The Dread Lands

By Christian Blair
Self Published
Generic/Universal
Mid-Levels

These lands are plagues with horrors, awaiting for discovery.

This 54 page adventure describes a frozen northland full of zombies and the last few settlements. Numerous small quests and a handful of tenish rooms dungeons have a spark of interesting in them, but, it has a fatal flaw. And this, seriously, breaks my heart.

This is a hard review to write. I’m going to have to pass on this because of something I’m unhappy about complaining about. I wish it weren’t so. Because, at its heart, there are some decent ideas here, combined with a tone that I think could work quite well. But not in its present form. 

What we’ve got here is some frozen tundra. Forest. Snow. hard land. Got it? A kind of bleak and snowy landscape, but with a thing pine forest almost every. Great! We’re creeping it up already! And to this we’re going to add about a bajillion zombies. There’re everywhere. It is, essentially, the zombie apocalypse, with just a few locations left that have not fallen. A Game of Thrones Beyond the Wall analogy here would not be far off. Also, we’ll throw in some specters, wights, and wraiths here and there, whenever there is a decent sized horde of twelve or so. To this we add some locations. The Last Guard Tower, on the northern trail in, with their embittered and low morale soldiers. An old farming estate complete with one holdout left, and all of his traps. The Keep, on the verge of ruin from the attacks, with a twentish people golding out inside. And the last town, with about two hundred people left. And to ALL of this a silence … for sounds attracts the zombie hordes!

And, sometimes, the writing can be quite good! Let’s take a look at the fate of the North Party, a group of people who disappeared: “Before entering, players are welcomed by a series of crucified travelers. They are tied to wooden posts. Their bodies are upside down, their hands pointing skyward. They are in an advanced state of decomposition, covered in maggots and flies, feeding. The closer they approach the post, the louder the buzzing sound becomes. Strident and eerie. Inside lies the fate of the North Party. Their bodies are piled in a mass of putrefaction in the middle of the structure. A black cloud of flies circles around. On top of all the bodies, lies a naked man. His body is full of scars in the form of occult patterns.” Not too shabby! Maybe a bit long, but good energy there!

And this is the end of my compliments.

That example of the writing is a rare one. If the adventure had A LOT more like that then I would be  ok with it, and my main gripe would be undercut. (I’m working on my click bair, how’s it going?) But, before we get there …

This is for D&D. I know it says Generic, but it’s D&D. It’s stat’d for D&D. Which is great. That’s what generic adventure should do. Everyone can convert easily enough; mechanics is just mechanics. But, also, it’s not for D&D. It’s essentially HP, AC, and XP. Dude, just stat the fucking thing out for 5e, or 1e, or whatever. It’s chill. I really don’t think there’s a palace for generic/universal adventures in the hobby … because I think nearly every adventure should be written in such a way that it’s generic/universal. 

But, also, the Table of COntents has section headings but no page number. Hmmmm …. The wandering table only has ten entries, for a LOOOOONG adventure, and yet the yeti entry says it’s “very very rare.” Hmmmm …   Oh, here’s a section, let’s see … “Blizzards are powerful snowstorms.” … Hmmmm, I think I see where this is going. How about the moose entry onthe wandering table “A white moose is spotted in front of the players. If they follow the creature, it will lead them into a hidden spot where useful treasure can be found.” *sigh*

We got two main problems here. First, it’s a simplistic adventure. By this I mean … there are quest boards in places. Almost like … a CRPG. And in fact that carries over The very first one, at the guard tower, is to go kill the remaining 2d6 zombies outside and light six torches. Whait. What. For serious? Light six torches? Did I mention the fetch quests? Collect 600kg of wood and 100kg of ore. Uh … Or, how about in the town of 200 people, “Rebuild the Sanitorium” … where you collect 40,550kg of concrete. (That’s weirdly specific …) Oh, and the townfolk can sell you 100kg a day. That’s over a year! The scale, here, in time, seems a bit off. There’s no mention of long term play, but there is certainly a lot to imply it! Hey, man, but, if you rebuild the guard tower then your reward is two martial weapons. ?!?!?!?!?!?!

