The Sanctuary for Bicephalic Outcasts

By J. Blasso-Gieseke
21st Century Games
Levels 1-4

A two-headed giant is seen at night. Two deer carcasses are found missing in the morning. A two-headed dragon is seen in the morning. Two fisherman never return home at night. A two-headed man and dog are seen in Grimholt Forest. They were heading for the Riddle Hills. Are these coincidences or are they connected? Will the party help the Confederacy of Barley, Bream, and Oak find out? 

This 36 page single-column adventure details a cave with nine rooms. You know the deal: the bad guys are the good guys and the good guys are the bad guys. A WHOLE lot of if/then conditions for everything. A kiddy adventure.

Yeah, I said it. Kiddie adventure. I know that term has been leveled against B/X in general, but I’m going to claim it now for these sorts of things. What was that adventure where there was a trigger warning against killing a pack of starving dogs that were trying to bite your face off? I got a stabbing knife and I ain’t afraid to use it! Yes, let us revel in mankind’s baser instincts! Quick, Robin, to the FlameThrower-mobile!

Mayor McDickCheese, Alderman Fuckwit and Headman Dickless want you to go look in to all these double-headed creature sightings. There’s this big ass 6-mil each 3×3 hex map provided … none of which matter cause they lead you to the exact hex you need. It’s full of caves. You search and the DM rolls a d20. If they get a 20 then you find the double-headed creature cave. Otherwise, every two searches you get attacked by something on the wanderer table that has a description of “It Attacks!” How longs it take to search for a cave? I don’t know, it don’t say. Which seems weird for an adventure that places such an emphasis on a “three day window
“ before the freak show owner shows up. 

You see, HES the real bad guy. All of the double-headed things (ettin, troll, minotaur, death dog, etc) escaped thanks to one double-headed dude who willed a goddess in to existence. Also, he charmed them all to be nice and one of the them, the minotaur with two heads, stole his charm bobble so they are all walking around outside now, eating livestock and people and shit. Oops. They are all nice people. Well, except for the fact that they eat actual people when not charmed. This is straining the term Good Guy for me. Eating people. Mental domination. At least the freak show dude didn’t do that shit. 

I wish I could say that there’s an actual moral dilma here, but there isn’t. It’s full of the usual gymnastics to make things ok and keep the plot on track “Though Tooma knows Beylon is dead, he will understand this as fated by Nooma and attempt to talk with the party and ask for their help.” That’s trying to say that the main two-headed dude doesn’t care that you just killed his friend since he thinks his god willed it. Uh huh. Also He will “give the party his fire opals to purchase another magic item that will allow him to recharm the friends under his care.” Uh huh.

Did I mention tha the hex map, while having encounter numbers, doesn’t use those numbers in the text? AUTO FAIL! And that like everything in this, including a two headed hydra, is like 4HD. And at least one werecreature. So, yeah, level one. Right. 

The text is RIDDLED with LARGE and LONG if/then sections. If the party leaves Bob alive and if they bring him back to the cave athen follow this section. Ifthey leave Bob alive and don’t bring him back to the cave then follow this section. If … you get the idea. 

It’s doing two decent things. It has a cave of echoes that will answer any question truthfully … once a day. A little too often, but good idea. And, to get in the main cave you have to trick a statue of the new god. They only let two headed creatures in. Wear a mask or create an extra large shirt or something to trick it. It’s left open ended … which is a good thing in D&D.

But, no. Kiddie D&D. Implied morality. If/tehns. No real descriptions. An attempt at formatting through bolding and the like, but far FAR too much of it to actually be helpful. And the if/then shit is not helpful at all.

This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is twenty pages. It accurately represents what you’re buying.

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26 Responses to The Sanctuary for Bicephalic Outcasts

  1. Artem of the Floating Keep says:

    Damn. I love mystery adventures and things with multiple heads but this seems to fall a bit short. Probably I’ll steal the general theme/premise and remake it from the ground up.

