The Tomb of Firkin

By Simon Miles
Dunromin University Press
Levels 3-5

Thelkor Boghammer and his band of Dwarven murder-hobos opened up the tomb of the Gnomish Firkin family a few months ago. They had a bad time of it and the sole survivor, Tutlin, is drowning his sorrows and desperate to sell the map he made of the tomb to any eager adventurers he comes across. His map contains a clue to a secret way he never realized was there – can any more noble adventurers decipher the clue and find the riches without being slaughtered by the Undead guardians? Or, failing that, could your characters do it? 

This 46 page adventure contains a dungeon, with three themed areas and about sixty rooms. Long read-aloud. Long DM text. Nothing to do but stab people. It harkens back to the old days. The bad old days.

Come and listen to my story about a man named Bryce, A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed … Do you remember how the jungle used to go? Back when the OSR was fresh and new? I do. It was hell. I mean, it’s hell now. It was a different hell? Instead of the Flavour System of the Month system we have now it was more of a Slog Through Meaningless Text style. Lots and lots and lots of read-aloud. Lots and lots and lots of DM text. And not much actually going on in the dungeon. Lots and ots of stabbing, I guess. And that’s what we got going on here. Lots of text. Mundane to the point of simulationist. A bad time.

Abstracted text. “You are all sat in the Inn considering your recent experiences and wondering what you might do next. The discussion turns to rumours and legends you’ve heard …” Yeah, sure , it’s fucking intro. But we don’t abstract text. And we don’t use the word “you”. No second person writing in adventures. Ever. We right specifics. That grounds the adventure. And no, you don’t need to describe every fucking thing. But you DO need specifics on some things. Like  making the fucking intro something that I’m not going to sleep through. “You stand at the crossroads of a hallway …” Jesus christ man, I thought this shit was known? I thought it was fucking obvious that you don’t do this? But not in this throwback adventure. It’s like the last ten years have not existed. Same old same old. 

And there’s read-aloud. Lots and ltos of read-aloud for every room. And there’s DM text. Lots and lots of DM text for every room. It’s perfect. The players will be bored while listening to the read-aloud, the boring read-aloud, drone on and on and then they can be bored again while the DM tries to scan the mountains of text that make up the DMs notes for the room. Fucking paragraph after paragraph. Wall of text levels of writing in places. It’s fucking insane. Again, it’s like the last fifteen years have not existed. I’m not sure how someone can be so disconnected. I mean, I don’t follow the crowds too much on social media, but I know enough to know which way the fucking wind is blowing and what the trends and lessons are. But this … How do you publish on DriveThru, for OSRIC, and still be this out of touch with what you need to do in an adventure?

“There is no hazard here and everything of value has been robbed out. The plinths are solid stone.” Yeah. Sure. Mountains of read-aloud for that. And mountains of DM text for little to no interactivity. Just that the room is empty. That the barrel is full of water. That the crate is empty. You can stab things. You can stab a lot of ghouls. That’s fun, right? And then you can stab a lot of hobgoblins in the second part of the dungeon. And then you can stab a bunch of goblins in the third section of the dungeon. Stab stab stab. Stab stab stab. “The hobgoblins in this room will respond to the hobgoblins in the other room in two rounds.” Well, great. Maybe put that fucking information in the room where we need it? 

“The floor of this chamber is …” That’s how, I don’t know, 80% f he rooms start. “This chamber is … “ It’s fucking padding man. 

There’s just nothing here man. Mountains of text to no effect. A throwback to the bad old days. You gotta make an effort man. You gotta get better. You gotta make at least a small effort to learn what to do. I mean, you kow enough to use english and not random gibberish, right? And to write from left to right? Why not expand that jut a bit and figure out how to present a good adventure for the DM? That would be effort? Ah

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is ten pages. You get to see no rooms. But, take a gander at that writing. Imagine those are the rooms. You’ll get what you need to know from that.

