The Well – No ArtPunk #2

Number two in an eight-part series. 

This is a compilation of the best eight entries from Prince’s recent No ArtPunk contest. Basically, you had to use published monsters, magic items, etc, with one unique allowance allowed in each category. Settle in, I’m reviewing one adventure at a time. Also, I admit that an orgy of women, wine, bread, circuses, and self-absorbed loathing kept me from reading Prince’s commentary earlier. So I’m going in to this blind. Let’s see what “winning” entries look like, shall we?

The Well
Jon Bertani
Levels 1-4

This fifteen page adventure uses about eight pages to describe a temple with about 25 rooms and a few surrounding wilderness areas. A primitive frontier setting has a very Harn-like feel … but is too wordy and … cumbersome in its language for me to love this special-ops assault.

A dude walks out of the forest and gives you a tallystick. “Show up in the village of Pigsty by noon on the 25th and you may get an inheritance.” You show up to find a village out of 13th Warrior, all wooden palisades on the frontier-like. Indeed, even the village chieftain is a too-old warrior. But, shown the tallystick, he greets you with respect! There’s something fucking different! Finally, we don’t have the fucker in the throat 137 times! You’ve inherited a farmstead! He warns you the frontier is dangerous and sends a man to show you. Arriving, you find the gates hacked down, brigands looting, and the big mastiff dog shot and whimpering! Bastardi! Shall you track them back to their lair to recover your livestock? A small overland adventure ensues, with you finding an old temple facade in the side of a mountain. You then transition to a spec-ops sneak-in, probably, and then the usual  hack-fest when the gig is up. 

This is a hard adventure to review. It’s not my thing. But it is my thing. It’s a very frontier-like adventure. There’s a vibe of wooded palisades surrounding towns, tribesmen in the hills, danger over the next hill, lumberjacks and so on. 

Or, at least, that’s what the vibe is SUPPOSED to be. It comes off more than a little bland. The individual elements are there, a little bland, but they don’t seem to work together well. There’s a whorehouse in town. The madam is a fat rotund woman who treats her girls well. Ok. So … pretty bland description. The next thing described in town are the lumberjack mill. Ah! Now I get it! The lumberjacks are over the whores at the whorehouse! You don’t get this from the adventure. There’s no inference, explicit or explicit. The whorehouse isn’t rowdy. Or full of lumberjacks, or anything like that.You, the DM, have to make that connection. The old lord in his hall, the description never mentions his daughter … just provides her stat block. Make of it, riff off of it, as you will. Which I can appreciate! … to a degree.

The entire adventure is like that. Everything in it. You find your livestock taken off. What do you do? Go back to town? (And, the town is 1 mile from the farmstead currently being raided by the brigands … uh … shouldn’t that play some part in what is going on in town? I guess not?) What this needed was just a little bit more in each area. A small amount of riffing from one area to the next. More colorful interactions, like a better description of the whorehouse. As is, it, and the rest of the descriptions, are a little generic. Not vanilla, but generic. Here’s the whorehouse:

“A two-story stone structure with colorfully painted shutter. The sign hanging over the entrance shows an image of a shapely woman. This is a brothel, run by a middle aged woman named

Mother Eddith. She’s a woman of ample form and a pleasant face. Her workers are well cared for here and learn other life skills as well. They earn a measure of the coin they make and may leave at any time they so choose, just so long as they don’t open up

their own business in town. Eddith is one of the wealthiest people in town. She has one guard, her son Igmus, a simple minded giant of a man. He considers all the working girls his siblings and will protect them to the best of his abilities, which when angered are quite formidable.”

The elements are there. The madam. The son. His sibling relationship. But that’s it. The interactivity is not present. The color from the rest of the town. The town and wilderness encounters absolutely fall in to this, and the templebrigand lair less so but still. 

You eventually track them back to their lair, a facade in the side of a mountain. Turns out its an old dwarf temple. With a symmetrical map. Ug! We do get an alternate entrance, behind a waterfall. (Yeah!) What follows is kind of a harn-like assault on a mostly linear map. You will attempt to sneak in, kill guards and hope the alarm isn’t raised, eventually finding a pitched battle. 

