Fractious Mayhem at Melonath Falls (No ArtPunk #8)

Number seven(?) 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?

Fractious Mayhem at Melonath Falls
Trent Smith
levels 3-5

This eighteen page adventure features four interconnecting cave systems around a waterfall with about forty or so rooms. A monster lair assault ala B2. It’s dense. It makes no apologies. 

Throw a dude a fucking bone Trent. Ok, so, let’s say your write the amazing adventure ever published. But you did it exclusively in iambic pentameter, in Inuit. And when people are like “Dude, can I get a version I can run?” you take a brief moment to glance at them and say quietly “fuck you.”

This is not the worlds greatest adventure. There is no explicit “fuck you” in it by the author. What it is, though, is a good adventure that is plagued by usability issues. And while I can’t be certain, it seems logical to assume that Trent knows about usability issues and has made a conscious choice to not worry too much about them.

This all means that I’m not running this adventure. Hey, this bottle of wine rates a 96 on Wine Review and costs $900/bottle. Or you can have this bottle that rates a 95 and runs $3 at Aldi. Look, that’s not a perfect analogy but you get where I’m going: why put up with X when I can have Y that is almost the same thing? Every adventure ever written is now available to a DM. This isn’t an appeal to the massive production values of the overly laid out monstrosities that haunt certain segments of the hobby. But, presumably, we share out works with others because we’d like them to get some use out of it. If they aren’t going to use it then what’s the purpose? Creation for the sake of creation? Sure. But that’s not an adventure. That’s a personal art project. It’s 2022. It’s time to beef up our formatting/layout/usability skills … just a little. I’m a firm believer that you can get to about 80% in about a week. Spend a week for a big step up.

It should be obvious where this review is going. I like this adventure. It’s a more intelligent B2, with a lot more depth to it. Four interconnecting cave systems with multiple paths through it. The maps have a good deal of variety and depth to them, loops, multiple paths, halls running over or under others. And the verticality of the waterfall itself. 

We’ve got a pretty traditionally lair complex. You’ve got the beast caves, made up of bullywugs and giant catfish/frogs/etc. You’ve got the rando monster cave ala the Owlbear in B2. Hook horrors in a cave cut off from the rest of the system. Then you’ve got the Xvart lair, with a fully fledged Xvart society. Women, kids, MU’s, stevedores, etc.

Who are gonna FUCK. YOUR. SHIT. UP. They busting out of secret doors. They got an order of battle. They ain’t taking no shit from the party. It’s quite the complex environment, replete with wererats doing their conspiracy shit, prisoners, and the like. 

And it’s all wrapped up in what is essentially a wall of text. I’m looking, right now, at a full colum of small text that describes the secret room of the wererat boss. It’s furnished with a bed, lounging chair, brazier, desk, rug, and chest, the text tells us. And then a LONG paragraph about how the assassins guild views him. And then one that starts by telling us that thened, chair rug and brazier are remarkable, though the rug has a resale value of 500gp, it’s encumbrance value. And on and on and on it goes. 

What we have here is minimalistic descriptions. The classic minimal description. Bed, rug, chair, brazier. But then, when something IS remarkable, then EVERYTHING about it needs to come out. Rooms are large, chambers are empty. Descriptions aer not evocative. But the entire thing is DESIGNED. This IS a xvart cave lair. The descriptions are not laundrylists of room contents. It’s not expanded minimalism. It’s a weird mix of minimalism and then picking a topic in the room and expanding on it, hidden depth style. 

It’s fookin DESNSE. And you’re not gonna get ANY help from the designer in running it. It is what it is and you’ll gonna have to live with it. Take it apart. Highlight the fuck out of it. Take copious notes. 

And I don’t do that anymore. That’s not what an adventure is to me. I’ll pick something else, equally good or better, that is easier for me to run.

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

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

7 Responses to Fractious Mayhem at Melonath Falls (No ArtPunk #8)

  1. Jonathan Becker says:

    It’s a behemoth of text, but at least it ain’t padding.

    I especially appreciate the critter stat blocks which *enhance* usability at the table (they include THAC0, damage, rate of fire (!) for missile weapon, and individual HP values that can be conveniently marked off as PCs whittle their way through the hordes. I should probably adapt this style for my own (house) adventure writing, just to cut back on page flipping at the table.

    But, yes, a little more bolding of text (for treasure), maybe the use of a color font for some details, or just increasing the damn letter size would definitely increase the ability to scan the document in play.

  2. Bigby's Affirmative Consent Lubed Fist says:

    Xvarts, so much like goblins they seem superfluous, are strangely compelling when one reads their ‘Fiend Folio’ description. I mean, 5% of them are level one or two magic-users? That’s way higher than is true of a by-the-book human society. What is it with these little blue meanies that they produce so many arcane scholars?

    Bravo for using them in an adventure.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Needed more artpunky evocative descriptions. “The Xvart chieftain’s loins quiver like pneumatic drills tumbling through measureless infinities. I was molested as a child.”

  4. PrinceofNothing says:

    This was the runner up. It is true that running it would require effort, however, I shall state that in my opinion is more then worth it. A complex map, an intricate scenario, cunning opponents, rich treasures, all of which may be tackled in a variety of ways. It is like a TSR scenario that never was, and a thumping good one at that.

    Still, 3 Best ofs, 1 No Regerts, not too shabby for a PWYW collection.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I just bought this. Thank you Prince for putting this together!!!!

  6. Shuffling Wombat says:

    I’ve had the pleasure of reading enough of Bryce’s reviews over the years to translate his preferences into something that is useful for me. And in this case, I tend to skip over the “usability is all” to get to the meat of the review. And what you find is a very fine adventure indeed. The cave system is intricate (although the maps are clear), and the referee will need to study the layout. There is good use of natural hazards; some of the lesser known magic items (marble elephant figurine anyone?) are present; tougher monsters concealed amongst weaker hordes; a false prisoner amongst those who might get rescued; above all, plenty of treasure (enough for level advances), although some is concealed or otherwise difficult to obtain, and there are some excellent challenging to earn boons. The statistics blocks are clear, and calculating the xps is a nice touch.
    Now and again the OSR produces a module that could have been put out in the heyday of TSR. In this case I would say this was a manuscript that never was, rather than an adventure, because it would be easier on the eye with bigger print, with artwork that breaks up the text (and inspires descriptions). Any victory will be well earnt, as the opponents have good tactics: an inexpert group is likely to come to grief, suffering ambushes and attacks from multiple directions. The referee had better remember the multiple attack fighter rules for less than 1HD creatures, and magic-users will need some sleep spells
    One old school feature that is missing is the rumour table, and the author has rectified this with a good one to be found at “The Mystical Trash Heap” site.

  7. Shuffling Wombat says:

    Several entries that didn’t make volume 1 are well worth peoples’ attention:

    (i) “Swords and Sewercery”, which has a revised version available free at DriveThruRPG.
    (There is a fine review of the update by Melan.)

    (ii) “Hell’s Own Temple” by Jonathan Becker, see the B/X Blackrazor site;

    (iii) “Tomb of the Sorcerer”, revised version at the Tales from the Thief of Whispers site.

    There are others I have not read.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *