The Roots of Bitterness

By Zzarchov Kowolski
Self Published
Levels 1-2

There is a vast steppe. Peasants who try to settle on it disappear. The cossacks have lost a patrol on it and want you to find out what happened … and if its the same thing thats happening to the peasants then that’s ok too. 

This eighteen page adventure is one wandering monster table for the steppe and a small earth dungeon right out of that shaman scene in 13th warrior. It’s ok I guess. A little cumbersome with the wanderer table. But, also, it’s a wanderer table and a small three-ish room dungeon. Meh. 

Oh, and sorry, it looks like you can’t own this one. I mean, it’s not available digitally and you have to catch ZZarchov in person when he’s got his table set up in order to buy a physical copy. Oops. I don’t usually buy and review things you can’t have. But, I bought a bunch of shit from him at GenCon and didn’t realize this was the case for this one. So. Uh … now you know if you should buy it on eBay or not I guess?

Anyway, so, overcrowded cities. Over time, local despot sends peasants out to the vast steppe to settle it. They all disappear. ALL of them. He sends out some cossacks to protect them. They don’t give a shit about the peasants. Then one of their patrols disappear and they want you to scout to find out what happened. You then wander around the steppe, getting lost etc. Do no discount that statement, that  IS the actual bulk of the adventure, rolling on that table. Eventually maybe you cast a spell to see astral threads, or triangulate the locations of the trees and shrubs that are attacking you, or track back the wildmen attacks you have been undergoing. You find a hill with a tree stump on it with one live branch. There’s a hole you can crawl in to, all 13th warrior shaman room. Inside you kill the tree elemental that hates mankind. Roots of Bitterness, get it? Yeah. 

I admire the tree elemental. It’s hubris, I mean. No opposable thumb. Stationary. Living under a hill. Sure, it’s got some wildmen cultists to worship it and do its bidding. A dozen or so, I’d guess. But, also, hey, I got 14 billion opposable thumbs with shovels and torches. But, whatever, tilt that windmill man! 

The bulk of the adventure is wandering around the steppe until you get tired of it, figure out shit is coming from the hill with the stump, and find a way to get there. You literally just get attacked by trees and wildmen until you figure out some way to discern the intelligence behind it. A detect magic, triangulation or tracking are suggested. You roll a d8, a d6 and d4 for each wanderer encounter, with the individual rolls meaning  something. As does the sum of the rolls. As does dubs, trips, and straights. Enjoy those table lookups! I guess it’s the main part of the adventure, so, I should give it a pass. But I’m not going to. I really don’t like procedural generation at the table, at least to this extent. 

The ol cossacks have that ZZarchov charm. You get their nature, as well as the nature of the peasants leaving the city and so on. And after that it kind of breaks down. There’s only so much you can do with procedural generation, to convey the charms of a designer. And the old dungeon at the end comes across as just another dig out hole in the ground. The charm, so prevalent in ZZarchov adventures, is not to be found. And I’m not a big fan of the” wander around until something happens” school of design. Bored players are not a good thing.

So, do you need this one? No. Which is kind of a good thing since you can’t have it. 🙂 It’s not his best work, which means its better than most of the dreck being published today.

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6 Responses to The Roots of Bitterness

  1. Vorshal says:

    DK. Seems that there are quite a few unexplored plot threads
    1. overpopulated cities sending peasants to steppes. Is this done by lottery? Transportation ala Britain’s penal colony? By age aka Logan’s Run.
    2. The tree elemental. Is it at the center of a vortex zone of control? Like an eye of a storm with increasing level of encounters as you circle into the center. You could set up factions at an event horizon fighting to maintain their status quo and pushing others forward to their doom.
    3. Have tree elemental kill and raise victims like the tabonga monster featured From Hell It Came 1957 B horror movie. Something needleman or twig blight type undead. Yellow musk creeper or yellow musk zombie Cossacks

  2. Vorshal says:

    Sorry White Dwarf #75

  3. Bluecho says:

    Sounds like the kind of book that’s more useful as a set of tools for a more involved steppe-based sandbox campaign. Populate a hexmap with a bunch more dungeons. The missing peasants/cossacks are a hook to get the party exploring the map. They may go several sessions before clues lead them to the tree elemental’s hill. Hopefully by then, the party will have found enough adventure hooks to keep them adventuring in the area after clearing what is, in fact, a fairly basic dungeon.

    Which I suppose is the point of adventure modules. They’re not the be all, end all of the campaign, but bit that can be stitched together to form a more interesting whole. “Modular”, you might say.

    Might have been nice if the book had some suggestions for more involved plots that might arise from the setting in the wake of dealing with the tree elemental. Maybe tips for incorporating the author’s others works into the milieu.

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