It’s all very frustrating. It’s like it’s ALMOST a regional setting, but, not quite. The quests are short. Or, rather, they take about ? of a page or so to describe, from start to finish. So, you don’t a plot based quest. It’s more of a description of a situation. Which, I can rock. I love that. Except, it’s NOT that. It’s full of padding and other garbage. But, also, it’s weirdly generic, or abstracted. Zoomed out. As if the designer is afraid to get in to the specifics that help bring something alive. 

That crucifixion description proves, I think (?), that the designer can do it. But we don’t get that. We get that “involved in local politics” generalization. Or, “The soldiers advise against following the trails due to undead patrols”. No. Nope. Absolutely the fuck not. That is not what the soldier says. The soldier is haunted and says “The dude roam heavy, still your tongues and avoid the trails!”, before wheeling his horse and riding off. Jesus man, be specific. Give some detail. SHOW, don’t TELL. 

Here’s the castle intro “When the players approach the castle, they are met by a party of 4 soldiers on horseback. They introduce themselves as Royal Guards, and offer escort to the castle. They explain they spotted them from afar, and that staying outside is highly dangerous.” That’s boring as fuck! They should be unkept, expect a weirdly kept lieutenant, clearly insane. In a rush, glancing about manically, rushing the players. Calling them fools. Wanting to save them by ushering them inside. Paint the picture man. And, for the castle proper we get “There’s a total of 20 people living inside the castle. Half of them are knights, the few that remain, acting as a guards. The other 5 are workers, and the last 5 are the few leaders of the region that are still alive, among those, Eweil the Regent.” B O R I N G.But, also, on the right track, right? I mean, maybe they are getting a little handy, all 28 Days Later style. Or those cops in the hospital in The Walking Dead. Give me something to actually work with!

“An undead giant lies on the floor, chewing on the bones. The monster is accompanied by 4d4 ghouls.” It’s sooooo fucking close, right? But then, also, “This used to be another room of the catacombs, but it must have collapsed long ago.” Arrggggg! And the town? There’s a fucking serial killer on the loose.It’s so fucking close. The situations are there. 

And, now, the bad part that I am uncomfortable with. I think this is an EASL issue. And I feel like a jerk faced jerk. But, also, the descriptions are just not there. To the degree that it feels like an EASL issue. Just , word choice and phrasing and cadence and things like that. I admire the ability of someone to write this well in another language. But, you have to also be able to transfer the ideas from your head, to the paper, to a DMs head. And while you can see the glimmer of the ideas here, you don’t get the transfer because of the attractions and generalizations. 

Oh, Did i mention that, after you kill the big bad lich at the end, you get The Soul Stone. Which, once a day, can bring someone back to life. Including a zombie. !!!!

Oh, and, let’s not forget, zombies, skeletons, wights, wraiths, etc, at level 12? Don’t they all turn to ass at seeing the party cleric? I’m not sure how you handle this.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $6. The preview is 38 pages. Which is fine. Dig deep in to it, past the fist few pages, and you get a true sense of the writing.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/409358/EQ5-The-Dread-Lands?1892600

This entry was posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to The Dread Lands

  1. Bucaramanga says:

    Don’t think it’s EASL, Christian Blair seems like a very Anglo name (however, could be a pseudonym)…

    I think the author is just very young, hence the stilted prose and video game logic.

  2. Anonymous says:

    EASL? European Association for the Study of the Liver? European Association of Sinological Librarians? Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka? English As a Second Language?

  3. Gnarley Bones says:

    The Author is straightforward about it being a series of endless quests.

  4. E. B. says:

    I recognize this school of design all too well. The author is talented but doesn’t have a strong enough foundation in RPG gaming so he filled the gaps with video game logic.

  5. Stripe says:

    Great review Bryce.

    “And the town? There’s a fucking serial killer on the loose. It’s so fucking close. The situations are there.”

    Damn, that hurts. That’s bleeding edge close. Get’s the mind going—but that *alone* is not enough for my $2. I don’t want to imagine and write the “shocking identity reveal” or the clues for investigating players or whatever. That’s the author’s job. Great idea! Now write it.

    Having yet to finish my first product, I’m speaking to myself as much as anyone here!

  6. Chimeric says:

    “but with a thing pine forest almost every. Great!”
    I speak reasonably fluent Bryce so I know what this means, but it’s ironic for a review knocking the designer for possible ESL issues.