    Also, fat chance of seeing my mystery adventure reviewed here… 🙁

  2. 21st Centaury says:

    Ouch! That was a proper skewering, Bryce, but not undeserved. Maybe I can turn this into a focused lesson, as your review spotlighted something I was struggling with while writing the adventure.
    For the record, this was the first adventure I ever tried to write prior to submitting to your Wavestone Keep contest. I thought I had something with the two-headed theme, but the dungeon, as it was written at the time, was small and I wanted to expand it to give it more scope. So, I added the town, village, and settlement, the journey to the hills, and tried to build up a backstory that allowed the dungeon to exist in space and time. And the more I thought about it, the more I saw that there were multiple ways things could develop, NPCs react, etc. and I felt compelled to try and capture those various paths and relay them to the DM, which lead to the many if/then statements in the adventure.
    Putting its other faults aside, I’d like to ask a question specifically about if/then statements: Is there ever a place for them in an adventure? Is it possible, or has it been done successfully elsewhere, where an adventure writer used them to capture the various paths/possibilities of different PC choices or NPC reactions or is this something unsustainable in the medium and best left to the DM to play out based on textual support from the adventure itself?
    As a brief example from this adventure, when the party encounters the ettin, Rud-Gud, I give three possibilities:

    • If the party refrains from violence, listens to, and talks gently to Rud-Gud like small children, Rud will become like Gud and talk about “being bad.”
    • If the party shames or attacks them, Gud will become like Rud and attack.
    • If the party hesitates, there’s a 3-in-6 chance it goes either way.

    Is any of this necessary or is this a rookie mistake of overthinking/writing and not trusting the DM to develop the situation as they see fit?
    Recently, I wrote another adventure where the if/then statement came up in the form of: If this NPC-attack-position is breeched by the PCs the NPCs tactically retreat to X. Though not as egregious as the example above, this too is an if/then statement. Further, in this new adventure, there are two possible scenarios for the PCs: entering through the front entrance and alerting the denizens or sneaking through other entrances and surprising the denizens. Both will play out differently and I found myself using if/then statements once again to cover the possibilities. Now, after this review, I wonder if there is another approach, though, for the life of me, I can’t think of what it could be. So, maybe you or your readers can point me in the right direction or to classic adventures that successfully pull this off.
    Anyway, thanks for the review. It gave me a lot to reflect on.


    • Stripe says:

      Oof! Tough break, J. Way to take it on the chin, though!

    • Reason says:

      >>>• If the party refrains from violence, listens to, and talks gently to Rud-Gud like small children, Rud will become like Gud and talk about “being bad.”
      • If the party shames or attacks them, Gud will become like Rud and attack.
      • If the party hesitates, there’s a 3-in-6 chance it goes either way.>>>

      I think it becomes unwieldy. It’s certainly supporting the DM.
      But could it not be summed up as,

      _”If the party talks gently with Rud-Gud, Rud will try not to ‘be bad’ anymore” and is a potential ally.”_

      Lack of violence & listening can be assumed already here since they are talking. You don’t need to tell me you can’t talk sweetly to Gud-Rud after stabbing him in the face(s).
      A DM can figure to just roll a die if they are unsure- that’s everyDMs fallback position already right? Don’t tell me that (outside a starter adventure.)

      And the abbreviated version takes up 1/3 of the space + mental effort, still offers enough support for the DM to figure out the bleeding obvious while suggesting to play Gud-Rud as “talk possibly” encounter instead of “always stab in face” encounter.

      • Reason says:

        Saving 2 lines of text/effort in 1 encounter doesn’t seem much. But it adds up over a module. It’s 200% more concise, 66% less bloated and 60% of the time, it works every time.

    • Dave says:

      ” this was the first adventure I ever tried to write”
      “Recently, I wrote another adventure”

      You should run these, not write them. Design them, map them, playtest them, not sit down to write them. (Then when you do you’ll face the different problem of translating your notes into something meaningful yet concise for another GM, but that’s a small price to pay.)
      This is a hobby horse of mine, something I see a lot of adventure writers do, and I’ve even had a player try his hand at it. “I’m going to write an adventure!” So they sit down and write an adventure. And then give it an editorial pass for mistakes, and get a friend or two to read it, and source some art, and hit publish.
      And it’s crap. Not just yours, all of them, 80% or more of what’s up on drivethrurpg. If someone just sat down to write an adventure it shows through, and it dooms it to mediocrity at best.