Descriptions inside are much the same as the town: a tad bland. Intellectual? The latrine tells us that “This room is fouled with the stink of offal. It’s obvious the bandits are using this area to as a latrine and toss other waste here. Rats scurry away into cracks in the walls when light is brought here.” The writing is a little … hoity? High-handed? There’s no viscereality to it.  There are better example of thes in the adventure, such as: “A triangular fire pit burns with low oddly coloured flames. The flickering flames reveal an arc of runes upon the wall.” This is not the worst writing. But it comes off a little forced and as an academic version. “The flickering flames reveal” is a little too tash trope literary. It FEELS forced, rather than natural. And because of that I think it comes off as uninspiring.

Eventually the bandits are defeated and/or hidden parts of hte temple are revealed, with their dwarven challenges and rituals, or caverns with the newt-people in it. (Which seems a little out of place. I get adding secrets. I love that. It just seems to be missing some potential. Like, lets rally them to help defeat the bandits or something … but they seem almost an afterthought, thrown in at the last moment. 

Individually, the elements here are quite good. The lumberjacks keeping an elf captured in their basement to torment until he reveals his treasure. The shot dog. The newtmen. But they just don’t seem to work together. It’s the academic language of Harn creating an academic environment. And I get it … that’s a genre. I mean, the place is full of humans and ½ orcs, with an occasional small number of bestial orcs and an ogre tossed in … textbook examples of my preference for humans as opponents with a spash of bestial humanoids. But, together, it doesn’t ring true. A little too much explaining. A need to cut at least a third of the words, if not more, and bring the language down to more evocative descriptions and away from the academic or Harn and AS&SH. And … a hard fight for level 1’s.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a suggested price of $10. Proceeds are going to the Autism Research Institute. A subtle dig?

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25 Responses to The Well – No ArtPunk #2

  1. Commodore says:

    I saw the choice of charity as a mild self-depricating joke on Prince’s part, actually, but I know people who have had their kid genuinely helped by the ARI so I am all for it.

    I really loved this wilderness, especially the farmstead and the hook associated with it. Bertani’s suggested level range is a little wide I think, the whole thing works best I think as a second level+ adventure, with that farm title a reward for earlier activity. Level 1s will get hammered.

    • PrinceofNothing says:

      A while back I did a Mork Borg review and I was (accidentally?) reblogged by a guy named Autismcandles, who makes scented candles to raise autism awareness. I asked him if there was some way I could help out that did not involve either social media or importing scented candles from overseas. This is the result.

      I figured why not combine the two and do something for a good cause while comissioning these adventures.

      Merry Christmas!

    • Jonbar says:

      Thank you Commodore. This began as an entry level adventure for some new players at my table. Then I saw Prince’s challenge and figured I’d flesh it out bit, though it could certainly use some more detail work.

  2. Ruprecht says:

    In the review you mentioned Harn-Like twice. I bought up nearly everything Harn and GM’d a group across the misty islands for more than a decade and I’m not really sure what you mean. Is this something I’ve missed from previous reviews?

    • Dave says:

      I assume he just means he dislikes Harn, and/or Harn’s writing style.

      Which I guess is fair enough to note, but sounds like more of a personal preference than an objective measure.

      Except for slightly dry writing, the adventure might be better than Bryce is making it out to be. Except I’m having to guess at that too, the review tangles things up.

      • Commodore says:

        Collection is free, so easy to check out for yourself. I’ve found stuff to mine from all eight for what it’s worth.

      • ruprecht says:

        That certainly fits with the Harn-like wilderness comment and the Academic comment at the end but it was the “harn-like assault” into the enemy stronghold that had me scratching my head.

        He probably meant the dry style but harn-like could also have meant Harnmaster style with overly gritty limb-chopping excess.

