By Joseph Bloch BRW Games Adventures Dark and Deep Levels 1-3
The peaceful hamlet of Volage is beset by evil. Nestled on the edge of the High Vale in the shadow of the great Sesve Forest, the farmers and artisans of this small community have reported inexplicable happenings; cattle suffering from strange murrains, mysterious fires that seemingly start from nothing, crops rotting in the fields before they can be harvested, and more besides. There are whispers of witchcraft about. You and your companions have heard of these troubles and journeyed thither to root out the cause of these evils an bring peace and plenty back to the sleepy village.
This sixteen page adventure has a good idea but features a village in which nothing happens. Oh, it’s SUPPOSED to be about a shadow war between two different coven of witches, but how the fuck the party arrives at this is beyond my comprehension. I do know, though, that the local lumber yard specializes in making ax handles. Joy.
Consider the humble witchfinder. Arriving at a village, using harsh questioning techniques, maybe just burning all of the village women at the stake just to be sure. After this adventure I feel a certain understanding for how they came to that. I’m not excusing it, but, I believe I can now offer at least an explanation of how they got that point in their lives. And knowing is half the battle. COOOBRA!
The party of level ones (for, this is a level one adventure, as plainly stated in the text, in spite of it saying levels one to three on the cover) arrives at the village. You heard there was witchcraft here and you’re here to sort it out, being that kind of people, I guess. There’s no local lord to take care of it, so, I guess no one is paying their taxes. Seems like some enterprising and belligerent local worthy should look in to changing that situation. But, we’re not playing with the morality of the time, we’re playing with the bougie morality of the modern era. So, you’re here, says the intro, to stop dem witches!
Why? No one in the village is asking. No one outside the village is asking. Meh, whatever.
We then get a listing of some of the buildings in the village. Nineteen. The tavern, some farms, the lumberyard. At this point I want to say that absolutely none of these buildings have nothing going on. That’s wrong, but it’s also right. There’s a burned out farm with a ghost in it. He wants his barn to finish being built, seeing as it wasn’t completed before he died. And about half the houses have a witch in it. This is explained in a format something like “Frank, Marthy and their kids Mary and Sue. Mary and Sue are witches of the Broken Claw coven.” That’s what you get. Run the fucking adventure, chump! That’s what I mean by nothing actually going on. There’s a shine in the forest where one of the covens has rituals. You’re somehow supposed to find out that there’s a coven of witches in the village and find out that’s where they do things. But there is NOTHING in the fucking village to support this.
Which, again, isn’t exactly true. There’s a rumor table. One of them says something about people going in to the forest at night to that old shrine. Another has Mary & Sue sneaking off to the forest at night sometimes to meet boys. Out of twenty rumors. That’s it. Oh, there are woodsmen in the village. You could question them, I guess, if there’s anything out in the woods. That’s kind of rando, and they don’t talk to outsiders, but, I guess you could do that But, not with the elves, strangely. The group of elves who visit are even more insular than the woodsmen.
A minor complaint: the witch coven is led by a 4th level cleric and 6th level cleric. I guess that’s cool for level ones to combat? Along the same lines, fuck, everyone and their brother in this is weird. The elves are insular, but there’s a friendly centaur merchant? Everyone in the village has some kind of magic item or is, like Level four? What up with that? The drunk dude in the tavern is a level 4 barbarian with 35 HP!
But, back to the main point of bitch: NOTHING. IS. GOING. ON.
You get a series of up front things. A family was killed six months ago. Some cattle and sheep were slaughtered. All of the cats in the village died one morning. Rats ate all the grain in a dudes silo. The miller got sick and took a month to recover. This is ALL the secret war, but, there is NOTHING to support ANY of this. Do the two fucking covens know each other exist? Who knows. I guess it’s implied they do? What do the individual members know? Those locations have NO details about the events that took place. Just the shit I already types is relayed again. “All my grain was eaten by rats,” How the fuck do you run something from that? There are no village personalities. No inciting events. No conspiracies. No plots. Absolutely NO potential energy.
