The Sand Temple

By Christian Blair
Self Published
Generic/Universal
Low levels

The adventure is themed around exploring an ancient temple in the middle of the desert, hiding dark powers and amazing treasure beneath the sand. Danger awaits around the corner, and the players must be wary of the wandering shadows lurking beneath their feet. While their mission may seem simple, and their reward great, the possibilities of certain death are always following close by.

This nine page adventure has nine rooms. Non specific, abstracted text. Boring. Generic/Universal is a warning sign: Stay Far Away. 

Man, I don’t know what it is. Every time I see a Generic/Universal adventure I know it’s not going to be any good. They are all written the same way, as if being being specific about something will somehow make it specific to a system and therefore not Generic/universal anymore. Heavens to murgatroyd! Not that!There’s this abstracted way of writing that prevails in these. It seems universal. Get it?! Get it?! Universal?! What did you expect when you asked me to review this? 

You approach THE SAND TEMPLE. After ten minutes you have an encounter and then explore the rest of the temple and actually start it. Your encounter is determined by rolling a d4. 

We don’t do this. This is not a random encounter. This is not a table that you could pick multiple items from at some point in the future, like a wandering monster table. This is not the purpose of a random table. There will ever only be one encounter in that temple. So why the fuck have you put in a random table? Just fucking stat out an encounter. “A small room crumbles, revealing useful items.” This is what I’ve come to expect from Generic/Universal. “Useful items” What if, instead, you had just, as the designer, rolled on that table and instead spent a paragraph describing what happens? You know, actually creating an interesting encounter? Wouldn’t that have been better? FAR better?  The use of randomness in an adventure, when it’s not called for, remains a pet peeve of mine. It shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what randomness is used for, and, a lack of understanding of what IS important … the fucking encounter.

Ok, so, we’re in a temple. There’s absolutely no description. All we get is “sunken a quarter of its size into the sand.” That’s in … a couple of paragraphs of text? We get generic background text on everything, and I do mean generic, but no temple description. Ok, sure, how about you wing it? Except for this “the entrance is found beneath an old carpet in the center of the temple.” Uh. Ok. So, I guess there’s furniture and stuff in this abandoned temple a quarter buried in the sand? It’s fucking weird. Toss the carpet in the corner, torn and fucked up. Or half buried outside. Or it’s what you buy from some dude in town or something. It just doesn’t fit, the juxtaposition of ruined and “everything here is normal!” 

Ok, so, like, a column of text later we’re past the entrance puzzle and canget to the nine room dungeon, proper. But first we have some generic dungeon description. Like “Now, turned into a tomb

for eternity, this dungeon houses the memories of forgotten times, under the unbreakable will of forbidden magic.” That text is fucking useless. It does nothing. And, yet, text like that ABOUNDS in this adventure. In fact, that’s what makes up at least 50% of the adventure text. And, frankly, I think I’m lowballing things. It feels like 80 to 90% of the text is that kind of aggressively generic overview description shit. I’m not even sure you can call it an overview description. Abstracted background? 

Let’s get on to the rooms!

“This corridor leads to the only exit of the dungeon. There’s no light at all here,” Yes, the fucking map shows that. And, yes, we all expect there to be no light in the fucking dungeon. Useless description. Useless padding.

“This is the only known exit out of the dungeon, other than the entrance. The exit is actually blocked by a massive pile of sand, which can only be removed in the presence of the Sun Engine. When the relic is nearby, the sand automatically makes way for the players to exit. This dark cave is inhabited by various Giant Scorpions (2-4). These are strong and deadly creatures. They can’t resist much damage but their natural armor means they can tank most hits. While they don’t deal a lot of damage on their own, their sting has a deadly poison that can kill easily.” So, again with the random number of monsters. Just stick a fucking number in, man. The only known exit. Great. Again,m useless overview/padding. It’s actually blocked by sand. Perfect. More padding. How about “Blocked by sand that parts automatically in the presence of the Sun Engine.” That’s fucking boring, but, also, I did it in FAR fewer words. And then the fucking monsters. We don’t say that the cave is inhabited by the monsters. We know that already. That’s why the monsters are there. And then this garbage description of them.. Just say Giant Scorpions and move on. Tell us about the cave. Give us something interesting about it. Or the scorpions. Or how they attack. Or how one of them looks like Nobboc. (That’s your reward for writing multiple examples of how room text could be laid out 🙂 Just do SOMETHING to rock me like a hurricane. Just something.

