Throne of Gondira

By Morten Braten
Xoth Publishing
Levels 4-6

You have heard the wild tales of fabled Gondira, a city built by the sons of giants, with a palace of white marble and gates of beaten gold, now hidden by the jungle and haunted by white apes who walk upright like men. Can you penetrate the steaming jungles of the south to discover the lost city and bring back its treasures, or will you die before you can set eyes upon the throne of Gondira?

Working my way through requests.

This sixty page travelog of an adventure uses about forty pages to feature a small jungle region and a few dungeons, mostly in the city of the whip apes. It’s got a bland style, and focuses on the high level to a degree that I have no idea how one would actually run this.

I don’t like the Xoth adventures. They are too disconnected from their setting to make them interesting or able to run. They masquerade as sandboxes, but, rather than a sandbox adventure what this means in the Xoth context is that tend to be more of a travelog and/or regional setting. Abstracted, bland, and devoid of what’s needed to make an adventure actually run.

So, it’s another lost city/jungle/ape adventure. The Appendix N has a strong hold over folks. And is Yet Another Failure in the genre. It stars rather strong, once all of the pudding text is ignored, with a brief diary entry of an explorer. Not too specific and and the explorers feelings come through rather well. It’s both a hook and a brief “map”, so to speak, of how to get to the area i question. It is a standpoint column of text. It mimics a kind of dryer explorer diary, perfect for its intended usage, although the dry style continues in the rest of the adventure.

The rest of the adventure is … meh. We’ve got a small regional. It’s got some “civilized” areas with the usual assortment of jungle tribesmen and a few minor temples with a lake monster out front or oracle living inside. It’s also maddednning in how the regional areas are referenced. The map provided has some names on it and they don’t always matchup with the headings used later in the adventure. Is the Land of Kash on the map the same as the mud man temple? And whats with the rando insertion of the rebel tribesmen, what appears to be an event in an section otherwise devoted to describing locations? But, also, it’s after the “bland) wandering table … but doesn’t appear on the wandering table? 

The main attraction is the City of the White Apes. A small overview and city map, and several dungeons underneath it. The maps for the dungeons are done well in some cases, being a  little larger and having a more organic feel to them. I don’t mean caves, I mean a kind of flowing of the passages and corridors that feels like something some people dug out … at least as much as the map diagram, proper, is concerned.

But there’s not enough specificity. It’s almost as if the designer has some kind of mental block in providing the sort of organization and text required to run it, all in the name of “Sandbox.” The white apes, in the city, don’t really come across at all. You occasionally get a chance of one beig at the city gates, or overseeing the slave pens, but it comes across as an empty city. Maybe thats on purpose, I guess, but it’s SO hesitant to mention the apes, or them running around, that the entire place feels empty. And, no word on what the apes, intelligent, do to respond to intruders. Or if they capture the party, or anything like that. Can you just walk right up the palace gates and go in? That seems wrong, given what the text implies in other places. But that’s how the text comes across. As if you just wander in to a lost city, go up the palace, and start your typical dungeon exploration. But it implies that they are around. Kind of like thatSnake Riders of the Arandondo adventure in which there was only snake rider in an adventure the heavily implied they were everywhere but never mentioned them. Not quite that bad, but close.

That’s a pretty big problem. At the same level of issue is the text style used to describe the dungeons. It’s bland, and alternated from “unneeded” to “excessive text with backstory.” You get text, on the one hand, that is “This is a natural quay where canoes can easily lay to.” Inspired to run the room? Why is the text even there in the first place? You don’t need it. It’s bland and nothing is going on. And, yes, not everything needs to be an actual encounter, there’s a place for some smaller/empty rooms in any adventure, but there’s too much of it. “THis chamber is full of dirt, broken pottery and skittering vermin” or “An anaconda is coiled up in this chamber.” There’s nothing to these. It’s at the level of a minimalistic dungeon description, but it doesn’t even have an evocative writing to it.

Contrasting with that are the LONG sections of text, equally bland. Backstory. Motivations. And a lot of padding with if/then clauses breaking up boring descriptions. It is perhaps heartbreaking that section of Howard and other Appendix N texts are scattered throughout, with things like “Out of the darkness of a corner rose a swaying shape; a great wedge-shaped head and an arched neck were outlined against the moonlight.” Not exactly a room description entry, but, it shows all the signs of the evocative writing that the text of the adventure, the actual room entries, are missing.

