by Glenn Robinson Self Published OSE Levels 1-2
This ancient tower of stone watches over waves, the tides, and the sea itself! What secrets lie within?
This is an entry in my Wavestone Keep adventure design contest. Which I held to combat the crushing ennui I feel when reviewing too many bad adventures in a row. The challenge was to write and short adventure, eight pages, inspired by the concept and marketing tagline of the Wavestone Keep adventure. Now, to combat my crushing boredom, and the perfectionism which prevents me from working on larger projects, I’m going to review the entries!
This eight page adventure details a nine adventure locations, and a few bonus locations in the surrounding environs. There is this implied plot, or, background, going on in it that I absolutely LUV, and Glenn has certainly mastered the art of writing a sentence that implies much more than it actually says. A great adventure! All the more so for being his “first attempt at putting a dungeon coherently on paper.”
I don’t even know where the fuck to start this review. I’m excited about this thing and that happens when I’m excited. There’s this tower, an old ruined lighthouse. There are some farmers fields around it. A small beach underneath it with a cave, and a wreck out on the reef. The tower has, like five rooms, or so. The caves like three, and the wreck a few numbered locations. There’s NOTHING to this place, just looking at the numbers. And yet, there is EVERYTHING going on.
This fucking thing looks good right from the first two paragraphs. The first has this gem: “On stormy nights travellers claim a ghostly light- keeper tends the light. It is also said that the blood-drinking sea fiends will run a ship aground on the jagged section of cliffs known as “the sleeping wyrm’s maw” and devour the survivors. At least, that’s what the locals would have you believe.” Perfect! It sets a mood in the DMs head! It’s got some rumors built the fuck in without there being a rumor table! Not just monsters but sea-fiends! Not just sea-fiends by BLOOD DRINKING sea fiends! And a fucking ghostlly lighthouse keeper to boot! Sounds like my kind of guy!
And para 2 is “The shire has banned visitors to the old tower – in its current state, it is a health and safety nightmare the shire wants no part of, thank you very much!” I can fucking work with that! Busy bodies running around, minor officials, forms and receipts for the receipt of forms delivered! I know everything I need to know about the admin environment from that sentence. I can riff on it endlessly! That’s what the fuck good writing is, more than the words on the page.
The next section is “geography”, but that’s a mis-label. In most adventures that would be boring ass shit. In this it means “the area right the fuck in front of the tower.” Bracken and saltgrass. The Pilgrim Path road, or Way of Sorrows, or, locally, just The Road. Perfect! Poor framing land surrounding it … which the locals often remark on the farmers prosperity … and the scarecrows … which the farmers cautiously call their “inheritance.” Jesus, I’m almost quoting the entirety of the first page here. But SOOOOO much is in it!
It’s a fucking scooby doo advenure! The lighthouse with a well-oiled lock on it. Footprints in the dust. Sea caves full of ill gotten loot. A lizardman harpooned to the deck of the ship … with a manacle around his leg! The adventure never spells shit out to you, in black and white, yet SOOO much is implied in the writing. It’s a fucking scooby doo adventure! I love it!
Writing and formatting it excellent. A short and terse little sentence or two. A bloated keyword or two like “clear track” in a duty room, to help draw the DMs eye and assist in scanning. Cross-references are light, but not in a bad way, only used where appropriate. An otherwise empty room reads “Dusty with clear tracks through the dust, both up the stairs and towards the southern door. Filtered daylight, the smell of guano, and a slight breeze from upstairs.” Short. Terse. Each to scan. Evocative writing that paints a picture. Filtered daylight captures a vignette perfectly. A slight breeze, I love it! And room after room after room hits this way.
Anbd there’s these references, over and over again, to the fucking scarecrows and the fucking farmers! And all the time you’re like “what the fuck is going on here Glenn, why the fuck do you keep mentioning it all Chekov’s Gun like?” And it beautiful how your mind races to fill that shit in, and then, when you reach the end you learn things, finally, by putting all of the bits together in your head. The wanderer table in the tower has “2 farmers trimming wicks” and in the wreck “1d4+1 farmers counting coins!” or “2 frightened lizardmen!”