This is not how you write one of these things. These things should be like a gas factory, with open vats and barrels of gas. Lit by candles. With cookfires everywhere. That’s what the fucking village should be like. You look at it and you say “Oh, yeah, thats not good …” And then the traveling demo team for the local fireworks manufacturer shows up. The Party. “Hello sir and/or madam, please allow us to demonstrate our MR SPARKY”
You want things going on. You want potential energy. You want relationships between the villagers, some related to the situation and some not. You want things going on. You want the villagers to be super tense and on edge. You want suspicion falling on the lumberjacks. You want the elves to a serious contender of suspicion, by the villagers and party. You wants the fucking to be up to things. You want the sites of the former action to have a clue or something about who was behind it. You want a good innocent victim witch burning while screaming curses. You want this place HOPPING with potential energy. You want the fucking Montagues and Capulets going at it in a cold war in the village while all of this is going on. Ok, so, maybe not all that. But you want a SITUATION.
But what you get, here, are boring facts. There’s nothing to riff one. “Mary & Sue are witches.” Well, great. There’s NO Dm support at all in this adventure. “You should heighten paranoia and foreboding among the party,” GREAT! Yes, you should! But the adventure offers absolutely NO support for this beyond “make the players make random saving throws.” Ug!
What we DO get is loads and loads and loads of useless information that, I suppose, is supposed to fire our imagination. Like the lumberyard specializes in ax handles and pieces of furniture. Uh … Or that the blacksmith spends most of their time shoeing horses and making nails. Or that Franks cattle barn is only open for lodging in the summer months since in the winter he keeps his cattle in there. This is TEXTBOOK example of How To Not Write. This might all be true. It might all be accurate. But it does NOTHING for the adventure. And, yet, the designer spent time writing those words INSTEAD of putting in the potential energy and situations that would have led to a good adventure.
And don’t give me any of that Bryce only wants nonstop fireworks” shit. No, I don’t. I’m fucking useing hyperbole. But there has to be fucking SOMETHING going the fuck on in the fucking village so you can go get killed by those level 4/Level 6 clerics at the forest fucking shrine.
We are, however, told, that “Most of the inhabitants are of Aeridian extraction with a bit of Zhul, most of the families originally hailing from Furyondor, and a few from Velhana and Perrengaard.” But, they all get along now. How nice!
A hidden witch war in a village in trysts, love affairs, rivalries, shit simmering under the surface. That could have been good. Instead we get the winter farming rules of Frank the herder with “Mary & Sue are witches of the Cloven Claw.”
Fun fact: I get Joseph Bloch and Joseph Mohr confused. They are the same person, in my head. They are not. Bloch at least knows what roleplaying is. Doesn’t support the DM at all, but, knows what roleplaying games ARE.
This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages, one of which is fucking cover. How the fuck does that help me make a purchasing decision? Especially since I can already see in the product listing? The last page describes the woodsmen. It is, I think, some of the more useful information in the adventure. Which is not to say it IS useful, but at least there’s SOMETHING.
“Most of the inhabitants are of Aeridian extraction with a bit of Zhul, most of the families originally hailing from Furyondor, and a few from Velhana and Perrengaard.” – what the actual f**k is a Zhul in the firs place, how is that different from Aeridian extraction and how does that matter for anything in this adventure?
Someone desperately needs to learn that worldbuilding must SERVE the story – and by story i mean THE GAME THAT PLAYERS FUCKING ARE AT.
And some people seriously expect gamers to pay for that stuff, really….
Sounds like someone’s trying to rip off World of Greyhawk, to tell you the truth.
I don’t understand what the motive would be to put this crap in the adventure. I mean, if it’s your own world and you want to show it off, at least I can understand that (but please don’t do that). Instead this campaign setting sounds like hackwork of the worst sort. “Sesve Forest”, “Furyondor”, “Velhana”, “Perrengaard”. GAG!