The entire thing is bland. Written at a level of detail, and a style of text, that robs it all all emotion. Devoid of the hard editing that makes a description terse, easy to scan and run, and evocative. It’s a textbook example of something that might be run to read, and imagine but not actually run.

This is $15 at DriveThru. The preview is ten pages and you get to see some of the room descriptions and so on. It’s a good preview, in the sense that you can see the content thats important to help you make a purchasing decision.

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10 Responses to Throne of Gondira

  1. Artem of the Floating Keep says:

    Shame! I adore lost city/jungle adventures.

  2. Author here. Thanks for doing the review. At least you are up front and honest about it: “I don’t like the Xoth adventures.”

    There’s no point in arguing with you about your subjective opinions (“it’s bland”), but I feel I need to ask you if you followed your own review standards (at ) when doing this review? Because it really checks a lot of those boxes (overland portion, wandering monster tables, looping dungeon maps, multiple levels with multiple entrances, tricks and traps, empty rooms, pools and statues, non-standard monsters, foreshadowing, vermin/undead/ooze in dungeons, humans instead of humanoids, factions — did I forget anything?).

    Also, I find it pretty misleading to call this “a travelog [that] uses about forty pages to feature a small jungle region and a few dungeons”. By my count there’s around 160 rooms described in 40 pages, the majority of it in an interconnected, multi-level dungeon complex.

    For those wishing to read a completely different take on this, the module was reviewed by Prince of Nothing a couple of months ago:

    That review is almost the total opposite of Bryce’s, for example:

    “Dungeon design is good. I am jaded from reading 5e material that it is almost shocking to see someone remember all the craftsmanship and apply it in a way that does not completely go against the modern format. Faction play abounds, to the point where I feel commentary is almost unneccessary. You can ally with a tonne of people, but they all have their own motivations, things are not handed to you on a platter, and some allies are actually treacherous assholes. There are gates to be lifted. Bars to be bent. Secret doors to uncover. Then carvings or statues give hints at the locations of those secret doors, or even diligent mapping. The various traps and glyphs of warding (!) are interspersed with natural hazards; rotting rope bridges, quicksand, slippery stairways, cliffs that must be mounted. There are parts where you can push your luck for extra treasure.”

    The conclusion is also very different from Bryce: “The City proper is excellent, a palace, several locations, and a fairly expansive underground realm consisting of 6 floors, interconnected, often via secret passageways. Supremely well done.”

    • Forest says:

      Got em.

    • Anonymous says:

      We’re aware that other reviewers exist you petulant ass

    • Maynard says:

      Bryce has different reviewing standards than Prince. I think above all Bryce is most concerned with the quality of the text, and Bryce points out that he was unsatisfied with how your text failed to be evocative and gave examples. Bryce is also hyperfocused on usability and organization. If he has to take notes it’s probably not getting a “no regerts” and definitely not “the best”.

      I think you’re reading through some of the content that Bryce likes to see and wondering why you didn’t hit a home run. What he’s looking for is a value add, an adventure that does the work for you, an adventure with truly unique ideas he’d never think of himself, or an adventure with evocative description that can drive the imaginations of him and his players. It doesn’t look like you’ve fullfilled those requirements for him. That doesn’t mean it’s bad – Judging by what I’ve seen on Prince’s review you should be proud of the adventure, it looks polished and grounded in important principles. You know your stuff.

      I think you should also reread Prince’s review, lest you get the wrong impression. All the shortcomings Bryce brings up are present there too, Prince is just happy to overlook them for the delightful S&S vibe you’ve brought to the table and the sheer breadth of creativity and content you’ve displayed.

      “The surrounding area is fine, if a bit empty.”

      “Throne of Gondira is a great module, hampered by the occasional minimalist execution.”

      “Occasionally the module’s somewhat terse (for 5e!) writing style works to its disadvantage.”

      “There are few technologies that still need to be unlocked. One is orders of battle and complicated tactics, alerts, a way for intelligent opponents (like the Giant Apes) to respond in force”

    • MH says:

      Disclaimer: Sponsored Content.

    • Anonymous says:

      That you decided to cite a wanker like Prince’s review as part some kind of demand for better grade just proves your adventure is bland. The man is afraid of catgirls, color illustrations, non-standard monsters, magic items that aren’t in the DMG, and human decency. Your dungeon is suck Xoth, but even if it isn’t, you are. That’s something no amount of Jaquaying can fix.

