By Stephen Thompson
Laidback DM
Level 1

In Duumhaven Village, a Spirit Screams…

This seventy page adventure uses ten pages to describe ten rooms. Poorly.

Why the fuck do you, gentle reader, feel that you deserve a better summary of this product than I just wrote? I mean, I had to wade through seventy pages for a ten room dungeon, based off of “In Duumhaven Village, A Spirit Screams”, so you, also, get to wade through this review with the word “Poorly” being your only guide. But, that’s not true, is it? You already know everything you need to know about this adventure don’t you? Quiz time my lovelies! Let’s see how much you’ve all been paying attention! How do you know this adventure sucks? No, not because I said Poorly. Not, not because it says 5e. Those of you answering that get to stay after school and correct typos on this blog. The answer, of course, is that it uses seventy pages for a ten page adventure.

What does this mean? It means that A LOT of time and effort was spent on supplemental information. What if, instead, that time and effort were spent on the main adventure? You’d have a better adventure! (I hope, anyway …) This is not true 100% of the time. I’m sure there are adventures that have a high page count and low number of pages for the adventure that are not poor, but, that’s a rarity, I think. The designer doesn’t want to be writing the adventure. 

That’s obvious from the designers notes at the end. He doesn’t like dungeons. He thinks they are poor. Kick in the door., kill the monster, and take the loot. Now it becomes obvious, doesn’t it? He doesn’t know what the OSR is. He doesn’t know how to play old school D&D. Because anyone that knows old school D&D, at least as portrayed by the OSR, knows that this is NOT D&D. But, hey, dude loves layout! And it shows! This looks pretty! Pretty layout. I mean, absolutely useless for usability, but, hey, looks nice. Again, a wrong takeaway from the designer. (Or, cynically, he’s cracked the code. Just make it look nice and damn the contents. That’s how you sell. Re: WOTC, Re: Paizo, Re: All the minor companies producing The One Ring, etc.) 

“Bryce, you’re being a fucking ass!” I hear you say. “Tell us WHY!” I already did. Ten pages out of seventy. But, ok, I will go on. Let us look at the opening read-aloud for the party: “They say that rain on the road bodes well for the body. The say that rain washes sins away, clearing the path so that weary travelers may walk safely through savage lands.” The read-aloud continues for two more long paragraphs. The THIRD paragraph starts with “All journeys start with hope and the best of intentions.” It continues, through that paragraph to another. That’s four. But, really, you don’t need to know it’s four. That opening two sentences. That All Journeys line This is garbage, and you should all know that by now by just reading those lines.

Nobody is sitting through a page of read aloud. I’m pulling out my phone. I’m going to the kitchen to stir tomato sauce for an hour. I’m going to the bathroom. Playing a game on my phone. Texting my partner a sad face emoji. You’re boring them to death. Its not their job it listen to to your monologue. It’s their job to interact with the game world. When players pull out their phones and/or disengage with the world its the DMs/designers fault. But, really, it’s the flowery text here. The purple prose. You know what your attempt to make me feel caused to happen? I rolled my eyes, sighed, and girded my loins to endure the next four hours until I could go home and make an excuse as to why I couldn’t be there the next week. Just fucking tell us what we see (etc) and move the fuck on. We don’t need the purple prose commentary.

If I’m being fair, then it’s not ten pages. It’s maybe, thirty pages. The other describe a town and a small wilderness region. It’s supposed to be some home base for a megadungeon. Uh huh. Le’s look at it.

The standing stone, with a wight in them, are forty feet from the town walls. A rickety bridge with a troll under it is eight feet from the town walls. The bandit camp is forty feet away. 

The wandering monster table, for the wilderness, contains an elf hunter who will guide the party. Except, he’s a werewolf and kills you all at night. There is some justification made for this in the adventure. “It’s OSR! Challenges can be harder!” Yes, absolutely they can be. But, also, we don’t do it in an unfair manner. This is, essentially, the DM rolling for a wandering monster and then declaring“the sun went supernova, you’re all dead.” We telegraph. We let the let the party make foolish mistakes. We give them a chance to run away. We don’t put an invincible supermonster in at Level 1 and have it kill everyone at night while they sleep. Again, a lack of knowledge of how old school D&D works. 