  7. Chainsaw says:

    Setting’s cool.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Am I the only person who thinks the idea of a serial killer in a town of 200 is a stretch (or even silly)? Everyone in a small town that size knows everyone else’s business. There are no secrets in a town that size. And there was another adventure recently reviewed where they did the same thing with an even smaller town. It’s like the urban kids watch too much police drama on TV for inspiration.

    • Stripe says:

      Oof, you’re right that 200 is waaay too small a village for what our modern imagination considers a “serial killer,” unless maybe it was a “Grangerfords and Shepherdsons” type of blood feud—and you’re right that everyone *does* know who’s doing the killing in that case. Of course, there’s a difference between everyone knowing and actually doing anything about it.

      That’s why the author does the work, to fill in these type of details.

      • Reason says:

        Erm, why do we imagine serial killers were limited to cities?
        In pre industrial society why could not the same illness/evil/instinct whatever manifest in a small community? That seems a complete lack of imagination, let alone a rose coloured glasses view of past society. I grew up in a small country/forest settlement community. No we didn’t know what everyone was up to every minute. No one knows behind closed doors.

        Amongst all that goodwill. People STILL have secrets. And a module is a moment in time. In another 5 years the killer may be elsewhere, or caught, or village priest leading the sacrifices…

        • Anonymous says:

          Serial killers thrive on victims. Small communities don’t have enough of them and those preyed upon will likely be missed, bringing an investigation and possible discovery. There is not the same problem in cities. I’m not going to elaborate, but there are no rose-colored glasses worn here, just common sense. The book “Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson lays it out well.

          Besides that, simply speaking in terms of writing, we have actual monsters in OSR (orcs, demons, dragons, etc.) to create fear and horror. IMO you detract from the monsters when you make an NPC a serial killer. The actual monsters should be the serial killers. Of course, some people like the twists, and then you wind up with Planescape (which of course wasn’t for me).

  9. Endless says:

    Hey Bryce, thanks a lot for the review! Can’t say I was a little sad to fail expectations again, but I’m glad I’ve managed to improve in some of the points.

    My idea with this was to make a regional adventure that, while similar to a campaign setting, could work on its own as a series of smaller quests connected through a main hook, in this case the undead armies of the lich.

    With the generic/universal system I try to approach is mostly to try and reach for a wide variety of games, while also being relatively easy to adapt, which is why I use D&D mechanics as a base, since they are so well known. The reason I don’t fully go with 5E is two things mostly:

    1. I’m disappointed with the direction the game is currently taking.
    2. I’m not a big fan of the legal implications that one must accept when writing for D&D 5E. I’m not very well versed into the details, but there’s a lot of gray ground with what I can and can not use, and how I can and can not sell/promote my own creations. Like if I sell through DMs Guild, I pretty much lose any IP and/or control over my own work, which I wouldn’t like.

    I’ve been thinking about trying some other systems, I’m very interested in Labyrinth Lord, Basic Fantasy RPG, and Old-School Essentials. However, I only own BFRPG (because it’s free duh) and I’m very limited to what I can play, which is pretty much only 5E. I’m probably the only person in a city of 100,000 people to own all 3 D&D books. Living in a third world country and making TTRPGs your hobby means that you are going to struggle hard to find players. I wouldn’t feel that comfy writing for a system I haven’t even played with a party, even if I read all the rules/books.

    Which also brings me to my language. I’m a Spanish speaker, and English is, indeed, my second language. I was a little hurt to read that my English has caused some trouble with the descriptions or the way I try to translate things into paper. I will try to work much more on that and take more time editing, but then again, a non-native speaker editing in another tongue is probably already a disadvantage.

    Still, I’m glad to see that your general tone has gone slightly up compared to my previous older adventure. This one took me something like 3-4 months to make, and it was really hard at times, design is not my forte at all, but I was happy when I finally made it, even if this is the only review/comment I’ve gotten so far.

    All of my main EQ adventures are free, and will probably keep this way because I just simply enjoy the idea to contribute to the table of other players around the world, and I strive to make improvements and create better, more fantastic adventures that can be worthy.

    Thanks a lot for the comments.

    • 3llense'g says:

      “I’m very interested in Labyrinth Lord, Basic Fantasy RPG, and Old-School Essentials. However, I only own BFRPG (because it’s free duh)” Rest assured that the other two are free as well

Leave a Reply