Death Ship of the Roach Princess

By Matt Finch
Frog God Games
S&W
Levels 1-3

A mysterious ship in the city’s harbor holds terrifying secrets … and the characters are trapped on board! This plane-shifting, roach-infested, puzzle-laden adventure offers fabulous riches, but also offer a fate worse than death.

This 34 page adventure uses fifteen pages to describe fifteen or so relatively complex locations on a ship that is also an interdimensional nexus. It plays with a couple of D&D concepts, and shows an understanding of the player motivation. It is also plagued by the Frogs house style which does absolutely nothing to help the understanding of the adventure or running of the game. At least they got the right cover on this one.

So, listening to my critics, I spent more than 30 minutes this morning picking out a new adventure to review. SOME readers seem to think that its my lack of research that leads me to the issues I have with quality. “What did you expect, Bryce?” is a common refrain. We shall see, in this mornings experiments, gentle readers! I dig in and passed Morg Borg after Troika adventure, with appealing descriptions and covers and previews that indicated they were probably the usual crap. Multiple Starry Knight, Filbar, Joseph Mohr, and more. Pamphlet dungeons, two page dungeons, four page dungeons. All passed by. I skipped Frog God dungeons. “This time it’s gonna be different!” I told myself. Then I spotted something that looked interesting, clicked on it … and immediately saw it was Frog God. I went back. Then, it struck me. It had Finch’s name on it! I went back. Yup. Matt Finch. Someone who knows what the fuck they are doing. Perhaps, gentle reader, he can overcome the apathy of the publisher to deliver something quality?

If you played the first adventure in the series then you See a Ship In The Harbour to investigate, or if not you hear from another sailor about a large crate of gold rowed over yesterday … and it’s assumed to want to loot it. You row over to the ship to find it essentially empty, except for a few notable items. First, there are a fuck ton of roaches on the ship, more than usual, by  lot. Not monster swarm territory, but, still, a FUCK TON. Second, There’s a bunch of dudes in the rowers hold whose hands are melted in to the oars. They saw you’re trapped here, just like they are. Seems like you’re in a Zeno’s Paradox situation if you try to leave, oh, and also, you’ve got about three days to escape the ship before you melt in also. Finally, that big pile of crates in the corner? It’s in the shape of a spiral making a portal to someplace else, and each one has some gold ingots in it. That’s the first six rooms “of the ship.”

Thus Finch turns on its head a trope of D&D. Two, actually, and he states this up front in his designers notes. You get the treasure FIRST, but you need to get out with the treasure, you need to escape. This pushes you in to exploration. And this is the second trope: the escape adventure. Generally this starts with the party being prisoners, etc, or some other hackneyed idea. This, though, turns that on its head. Rather than a punishment escape, as most of these adventure types are, this adventure is a reward escape: you’ve already got the gold, essentially. Your motivations are different and therefore the vibe is different. And … there’s the three day timer at the end hanging over you. (I have a hard time seeing that as an issue. Maybe its an explicit pushback against sleeping for spells after every encounter, for OSR, 5e, or Pathfinder?)

You then go through the spiral crates and find extradimensional spaces, with more spiral places to explore. These places you find tend to be a large cavern or mini-complex of rooms, generally with a couple of other spiral exits. You encounter roach monsters, cultists, and some sphere of annihilation-like traps while searching for the command words that will let you bring the ship back to reality … at least enough to escape with the gold.

It’s imaginative and interesting. The roach element could have been played up more in the rooms. As it stands there are a couple of roach swarm monsters and a note for the DM to emphasize the roaches in their description. More support could have been included for that statement. It feels like, otherwise, its just going to get lost the way so many other environmental issues get lost in a game. 

There’s also a bit of exposition dump in the adventure. The doomed oarsmen, up front, explaining things, is the first big dump. I get it, you need to explain the whole trapped/doomed fate thing, but it feels a bit much. And then I’m thinking of the “Memory roach brains” locale, with more exposition dump. Two very big dumps that, I believe, could have been spread out a bit more. I know WHY they are there: you’ve got to get the party headed towards their goals … or even know that there is a goal to head to, but they come across as exposition and/or monologue.

And then there’s the Frogs format. They never met a Wall Of Text that they didn’t love. With a small font. It feels like they are trying some techniques to get past this. There are a coupe of instances of bullet points, particularly when someone has information to relate. There’s also an attempt to divide the larger areas up in to smaller sections. Think a big cave with a general overview description that hints at other parts of the cave … like murals on the north wall or inky blackness on the west well … with those two areas both getting their own descriptions. This FEELS like an attempt to break the rooms up in to more manageable sections … while still working within the confirms of the selected format. That’s laudable. And it still doesn’t work very well. A stronger/any attempt to explain the overall “flow” of the adventure would have been helpful also. There are multiple command words that do different things found in different areas with different impacts. It’s not OVERLY complex, but its also not immediately intuitive … the way gibberish words can tend to be. A little extra help in this section would have been useful. 

