Black Ship of the Sunless

By AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON
Selddog Games
Levels 8-10

As a larger body of work, Black Ship of the Sunless has a central theme – corrupted history. This first episode, Black Waters, serves as the inciting incident, transitioning your players from reality to the surrealistic version of the island of Cozumel on the Yucatán peninsula in the year 1519. The player’s ship is about to smash into a coral reef and find themselves marooned and trapped at the footsteps of a pre-Columbian Maya temple at Tantum Cuzamil

This 61 page adventure, written by AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON, features three different versions of the same reality. The players kill a spanish conquistador to escape each one, and the afterlife place/reality they are in. Oops, sorry, no, my bad. I meant to say that AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON has written an absolutely SHIT FEST of an adventure that stands out as one of worst pieces of dreck I’ve ever reviewed.

I don’t know, what, ten years? Three a week? I’ve seen some shit, man. But this one, ooooh boy, its really pushing the limits of the fucking shit I have to eat three times a week. AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON has written a real doozy. When you get through my jaded exterior of depressingly low expectations then you’ve done a job indeed!

On page three, the title page, we’re told that this adventure was Written by AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON. Look man, I’m fine with hubris. But, you gotta know, AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON, that choice was gonna lead to this? It is ABSOLUTELY the first sign that this was going to be a very special adventure.

The next page? How about this little blurb right at the top: “Reference to the content in this work in any media must include the below citation verbatim.

Cannon, T. Elliot. Black Ship of the Sunless. St Johns, Florida. April 2022.

T. Elliot Cannon – Video Game Designer and Author.”    Really? “Must” is an awfully strong word  AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON … Must? I debated not putting it in at all. I mean, there are absolutely fucking zero consequences for doing so, but, then I thought “And loose this fucking chance to let all of your potential customers know what kind of person you are,  AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON? I think not!”  

Ok,  AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON, we’re going to cover something quite basic here: RPG adventures are not video games. Nor are they novels.  AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON, RPG adventures are a piece of technical writing. They are meant for a very specific purpose. The DM opens them up at the table and runs an adventure from them. I know, crazy, right? But, because of this, you are trying to write something that facilitates the DM doing that. We’re gonna touch on that more.

But, first let’s start this adventure! Everyone ready to play? Great! Let’s start with the DM reading a read-aloud that is two pages long!  “The shrimp with lemon, garlic, capers, and linguini paired with a full bottle of white wine sent you to bed …”

Jesu Christo!  AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON, what have you done?! Two fucking pages?! Of read-aloud?! I hesitate in making hyperbolic statements, but, as a general rule, I think I can pretty confidently state that any time you are two pages to explain something, in D&D, you’ve have fucked up BAD. Did you know,  AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON, that players don’t listen to read-aloud? Did you know that they tune it out after awhile? Did you know that’s why they pull out their phones and disengage from the game? Did you know that no one wants to read, or hear, your fantasy heartbreaker novel text while playing this adventure (Specifically, this adventure. Maybe you’re a good author. I don’t know. But we DO NOT write D&D text, even read-aloud, like it’s fantasy autor meme text.) It’s all true! There’s even a study, done by some WOTC folks, from a con, that shows that players begin to tune out read-aloud after three of four sentences. Weird, right, that they would want to actually play the game instead of being talked at? Heeeeeyyyyyy …..  AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON, you’re not one of those AAA Video Game Designers that makes a person site through their fucking intro videos, without a skip key, are you?  Hmmm … things may be starting to make sense now …

Let’s see … then we have AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON  explicitly stating that it’s inciting incident time .. time to grab the players attention! This is fucking dumb. First, you had two pages of read aloud, which put the fucking players to sleep, sent them to the kitchen, bathroom, and Hayville on their phones, then you just dump them in to a pretext combat. Uh huh. No interaction AT ALL. Just yelling COMBAT! 

Do you think this is what D&D is? Listening to two pages of read-aloud and then being IMMEDIATLY dumped in to a combat? Do you think this is what AD&D is, in particular? Do you understand how old school D&D is different from Pathfinder/5e and the like, in how squishy characters are and how BAD of an idea is to force combat on them? I mean, outside of the issue that you are FORCING them to do something at all? Do you understand that a good game is about meaningful choices and that you have done NOTHING to facilitate that?

No, you don’t. How do I know this?

