By Scott Rehm Angry Games Inc 5e Level 1
While escorting a merchant through the alpine forests of Asternia, the heroes find that the titular fortress, Silverpine Watch, has barred it’s gates to travelers. Inside the fortress, the heroes must deal with undead abominations risen from the Watch’s former garrison and the vengeful ghost of the Watch’s commander.
This 102 page adventure features a small garrison tower with 24 rooms. The designer justifies the page count by calling it an adventure for first time players. The basic outline of the adventure is not terrible, but the format is terrible and the descriptions depressingly flat. I can’t imagine trying to run this thing.
Ok, so, no, it’s not 102 pages for 24 rooms. The actual adventure begins around seventeen, or maybe page twenty f you ignore the fluff meeting each other shit. Or, page 37 if you ignore a brief overland journey full of tutorial play. And, then, it send on page 68, so those 24 rooms “only” come in at 31 pages. Hey hey hey! Only about a page a room! Of course, in reality, some get two or three pages and an empty room just takes up a column. Just. The rest of the page count has the monster stats, some magic items descriptions, and maps and handouts and pregens. Sure, handouts are fun. Soak em in tea and burn em! But, also, ahem how about a little extra work on the adventure?
I’m supposed to say nice things about an adventure first, but, I find that hard to do here. Because I am so offended. I think what I’m most offended by is the implicit assertion that More is More, when it comes to an intro adventure. Describe everything. Provide excruciating detail nd advice to the DM on what to do and how to do it
I cannot think of a more terrible way to introduce someone to D&D. By setting expectations that you need to know all of this, that you need to read and be familiar with all of this? That you need, what, sixteen thousand hours to prep the adventure, in order to run it? Or, worse, take forever reading a room, at the table while the players are waiting, to read and understand a room … while they bored and think thats what D&D is.
I am aware that people think I’m fucking idiot. _I_ think I’m a fucking idiot. But, shit like this is the reason WHY I harp on this shit so much. I don’t know The Angry DM. I don’t follow them. Presumably they have a decent audience and, I guess, are a decent DM. There is no way in fucking hell that they would use this adventure, as written, to run a game, could there be? No, surly not. So, instead., they wrote something that they would never use, in its current form? We do not learn how to play D&D by making each room in to a book. The fucking 1E DMG existed in a time in which there was no internet. There were not Tv shows and podcast and a million twitch streams and youtube channels showing people how to play D&D. If you want to know how to play D&D then you learn how to play D&D. I find it hard to believe that ANYONE would wander in to the Angry DM’s website, find this adventure, and be like “Yup, thats it, I know nothing else but Im gonna grab four other people and play D&D!” We must assume that people read English and will take a bathroom break when needed. Because otherwise we get something like this. Something SO padded out that it is impossible to run. SOmething that leaves the impression that you need billions of hours to prep and adventure and that running it will be an arduous task.
And, notably, it does this without creating any sort of an interesting environment. The degree to which each room is described is … interesting. It’s using an general overview statement and then some bullets, but, it’s all facts based and EXTREMELY bland. It’s meant, I think, for the DM to riff on. But it comes off as uninspired and mechanistic.
“B2 As Oona and the party chat, they round a bend in the road and find their way blocked by a fallen tree. The dense forest and rough terrain make it impossible to drive the cart around the roadblock. [useless text follows, then …]
- As the cart rounds a bend in the road, the party spies a dead tree trunk fallen across it.
- Oona draws Dapple and Mist to a stop.
- If none of the heroes take action after a moment, Oona tells whoever appears strongest to move the dead fall”
This is the wonder of D&D, folks! I support the general format, minus the useless text, but, the dead presentation is not worthy of the name D&D. The text, the descriptions of what you see and what is going on, should inspire the DM! It should plat a seed in their head, that their own imagination takes over and runs with. That then facilitates the description to the players. “A dead tree trunk fallen across it” doesn’t do that. You don’t need read-aloud to do this, but you do need to craft an actual fucking description that DESCRIBES. The descriptions, throughout the adventure, are quite piss poor. (WHich is a little weird, because the magic items ARE decently described. “Four ounces of pink liquid that tastes like honey in a small bottle, flask, or jar.” or “Armor made of overlapping layers of hardened, red-brown leather. The leather is embossed with magical runes and studded with enameled rivets.” For a healing potion and +1 studded leather, these are great descriptions. Short, terse, and makes you intrigued.
