Caught in the Webs of Past and Present – (No ArtPunk #5?)

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?

Caught in the Webs of Past and Present
Gabor Csomos
Levels 4-6

This eighteen page adventure contains a two level ruined elven palace with about forty rooms. It’s got great evocative writing, knows how to write a room description for play at the table, and does a great job using basic and standard creatures and tropes to fresh effect. It is what we in the biz like to call “a good adventure.” 

A good adventure. What is that? Full of gonzo and breaking new ground? No, not at all. It doesn’t have to be that at all. I see a lot of adventures, ince I review a lot of adventures. There’s a common complaint, in reviewer culture, that reviewers only like the new and fresh. That’s not true. Reviewers, of all types, are not addicted to new and fresh. What they want is to see something REALIZED. A concept, fleshed out, and brought to life. Sometimes this is new and unique content. But it doesn’t have to be, and, in fact, it may be easier to NOT be new and fresh. I lament, frequently, the post-Tolkein age of fantasy where all fantasy looks generically the same. But at the same time I love the more folklore based stuff. It FEELS right, in a way that generic fantasy tropes do not. The issue is not it being folklore or trophy. The issues is someone realizing the vision. And Gabor Csomos realizes their vision. (Apologies to all of my non-English readers. Gabor has some of freaky foreign accent things in their name, the kind that scares Americans, and I’m too lazy to figure out how to make it work on my keyboard. So, please insert of random accent marks and pretend I’m not a lazy shit.)

There’s some elven ruins nearby. A part of adventurers chased a monster in them. They didn’t come out. A small series of hooks plays on this. Maybe they were your buds, and there’s thing where they came to aid a few times or buddied up to you in the bar, and now you kind of feel obligated to save them? GREAT hook, the kind of integrates in to the campaign through play, rather than “your mom got kidnapped” sort of BS. A hook that appeals to the PLAYERS. Or, the Iron Tyrant, an enemy of that party, wantsyou to go find their bodies/any survivors so they can properly punish them with a limetime of torture. Sweet! Those are some fucking hooks man! Great examples of a short, one or two sentence hook, that brings SO much more life to the adventure than the usual generic shit.

Our wanderers include an evil NPC party (Yeah! Gutboy parties are used nearly enough!) a troll, collecting stones to build a new bridge nearby, and a ghost who sometimes stares at you from a distance and sometimes tries to kill you. It’s name, in the statblock? The Strangling Ghost. FUCK YEAH! That’s how you add color to an adventure. Not ghost. Any fucking adventure can have a fucking ghost. STRANGLING ghost. One extra fucking word. Just one, and it brings that fucking dumb ass wandering monster encounter to life in a way that most designers could never even dream of. One fucking word. The RIGHT fucking word. That’s the key to this shit. Terse, evocative. It feels right. A troll with a bridge? Duh, right, exactly. How the fuck do you think bridges get byult in fantasy worlds? By trolls, of course!  Duh! It feels the fuck right, right? He’s not at his bridge though, that’s the trope. He’s building it, a little twist. Perfect.

“If you want to be a gladiator then act like a gladiator” says the OD&D advice for responding to player who want to be a gladiator. New D&D would have a bunch ofmechanicssurrounding it. OD&D says “act like one.” The vargouille on the wandering table. You know, the head/neck/spine/inestines monster? It’s elves. Or, rather, “the flying angry heads … of what used to be elves.” Because its an ancient elven ruin that’s been cursed, that’s why! No need for special rules or new monsters. Just theme the fucking perfectly and move the fuck on. 

Look, I can go on and on and on on this adventure. A staff floating in water with a clear blue gem on top. That’s a fucking magic item. You all know its a fucking magic item. How? Cause its fucking cool. It’s a cool fucking way to find something. It summons the cultural memory. And you’re right, it is a magic item. It’s a staff of fucking power with fifty fucking charges! Ex-fucking-caliber man! Fucking Epic!

