By Rob Couture Self Published OSR Level 13ish
Wherein our adventurers seek out the Topaz of Earthly Perfection reputed to be held within a mountainside palace.
This twenty page adventure describes a fifteen room palace wherein reside four earth genies, and an artifact, the topaz mentioned in the teaser. It has some boring descriptions, although it is trying, and suffers from High Level Adventure Syndrome, wherein super powerful creatures are left mostly to the DM to run without guidance.
There’s no adventure intro, or hook, or anything. It’s assumed that the party is here for the jewelso all we get is “here’s the palace”, which is totally fine & dandy. There is some VERY brief guidance on this being a hack, or caper, or social adventure. And by guidance, I mean that a sidebar says it can be played in any of those ways. Which is true; our genie buds, and in turn their pals, are smarties and like to talk and have reasons to receive guests at their palace. But, advice is generally not present in running the adventure as one of these type, except for a brief mention in each room that the NPC/monster may receive guests or “is suspicious of them.” That’s not really support. It is, for all real purposes, just a typical room/key dungeon but with no “immediately hostile” encounters … until the party start their murdering.
And this lack of support extends to two other areas that I think are critical, especially for high level adventures. First, no order of battle. The genies, fallen deva, dragon, mind flayer, drow, and other superty duperty smarties are sometimes noted as “calling for reinforcements”, but that’s the extent of the battle plan. I’m not a big fan of in-depth tactics, but, a little guidance for the DM to help them run the inevitable “plan goes to hell and fire rains down” situation is appreciated.
It’s also the case that these folks don’t really get any advice in running them, in combat. Now, I’m not talking about detailed tactics. I hate detailed tactics. But, these are high level creatures with A LOT of powers. A few words of advice, up front, on some typical plans, would seem to be in order. It doesn’t have to be long but a few words of advice would seem to be in order, if only to get the full value out of the creatures who have such control over the earth. And, “will passwall away” is not really substantial. Again, not a lot needed, but SOMETHING. Demons, Devils, genie, all powerful creatures with a lot of spell-like abilities could use a few words in adventures when they come up.
The descriptions in this adventure are an issue. Well, not more than most adventures, but, the designer, here, actually tried. And failed. But, they tried, I’ll put in more effort than usual in describing them.
This is a palace. We might think of it as an opulent, or perhaps elegant palace. Imagine walking in to one of those “palaces turned museum” in europe and then trying to write a description that communicates the opulence of what you experience. Hard, right? Right. The designer is trying, hard. They give a little read-aloud section in each room (and each room has its own page, sometimes two, keeping the page turning to a minimum.) Well, usually short read-aloud. Some rooms have three to four sentences (yeah!) and some have a lot more, approaching a quarter of a page. And, this is in an attempt to mention everything in the room in a way that will be evocative.
Which generally fails. It’s quite hard to convey the feel of a room by using more detail. I get it. You want people to enter and be WOW’d! But, more doesn’t help with that. Less, is how you achieve that. You want to communicate impressions, first impressions, anyway, and then use the DM text to follow up on that to provide more detail. That’s not a universal rule, but, in an overstuffed environment, its probably good advice.
Further, the read-aloud over describes. Again, I think this is in an attempt to really WOW the players and stun them with the environment. But, it also kills the back and forth between player and DM that is so essential in an RPG. You don’t really want to tell the party that there is a large (boring word!) gilded chandelier adorned with large (boring word!) crystal shards. Not in the read aloud. You want to leave the impression of opulence, maybe mention A chandelier, and then, in the DM text, note it. Especially if the feature is interactive or important to the room. The read-aloud noting that a fresco is of “a princely genie riding a winged serpent” is too much info. Maybe “A yellowish fresco” is more appropriate.
Treasure is quite light for an adventure this high level. Magic items are all boring book things. “Rope of entanglement.” Great. Consider me awed. Well, there is an artifact, but, hey, more please?
It does a couple of nice things. It notes window locations up front, for non-front-door parties. It also puts a scale to things that is generally unusual. Almost everything in the adventure is BIG, seven to ten feet tall. And it puts levers and buttons and secret door mechanisms up high and does other things communicate the scale well. It’s not quite overwhelmingly, Id’ still say its done a little too subtly, but, again, it is trying more than most adventures.
When buying this I thought it would either be great or a shitshow. Turns out it is neither. The designer tried, more than usual. The descriptions are a little boring and over described. It could use a little more guidance for the DM, and treasure is boring also. But, it’s also A LOT closer to being a high level adventure than most of the ones I see, with no gimping, and correctly noting the social element. One more page of advice and some tough editing off the descriptions and an overhaul of the treasure would turn this in to a decent high level adventure.
This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. The last page shows you room one, to give you an idea of the writing style and layout. It’s a good overview of what to expect.