By John Turcotte Self Published B/X Levels 1-3
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!
The night is dark and stormy. Terrified riders have arrived from the south, gasping desperate warnings from foaming lips. A dreadful stone tower roams up the coast, somehow riding the waves, disgorging swarms of ravenous lizardmen at every seaside town. Fear the tide, fear the tide!
This eight page/nine-ish room adventure describes … a keep on the back of a dragon turtle and its lizardmen raiders! It’s going for a kind of weird vision of the sea, and succeeds, at times, in conjuring that otherworldly vision. It’s also quite wordy, which makes the rooms cumbersome to run at times, stuffed as they are with detail. Still, it’s not padded.
Oh no! The raiders are coming! The party is in town and has the night to prepare for the raid. I love the adventures that let you prep for a big raid ,defending and building fortifications and rallying the local populace. This doesn’t quite do that … the town proper is not mentioned and the prep is mostly, I think, the party resting and memorizing, etc. At least, that seems to be the way things are written with little guidance on little else in this section. Still, good idea! And, there IS guidance for how to run the party if they intercept the island keep before it hits town proper. If they row out to intercept it, wait for the raiders to disgorge, or wait in town or hit them as they enter the harbour. Nice touch. It goes on a little bit long, I think, or, maybe, it feels like it does because of the difference scenarios it runs through. And, you DO get guidance on recruiting some local fisherfolk, etc. (I could have misread this, but it felt like it was rallying them during the raid rather than the night before,) So, decent job here. A little long, but the core concept is a strong one.
The outpost proper gets a nice little map, with around nine rooms on four or five levels, and cool little side video also. It’s a decent map, with crumbly walls and open gaps for the clever party to exploit. Plus, it all drawn with a turtle underneath … I’m a simple man; all I want in life is a pencil drawing of a turtle underneath a keep. 🙂
The environment is a bit weird, in an “under the sea” kind of way. I’ve been quite disappointed in the past with the ability of adventures to conjure the vision of a truly weird under the sea vision. Something like the (City of Rapture?) from Bioshock, or the visions you paint in your mind of R’yleh. Here it’s done to decent effect. Corals and barnacles, uncanny blueish wood (I shall excuse the word uncanny here as an abstraction) and venomous serpent heads. Tranmogrified lizardmen and crumbling coral stairs zigzagging. Ivory cameos, torn, soiled and spoiled garments in a heap, a dazzling mosaic of varicoloured abalone shells. Pictographs of men with nautilus heads. This hit me hard with a ceiling above featuring a bas-relief face grimacing down, cracked and damaged, a face no longer discerned but for huge empty oval eyes, haunting, and what may be a mustache … or tentacles around a contoured mouth. Spooky shit to have the ceiling above you! And, of course, a quilt of wooly fog pushed before the keep proper, as it appears, looming impossibly over the waves. Nice imagery in all of that, and more to boot! Great use of evocative writing if, I think, a little abstracted at times. (And Bryce don’t like the words large and huge, generally, as the come off a bit generic.)
My primary issue with this is the density of the rooms. They generally get a couple of paragraphs and some of the later rooms stretch onwards to nearly a column or more or relatively dense paragraphs. The bolding used generally identified creatures (good) but the formatting for the rest if generally not present. This tends to make my eyes glaze over. This isn’t exactly wall of text, and the text is certainly not padded out with empty phrases and the like. The rooms are just DENSE and the writing used, overloading all of the objkects in the room, becomes quite a bit to handle. A section of scroll cases is one of the shortest paragraphs, and reads “Dozens upon dozens of cracked and ruined scroll-cases are still here, their contents ruined. At the DM’s discretion, a treasure map or clue to a future scenario can be found here.” There’s nothing really wrong with this. It’s doing things right. And yet, when the rooms are packed, and each thing in it tends to get this treatment, it becomes a bit troublesome to dig through. The details, also, the major details, are scattered throughout the text, making the initial room grok a bit hard since you’re digging through everything.
I’m at a loss, really, to understand what to do about it. Usually fixes are easy. In this case though the overloading of words and depth ande detail tend to contribute to that otherworldly under the sea vibe that I enjoy so much. Maybe an intro paragraph, detailing a room overview, with bolding to draw the eye to the keywords of the followup sections? That is some common advice of mine, but it feels somehow wrong in this case. I don’t know. It tasks me!
A fine adventure! A good “sunken island risen” thing going on, along with decent raid details. I just wish I could grok it more easily.
Snag a copy here!