The Scorched Citadel

By Carl Ellis
Broken Arch Publishing
Low to Mid Levels

Beneath a dying sun, uncount- ably many years into the future, the Scorched Citadel lies in the ruins of a once great city. A wide, lazy river meanders near- by, chocked with nenufares and water dwelling creatures. 5 great towers rise from a hill like rotting fingers, the hill itself a great necropolis of moss- covered graves, crypts, and mausoleums. Squat, crumbling buildings radiate from the Citadel, becoming part of the ground as the wasteland edges towards the flickering outpost of civilisation.

This 45 page digest adventure/setting revolves around a ruined city, in a Book of the New Sun/Dying Earth type setting. Containing several civilized areas, all in a small area, and a few nine-ish room dungeons to explore, it is at once too large and too general, missing the mark of a hex crawl and a dungeon. 

Ha! I did it! I saw an adventure titled The Great Rift, was intrigued, and THEN saw it was by Bloch and avoided it! A first for me in controlling my unbridled enthusiasm! Yeah! Or, maybe, condolences on my loss of innocence? 

Yeah, so, this thing. The Scorched Citadel. Sounds cool, right? Meh. It’s a setting, really, with a couple of dungeons. All in 45 digest pages. Of which about 25% is a bestiary, etc. So, about 33 pages. That’s not much for about 45 hexes and four or so dungeons and five or so populated areas. That means each gets about one or maybe two pages of detail. That’s not much. At all. 

What you get, then, is something quite abstracted. Rumors are somewhat generic. “Eternal life lies in side the citadel” … which, while probably a relatable rumor for a place of power, gets old when they are all like this. We get descriptions like “Library. Contains records and medical texts.” Well, coloured me inspired. “Skeletons. 3d4 appear upon entering for either direction. TT O.” Ah ha! A delightful game ahead! We get this same level of details, maybe one sentence, maybe of something interesting but probably something generic and certainly abstracted, for all of the locations, dungeon or town. This is a problem. There’s nothing really to hang your hat on here. Yu’re going to riff, continually. You’re going to make things up, continually. And, I know, we all do that. You HAVE to do that. But the question is to what extent? There’s just not much to inspire the DM here. The setting is, to me personally, appealing in a Dying Earth kind of way, but you need more text, evocative, to give the DM SOMETHING to go with. Even a hex crawl sets up a situation to deal with (well, a good one does anyway) and doesn’t just say “Skeletons. TT O” You need SOME specificity, or, I would perhaps assert, you are not actually an adventure … which will not doubt piss off the people in to extreme minimalism … but fuck them. 

And, also, further abstracted. In a nineteen story tower, a centerpiece of the town, we get: “Levels 3-19: Abandoned dormitories” I get it, you want something impressive, but, also, you can’t stat the entire thing. Of the 45 hexes only a few have dungeons/encounters, with the rest showing potential dungeons and “The hexes are only partially stocked with content from this module. Sure, leaving some room for the DM is a time honored tactic. But, also, when EVERYTHING is abstracted, down to the dungeon encounters themselves, we must instead examine the choices made.

There’s an appropriate level of zooming in/out for an adventure of a certain type. A dungeon needs a certain level of detail. (Misguided people think that there’s room here for different people to like different levels of detail.) A town needs a different level. A region needs a different level of detail. Your product needs the match the level of zooming in/out that you are doing, providing enough information, barely, for the DM to riff on. Preserving the ability of the DM to scan the needed text and run the specific thing, quickly, before the players phones come out. That’s going to be different for a dungeon room than it is for a city than it is for a continent. 

The final room of the most important dungeon, the quest the party has been running after, is: “Heart Chamber. The heart itself is interred under a central glass floor. The walls are covered with screens and technological devices. A camp and supplies are in the southeastern corner. Anders is here, working at one of the devices. Tagros is attending him.” This is uninspired writing. Covered in technological devices. *yawn*

This is $6 at Drivethru. The preview is seventeen pages, more than enough to get a sense of writing style and level of detail.

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14 Responses to The Scorched Citadel

  1. Kramer says:

    Bryce said, “A first for me in controlling my unbridled enthusiasm!”

    Unbridled enthusiasm is what led to the downfall of Billy Mumphrey

  2. Evard’s Small Tentacle says:

    Are there any good post apocalyptic adventures or settings out there for dnd?

    • OSR Fundamentalist says:

      Dark Sun, McKinney’s Carcosa, Gamma World, Mutant Future, Apes Victorious, Anomalous Subsurface Environment, Amongus

    • PrinceofNothing says:

      Can Confirm Carcosa is good. Needs a little tinkering and stripping out of idiotic dice roll conventions, but once you get it started its fantastic.

  3. Chainsaw says:

    Planet Algol provided a pretty cool setting via many blog posts.

  4. Ishmayl says:

    Similar to Evard’s question, have you read any of these “adventures that are actually settings” that you’ve liked? I’m looking for some good setting inspiration currently.

  5. Stripe says:

    Thanks. Another great review, as usual.

    “(Misguided people think that there’s room here for different people to like different levels of detail.)”

    Haha! Don’t ever change, Bryce.

    Even if there *is* room for opinion, there’s *not* room in an objective metric—which is what you apply (even if it’s of your own devise) and one reason I love your reviews so much. My taste is *a little* more verbose than yours. However, I know what your taste is, and as such, I know how much leeway I, personally, can give an author after reading one of your reviews.

    I do think you have one or two (literally) opinions that are just flat-out incorrect, but that’s to be expected since nobody except me is perfect.

  6. Chris Hall says:

    This a quote from your last Joseph Bloch review in November: “Fun fact: I get Joseph Bloch and Joseph Mohr confused. They are the same person, in my head. They are not. Bloch at least knows what roleplaying is. Doesn’t support the DM at all, but, knows what roleplaying games ARE.”

    I wonder if you have confused them again. I think you’ve only reviewed Bloch twice, but you’ve looked at quite a few of Mohr’s.

  7. John F. says:

    Where is this alleged Great Rift adventure?

    Asking for a friend.

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