The Tomb of the Ashen Queen

by Luiz Eduardo Ricon
Hexplore Publishing
Level 1

In centuries past, these lands were raided by a merciless warrior queen. Her name is legend, and the location of her final repose was a long, lost secret… until now!

This 26 page digest adventure uses eight pages to describe twelve rooms in a dungeon. 

This is marketed as the perfect first dungeon crawl for starting players. It is important, as with all things, to not believe anything you ever read. This is not the perfect first dungeon crawl for starting players. This is a total and absolute piece of garbage of an adventure. 

Our first sign is that it’s twenty six pages. And only uses nine of them to describe its twelve rooms. I guess it could be worse. It could use even more pages to describe the rooms. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. Anymore. Ever. Because some beaming idiot is always there, holding out the lumpy ashtray they just made. This is life.

Need another example? How about the map! A pretty basic affair. Just a bunch of rectangles connected by corridors in the most “I made this in powerpoint” kind of way. With a couple of same-level stairs thrown in. But, of, no, this is not the highlight of the map. Oh no. The highlight is that the fucking map doesnt use numbers. Yes, friends, our ashtray is convex. The map just has room names. Exciting names like “Orcs” or “Goblins” or “Mess Hall.” It’s up to us, the DM’s of the world, to dig through the text and find the room that says “Goblins.” I wonder if the “goblins” rooms comes before or after the “Orcs” room in the text? SHould I page further on to find it or should I turn back a few pages? If only there was some simple way to determine that! Something, like, I don’t know, an ordered system of keys. Like, I don’t number, what if we used numbers? So, like “Room 2” or something. Then, if we’re looking at Room 1 in the text we know that Room 2 should be the next room. That would make sense! Oh, what’s that? This text kind of does that? Yes! It does! “Room 1, Antechamber” That’s great! But, YOU DIDN”T PUT ThE FUCKING ON FUCKING  THE MAP IN THIS PIECE OF SHIT FUCKING PRODUCT! And, you named the fucking rooms something else. Is the “Goblins” room on the map the same as “Room 2 Goblins Attack” room in the text? Fuck it. You EXPECT the stoplights to be times?! You EXPECT the road to not be full of potholes?! You EXPECT COmcast customer service to provide customer service?! Fuuuuuuuccccccckkkkkkkk You! Wait at the restaurant for them to microwave your frozen ravioli. 

Ah, but the adventure! There we have something! Lets’ look at these amazing room descriptions! “The walls have 4 torch sconces, with burned out torches. Three doors leading out.” How’s THAT for a description, Mr Reviewerman?! No? Not your cup of tea? Then how about “This room is torch lit, 60×60, one locked door on the North wall. There’s a pedestal with a silver amulet on the east wall” Ha! Take that! I loathe my life. I yearn, only, for escape from it. And, yet, this is what I’m presented with, every day, in every way. 

Room two tells that that there is a noise and a light coming from beyond the corridor turn. That’s from the perspective of room one, so, I hope you entered the room that way. And, of course, this should have been the description of the room one exit to that direction. This is basic fucking shit. And, I know the hooks are dismissed by many of you, but, they are included. Such things as “You came here on a caravan.” Great. Or “you found a map in a chest.” This is indeed making my life better, thanks for including that.

There is one nice thing in this adventure. Room one has dirt all over the floor and an inscription on the floor under it. Nice detail, that.

Look, I’m kind of known for being a generous kind of guy, so I’ll offer this advice for everyone out there who wants to write an adventure and publish it. I’m going to assume you are writing for the joy of it. You’re not one of those commercial hacks that have a Patreon and are dumping out content to your subscribers every month. There’s nothing wrong with a Patreon, but, there is something wrong with pumping out shitty content in order to make money. At least  there is within the context of this blog. They can be lauded on the “Capitalism: How to Find A Sucker” blog. But not here. Here we’re looking for quality. Here we’re in it for the love of D&D. So, let me ask you, Wannabe Adventure Writer …

Is this the best thing you have done or will ever do in your life? If you could only be known for one thing from now until the end of time, is this it? That adventure you just write and about to publish … is that it? When you are judged before god, or talked about by your sons and daughters or mentioned in media a thousand years from now, will they be holding up this adventure as the only example from your entire meaningless fucking worthless existance and saying “Yes. THIS is it”! If you cannot contemplate this being the best thing you have written, or will ever write … then don’t publish it. Don’t inflict it upon the rest of us.

