Aberrant Reflections

By directsun
Self Published
Levels 1-4

At the bottom of an ancient temple, beyond the mirror’s edge, lies the spot where reality was sundered. Fortune and power await those who learn its secrets. A fate worse than death is reserved for those who fail. You’ve come to plunder the temple between worlds and gaze into its ABERRANT REFLECTIONS.

This 44 page digest adventure features a mirror themed dungeon with about 22 rooms. It IS a puzzle dungeon but feels less like one than the ham-handed ones. The writing could be beefed up quite a bit to make it more evocative. This is a decent dungeon, especially as puzzle dungeons go.

This is a mirror dungeon. Meaning that there are mirrors in the dungeon that reflect a second dungeon, with the same basic layout as the first. You can, if you figure it out, pass through the mirrors to manipulate the other environment … such as the big honking room near the entrance stuffed full of treasure! Nice job that … by putting the treasure room up front, albeit in the mirror universe, you get the players interest fast and they pretty quickly learn their mission: figure out those fucking mirrors so they can get the treasure. Thus, I’m all on board with the core conceit. It’s just a dungeon. With another dungeon behind it and a motivation for reaching it. An appeal to the players, rather than the characters, is almost always going to be a good thing and it’s done here.

The map supports the mirror play by overlaying some purple text on to the “normal” map; the purple stuff representing the things that are different in the mirror-verse. The text of the adventure continues this with the rooms having both traditional text and then also purple text to handle the mirror universe things. It’s simple and effective and the purple is easy to read. The lack of numbers on the map raised some eyebrows, but, it is cross-referenced to the page the room is on, one room per page, so, the page numbers essentially serve as a room number … no harm no foul.

Formatting is decent, with bullets, bolding  and whitespace and boxes/shading. And, of course, the purple text clearly designating the mirror room. Interactivity, likewise, with the core puzzle concept of entering and/or manipulating objects in the mirror dungeon. This is complimented by Marvin the Morose Rob^h^h^hgolem and creatures which come through from the other side … as well as a few Things type body horrors. There’s enough variety to keep the party on its toes but still engaged.

My main issue here is one that I frequently have and seldom mention: the quality of the descriptive writing. This is, as I’ve said in the part, what I consider to be the hardest part of writing, so I don’t like to make TOO much of it. But, when its lacking it tends to turn someone I might want to run, or something I am excited to run, in to something I am indifferent to run. And that is, essentially, what we have here. 

Each room starts with a little bit of text, a kind of overview that could be aimed at either the DM or at the players as read-aloud. For example “Mirrors flank a black curtain that conceals the passage north. At the west end of the hallway sits an empty doorframe.” Bolded things have section heading down below, but, looking at the text proper, as an evocative description … meh. Ok. It is, I guess. It’s not bad, but, also, it’s not very evocative, I guess? Perhaps a little too grounded in the facts of the situation rather than the feelings of a situation (I just saw Bodies Bodies Bodies … Feelings are Facts!) 

I’m not altogether bored by descriptions like “A grand mirror towers over a stone altar, bathing it in green light.” as an initial room description. Grand, tower, bathing … and pale green light is always a win. But it is lacking just a little more. Maybe the context of the room? Dust motes? A barrenness by which the mirror and light/altar is thus the highlight? It’s not bad, but it’s not a stunning example of writing either. 

And, I guess, that’s got to be good enough. This is a decent adventure. It’s not doing anything wrong. Maybe a bit rough for level 1s, with a bunch of 3 and 4HD baddies, but as puzzle dungeons go its a pretty decent. The puzzles are integrated, not isolated funhouse rooms. It feels like a real place. Or, at least, the heightened reality of a “Real” dungeon in D&D. The concept, formatting, and interactivity are good and the writing not bad at all.

“Bryce, you’re not excited.” Nope. I’m not. I’m gonna Best this, because I think it deserves it. But, a print copy isn’t going on my bookshelf. Not that you fuckwits give a damn. Directsun is, however, on the short list of people to look out for when new adventures appear by them.

This is $8 at DriveThru. You getting all 44 pages in the preview. Rock on man! Directsun knows the score!


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9 Responses to Aberrant Reflections

  1. As a fuckwit, I appreciate you acknowledging me.

    Well… an aspiring fuckwit

  2. Congratulations!

    Play-tested extensively on the OSR Pick-Up Games Discord server: https://discord.gg/PWfgBss

  3. Anonymous says:

    Wait really? Go go playtesting!

  4. squeen says:

    That map is pretty bad-ass. Wild perspective on each room.

  5. Handy Haversack says:

    I had fun running this, though my players did not seem to enjoy it as much. I think they just don’t care for puzzle dungeons, though. It’s … a little demanding of DM brain, and maybe my brain just isn’t up to standards, but I could have used another graf on just gameplay nuts and bolts of mirror world vs. regular world — it felt almost as if the DM was on the same exploratory quest as the players. The ghoul/institutional memory is a great encounter and led to some hilarious RPing. The save-or-die vs. the flesh lumps is a big deal for low-level characters (and actually took out a lvl. 5 monk in our game). I think my players got a little frustrated with the “now that you have [x], you must find [y] to complete the [z]” — too videogamey for them? The Dopplegooper was another great RPing possibility and added some fun to the wandering, though it was eventually abandoned.

    Definitely worth playing, and as you say, Direct Sun is a bunch worth keeping an eye out for (my players loved The Seers’ Sanctum even though they lost a valuable character to petrifaction).

  6. grodog says:

    I was given a copy of this at GaryCon by the author, and have gone through it, but not in-depth yet.

    My impressions are good, but I’ll move it further up the stack to dig into. Thanks!


    PS – Is WordPress not allowing me to subscribe to a post anymore?? I don’t see an option for comment subscriptions, just to be be notified of new posts :-/

  7. squeen says:

    Illustrations support the adventure in an excellent way. To be honest, with all there lovely inset maps and drawings, it’s the form of an adventure I always thought I’d try to publish someday.

    And yet that those darn bullets! I’ve come to really dislike them. There is no flow. Am I a glutton for text? I find myself wanting a bit more.

    • squeen says:

      To coin a word for the style: Uber-utilitarian. That’s it in a nutshell.

    • Anonymous says:

      If bullets work in Castle Xyntillan, they work for me.

      There is certainly a layout style that goes too far into utility and bullet points (pretty much anything from Necrotic Gnome for me), but Bryce is right that an adventure should be designed to help the DM use it. That shouldn’t mean it takes an overly minimalist approach, but unnecessary information or poor information presentation should never be encouraged either.

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