SinkingStone Keep

By Eric Johnson
Self Published
AD&D 1e
Levels 1-4

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!

Fear stalks the swamps! The ruins of SinkingStone Keep has thrown its lizard like shadow over the village of Soggy Bottom. Can you and your fellow adventurers root out this festering evil and destroy it? Beware, many who enter the swamp are never seen or heard from again!

This eleven page adventure details a lizard man lair with about ten locations, but a swampy village and brief overland. It’s a true blu AD&D adventure, with the attention to detail. Writing is effective at times, especially in the village and overland, but falls down in the lair proper. The lair is also pretty much one big hack/frontal assault. I would prefer more, but, for what it is is it’s pretty decent.

So, This is an AD&D adventure. What’s an AD&D adventure? Well, I’m going to say True to the Rules. Meaning that it mentions, and takes advantage of, the actual rules in the book. Straight up front it’s got a section on Morale. And then a brief note on movement rate through a swamp, and then Quicksand rules from the Wilderness Survival Guide. Following that is Holding your Breathe rules and something on Swamp Conditions from WG6 that details your shit (mostly food) rotting in the swamp. (That section strikes me as a bit lengthy. It’s not completely the onerous shit about desert/swamp/snow that I usually rail against, too rules heavy, but, also, it goes on a little long. I might say that it coverers longtimeframes, like metal starting to decay after two weeks, but, then again, A&D players camp out to heal to a rotting table that include a 2% chance of rotting every ten days might be ok. I pity the DM that actually calls for these checks from their players though …) 

But, that’s not all! Oh no, we’ve got some AD&D flavour here! First, this is going to be more of a B2 style adventure. You’re gonna go in to the ruins, hopefully take some lizardmen by surprise, and then eventually blow your cover and face an onslaught of twenty of them in a phalanx formation. You sneak until discovered. After that they form ranks, and, if you return, replace some flosses and are on high alert, having set some traps. AD&D detail at its finest! We’ve also got some nice town detail … with ethe villagers in the nearby swamp town being worshippers of Wastri … and ready to gak the demi-humans in the party when they return and feed them to their toads. (Or, maybe, they just do it anyway. The intro says demi-humans while the conclusion section basically says they double-cross the party at a feast no matter what. Meh. Less interesting that way. Or, maybe it’s just assuming all parties have demi-humans?) 

I’m pretty happy with the intro also. A couple of paragraphs that mentions, a highlight, a low level war between the lizard men and the villagers. The lizardmen raid caravans and burn supplies, but let the people go. I imagine that the villagers hunt the lizardmen and do lizardmen on pikes out front, burned at the stake, etc. Some hateful villager shit. 

The village is terse described, the six or so buildings, but it does a decent job. The trading post is a good example of an entry “This is the social center of the village. At different times it can be a flurry of chaotic trading or completely empty and quiet. The place is empty save for tables spread throughout. Old Bert runs the place and will run the party off unless they participate in the aggressive barter. “Not worth spit!””  I can imagine the place, and the dialog line from Bert, which all of the NPCs get, is a decent little thing that tells you how to run them. Good job, about the right amount of detail!

The overland travel is a decent part of this, but just handled through the overland hex maps and the wanderers table. About half or so get little entries, like goblins “ They will demand that the party pay a toll for being in their swamp.” or some such. It’s mostly the dumb animals that are just entries. 

Once you hit the keep where the lizardmen are then it devolves. Basically, there are watchposts. If they get away to warn the inside, in the basement, then it’s gonna get a pitched battle. And since there are about three watchposts upstairs, it’s hard to imagine that not happening. Also, with the close environs of the basement, and it being dark, torches and combat are gonna alert the place fast. So, pitched fight. Hope you got a lot of sleep spells. I’m not the biggest fans of those, I think they are a pain to run in D&D, but, it happens and I recognize its an important part of the game. 

Descriptions inside the “dungeon” (a very small eight room cave) start to fall down a lot. “Area is lit by torches. 4 guards are posted here.” “A crocodile is cooking on a spit. It is being tended to by 5 females.” Nice croc detail, but little else. The stairs creaking as you descend to the dungeon is the closest you get to something truly evocative, I think.

It’s relatively terse and, I would say, outline writing. No, not really an outline, but, tending toward that style, much in the way B2 is. You get the requirements to run the room, and maybe an evocative keyword here and there. In fact, I think the B2 style is the closest to the style here. Imagine the kobold cave writing style. That’s what you get here.

