Nutmeg in the Dark

By Edward Deboinare
Esoterik Games
Knave
level 1

Something has happened to the northern mountain pass, those who have survived to  return reported the smell of nutmeg before their party was ambushed in the dark. The town guard is raising a party to go clear the pass. He enters the local tavern to conscript all the patrons …

This 46 page adventure uses twenty pages to describe 33 rooms in a single column format. The rest of the page count is new monsters and some new class backgrounds. But, those 33 rooms? A combination of goofy funhouse puzzles and bizarrely minimal writing. To no effect.

Let’s get this out of the way: the shambling woodpecker boss monster at the end smells like nutmeg. You now know why the title is what it is. No, I am not holding out on you. It makes no sense to me either. I’m a square though so maybe I’m missing something.

The map is … different. The entry room is, like #14 and the exist #23 and there is no number ten on the map. You can’t really make out any doors. There are minimaps next to the individual (single-column) room descriptions, but, you can’t really make out the features on them. And this is blown up on my monitor to about 1.5! Printed out, in digest form, as the adventure suggests …  there’s Norfolk & Way for shipping an elephant overnight from New York to LA. Or to make out the map. Also, weirdly, the formatting doesn’t work at all on my mac, for the text. The built-in PDF viewer gives me garbage, so I have to use the Chrome built-in PDF viewer … which still will not render certain pages. 

The writing is … interesting. Here’s a room entry: “Roll an encounter with [-] guarding the room, its unhappy. The chest contains loot.” No? Not your thing? How about “Ceiling is magically the night sky; there is loot[-] here.” Ok, ok, how about this one? “That is blood on the floor from the giant guillotine blade trap located there; it goes off every time.” That’s the extent of the description. There is nothing else. No mechanics, nothing. These sorts of things make up maybe about a third of all the encounters in the dungeon.

Room type two, Hezrou, has a few more things going on in it. Such as “A Grasping Giraffe guards this room; upon entering the giraffe will trigger the switch on the wall, causing the door to slam shut; investigating behind the throne near the switch will reveal a wheel that can be turned to lift the plate shutting the door. There is a set of platemail here.” No, that’s all of the description. No, I don’t know what a Grasping Giraffe is. There’s no pic. There is an entry in the rear in the monster appendix. “Their eye stalks enable the giraffe precision and protection during their head-whip attacks.” So …. They must have eye stalks. You should be detecting a pattern by now. There is something here, just under the surface. But it’s almost like 50% of the sentences in the adventure were left out … the 50% that would explain what the fuck is going on and add depth to the thing. A giraffe with eyestalks? Uh, ok. Sure. I’m in. But … you need to actually put enough words in to make this work. Another room has “a dire shadow bear with a silver dagger stuck in its heart is frozen into a statue, in mid-attack.” Nice! It’s ALMOST there. It’s ALMOST an actual encounter. Maybe it would be in Dungeon of the Bear days. 

Room Type III is an actual funhouse room. One of the rooms starts with “When the party sees the mirror or is in range, have the mirror introduce it self as the Opposite Mirror.” So … uh, I guess there’s a mirror in the room then?  Anyway, there’s a message on the floor. “Always coming to take me down.” If you give the password (the opposite, of course!) then the figure in the mirror (ok, so, now I guess there’s a figure in the mirror?) reaches through the mirror and activates two immovable rods that he uses to pull himself out of the mirror.” So … there’s two immovable rods somewhere? Outside the mirror I guess? And the figure comes out of the mirror? I mean, I’m not leaving anything pertinent out of the description here. The map doesn’t show anything important … or legible. It’s a funhouse room. And there are other funhouse rooms. And I can almost grok out what is going on. ALMOST. 

The boss monster is labeled as BOSS on the map. It’s a  Shambling Woodpecker. It can the flying tree from the cover (Small Evil Flying Needle Tree) are listed as Unique monsters. Which means that the grasping giraffe and putrid peacocks are not, by inference? DId I mention the electric deergull, a seagull with the head and antlers of a deer? It’s weird all right. It also feels PROCEDURALLY weird to me, rather than a creation. Like someone stuck some words in n app and is testing their new AI program. 

The loot table, which you dice on for all oot, is full of hings like “Magic Weapons [+] to hit” or Magic Weapon Damage Die Up. 

Things like a dire shadow bear that can be turned in to a statue by stabbing it in the heart with a silver dagger? Excellent! Idiosyncratic and great! I’m not morally opposed to a funhouse room; they are not my favorite, I prefer cohesive design, but I recognize them as a thing. But, the minimal encounters, lack of effort in a third of the rooms, and incomplete data in the other ?’s, along with map legibility issues? A hand drawn cover is only going to get you so far with me. That charm has to pay off, and it doesn’t. In the same vein, but less coherent, as Unbalanced Dice.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $7. The preview is eight pages but doesn’t really show you any encounters. Maybe check out that last page for the flying tree thing to start to get the right ideas about how it is written. 


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/366931/Nutmeg-in-the-Dark?1892600

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11 Responses to Nutmeg in the Dark

  1. Jacob H says:

    Since it’s Knave, and based on the art and writing, do you think this could be a kid written adventure?

    • Ed says:

      No, it was written by an adult with an over reliance on minimalism, and thought he could polish up his gm notes and publish it as an adventure. I left too much for the GM to fill in, and didn’t write down enough assumptions.

      • Stripe says:

        Well, at least you’ve published something. It feels to me like a Sisyphean task I’ll never accomplish. I keep getting to “about 80% done,” then abandoning the project. Maybe someday I’ll roll that boulder over the edge!

      • samurguybri says:

        I appreciate your honesty and owning this. Keep on going! It sounds like you have fun ideas.

      • John says:

        Writing DM notes for a great game of D&D, and writing something people other than yourself can easily make sense of and use effectively, are different skillsets and if I were you I wouldn’t feel bad for not nailing it right away. I’ll take a minimally-described Grasping Giraffe over paragraphs of useless faff every time.

  2. Edgewise says:

    It really does sound AI-generated.

  3. Alex J. says:

    Don’t demons in Empire of the Petal Throne smell like nutmeg?

  4. psychonaut mike says:

    nutmeg is a powerful deliriant in large enough doses– take a shitton of the stuff and you’ll be seeing shadow people for days. dangerous and unpleasant, but dumb kids looking for legal “highs” fuck with it sometimes 🙁

    anyway, I thought this was gonna be something like that but I guess not

  5. Peter C Benson says:

    I really like the idea of introducing a signature smell for a monster. I’m going to steal it! Smell is one of the senses I often neglect when describing something to players. This information could serve as a warning, and add to the tension building up to encounters with that monster.

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