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25 Responses to The Tomb of Firkin

  1. Bucaramanga says:

    Poor Bryce, once again laid low by his ancient nemesis MUCHO TEXTO

  2. Anonymous says:

    Why does Bryce assume the DM is not going to read the adventure in advance before play begins? Does anyone actually do that? My SOP for the last 30+ years has been: skim-read to decide if this seems like something worth running (most aren’t); if so, read carefully taking notes and deciding what needs to be modified and thinking about how it’s likely to work in play and what tricky issues might arise and making notes on them; then, a day or two before play, re-read the most complicated and important parts to make sure I’ve got them all straight and will be able to present them well.

    Bryce always conjures the specter of a table full of bored players waiting while the DM desperately skim-reads a long room description looking for what’s important, but I’ve never seen that happen in the wild. At most after the DM gives the initial description they spend 30 seconds or so skimming the rest of the description to make sure they haven’t forgotten anything important, which always happens while the players are discussing among themselves what they’re going to do so nobody’s waiting bored for anyone else.

    Not to say this specific adventure is any good. The quotes from the text all sound pretty bad. But the whole MUCHO TEXTO complaint is vastly overblown and feels like a canard that only exists in Bryce’s mind. If your read-through of an adventure tells you it’s too complicated to keep everything straight in your mind and you won’t be able to remember it and will have to re-read at the table then don’t run that adventure, but the problem probably lies with you, not the adventure.

    Bad writing is real, and with the bar to publishing now so low we see a whole lot of it. Easily 90% of the stuff published on DriveThru and itch shouldn’t have ever left the author/DM’s home. But long descriptions of complex encounters aren’t always bad writing the way Bryce and the most devoted acolytes seem to have established as an article of faith.

    • AB Andy says:

      I don’t think it’s about running it without reading it. It’s about finding forgotten information, or answering the player’s questions in a fast manner even if you forget. I run Rise of Tiamat. There are a dozen NPCs with 4 paragraphs each, including motivations and such. No bullet points. No person can remember these facts by prepping for a session. Also, too much text raises prep time. What with underlining, circling, highlighting. Terse, bullet point format does it for you.

    • More Anonymous Than You says:

      If every DM needs to do that though, why not do it once at the outset as the designer? Its the same problem as certain adventures leaving a key map or a handout to be worked up by the DM. If everyone who runs it is going to need it, once and done by the designer beats a multitude of times by individual DMs. Especially if you want it to actually get run.

      That aside, I do draw the line differently than Bryce on prose text (though not on read-aloud boxed text, which should always be short). I’m willing to read sentences, I don’t need everything bullet pointed. But there’s a point where you either put the overview or backstory in a forward or appendix, or else accompany the text with some tables of monsters and NPCs to run off of without offloading that work on the DM.

    • Shuffling Wombat says:

      If you take the “bullet point/half sentences” idea to its extreme, you will be left with the equivalent of a SparkNotes version of a novel. What you lose is the evocative sentence or two that inspires but does not suffocate the referee.
      Bryce’s advice is sound, and would have greatly improved some of the many 2e Dungeon Magazines he reviewed. But I’m in agreement with reading the adventure until I understand it, taking notes; then I’m able to run it using just an annotated map and monsters statistics, with the very occasional look up. But well written text that is not verbose sets the tone, it helps the referee.

  3. More Anonymous Than You says:

    Aside from all that Mrs Lincoln, how was the… map? Yet another review that doesn’t mention the dungeon map.

    “Again, it’s like the last fifteen years have not existed. ”

    The OSRIC line has a few real gems, but is also the home of 80s grognards who missed the R in OSR entirely, they think its just about playing AD&D exactly the way they played it back in the day, railroads and all.

    But the jokes on them, because the real die hard AD&D fans think OSRIC is its own separate game, and never even look at these adventures. They just keep running the same TSR adventures over and over, multiple times by the same DM, sometimes multiple play throughs for the players. Its like Plato’s cave for D&D players, you can’t drag them out.

    • Anonymous says:

      No, they just thought the ‘R’ stood for ‘Rules’ not ‘Renaissance’ or ‘Revival’. I think your description is a fairly accurate depiction of the average Dragonsfooter, who seems completely oblivious to the OSR as a whole, and endlessly discusses TSR-era adventures, never even noticing or caring that things are happening outside that sphere. Oh well, you can’t knock them for their devotion.