Yeah, it’s eleven pages and the contest says nine, I think? But, there’s a cover and a license page, so, nine pages of content, plus, I like having a cover to post on the blog. 🙂

I suspect that the AD&D true fans will like this. It’s a little abstracted for my tastes, but, I recognize the style and that the true AD&D crowd leans that way. It’s hard to suggest more room detail/evocative writing when it’s just gonna be a pitched battle, because of the close confines of the cavern rooms. It FEELS like the adventure, including the town, wandereing/hex, and keep, are minor parts of the adventure though, with the supporting info being the majority of the page count. Fourish pages for the overland and keep and village? What about the other five (seven.) I get it, maps, but still, it feels a little like the supporting info is taking over.

I’m left both liking this, for what it is, and being unsettled by it, because of the strong AD&D style, which is not my fav. When the B/X person is confronted by the true AD&D 1e adventure, they are left a bit bewildered. 🙂 I’d be interested in the opinions of the hard core AD&D 1e crowd. Not you lightweights actually playing 1e as B/X, but the true 1e fanatics who can appreciate a Wastri reference.

(Also, the map numbers are a little difficult to read on the full colour maps. They needed to be in an inset circle with a white background or something, to be easier to read.)

Pick it up for free over at the designers dropbox! (The designer who, I note, lives relatively close to me and yet still hasn’t gone drinking with me yet!)

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13 Responses to SinkingStone Keep

  1. Gnarley Bones says:

    Another great effort!

  2. Ron says:

    Ah, 1e, the one true way! 😉

  3. I started playing in 1978, so the AD&D model quickly became my go-to standard. If a product’s adequately mapped, its areas sufficiently described, and its technical details (i.e., statistics and treasure) accurate, complete, and set off from the text, that’s enough. The overwhelming majority of my work’s been done for me, and the product has value on that basis alone. Just look at how much I don’t have to do myself. But where’s the challenge for the DM when their signature task is delivered on a silver platter? Answer: extemporaneous narration. Even simple descriptors elicit a visceral response in the DM (and their players), which is organic and more sincerely felt. Otherwise, the DM’s just the guy (or gal) who rolls dice for the monsters and ties things together in a coherent narrative. This is obviously important, but its always better when evocation and flavor are an emergent property of an essentially participatory experience; hence, the old model…

  4. Stripe says:

    I’m closer to the “FKR” side of OSR—imagine the hell out of it, rulings not rules, worlds not rules, etc.—but it looks pretty cool. Didn’t get ripped apart, so good job!

    • The rules I included upfront are for the RAW and the hardcore gritty realism crowds. I also threw them in there for the folks who may not have all the resources that I have accumulated over the course of 40+ years. Like everything else in the game: use it if you want too. I still contend Morale is a key component to OSR games.

      • Stripe says:

        Oh, I’m with you. Big time. I also use (but am not straightjacketed by) combat sequence and exploration rules (move rate, 1-in-6 encounter, torch/lantern oil use, etc.). That’s why—when forced off with a 10′ pole—I fall on OSR side of the fence, not FKR.

  5. Bryce, thanks for the review and comment. As I stated in our email exchange, I’m working on a tighter edited version, which will incorporate your suggestions and my own edits. I will post in dropbox and put a link in these comments when done.

    Also “The designer who, I note, lives relatively close to me and yet still hasn’t gone drinking with me yet!” – Check your email. The ball is squarely in your court!

  6. Shuffling Wombat says:

    An easy to read format, nice maps. Seems like a taster for an exciting bigger picture, i.e. the machinations between the village, two tribes of lizard men, goblins and slavers. (Are the slavers connected to the Scarlet Brotherhood?) As written, treasure seems to be on the light side, and the two groups described in detail don’t seem to have much that the PCs would want. Maybe there should be a burial site elsewhere in the swamp, and the PCs need to negotiate safe passage. I could imagine adventurers thinking “I’m playing for the wrong team” when Wastri worship becomes apparent. I’d include a “Factions and what they want” sidebar, and a rumour table.

    A wildly exaggerated account of this proposed memorable drinking contest is expected.

    • In my mind, the slavers work for either the Lordship of the Isles or the Scarlet Brotherhood. As far as the treasure goes, Soggy bottom is poor and relies on barter, the Croc Tooths have had to leave behind much of their “wealth” in their migrations from place to place. The eggs are their real treasure, to them anyway. The witch has no real use for traditional treasure. I tried to make up for the lack of coin with some decent and useful low level magic items. The Black Scales’ lair and the Slaver Camp would have more of a traditional type of loot haul.

      Thanks for the kind words and suggestions

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