By Ben Gibson No Artpunk #2 B/X Levels 3-5
In the high and lonely plateau lies the forgotten shrine to Oleracea, petty-god of cabbages. Abandoned for centuries since his worshipers all died in conquest and drought, buried by the vengeful god of earth, the petty-god fell into a deep and fitful slumber in his chamber, slowly shrinking as even his name was forgotten. The rains came back and now the shrine plateau is covered by flowering cabbage, appreciated only by the wild vicuñas who browse among the fallen stones. Until the ship-men came, with their explorers and plunderers hungry for gold. In their hunger for ancient temples to pillage, even the rumored shrine of a supplanted agricultural deity draws explorers.
This eleven page adventure uses about four pages to describe about thirty rooms in a two level dungeon/shrine to a petty god. Interesting flavour, good interactivity, decent descriptions here and there combine with described treasure to create a nice environment that could only be helped by lightening up a bit on the wall of text paragraph descriptions … for descriptions that are not very long to begin with.
This adventure has a light meso-america vibe going on. I get the sense it’s some kind of Andes locale or something? Vaguely south american? It doesn’t really matter much. The appeals to a foreign setting are both light and in depth. Meaning that, on the surface level, it’s got this continual Andes vibe going on. There are enough references that it kind of feels like you’re in a foreign dungeon. One alien to your eure vibes of the past. And yet it’s not over the top in its detail here. You don’t get sentence after sentence of detail for trivia that doesn’t matter. And you don’t get shit that is going to be overly hard to integrate in your campaign. This isn’t some kind of LotFP thing with conquistadors running around and some kind of heavy catholic guilt present in the adventure. It’s got some shit from In Search Of. Aztec mummies, guinea pigs, llamas and shit. Good enough, mostly. Maybe a little more scene setting, another paragraph about mountains, snows, andes-like town or something. But, anyway, andes-like setting.
Blah blah blah. Commentary about the adventure you don’t care about, just like the above paragraph from me. Let’s talk about something interesting. The thing that really sets this adventure apart. You get the sense in this that Ben really thought about the rooms and then described them. Then, later, came back and figured out what the game mechanics should be. I don’t know. I’m not describing it well.
There’s this thing I sometimes mention. As with most subjects, I can describe the negative case much better than the positive one. You draw five rooms. Connect them with a corridor. You roll for a thing in room one and it says trap. You go to the book and pick out a trap from the book. A poison dart trap. It has mechanics listed. You write something like “Poison dart trap is in this room. Roll a save vs dex or take 2d4 damage.” Essentially, what the book says. Maybe you theme it up a bit with the darts shooting from snake heads or something instead of just holes in the wall. Whatever. The book said trap and it said dart trap so you copied the text from the book. This is the realm of the five room dungeon. Of low-effort and low imagination visions for the dungeon. The designer constrains themselves by what is known. It is either implicit or explicit, the list of things that the designer is picking from.
Contrast this then to opposite. You imagine the room. The taste the vision, the smell, whatever. You let the mind wander and come up with some kind of imagine the mids oeye of what the rooms is. It’s vibe. It’s encounter. Whatever. Then you set down to write it up and finally are like “oh, shit, I guess I need to stat that trap also.” [My emphasis here, in this example, is a little too heavy on the mechanics aspect of a trap. What I am describing extends to what is going on in the room and how it is described, moreso than a trap. Mechanics forward adventures are just easy to rag on.] And this kind of “vision first” design is critical, I think, to coming up with something interesting. Either in the evocative descriptions or in the interactivity in the room. And Ben does this well here. Very well. And, as a result, the rooms have a very Situations vibe to them … even when they are not Almost like all of them are traps … even though that would be wrong in every sense of the word.
There’s a room, a trap room explicitly in this case, that has poison darts in the walls. Except, it’s been a long time since they fired. A VERY long time. The darts have decayed till they are dust … thus it’s now kind of like a poison gas room instead of a poison dart room. Very nice! Or, a room with a pair of golden masks in them, on a table. One of them has a melted face stuck to it. A dead body on the floor lies next to the table. With its face missing. NOICE! We’ve got a telegraph. We’ve got a vision of history. We’ve got an EXCELLENT usage of a mask, both in its trap form and in its treasure form. What does a mask look like in an aztec temple? It looks like it’s gold and when it’s trapped its obviously got a face in it. Ben is doing a very good job here. I know, that’s all pretty trap heavy, but, also, a room with, in the darkness, the glowing eyes of The Great Statue seen, flickering, ahead, in the next room down the hallway out. Perfect! And, also, an excellent example of both telling the party what they sense, outside of the room, and that concept of the vista overlook, where you can get glimpses or landmarks when you survey something. Ah! You say, let me go check that out! Along, of course, with the trepidation that comes from approaching any towering statue .. let alone one with flickering red eyes seen in the distance!
I will cite one more example of this design-forward/vision forward style. There’s a small godling in thetemplae/dungeon. A baby, almost. And it has a little dolly. To comfort it. As if to keep it uiet. Which is exactly what it is doing. It’s an earth elemental whose entire job is to keep the little brat from crying. Fuck, yes. This is exactly what a baby eart-type godline has a doll and exactly what the fuck its job is.
I note two negatives in the adventure. FIrst, this thing is a little rough for level three’s, I think. Yeah, yeah, run away. I’m not even sure, I think, about fives? Anyway, the level range might be off. That’s only a mall issue though. A larger issue is the formatting. It’s not exactly bad. It’s basically just a short paragraph of text for each room. Maybe four sentences or so? That’s pretty good. It keeps things focused, for the most part. Rooms get a generic descriptions (“first genuflectory”) and there’s a light use of bolding and underlines. It’s not terrible. But, also, it does have a tendency to run together a bit. It’s not quite wall of text, but something is up here. Line space? Kerning? I don’t know. It feels like the text needs to bebroken up just a bit more.
This is not, however, the end of the world. It’s a good adventure.
It’s the first adventure in the No Artpunk #2 collection. Which is 250 pages long, and free at itch.