But, alas, no, that is not to be. Aggressively generic text. I repeat again, for those in the back: specificity is the soul of the narrative. You don’t have to do this with everything, but you need SOMETHING to hang your hat on. To spark the imagination. 

This is Pay What you Want at DriveThru, with a suggested price of $3. The preview is three pages and shows you absolutely nothing of the adventure. Leroy Brown preview.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/397993/EQ4-The-Sand-Temple?1892600

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15 Responses to The Sand Temple

  1. Libra says:

    There’s two questions that interest me about this review: Why do authors write system neutral products and why am I interested in them (because I definitely am sometimes)?

    For authors, there’s a an obvious interest in appealing to a larger audience (more $$$). Also setting up stat blocks can be a real pain. In the best cases, however, I think the author is trying to break from tropes that can restrict imagination. Maybe that’s why it’s hard to write with specificity?

    I think as a buyer, that’s what I’m interested in when I’m going for something that’s system generic. I’m hoping to ignite something in my brain that’s outside the norms of the system I’m playing in. But I agree with Bryce that most authors have a system they’re mentally stuck in, so the the generic adventure ends up weaker because there’s no useful stats, and I’m dissatisfied as a buyer because it all feels “blah.”

    Curious–are there any generic adventures on the “best” list?

    • Dave says:

      I don’t know about Bryce’s list, but I think The Spire by Simon Forster is the best systemless adventure I’ve seen, and good in its own right. Original map, good theming in the dungeon, good starting home base village with a couple of factions going on.

      And even with it being good I’ll probably never run it, because it’s more work for me to go through and stat it up than it would be for me to convert stats from one retro-clone to another. (And it clearly is in the D&D/clone design space.)

      I really think statless or systemless is a ghetto where adventures go to maybe be read but never actually played. I don’t know why authors keep going that route.

    • Swordfishy says:

      Hot Springs Island is generic AF. Well, it’s system neutral and on the best list iirc

    • Reason says:

      The key here is authors mistaking system/stat generic for _content_ generic. E.g not even including the “useful items”- that’s not system specific. It’s abstract crap. Tell us there is a prybar, some chalk and parchment, a ball of twine and some oil/grease (these fit in ancient or modern systems). Clever players will find some way to use that, in any system even modern or ancient and the if you include OTHER specific stuff they begin to bounce off each other.

      Take the giant scorpions. A completely overused desert adventure trope. Basically generic. And the sand stuff- kinda interesting but mishandled.

      How about we get specific- if the final chamber is entered without the macguffin engine then the sand covering the chamber floor whips itself into 3 hyena sized whirlwind fast sand scorpions and viciously attack anyone trying to exit. Sting rasps for d6 + spreading black tendrils of curse poison for d6 more if save failed. Stabbing weapons, arrows or bullets do only 1 dmg but liquid (oil/grease?) sinks/dissolves them to a sludgy puddle.

      If pcs have the macguffin the sand scorpions form but part to either side and pose in genuflection either side of the door.

      You can be system agnostic but still not write abstracted boring stuff. Specificity is always good as it riffs and builds upon itself.

      I used stats I guess for the scorpion dmg but if you can’t figure out how to handle that ratio/danger level in your system, then just turn in your DM card.

  2. ruprecht says:

    1-page dungeons tend to b system neutral yet dripping with imagination. I can’t understand why things would different when folks go slightly longer.

  3. The Heretic says:

    Endless Quests? Wasn’t that trademarked several decades ago.

    Almost always when I see “A So and So Adventure” that’s usually a sign that the adventure sucks.

  4. Jonathan Becker says:

    Shit-ware.

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