Thing about why you’re writing it. You’re not getting rich. No makes money at this shit. We already covered the Patreon/ConveyerBelt crowd. They make bank. But they aren’t doing it because they love D&D. They are just churning out content every month to make money with no expectation of quality. So, when we remove the potential of making more than $20 from the equation … why are you doing this? Presumably because you are excited and you love the game and you want to share that. So do that. DO it in a way that communicates your excitement and vision. Agonize over it. Tear your hair and rend your clothing over the adventure. Over the writing. Over the design. Truly visit the depths of despair and the heights of joy as you work it. Over and over and over again. Produce for us a work that is the best that you can possibly achieve, and then go beyond that. Make something that you believe could honestly be mentioned in the same breathe as G1 or Thracia or DCO. That’s the bar you are shooting for in publishing. Because that’s what you actually want to do. Deep down, that’s what you want and that’s what you yearn for and that’s what you envision in your head. So do it.

This is $1 at DriveThru. The preview eight pages and you get to see none of the actual adventure, so it’s a failure also.–Ashen-Queen-The-Ideal-First-Dungeon-Crawl-for-Starting-Players?1892600

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19 Responses to The Tomb of the Ashen Queen

  1. Bucaramanga says:

    Damn, the review is definitely MUCHO TEXTO

  2. Anonymous says:

    Sound advice at the end. It’s 90/10 principle in a different light: 90% of the adventures actually played constitute 10% of those published. And that’s probably generous. Why wouldn’t you want to aim to be in that 10%? Answering my own question: because it’s hard.

    I also worry this commentary is casting your pearls before swine, at least in the case of this publisher. A dozen low-effort products since 2022, including an “adventure prompt” release (I.e. the lowest-of-low effort product, just elevator pitches but absolutely none of the hard work of actually making an adventure). Largely (entirely?) filled with AI-generated art – not to get into the ethics of that, just that it’s another low-effort indicator.

    I hope, pray even, that he sees the light and really pours some soul into the next one. Because this losing streak on reviews (9 long now?) is getting hard to watch.

    • Stripe says:

      The author doesn’t understand the purpose of an RPG book.

      One can’t really appreciate advice about producing a TTRPG product without first understanding why RPG books exist in the first place. So, you’re right; until then, it’s pearls to the swine.

      This widely-cited blog post explains it, and it’s an epiphany to those who don’t understand:

      Conceptual density (or ‘What are RPG books *for*, anyway?’)

      • Anonymous says:

        Money quote in that article: “The contents need to be something better than you could come up with, unaided”

        The quote is obviously incomplete. Better how? More original? More coherent? More evocative? More actionable? More organized? All of the above, arguably. But if nothing else, it’s a good mantra. The aspiring adventure writer should be hammering their material with that question over and over again, as it’s the only way to get an adventure that cuts.

      • Anonymous says:

        The above article is what spawned or heavily influenced artpunk and got us into the current mess. Its not that it is wrong, but in the case of adventure design it is lacking. The way to make good adventures is not to obsessively customize every single element in an effort to trigger dopamine receptors. Instead, existing elements, with a few tasteful additions, must be organized so as to spark joy, provide a novel challenge and be compatible with existing DnD.

  3. Diaghilev says:

    My man, stop reviewing this shit. Are we at 10-for-10 terribad in a row yet? If I wanted to watch a man beat his dick with a hammer, there are other parts of the internet I could go to. Surely there’s better grist for your mill out there?

  4. Sevenbastard says:

    “Make something that you believe could honestly be mentioned in the same breathe as G1 or Thracia or DCO. ”

    Yeah I think part of the problem is that some people are trying to make Ravenloft or Dragonlance or what ever shit they are told is good.

    Like whe I say name the best car movie 80% of America says Fast 5 or something when they should be saying The Road Warrior.