I don’t know. It goes on and on. That wight, at the standing stones? Here’s the text for it “A wight emerges from behind the standing stones and attacks. “Quite evocative isn’t it? No descriptive text for the wight. No mists rising. No fog from its head or burning eyes. This theme continues, with no attempt at real evocative text in the adventure. Just the purple prose, over and over again.

One of the gate guards at the town offers you 200gp to go pick a flower. Gate guarding is paying rather well these days, isn’t it? The priceless family heirloom at the inn, an axe, on display, is given no value. 

But, hey, we do get page after page telling us how to read a stat block!

The wilderness keys are a mess. Just random places appearing in the keys. There are ten keys, but other features on the map also. And those other features just appear alongside the keys. Some cliffs appear after a keyed entry for a ruined cottage … even though the troll bridge key is closer to the cliffs. It makes no fucking sense.

Did I mention that the designer is apostrophe happy? I mean, to an extent that Venger is given a run for his money. Jesus fucking christ. 

Read-alouds are a column in places. There is text thrown in, commentary, to the read aloud “Apparently the villagers experienced an earthquake a month ago …” Why the fuck does this go in a read-aloud? ALL of the read-aloud is like this. Full of meta data and commentary that the party doesn’t know about. It’s a complete lack of understanding of what kind of text is appropriate.

So. A mess of keys. Read-aloud that is purple and long. A complete lack of evocative descriptive text. Or terseness. Or layout that facilitates te DM scanning the adventure to run it. An emphasis on things irrelevant to the adventure, and a wasting of effort on things other than the adventure. 

I’m sure the designer is doing very well with these. It is exactly the sort of product I expect to succeed. A doppleganger. A mimicry of a real adventure.

This is $15 at DriveThru. The preview is eleven pages. It shows you nothing of the adventure, and thus you can’t make an informed purchasing decision. Well, it shows you that amazing “How to read a monster key” information. So, you know, The More You Know …


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25 Responses to Duumhaven

  1. Starmenter says:


  2. The Heretic says:

    What, can’t you tell it’s going to bad from it’s name (Dumbhaven)?

  3. Malrex of the Merciless Merchants says:

    “Those of you answering that get to stay after school and correct typos on this blog.”
    Someone needs to make that statement into a monster and put it in their next adventure….sounds terrifying! 🙂

  4. DriveThruRPG should be paying Bryce! says:

    $15 for this crap! Laidback DM and DriveThruRPG should be ashamed! Who asked Bryce to review this and why? Thank you Bryce for continuing to save us from poor adventures and more importantly naming the greedy weak “designers” who can’t even get the read-aloud in their “adventure” right!

  5. PrinceofNothing says:

    Rereading C1 Shrine of Taomachan has got me convinced that Boxed-text in and of itself need not be bad, especially for tournament modules, where it was used sensibly for room descriptions, but the real rot started setting in around 86′, when it was employed for introductions and the length bloom from a paragraph to a page or more.

    • The Heretic says:

      Was that the year T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil came out? The page long boxed text introduction in that gave me nightmares.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m thinking Isle of the Ape, but T1-4 might be a good example too, and it came out in 85′.

      • The Heretic says:

        Oh yeah, Isle of the Apes has a huge intro, doesn’t it? I haven’t looked at that module in years. At least Isle of the Ape is semi-justified by the scope and gravitas of the adventure. “Oh hey guys, you are all level 15+, invited to Tenser’s castle for a Mission of Great Importance. He has a lot of important information to impart to you!” versus “Oh hai guyz, this is my historic adventure in Hommlet! You are all riding in on horsez [?!? what first level party has the money for horses?] with only a few coppers in your pocket. You’re all going to be killed by giant frogs at the moathouse so don’t get too attached to your characters. Lolz!”

    • Alex says:

      Boxed text is unfairly maligned! Sometimes a dungeon room is complex enough that the DM is gonna need a minute or two to absorb it, regardless of how concisely written it is. In this case, boxed text is perfect — the DM can narrate something immediately, then the players absorb it for a minute or two while the DM reads the rest of the room.

      Arden Vul desperately needs boxed text.

      • Shitty Adventure says:

        Response to Alex above, DMs absorb complex room descriptions by reading the adventure before coming to the table. Besides, boxed text can be condensed down to relevant bullet points instead of a block of text that the DM has to wade through.

        • Alex says:

          We’re trying to minimize prep with better adventure design here.

          Boxed text doesn’t need to be condensed to bullet points because it isn’t searched through. The DM just reads it out loud as it’s written.

