By R.P. Davis Kabouter Games 5e Levels 2-4
Talukeld the Broken was a leader of a great horde of warriors who swept in from the West, conquering the Known World. It is said that his throne, made from the bones of his enemies, has manifested numerous magical powers. […] The King gives the adventurers an ancient, crude map showing the way to Talukeld’s Tomb. No one has been there in generations, so nobody knows what dangers might be encountered along the journey, nor what they might find in the tomb once they arrive. The map has a curious symbol in one corner: a clenched fist holding a short, broad-bladed spear…
This ten page adventure describes, I don’t know, three rooms? It’s trying to do “epic” at level 2, without much in the way of evocative writing … or encounters. And I mean “encounters at all”, which are woefully few. Also, remember, I write these summations, such that it is, AFTER I write the review.
I am an ass. Let’s get that out of the way. Fortunately for everyone else, I know I am an ass and keep it in check in public. In private though … Every time I go in to these things I’m full of joyous anticipation. What wonders shall we see today? There, just over the next hill, is that shining city on a hill under a blue sky. But, at the same time, I am an experienced traveler on this road. The search of meaning in an existence inherently devoid of it can leave one that way. So, now that the initial “Wonder & Joy” has happened I can look at the product description. And see it is 5e and ten pages and a conversion from some other system. This leads to the weary traveller making judgements before cracking the electronic spine: cover page, title page a couple of pages of “epic” backstory and overview, a couple of pages of appendices, lets say three of them, and a credits page. That’s eight pages. In a ten page adventure. The finally two pages will be the actual adventure and contain … three rooms Yes, i predict three rooms. And there will be undead and animated statues. This then is the prediction of Bryce!
Epic backstory and setup, eppic backstory, epic setup, army of giants about to pour down on King Asshats kingdom, he sends you get the Bone Throne from some dudes tomb so they can turn the tide of the impending invasion. It’s two weeks away. No word on why no one has done this before. Maybe the giant army plans better and has better leaders than Good King Asshat? Anyway, “no one has been to the omb in generations, and who know what dangers might be encountered along the way?!” says the teaser. This translates to a road running right up to essentially the front of the tomb and, the best part, the journey to the tomb being abstracted to just “make a skill check,” This represents all of the dangers you may have encountered on the way to the tomb. And no resting to regain the abstracted damage you take! If you do then you might not make it back in time to save the kingdom! I mean, there’s no real time table. So …
Let’s see, let’s do a breakdown of the encounters in this adventure. The skil check on the way to the tomb. Two stone statue guardians at the front door that you can bypass. (Ha! I knew it!) A puzzle in the first room. Then a trapped hallway. Then the main room (Ha! Three rooms! I knew it!) with some cultists you can bypass. Then a skill check to remove the throne from the tomb. Then a skill check to get the throne back home “losing one day for each failed check, This means that they arrive in the nick of time to save the kingdom from the giants!” *sigh* Look man, I’m all for bypassing encounters. And I certainly don’t think that fighting it the core of D&D. But, hey, how about some tension? A trap that needs a passive perception of 14 to see? Don’t blind people in 5e have a PP of 14? The two bypasses are good, and good design, but there is no inherent danger or tension in any of these encounters. I think I would fall asleep playing this. Yeah, convincing the undead cultists that you need the throne is a good idea. And tricking the statues is a good idea. And then what? It’s not that combat is NEEDED but rather that there must be some kind of tension in an adventure. And this one don’t have that.
It does have a locked door that knock can’t open, a part of that first rooms puzzle. Bad design, again. The designer has dictated that THIS IS HOW YOU PLAY MY ADVENTURE, and you have no choice but to experience it in the way they want you to. In reality, a wizard memorizing knock no longer has Sleep. The party has made a choice. We will bypass X and potentially make Y harder .This is a meaningful choice. This is agency. Not of which exists when you gimp the party.
I don’t know what else. There’s a suit of gilded armor that is sure to have the party asking “how much is it it worth” that is never mentioned again. We’re told, as the DM, to make an encounter “frightening” … without any guidance. That’s the goal of the designer. It is to write a description, setting a scene, which will make the players and/or DM think “this is frightening!” You don’t tell, you show.
Oh, and, the descriptions, boring and poor as they are, lacking any evocative writing, come ass backwards. In one case I’m thinking of, the road to the temple is described AFTER The entrance to the temple is described. It should be obvious why that is bad. It should be, but I know it’s not.
And yet, I am too full of ennui to elaborate. I’m going to go sulk the rest of the day until tomorrow, when shall return to me dreams of gilded houses in the sky.
This is $4 at DriveThru. You get all ten pages in the preview. Enjoy that.