    • Anonymous says:

      Sounds pretty good honestly. The people that thought the R stood for Revolution have mostly Revolutioned themselves all the way out of the Old-school part.

      If you have the ability to be endlessly fascinated with the adventures and games from that period, you could still probably explore for over a decade before you would ever have to repeat anything. Dragon magazine, Dungeon mag, Judges Guild, White Dwarf, Beholder, Role Aids, Kuntz’s stuff etc.

      That is not to say the reach is so wide for all. But in an oldschool hobby space I have more respect for a dumb Redbox Grognard that plays B2 and friends and nothing else then a guy that has never even bothered to check out the old stuff and is distracted only by shiny derivatives on kickstarter.

      • Anonymous says:

        Agreed, the people focused on the ‘R’ component have largely morphed into the NuSR: something different. I agree with GB to a large degree, I don’t think the majority of Dragonsfooters are playing the same modules over and over again, but they certainly are talking about them over and over again. This likely gets them some disdain in OSR circles (as does AD&D in general), but you have to respect someone who’s already got what they like and are happy just discussing and playing that. They’re not much use for actually pushing AD&D within the OSR, so their behaviour might not be the best for AD&D’s future survival, but at least they’re content just doing their thing.

        • Anonymous says:

          To me it seems like there’s a lot of small communities within space of “people who play old games”, some of which used to be called the OSR. A lot of them like to insist that they are THE OSR, but they are all something else. Dragonsfoot grogs are one group. Ruleslite types are another (and there’s plenty of variety there — from people who have evolved their own styles individually, to GLOG, 5E newcomers and storygame refugees).

          The question for me though is why do people bother getting silly about these little communities? I don’t care how people who like to play 40k do it, why would I care if people who play GLOG don’t write adventures I can use?

          • Reason says:

            Because people on the internet are wrong, @Anonymous. And it is imperative that they know it. Nay, are made to _feel_ it.
            Crush your enemies, see them driven before you. And hear the lamentations of their communities.

            I can only assume this is the thought process, I gave up belonging or siding with any long ago. I hold the OSR in high regard. I don’t bother deciding who is in it and who isn’t. Just what I like. The rest is noise- interesting if in the mood to read game wankery, but noise nonetheless.

          • Vindicius says:

            Once upon a time A liked chess. A thus started a chess club so he could play chess. Because he wanted to play more chess, he also invited B, who also liked chess. B liked chess, but he also liked other things and he did not want to be rude, so he invited C, who did not like chess, but he did like putting chess pieces up his ass. C called this game Cairn, and demanded it be given equal status and prominence to chess. Soon C was complaining loudly that chess was a horrible game, and that they should change the pieces on each board because they did not fit up his ass. When A asked what any of that had to do with chess, C asked B to remove A because he was hurting his feelings.

            This is the story of the OSR, and it has been repeated many times before.

      • Gnarley Bones says:

        I can only report that hunting down all the White Dwarf issues has been a joy; each one is a treasure. MERP material, quite frankly, is chock-full of great gaming stuff. I’m glad I scooped them up before the prices skyrocketed.

        Literally, to look all all of the old old-school material could last a decade easily; I haven’t even done more than peruse the new old-school material like Fight On! or Knockspell or & Magazine. There’s simply such a wealth – an embarrassment of riches.

        That’s why Bryce is doing the Lord’s work here, at least giving us a head’s up about what in the new old-school glut is worth looking into.

        • Shuffling Wombat says:

          I’m enjoying the content being unearthed at the Explore: Beneath and Beyond site.
          And in a triumph for Dragonsfoot, there is a spiffy new version of the White Dwarf fan favourite The Lair of Maldred the Mighty, in a format that doesn’t require the keen eyesight of Legolas.
          Yes, there is a treasure trove of good old ‘uns. And Bryce is kind enough to keep us up to date with promising (or not) new material.

