Steve Williams Self-published B/X Levels 3-4
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!
Okeydoke. We’ve got a seven page adventure featuring a six level tower is about nine rooms that is … hmmm, very similar to Wavestone Keep in concept. That’s interesting 🙂 Some padding in this one, with some basic lizard man killing and a few features, like dropping chandeliers. It looks like this is the designers first adventure, and they usually play with their son … so let’s be mean to them to assuage our own feelings of inadequacy! Also, I’ve been sick now for 24 hours in a fetal position on the floor with food poisoning .. my hearts not in this one.
This is a pretty basic tower raid with lizardmen in the tower, brightened up by from horrific imagery and a few romo features. It’s interesting, i think, that I tend to gravitate towards good imagery being the horrific. It seems earlier to write the gore aspects of a description then it is something beatific or mundane. (Austere dwarven temples doing so unintentionally …) But, for whatever reason, it does seem so. And the designer here does a decent job. Bloody rage covering a body of a villager, its abdomen and chest hollow out, gnawed to the bone. The bodies of villagers hanging on meat hooks upside down, their throats slit. A pile of bloody rags next to a kitchen bench. These elements come before you even meet the lizardmen in the tower, providing a great reason to hack the fuckers down. Motivating the players, as opposed to their characters, are a good thing and some evidence bestial humanoids do the trick. No abstracted generalities here. You FEEL it, even though much of it is implied in these early rooms. We move on to the first lizardman encounter, with a villager tied to a door, having javelins thrown at the by the lizardmen in the room, for sport. (Which might end up being “blood runs after the door” after hearing some thumping sounds, if you go in the towers front door instead of through the basement cave. Again, good hints of whats to come.) Javelins hitting with meaty thuds, and their wrists nailed to the door, their head hanging down. Nice! The payoff is “Staring blanky into space, a severed head has been cracked open like a boiled egg and a long-handled spoon juts out of it” in a dining room. Yup! It brings the viscereality. Which is what it SHOULD be doing. When I talk about using humanoids effectively (my preference for bandits instead of stand-in humanoids) this is what I’m talking about. There’s a brutality here that quickly indicates what the score is and why you’re hacking who you’re hacking I approve! The imagery isn’t always this good, but when it does hit it hits at 100%.
The designer does a good job also indicating whats in the next room, hinting at torch light or sounds or smells. But, I want to talk about some “environment” things that they also throw in. Combat after combat can be boring, but the designer sets up spme situations to bring some interest to it. Most obviously, this is a great chandelier in a room that can be dropped on people beflow it if you cut the cord (which, conveniently, is right next to the top of the stairs yu come up.) Similarly there is a dumbwaiter that the party could use, or a smaller member anyway, that could set up an interesting scene with one halfling/dwarf and five lizardmen and I can just envision some screams to be lowered, etc.
There are, though decent number of things to be improved upon.
The thing was thrown together fast, which is ok, but, the map is a little small and could have been blown up a bit more to make it more readable. The treasure seems quite light for a Gold=XP game, and an old spellbook is in a secret language that the party can’t read. Boo! Boo I say, Sir! Give’em a spellbook!
More, though, is the language and text. There’s some padding here, with a lot of “appears to be” thrown in. Read-aloud can get long in places and borders on being a bit flowery. Primarily, though, its long through overshare, telling us that barrels are water barrels and vegetables are rotting. Save this for the DM notes, so the players can investigate. I note, also, that certain sections could be rearranged to better effect. The chandelier handle perhaps appearing closer to the top of the entry, since the party will see it quickly, than the bottom of the room description. And the light, which appears on the bottom consistently, perhaps moving up in the description to enter quickly in to the DM’s head. The rooms FEEL long, with regard to the text, but, also, I can’t fault the DM text too much. It’s generally well laid out and the paragraphs focus on the elements they need to. And, the sentrysystem, the order of battle, isn’t laid out very well, with a gog appearing deep in the text and no real notes on how the tower responds to a pitched battle thats sure to develop.
I might call this almost a journeyman effort. Journeyman being Bryce codeword for “everything should be at least this good.” So, this gets close, I think, Yeah, it’s a tower raid, but, the bestial nature of the humanoids is well done and the extra environment elements do a bit to bring some novelty to a fight. A good strong edit and hard work on the text could do it well, and, maybe, something more. It just feels a little “one trick” and like the tower could use one more feature in it to bring it more fully to life and/or make it even more interesting or throw another wrench in to things, a complication.
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