The Siege of Killburne Castle

By Radulf St Germain
Studio St Germain
Levels 3-5?

Somewhere near the border of the civilized lands lies the Sharkfin Coast. Here, all kinds of outcasts and scoundrels hide from the authorities and other bothersome fellows. Several of these people also make good money, most notably Bruce McHamish, the leader of the local smuggler gang hiding in the ruins of Killburne Castle. Now, McHamish has managed to anger Martellus, a powerful merchant prince. Martellus has taken two of his ships to interdict the smugglers’ base…..

This 43 page adventure presents a small sandboxy region with associated timeline. It’s more of a small region, I think, than an adventure, though. The differentiation being the degree of detail, perhaps? This is a strange thing to review, with the normal criteria not exactly applying … or, it does? 

I don’t even think I know where to start with thing. There’s this ruined seaside castle there are smugglers in it, led by Bruce. He’s finally pissed off a merchant house and they are laying siege to the castle with a couple of ships and a band of mercenaries on land. In around twenty days the merchant and his forces will launch their main assault on the castle. Until then, there are some machinations, on both sides, driven by a timeline. Sounds pretty standard, right? Welllllll…..

What’s throwing me here is the mashing up of several concepts. Sandbox adventure and regional setting, I guess? There are various sites, all related to what’s going on. They may take up two pages or so, single column, to describe, for around a dozen or so places in each location. “Ok, so what Bryce?” Well, there’s also NPC’s running around, with wants and personalities. “Yeah, that sounds ok” No no, hang on, there’s also this timeline and some quests tha the party can go on. “Yeah, bryce, that’s what is generally in a good adventure.” Yeah, man, but …

I think I’m complaining about the degree of zoom out in the adventure, and, perhaps, the focus on the main plot. (I’m using plot loosely here, there is a sandbox adventure.) Everything is pretty … abstracted? Here’s a room description: “Guard Room: There are five water elementals resting here in amphorae. If noise is being made(e.g. at the front door) they will emerge and attack anybody not wearing the holy symbol of their ghrine of the Seven Winds” Notice the fact based nature of this description. It’s not really a dungeon crawl description. And, it’s not a dungeon crawl, right? It’s a sandbox. But, it’s a sandbox with dungeocrawl elements. It’s more like an outline of an adventure rather than an adventure. And, again, my language is failing me here. Generally I’d be ok with this, but again, it’s the degree of the detail. This is, essentially, forty pages of an outline. “A halfling approaches the party and hires them to retrieve a dagger from site X, on behalf of the smugglers.” There’s more to it than that, but, essentially, that’s the degree of detail you’re working on. It’s like you’re reading the summary of the adventure rather than the adventure proper. 

(I’m not going to really mention some other things in this review. There are good parts. A giant snake that spits venom and has the head of a goat. That’s great! And “First impressions” room descriptions that don’t put the important bits up front and instead bury them after some general historial/background information. If you can hear people training and see smoke from the cooking fires, far before you reach a location, then that needs to be up front and not in the third paragraph. LENGTHY paragraphs.)

This is essentially an outline of an adventure, rather than an adventure. Take that room description I listed earlier. Can you work with that? Academically, sure. I can see what the designer was going for. But, also, it comes across at a degree of detail that is more like a small regional supplement (which is a lot going on in a 6km/8km region.) 

There are a lot of people and factions to interact with. A lot of GREAT NPC’s, who are not just goons, pursuing their own goals. But you don’t get names, or personalities of most of them. You get a general vibe but that’s it. (This extends to treasure, which, also, i think is a really light for an adventure of this size.)

There are a lot of great little bits in this. The wanderers are great little vignettes. But they can’t support the abstracted/zoomed out nature f the adventuring sites on their own. This is a toolkit for an adventure … without it being a toolkit.

Do you want that? Academically I can see a place in the genre for these sorts of little regional settings.l But, also, No? I mean, why am buying this when I could run Demon Wolf, or something else, which provides more support for the DM? 

It’s a funny little product, and you can see me struggling to review it. So much of it SEEMS like it should ok, but, also, I know thatI’m not going to put in the work, beforehand or at the table, to run this when I could run something else. Maybe, what I’m saying here, is that this is the equivalent of module B2, but in a regional/sadnoxy form? You need to bring the thing to life, and, of course, that’s what the tagline of most of the old adventures said. But, also, it’s not 1978 anymore and design has moved on. 

Is that ok? I don’t know. I really want to like this. I like the scope of it. But not the degree of detail, in a forty page product.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is seven pages. I encourage you to read the first page. That shows one of the five adventures i the book. That’s it. That’s what you get. Along with the sites, of course, but those are minimal, like the guard room example I gave. So, there’s your adventure. Cool?

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9 Responses to The Siege of Killburne Castle

  1. SolCannibal says:

    Can definitely see you struggling with this one, lots of potential but the lack of essential detail in many parts bring it down from what it could have been. Just a little more effort on the writer’s part…

    Or maybe it could work for a casual GM who’s not worried about time, remember B2 and other adventures of this era fondly, i guess…

    • Gnarley Bones says:

      B2 is quite detailed.

      • Maynard says:

        That’s right, I love talking to my favorite memorable NPC’s like Jewel Merchant, Trader, Priest, and Corporal of the Watch.

        • Gnarley Bones says:

          As one should. After all, if one can’t DM the one module that has now shepherded literal generations of new DMs and players, one needs more practice.

          • rekalgelos says:

            Maynard didn’t say he couldn’t DM it, he said “jeweler” does not a detailed/memorable NPC make. Bones, he dunked all over you dude.

          • Gnarley Bones says:

            If you say so; not everything is a troll-war, son.

  2. Stripe says:

    Hey, my first request! Thanks, Bryce!


    I . . . I don’t know. It knida sounds like it misses the mark both as a regional mini-setting *or* as a series of adventures/mini-campaign.

    I read the preview, but it’s just not quite doing it for me for the reasons you detailed.

  3. Hmm. Sounds like some of the old Judge’s Guild supplements (City State comes to mind first and foremost). I guess – just run it and see what emerges on the fly? I’m sure your players would give some nudges toward what they would like to do, then you can use the background as a way to meet the players halfway?

  4. Jeff V says:

    I picked this up because it was the deal of the day on Drivethru, and I wonder if it has been amended since Bryce’s review.

    For instance, on the first page it says:

    How to Run This Adventure
    The party is approached by May Honeyfish, an old friend of theirs, who recruits outside help for the beleaguered smugglers. Over the course of the adventure, she will present them with 5 missions (see page 3) that will change the balance of power in the conflict. Meanwhile, the forces of Martellus are not idle and will take actions on their own (Possible Time Line, pg. 3).

    Which would answer Bryce’s comment that he doesn’t know where to start with it.

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