          When boxed text is done well, it allows a DM to run a complex room a) without prep before play and b) without making the players wait a couple minutes before they hear the initial room description. The DM immediately reads the boxed text, then while the players are pondering what they’ve just heard the DM has time to absorb the rest of the room (the interaction notes). Then interaction begins.

          I prefer this format but it’s so hard to find OSR adventures that use boxed text. It’s like we decided in 2009 that it always and forever sucks and it’s been taboo since then.

          • Tom H. says:

            Sturgeon’s law: ninety percent of everything is crap.

            “When boxed text is done well” seems to be a pretty elusive standard. Can you give some examples of modules that consistently do boxed text well?

            Flipping through 3 adventures in one of the recent WotC collections, it’s … decent? adequate? About 1 in 10 has the flaw of narrating or making strong assumptions about what the players are doing, a similar fraction makes strong assumptions about what the players know, and again a similar fraction have awkward wording that could use more editing.

            When I ran one of those adventures recently I didn’t use the boxed text, but on reflection I could have.

            I don’t understand the idea of trying to run any of these without reading it in advance – they’re so incomplete / disconnected / fragmentary.

  6. Gnarley Bones says:

    Not a doppelgänger, a module mimic; one of those feared creatures.

  7. Dave says:

    “A rickety bridge with a troll under it is eight feet from the town walls.”

    Now this alone I could work with. It would be a thing, everyone in town would already know and take precautions, he’d be easy to bribe, fool or trick… Could get a good encounter out of that. So one single thing I might just possibly use one day out of this.

    As just a third of a bandit camp and wight right outside the city walls its too much though. Some video game design abstraction goign on there.

  8. Anonymous says:

    The One Ring is a great game though. I don’t know where you get the impression that it’s all layout and no content.

    • Anonymous says:

      MERP campaign supplements & adventures stand shoulders above what the One Ring has produced so far. They should not be forgotten.

    • PrinceofNothing says:

      I’ve been hearing MERP more and more this last year. Is this something worth re-visiting for OSR ethusiasts interested in good adventures. Or are the differences so great as to be insurmountable?

      • Bryce Lynch says:

        They are not adventures. They are flora and fauna guides.

      • Gnarley Bones says:

        They are definitely worth reviewing, especially from an OSR perspective. As Bryce alludes to, they are *exhaustive.” You will get tables of herbs (because herbology is important in MERP) andlocal non-monster fauna, for sure, you also get FANTASTIC maps, and loads and loads of dungeon info. Probably too much for TSR-era fans, but MERP was not phoning it in. I can report that, circa 1984, gaming groups in my area were playing these supplements AS IF they were TSR modules. I never heard any complaints. I DM’s several sorties into Shelob’s Lair and they were rousing good times.

        In several supplements, there were AD&D conversions listed in the back.

        They command outrageous prices nowadays; I was lucky that the eclectic bookstore that sold D&D in my area (the *only* source of gaming stuff in the neck of the woods), randomly had MERP products mixed in (with the even more rare -and glorious- Champions! supplements). I’m glad I was able to pick up, in real time, Moria, Cirith Ungol and the Barrow Downs. In the early Aughts, I was able to add to my collection via eBay before the price spike. No doubt, there are PDFs floating out there. Moria is the one I’d recommend for someone new to MERP. It’s absurd and glorious.

  9. 3llense'g says:

    “it uses seventy pages for a ten page adventure.” Dude, 10 pages for ten rooms is a travesty in and of itself. I’m pretty sure the average one page dungeon can manage 10 rooms.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Woof! Even for moria? People here sore at gregy g and spoke high oh moria

  11. Jacob72 says:

    There’s actually a mixture amongst the modules and campaign/area guides, but they weren’t very well delineated when they were originally released. Not all of them have flora and fauna guides. Typically they are low(ish) fantasy adventures and quite mundane in their scope (rescue someone, fight some bandits, fight some undead, find an outpost of Sauron). The cartography is excellent throughout, but the general art ranges from excellent to very poor. MERP traps are generally very deadly.

  12. Jacob72 says:

    I played a lot of MERP when my group didn’t transition to 2e. I owned Moria, Rogues of he Borderlands, and Brigands of Mirkwood. Of these I think that the second is best. Moria while cartographic ally great isn’t that good from an adventure perspective in my opinion.

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