The Mysterious Witch

By Christian Blair
Self Published
Low Levels

The Mysterious Witch is an adventure designed for low level players, for use in any fantasy generic-system TTRPG. This adventure is themed around dark magic, mystery and corruption. Exploration and dangers await players as they travel into a forsaken village among the woods, besieged by undead creatures and horrors. The village asks for help to find the culprit, but the actual truth is more complicated, and beneath the dark veil, a sad reality awaits.

This seven page adventure features a five room dungeon. And small glade to explore. It’s generic, in the abstracted way, rather than in a system neutral way. Well, it’s that also, but, the adventure is more of an outline, devoid of anything interesting that would be useful to the DM in a meaningful way.

I think system agnostic adventures have a lot of potential. At least, system agnostic adventures of a certain type. You’ve got the ones that try to stat something using a “universal” system, usually the older fold who got traumatized by The Game Wizards lawyers. Then you’ve got my favorite type of system agnostic adventure, the ones that are really just an adventure without stats or mechanics to speak of. I mean, sure, a small mechanic or here, but, generally the designer trusts the DM to do what they need to to run the adventure, and maybe stats things for BX or something. This is, I think, the way most people run adventures anyway. You take something for some system, probably not your own, and do a kind of conversion on the fly. Maybe monster stats ahead of time but the rest is on the fly. I really like this sort of thing and I think it has a lot of potential. I really don’t care about balance or mechanics in my adventures, that’s what I’m there for. I’m in this for a decent environment for the party to explore an dplay in, some fun situations and so on, and you don’t need mechanics for that. Then there’s the third type of system agnostic adventure. The kind that is all too common. The one that is essentially an outline. Abstracted content that is not too specific. Almost minimalism. And usually, as in this case, minimalism that is expanded and padded out. Booo!

So, villagers are going missing. Like, ALOT of villagers. There’s not much information on that, almost none at all. They suspect undead? But also, they suspect a witch and know where she lives and want you to go get her. This is the first abstraction. Not many villagers and no real story to tell of the abductions. Or the undead. Nothing really at all. Just what I typed above. Yes, absolutely, it’s up to the DM to fill in things and bring a game to life, but, also, the designer needs to give them the tools to do that. And just saying that there have been a lot of abductions and they think undead might be invoved is not enough. You need some terrified looks. Boarded up windows. Some personal tales from people. You need to set the VIBE for the DM to then riff further on. And this don’t do that.

“Once the layers reach the clearing they will find themselves surrounded by four ruined stone houses and a dry well.” Note the padding. “They will find themselves surrounded by.”  and “once they reach the clearing.” My old quantum example I thinks makes the best point about this, but, whatever. This is a conversational style. That pads things out. There is a clearing with four ruined stone houses and a dry well. We then get a description of the dry well. “The dry well has an object hidden at the bottom. It is a dungeon map that reveals the witch’s last location”. Again, padded out They find a hidden object. No, They find a map. And, to boot, it’s boring as fuck. “That reveals the witches last known location.” This is an outline. There is no specificity. It’s an abstraction description devoid of any life. Going further we get the same sort of descriptions for the first house and the big house. Then a paragraph tell us tat amongst the ruins of “a house’ there’s a giant creature feasting on a dead body. The feasting is good, but thahat’s not the ont. It’s another paragraph. AND THEN we learn that, in another paragraph, there’s a zombie lying stuck on top of the dry well. NO! We put things relevant to an object near the object in the description. Stuck is an abstraction. Tell us how. Zommbie is an abstraction. Describe it to us. Paint the picture of what is ging on for the DM to expand upon and rif fon and run the encounter. It’s fucking terrible.

The entire thing is like this. Abstracted generic descriptions. No life in it at all.

And then there’s the design, proper. “On the altar lies a scroll with the following riddle: ”It’s so magical, it comes every night. It takes you away without moving. To see it, close your eyes. ” If the players say the answer out loud: Dream. The scroll magically transforms into a golden key.” This is the worst kind of thing. Just a meaningless riddle, unrelated to the game, a pretext to give out a key. Lame.

This is free at DriveThru. But you will never get your time back. All for a misunderstood evil witch.

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16 Responses to The Mysterious Witch

  1. OSR says:

    The first thing I think about when it comes to village scale adventures:
    1) Why haven’t they solved the problem themselves? A village full of 0th level characters with simple weapons is enough to kill most monsters, even a dragon if it’s caught in a bad spot.
    2) Why haven’t the local lord dealt with the problem? Presumably the village pays tax to someone for protection.

    Answering these questoins is usually enough to make the whole situation a whole lot more interesting and the people you’re helping more compelling and less helpless.

    • Knutz Deep says:

      I look at it like an episode of the A-Team. The townsfolk/villagers are incapable or unwilling, for whatever reason, of handling the problem themselves so they look for an outside source to rid them of their woes. Maybe they’re timid and cowardly. Maybe the local officials are corrupt or self serving. Actually, that’s not an uncommon theme in many westerns. The townsfolk can’t go to their sheriff because he’s cowardly, lazy, corrupt, etc

    • OSR Fundamentalist says:

      Why haven’t the poor solved the problem themselves? A city full of 0-level wagies with simple weapons is enough to kill most elites, even a multimillionaire if it’s caught in a bad spot.

  2. Stripe says:

    It’s this type of adventure that makes me think the author doesn’t even know the purpose of a printed adventure, and I don’t mean “usability at the table.” That’s the *second* step. That’s what Bryce covers. How to make an adventure useable at the table by the GM. (He also covers how to make it a good product, but that’s even farther out.)

