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?
Tower of the Time-Master Ben Gibson Levels 1-3
A pale blue glow surmounts the weathered tower. The gentle babble of the nearby brook is drowned out by an alien cry from above. A shadow passes over the sun as a strange beast launches itself from the high crenellations. Beware, for the pets of the Time Master seek intruders to his domain.
This fifteen page adventure uses ten pages to describe ten levels of a wizards tower, each with about five to nine rooms. Ben has a style that allows him to describe expansive areas with a minimal of fuss, and that’s on display here. I think he could have done more, with the space he allotted himself, to make the place seem more alive.
Ben tends to write at a relatively high level. Not abstracted, and not an outline, but rather close to an outline of an adventure. Or, in this case, the outline of a room. This style, generally done well by him, allows him to cover a lot of ground. Grand sweeping adventures contained in only fifteen pages, with enough information for the DM to run many,many sessions from it. It’s a fine line between writing down your idea for an adventure, an outline for one, and providing the DM what they need to run an adventure but at a high level, and its one that Ben usually gets right.
We can see that here. Ten levels in ten pages, with five to nine rooms per page, a style that is NOT minimally keyed, and relatively interesting environments to explore. That’s a lot of ground to cover in that number of pages … and yet it generally works in this.
This place is local wizards tower. The villages around it pay homage. The locals might work as guards there. He ostensibly pays fealty to some lord somewhere. The hooks and rumors reflect all of this. This is not a ruined tower, or some place out in the wilderness, but the local wizards abode. The hooks are a great variety, that, I note, allow the party to approach the adventure from different avenues. Is this is a raid, a diplomatic mission, a sneak thief? The variety of hooks each provide a different reason for poking your nose in to this place … something that, I think, is seldom seen in adventures. Very nice job on their variety. Or, perhaps, I mean, the different play styles they would enable.
You get one page per tower level, with a map on that page the five to nine keyed locations for that level also located on the page. There are a few extra pages to note NPC relationships, guard rotations, and the wide variety of entry and exit points to the tower.
This, itself, is interesting. The map goes out of its way to note exterior windows and doors. Balconies and the like exist. You can pick your poison for entry, even going so far as to risk a grapnel to the Aviary. Multiple stairs and exist between levels are inside the tower also, as well as trapdoors and vertical shafts. This helps with the verticality of the adventure, allowings for something other than a straight-line adventure up or down. And, quite an impressive feat for a single page per level.
Interactivity is good, with NPC’s to talk to and interact with, and various weird things that will need to be fucked with .. or not. The tone here is very similar to G1, with mundae things given a slight twist … like a t-rex with ruby eyes … and ans snapping jaws. Or a skull that begs to be placed on the neck of a body … promising all of the secrets of the universe if you do so. That’s my kind of guy!
There are, I think, a couple of areas that could be better.
Bens descriptive style works well for grand sweeping adventures and slightly less so for these smaller venues. (Where a ten level tower is defined as “smaller”) It’s not that its bad, or unwieldy, but that it lends itself to slightly less evocative imagery. I assert that this is a self-imposed limitation … which I shall elaborate on in a bit. Ben also notes the guard rotations of the floors in an upfront section … and they would better be noted in the individual level descriptions, on those pages proper. As it is now, there’s page flipping or jotting down notes … and there’s room on the pages more information.
Speaking of things missing … it feels like the format is limiting. Or that Ben put limitations on himself. There is room, spacious room, on many of the level pages. This could be exploited to bring more depth, or evocative writing, to the sparser room descriptions. The guard rotations/patrols were already mentioned. A grand hall with a description … but not noting the balcony around the top … because thats on an upper level? Kudos for the window notations, but the large gaps of whitespace just feel like they could have been exploited to better use.
Further while there are notes on the NPC’s present in the tower, they feel … dead? Static? They just don’t seem to have any life to them. Noting them up front and then noting, in the keyed encounters, that the cook is in this room … there’s just not any joie de vivre in them. Again, this feels like something that could have been spiced up in the room encounters, or even up front in the general NPC descriptions section.
And this is, I think, what I mean by the style being limiting. It’s great for the kind of grand & epic campaign that Ben can write … and it seems to be working less well for something like this, a more traditional room/key location place. He’s trying to do a lot here, ten fucking levels after all!, but it just never comes together and feels fully formed.
Almost there though!
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?