By David Maynard Self Published OSR Low Levels
Tsarist Russia 1833: A Letun, an evil spirit long sealed away beneath the mountains near Grishinko, has been unleashed through the actions of a local hero. Its influence permeates the land, drawing in more victims to further open its prison.
This 27 page adventure details a small Russian themed region with a short mine and a longer thirty-ish room dungeon. Good formatting and interactivity do a great job, with only a little more needed in evocative descriptions to turn this one in to a great one.
Some jackass adventurer went in to a dungeon and fucked something up. That something was keeping an evil spirit locked up. We’re not talking some End Of The World thing here, but just a Makes Everything Worse kind of spirit. Anyway, we’re in Tsarist Russia, so, you know, you gotta be able to swing with the setting. =Serfs being crushed, a little gunpowder, and some Poles and French running around are going to be your main obstacles. The setting of the adventure in Tsarist Russia is a great example of a shared cultural context bringing more to the table than the actual words on the page. We all know what that description means. We know cossacks, and Russian nobles and serfs and commie revolutionaries from the 1800’s. This is leveraged to provide more to whats going on than the words actually written on the page. Perfect! This is what we want to do as adventure writers. Drowned Women In A Pond means something. And, on the flip side … it’s Tsarist Russia. Trying to run this, and bring out all of the context, in a NON-tsarist Russia game world is not going to be easy. It’s going to lose a lot without a very strong DM to bring that vibe to life for the players … since they will have none of the shared cultural context.
We get a page of factions, a page of a timeline for the adventure, and a page of the noble houses that are running around. This is great! There is SO much information packed in to these. The context needed to run the larger adventure, the small region it is in, is all present. Just mounds and mounds and mounds of gameable info stuffed in to these. Driving, or responding, to the player interactions with them. It’s really a great example of how you can take just one page and load it with information that helps leverage the setting and dungeon to create this larger play context full of complications or allies. Speaking of a nobleman’s wife: “Fenechka: Alexei’s wife is terribly bored with all these business affairs, and has descended into her music. She’s been getting long private lessons from Trukho of late.” Rought Roh Raggy! Trukho is in the hotel, along with Theodore the writer … and a bunch of others. Literature appearing and worked in so much better than the million shitty Midsummer Nights Dream knock off adventures.
The text is clear and ready to read; great font choice and good headings with selective use of bolding and sometimes bullets to bring details to the DMs attention when running things. A good monster reference chart is back, as well as an appendix that has a more languid introduction scene to the adventure. Keeping the main text focused with jabs of additional information in boxes, or in the appendix … this is the way you dump information at a DM!
Pretty good interactivity in this one. Lots and lots of people to interact with, and lots of things in the dungeons to fuck with. “A wall tapestry depicting a rooster threatening a bear hangs over a concealed tunnel …” There we go! And who’s a bear … in mother russia? Yupyup! And, even in the creature encounters we get things like “A Skeleton charges at the party, crushing a glass figurine in one of their hands. It takes an expert surgeon from Smolensk to remove the shards.” The glass figurines are a theme, and the nonstandard use of the skeleton is quite interesting. Almost a trap, yes? There’s mysteries beneath mysteries and the text is dense with opportunities for the players to explore them. It is, perhaps, just a bit (a lot?) light on inciting events … getting those folks out of the hotel and their estates to move the pieces, The situations are present but it feels more than a little static without them out in the world bumping in to the players and each other. But, still, the dungeon has a lot to fuck with … even if there is a big “find the next key!” puzzle thing going on. Also, on the subject of interactivity, the big bad here is just an evil spirit, without stats. Eventually you delve too far and open up something that you shouldn’t (hopefully, encountering the warnings first …) and let it out. Which kills everyone present. But, also, that’s the extent of it. It’s just a pandora box of you letting a certain evil back in to the world. Nice touch that, I think.
I’m not the biggest fan of the descriptions in this. It’s not that they are bad. They are certainly terse, with most main room descriptions take just a couple of sentences. They are focused and don’t overstay. I don’t know, they lack a certain bit of life though. “A mountain lion lives in this well furnished room. Torn, stained tapestries and stout walnut desks are curled up into a dense nest where three cubs reside.” So, you know, I might lead with a next of curled up, putting the sentence a little more active since the nest is the key item in the room, but, also, I’m not sure about even THAT description. In the Gallery of Icons we get “A dormant Wax Sentinel’s blue flame shines through this twisting gallery when intruders are detected, reflecting off a puddle and the twelve tarnished icons resting in wall alcoves” I get what the designer is going for here. It does lack a certain … joy? To the description though. It doesn’t feel alive. Again, not bad and certainly better than the vast majority of adventures written, just not Gold Star Bryce levels.
So, great effort here. I could give this one a high No Regerts or a low Best. Since I’m an ass, High Regerts it is!
This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is twenty pages, more than enough to get a sense of the thing, so, great preview. Check out that dungeon formatting and how clear it is. Or pages three, four, and five for the factions, timeline, and nobles. Sweet!