By Robin Fjarem Self Published Knave Levels 1-3
The melting ice has revealed the walls of a long-forgotten temple at the summit of Glacier Peak. Historians and adventurers travel from afar to witness this legend come back to life, hoping to get a slice of the untold riches surely contained within. There is just one problem: The entrance is yet to be found.
This 24 page digest adventure uses thirteen pages to describe about 32 rooms in a three level dungeon. It’s got some norse folklore theming and tries to keep the writing focused. I get the concept that it was going for, but it feels constrained. I THINK it’s possible, tough, to come off with some PHAT L00T with no fighting; a nice folklore element.
Ok, so, cave up on the frozen mountside. And, in spite of that “historian” crack in the blurb, there’s no hint of magical renaissance in this at all. It’s pure norse mythology. We’ve got three levels to the dungeon. The first is a relatively empty abandoned temple with, I think, eleven rooms. You get reindeer hides on the walls, and antler carvings and small little figurines at modest shrines. The overall vibe here is one of a place empty, and abandoned. In fact, I believe the only encounter is with a centipede hiding in the chest of a skeleton. Old. And then you come to a stairway leading down. It’s covered, blocked with ice. Here we have a pretty literal transition to the mythic underworld. You need to find you way past it. Level two is linear, with just a handful of rooms. A giant lake, some islands. A small shrine on the second to last, that lets you turn the water in to a portal you can jump in to. And, at that last island, a 6HD norse troll, in a deep sleep. So, you know, don’t go too far. Finally, the lake portal leads to you level three with the rest of the rooms: norselandia. Dark elf, grey dwarf, some frog-people, sprites, and a wingless dragon: the lindwurm. And, of course, his hoard.
We are now in full on fantasy realm and you can talk to most of those bizarro people. The dwarf, chained to the wall by the dragon, his keys around the troll-kings neck … who was turned to stone by the dragon. Freed, he forges an adamantine sword for you. Or the gnome living in a cabin next to wall that has colossal door in it, the keyhole 8’ off the ground. He’s got the key, but will only give it up if you go X and get him Y. (Where X&Y are mushroom forest related.) Or the sprite that has lost his drum … that will put the dragon to sleep. And on it goes. So we’ve got a good transition in to the fantastic and strong folklore elements. And, as I’ve mentioned, it might be possible to snag a decent amount of loot with no combat.
The writing tends to the brisk side: “Grand hall with a high ceiling. Empty torch sconces in the walls. Reindeer pelts hang stretched out on the walls with stone benches beneath.” Not droning on, to be sure. Other rooms are perhaps too terse in their descriptions “Frozen Shrine: Encased in ice.” There might be some EASL issues with the quality of the imagery/evocative word choices, but I think the issue more comes down to imagining the scene and trying to get it down on paper. There is clearly an attempt made, in most cases, but one that falls short in almost all cases of bringing a truly evocative environment to match the interactivity in them. It’s not doing anything special in the formatting area, other than staying focused on the length and using some bolded words. I’m not on board with what IS being bolded, but clearly there was an attempt. Better writing and better bolding choices come with more time and more experience.
So, what the fuck is wrong with, besides some less than stellar evocative writing?
I could point out some mistakes in the design. The sleeping troll is at the END of the path, and wakes up if you make noise … but you don’t really know he’s there … and thus are not worried about making noise. Placing him up front, or, stronger signalling or snoring would help. And there’s a bit of this and that similar in the adventure in which there are things to do/not do that could cause tension but are, I think, mishandled or not telegraphed well, working against their intent.
It’s also got a little bit of a fetch questy “find the red key for the red door” sort of CRPG thing going on. “So what do we need to do FOR YOU to get you to give us something?” came to mind. This is hard. You want interactivity. With NPC’s, them wanting things is good. But too much and it starts to feel like you’re running up to someone with a gold star flashing over their head and pressing the “skip dialog” button as fast as you can.
It’s also constrained in its size, and I’m thinking particularly level three and its fantasy-land fetch quest stuff. Everyone essentially is right on top of each other. Melan and I differ, I think, to the degree we dislike this element, but I think we both recognize it and don’t care for the constrained spaces. I recognize that it exists, and why, and that NOT being constrained is far better. I just don’t ding something as much when it shows up. I’d much rather have some gravitas behind the distance, and quest, than just walking next door, etc, to pick up the thing and stab the thing guarding the thing. In particular, the lost drum, hanging in some random (literally!) tree in the swamp comes to mind. There’s no weight behind this. There’s no feeling of having earned that golden fleece. The adventure is trying to do too much in too small a place. But, meh, it’s 2021.
Other things comes to mind, like the use of a random table for a treasure behind a waterfall. I don’t get why designers do this. Just place a treasure. The fact you have a table for it shows a lack of understanding of what random tables are used for in old school design. It’s far, far better to place a treasure, or monster, in an integrated way in to the design. Yes, there IS a time and place for random tables in an adventure. But not for general use.
So, slow start, probably on purpose, and strong theming. But the language use doesn’t convey the theming well, although the interactivity does.
This is $3 at DriveThru.