    • Anonymous says:

      Judging by his complaints the last couple of years, in search of the unknown, white plume mountain and castle amber – if released today – would have been considered utter shite (“a vampire! Let’s drop a vampire out of nowhere in a volcano!” Or “entrance to the land of ghouls in a dungeon room…why? Fuck if I know”. I guess you get tired after so many years since it wasn’t like that in the earlier days. A but Jaded (no wonder since there is quite a bit of garbage out there).

      • J Holland Spacemummy says:

        Good idea, but you might be missing the point. Say I am a new DM who doesn’t know about this blog. I go into dtrpg to look for the ideal starting adventure for my newbie friends and their freshly rolled 1st level characters. I’ve even read somewhere that OSE is the kewl shite. Then I find this. It tells me on the cover this is exactly what I’m looking for! After reading through this I’m wondering what my problem is. Why can’t I make this fun?

        Also, this blog is often read by content creators. He’s asking y’all to step up so he can review your great product. And he had reviewed some great product. I venture to guess there is a therapy angle to some of these reviews. As a writer, it makes me not my head. Yes, this is so. Don’t release crap. Keep at it! It’s the same no matter what your endeavor is. This is a call to all of us.

  5. Tara says:

    The “G1 or Thracia or DCO” bit has me curious. What adventures do you consider really worth playing or revisiting (or visiting for the first time for younger players), and why? It feels like it would be more worth it (and probably more satisfying for you) to do a series where you review some of those classics which you really like, less depressing and helpful for people who follow this blog to see what works and what doesn’t work in an adventure and why.

  6. Stripe says:

    Great review. I was laughing my ass off the whole time. Thanks!

  7. George Dorn says:

    > The highlight is that the fucking map doesnt use numbers.

    JFC. There’s no way anybody who wasn’t involved in the production of this thing has actually run it at a game table.

  8. Jacob72 says:

    The best car movie is Bullitt.

    • Sevenbastard says:

      Not a bad choice, but its Road Warrior, Fury Road, then Smokey and the Bandit. In that order. Now if only they would have done a Bandit sequel in the world of Mad Max*

      *Obviously Fury Road is a rip off of the Smokey and the Bandit plot. Authority figure chases run away bride and semi truck. But I still put em both in the top 3.

  9. Max Z says:

    Just you wait, AI will solve the problem of bare descriptions, it’s just that author haven’t stumbled on it yet for whatever reason.

    “This room is torch lit, 60×60, one locked door on the North wall. There’s a pedestal with a silver amulet on the east wall”

    “The flickering torchlight casts dancing shadows across the 60×60 room, illuminating a single locked door on the north wall. A grand pedestal stands against the east wall, showcasing a gleaming silver amulet, its intricate design catching the light.”

    And you can refine it with more details:

    > add random details

    “The flickering torchlight casts dancing shadows across the expansive 60×60 chamber, revealing worn stone walls adorned with faded tapestries. A single locked door stands stoically on the north wall, hinting at the mysteries beyond. Against the east wall, a grand pedestal rises majestically, its surface adorned with intricate carvings and a faint layer of dust. Atop the pedestal rests a silver amulet, its delicate chain glinting in the torchlight, while nearby, scattered parchments bear faded ink and half-finished sketches, remnants of forgotten pursuits.”

    It’s getting a bit too large now but you get the point.

    • Anonymous says:

      The second and third iterations are both far worse than the first one, which is unexciting but fully functional.

    • Anonymous says:

      Its interesting (and arguably revealing), that virtually nothing of substance is added. How much (non-interactive) detail does the GM need before the encounter has its inteded effect. If you use silver amulet, maybe ‘in the shape of a cruel talon’ or something, you have the same effect.

      • kencocan says:

        Well, that’s another question: what IS the intended effect? I suspect non-interactive detail is not the crucial quantity. We want it to be readily parsed, informative, consistent, suggestive and engaging. The informative party, though? An adventure can be less good because the situations it presents is not interesting. That is can be very difficult to assess if you limit your view to the test of a single keyed entry. For example, whether a particular detail is non-interactive can depend on other parts of the adventure. A ‘good’ property of some adventures is that their local details lacking a local significance have a non-local importance as a result of elements elsewhere in the adventure.

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