      • Gnarley Bones says:

        The value of playtesting cannot be overstated.

      • 21st Centaury says:

        Point well taken, Dave. Thanks.

        • Stripe says:

          There is truth to what Dave is saying—it certainly sounds good and is also well intentioned—but in some cases, his advice is demonstrably false. Sure, don’t just sit down and write because you want to publish something up on DTRPG or whatever. We’ve seen a lot of that garbage! So, I totally agree there, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

          For example, your winning Wavestone Keep entry. It was awesome! You sat down with the intensions of writing an adventure and did a smashing job. Bravo!

          I bet you learned more getting beat up over this one than you did writing your winning entry!

          I look forward to your next!

          • Reason says:

            Hear Hear.

            I’m looking at ways to tie in Greth with Sailors on a Starless Sea when our group switches back to D&D btw… (I always thought that one was a great adventure but doesn’t deliver on the title- I want a follow up with Starless Sea stuff… So the giant turtle in that + Greth makes me imagine an underdark ocean traversed occasionally by giant turtles, sprinkle in some VotE and boom, next campaign. So thanks!

          • 21st Centaury says:

            I think Dave, as he said, was giving vent to his hobby horse of refinement through playtesting and Gnarley Bones doubled down with the affirmative on the necessity of this. I don’t think there’s any arguments there. However, as you said above, I do believe that adventures can be written from scratch. I was trying to learn that first because it’s great fun and it’s what I currently have time to do. That’s why I asked about the if/then statements to see if I could pull a more direct lesson out of Bryce’s barrage. As for the Greth win, I fear it gave me enough false confidence to think I was ready to put Sanctuary out for public consumption, but, as we can see from this review, it was woefully premature. I’m going to go back and rework it using the Bryce Advice™. Once it’s up to snuff, maybe we can work together to playtest the material. As for the next one, I submitted an entry into Prince’s No Artpunk Contest II. So, we’ll see if I learned anything between contests and grew as a writer. Hopefully, it fares better than this one.

          • PrinceofNothing says:

            Salvation comes at a terrible price. Your entry has been received. Not long now. I will make you stronger, the first of a new breed of OSR Super Soldiers. Der Noartpunkmann.

          • Dave says:

            J., you’re a better man than I am. I respect and appreciate that. Thanks for bearing with my harsh first post.

            Another way I might have put it is, you should design adventures not write them. If you’re writing, if you’re scripting, you’ve already failed at the most fundamental level of understanding that an adventure is not a story. PCs are the heroes, and player choices are the plot points, not “how it’s supposed to go.” But that imposes a different structure and different beats than in a story where the author can determine when the sole hero succeeds and when he fails or suffers setbacks. And here too I’m beating a dead horse that others are still worse at than you, it’s a tic of mine at this point. But it’s a tic because I’ve seen it get so very, very bad. Sanctuary isn’t even the worst.

            Then to Stripe, I will double down on playtesting though, because what’s the downside supposed to be? Especially in the age of Discord, you can usually put together a one shot online. So a couple nights or weekend afternoons out of your life, to make a better product. Especially valuable if you’re charging for it, but even if all you want is to see your name in the credits it’s still worth it.

            Then another thing I’ve been thinking about before now but didn’t get to at all in my first post was the two different kinds of playtesting. One is late stage, editorial, testing for readability. That’s the kind Killian is talking about below. The other kind is early stage, still in development, where you may take the experience and make changes to the adventure itself rather than to the technical writing of the same substance. Maybe you add verticality to what was a plain square dungeon room to make it more interesting, or cut something that only took up time with no pay off. This is less commonly used, but I think it contributed to successes like Barrowmaze, which by the end had pieces written to spec but also had pieces that originated in the author’s home campaign.

