DM.
Oh, let’s see, what else. The local garrison is too busy with road patrols to go check out the Serpent Men reports. The serpent man portions of the dungeon are rather drab, meant to be enhanced by a “general dungeon features” section earlier in the book, which will no doubt be forgotten and dropped during play. Doors have not been used in quite some time and thus are harder to open, in spite of the zombification event just happening. Zombies at the entrance don’t show up to ambush the party unless the party miss their perception check. I have no idea how that works.
The titular necropolis is one room, has two animated stone statues, and a gold scepter. Talk about a let down …
The wandering monster tables are by far the most interesting part of the adventure. A pair of ogres with a halfling in a sack over their back, harpies who want just one person to bring back to the nest to feed on, a face-saving bandit with an ostentatious name, Stirge who attack pc’s with BO, a troll who lures PC’s with the sounds of a drowning child. That shit is good.
Production values on this one are high. But, in terms of design, it gets almost everything wrong … unless you just want to fight shit and exploration, role-play, wonder and joy are just a sideline to you.
This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages, only the first of which shows you one encounter, the first one. It’s a decent example of what to expect, just assume that everything else is more badder than this.