By AAA Video Game Designer and Author T. ELLIOT CANNON Selddog Games OSRIC 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. http://www.telliotcannon.com/” 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.