          • 21st Centaury says:

            Dave, I just wanted to say that words can be sharp and criticism harsh. I have thick skin and can take the hits. But I also understood what you were saying in spirit and didn’t read it as an ad hominem attack. I agree with you, playtesting is necessary, and, as Prince suggested, and Jacob and Killian concurred, it can be done by someone else with imperfect results. All good advice. But the best advice is what you wrote above:

            “If you’re writing, if you’re scripting, you’ve already failed at the most fundamental level of understanding that an adventure is not a story. PCs are the heroes, and player choices are the plot points, not “how it’s supposed to go.” But that imposes a different structure and different beats than in a story where the author can determine when the sole hero succeeds and when he fails or suffers setbacks.”

            I think this hits at what I was struggling with. Just a quick bit of background: I only discovered ttrpgs in January 2021 during the pandemic. When I finally understood what they were, my head was blown open. I couldn’t believe there was another art form out there (birthed a few years before I was born) that I wasn’t aware of. What had me thunderstruck was this: Being home during the lockdown, and endlessly reading and watching movies and shows, I got tired of the linear narratives of those media. As a reader/viewer, you read/watch sequentially; you’re trapped in one-dimension; your choices are forward or back. But when you read an adventure, you get a god’s-eye view of a particular area; you can move in two-, or even three-, dimensions. You’re given, say, a transverse cut through a mountain and you get to look down into a dungeon and see its layout, its hidden areas, its secrets, its treasure, its dangers. It’s like you’re reading an anti-novel, a novel free of protagonists, but filled with scene and setting, latent with potential, waiting to be entered by the real protagonists, the real characters, the PCs. And I think, as you wrote above, that when I was writing Sanctuary, I carried that legacy of fiction writing over into adventure writing. Meaning: I developed the actions of some NPCs as if they were characters in fiction. This gave rise to the many if/then statements as I attempted to control the NPC reactions to possible PC actions, which is, of course, impossible. So, in an attempt to make what I believed were “dynamic” NPCs, I actually bloated the adventure and created something very close to the dreaded railroad. What I understand now is that “static” NPCs with concise descriptions go further in supporting the DM’s needs at the table. I’m certain Sanctuary has more problems than this, but it’s a great start.

            Thanks for the exchange. It’s been very fruitful.

  3. 21st Centaury says:

    Oh, and Reason, an underwater underdark sounds incredible. I’m glad to hear Greth can be worked into it. Keep me posted.

  4. Glenn Robinson says:

    Mounting up on the “play testing” hobbyhorse, my second, soon to be published adventure, evolved a lot when it was run by other people who had to make sense of and were limited to, the words I’d provided them.

    • PrinceofNothing says:

      I’ve heard it said that Kevin Crawford playtests his materials by simply observing and taking notes while others run his games. Illuminating if true.

    • 21st Centaury says:

      Glenn, I received the notification that your new adventure was coming out soon. Looking forward to it. And a hearty “Yes!” to the playtesting.

  5. Jacob72 says:

    That definitely sounds a good way to play test. Give it to other people to break.

  6. Killian says:

    Play testing is always a positive, and best if done by someone else. The real goal should be ‘can someone figure out what I’ve tried to convey with the material I’ve given them’ rather than ‘is this a good adventure’. There is however also a tendency to overrate the value of play testing too; different DMs and groups do different things with modules and produce different results. Sometimes what is unsatisfactory for one group is a smash hit for another. There’s utility in it, but not as much as some seem to believe.

  7. Stripe says:

    Can’t reply, so I have to start a new thread.

    * Dave, yeah, I totally agree 100% that published adventures should be play-tested! I read your comment as being against writing just to publish, and even agreed there for the most part.

    One of the things I like about Melan’s Beyond Fomalhaut blog is that his reviews point out listed play-testers or not.

    * 21st Century, yes! Come play test on the OSR Pick-Up Games Discord channel! We’d be very glad to have you again. Link:

    (This is going to get trapped in the spam filter due to the Discord link, I think.)

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