    • PrinceofNothing says:

      Good heavens! A man spends a weekend in a luxurious spa and upon return, utter chaos!

      @Mr. Braten
      Much as I enjoy your work, it is as Maynard observed, many of our criteria overlap, but the weight we attach to them is different. Bryce has less tolerance for verbosity, I in return am less tolerant of certain structural problems. It is generally considered bad form to argue with a bad review, and the results are often counterproductive, as this comment section has hopefully illustrated. Even bad feedback can still be helpful, and hopefully it will spur you on to at least consider this dissenting viewpoint.

      I do mention donations as part of reviewer integrity though I should note I have given less then positive reviews to donators in the past, and would not promote mr. Braten’s work if I did not like it. I can give you two or even one star examples if you so desire.

      Aaah I recognize that not quite wit, that envious tone enamoured with its own cleverness anywhere! From your reference I see that you are still seething from the last paragraph of my review of Skalbak Sneer, a work easily superior to anything the NSR has put out this year.

      Minor remarks, for your education you understand.
      1. In my review I refer to an adrogynous catman not a girl, making you guilty of the very serious crime of misgendering.
      2. It has been tried to push the narrative that I somehow hate layout and art, and I would do so too were I in your unenviable position, because my actual goals are much more destructive to you and yours.

      In short: I believe that a signficant segment of the hobby is not actually interested in old D&D at all and instead has colonized this hobby and uses it as a format for personal self-expression, divorced from actually playing DnD and often actual play in general. As a result layout, art and little snippets become the focus for the creative drive, and actual adventure quality, the substance suffers. You see this in the endless drivel getting churned out for Mork Borg and Troika, and that does not even cover the Zines that bryce won’t even touch. Surface level mimicry, people pretending to like something because it’s trendy. Awful. Bad for the hobby, like an unwelcome rash or fungus.

      In order to prove this thesis I now host an annual contest with parameters that force people to engage with the substance of DnD, granting them only a single unique monster, item and optionally spell, so they may build upon what has been done before. Posers get found out quickly. The substance of an adventure, as engaged with by the players, is what matters. 3? 4? Best ofs out of 8 last year by Bryce’s reckoning. And of course all of it free. Get me an OSR gamejam that performs half as well.

      The way to destroy me would be to enter the contest, possibly under a fake name, perform better then the Noartpunk loyalists, and then reveal oneself as an Artpunkman all along. I don’t think you will do that, but that would be the most effective way to go about it.

      Instead there are the usual lies, petulance, hyperbole, getting yourselves cancelled for sexual assault, squeeling infighting, and the generally unpleasant and degenerate behavior that has caused you to become pariahs in most of the actual OSR. It’s why Patrick Stuart has gracefully bowed out of your miasmic company some time since.

      3. I think now would be an excellent time to point out it is not unusual to cite my reviews here, that we share many of the same readers, that I am an administrator on Bryce’s forum, and that we have among other things exchanged emails regularly. This certainly does not mean that he underwrites everything I do, nor would I expect this to be so. We are a product of radically different environs, how could we? You are very much an outsider here, but you knew this already.

      My apologies to Dr. Lynch for abusing his comments session for my own platform but some of this must regrettably be adressed. I hope the forthcoming collection will repay him by assuading the pain of wading through a thousand shitty adventures.

      • Kubo says:

        You are spot on with this opinion, Prince (But you probably already knew that):

        “In short: I believe that a signficant segment of the hobby is not actually interested in old D&D at all and instead has colonized this hobby and uses it as a format for personal self-expression, divorced from actually playing DnD and often actual play in general. . .”

        On a side note, I’ve been checking out David Hargrave’s Arduin campaign lately. I can’t help but wonder if he’d be in the ArtPunk movement if he started wargaming today. A lot of his overall ideas are decent, but dry, unplayable adventures.

  3. The Xoth adventures are some of the best swords and sorcery adventures ever written for an RPG. The fact that Bryce cannot see their merit is evidence of his limitations as a reviewer. I must now recalibrate all of my expectations of tenfootpole reviews henceforth. As a sop to compensate you for reading my dreary comment, here is a lovely interview with Morten Braten, the grand master of Xoth:

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