The Cauldron

By Jon Bertani
The Merciless Merchants
Levels 3-7

Rumors abound of treacherous jungles with giant birds, carnivorous apes, a smoking and angry volcano, and even hushed whispers of a giant sea creature that protects the island! But the lure of countless lost treasures of the fallen civilization may be more tantalizing than old tales told by fools and drunks.

You make me. Feel like. I’m living a teenage dream. The way you turn me on. I can’t sleep. I mean, not the adventure. I’m talking about you, gentle reader. Let’s run away and don’t ever look back! 

This 25 page adventure details about a six locations on a tropical island. AKA: Dread. We can dance until we die. As Dread clones go, this one is far better than usual and, also, suitable to a shorter game … a session or two or three, maybe four, instead of Dreads “We’re gonna fucking be here for a while …” There’s nothing wrong with the long game as Dread enables, but sometimes you’re looking for a quickie tropical game treasure map. You and I. And the writing is generally evocative and put together well, if a bit long.

There’s a bunch of garbage in the beginning about hooks, and reverse pickpockets and shit, but, ultimately, you get a treasure map to an island about a week away with a big X on the map like, a “lost temple/treasure!” note on it. That’s all you fucking need man. Will be young forever.

Supporting the sea voyage, and the hooks, and general fuckwitery, are three different pirate ships and rews that the DMcan use to spice things up. Wandering encounters on the ocean, or near the island, or aybe on the return journey. They are MUCH more fully formed than the usual dreck you come across. You get a ship name, a fun little description of it that takes up no more than a sentence, and a sentence each on the captain, someone else important like maybe the first mate, and another for the pirate crew. Together they amount to four fucking sentences and bring SO much more life to the things than the usual adventure does. The pirate shit is a big part of these things, usually, and it’s good to see someone deliver on the promise of some fun pirate content. “The Bone Vulture” has bird bones attached to the ship because the captain things it bring him luck. Captain Vaigle is very superstitious about small things, constantly runk making him fearless, and an expert at close-shore ship maneuvering. Legless Freynar the first mate is a legless barbarian from the far north with a very intimidating voice the crew responds to immediately. The crew is a very superstitious lot that listen more to the first mate than the captain. You get it, they got some color and fucking life to them and they seem fucking fun to run! And when I’m excited to run something, especially lame ass pirates, then that’s a good job!

Our wandering tables do a pretty decent job as well of brining the mundane and the exotic. Things from the rumor tables show up, and each entry gets one sentence to kind of bring them to life and ge the DM riffing on the encounter. I love that. Got a motel and built a fort out of sheet! One of my favorite is just a fight breaking out among the ships crew you’re on. Just the mundane shit that a DM can riff on. There’s gonna be some shivving, taking sides, and sme ocean justice kiddos! All cause the wandering table says “Squabble on the ship! Sailors begin fighting each other over some argument.” Ima get your heart racing in my skin-tight jeans

We hit the island and you’ve got some of the classic encounters from Dread. Volcano plateau with temple. Cannibal tribe. Good tribe. Then you’ve got a dragon living UNDA DA SEA in the lagoon and a small abandoned temple with just a few locations … it being just above ground ruins. And then you’ve got the wrecked ships on the beach. What d oyou do? Hey Mr Adventure Person … you’re on your ship and you see some wrecked ships on the beach .. .what do you do? What comes to mind? Well … do fucking HARPIES come to mind!?! It’s a fucking GREAT harpy encounter! Fuck! Yeah! Classic baby! They charm the young sailors and get them to wreck their ships. Sailor heads, sailor heads, eat them up , YUM! (More on this kick ass encounter later.) So, you get my vote for some decent encounters … although they do tend to be a little sandboxy and open-ended and could use a real adventuring location at some point on the island … and the volcano temple isn’t really large enough to count. You want a Kopru complex (and some more treasure, i think … it seems a bit light … unless OSE is on the silver standard?) 