There are no fixed enemies. The DM is told to just throw skeletons at the party, in the first encounter, until the DM is satisfied it’s been a good time. “The goal here is to challenge the players against smart enemies so they savor their victory” we are told by  AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON. Depressingly,  AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON doesn’t understand that this is not how you challenge your players. You challenge your players by giving them the opportunity to use their wits, and creative thinking. To explore on their own. You don’t do it by jumping to a scene, reading a bunch of read-aloud, and then yelling COMBAT and having them fight a tactical setup. They mus have the opportunity, generally, to pick and choose and be strategic in their adventure, in their resources consumed, and so forth. Yes, there’s a place for a forced combat, but the entire concept of an inciting incident, as a combat, is bad bad bad advice hanging on since the 90;s. “When the players run low on enemies, have more pop up through gaps in the ship’s hull. This first encounter is about excitement, conflict, setting the tone, and start having fun playing.” No. “When the time is right, smash the ship on the reef, prompting your players to swim to shore in the middle of night during the hurricane” No.

Have I mentioned extraneous information that clogs up the single column text? Single column is hard to rad, to reference at the table. The text is in paragraph form, making it hard to reference at the table. I don’t mean “normal” adventure paragraphs, I mean book style paragraphs. This is impossible to run. You need a highlighter, and if y ou need a highlighter, and can’t quickly pick out pertinent information, then the designer (AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON, in this case) has done a bad job. “Narváez is the passenger on the Soaring Gull at the onset of the adventure who breaks the seal on a Tome of Black Waters. Although he is dead after the early encounter, his story is of interest as it will appear later as clues and in texts.” No. His story is not of interest. It’s only of interest if it contributes to play at the table. 

The players are on a railroad. There are no meaningful NPC’s. The villagers, ghostly, that you could interact with are not detailed in any way to allow the party to interact well. The bulk of the encounters are a giant chunk of read-aloud and then a paragraph of DM text that is meaningless. There is no interaction other than combat. 

Best of all, exposition. “Utilize the Guardian to explain that current situation where there are three facets of time, the Ghostly Facet, the Life Facet, and the Death Facet and that these formed due to the actions of General Pedro de Alvarado. Ensure the Guardian also explains who Ix Chel is and how her Oracle has the knowledge of how to merge the three facets of the 1519 Glimpse back to normal time, which is in essence the key to the player character’s escape from this infinitely looping world. D&D is not an exposition dump. We learn these things, or should anyway, through play. Through interacting with the adventure, with the environment, with the NPC’s Not through an expo dump. 

As the designer tells us “ Fortunately, any death sends them back to the Ghostly Facet on

the beach.” Thus, there CAN BE NO MEANINGFUL PLAY, because there are no consequences This is player tune out on a magnitude that I have seldom seen.

Can we blame  AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON for all of this? Well, he did write it, so yes. But, also, I hazard a guess that  AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON has never seen a good adventure.  AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON wasn’t born with an innate ability to write a good adventure.  AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON experience in novels or video games will not translate to this form of technical writing. Yes, you gotta write to get better. You have to DO, create. But, also, you need to figure out what a good adventure looks like before, hopefully, you do so. Otherwise your vision will not translate to the DM and therefore to the players. 

This is $5 at Drivethru. The preview is three pages. You get to see the main read-aloud. Joy. There is nothing in that preview to tell you what the actual adventure looks like, unless you know enough to avoid adventures with two pages of read-aloud. And, there’s no reason this should be an 8-10 adventure. There’s nothing special here to make it that except HD for the skeletons, etc.

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34 Responses to Black Ship of the Sunless

  1. David says:

    I love your salty reviews! Thank you for brightening my day 🙂

  2. Nick Kenyon says:

    Absolutely belting. Some of your finest work.

  3. Grützi says:

    –As the designer tells us “ Fortunately, any death sends them back to the Ghostly Facet on…–

    Remind me again who the designer is?? Kinda slipped my mind 😛

  4. Shitty Adventure says:

    I think someone needs to invite AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON to this blog post

  5. Gnarley Bones says:

    And this is only Episode One!

  6. Anonymous says:

    It’s just Black Ship of the Sunless, not Sunless Sea, which could matter for searches.

    It also sounds very exciting and I can’t wait for you to review all XVLMC parts of this saga.

  7. Melan says:

    This is like lowering a fresh, bloody carcass into the shark tank. Gruesome but satisfactory.

  8. Anonymous says:

    AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON please take the time to read some of the adventures on Bryce’s “The Best” list!

  9. PrinceofNothing says:

    Olympean Fury.