It is either a ripoff or an homage to the Village of Hommlet, clearly, and apparently duplicates its flaws.
I never knew what to do with the agents of the Viscount of Furyondor-I-mean-Furyondi-I-mean-Verbobonc or the Archcleric of Velhanna-I-mean-Veluna, or the alleged tension between the followers of St. Cuthbert and the druid. None of the villagers had any kind of religious or other beef with each other, they were all in the militia together and their leaders were all on the village council. Mentzer may have referred to Hommlet as “filled with intrigue” in ToEE, but I could never see it.
Also, worth mentioning that Lareth was 5th level and his lieutenant was 4th level, and the drunk in the bar was a 4th level ranger, so the levels are close to par.
Yeah but at least Hommlett had the spies and I could kinda see the Clerics & the Druids not trusting each other/not trusting the party depending on who they had accepted help from/possibly being convinced to work together in a pinch…
It had the spies in the inn, the dodgy traders, the saboteurs in the castleworks- all those are things to happen or get mixed up in. PC’s WILL stay at the inn, PC’s will PROBABLY try to buy horses if they get some cash, they MAY get suspicious of accidents at the building site or come back to find Rufus & Burne have strung a dude up from a gibbet…
There’s plenty of avenues for pc’s to get mixed up in the “wheels within wheels” of Homlett over time as they go back & forth from the moathouse & begin showing up on peoples radar.
Right, and this has about half the houses with a witch in them. Having team evil present, without having them do anything or contribute to the tension, doesn’t really add much. In Hommlet the traders are obviously evil (and too expensive) and players avoid them like the plague. And sure there are spies, but what is there for them to spy on, other than the (unremarkable) presence of adventurers in the village?
Hommlet bills itself as having several factions, but really it has has two factions. Except that the good faction is clueless, so effectively it has one faction. It isn’t wheels within wheels. It isn’t even wheels. It is a wheel. Which only turns if the players make it turn.
BTW there are no saboteurs in the castle works. I think that a lot of the things we “remember” about Hommlet are part of the collective lore that has built up over years of discussion of the module, and incorporate things that DMs have added over the years but were not in the original or ToEE.
At least this thing has a rumour table. Hommlet has dozens of lovingly rendered villagers who can’t tell you a damned thing.
Since we can’t reply infinitely many levels deep, this is actually for Beoric:
“BTW there are no saboteurs in the castle works.”
T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil, TSR (c) 1985
pg 14, #32. TENTS AND WATTLE HUTS
… One of the laborers is an agent evil, spying on this activity for the traders (area 13).
So, maybe not literally a saboteur, but close enough. (I got rid of my copy of T1 as being redundant, so maybe it wasn’t there in the earlier Hommlet standalone?)
There was a saboteur in the CRPG version from the early 2000s
Dead wrong on Hommlet Beoric. There is a ton there and is meshes together beautifully. Just a little of reading between the lines and getting on the right wavelength is all it takes. It just doesn’t spoon feed you.
He may have wanted to make a Greyhawk compatible adventure
I wanted to read this review, but there was just a big fiery hole in my screen.
The “spy” at #32 is also in the standalone. Never played the CCRPG so I guess I just assumed/moved him onto sabotage as the castle progressed & pc’s began damaging temple operations. I kind of saw it like the building of the castle represents the return of law, settlement. Lareth doesn’t want that to happen- he wants to restore the moathouse and dominate the area.
The finished castle will
make good far more formidable.
Anyway if you read Homlett and _didn’t_ pick up any ways for the party to get caught up in intrigues, make alliances, enemies, mobilise all those militia folk mentioned… Then you read it /reacted different to me.
Agree a quick summary/NPC rundown/rumour table= all generally useful things not included & would improve ease of use.