By Jordan Rudd Self-published 5e level 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!
Despite its benign appearance, Tidewatch Tower has an interesting history. A few months ago it served as the hideout for a group of unscrupulous seafaring adventurers led by a rogue named Mad Karli. After a particularly lucrative and dangerous outing they hid their booty in the caverns under the tower. Mad Karli then betrayed, poisoned and murdered what remained of her crew. Unfortunately this was the same day that the sea harpies decided to move in and she was drowned and eaten in short order, her remains cast into the sea
Hmmm, I do seem to be stumbling on a lot of sea keep adventures lately … weird.
This nine page adventure details around nine locations in and under a tower on a small rock surrounded by the tides. It’s got some good specificity in places and keeps things relatively terse, especially for a 5e adventure. And doubly especially for the first adventure the designer has written. A little more attention to bolding and a few other details would help shift in to a journeyman effort.
I was struck by the ludcriness of the background, in a good way. The background is something that only the DM is going to see and seldom influences play. But … not seen in this is the second paragraph about mermen hiding a cursed idol in the tower. Following this through, I can see chaining together about twelve other misfortunes, in a Rube Goldberg kind of way, for the DM background. I know I harp about tersity all the time, but, I also appreciate a little side eye to the DM running the thing, and sly remarks in the adventure … to an appropriate degree. A paragraph to lighten the DMs day, pushing this, struck me as a cool little thing. But … I digress.
We’ve got a little rumor section up front, with three rumors. They are trying to be in voice, and in fact are, which I appreciate. The added color is good when the rumors do this. They are also a little direct. Let’s imagine three different style of rumors. “Pirates hide treasure in the tower.” This might be the more traditional, a minimalist approach. Then, the one from this adventure “I heard that ol’ scoundrel Mad Karli hid her treasure in the tower. Her crew aint been seen on these shores in months, but some other strangers have been asking after her.” We’ve got extra specificity and some in voice going on. This is great, let’s call this the minimum acceptable level. But, again, it’s a little direct. The pirate hid treasure in the tower. I’m suggesting that you want to IMPLY that, but not SAY that.
Our adventure starts outside, on the causeway leading to the tower. Covered during high tides and waist high water during low tide. And two sea harpies looking for folk to munch on while they wade out. The waist-high water is a good detail, and it notes that there IS a movement reduction, but not what it is. A cross-reference to a rule book page would have been nice ,or a footnote or paren comment or some such reading (half movement) or whatever it is. Also, the fucking things run away to their nest on the tower when heavily damaged. Great! We’ve got smarties to fight! The terse but interesting causeway details, the sea harpy attack, the naturalistic difficult terrain … all great and don’t SEEM like the pretext they are. It feels right, as opposed to a lot of 5e where this sort of thing feels contrived in a wargamey way.
There’s some good specificity in this adventure, tossed in. One harpy wields a rusty cutlass while another wears a jaunty tricorn hat. Hmmm, that’s weird, but makes sense given they killed Mard Karli. A necklace of fireballs is made up of glass globes with swirling red glittering inside. And pirate dudes have love letters with bad spelling. So, both an occasional light-heartedness and specificity.
There’s some creativity beyond the specificity also. A fetish/necklace of a fishhook is a minor magc item giving you advantage on catching fish/survival checks. I like the more naturalistic manor of this (being a big fan of the minor magic items in Bree and the barrow Downs as a child.) There may be a bit of video-gamey element to this, as one takes off and wear various fetishes, but, still, it’s coming from the right place.
And, there a natural way of dealing with the short=rest/long-rest issue. You get one short for free, but after that you get some extra pirates showing up! The ones mentioned in the rumor, her boyfriend, who wants answers as to why shes missing … from you! That’s a great control on the long-rest situation. At least the first one anyway. But, also, this is what would happen. You’d just slowly fuck that place up, resting as you need to. Such is life when the dungeon is close to town, although … perhaps others are looting also? Maybe that’s a control on the frequent rest issue, beyond the wanderers? Anyway …
Good descriptions, decent magic items … what’s lacking here? There is about three pages of monster stats … an issue that is hard to handle. How much in the way of stat blocks do yo include vs forcing people to reference something else? With almost three pages you could do A LOT with an adventure, and yet, no stat blocks would be a pain in the ass also. Such is the life of a 5e designer, I guess.
There’s also a bit of cumbersome work in the formatting, the descriptions, and the core interactivity. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not BAD, at all. In fact, compared to the usual 5e garbage this is a masterpiece, but, OUR tenfootpole is made of stronger stuff. The interactivity is a bit light, beyond the usual sort, A little roleplay with the pirates that show up and some fights that are a little set-piecy. There … methodology? Of the rooms, or, the formatting and descriptive style, is what I think I’m noting. It’s not bad, but it does show a certain degree of … clumsy? Lack of focus? Neither of those … inexperience, maybe? It’s not the usual padding or overwritten, but, perhaps, a lack of emphasis on certain areas and a focus on others … not necessarily tangential to the adventure. And while the descriptions are better than average, a little work on that could be useful also. “Four bedrolls are on the ground – three are occupied by corpses. They are clothed in tatter and the flesh has nearly been picked clean by the dozens of decayed algae-covered crabs laying on and around them” The second half picks up steam, with the crabs, but the corpses is a light description, as are the bedrolls and clothes. Further, I would suggest the crabs, rotten and legs up, or some such would also serve this description well.
So, ok, but not a home run.
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