Isle of the Bleeding Ghost

By Jordan Thompson
Self Published
Level 1

Years ago the infamous pirate Captain Marrow led a campaign of terror across the high seas. The Pirate Queen hid her plunder on a remote island before killing her own crew to preserve the secret. Only a single map of the island survives to this day, with clues pointing to a treasure hoard within Captain Marrow’s Grotto. Within the caves, would be thieves are met with perilous traps and restless undead

This eight page adventure details a seave cave with seventeen rooms. Mermen, crabs, and skeleton pirates cavort about while the party blunders through one simplistic encounter after another. If the encounters made sense, then the good writing and formatting would be a credit. As is though, they are wasted.

Looks like a certain someone has been riding Piratesof Caribbean. Again. All that treasure on the cover photo? “Trinkets, gemstones,and doubloons totaling 350 gp.” Enjoy your slog, suckers! But, seriously, this thing is written well, its just nonsensical.

Map is fine for it’s size. Lots of varied terrain, and an underground river always adds a little flair to the game. The room descriptions are a sentence or two, up top, followed by a couple of bullets with some bolding. It’s a clean and easy to read format, maybe it uses whitespace a little too liberally, but, otherwise, it helps the DM locate information well. Which is what the fucking formatting should be doing. It’s the entire reason for formatting. 

The descriptions sprinkle adjectives and adverbs about in a way that adds colour without droning on and on. A rock stickup out of the water is “littered” with treasure. Crabs skitter. Pools teem with sea bass. There are piles of polished bones. There’s is the occasional miss here and there, and the word giant, and a few other boring descriptors, pop up a little too much, but, dude knows they SHOULD be doing. Which is more than most people can say. This extends in to the wanderers, with skeletons running cackling in to rooms, or mermen dragging the corpse of a castaway away, in to the briney deep. Perfect little descriptions, just a few extra words, and they help bring the wanderer to life. Two Teeth Tim (human, optimistic) is an NPC, a castaway, you can meet in the dungeon. As well as One Leg Charlie, the careless halfling. Great little descriptions. You know how to run these dudes. They spring to life in your mind. They are memorable. And the designer does it all in just a couple of fucking words. Why is that concept to fucking hard to grasp for other designers? 

Ok, so, decent formatting and descriptions. No real serious complaints. So how was the play?

I think not.

It’s level one. You find a treasure map to the pirate treasure. There are castaways. How did you, at level one, get to the island with the dungeon on it, that the castaways can’t get away from? Now, I understand, you think I’m nitpicking here. But, I want to to consider that this is not in isolation. This sort of design inconsistency, the lack of thinking things through and how they integrate, is present throughout the adventure. It’s almost like this adventure was never run, or the designer has not run it in any serious way. That issue would come up immediately, right? Room two is skeletons sitting at a dining room table furnished with the fetid remains of a feast. They animate if the table is disturbed. Room three is a kitchen with two HUMAN cooks. What?! They are making the food for the dining room? Why? No clue. Fetid food on the dining table? Why? If there are cooks that make it regularly? The cooks are hungry? Why? Why are they there? Theres no mention of human slaves anywhere. It’s just nonsensical. “I guess this is what is happening now.” This sort of disconnected stuff is all over the place.

How many HD is a giant octopus? They are bad as sin OSR, right? There’s on in this adventure. And one or two traps that would be quite appropriate in a Grimtooth book. WHich I’m fine with, but a little out of place these days. Hmmm, the final pirate queen boss ghost screams blood at you. Thats nice. Otherwise, enjoy stabbing shit. I guess you can talk to the various castaways you meet. To little effect. They are essentially just trivia. So … stabby stab stab to your hearts content … there is little in the way of interactivity beyond this. And, continueing a long tradition on this blog, there is no Isle. Just a dungeon with an isle implied.

If the designer can figure out how actual D&D gameplay works, the meta, then there could be a future here.

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9 Responses to Isle of the Bleeding Ghost

  1. Jonathan says:

    This review makes me think that Bryce has more an issue with the 8-page contest limitation (really only six pages if you include cover & title pages) than the adventure itself. And I really think he is overstating the “stabby-stabby” nature of this, as from my reading almost all of the rooms can be interacted with or overcome without fighting. I mean there are 4 different factions to play with, for godsakes, and yes the details of how those factions respond to different approaches are sparse, im not sure what is expected for 6 page dungeon. Also some awesome well thought out traps that Bryce sneers at for being “grimtooth.” I know i’ve read reviews adventures on tenfootpole rated The Best where the adventure was easily as if not more full ofbunexplained disconnected but evocative scenes.