  10. SG says:

    FYI, the Pathfinder version of this adventure is currently free on the author’s website.

  11. allan says:

    AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON does a walkthrough of this adventure on his youtube channel. Sadly, it appears as though he has a written many adventures.

  12. DinoTuesday says:

    So I agree with 95% of what you wrote here. 2 pages of read aloud text, throwing generic skeletons over and over until combat feels done, lack of interactivity or NPCs, exposition on top of exposition from bosses, time-looping groundhog day style to eliminate consequences of failure, poor formatting that read like an author’s story and ignores player choices…these all are bad adventure writing.

    BUT I really like a hot start that jumps right into a crisis (or combat) scenario. It’s like the opposite of read aloud text because it cuts right to the game play and can be very exciting when well executed AND allow impactful choices if properly designed. I designed my game with a mini point crawl crash-landing sequence that let the players choose where in my hexcrawl they land and how bad the impact will be (they stalled the impact tracker through some clever ideas) and how many survivors they end up with (now working as henchmen of a sort). Their actions had consequences and lasting effects on the world as they even thought to eject the engine which landed elsewhere in the jungle. It’s also a nice “stream” that leads into the full “pool” that is the whole hexcrawl. The hot start felt a lot better than the time I tried to drop the PCs into a tavern to awkwardly RP before the real adventure started.

    I’m not trying to be argumentative, I just want to know what makes a hot start fundamentally bad?

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      Like most things, when it becomes formulaic, and lacks life, then it becomes bad.

      • MattC says:

        Agree…and to take it a step further…”Let’s start with COMBAT!” isn’t really a choice or situation if it was “You feel the covers being pulled away from you, as your eyes open to see, blearily, a skeletal figure looming above you, what do you do?” (OR WHATEVER) — just saying a situation that opens up gameplay, not a situation that only opens up combat, would be better, I think. Idk..I am probably overthinking this.

    • Alex says:

      Bryce mentioned hot starts into combat specifically. I started my last campaign with a combat. It was exciting until the monsters won initiative and killed 2 PCs

  13. Reason says:

    I’ve started plenty of games in media res. Which is different than just yelling combat.

    Take the classic, “The ship/village is under attack”… which could mean combat (but it should be clear this is avoidable); or could mean a chance to scoot around & gather equipment/loot in the chaos; search for clues amid the chaos either in fpreviously guarded forbidden areas or by watching whther the enemy is rampant killing or searching house to house etc; scope out the nature of the attack/best avenue for escape; gather allies or help others etc.

    Done right all of those things are viable/pre-seeded/supported and it becomes a genuine choice. (even fighting if killing x foes will draw the attention of the Dino Lord or Y will kill enough to forestall any pursuit etc).

  14. Baldo says:

    The price dropped to $2.99 and the preview got 7 additional pages (10 total), I suppose Mr. AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON read this review.

  15. Legion says:

    This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

  16. WhateverFloatsYerBoat says:

    You cry about 2 pages of “read-a-loud” but then your review drags on like “War & Peace” Was this a review or just a rant of a blow-hard is all I am left with after reading it…..

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      Absolutely; it’s a rant by a blow-hard. I make no excuses

      • WhateverFloatsYerBoat says:

        Your life must suck to see life through such hateful eyes.

        • OSR says:

          You don’t need to be a hater to realize something blows.

        • OSR Fundamentalist says:

          ya seethe bitch lmao

          • Legion says:

            I’m willing to bet WhateverFloatsYerBoat is code for AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON

        • Bryce Lynch says:

          Ya got me. I live a meaningless existence, distracted by the bread and circuses of a sybarite lifestyle. I struggle against the ennui of an existence in which I know I will die and yet continue to live. Day in, day out, facing the unrelenting absurdity of life, struggling to make it through. A respite, any at all, grasped at, looking for hope … looking for meaning. My last refuge, a worthless blog on the internet where I waste my money, day after day, looking for some kind of delight to stave off the introspection.

    • Edgewise says:

      You cannot “win” this way. The only way to win here is to learn from the review and do better next time. Bryce knows what he’s talking about when it comes to adventure design. I know it’s hard to swallow but you’ll be better for it.

  17. Alex says:

    Press F for AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON

  18. OSR Fundamentalist says:,1299/
    Damn, AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON’S body of work looks like *THAT*?

  19. Anonymous says:

    Dragon age Kelsey Dionee and Courtney Cambell New Greg Gggg

    Do that stuff, I love you, AMERICA

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