And, you know, there ARE some decent bits in here. Ghosts make an appearance in this, and the DM is instructed “Ghosts exude an aura of cold and darkness. Consequently, whenever the ghost is nearby, the heroes feel a noticeable chill in the air and any light sources they are using, includ- ing light spells, are slightly diminished. The effect is small, but noticeable and has no effect on the rules.” That’s great use of foreshadowing and environment effects. Of course, it’s buried in the text, in a place you’ll never find/remember to see it, outside of the room keys, with no cross-reference to it (a common problem here. “The dagger, which is the key plot point, is located here. It is described elsewhere.” Seriously?)
Treasure is noted as “The drinking horn is a valuable treasure.” or “the moonstone is a valuable treasure.” Without noting how much cash I can get for it at the local pawnAmerica. In fact, the main plot point cursed dagger is not really magic at all, even though it IS, and is a central plot point.
The thing is weird. Good ideas and descriptions, tossed in willy nilly, an attempt at formatting that fails completely because of the LACK of understand how to write an adventure for publication.
Oh, also, you’re fighting undead and stirge in this. And dogs. “If you are not comfortable with the idea of the heroes killing starving dogs, keep the dogs alive at 0 hit points and have them flee.” No comment is made by the designer on killing innocent insect thingies like stirge, though. I guess only cute starving monsters deserve life.
“Some words and phrases appear in bold to call out encoun- ter elements that will be described in more detail in the en- counter’s text.” I think I know when to go to the bathroom by myself without being told.
“After Oona makes five death saving throws, she stabilizes on her own.” *sigh*
“As long as at least one member of the party has a light source, assume the room they are in is sufficiently well-lit for their activities. It is not necessary to keep careful track of the radius of the light provided by different sources.” *sigh*
“The heroes can hear the clunk of the lock mechanism as the ghost telekinetically locks the door.” Because that’s how I want my ghost to work. He locks locks with telekinesis. How about the fuking door is just locked and he floats through it, since he floats through it anyway?
The Angry GM might be a perfectly good GM. I don’t know. But what I do know is that being a good GM and being a good writer of an adventure are two different things. Being good at one does not make you good at another. Easy to use/scan at the table/terse. Evocative writing. Interactivity. And calling it a First Time Player adventure isn’t an excuse. We don’t pander AND that’s not the right way to teach someone/lessons to be learnt about a published adventure. Which is too bad, because the core of this adventure is decent.
The “specifically designed for new or inexperienced GMs” part was what I was looking for when I saw this last year.
I think I gave up after 20–30 pages of it barely getting anywhere and then not really feeling it once it did. What a slog.
Funny thing, if I recall correctly, Rehm started with Mentzer, and called out the Bargle module therein as a good way of teaching DMs. Specifically because it had blank spots that the DM was supposed to fill in himself i.e. because the DM was not spoon-fed the details.
The Bargle discussion seems to be gone from his website, but check out this quote: “I got started with this crap back in 1988. I was ten. I got a copy of the Mentzer Basic Dungeons & Dragons Red Box – the single greatest product for bringing players and GMs into the fold EVER – and I realized that if I wanted to play this game, I was going to have to make it happen myself. I kidnapped two of my friends and made them play. I was the GM. And I’ve been the f$&%ing GM ever since.”
His problem is, he long ago alienated anyone who might have given him honest and constructive feedback, and has been giving advice in an echo chamber for the better part of a decade. I imagine your review is going to give him a conniption.
“I imagine your review is going to give him a conniption.”
Someone pass the popcorn!
Why does the Angry GM who has been play D&D since 1988 not know about Bryce and has 3 pillars of adventure design? Could somebody who reads the Angry GM’s blog please tell him!
Rehm’s “Angry GM” schtick includes the assertion that he has nothing to learn from anybody else. At some point I think he started believing his own press, so I doubt he is interested in trying to learn anything from Bryce.
Particularly if that requires parsing out the common themes from 11 years of thrice-weekly, unedited bog posts that were clearly pecked on a phone by someone with large thumbs and an aversion to spellcheck (how’s that book coming, Bryce?).
You wound me sir! It’s not untrue, but you wound me!
