Demon Bone Sarcophagus

Patrick Stuart, Scrap Princess
False Machine Publishing
Level 1?

A pile of dead bodies in the desert! Results of a triple-cross! The PC’s investigate! Glass Women! Tunnels in the Earth! A scrap of torn paper in a dead hand, only one fragment of a plan to rob an evil corporation of incalculable wealth! A mysterious tomb beneath!What strange drama lead to this catastrophe? What secrets of primeval forgotten history will be revealed beneath in the tomb of the First Queen of Fire? Will they all interrelate in the (hopefully) third book of the series? Explore the tomb! Meet survivors of the battle above! Make choices between factions that will (hopefully) influence your journey through the next two books! (Hopefully) recover the Heist Plans!

This 144 page adventure uses about sixty five pages to describe a dungeon with about sixty five rooms. It is a rich experience, with evocative writing and great situations, a true dungeon delve worth exploring. It is also overly written with some confusing layout and dubious choices made in presentation and detail. Absolutely not something to pick up and run with minimal prep, but, also, almost certainly rewarding if you’re willing to study the text. A lot.

The situation here is that a lot of people from different factions met up/encountered each other on a plain and they got in to it, in a big way. A big battle ensued, which was complicated further by a creature popping up from underground. Turns out that the plain/spot of the inciting incident was directly over a big tomb complex. A slaughter ensues, and several of the people end up in the tomb, through various holes in the ground/collapsing sections of the plain. The party stumbles upon the plain/battle just after shit goes down. They investigate the battle remnants and then head down in to the to to encounter the shit down there, both the NPC’s from the battle that have fled there/fallen in and then also the tomb stuff.

Everything here, EVERYTHING, is non-trivial. Everything is fleshed out. The NPC’s are all fully detailed with wants, goals and little snippets to help you run them. It’s done in a good way, meaning that the content is directed towards the party interacting with them and them interacting with the adventure. Everything in the tomb is don in exactly the same way. Richly described. Interactive. Situations. Room after room does this. Encounter after encounter. “Naked girls of glass wander in the chaos, smiling absently at nothing at all.” or “A Man Hangs in the Claws of the gigantic HYPER-SLOTH! He is alive. Eyes fixed on a woman, she has been eviscerated and drags her body across the ground smearing blood, holding an obsidian knife. She is CRAWLING TOWARDS the hanging man.” Your soul is dead if you can’t something of those things, while running them. Those description, in particular, are rather short and get the point across in a magnificent manner. And that’s what you can expect here. Sentence after sentence of things of this rich tapestry. All perfect for running. Dudes wearing dark masks, difficult to pull away from their faces as if the mask were resisting more than they should. Their faces covered by back scabs once you do. That’s good. And the interactivity here is spot on. From things to talk to, ally with, things to stab, and a rich amount of interactivity beyond that. Shit to fuck with, and non-standard treasures. You couldn’t ask for more. “Crystal shards scatter the floor making it a blinding starfield. A cracked porcelain woman sits upon a crystal demon skull.”

Except …

This thing got issues. Hella issues.

Ignoring the backstory/flufl up front we get to the maps and the description of the battle. This is a mess. The maps are a pain. It feels like there wasn an attempt to overload then with information and make them somewhat artistic also. But these choices end up, I think, confusing the maps more and subtracting from the primary purpose that the maps are supposed to provide. There’s a db UI overhaul at work. The overhaul makes it easier to support the code in the long term, a lot easier to support. And the UI proper is more than a little outdated. But, also, the UI overhaul has negatively impacted the primary use case: the ability to locate and analyze massive amounts of data at a glance. The font, colo choice, kerning, line spacing .. it’s not substantially less easy to look at a massive amount of data at once and get what you need out of it. The cognitive burden is much, much higher. Which is the primary purpose of the UI, in this case. Thus the secondary and tertiary goals have, seemingly, trumped that primary goal. And that’s what it feels like is going on here with the maps. The map layout is a bit unusual, a giant triangle made up of smaller triangles that represent the individual rooms. That’s a choice. But I’ll go with it as a mythic destination. But the map choices, the detail added, from color scheme to in-room details, seem to detract from the overall primary purpose of the map. That could have been a lot better.

And that is a theme of the presentation of the entire adventure. Those wonderfully rich NPC’s, focused on actual play? There’s just too much to them. You can’t grok the NPC in a few second,s you’ve got to absorb A LOT of information about them. All play oriented, but there’s too much. Even with the formatting, a clear effort was made to help the DM. HERE”S WHERE YOU LOOK FOR WHAT THEY SAY WHEN YOU QUESTION THEM. The headings are all there. But there’s just A LOT.

