By Stephen Grodzicki Pickpocket Press OSR No Levels
Armed with this compilation, filling your sandbox with small – medium sized adventures has never been easier. Browse the collection, throw out a few hooks, and let the players bite where they may. Whichever direction they take, you’ll be ready to handle it with aplomb.
This 245(!) page volume compiles 22 of the adventures released by the designer. As with all compilations, it can be hit or miss. Themes emerge, with great wanderer encounters and room descriptions that need trimmed with the writing beefed up to be more evocative. This work, in particular, has more than a few “gimmick” adventures. I don’t know that I would ever buy a compilation?
Yeah yeah, it says “framework” and not “adventure.” But I think they are adventures, not frameworks, so I’m reviewing them like adventures.
Two of the works in this, Fane of the Frog God and Whitestone Tower, have been previously reviewed by me. Go check them out if you want a more in-depth covering of the adventures. They are decent enough reviews of decent enough adventures and the commentary there holds well for this volume. I’m going to do a bad job in this review.
I’d like to cover two highlights of the adventures: the art and the wanderers. I seldom comment on art; I find most art in adventures worthless. Ideally, it would compliment the adventure, helping to bring it to life, as everything in an adventure should. The art credits in this are all over the place, but, there are some highlights. The monster art tends to be quite good, really bringing them to life. It does what good art should, helping bring the adventure to life for the DM, contributing to the evocative nature aspect of the adventure needed for the DM to convey things effectively to the players. To a lesser extent the “general scene” art does this as well in this collection. Ruins, a tree with a skeleton on it … it helps convey a mood and they range from ok to excellent. The rest of the art tends to be the throw away stuff you see in every adventure.
The designers wanderer tables are pretty fcking good as well. Soldiers shooting dice in an alley, An injured bear near death and not really a fighter. A beggar, getting a chamberpot dumped on his head. Even a stray cat encounter is a good one here. The energy in these little vignettes are something that I wish would also be found in the designers actual rooms/encounters.
There are bits and pieces of other things I could talk about. NPC descriptions tend to be short and relatively good, following the three word system. In one adventure there’s a throw-away line about being hired by The Crone of Sumptown, and in another your shadows slip away from you … letting you know that things are about to get weird. These little bits and pieces, details and specificity, do wonders to bring an adventure to life. Most designers don’t come anywhere near this, and this designer sprinkles them in but a little too sparsely.
The issue with these s that tend to be wordy. The individual rooms and encounters blow up the word count, for no good reason. In fact, The evocative writing seems to go down, quite a bit, when the rooms and encounters appear. “The face of the fortress is carved from the
mountainside, expertly cut and fashioned by the dwarven masons of old.” This is the entrance to a dungeon. It’s boring. It’s written like we’re reading a novel or series guidelines. There’s nothing useful about this description at all, for running the adventure at the table. It’s just padding. Parts of the adventures have some good bits to them. You can see them in descriptions like this one: “The tree at the centre has a skeleton nailed to it, wooden stakes hammered into the hands and forearms pinning it upright. Over time, vines have grown up around the bones, further securing them in place.” That description could be better, but its also supplemented by an good art piece. There’s this padding, and an abstraction of detail. A use of boring adjectives and adverbs, quite noticeable in the rooms proper. There are two issues here: the need to prune back the padding and the need to amp up the evocative nature of the descriptions. I will fully admit that evocative writing is hard … the hardest part of adventure design, I think. But it should be possible to prune these descriptions way back and get rid of the fluff that detracts from the good bits.
Collections are rough, because of the mish mash of adventures. This one seems particularly full of idiosyncratic adventures. One in which you play the monsters. A fey picks on the party. A zero level adventure. A roman gladiator/chariot racing one, a gang war hiring, a rooftop chase. There are some delights to be held though, or, perhaps, some better than others. An adventure involving a missing orphan and a town investigation, a couple of adventures sprinkled with the more alien of the D&D creatures … though eaters and the like. And a lot of fucking adventures where the party gets hired to escort someone to explore something. I guess its inevitable, when you’re producing so much, so reach a bit in the easy bucket.
I’m not a fan of the abstracted treasure used in these. “Roll twice on the moderate valuables table.” This is not the evocative treasure that appeals to the PLAYERS that I’m looking for. The designer does the work. That’s the rule. If I did the work then we wouldn’t need the designer.
Cultists in Crows Keep, Folds Between Worlds, Red Moon Harvest … these are some of the more appealing ones to me. Mostly because they break away from the “Stark Dwarven Halls” that are impossible to do well … figuratively or literal stark dwarven halls, that is … 😉
This is $20 at DriveThru. The preview is thirteen pages. You get to see an overview of the adventures and part of the first one … which has that pretty nifty crucifixion tree that I liked so much … even in its iffy form.