A Rocky Road

By Noora Rose
Monkey's Paw Games
OSR
Level 1

The Rocky Road is a wind-swept taiga sixteen days north from the alkali scrublands of the southern Golden Empire of Enen and a fortnight west of the topless towers of the snow elfs. This is a vast, sprawling wilderness of rolling hills, of snow-capped peaks, of lush, verdant forests of larchwood and stately pine, and of cool, dark streams. This is not a land people travel willingly, and you are likely no exception; said to contain treasures mysterious and magical from before the Great Thaw, when the snow elfs ruled everything north of the Great Swamp, it has become a haunt of dwimmer and worse things. Few caravans travel this far north; those that do are rare and expensive to secure passage. To find the treasures of the Rocky Road, you must travel where the caravans do not.

This eighteen page adventure professes to be a hexcrawl but is actually just a series of, essentially,  wandering monster tables. Evocative writing elevates what content that IS present, but it lacks anything beyond just being a place to travel through. 

Something strikes me as WRONG about this thing, but, in thinking deeper about it, I’m not so sure. It has to do with the nature of a hex crawl. You traveling through hexes, perhaps with some purpose, and having adventures/encounters over and above the wanderers you meet along the way. But … what if we tweaked that formula a little? What if the hexes had no fixed encounters? What if EVERY hex was just was simply governed by randomness, the randomness generated by rolling on a table. DM rolls for wanderers, gets a 1, and rolls on a table. “Ok, this event/thing is taking place” and runs it. It is, essentially, a hex crawl with nothing in the hexes but with above average wandering monster encounters. Is that a hex crawl? It is the lack of fixed encounters that is bugging me here. Can it be an adventure if all there is contains a wandering monster table? What if it’s a GOOD wandering table? It seems WRONG to me. Like, I took one of those “1001 adventure hooks” books and included a map and said “Ok, this is a hex crawl.” Yeah …. Ok …. Sure. But, also, No?

Making things worse is the addition of landmarks on the map. The hex map has no scale … so I’m not even sure we can call it a map. There’s a great “West to the great swamp” and “east to the topless towers of the snow elfs” sort of compass on it. And, also, some other features. A cabin. Some ruins. Some megaliths. The megaliths span five hexes! But, wha scale? What adventure do they hold? Better hope the DM rolls a 1. I guess it’s just a source of inspiration for the DM to riff off of? And did I mention the DM is rolling every turn for wanderers/events?

But, also, the content is pretty good! On the job board (six entries offered) we get things like “Church of the Brass Sun: The Hierarch has commanded you to recover a fallen crusader’s body, so they might be offered properly to the pyre. Last seen investigating a barrow-downs.” Or “Thieves’ Guild: You have debts, and they have come to collect. Naught will spare your flesh from their hungry knives but an equal offering – a foreigner, hidden among the Hill-Folk, wanted for crimes greater than yours.”Great little things! The local hill folk are described as “Thick of neck, broad of shoulder; hard lands produce hard folk. They stink of elk-milk and campfire-smoke and wear their wealth in their ears and noses, on their beards and braids, about their ankles and wrists. There are no villages – it is unsafe to dwell in one place for long.” Rock on, I can run that! When the fey come to you in your dreams you get “white face, black eyes, fixed porcelain smile” Freaky deaky! 

And then there are the wanderers. Twenty for each terrain type. “9. Smoke on the horizon. A solemn pyre, and hill-folk funerary hymns.” or “Cassocked pilgrims, roped together, intoning a prayer in deep baritones as they trudge. They look badly dehydrated, but will refuse all aid.” There are things to riff on here. But, all, without purpose. Even more so than the usual hex crawls. 

It strikes me not as a hex crawl but rather just a wandering monster table of unusually large size. There’s nothing of a larger context really going on in the tables. There are no fixed sites. With a few fixed locations, nothing more than perhaps whats on the tables but tailored to a single site, along with perhaps some kind of over-arching met, then I can see this being an actual hex crawl. As is, though, it’s really just a wandering monster table. Too bad; the entries are good.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $3. The preview is six pages. You can see the job board and the caravan generator, which gives you an idea of the evocative nature, but the actual nature of the product is not revealed.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/397490/A-Rocky-Road?1892600

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15 Responses to A Rocky Road

  1. Reason says:

    Just what the crowd has been clamouring for!

    Gotta agree the scale makes no sense. Hexes on the map, but no scale given.