And that rich tapestry for the rooms, their contents and descriptions. Sentence after sentence richly described. There’s just a lot to wade through. The most simple of rooms is going to get a column of information. All wonderful. But way too much to ever use. I absolutely fucking love ALL of the contents. But I can’t use it all. And it detracts from my ability to run it. 

You get a page on locked doors and tomb keys. You get a page on unlocked doors and combination doors. You get a page on wall murals. You get a page on Darkness, and dimensional tears. You get a page on the tunnel descriptions. You get a page on trap maintenance tunnels. You get a page on … You get the idea. It’s all wonderful content. But there is no fucking way in hell I’m holding all of that in my head. And I don’t think there’s any way I’m paging through to look up the information as I run this. And then flip to the rooms NPC’s. And then flip to the treasure. And then flip to the …

This may be one of the most richly described, effectively richly described, environments ever produced for D&D. But this is not a Tuesday night gaming location. This is something that the DM is going to have rto pour over, time and again. Note taking. Cross-references, and so on. You are gonna have to put in work. A LOT of work, in order to prep to run this.

And I have a lot of misgivings about that. I love this. I love the descriptions. I love the interactivity. I love the richness. But there’s only so much foie gras I can eat in one setting. It ends up detracting the whole. A god strong edit was needed on this one (in more ways than one), but in particular to focus the rooms down, focus the NPC’s down. Or, maybe, a few more pages, to summative the NPC’s in to a form more readily usable, with extra detail present elsewhere for those that want it. 

I’m regerting this. I’m going to study it much much more. 

This is $12.50 at DriveThru. The preview is thirty pages. You get to see the battle remains location, which is one of the more … complex portions of the adventure, in terms of layout, presentation, and detail. It’s wonderful, I think you’ll agree. But also it’s A LOT, and could be presented much much better. The rooms are laid out much better and thus the battle scene is not the best representation of the core of the adventure but does, perhaps, serve to illustrate the difficulties in grokking whats going on to run it.

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25 Responses to Demon Bone Sarcophagus

  1. Ken McKinney says:

    You were kinder regarding the map than I would have been. To me, a map that simply a set of regularly interconnected equilateral triangles, is not D&D. It’s disappointing in the same way that the map for Queen of The Demonweb Pits disappointed. Give me a vast heap of ruins, mixing caves, stonework, rivers and chasms, interspersed with secret doors, interconnecting hallways. Even if you’re depicting a modern spaceship it needs to be more interesting than this, with catwalks suspended over deep shafts, claustrophobic maintenance tube and the like. Whatever map that is come up with , should not be possible to represent as a flowchart with a note on the dimensions of a single, repeating room.

  2. Anonymous says:


  3. Anonymous says:

    Was waiting for your review to decide to purchase the hardcover thanks Bryce!

    I will pick up the PDF first me thinks.

    I never saw you review Silent Titans but I picked that up and wonder if you would have said similar things

    From screenshots I have seen that one has better UI than this though

    On second thought I wonder…

  4. Anonymous says:

    “Hella issues”
    “You are gonna have to put in work. A LOT of work…”
    “I’m going to study it much much more.”

    Certainly seems like there are some regerts. I am reminded of the close of the Melonath Falls review.

    “And I don’t do [work to run a module] anymore. That’s not what an adventure is to me. I’ll pick something else, equally good or better, that is easier for me to run.”

    • One Single Tear says:

      Patrick’s writing is too good to ignore. The tragedy is how much he gets in his own way. If only he could handle having editors in his life instead of enablers.

      • Prince says:

        Patrick’s writing is singular (if reined in) but there is something missing about most of his work. I think he would be ecstatic doing system-neutral adventures where he could write in an unrestricted manner without having to deal with mechanics, which he is mortally afraid of. The best solution would be a ruthless editor, clearly.

        At the end of the day, DCO is very good and the bestiary section of Veins of the Earth is also very good. DBS I thought was a disaster, beyond salvaging.

        • AB Andy says:

          What system is DBS for? Also, he is mentioned as ‘additional writing’ in Hotspring Island… would be interesting to know what exactly he contributed there.

  5. Gnarley Bones says:

    Gah! Is there an editor listed (or playesters this time)? I find the presentation extremely distracting. Alas, as I know the bells-and-whistles are the point, but I daresay this would be far easier for a DM to digest and run without all the bells-and-whistles. Any way they’d offer a plain-text version at a discount? I don’t need the flourishes.

    • Anonymous says:

      With plain text it would be extremely mediocre. The ostentation is the selling point for people who like to read.

