By Cat Or Bat Self Published OSR 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!
Characters obtain a magical flute that causes a tower to sail on a rocky island from the ocean. There is a lot of filthy lucre inside, but much of it is bulky, brittle, puzzling, or dangerous. When the tower starts sailing off, the player characters will need to devise a plan to get the treasure out before the tower leaves for good.
This ten page adventure details a tower with about seven floors. You’ve got about 30 minutes to loot it before it disappears out to sea, making this a kind-of race against time. It’s using an interesting tabular/spreadsheet format, which, I think, is busy for the intended effect. Nice encounters, although a little light. Or, maybe, light until you get yourself killed in one.
You find a sea cave and inside the cave a dead guy on a cot with a key around his neck. Under the bed is a locked chest. Inside a flute. Playing the flute makes a tall tower ZOOM out from the sea and arrive off shore. What magical wonder await inside? The murals on the cave wall imply TREASURE!!!! Ok, so no, they don’t imply treasure … THEY OUTRIGHT SHOW MOUNTAINS OF TREASURE INSIDE!!!
You see the tower arrive, row over to the small island and see a tower. There’s a front door and a ladder up the side to the top. Some interesting design choices then come in to play. Each level of the tower has, essentially, one room, Maybe a couple of things going on in the room, but, one room. If you climb the ladder and start from the room, going down, then you probably pick up a lot of loot risk free. Or, potentially pick up a lot of loot? A lot of the loot is big and/or fragile, which begs the question on how you’re getting the loot out of the tower and back to shore in order to claim it. (This is make more sense in a moment.) So, starting from the top leads to to some encounters that are essentially loot encounters with some minor inconveniences. There are some EXTREMELY fragile undead in one room, crawling around on the floor, but wearing very expensive clothes. You can undress them to get the loot, and, they probably die as you do so. Because they are so fragile. Or you can be super careful, taking, like, 30 minutes to disrobe one of them. “Spare us, we’re brittle!” they call out. Nice! The level underneath that one has a big table, chairs, a cabinet, and so on. Large items hard to loot.
Most of the encounters are quite survivable for a group of level 3’s, with no real combat challenges. Until the basement. When you reach the basement you probably get fucked up. There’s a 10HD sleeping dude in there and a treasure hoard. Which are mimics. Which encountering probably wakes up the ravenous giant dude who then almost certainly fucks your world up. Did you push too far? Then you’re dead instead of looting.
There’s another mechanism going on here as well: after thirty minutes of game time the tower heads back out to sea. Rapidly. So, you’re either in for it and along for the ride in a tower full of loot and no way to recover it, probably, or you’ve got thirty minutes to grab as much loot as possible. Thus, if you started at the top, and, given about fifteen minutes per floor, you probably miss the giant if you work your way down methodically. If you star at the front doow and go down you could be dead. If you work your way up you don’t make it to the top. And in BOTH cases, the secret treasure room is in the MIDDLE floor, which you don’t reach in thirty minutes by starting from either the top or the bottom. This means substantially different outcomes depending on the choices made. Nice!
Or, nice in theory. As implemented, I have some issues.
I’m not sure I’m down with the way the thing is implemented. As it stands you’re basically just making a random choice: do I start at ethe top or with the door in front? I guess it could be argued that “were going in through the roof!” people are smarter than “front door” players, but, I think it would be far better if there were some trade off for the players to make an informed decision about. Randomness is not agency. I’m making too much of this, already, because, hey, player choose Left or Right for their characters in a dungeon hallway all the time, but, here, somehow, it feels different.
Related to this is the timer. If it is even a timer? You’ve got thirty minutes, which means you can basically examine about two floors, according to the adventure text. (Unless you undress one of those zombies of course … and assuming you don’t examine the roof very closely and burn fifteen minutes up there …) I’m not sure you’re making a choice here about what to do? If the ceiling is collapsing then you know you are pushing your luck with grab at the treasure pile you tale. But, here, you don’t really know that the tower is going away and thus you don’t know to go deeper, or skim the surface, or whatever. It’s gonna just appear that the tower now starts moving. Which, ok, sure, you don’t need to telegraph everything to the players. But, in this case, it seems appropriate. Unless, of course, you want the party stranded in the middle of the ocean. Then you’e got all the time in the world to loot the place, or get killed by the dude in the basement, before the DM tosses in a boat for the party to evac on. It just seems weird to me to have a timer on the adventure and not COMMUNICATE the timer, or at least hint at it.
And, then, the format is a little … interesting.
You get a little intro section, a couple of sentences, and then a three column thing. What you first see, then what that this is upon infestation, and then what it really s, which is essentially the DM play notes. Sounds pretty familiar, right? But, imagine instead I did this in a spreadsheet, with three columns, and then combined the columns for that intro section? It’s a little disconnected … it just doesn’t enter my brain well. And, then, there’s ALOT of formatting of fonts. Blue text, bolded text, red text, underlines, italics. I know, I avocate for this stuff, but, also, moderation is a thing. I find this sometimes, in adventures. People come up with a format and follow it religiously. “I’m going to note the light in every room. And the smell. And the condition of the door, and …” The goalie not the format. The goal is an understandable adventure. It can be tempting to think that by rigorously following a format you can make something better. But, no, ultimately everything must serve the ultimate purpose and things can go too far and loop around the otherside of comprehension, becoming more difficult.
So, encounters? Interesting. The concept is decent also, or, perhaps I mean the design choices of “choose your entry and difficulty” being so intentionally made in the design. I’m not sure, though, tha I could run this well, given the format and may want a little more in the form of a “room introduction”/overview in a format like this.
This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $1.