Surgerock Vault

By Malrex
The Merciless Merchants
Levels 7-9

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 very oceans and seas tremble in fear of the floating rock that parts its waves, traveling to destinations only the gods know. The pock marked monstrosity defies sinking as it roams the sea, it’s cargo a mystery. What deadly mysteries reside within this strange floating rock?

This ten page adventure features about nine rooms in a  keep that floats among the waves … housing a powerful magic item. It’s got interesting things going on, decent formatting and a descriptions that don’t suck. I struggle with the confines of the contest.

This time it’s not a keep floating along and disgorging raiders on the villagers but rather a keep floating along the waves – ready for someone to plunder! There’s no real hook or anything else, nor does there need to be one, it’s just a place, fantastic, and ready to be fucked with.

Malrex does a couple of good things here that is relatively rare in an adventure. FIrst, he(?) has a formatting style that mostly disappears in to the background. It doesn’t standout as a formatting style, is what I mean. The rooms are easy to read, scan, and run but it doesn’t FEEL like Malrex is trying hard to make them that way, or that there IS a format to the rooms. There most definitely IS one though. Rooms start with an intro paragraph, describing the most obvious things in the rooms, ready to be paraphrased and expanded upon by the DM. This is the key to this kind of formatting. It doesn’t FEEL like anything special is going on with the formatting. The initial paragraph outlines everything major in the room. You can riff off of it. There’s just enough information to relay to the party. It doesn’t overshare and the descriptions are at least a little evocative, sometimes with a keyword bolded. What follows then id a series of bullets describing the major things going on in the room. This is easy to scan and locate follow up information. The whole thing just works well.

The other thing done really well is the .. theming? of the encounters. Not really set pieces, but, anchor items in the rooms/scenarios which everything tends to revolve around. You have this major thing and the room builds around it. And they tend to be pretty iconic, at least at this level. The entrance to the keep is described as: “Thousands of skeletons of different races (mostly lizardman) scramble forever towards a rune-carved portcullis archway that borders a tall entry that punches its way through the rock” Fuck! Yes! I’m pretty sure this isn’t a literal scrabble, but rather more scree-pile-ish, but, still, either way, works for me! Also, pulsing runes on the massive doorway and a gong that sounds as you approach … the doors opening automagically? That’s a fucking entrance!

What follows is a series of rooms that range from more set-piecey (a stone giant and basilik throw statue heads at the party in an arens-like place) to less so (an ancient stone giant is fishing, and thats all he really cares about. Kobold vermin parly for boons, a chimera with a personality. These are highlights, with minotaurs in a maze-like area and cave bears being more “normal” encounters. There’s nothing like having the bloody head of a lizardman thrown at you to start an encounter off right! There’s good specificity here, anchoring scene elements and then allowing the DM to further riff on them. Exactly the way things should be. And a surprise or two thrown in, like a doppelganger that might actually trick the party without it being a total gimpfest.

Writing is evocative enough. This is, I think, the hardest part of adventure writing, creating an evocative description. Formatting is just a science, and encounters are something that, hopefully, rely on your imagination and it not being crushed out of you. But, crafting an evocative description is art and requires a lot of work. It’s ok here, not boring, but, still could use work to more fully bring things alive and avoid phrasing like “the thirsty sand absorbs the blood.” That’s a bit flowery, Mal. 🙂 It DOES communicate the vibe of the sand, so, good job with that. Maybe I should accept the groan I uttered when reading it and move on, enjoying the vibe alone?

I’ve got a criticism, and its related, I think, to the level range. It’s not balance related but rather my usual complaint in this area: does the adventure/scope match the level range? I wouldn’t say this is a railroad, but, the design of the levels means that you WILL be going from top to bottom and ending the adventure in the final room. It FEELS constrained, especially given the scope and level range. Then again, I’m the asshole that dictated the number of rooms and page count limit, so, you know, fuck me for imposing it. And, Mal does the best theu can, repeating “room 5”, a kobold lair, a few times in order to beef up the number of rooms on the map if not in the key. Still, it feels a little constrained and therefore more crafted-as-a-DnD-adventure than a natural place. Such is life, I guess.

This is Pay What You Want over at DriveThru, with a suggested price of $1.

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5 Responses to Surgerock Vault

  1. PrinceofNothing says:

    Hell yeah! Go Aaron!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Nooo! My $100…

  3. Sevenbastard says:

    I think the constraints of the contest made it hard for sure. Limited page and room count and the nature of mimicking the source material. For me I wanted to add faction and expand the surounding area but ran out of time and pages.

    Good for Aaron for pushing higher level. More levels means more contingencies you have to acount for which eats pages.

  4. Olle Skogren says:

    This one struck me hard with its imagery and the few but strong characterizations of the monsters.

  5. Malrex of the Merciless Merchants says:

    Thanks for the feedback Bryce. Terse, evocative writing is difficult and I continue to struggle with it. I guess sometimes it comes out as flowery–which reminds me of writing from the Ravenloft adventure–there is a few descriptions in there that made our group chuckle when we played it–“winter’s sweat” or “sounds like winter’s silent scream’ or something like that. Anyways–personally really happy with how many adventures got pumped out by contestants!! Fun contest!

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