Shadow of the Necromancer

By Mark Taormino
Dark Wizard Games
Level 1

Fear stalks through the darkness of night in the form of the walking dead! They attack innocent travelers and merchant caravans in the moonlight! Animated skeletons have also been seen digging up the recently dead and carrying them into the nearby ruins of an old abandoned keep! Rumor spreads fast from lip to ear amongst the locals, whispering that a sinister hooded figure has been seen directing the undead and is taking up residence in that foul dungeon! Your stalwart group of adventurers has decided to take on this challenge, get the treasure you know is in there and defeat this evil menace known only as the Shadow of the Necromancer!

This twenty page adventure uses about ten pages to describe seventeen rooms in a a couple of levels of an old ruined dungeon, with an undead theme. It most resembles a old 1980’s T$R adventure, both in retro styling and in the types of encounters presented. And I don’t mean that as a compliment.

It’s 5e, but with a early 80’s B/X vibe going on. Once we get past the 3.5 page backstory, and all of the “how to read a stat block” nonsense, we get to a couple of interesting hooks. Or, at least, some interesting possibilities with some hooks. Long time readers will note that I am frequently disappointed with hooks. While not really needed, I do expect, if they are included, for them to deliver something. Boilerplate is not in my lexicon. Most of the time these amount to something like “You’re caravan guards” or “you were hired by the local blah blah blah.” And in most of these the common thread is a kind of blandness combined with the lack of agency by the players. You are hired. You are already employed, and being told what to do. A force of motion that comes from outside the party. Here, though, things are a little different. The hooks have a little more going on. A few more details, and a force that comes from the player & character motivations … both far superior motivations for driving an adventure. While the first hook is all garbage, s if the last one, both being “youre hired” stuff, the middle two are more interesting. The second is “While camping out fireside and squabbling over the division of a measly ten copper pieces from recent petty crimes your party notices a small abandoned keep in the distance. Surely there must be loads of treasure there just waiting to be found!” Note te specificity, 10cp, feuding and squabbling over a few measly copper pieces … and the gleam of rewards to come from the old ruin in the distance. A perfect hook, a nice little vignette in just a sentence or so, and an appeal to player and character motivations! Likewise, the second has the party ending up at a camp near an old cemetery, and a brief examination shows several graves disrupted and coffins smashed open and empty … strange footprints in the muddy ground, leading away … to a small abandoned keep. The party motivates themselves to investigate here. Open graves and muddy footprints. I don’t need much more here, I can run this, aI can embellish it. I can fill in the details. This is what this sort of description should do. It communicates the energy of the scene. It inspires me to run the party setting up and a slow burn, describing and interacting with the players and their characters, as they lead in to the cemetery and discover things and more things. That’s what a fucking hook should do!

Ok, so, the rest of the adventure is shit.

I don’t like, and/or don’t trust, the trade dress. When am adventure uses trade dress from the olden days my mind immediately goes to an appeal to nostalgia and, perhaps, an emphasis on things other than the actual adventure. This comes from the same place as seeing long backstories and appendices in an adventure. Yes, … what could you have produced if you had instead devoted that time and energy to the actual adventure?

And in this case it’s not even good trade dress. Oh, I mean, it’s accurate. But its the shit kind of accurate. The text is fully justified, and there are a distinct lack of paragraph breaks. This means that this is quite literally a wall of text. Your eyes glaze over when looking at the text. You loose the ability to tell where once sentence ends and another starts, your eyes darting along. It’s the Bad old Days of trade dress, where things are hard to read.

Then comes the read-aloud. Lengthy sections. It over reveals, telling us what king of skeletons we see and details about them. This should be saved for the back and forth between the DM and the players, the interactivity which is the heart and soul of an RPG. And then it tells us conclusions. Rolls are delicious. A fountain is creepy. These are conclusions, to be avoided in favour of a better, more evocative description that causes the players to arrive at the conclusion that it is creepy, or delicious. 

Our encounters feature things like automatically getting stuck in mud, with no way to avoid it, so the giant spiders can drop down on you. Or automatically getting spit on but a demonic fountain shooting acid. There are no way to avoid things in this adventure… and taking away our ability to interact is almost never a good thing. 

The encounters themselves do not have to be terrible. A demonic fountain spitting acid, or the muddy gatehouse and spiders in the ceiling. But it is the wya they are presented, with little actual interactivity. More of a choose your own adventure interactivity. With lengthy read-aloud and lengthy DM text … all in wall of text format.

Uh, no. I’ll pass.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages. WHich shows you the wall of text and some of the backstory but little else. So, not a good preview.

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10 Responses to Shadow of the Necromancer

  1. Artem of Spades says:

    Malicious the Necromancer? Fucking really? What’s next, Villain McBadguy the Sus?

  2. Dave says:

    Maybe it’s a working name. If I was a budding necromancer named Barnaby I’d adopt another alias.

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