    This was an epiphany doe me a few years ago when I got into the OSR: “Conceptual density (or ‘What are RPG books *for*, anyway?’)”

    I hate to paraphrase it, but I think one has to understand this first to really get what Bryce is trying to say.

    • Dave says:

      I broadly agree with the point linked. I dial it back one notch though. I’ll take, say, “generic vanilla orc village/lair” IF it’s done the heavy lifting on a good map, order of battle for the orcs, maybe a couple of prisoners worked up, or what the orc chief wants if you talk to him. That’s all stuff I could have come up with myself, but doing the grunt work adds value.

      Of course, “generic orc village with no map or order of battle” is the worst of both worlds, and too many adventures do that in one way or another. You shouldn’t be offloading mapping or other work onto the DM if most DMs running it will need to do it.

  3. Reason says:

    This guy is trying hard with presentation & to get his stuff out there- he’s got, patreon, posts these things up on Reddit & etc.

    I see zero other feedback for him on those fora.

    If he finds this he might be able to channel that drive into improving the delivery… I’m guessing there’s so little other feedback because peoples eyes glaze over when they see the abstract idea for an adventure sketched out, without any of the juicy bits and just kind of move along.

    There’ll all free from what I see so there’s a labour of love in there somewhere.

    • Endless says:

      Indeed. I’ve been trying to get some sort of attention to gain feedback/reviews, but haven’t had that much luck so far. This adventure in particular garnered a lot of attention of Reddit… because I inadvertently drew the star of David as a pointer on the map. So yeah, been having some issues trying to get some support there, but I hope to make some more movements in the future.

      And yes, I highly enjoy and love writing these adventures. I do a lot of writing for this hobby and I thought to share some of that love with the rest of the community, to at least give back what I’ve felt I’ve been given (in the form of all those free modules I’ve checked out). Plus, I really enjoy D&D and hope to leave a tiny mark on the field. If someone enjoys what I do or finds me helpful, I’ll be damn happy! 🙂

  4. Yora says:

    I HATE riddles in RPGs. The purpose of passwords is that they identify people who are supposed to have access, and keep out anyone who has not been informed about the correct reply. What’s the point of passwords when every random trespasser can figure it out in two minutes. Or knows the answer already only halfway through the riddle?
    It’s stupid. It breaks every sense of believability.

    • PrinceofNothing says:

      There is a sort of mythical precedent for riddles that is impossible to disassociate from fantasy. I think as a means of gaining access to some carefully concealed treasure they are perfectly acceptable. As a means of barring progress towards the adventure’s conclusion they are terrible because not getting the answer brings the adventure to a grinding halt.

      • Reason says:

        I’m pro-riddle. Maybe the riddle came off as too easy in English because of the non-native speaker angle requiring clearer clues or being subtler in other language.

        Riddles demanded for egress by the guardian of the trap you already made the mistake of falling into- fine by me. Mythic.

        Riddle carved into a golem, which gives control over it if answered- fine by me. Hard to get to read (get creative to read it or concentrate during combat instead of swinging) but gives a non-combat solution to an encounter & interesting ally. Riddles can be good.

    • Kubo says:

      Agree with Prince of Nothing on all points here. I’m thinking riddle of the sphinx in classic mythology. Making easier riddles is simply for the players who are not brilliant (but can say their characters were geniuses in game for solving the riddle) and for players who may hate thorny riddles/puzzles. BTW as a DM I don’t mind throwing in a puzzle or riddle in game even if I know not all players will like it.

  5. Endless says:

    Woah! I didn’t expect to see myself here at all, and was kinda scared to haha. Thanks a lot for the review, and while it does hurt to see the verdict, I highly appreciate the feedback and I hope to improve on it.

    I released this adventure little over a month ago, and feedback/critique has been a major issue for me, since I can’t find people willing to help out with that. This adventure was one of the first adventures I personally designed for my table, and although my casual players liked it, I didn’t have a more accurate or experienced opinion to base my improvements on.

    I design these adventures with the idea that they can be played in a single session, and that’s why I try to make things a little less ”developed”, since the idea was to create a quick to play scenario. Now I see the mistakes in it, and I hope I can fix them. I do find myself a bit drowned because I do everything by myself, don’t have D&D/TTRPG friends, and I’ve tried a lot to try get some public feedback but doesn’t seem to work. I check out the ratings on DriveThruRPG, but they don’t tell me much. Either people just leave 4-5 star ratings out of some sort of pity, or I don’t know. Since I’ve published back in May, I’ve done 4 adventures now, with a grand total of 2 reviews, including yours. I do keep grinding and I’d like to think this review is an effect of it, even if not the best effect I wanted lol

    I read this blog from time to time, and the truth is that I never imagined to see one of my adventures here, haha. A hard but necessary blow. I appreciate the words! Also, sorry for the mistakes and typos. English is not my mother tongue and I don’t have proofreaders to help out with that, so I miss some shit sometimes.

    • Stripe says:

      Great attitude!

    • squeen says:

      Agree with Stripe!

      “I design these adventures with the idea that they can be played in a single session…”

      I wouldn’t suggest this. There’s no real advantage to forced shallowness. Just design a good adventure and don’t worry about the length. Make it hold water instead.

  6. Dave says:

    I disagree with our host on the utility of the statless approach to system agnostic adventures. I can convert stats for almost any D&D clone on the fly faster than I can assign stats. There’s enough of a difference it makes published statless too much of a chore to run.

    Including even some I otherwise like. Spire by Simon Forster for instance is otherwise excellent, I like the map and the village, but by the time I got through the whole thing for stats I’d be halfway to rolling my own dungeon.

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