Deadly Waters

By Adventure Bundles
Self Published
Level 4

Halenshire is a small town built in and around natural springs. Since about 1 month there has been a mysterious disease spreading among the population. Some people only experience fatigue and vomiting, while some other unlucky ones even die. The people are afraid, mainly because it appears to be spreading randomly. There have been cases of people from same households getting infected, and others where only 1 family member got it and died. In other words, it is a mystery. Is it a curse? A sign from the gods? A sinister act? No one knows thus far. Some other stories say that the dead had been drained of blood, others that the local cleric is sinister. To make matters worse, some of the dead bodies seem to disappear during the night. Suspects exist plenty, especially in a town as Halenshire which sees a steady influx of visitors. The local Cleric is new in town and has been acting strange and overzealous, there is talk about the tavern being in the middle of things, and the traveling circus which arrived at the city almost at the same time as the first infection appeared. The party will have to investigate as many possible suspects to get to.

This 24 page adventure details an investigation in to plague deaths in a town. Conceptually, it’s a decent investigation and does good things in that area. As implemented though, it’s far too wordy and hard to follow, in spite of efforts to the contrary. It also is one note, with deviations from the investigation being noticeably gamey.

At this point I’m doing 5e adventures essentially by request only, and this was a request by the designer. We are a kind and generous blog, and are known for that, so, I’m brook no disagreement you fuckers!

The standard 5e format is to go to a town, find something wrong going on, investigate some, and then go to a lair to kill something. This follows that format, yet, the … depth? Of the investigation makes it more than that, almost to the point of a mystery. Mysteries are VERY hard to pull off in D&D, cause Spells, but this one demonstrates a way it might make sense … which is tending more towards investigation.

You’ve got a town and people in the town are dying from a disease. Plague isn’t being thrown around, but, I like to think of it that way. I don’t think the designer frames it that way either and the adventure would have been better, I think, if the adventure was more angled towards “town in the midst of a plague” rather than just a disease. This sort of framing issue will happen more than few times in the adventure. The elements come across gamey instead of real-world, and real-world would have more visceralness to the adventure. More on that later. 

You come to town and get hired to look in to things. That’s lame. It’s the usual “this is bad for business, go figure out happened” hooks. Hiring the party, as troubleshooters, is usually the worst kind of hook, and its the fact here as well. Some tie in to the plague (and framing it as a black death kind of thing) would have gone better. You go questions people, follow up leads, and have a final boss battle in the cistern of a bathhouse … that is pretty damn fucking huge and elaborate for a bathhouse. Like, parisian sewers vaulted ceilings in a room that’s 80×80. We’re pushing the suspension of disbelief here. The towns fairly small. I know WHY, to have the boxx lair fight, but still, maybe a smaller cistern and an attached big cave? 

What makes this adventure interesting if the misdirection. The creature living in the cistern is poisoning the water. A slow kind of diseased death that not everyone gets. It then visits the “dead body storage shack” and drags the bodies back to its lair to eat Cool! The disease takes days, and you die of “exhaustion” or “fatigue.” (You can recognize in this 5e game elements. And while tha might be correct from a rules standpoint, and maybe even from a real life standpoint, I think dehydration/diarrhea/etc would have been a better way to put this to the players, another example of the “disease/plague” framing issue.) Along the way various things pop up. What’s the linkage to the inn? Or the brewery? Why are bodies disappearing from the charnel house? What’s up with the Wrath of God preacher in the temple? And there’s a circus in town. With a snake woman. You can see the misdirection. The priest is a “they must have deserved it/had it coming” kind of guy. That’s usually the go to dude to kill in adventure. But not here. And he takes care of the bodies before the burials … and the bodies go missing. Another vote in just stabbing him. I usually just burn down a circus, first thing, in an adventure. But that’s not the case here. And a snake woman in the circus? Double burn it down! A brewery drugging people? The tropes are all here, but they all have mundane explanations or just “meh, sometimes priests are assholes” explanations. This is great. Expectations subverted! And this sort of subversion happens a lot, but it never feels like a Gotcha! It’s a slow untangling of what’s going on. And that’s why it’s a good investigation.

But it lacks in two critical areas. The first, as mentioned, are the framings it uses. From a disease (yes, sure, technically, ok) to a Plague!!!! And other areas in which the word choices and framings are just a little too clinical. You’re going for a village gripped in fear in an adventure like this. This theme continues with the word choices used by the adventure in relating happenings. So, snake-woman see osgood behind in a back alley by the temple. First, she didn’t see Osgood. She should be relating the physical features of what she saw and the adventure should be helping the DM by providing that to them at the snake-woman interview section. Osgood is a conclusion, one step removed from what the DM needs, Likewise you have a talk at one point, probably, with a guy whose got the disease. Only later in the adventure does it relate that he’s in the middle of a fever. That makes sense! It would be great to have a delirium patient in a fever being questioned! But that’s not how the scene comes across. Again, abstracted and a little clinical. Gamey. You have to lead with the fever thing. And, seeing the creature in the back alley? No, you want the snake woman to leading the party even more to the temple and priest. Make him even more suspicious instead of just tangentially relating that it might have been near the temple. 