Formatting is pretty good .. .you get a longish opening paragraph with some keyword bolding and then bullets underneath that expand on those keywords. It’s a good format, one of my favs … even though the text does a run a bit long in the various descriptions. It’s not extravagant, but I really do think it’s pushing things for scanning purposes ,,, but, sure, it falls inside the range of normal for good scanning, if at the end of the that spectrum. And, bonus point, there’s some clarifying artwork at one point tat makes on of the volcano rooms really come to life!  When  you look at me, just one touch.

I’m pretty happy with the language, even though I do think the evocative writing is not used consistently. But when it does it’s pretty good! A large tied gourd holds one tribes loot. Good fitting in to the theme of the village and I can visualize it being wrapped up A LOT in grass twine or some such … even if the description does use the hated word “large.” But, in other places we get longer visuals, like “Several corpses are strewn about, some even hanging from trees with dangling entrails that the curling mists reveal once closer. Broken branches, feathers, dung and foliage make a series of filthy tiered nests among the towering trees” Dangling entrails in the mist for the win kids! Other visualis, like a chief being the only one in the village with a bit of metal armor “a shining open faced helm with ornate eye slits.” A tribe of cannibals with just suede like that? I’m signing up for that visual! 

Oh, and the fucking harpies again. They’ve got one dude they are keeping alive in their main nest, from a wrecked ship, who they are using for breeding .. .and he’s guarding a harpy baby, his, with his life. Fuck man. Heavy. Oh! Oh! And the wandering tables do have sailors refugees, stranded pirates and the like routinely showing up, for roleplaying fun and maybe joining your crew, since they are stranded … that’s awesome! 

Again, quite short, I think, compared to Dread, but really well done. It could use a larger adventure site on the island and maybe one more thing going on with the island. There are ROCs and the lag0on dragon, I guess … as a DM you should be ramping that shit up I guess.That part could be a little more explicit .. .even though the adventure tells you to use them frequently. It just doesn’t FEEL right, I guess, the way it’s communicate. Which is weird because a lot of the rest of adventure DOES feel right. This could be polished a bit more, I guess I’m saying, to bring the minor stuff more to life. Still, good jorb!

I’ll be your teenage dream tonight!

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is thirteen pages, and shows the pirate ships, the general island and that great harpy encounter. Good preview … although the rest of the island is not quite at the harpy level.

This entry was posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Level 4, Reviews, The Best. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Cauldron

  1. squeen says:

    Congratulations MM guys. Looks tight. Great maps. Even grumpy ol’ Bryce liked it.

    • Jon Richard Bertani says:

      Thanks, appreciate the feedback ! Though I think the Sea Dragons lair was pretty well developed…lot’s of opportunity to get eaten.

  2. Malrex of the Merciless Merchants says:

    ….Katy Perry lyrics?!? Legless Freynar doesn’t allow Katy Perry music on his ship…

    Thanks for the feedback!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Ah the year of 2022. OK sex in backbreaking cars looked back on.with delight ah the small problems

  4. Shuffling Wombat says:

    Good review, this is old fashioned fun. The Harpy encounter, helped by the cover art, is top class. The Zontani Sea campaign is shaping up very nicely. I like the idea of the PCs sailing around, picking and choosing where they will attempt to plunder. I note that the Kickstarter for Gyllagoon’s Island has hit the threshold; it sounds like a cracking adventure.
    One thing that might be worth addressing is a good set of house rules for ship to ship, or ship versus large monster (such as the rocs or sea dragon) combat. This seems likely in the Cauldron. Given the numbers involved regular combat is probably OK, but you might want hull points, rules on how many crew are needed to set the sails or steer, what movement is allowed depending on the wind speed and direction. The High Seas supplement for Flashing Blades I remember as pretty good, and probably suitable for the crew sizes. Something like Hearts of Oak is too detailed and not really the correct scale.

Leave a Reply to Anonymous Cancel reply

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