The entrance to the complex are come vine covered columns with statues in them, and a saying. You are entering a new place. The mythic underworld. The body of a dead adventurer is full of wasp larvea inside. Gross! And exactly what SHOULD happen in a room with giant wasps in it. A risty metal statue stands outside of a rearing horse. Ispective characters may notice the ground aroun it frozen. Brown Mold! BECAUSE THaTS THE FUCK HOW IT WORKS! This is fucking perfect. You see the description, you don’t think brown mold, and then after you fuck up you’re like “fuck! Yes! It was obvious!”  And it’s just vanilla shit from the book. Valinna and generic are not the same, as this adventure points out time and again.

Formatting it good. The descriptions reveal enough to the party to follow up on and bolded keywords guide the DM to those elements. Traps are foreshadowed. There’s a fucking EVIL ass arena that stalks the party. It all makes perfect sense. The encounters FEEL fresh even though they are only book items. An alter to evil has a pentagram drawn in blood with a goat skull. BECAUSE THATS WHAT ALTERS TO EVIL LOOK LIKE!!! 

This adventure, alone, is worth the pice of adventure to the No Artpunk book.

A good adventure. Using only book items. Not the best adventure ever written. Not gonzo. Not special. Just a rock fucking solid examples of what a good adventure fod D&D looks like. Would that every adventure be like this!

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?

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

23 Responses to Caught in the Webs of Past and Present – (No ArtPunk #5?)

  1. PrinceofNothing says:

    This was the contest winner, so my reputation survives intact. Merry Christmas Bryce, and thank you for your tireless efforts to bring illumination to the huddled masses.

  2. TheChomy says:

    Thank you for the review, Bryce! I have to admit, it makes me real proud to make it to ‘the best’.

    There is one thing i have to mention though… “strangling” ghost is a book monster in Swords & Wizardry. That extra word was not an addition by me.

    Anyhow… wish you (and all the readers) a happy new year!

    • Tamás Illés says:

      Still, “acts like a fucking creep until he goes on rampage” is a much cooler behaviour than “the monster attacks”.

  3. Gnarley Bones says:

    the “head/neck/spine/inestines” monster is the pennanggalan. Vargouilles are the flying heads whose bites *permanently* drain hit points.

    /correction for no real reason

    Sounds great. I have to pick this up and read over the long weekend. Happy New Year nerds!

  4. Melan says:

    “Number two in an eight-part series.”

    We are never getting number eight, are we? 😀

    • Tamás Illés says:

      “Then shalt thou count to two, no more, no less. Two shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be two. Three shalt thou not count, neither count thou one, excepting that thou then proceed to two. Eight is right out!”

  5. Anonymous says:

    In the tradition of commenting and using names/mispellings of Bryce’s (ie Knutz Deep etc) I’m thinking of adopting “Valinna”.

  6. Kent says:

    I love modules. They drive me crazy with desire. Thank you for reviewing this module. You should do more reviews, you may have a knack for it.

    Also, thank you for providing a comment section for feedback. Look at these commenters, they are awesome. I have learned so much from these commenters.

    That makes two great things for 2022.

    1. Your reviews
    2. The Commenters

  7. The Heretic says:

    Another Gabor? Wait, how many Gabors are there!?!?

  8. Anonymous says:

    I imagine going to Hungary and it being SPARTACUS



  9. Anonymous says:

    Waiting for Zsa Zsa to show up

  10. Shuffling Wombat says:

    Good review. The adventure is well crafted, with an abundance of deadly traps, and a consistent sylvan theme, distinctively elven. Excellent features include: (i) annotated maps, duplicates and blanks; (ii) disease in a neglected area; (iii) rival adventurers/looters; (iv) well integrated puzzles.
    Marking up a copy of the maps is one of the things I do to prepare an adventure; referees might want to use (different) coloured lines to depict the retreats of the lost adventurers.

    The type is tending to small for my eyes; I would prefer the surface and dungeon maps to be on separate pages (and consequently bigger). There are a few typos: I will leave a list in the comments at Prince’s blog.

    Highly appropriate title, it captures the essence of what follows. (Cf. Pride and Prejudice.) A worthy winner.

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