    In a hex crawl; time, distance, travel rates, routes and distance matter. Those are the logistics which add to or frame the challenges of trekking through the wilderness. Essential… But all that is unsupported because the map is wacky.

    So either the megaliths cover 15-20 or so square miles (at 1 miles hexes), which I guess is almost possible as a landscape full of them- but which 1 mile hexes make no sense for the whole “vast” conceit of the rest of it… or the megaliths cover several hundred square miles… ok…

    The author has made other stuff where they provide a scaled map- but drops the ball on one where it actually matters. Oops.

  2. Dave says:

    If the encounters are good I would absolutely use this a campaign resource, without it having to provide one session’s discrete adventure. So in that regard I’m a likely sale off this review.

    Are any of the encounters statted up though, or is Bryce only raving about the writing? For instance, “Church of the Brass Sun: The Hierarch has commanded you to recover a fallen crusader’s body, so they might be offered properly to the pyre. Last seen investigating a barrow-downs.” is not good content at all – for a published product. From experience I suspect I’m now going to have to map and key a barrow and/or it’s environs to use it. That the writing is punchy or evocative doesn’t change that “now roll up a barrow” isn’t an adventure I need to pay for. But maybe the encounter tables are more detailed than the job board.

    “There’s no scale!” What scale do you normally use for your overland map? That’s what scale it is. I guess I would expect to see it, but it hardly stops me from using it.

    • Reason says:

      It’s not just not having a scale, it’s that the inferred scale suggested for an overland map doesn’t fit- see several hundred/thousand square miles of henge, or otherwise the “vast overland trek” doesn’t work because it’s only a few miles big.

      Sure I can just make it up & run it like a pointcrawl – but it’s supposed to be a hexcrawl…

      When you have no maps for any the locations provided on the hexcrawl at all, no stats for the encounters on the hexcrawl and one big map that shows the general direction things are in but provides no help to support the hexcrawl/travel part of the premise then wtf is it? A list of encounter ideas- half formed.

      That’s not helping me run anything. I have ideas, I can wing things. I buy a module so I don’t have to do the maps & statting & fleshing it all out so I don’t to wing everything.

  3. Q says:

    Not just levels 1-3, but level 1. Well played, sir. The only thing that would have made this choice better is if it was more OSE hipster fantasy.

  4. Stripe says:

    Great review!

    It sounds like it did pretty good on your “3-or-4” pillars of adventure design. Ease of use (pillar 1) didn’t sound like a problem (I haven’t looked at it, but you didn’t gripe too much). Looks to me like evocative writing (#2) and interactivity (#3) are both pretty dang good.

    I guess it took a stumble at “the elusive Supreme-Court-Porn of ‘Design.’”

  5. OSR Fundamentalist says:

    ROCKY ROADS
    TAKE ME HOME
    TO THE PLACE I BELOOOOOOOOOOONG
    BIG BLACK BOOTIES
    AND PUSIES
    ROCKY ROADS
    TAKE ME HOME

  6. Anonymous says:

    I mean, this sounds like a do not buy ever? It’s just some random tables. How is this even reviewed as an adventure? The sentence ‘I took one of those “1001 adventure hooks” books and included a map and said “Ok, this is a hex crawl.” Yeah …. Ok …. Sure. But, also, No?’ says it all for me. I don’t care if the tables are evocative or if their content is good. That’s not an adventure, and that’s that.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like it could maybe work well as the wilderness area surrounding whatever dungeon adventure you want to place somewhere there? Although, if it’s truly statted for level 1 only and I have to rewrite all of the stats in order to make it actually useful in some fashion, maybe not.

  8. Thk13421 says:

    As a person who is more often looking to cannibalize adventures than run them start-to-finish, a loose framework for lots of evocative goodies is actually exactly what I am looking for. This seems like a great environment to plonk down another adventure into.

  9. Jonathan Becker says:

    So. Um.

    What is the purpose of a “dungeon master?” Is it just to entertain the players such that they will continue to come to your house and play “elf-games” when invited, occasionally bringing beer?

    “Dance clown! Dance for our fucking amusement!”

    If this is why you DM, then this looks like a GREAT product for your table. Who needs to think or world build or create a consistent setting. Just randomize the fuck out of it. Yay. “Evocative.” Fun fucking D&D.

    I haven’t purchased/read this product, so I can’t honestly judge by anything but the review of what it is. What has been reviewed sounds nauseating.

    Hopefully, the DMs making use of this will be gifted with lots and lots of free beer. Lots.

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