I’m trying to find time to book a week long cabin trip to finish up the examples. Write during the dya and excess at night sort of thing.
I am betting there will be some sort of face-saving tweet or something, but not in the comments section.
Who in 1998 was referring to themselves as a “GM?”
To the Red Box (and all of D&D-dom) it was “DM.”
IP reasons, IIRC.
As a heads up if you want a pick me up, Brad Kerr has released a anthology of four adventures called ‘Wyvern Songs’ that range from level 1-6.
Not surprised this is 100+ pages. The Angry GM is a master of padding out his writing with lots of empty words. And I’m saying that as someone who finds his articles interesting but way to wordy to bother reading.
The game is now 48 years old. There’s really no need, no need at all, for yet another introductory adventure. Why would an aspiring game author take *that* particular angle on?
He’s basically running an advice column for new GMs. Like, that’s his target audience. So it tracks.
There’s no shortage of new players. And they tend to start at level one. I have to run this kind of adventure all the time because my players are not good.
But you are an experienced DM. Modules are written for the *DM.* The players will never see these 102 pages. They’re not written for introductory players; they’re written for introductory DMs and there are So So many such modules.
Publishing aside, I have seen comments on forums from DMs who claim to think killing rats in a tavern basement is a good first adventure for brand new players. Get them rolling dice, getting some kills, find out what their class abilities do, fit in that awkward “everyone introduce yourself in character and roleplay in the tavern” moment that bad DMs love so much… There’s something in a so-basic-it’s-bad adventure that’s attractive to bad DMs generally, not just bad adventure writers.
And every time I think, why not introduce them with an actually good adventure? Why not introduce them with a dungeon trap that might barely kill a PC on a failed save, but the players will see how they could have seen coming? Why not introduce them with an adventure with two factions, and they could pick sides or try to slaughter them all? I don’t consider most of my homebrew dungeon crawls good enough to publish, but at least there’s more to interact with and more that can emerge from the players’ choices than in a lot of published adventures.
Also – 5e. Scripted, story to tell, assuming PC actions seems to be par for the course.
It’s like a synthesis of my 2 favorite D&D blogs. Awesome! Could this turn into a blog rivalry like there was between Gygax/Greyhawk and Hargrave/Arduin?
Someone reach out to this guy for a response. This needs answering, especially if you wrote that much on making cookies
Bryce is justin vernon confirmed
If you take a larger page count to describe how to run the adventure than the adventure itself, that’s simply wrong. At any level. New players should be taught how to play (and run) the game from the GAME, not from an intro adventure.
You can write an ENTIRE GAME in 64 pages…TSR did this all the time, back in the day. Not just Moldvay Basic (a game that can teach and sustain long term play for years), but all sorts of games, with different systems: Boot Hill, Star Frontiers, Gamma World, Top Secret, etc. And these games were written/designed for BEGINNING NEWB-types. There’s no “advanced concepts” here: just hours of fun to be had! Hell, I rewrote Shadow Run in 64 pages, and it is perfectly playable as I…and other play-test groups…can attest.
102 pages to introduce players to killing stirges and dogs and skeletons? Are you fucking kidding me?
Angry may be a shitty designer. He may be a shitty writer. But if he thinks this is the way to teach people how to DM he is delusional…this ain’t the way to introduce D&D.
At least it’s free? Except for the time spent reading this that you will never get back. I’m a bit surprised this doesn’t get a “never buy” from Bryce.
I actually ran this adventure for a couple of newbies not long ago. I’ve been DMing for about a year now but I learned a lot from Angry’s blog so wanted to give this a go, both to introduce new players, and to practice (and hopefully improve) my DM skills.
I thought the set up was good for level 1 characters, and I liked the ‘tutorial’ nature of how it introduced the game mechanics to players, but something about the format made it so hard to run. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I always felt like I had to read through heaps of text to find what I was looking for, or constantly flip back and forth through the doc. Also I thought it odd that it didn’t include one of Angry’s signature concepts – an encounter’s dramatic question. That would have been helpful.
My main issue I had with it though was that it was boring and it *shouldn’t* have been. I think that is on me though. I would still recommend it as a good *free* first level adventure, but I would advise the DM to personalise and flavour the whole thing, and put thought into how to run the ghost element as a mystery for the PCs to solve.