    • Jonathan says:

      Also, this part of Bryce’s review is just wrong -“And, continueing a long tradition on this blog, there is no Isle. Just a dungeon with an isle implied.” Literally the final encounter is an island “17. PIRATE QUEEN’S THRONE An island littered with treasure. A skeleton dressed in red uniform and weathered hat sits on a stone throne.”

      • Anon says:

        Fact-checking B is worthless, but quibbling with B’s imperfect judgment is worth less than “worthless.” Does he play the adventures? Does he have good taste? Does his care in writing reflect his care in reading, and are misspellings the twins of missed readings?

        Who knows? When it comes to reviewers, quantity has a quality all its own.

        • Jonathan says:

          I actually agree with most of Bryce’s reviews (not all obviously) and agree with his design philosophy, i just think he missed the mark on this one. For its length ut is, i think, an amazingly well done one shot dungeon, especially for am amateur. It ticks if all of Bryce’s design boxes – evocative writing, easy to use formatting, interactive encounters, jacquayed dungeon, interesting and unique monsters and treasure, factions, etc. The things it doesnt include are -orders of battle, overland crawl, are mussing because of space concerns.

      • Anonymous says:

        I think he meant that, though the adventure takes place on an isle, and states “isle” in the name, the size and details of this isle are not detailed. There are spots on the map that lead to “surface” and “beach”, yet there is no map of outside, which leaves a lot in question for the referee. There is definitely some questions as to where the castaways came from that would be helpful for running the adventure.

        I do agree that Bryce misread “3. Kitchen”, assuming the castaways were cooks, when they are most likely just trying to utilize the existing cooking equipment to prevent themselves from starving.

        I think if anything, this project and review proves that sometimes arbitrary limitations aren’t worth it. This adventure would benefit from some fleshing-out.

        • Jonathan says:

          Maybe so, but the size limitation attracted more people and I think higher quality. The other modules in the top ten of the contest, especially The Dark Contracts, are quite good as well.

    • Bailey says:

      Hi Jordan- excuse me, “Jonathan.” Bryce consistently critiques harshly adventures I consider journeyman efforts. In a couple of cases I’ve even run them and gotten a decent session of play out of adventures he didn’t review well. That’s a known issue, and one some of his readers make allowance for. (Admittedly not all, life is short and adventures are many, some hold out for The Best.) For us select few with the cereal box decoder ring, this wasn’t actually a terrible review.

      Simultaneously, and speaking for myself not our host, this adventure reads like it was written for publication, with no intervening step of playtesting. Which is a curse of contests in particular, and of adventure publishing in general. People do it as an exercise, which is fair enough as far as it goes if they would say so, but it really shows in the final result. This doesn’t have the worst case of it, so presumably you- excuse me, I mean the author has run games, but still, the contest origin of this shows, and the contest origin doesn’t get you bonus points when considered as a possible adventure to run. Its actually a decent first effort (if it is one, I don’t even know), but there’s daylight between “decent first effort” and “is there any reason for me to run this over my own random dungeon.”

      If you want to write just to hit the “publish” button, see the downloads, and know someone read it, carry on. If you want to write adventures that will ever be played you should consider picking the corn kernel of truth out of the pile of mysandry and spelling errors that is a Ten Foot Pole review and upping your game.

      The aside about the non-existent isle has already been addressed, but is indeed about “islands” that are really just dungeon maps. Its a particular form of the general problem of adventure writers leaving work to be done that every GM who runs it will need to do. If it were a tangent or an off-map lead that only a few GMs would need, certainly leave it to them to work up. If most or all GMs running it will need a certain map, player handout, GM table or order of battle or whatever else its intrinsically the job of the adventure writer to put it in. Or, we return to the distinction of writing to be read versus writing to be played.

      • Jonathan says:

        Id love to take credit, but not my adventure. This is what i entered for the shadowdark game jam – I just feel it was better 99 percent of one shot adventures I’ve read, including some rated The Best on here. From a purely analytical point of view it checks most of Bryce’s boxes and of course Bryce got a bunch of facts wrong in his review which makes me wonder if he actually read or just sorta skimmed it (or was drunk and/or hungover while reading/writing, not a outdone BTW its part of his appeal). Either way, everyone has there opinion. Could it have been improved if the author was able to flesh it out with extra pages, absolutely, and in the end maybe that it’s fundamental flaw, but I think it’s pretty Damm good as is and I would 100 percent run this. In fact I might soon!

  2. « “Trinkets, gemstones,and doubloons totaling 350 gp.” Enjoy your slog, suckers! »

    It’s probably worth pointing out that Shadowdark handles treasure XP differently, and 350gp should be sufficient for a party to hit 2nd level.

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