So, Finch knows what he’s doing. It’s not just a hack and there’s shit to fuck with and, if run properly, a decently fucked up vibe. But I don’t think it supports the DM very well to do that, and you’ll need a fucking highlighter, again.

This is $11 at DriveThru. I enjoy the Frogs hubris. You might take a look at the last page of the six page preview to see if the formatting style fits your needs. It doesn’t mine; it feels like work.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/346989/Death-Ship-of-the-Roach-Princess-Swords-and-Wizardry?1892600

This entry was posted in 5e, Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Death Ship of the Roach Princess

  1. squeen says:

    It’s a pity Finches brilliance with adventure design seems to be trapped inside the Frog’s poor formatting and production—just like the crew of this ship.

  2. Gus L. says:

    Sounds a bit like a Zzachrov adventure. Creative, built around a core idea, but with issues related to the author and editors long working history in games. I think I got a similar feel from City of Tears. Well thought out, but fighting layout and densely keyed. Felt like something everyonevwould love in 2013, but a bit dated .in 2019.

    I suspect it’s two fold really. I have a wild theory … but it just might work! First, writing novel stuff and/or complex locations naturally takes more words then writing up another hole full of orcs and offloading description onto implied setting. Second, Finch is an early/mid period OSR writer. He started doing his design before the community cared (as) much about layout and key design. Perhaps it’s the professionalization of old school rpg adventure production, and certainly after 2016’s Mazey Blue megadungeon, concise keying, bullet points, visual aides and such became a sort of standard for late OSR design — something to hold up and compare favorably to 5E’s overwritten, confusing tomes.

    Finch, or more likely Frog God don’t seem to have gotten on board or learned any new tricks as community standards for usability features shift. How does the density and style of this compare to much loved Finch stuff like Tomb of the Iron God?

    • Gnarley Bones says:

      Or, more likely, they have no care for the conceits of a splinter group of their target market, which is already a splinter group.

      Even more likely, if not certain: Good editors in our niche hobby are hard to find.

    • Chris Hall says:

      I didn’t think the text density of this is too bad, actually. I backed it on indiegogo. Tomb of the Iron God has a more traditional map which I think makes it easier to key individual areas in a condensed way. The areas in this are all interconnected so there’s a lot of supplemental info to include to tie one “room” to the next.

      I think the Zzarchov comparison is very astute. It feels very much like one of his adventures, except this has more of Finch’s classic sword and sorcery feel. Although City of Tears does feel more like that I guess.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I have exp with this. Nit well, og is way better in that it is default similar to Monkey tech megadungeon forgot the name

    New iron God is bad, interesting warriors come out to play directors cut comic book style

    But harder to usr

    Interested to see Bryce on your latest Gus! You write long with fewer locations. Is length always bad?

    The one I bought was 65 pages I think

    • Gus L. says:

      I do tend to write long keys by 10ft pole standards. To some degree for the reason I posted above about wanted to avoid Gygaxian vernacular fantasy – you gotta explain more if you can’t trust the referee to fill in as much. I also like a very densely keyed location full of puzzles, because it helps with session time constraints by giving players something to mess with every session and works well with faster resource depletion via hazard die mechanics.

      However, I am also a verbose creature of the mid-OSR period, and key organization is always a struggle (especially with aesthetic and play style preferences that require denser keys). I’ve tried to get my keys into better formats lately for usability. Having an editor(s) helps, but the main reason my most recent adventure is 20ish rooms and 60 pages is that it’s got a setting (or at least some rules and a town) in the appendix, several pages of referee aides, and a lot of art. It’s less then a page per key, unless a big table gets involved.

      Not sure it fits with Bryce’s style but I am happy with it and its intentional rather then pure habit.

  4. grodog says:

    Hmmm. I’d heard of this title, but that was it. Will perhaps check it out, thanks!

    Allan.

  5. Dave says:

    Looks tagged wrong. Cover says S&W, tag is 5e.

    From the text of the review I was half expecting a No Regerts. Tag that however you like of course, but the substance of the review doesn’t sell me off it.
    .
    I do like the cover.

  6. Chris Hall says:

    Thanks for giving this one a look. I mentioned it on the To-Do List back in June. I think the main thing it’s missing is a two-page spread with global flowchart showing how the interstices connect and where the keywords are. Otherwise I didn’t find it too text-heavy. There are five pages of player handouts that I thought were helpful. There’s a little work to put in, sure, but I liked the theme. I think it’s a good example of how to do something conceptually creative for low-level PCs which is rare.

  7. Gnarley Bones says:

    Now that’s a title!

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