          • Gnarley Bones says:

            The intriguing rumors of a cleaned up, 12 point, version of Starstone continue to swirl as well.

          • Shuffling Wombat says:

            If that appears it would be excellent, as it is one of the “rares” that deserves its reputation as a top class module.

    • Shuffling Wombat says:

      I’d agree with the importance of a good map, encouraging exploration. But is there any evidence of grognards endlessly replaying classic TSR modules with the same group? And TSR classics tend to be location based, with player agency/meaningful play: what definition of railroad are you using?
      For sure, if a group has played B2 Keep on the Borderlands, run Gatehouse on Cormac’s Crag or Ironwood Gorge for them instead. But you seem very convinced adventures are ever improving, and people need to be dragged out of their 1E or B/X cave; I’d disagree, and whilst there have been improvements in presentation as technology advances, I see top class adventure writing as an art, and you are in danger of ignoring one of its golden periods.

      • Gnarley Bones says:

        I don’t think the Anonymous writer has actually set foot in the den of we Dragonsfoot hoary old Grognards. If s/he had, they’d find lively discussions about all manner of games going on right now – creating mash-ups of older modules to create surprising new adventures (combining The Secret of Bone Hill with the Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh and combining Isle of Dread with both Dwellers of the Forbidden City and Tamoachan are both popular mash-ups), discussions of new AD&D products (yes, yes, “OSRIC”), DMs seeking input and ideas on their own creations (why some gentle summer child would fail to understand that we’ve been coming up with our own adventures for (sigh) 40-odd years is beyond me), and, what I find most dear: discoveries of lost gems. Even we lucky one who got to play in TSR Golden Age also lived without the Internet. In my neck of the woods, for example, the sole D&D outlet only offered Judge’s Guild or Role-Aid products if someone in the back room ordered them by mistake. I didn’t discover the majesty of Jacquay’s Dark Tower until I was in my 40s and products like City State of the Invincible Overlord or Thracia were just names appering in Dragon Magazine ads. I adore “gaming archaeology.” Discovering who came up with the “fireball” spell or discovering by sheer chance that the dragon colors and pseudo-Latin names were created by Gygax during a pre-D&D play-by-mail Lord of the Rings game – these are true treasures in the hobby.

        And is there anything more wonderful that discussing your hobby with fellow hobbyists?

        /asked in a thread by hobbyists about their hobby

        And I think that’s part of what the Nu-OSR is missing. By definition, the “Renaissance” was about the re-discovery and revival of old school gaming. Yet, all too often, as you mentioned above, there seems to be a real gap in the gaming knowledge of some of the Nu Authors. They don’t typically have the hands-on knowledge from playing nor the historical knowledge of the game. They try to punch up at the Ghost of Gygax, while not playtesting their work, not truly understanding how some of the playtesting rules came to be, not understanding why PC levels are important, and often utterly failing to grasp the crucial “exploration” component of an OS game. How many times, right here on these threads, has someone commented about how X is new and exciting and was somehow missed by the game creators, only to have members pile on and point out that it appeared in works Y and Z?

        • Anonymous says:

          >they’d find lively discussions about all manner of games going on right now – creating mash-ups of older modules to create surprising new adventures (combining The Secret of Bone Hill with the Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh and combining Isle of Dread with both Dwellers of the Forbidden City and Tamoachan are both popular mash-ups)

          Lol how lively and innovative

          • Gnarley Bones says:

            Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, Junior.

            Isle of Dread, Forbidden City is on the plateau, Tamoachan on the island at the center of the lake, all in pursuit of a fabled black pearl of legendary size – if that doesn’t make you want to roll dice, turn in your DMG.

          • Gnarley Bones says:

            And then, why not, break the Isle into three and set it in Moon Slaves of the Cannibal Kingdom.

            Just look at this discussion and ideas for expansion. I mean, just look at it!


            It’s indescribably beautiful.

  4. Anonymous says:

    World of Barnaynia? Blurb says AD&D but it has an OSE logo? Bryce baby trust your gut please and avoid this trash

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