Glenn has created a wonderful adventuring environment. It’s not just a location based adventure in a tower. It’s the surrounding lands. It’s the sea save, the wreck, the fields, the implied locale government. He’s not spelling anything out but everything is implied and obvious. DId I mentioned the “Belligerent territorial sheep” on the craggly paths? Wonderful!
The wanderer table just has monster entries … but with an extra word sometimes that says what needs to be said. “2 pfficious shire OHS officials.” I know the fuck how to run that shit! “Disconcerting flaggelants” I know how to run that shit! Furtive fsarmers fossicking! Allerative and wonderful!
Plus! Plus! The little color map of the saves has little crab eyes and claws sticking out of the pool! I love it!
Charming. The words are evocative. The situation described is more than the words on the page explicitly deliver.
I have but two critical comments. First, the loot is book and boring. 22 gems. Diamond broach. Eyeballof seeing. Gauntlets of ogre power, elven cloak and boots. Meh. They could use a word or two to bring them to life. Second, the hooks suck ass. Your youngest sibling was on a recently wrecked ship. Yawn. No self-respecting adventurer has relatives, so as to keep themselves out of these troubles. Or, you get hired by a cleric to sketch the lighthouse. I might have just left the hooks out, altogether, and used that column for the expanded loot section.
This is a strong, strong first entry to the contest. I often talk about how constrained a short adventure is. How you really need room to breathe in an adventure to develop things. This thing stands as a counterpoint to my statement. Sure, it’s no megadungeon, or “Real” dungeon level. But, as an isolated tower to go explore, in eight pages? Fuck yeah man! It’s doing as much as it can with the assignment given and IS a real adventure, just a short one. Great work.
Glenn made a DriveThru page just for this contest, but it’s not live yet as I type this. It should be by the time you read it. You can snag it at:
Plus art in the 8 pages! Well done, sir!
Thank you, Gnarly Bones!
Ah well, here goes my hundred bucks 🙁
Wow, thanks Bryce. I’ll look at your suggestions and make a few changes and release an update.
One suggestion, and I think we should all do this: Explicitly reference Wavestone Keep and ask that everyone purchase a copy.
Very well played sir!
Now we want the sequel 😉
“Old Gumption” or “The Beast o’ Waterby’s Revenge”
GIB SCARECROW WHEN
8 pages of wonder
That’s a good start. Well done, Glenn!
Add an order of battle for the Scarecrows! It seems they should attempt to encircle the PCs or something if they get in conflict with the famers.
I may add a bit more about them.
“Anbd there’s these references, over and over again, to the fucking scarecrows and the fucking farmers! And all the time you’re like “what the fuck is going on here Glenn, why the fuck do you keep mentioning it all Chekov’s Gun like?” And it beautiful how your mind races to fill that shit in, and then, when you reach the end you learn things, finally, by putting all of the bits together in your head. The wanderer table in the tower has “2 farmers trimming wicks” and in the wreck “1d4+1 farmers counting coins!” or “2 frightened lizardmen!” ”
Hold up, this sounds like it makes this fun to read but harder to DM.
Are we actually all about maximizing DM utility with adventures-as-technical writing here or do we just prefer short stories to novels?
Apples and oranges.
Large, complex adventures with many moving parts & regions need to give you a heads up overview to begin with & state things up front, not bury the lead.
Short adventures can get away with using their space for other things. If I only need to skim 6 pages of an 8 page adventure to grok it, that’s fine and within normal prep expectations.
That’s my take and pretty sure I’ve read Bryce say similar.
Total reading time is no more than 8 minutes with 7 x A5 sized pages of text and illustrations so hopefully the various strands can all be grasped in one sitting. I’d take a different approach if it was a longer work. That said, there’s certainly room to improve and I’ll look at those elements.