The Oneiric Hinterlands

By Stephen Jones
Unsound Methods
Levels 1-7

Deep in a hollow hill in the ancient Woldwood lies the Dream Gate: a beachhead for a war against reality that never came to pass. Its custodian, Lord Nuada, has disappeared, and now the oneiric energies have begun to warp the very fabric of the world. Nuada’s subjects – the sapient animals called the Danu – are too distracted to care. Following his disappearance, a civil war ended in a magical catastrophe, and the ascension of cruel predator overlords.

Meanwhile, the ‘Goblin King’, deposed by Nuada, has returned from Underland. Sending his fungal minions into Nuada’s abandoned hill palace, he seeks to retake his throne. Nearby the dwindling human colonies are still dealing with the aftermath of their war with the giants two decades earlier. Rumors circulate that the leader of the giants may have returned from death, and now treasure hunters arrive to disturb things best left buried.

This 144 page adventure features two dungeons and a wilderness area, all interconnect with plot hooks. It’s a real deal adventure. Lots of interactivity and a decent format compliment an adequate job at evocative writing to produce an environment that can occupy a decent amount of your campaign.

The general set up here is a vaguely points of light type environment. A war with giants awhile ago left many of the surrounding kingdoms destroyed. This we get a wilderness, and a starter town. The wilderness has a about twenty locations to wander around in. But, those encounters generally have a common theme … linking them to the larger situation going on. A woodlands fey ruler is missing, there’s a new one in town “the goblin king” (ala Bowie) And the local baddie, killed awhile ago, may be back! Andthen there’s some intelligent animals running around the first, split in to the SOme Are More Equal Than Others group, in charge, and a small rebellion, and the bulk who are just trying to get by. We can supplement that with … idk, like, twelve other groups running the forest, including escaped prisoners and the people hunting them, and A LOT of others. 

The wilderness environment is almost large enough to support itself as its own campaign. I’ve seen a lot of shit that don’t come close to it in with regard to size and degree of interactivity. So, what we’ve got is a relatively complex (but easy to follow!) social environment with plenty to stab and steal and talk to. But that’s not all, by a long shot. Because the wilderness here is just the larger context in which the “main” adventure takes place.

And that’s two dungeons, of 34 rooms and 118 rooms. These are related to each other, and related to the things going on in the wilderness and the overall “plot”, if we can call it that. FOr there is a timeline here. Shits going down motherfuckers, with or without you! We’ve got about thirteen weeks worth of activities that can happen while the party is out fucking about. People are on the move and they got places to go and shit to sack!

Formatting is good. NPC’s are terse and use bullets and such to make finding their personality traits easy. The details are gameable. ROom entries start with a (useless) one line summary and then move to “First impressions” … a few short sentences, two or three, that giev an overview of the room for the DM use. A few words in that description are bolded, and then those act as section headings lower to add more detail. It’s easy to scan and find what you need. 

Interactivity is great. Chasms, rooms with knee deep water, secret doors behind giant heads. Traps, generally telegraphed, and creatures that make sens in the environments they are in. And, this isn’t just mindless crawling, after all, there are a plot point or two to figure out and resolve … if the party is interested in doing that. 

The ideas, for the encounters, here are pretty good. A ghost of a dead giant in a cell, sulking, in despair over his (dead) brother. He wasn’t really in to the whole “take over the world” thing and just came to be with his brother. Or, a place in the woods where the locals dump their unwanted babies. Ouch! All pretty well done. A beginning encounter, near town, is “The zombie (9 HP) is the returned form of Old Jeb who died last winter.

f left alone he will go inside his old home, and shut the door. The terrified townsfolk will call for the Reeve, Ulric Frost. After brief consultations with the townsfolk, Ulric will wedge the cabin door shut and set fire to it with the zombie inside. The charred remains will be collected the following morning and buried outside the town boundaries (after suitable blessings from Father Benedict).”  That’s pretty well done, right?

Things fall down a bit with the actual writing of the descriptions. They are not bad, at all. But, also, they are not home runs.”A spectral male giant in tattered robes with greasy looking shoulder-length hair is muttering and swaying. Swaying, greasy, tattered, … ok, sure. Not great but ok. “Spectral male giant” is a bit bland though, yes? I spean, yes, “spectral”, which is better than most would do … but we’re not looking at most are we?. “At the bottom of the pit: a horizontal tunnel, knee-deep in muddy water, leads into darkness.” Not bad! That conjures up a pretty “oh shit! Attitude for people, I bet!

So, a real deal adventure for sustained play. A lot of running around, multiple dives in to the dungeon(s), and some maneuvering back and forth of the political situation … without judgment from the designer on which side, if any, to take. This isn’t rock star quality, but, also, it’s a pretty solid entry in the adventure market.

This is $13 at DriveThru. The preview is twenty pages and shows you a decent number of rooms, so, pretty good preview from the standpoint of letting you see what the writing and encounters are like.

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8 Responses to The Oneiric Hinterlands

  1. Artem of Spades says:

    Legit looks like the bee’s knees. Writing a fey adventure of my own at the moment (much smaller in scope)…

  2. Brandon says:

    I really liked this one. Fae adventures at this point are a dime a dozen, but with all of the factions in this one interacting, it feels fresh. The one concern I have with it that you didn’t mention in your review is the size of the map and the location of adventure sites. There’s a curse over the forest that drains a point of Intelligence every week and renders PCs unplayable at INT 3, and the big dungeon is over 250 miles away from the starting village as the crow flies. I am curious how players coped with this in play.

    • Dave says:

      Often that’s the kind of thing I just drop. Qelong had something like that, a corruption/mutation mechanic that I wasn’t opposed to in principle, but was both harsh and fiddly, and I dropped it.

      But if I were to run with it, I’d take any reasonable solution. If the players were to try sprinkling themselves with holy water every day, that would turn out to work.

      A weak point of this approach, and this kind of challenge in published products, is that many GMs, even some otherwise good ones, will only take solutions presented in the book. Which is bad GMing, but there’s more bad GMing out there than we like to talk about. It’s one reason we see so many bad adventures, is habit from peoples’ home games.

      • Maynard says:

        Most of the solutions in published adventures are carefully tailored for the product. Most games simply aren’t run in a vaccuum like that, most of them are mixed up with three other published adventures.

    • Unsound Methods says:

      In the playtest campaign, the party got into a rhythm of exploring for about a month, and then running for the nearest forest edge. As soon as they stepped outside the boundary of the Woldwood INT returns at 1 point/day. 
      If they are deep in the forest when INT gets low, they could always make a raft and row downriver (the main river flows south back towards Owlhaven, so that would allow a speedy exit). Another option is heading down into Underland for a few days. Technically that’s outside the forest (but watch out for mole men!). 
      If a human player’s INT hits 3, and you’re using the optional races, you could switch their race to Wild Man, and their class to Barbarian, and let them carry on playing. That wouldn’t be for everyone, but I had a player who chose to play a Wild Man and was hilarious and effective. 
      Lastly, my party made a deal with the Goblin King later to get the cure (and they were happy to help destroy the homunculi pool), although that caused its own problems. 

  3. Reason says:

    Or instead of making it a timed thing, just a save when you are exposed to corruption (Qelong) or Fey influences (I guess) in this one.

    Can be fun if the locals have cockamamey folk cures for it too.

  4. Unsound Methods says:

    The publisher here. Bryce, thank you for your kind review. I’m glad I got some things right. I’ll work on more specific and evocative language. I hope you liked Jenny Greenteeth. (-:

  5. Anonymous says:

    Well done Unsound Methods!

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