      • It’s actually very good stuff. I could definitely run this. The descriptions are succinct, but convey more than enough to get my own words flowing, which is really the voice my players need to hear. Bryce is writing a diary of his personal impressions, but doubtless knows his reviews carry a treasure trove of useful information of value to others (and that others may like what he personally didn’t). It took me a while to get that…

        • Reason says:

          Yeah I credit Bryce for making me think harder about usability. And his reviews are fun to read. But the real value came once I understood what exactly _he_ was looking for & his definitions of that, vs some things I’d run that he’d also reviewed so had some ability to cross reference my likes vs his.

          Because his are consistent, I can figure out my own lump it or like it from there.

          • Knutz Deep says:

            Good points guys. This is why an adventure that doesn’t garner a “The Best” or even “No Regerts” can still be a fine adventure worth using. Hell, even some of the stuff Bryce rates higher I would never use at my table. These reviews should be a starting point, not an ending point, for decisions on whether to use or not.

          • Anonymous says:

            Agreed. I miss Roger Ebert’s writing because he was such a damn good writer, but a great part of his value as a critic was that I understood him in the critical sense: his longevity and consistency meant that I could read a review, usually understand where it was coming from, and proceed from there. Critics need to build a relationship with their readers to have the greatest effectiveness, I think, and that only happens over time.

          • Jonbar says:

            Indeed, Bryce’s critiques certainly have helped the Merciless Merchants improve their material, this was not the first thrashing I’ve had with the 10ft pole…hah!

        • Jonbar says:

          Thanks, I put this little adventure together rather quickly to meet the Prince’s call to arms. And your observation is correct, I try not to color everything as it leaves more room for the DM to do as they will with it. Though I do appreciate feedback.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Harm vs harmaster eitmlia5?

    • ruprecht says:

      Harn was the setting. Harnmaster was the game designed to go with the setting. Thus the assault line could have meant the game which was nicknamed limb-master because of the lost limbs and such, rather than the setting.

  4. Shuffling Wombat says:

    Not really emphasised in the review, but the set up is dynamic. The inheritance aspect means it is the players’ farm that is being looted, their mastiff (charmingly called Hannibal) that is hurt. This helps investment in the adventure (and the several potential follow up scenarios). I’m with Olde House Rules regarding its worth. One caveat: until you reach the hidden areas of the temple,, treasure GP value is rather low.
    One of the better Dungeon Adventures, The Inheritance (26, also Road to Danger) had similar themes.

    • Jonbar says:

      Hannibal was a Great Dane our family had when I was a child. He was a great beast of a dog! As for the GP, I’m hearing that allot. And well, I hear if from my players too along with other griping. But we play a different system where XP is compensated in other ways. I need to be sure in future releases to correct this.

      • Shuffling Wombat says:

        I commented in more detail under Prince’s original review (about a week ago), but in summary, as an appetiser for Coppercore it works very well. Regarding awarding of XPs, I suspected as much. And if your players complain, you can counter “I gave you the farm, what more could you want?”

        • Jonbar says:

          I’ll go dig up you comments, I do appreciate constructive feedback. And most certainly this little adventure will be in the Coppercore setting. Actually many of our other releases are as well. Vermillion is the same world different setting.

  5. BACLF says:

    Is there a, you know, actual well in the adventure? Or is ‘well’ an adjective here? I’m reminded of the youngsters who, back in the Stone Age, thought that ‘keep’ in Keep on the Borderlands was a command.

  6. Jonbar says:

    Well now, that was a good thrashing with a 10ft pole…. Though I have no idea whom the often mentioned Harn is? And for those wondering, yes there is an actual Well. The amazing cover art I provided would be a depiction of it…Cheers

    • PrinceofNothing says:

      It was a very detailed low-fantasy rpg that came out in the 80s. Huge focus on versimilitude, ocean currents, wind, cultures, everything.

      • Jonbar says:

        Back in the 80’s, were you even gaming back then Prince..? I hope you and yours have had a Merry Christmas and may we all share in a Adventurous New Year…!

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