      • Gnarley Bones says:

        You know, there was a late TSR game called Alternity, which was Sci-Fi based. It was kind of all over the place, trying to fit both Star Frontiers-esque adventures and X-Files-themed scenarios under one roof. Some of the latter, however, actually made for decent CoC scenarios. However, that was the first time this DM/Keeper noticed that the presentation actually fought the utility. Funky colors, weird fonts and avant-garde boxed text sometimes made it a hassle to find what I needed. I noted at the time how unnecessary it was; I, the Keeper, didn’t need any of that; I needed the game information. I played/run pretty much the gamut of RPGs from the early 80s on, all the forms of D&D, CoC, Toon, Robotech, Champions … even Gangbusters (yeah, that’s right)!. Alternity was the first where I found myself frustrated with the form.

        Alternity died off and I noted that when WoTC started releasing its D&D producting, they pretty much uniformly began using elaborate, intricately-decorated maps that … the players never see. I mean, all the traps and secret doors are on them, what is the point?

        In this age of digital wonders, I suppose it’s easy (or, perhaps, easier) to create pretty products. I’m not sold on the need.

    • Anonymous says:

      Holy hell…I was skimming but couldn’t get past page 12 from the example file. When I buy an adventure module, I don’t want to read it and be awed by the ostentation–Ill buy a comic for that, instead, I want to play/run it. No thanks, hard pass.

  6. Bucaramanga says:

    What the hell, Bryce has become a sucker for artpunky MUCHO TEXTO

  7. AB Andy says:

    I used to play 5e, and then I read DCO. Patrick Stuart introduced me to OSR and to his wonderful adventure and setting. So for that, I am grateful. And I trully believe that he is the best writer when it comes to the weird stuff. But this… the preview hurt my eyes. It’s all over the place. So,

    No regerts for the ideas it may have inside
    but as a runable adventure hard pass.

    Hopefully, their next will be better, not in terms of writing, that we know Patrick can do, but in terms of presentation. Because you can have something packed with content, like Hotspring Island for example, and still present it in a way we can run it.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Yesterday, based on this review, I cracked open my hardcover of Demon Bone (which had, up to this point, been collecting dust).

    Man, I have no idea how I would actually run this with my group. I agree that the situations and locales are interesting, and stellarly written. But… It is overwritten to the Moon and back. It has typos. There are duplicated pages for no reason. It alludes to a heist adventure, so we are missing context. Every room has a different encounter table (really?!). It is sad, because they really tried, with the spread layout, copying some Pathfinder feel in the layout (not in a bad way!), and interspersed cross-references.

    It is in dire need of a ruthless editor, someone that actually runs these adventures.

    Patrick & Scrap should add that grumpy editor to their duet, someone who shouts and cuts left and right. I’m sure then this would be the absolute best the OSR has to offer. The writing and art is already there. It is just a mess.

    I throw my hat to the ring 🙂

  9. Chainsaw says:

    Some of the art is fun, but not a fan of the maps. Generally prefer simple black/white interior layout for ease of use.

  10. Gnarley Bones says:

    I ran Beyond the Mountains of Madness which, for those of you who don’t know, is the ultimate CoC scenario, involving Miskatonic University’s follow-up expedition to Antarctica to ascertain what became of the prior expedition (see “At the Mountains of Madness,” H.P. Lovecraft). To say that it is complex or immersive is the understatement of all gaming history. Your players will learn far more about the manufacture of pemmican then they ever thought possible.

    But it’s doable; it’s one of my DMing (“Keepering?”) life highlights and the group talks about it all the time. The work is clear, tight, organized, cross-referenced and, yes, simple and straightforward. I don’t need wonky text effects or margin art. I’m the DM, I need only *information* and the information provided is what sets the tone and the play.

    It is possible to go large and keep it tight.

    • Prince says:

      The age-old question; Is something complex because it has a lot of moving parts, each contributing to the whole, or is it complex because someone decided to write all the statt blocks in Iambic Pentameter in the original Koine Greek? There’s heavy keys here and a few unique monsters and NPCs. But it hardly needed, say, a custom random encounter table for every room. All of that extra ostentation adds to the cognitive burden of absorbing the work. The essence needs to be teased out from under a thick pile of description, much of which can be ignored.

      With Melonath Falls, there’s probably a few efficiency upgrades that can be implemented but much of it comes down to an abundance of parts. There’s environmental mechanics, coordinated responses, extra entrances, adundant treasure etc.

      You want something that inspires the DM to run a good game so a few nice descriptions or a unique monster or item here and there, perfect. What would this look like if someone pointed a gun to your head and you were forced to trim down the writing to a maximum of 3 paragraphs per room.

    • Pamar says:


      Can you list more of yours Keepering triumphs, please? And I mean from any system, not specifically CoC.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know how I would run this at all. The layout is sooo bad.

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