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.
Isn’t complaining how a spell won’t work against a door like complaining about how it takes a +2 magic weapon to hit a monster? Or how monsters can resist certain spells? It’s not bad design, it is just a challenge that must be overcome.
The difference is that generally, a monster that requires a +2 weapon to hit doesn’t involve tradeoffs. It’s not like the fighter wakes up and has to decide “Do I use my +2 sword today, or do I use my longbow?” If they have both, they use both. The fight itself is perhaps interesting (“shit, I can’t stay at range – my longbow won’t damage it”) but you certainly haven’t had to gamble with any resources.
OTOH, as Bryce points out – a wizard who prepares Knock from their spellbook has given up another spell to make room for it, that day. They’ve taken a bit of risk (“less offensive spells in order to be better at exploration, today”), and while the DM’s not in any way obliged to make sure they have to win their gamble (not every dungeon will have a door you need to use Knock on!), if there’s never been any hint this dungeon is special in some way (“the mage who built this dungeon was an abjurer and many of his residences were warded against other magic, beware using spells within!”) it feels like they made a gamble (“we might run into locked doors the thief can’t open – maybe magically locked!”), and the gamble paid off (“hah, a magically locked door, I knew it!”), but then it doesn’t work and essentially it turns out you could *never* win that gamble.
Actually, a serious problem is that it teaches the players “only ever prepare your biggest, blastiest combat spells”. Like, it’s not *that* common that an occasion comes up to use Knock – not compared to how often you run into “damage this enemy” as the problem. If you don’t get many opportunities to use Knock in the first place, and then some of those occasions it just randomly fails, the sensible behaviour is “don’t bother with it”. Go with fireball/lightning bolt/magic missile – you’ll actually get to use them most of the time (and if occasionally an enemy is immune to fire – well, apparently Knock fails randomly too, and a torrent of magical fire solves way more problems than Knock does.)
Well said ficedula, and you and Bryce make valid points to consider, but I don’t agree with the solution. So I guess the DM should add an extra door so that the wizard can use their Knock spell to make the wizard player feel good before going to the door that requires a puzzle to open? To me, that is unnecessary and over-designed. So a Knock spell doesn’t work? Use a Wish spell. Characters are too low level, then too bad. Solve the puzzle. (And there should be more enjoyment by players in solving the puzzle than simply bypassing it).
I think the real problem here is adventures that are too short and linear. There are tradeoffs for having a single session 2to 4 hour game vs. a multi-session campaign-style game. If the party snuck past the guards invisibly, used Knock on the puzzle door, and turned the boss monster to stone in the first round of battle, the party would be overjoyed at their success in a long campaign, but at a single session convention game you’d ask what was the point.
No, that double door solution just railroads them into- walk through my story the way I say & no other.
Sometimes, you have to let the players choice matter- hey we chose Knock & had a win! Great we get to skip that stupid puzzle. PLAYERS then get rewarded for a meaningful choice and the game is fun. Getting the feeling that no matter how smart you play or even when you win, the DM just gimps you anyway is not fun.
The DM needs to be open to letting the players ruin his best laid plans, skip sections he thinks are cool, provide solutions he never reckoned for and search everywhere except where the treasure is. It’s not about your precious riddle, it’s about their choices and the story that unfolds, not that you herd them into.
If the party are really invested in /enjoying the puzzle then they wouldn’t use knock in the first place. They made a choice to solve another way.
The adventure is already a railroad. A straight hall connecting rooms. If you don’t want to go down that road, memorize a passwall or dig spell. Or have your dwarf start digging around it with a pick (Did he pack a pick? Oh the choices that must be made!). Be creative as a player. There is no loss of agency.
By the way, how about the players being open to the Adventure ruining their best laid plans? That’s called a challenge, which also happens in real life. Players need to take adversity in stride. The fun of the game comes in part when stuff you thought would work suddenly doesn’t and you need to think of non-standard ways to overcome it.
a) they are unlikely to have rock to mud or passwall at level 2-4.
b) yes challenge is good, the locked door was a challenge, as carefully explained gimping Knock just leads to blast only spell choices
c) yes, spending a day digging around the door may be a valid solution. As was Knock in a level 3 adventure.
But if you like doors behind doors & gimping spells in your game, more power to ya.
I think Knock is a perfectly fine spell, but it’s too low level to enter into an arcane treasure vault, and I think most players would agree. Use the Knock to open the locked door the rogue botched the DC check on. (Just like I wouldn’t expect a magic missile to slay a dragon). But honestly, although we play the same RPG, sometimes there are different sets of expectations from players in different games. We just don’t play the game quite the same way, which is okay.
Piece. Of. Shit.
And yet…pretty cool cover. Wish I could find art so easily for my stuff.
And…that is all. Sorry, your ennui is quite contagious. Let’s see how the footballers are doing on TV.
Entrance/Guardian. Puzzle. Trick/Setback. Boss Battle. Reward/Plot Twist.
It’s not even a variation of the 5 Room Dungeon format… I wonder if a computer could be taught to write these and just set to go — a sort of an Oulipo style project so that one could say “Every Five Room Dungeon has been written, you can stop now.” It already looks like a computer did that cover illustration, I bet an algorithm could have it do that as well.
You can convince the undead to let you have the throne? Can you convince them to aid you against the giants? That would be a good Appendix N callback!
Why bother with this dreck? Use your experience to pick what you expect to be rough diamonds or at least rough quartz and stay clear of the obvious trash.
To OSR, it’s important to cover the ‘drek’ because it’s a good example of what not to do, it also gives a greater appreciation of when authors do get it right.
Bryce has done that a hundred times – if the lesson isn’t learned by now it never will be.
I’m glad Bryce doesn’t have that opinion.
I started reading a couple years ago—several years after Bryce had “done that a hundred times.”
Judging by the company name, either a fellow Dutchman, or even worse, a Belgian. Damn.