By Cryptic Keyway Self Published B/X 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!
Be scared of the water, the current and the ocean too! A frightening tall building of hard material moves around the seas, disgorging its killer shipment of reptilian reprobates wherever it chances to beach itself!
This nine page adventure details a tower with about ten or so locations. It’s got a great format, good interactivity, and great writing and creativity. An excellent example of what you can do in a short amount of time if you actually give a fuck.
I was gonna trash this things marketing blurb as being lame … but then I saw it included the word reprobate, and since my own D&Dmine if Ruffians & Reprobates, well, clearly, this thing deserves high marks!
What we have here is a great effort, someone who is close to graduating from journeyman to master in adventure writing. The basics here are the same as most of the other adventures in the contest: a tower appears at sea and has reptilian raiders in it. In this one the raiders don’t come ashore but rather its hooked out that the party is raiding the tower.
The first sign that this adventure was going to be above average was in its first hook: “Weird local fisherman Lucien Halibut has offered 20 prize salted mackerel as reward for anyone who can drive out the occupiers of the mysterious keep that appeared last night at the edge of the sea. These aren’t ordinary mackerel, they’re quite valuable. Seriously, do this, Lucien mentioned you by name and may come looking for you if you don’t. You don’t want that.” Specific. Slightly farcical. Something you know how to run and fill the rest in on our own, and do a good job, just from the couple of sentences mentioned. Another has graffiti appearing on walls and “Find an answer in the creepy tower that appeared that same night, before demographic paranoia broadens to include the PCs’ generation.” Not the best, but, I appreciate the snark and I AM inspired to run a paranoia thing from it, which is the point of a hook.
Continuing on, the descriptive details here is good. It’s specific aand imaginative. The exterior walls of the tower are constructed from old gravestones, with weathered writing on it and covered by graffiti. Also, bonus, easy to climb because of it. Yeah! I love it when the designer doesn’t gang up on the PC’s. Gravestone walls SHOULD be easy to climb,so they are! Right after that we get a little note about the party seeing a tiny dingy out at sea … with a vengeful fisherman in it armed with a harpoon and grimly singing sea shanties. Fuck yea! I can run that! That’s what specificty gets you. Your mind races. You know what to do. And this adventure does that! I can go on and on. Most of the adventure has something you can easily riff on in most locations.
The format is good. We start rooms with three or four olded words, describing a general vibe, like “metal grate floor, ammonia smell, sound of snapping bones.” Thats the basics of the room. Then you get a short room description of a couple of sentences, then some bolded words for major paragraph headings to orient the DM to whats contained in those paragraphs. The writing is focused. It’s easy to scan. It does exactly what it should do. There’s a monster reference sheet, all of the creatures on one page in the back. The maps are clear (using Dungeonscrawl? Looks like maybe an interesting mapper, even though its online only?) They are annotated well. They also don’t have fucking numbers on them, just words, with the corresponding words in the adventure. In this case it’s probably short enough that doesn’t matter, but, I’d still probably just number the fucking thing.
I note, also, that the designer has used the EXIT section of each room in an interesting way. I usually rail against such things as being redundant (with the map) and just taking up space and padding things ou t. In this case they have used the exits section of each room to describe sensory information for the various exits. You hear laughter behind this door, or you smell cooking beyond this one, and so on. I can get behind that. Other interesting things include a 2-axis wandering monster table with a preview, the monster encounter, and teh aftermath of the monster appearing on the table. Nice touch and brings the extra element I’m looking for in wanderers. And, it really takes up almost no more space than a traditional table.
It’s hard to get across just how well this thing is done in the creativity department/specificity department. Easy to run NPC’s. Unique treasure and magic items. It’s all in here and all will create memorable play without it being overtly PUSHED to do so. It’s walking that line very well indeed.
I note an interesting thing while going over this: the one time magic item. What do you do with these in your game? A longsword with a one time use smoke bomb in the hilt, or a bottle of whiskey thatinduces vomiting … the ensuing vomit instantly hardening like a web spell. These sem, to me, like things that are to use in game in practice. How do you figure out what to do without voiding the magic items usefulness or communicate the effect in such a way it can be leveraged? Otherwise you’re just moria-gulping potions at random when you’re out food and hoping something good happens.
Also, you could have done more with the cover crone. Just saying. And rando sentry mentions that are out of place in that first room, the foyer.
This thing shows what you can do with a “basic” adventure. There’s no crazy gimmicks. There’s no real gonzo. It’s just your “normal” adventure. But it’s a WELL DONE normal adventure. Gonzo gimmicks may hypnotize, sparkle someone else’s eyes.
Snag a copy here:
They say you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, but I know how long it takes to sift through old book cover art to find just exactly the right piece. Before I even read the review, I looked down to see if this was another “Best,” and sure enough, it did!
I’ve got my copy. I look forward to finding a way of dropping this into my game, just as soon as the players escape Greth, the dragon turtle.
*cries in lost $100*
Dont knock online only mappers. Curtis used Alexa open source mapping tool to make stonehell!
Holy awesome blog Batman
First of all, fantastic job on this. Second of all, it led me to read your 5e adventure “Terrible Trouble at Rude River” and holy shit does that look fun. Absolutely can’t wait to run it. That deserves a review from Bryce. https://cryptickeyway.itch.io/terrible-trouble-at-rude-river
Thank you! If you are able to run it, appreciate any feedback you have, as it has not been properly playtested yet (although chunks of it are based on games I have run in the past).
Absolutely will do.
Thank you for the review Bryce! It was a lot of fun to do. If it’s any consolation when you are slogging through the some of the really terrible adventures you have reviewed here — I think the entries in this contest show that your readers are learning great lessons from following the site. I know that was true for me.
I agree! I am pleasantly surprised! I’m not sure I SHOULD be surprised, given that, I suppose, all of the entires read the blog.
The exit information in each room is great thinking and a huge usability plus. It’s one of the most common table questions, “so what do we see/hear/smell down that way?” and it regularly causes a bit of page flipping/pause to figure it out.
Quality adventures keep coming and all Bryce had to do was offer $100. Money truly does buy happiness.
Next time he runs a contest we should all chip in $5 to sweeten the pot.
Or just pay the 1$ the guys ask you to pay instead of 0…
If Bryce does run another contest, I’d like to volunteer Eye of the Storm. Although maybe that’s too nautical after Wavestone Keep?
It seems to meet the criteria of being a disappointing adventure with a seemingly random title.