By Brad Kerr Swordlords Publishing OSE Four Adventures, of Levels 1-6
THE SINISTER SECRET OF PEACOCK POINT Character level: 1. An introductory adventure for both new players and Old-School veterans alike. Explore an insect-haunted thieves guild secreted beneath a lighthouse. Claim the loot but beware the Skitterlord! FABIEN’S ATELIER Character levels: 2-4. Solve the puzzles in a flying, malfunctioning wizard’s workshop before it crashes to the ground. The sequel to Hideous Daylight (but can be run independently). THE SINGING STONES Character levels: 3-5. Investigate a mystical valley where stones can speak and monsters roam. THE DREAMING CALDERA Character levels: 5-6. Infiltrate a volcano full of monsters and stop them from constructing a dream-eating chaos god out of garbage.
This 112 page book features four adventures, from level one to level six. Written clearly, easy to scan and follow, full of interesting folks and situations. Every adventure here is better than 99% of the crap published, with a couple of them standing out even from that. A little whimsical without turning silly, this is what you were hoping for when you bought an adventure.
It’s hard to know where to start with this one. Maybe FEELINGS and tone. My son said once, as a kid, when I asked why he didn’t want to pick out a toy at the store “they are never as fun as the ads make them seem.” Ouch! There’s a bit of truth in there to stab you through the heart … no matter your age. Who hasn’t bought something, full of excitement and expectations, only to be crushed with disappointment after? That could be the fucking moral of this blog, given my inability to deal with expectations. You buy an adventure, full of hope, and are plunged in to despair and disappointment when opening to the first page.
But not this. This collection is what you were hoping for. You open the pages and are delighted. You can tell what is going on. It’s interesting. You WANT to run it. This is what every adventure ever written aspires to be: not a disappointment to its line of forefathers stretching back to the beginning.
In tone, it’s veering off from the realistic to the more whimsical side of the spectrum. It’s not silly. It’s not whimsical. But it’s leaning, to varying degrees in the four adventures, to that side. It’s the D&D where Frank The beet farmer toils in the mud outside of the town gates yelling “You’re all gonna die!” and there’s a gnome smoking a pipe on a mushroom. A world where people wear bird masks and gnomes ride on the panthers. (Finally, this adventure has a couple of gnome merchants that make fucking sense and feel right!) It’s not comedy. Farce, maybe? But not extreme. It is absolutely the way I run D&D … pushing reality just a bit more. It’s fun, without TRYING to be fun.
The adventures are clear and easy to follow. The layout is clean. Good room descriptions, short and terse and evocative. Followed by bullets with bolding. And, Fuck if I know how he did it, but the layout here is ajoy, easily one of the “cleanest” I’ve seen, with respect to readability and not seeming cluttered. The adventures all seem to use a different format, but, a little intro text followed by some other text to expand on it, in bullets, or bolding or some such, are common. Four different styles, related but different, all delivering the same effect.
Let’s talk specificity.Many times, this is the break or break point in bringing something alive in the DMs had. Too often details are abstracted and generalized. With nothing specific to hang on to, the mind can do nothing with it to riff on. But not here.
In adventure one, it is not a bandit gang in the lighthouse, but The Apple Bottom Gang. And, the wizard who (could) send you on this, is “Red Robbie, an elderly and exhausted wizard was robbed by a band of thieves; he scryed that his music box was taken to the lighthouse on Peacock Point; he offers a magic sword to a youthful go-getter kind enough to return it for him. “Whatever you do, DON’T open the music box.” Absofuckinglutly! This is how this goes. A bandage on his head. A swollen lump the size of a softball, blood running down it. This is EXACTLY how this sort of thing should go. Thanks to the specificity of the writing. The wanderers table, in this first, has Leggero an Apple Bottom Gang initiate and an extremely emotional teen, just returned from a job and is freaking out that everyone is dead. Startles easily and screams loudly. Fuck yeah man! Thats a fucking wanderer! OR Fish Guts, the toothless skeleton pacifist, the gangs mascot. With a horned helmet that says FISH GUTS. Pushing reality just a little more, just a little beyond what is expected. Specificity, brining those encounters to life.
And, I’d say, the first adventure isn’t even the best one. It’s probably the wilderness adventure, number three. All four are worthwhile, with that wilderness one being VERY good and the others being somewhat less than that but still great. The amount of things going on in that wilderness pointcrawl is amazing. Lots to do and see and encounters related to each other. Another one has a volcano god “waking up”, with weirdo monsters trying to help. And a floating castle that can crash to the ground in another, with a built in timer to keep things moving .. no dilly dallying with resting here! Even the town, thrown in as an afterthought, seemingly, at the end of the adventures, oozes with delight.
This IS the adventure collection you wanted. You can, I think, just pick it up and fucking run it after five minutesof looking one of the adventures over. They are colourful, evocative, interesting, interactive and easy to run. This is what D&D is all about. Brad Kerr can go on your autobuy list now, I think.
This is $15 at DriveThru. The preview is 28 pages and focuses on that really really good wilderness crawl. It’s a good overview of the style of play, tone, formatting, and interactivity you can find within the collection. So, great preview!
I saw this and wondered about it, gotta pick it up now. Loved the sword adventure this dude did
In my top 5 of 2022. DMing the point crawl.
I just ordered some print books from DrivthruRPG and now I wish this review was out three days ago so I could bundle shipping.
I really liked Hideous Daylight and 1000 Swords, but I do think this author can improve on a few things, primarily his cramped maps – there might be single digit empty rooms in all of his adventures combined. His dungeons feel like advent calendars of neat ideas only semi-coherently put behind doors and lumped together.
Also, this is clearly just personal taste, but he toes the line of “too cute” and steps over it often – I am down with drukks but most of the final adventure in this set fell in my “too cute” category, things like the harpies making a god’s eye out of eggs idk. There’s a bit much for me in the point crawl, but I will try to run that with some pruning. Peacock Point is a solid A though – likely an A+ with a tuned up map.
Bruce’s consistency never fails to amaze.
Most of the time, something like “a pair of twee friendly gnomes riding a panther” would get a reaction of “REEE WHAT 5E RENFAIRE ARTPUNK NONSENSE IS THAT? KIDS THESE DAYS!”
And then suddenly it’s the best thing ever.
Gnomes riding a panther- falls just enough in fairytale to tweak Bryce’s enjoyment.
Gnomes riding a cart powered powered by a steam genie or fire-elemental (e.g a car = magical ren faire crap).
Magical ren fair is often= magic in place of technology or magic being sold/bought/used as an everyday commodity.
Creatures riding beasts is classic fairytale trope.
Gnomes riding a panther and the DM explains they have a magica amulet of animal control= borderline naff.
Gnomes just riding a panther just because no explanation fucking needed= closer to OD&D whimsy which Bryce likes.
I agree that the cutesy and whimsy elements are a bit too much, which will keep me from buying this. This doesn’t invoke old school D&D to me. The Mad Hermit in B2 wasn’t cutesy. He was a scary threat with a mountain lion pet who would rip your face off. A touch of whimsy here and there is ok, when used sparingly, but too many of these OSE adventures seem to overdo the silly. At least for the tastes at my table.
Wow, if this is considered one of “The Best”, the list has lost any semblance of credibility.
Gavin, Brad, and Bryce IN SHAMBLES
How will they ever recover?
That list of adventure recommendations on page 108 is outstanding.