By Artem Serebrennikov Self Published 5e Level 5
Again, the image has nothing to do with the adventure. I just google searched on floating keep and “keep floating” popped up and I liked it.
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 the mists, fear the tides, fear the seagull’s call! A sea witch from a bygone age has returned to exact revenge, her floating keep spelling doom for surface dwellers!
This eight page nine room adventure features an “under da sea!” theme, without actually being under the sea. It’s got some nice imagery in places, and great use of integrating magic items and creatures i nto the design in a natural way. It’s also a little fun-housey, but, not bad for a 5e adventure.
So, get this … stop me if you’re heard this one before … there’s this fishing village and dark mists have moved in , the fish have dried up and bad shit is going down!I kid, but, that’s what we’ve signed up for here. There are rumors that a dead sea hag has returned and the party is rowing out to her keep in the mists to stop her. Along the way, in a very early paragraph on the first page we get this gem “During the journey, the PCs encounter foreboding omens (a lone albatross with a broken wing moaning Kallista’s name, shapes of enormous fish appearing and vanishing underwater, seas turning blood-red, etc.).” Uh … fuck yeah man! That’s some good shit, the use of “etc” aside. I wish more adventures would do this, insert omens and “the land has turned against itself” type of shit. Too many times the party just walks up to the dungeon. No! The world is WRONG and only some fucking idiots (IE: the party) goes out to meet it. Gold, glory, whatever … normal folk heed the warnings. This kind of thing sets the mood. What was it, the latest Witcher PC game, that had that tree full of corpses hanging in it? That set the fucking mood. Andm a lone albatross with a broken wing (nice classical callback!) does the same thing. Before the party gets to the main event you want the fuckers quaking a bit. The entrance to the mythic underworld, in action! Set the fucking mood, just like Artem did with an almost throw-away paragraph.
This “typical” 5e adventure has a few things going for it that set it above, better than the usual 5e adventure. The keep itself is made up of everflowing black water. That’s cool! And in one of the early rooms you get Fourteen human skeletons in tattered sailors clothing, cutlasses tucked in their belts, suspended on ropes tied around their necks with placards on them saying “PIRATE.” Uh, yeas, thank you! They are, clearly, gonna be skeletons that attack the party. But it’s not just throw away bones that assemble themselves. The callback to hanging pirates, replete with placard, a few extra details, this nails the scene! Oh, and, there’s a skull sittong on a chest in the middle of them, complete with eyepatch. Noice! That’s whatthe fuck a pirate lair looks like man!
And, that skull? It’s a “flaming skull” from the 5e monster manual. That’s good. Note here that the skeletons and the skull FEEL like the monsters that they are. It’s not just throwing in a flaming skull as an enemy, but, the party gets to “see” them first, and then they turn in to what you KNOW they will be. The flaming skull feels natural, just as the pirate skeletons do. This designer does this repeatedly in this adventure. It’s a good skill to have, turning what would otherwise be just a “12 skeletons” from the monster manual in to MORE than just the manual states. It’s almost like the designer decided what to have in the room and THEN went looking for stats for me. Imagine first THEN find some way to make it gameable.
And, then, there’s the magic items. There’s a golden scimitar/cuttlass, which makes perfect sense in this room. (it lets you float on water and does extra damage to water type creatures.” And, that pirate skull with the eyepatch? The eyepatch is magical, acting as goggles of the night. Not goggles. An eyepatch. On a pirate, who always wear eyepatches. It FITS. It’s good retheme. Later on there’s the hag who is clothed in anemones. Which, when/if you defeat her act as a robe of scintillating colours. Perfect! It takes a natural element of the adventure, for this encounter, and turns it in to something in the book. If you’re gonna use a book item then this rethemeing is the way to go!
The pirate skeleton room is kind of funhousey, right? Well, how about “dozens of oysters nested in its niches. They open and close rhythmically to the sounds of calypso, produced by a tin pan and drumsticks, hovering in the air and playing seemingly by themselves. Thirteen enormous crabs are gamboling in a round dance around the Instrument.” Ok, so, i can’t argue that this is bad imagery. It’s pretty cool. But it is most definitely funhousey, as is the room full of mounted fish on the wall with a sign saying “Plant a kiss on your favorite hanging fish and see what happens.” Uh, ok sure. I shall admit that funhouse designs are not my favrote, and yet, this thing does them in an almost OD&D/Tunnels & Trolls style, and there’s a charm in that. Ot just the same old boring heroic battle bullshit, but, having a little (or a lot) of fun. Tonally, it’s not my thing, but I bet a lot of 5e players would eat this fucking shit up.
The formatting here is one of the weaker parts of the adventure. I don’t want to go too far down this road, but, it’s a simple paragraph format with some boldings and italics in it. It’s getting a little wall of texty, or, tending in that direction without fully going over the edge. I’m sure it was probably just some two column format in a word processor, and, for that, it’s decent. But, it could benefit form breaking things up a bit more.
And the interactivity, well … ok, so, yes, there’s interactivity, but it feels set-piecy (or funhousy, I guess) if you know whatI mean. There’s a lot of springing to life when you enter or touch something and that’s a cumbersome way of doing things.
Overall, though, I would not be upset to play in this in a con, or even run it if it were dropped in my lap with 5 minutes till the game starts.
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