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.
Thanks so much for the review! I actually agree with all criticism. I am going to so intimidate my players with the fact that an adventure of ours was featured on tenfootpole.
I wish everybody still checked the adventure. I’m still proud of it. The playtests went extremely well, if I say so myself. Telegraphing that something isn’t right and that they should be prepared for something happening soon actually went through, albeit with players who know me really well.
About the format… I tried! I tried! Y’all folks please read the left column only. You don’t even need to read the middle, let alone the right column, until your players start asking questions. It looks dumb as heck but it actually werks, I swear.
Oh hey, the author speaks. If you wind up reading this and it helps any, when we ran through this the GM had the tower/island loudly and obviously ground itself on the shore in water shallow enough we could wade across at the points where the water was lowest – probably thanks to part of the sea bed being pushed up by the grounding.
He extended the clock on things by a random amount – basically when the half hour (which we didn’t know about) ran out he informed us that the tower (and whole island) started to tremble, with the vibrations getting worse as time passed. When we looked outside we could see the water around the island starting to churn and boil, and it was obviously getting worse as whatever was propelling it strained to pull the whole setup free. At that point we were (I think) on the third floor going up, and after grabbing some stuff we had the “bright” idea of heading back downstairs to see if we could find the place’s “engine room” (kind of meta thinking, but whatever) and stop it from trying to sail off.
By the time we got to the basement the shaking was getting pretty bad, and while we didn’t try looting the mimic chests (we figured we’d have time later if we could kill the “engines” or at least grab a few on the way out if we couldn’t) the rumbling woke up the big bad, who we wound up fleeing in terror from after a few exchanges and a dead PC. Two of the burlier PCs tried grabbing a “chest” during the retreat, which added them to the kill count in short order while the rest of us got away with what little we’d grabbed from the floors we’d gotten through. The island wrenched itself free just as we reached the beach again, which saved us having to make saves to avoid getting dragged into the sea into its wake and maybe drowning.
The GM told us afterward he’d tweaked the time limit and added a random roll mechanic to see how long it would take the island to leave, and we all agreed it might have been better to extend it ever farther so we could see more of the tower. I suppose if the payout from the mid-tower treasure room (so that’s where the real loot was, eh?) is too much for comfort the short clock is important, though. Whatever the GM’s “head back to sea” system was, part of the random result chart included waking up the boss, after which he’d head up to the ground floor to see what was happening. So we would probably have run into him even if we hadn’t gone looking for trouble, although without teh mimics we might have lost fewer people.
Fun little raid, regardless. Kind of wish we’d tried the “come in through the roof” option now, but we figured it was a trap and the weaker PCs’ players were afraid climbing that high would lead to them failing a climb test or something and dying in a fall. Perfectly reasonable – I don’t even like getting up on a ladder to clean my gutters and I live in a ranch house. 🙂
So thanks for a good game, even if we didn’t play it quite as written.
Author here! Yes I AM reading this!
I love how the GM made the adventure his. It was designed to be less dangerous than it seems, but the GM played it straight and adapted stuff to fit. I love it. As written, the 10HD guy in the basement wasn’t supposed to wake up unless you start taking off his jewellery (and he’s wearing a dragon’s hoard worth of stuff). When the tower sails away, if the players fail to notice and get carrid off into the ocean, there’s actually a magical map in the real treasury with a charge of teleport, and the flute has two charges (a ruby burns off when you play it and there’s one more ruby remaining), so you could plan a second—and last—raid with maybe a ship or a strong wizard and maybe a small army to rob the 10HD monster.
Cheers to your group and the GM! You folks are great. Thanks a bunch for putting together the play report.
Neat. From a player-only POV I didn’t know about any of that stuff. We were pretty sure the flute had another use in it (the ruby was pretty obvious) but we were debating whether it would just have the island set sail back to wherever it came from and wanted to explore the tower first to learn more about what was going on. I’ll have to be a good boy and avoid metagaming any suggestions about trying it again – pretty sure we still have the flute, although it might have been on one of the PCs who didn’t escape alive. Never reached the real treasury so we didn’t see the map at all.
Honestly, we might have been able to take the big guy (we dubbed him the engineer, since we were still fixated on the “engine room” concept – tunnel vision at its best) if we’d stuck it out, but it would have been real rough from what we saw and at that point we were terrified of getting stuck on the island. Plus we figured he was just one of the “crew” and there’d be more badasses in the upper floors. And then we lost two strong fighters to getting tangled up with the mimics, which put us in full panic mode.
Not a shining moment for the group but we’re all kind of sleazebag adventurers, avaricious but not brave. And most of us got out pretty intact.
Anyway, a fun time was had by all (even the dead) so thanks again! Glad I randomly stumbled on this blog while I was noodling around the internet.
Oh, so you’re going to continue playing—then I should stop spoiling. I thought you were already done with the adventure.
One thing I’ll say is that the thing is very dangerous if you keep pushing your luck—and there are many opportunities to do so—but it’s not a gotcha deathtrap.
Cheers and thanks tenfold for reaching out because that’s why we bother to publish these things in the first place.
Actually, I think we’re done with it. I checked with the GM and sure enough, the flute was being carried by one of the guys who tried to carry off a mimic and met a sticky end, so no way to call the island back. He did say he plans on using it again with some further tweaks for one of his other groups. We were the initial test subjects. 🙂
Always liked “push your luck” adventures. Underutilized design style IMO.
I see! Thanks again for the write up, and tell the GM I said hi.