By Thom Wilson ThrowiGames Five Torches Deep Level 1
What Lies Below takes characters into a druid’s tomb below a rotten stump. The characters will quickly find that the druids buried within dabbled in magic and enchantments well outside their traditional schools.
This eight page adventure features an eleven room druid lair under a tree stump using five pages. Interactivity is rather basic. I’m going to spend most of the review talking about the ThrowiGames Sensory Descriptive Style format, and it’s failings, and what it means for writing a good description and organizing information for the DM to use.
So, lair under a tree stump. Some earthen cave-type rooms with a few undead and a spider in it.Interactivity is spares, and you’re gonna have to take my word on that, as I want to talk about Evocative Writing and Formatting. In this case, the interrelation between the two. This is the format used in the adventure for rooms. Other rooms mauve have other sense also, like “Taste” or “Sense” or “Exits.”
Area 1: Tree Stump Entrance
A chain around the base of the rotting tree stump drops into a dark hole below.
GM Notes: Although rusty, the chain can support up to 500 pounds of weight.
Quick View: Wide, rotten, hollow stump.
Detailed View: Rusty, thick-linked chain. Various animal footprints around the hole.
Listen: Air whistles up through the hole below the stump.
Smell: Rotting tree and vegetation.
Secrets: The hole is discovered with a DC 9 check. Exits: A hole below the stump drops over 40 feet.
What we have is an attempt to well describe the room. Laudable, especially bringing in other senses, however I would argue that the formatting fails and that because of that the Evocative nature of the room also fails. Looking at the very first sentence, the chain around the base of the rotting stump … what’s the purpose of that line? Is it read-aloud? If so it may be TOO terse, ignoring such great features as the air whistling up, which should be obvious, and the rotting vegetation line. Is it a general overview of the room for the DMs needs? Then why the extra lines for the whistling and the rotting?
There’s a Quick view section … how does this differ from the initial opening line? What is it adding that the opening line isn’t? Just repeating data, in the same way that the “Exits” portion is? Listening and Smelling are relatively specific actions. Further, both, in this rooms case, help set the general mood of the room and you, generally, want the players exposed to that mood initially, rather than making them “tease it out” of the DM. (With exceptions for things like a Revelation.) Further, the format, separated on different lines, with things breaking up the relevant sections from each other, takes more time to scan over and grok. When giving the initial room description you’re reading the room title, the initial italics line, the quick view, the listen, the smell, the exits, and probably the GM notes and secrets, all in order to synthesize the description in to something to relate to the players.
This gets to the issue of being limited by a format instead of being enabled by it. I’ve almost always encountered this in adventure that, as this one does, explicitly has heading information for a variety of topics. Exits, smells, tastes, sounds, door construction material/DC, light in the room, and so on. I get where they are going with this. Light, in particular, is an easy thing to relate to, as something that we generally want to know. But what happens is that these rigorous formats begin to take over. They become the focus rather than the room and the DM running it, being the focus, even though they are supposed to be enabling that. In the end we see that the rigorous adoption and devotion to the format creates a room description that is less useful than the sum of its parts. Whatever effect a dotting hole in the ground, a rotting tree stump, wind whistling through the hole, might have had, it’s lost when you separate them out like this.I strongly believe that there is no one true way to write a description, but I do know that this isn’t it.
Also, when you approach the tree stump, entrance to the druid lair, you are attacked by four halfling thieves, life-long “Protectors of the Druids Lair.” WTF is up with this? Is has absolutely no theming with the rest of the dungeon, in any way. Another party, or bandits camped above, or something would have fit in better and made mode sense.
This is $1 at DriveThru. El Senor Preview is four pages, more than enough to get a sense of the room encounters, for format and interactivity.