It also throws some fights at the party. As in “adventuer must be boring, so lets throw in in some monsters.” In the brewery some nuisance fire elementals show up to cause some havoc, not related to the adventure. This smacks of that terrible advice to start games with a combat to get the party in to things. NO! These come across, again, as gamey. Yes, I agree, the adventure could use a little more in the confrontation department. The priest, or local toughs, or a Plague Watch vigilante group could fill in for this. But just tossing in rando monsters is not a good thing. 

“At the rear of the chapel is an alter to the deity” is not a very good description, and describes, in a nutshell, the abstracted nature, the gamey nature, of the encounters.

Decent ideas, and concept, and design, but way way WAY too wordy, with the threads between locations being a little hard for the DM to sus out, even though they are explicitly mentioned multiple times. This is no doubt because of all the extra words, not related to the actual happenings. 

I’m bored now and am going to do something else.

This is $5 at Drivethru. You get the entire thing in the preview, so ,good preview,

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8 Responses to Deadly Waters

  1. Adventure Bundles says:

    Hi Bryce. Thanks a lot for the review. I am honored, and I mean it :). Your points make a lot of sense. As I often say to the people who review my NWN2 campaign and my work as Adventure Bundles, I take criticism as means to better myself. So thanks again. I will try to take these words and apply them to future adventures.

    Side note wordiness: Deadly Waters was our second ever adventure written. I can safely say that we have toned down the wordiness and gamification of several adventure aspects. Nowadays I try to write more abstract and only relevant to the DM information. That is a result of reading dozens of your reviews, where you say that many words are tough to follow.

    Side note gamification: This has also been toned down on our latest adventures. I still draw inspiration from Runehammer’s room design series, as I love them, but I don’t include such things as often as I used to. This is because during playtesting, gamification was met with a rather not so enthusiastic response. People don’t hate it, but it just stalls the game and takes out from the overall immersion.

    So thanks again, and keep up the good work :).

    • Sevenbastard says:

      Sounds like Bryce thinks it is saveable with a second pass and a few edits. Any chance you are going to incorporate his feedback into a rewrite?

      • Adventure Bundles says:

        Oh man, I kinda dislike the word saveable :). It makes me think that its current state is garbage, which is something I didn’t get from the review.

        In any case though, I was planning on doing a revamp of all our adventures at some point. Perhaps after a year of releases or so, or every after I see a review that I find logical. Mind, I do think their state is good. But one grows, and what he stands for in the game might change. For example, our (free by the way) adventure Down the Rat Hole uses a lot of readaloud with “you” inside. I liked it back then, I hate it now. Such things.

        For adventures that have been reviewed (Deadly Waters and On the Crimson Trail) it’s easy, since I have the feedback. The rest is a coin flip, as I may be changing things that are already good. Will see if I revamp only the reviewed ones or all. At the very least, the reviewed ones will have priority, since I know what I’m aiming for.

  2. Reason says:

    Looks decent to me. The flowcharts etc are helpful to someone like me who struggles a bit with roleplay heavy mysteries.

    I like the fact it revolves around a single weird creature, rather than umpteen spells & magic items. Means I can adapt it more easily into lower magic campaigns (just morphing all the gnomes & tieflings into humans)- more a sword & sorcery vibe possible.

    The huge cisterns is odd for a collection of linked villages, but every campaign has it’s own version of “great empire that fell & is now seen only in its ruins” and hey presto, the baths are much older, said to date back to the days of the old empire…

    Side note: i despise the fact that in 5e you can just make a Wisdom check to learn if someone is on the level or not- how about the players have to roleplay, snoop & carry on but with doubts, just like the rest of us do instead…

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hello Adventure Bundles, I see that your adventures are labeled as 5e compatible. Does that mean written for 5e? I looked at the preview and it seems that way. I ask the question because there are a lot of us here who won’t touch 5e with a (no pun intended) ten foot pole. Would you consider making adventures for an old school clone such as OSE or OSRIC?

    • Adventure Bundles says:

      Hi there :). Good timing for the question actually. Our 12 adventures (some still not available on DTRPG are all written for 5e. But as of tomorrow our Patreon will not exist anymore. We think that publishing an adventure per month takes away from the joy of creating it, and more often than not we have to make compromises on the design because of time restraints.

      So we will continue to release on DTRPG, and since we won’t have to cater to a specific audience like one kinda must do in Patreon, we are free to do whatever system we want, in any time we want. So an old school adventure will probably happen somewhere in the future.

      • Malrex of the Merciless Merchants says:

        I can relate on the Patreon aspect. Good decision (one must keep their sanity).

      • Anonymous says:

        Thanks for the reply, Adventure Bundles. Good to hear that you’re open to the potential of old school rule sets for future adventures. Looking forward to seeing what you do.

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