By Connor McCloskey Black Gamberson OSE Level 1
10 years ago, a catastrophic earthquake struck a stoic keep on the borderlands of human civilization. Three days later, the keep was attacked from within. How, no one knows. The few survivors say that daemon men from under the ground breached from within the fortress itself, and butchered all who stood against them, leaving the heroic Castellan and his guard unable to mount an effective defense. A decade later, the eldest brother of the Castellan is to be named a Baron, and has sent out a decree; Anyone who can bring him his fallen brother’s sword in one month’s time will receive 200 Silver, and a hectare of land in his Barony.
This eight page dungeon presents two levels of a certain ruined Keep in a Borderlands location. Great evocative writing, good formatting, and enough interactivity at level one to not make me mad. It also gets purple in places and could use a little more focus when it comes to the monster descriptions.
This is a duel version adventure, for OSE and Shadowdark. And while duel stated would normally indicate something bad, and while I have been on a poor run with Shadowdark, it is also true that the better Shadowdark adventures DO in fact channel a decent OSR vibe. This is also the first adventure by a new designer. And it’s got three stars on DriveThru. New rule: five star drivethru products and three star products are actually pretty ok. Seriously, whoever gave this tree stars is a fuck. Sure, in some perfect world then this might be a perfectly average adventure. But that’s a world in which 95% of shit don’t suck.
So, ye olde keep is hit by an earthquake and then some grimlocks tunnel up from below and wipe everyone out. Not grimlocks, in name, but they are grimlocks. Primitive humans, they eat your adrenal glands. What’s that western movie, the one with the grimlock cannibals? Bone Hatchet or something like that? Yeah, that’s what we’ve got here. Some sub-human cannibals.
And let me tell you, dude brings the vibe for that. “The sound of a rabbit screaming a
death curdle. The Ruk beyond break off its legs at the small joints and drink it’s terrified blood.” Ouchies! This sort of thing is done a couple of times. It does a decent job of communicating the vibe without explicitly appealing to gire. It also, I think, would motivate the players. And player motivation is THE BEST way to get the people at the table engaged. In one room we’ve got a bandit, quietly weeping, hanging from a pillar in chains: “Significant amount of face (including eyes) and chunks of legs and hands eaten. Wants only to die. Begs. Name is Marsor. Asks that Hana in Last Tree be told that he loved her dearly but never said. If Hana is with the expedition she will weep heartily for him, say sweet goodbyes, and end him herself. “ Yeah, it’s kind of tropey. But, tropes exist because they are good when done well, and I think this is done well. It’s visceral, again without, IMO, being gory. There’s this appeal to human emotion also, real human things, which helps ground it. That’s some grim fucking shit right there, even without your (potential) hireling doing her thing. Fuck those dudes! Time to homo sapien those shits! Note also, that this is not drug out in a paragraph or two. It gets in, stabs you in the liver and gets out again. That’s how you fucking do it!
There are spots where the writing is quite good. Look, we’re not talking Paris Review, but, also, this is a fucking D&D adventure, so almost anyuthing not cringy will work. There’s a little village, the new last outpost of civilization, included. The village of Last Tree. It has the last living real oak tree before things turn to scrub oaks. The village overview ends with “the tree died last year.” Sweeeett!
The inn gets the following description. I’m also including the first potential hireling:: “Hot meals, warm ale, cool stone floor, ice cold bar wench. A beautiful stone fireplace; not used. Cheap board (3 GP) and drink (3 SP), expensive food (3 GP). Thugs for Hire (Bandit stats): Half a share of treasure. Tinal -Neutral-Tattooed, slaps back, in deep gambling debt. RP: Untrustworthy Jason Mamoa.” Terse. Good description. For both the inn and the NPC. Gives us a vibe and lets the DM run with it. That’s what the fuck a good description should do. Nary a wasted word. And just about every single description in this adventure is done that way. Written to give a good vibe in a minimal amount of words. Formatting contributes pretty well to this. Bolding, bullets, whitespace all combine for something that is pretty easy to read. Not quite rock star levels but still really really good without falling in to the OSE minimalism format.
A few notes. There is an overland portion that is rather week. Kind of like a six hex hex crawl. It’s doing nothing. And, it has a rift that could be confused for the valley in B2. The Unfathomable Crevasse. It’s directly between the ruins and the town, so it invites exploration … with none really given or much of a description. The entire overland is much like that and is not effective.
The text gets quite purple in places. The fortress to the north looms dejectedly. Or, a wall that looms above the ruins of the keep, silent, fuming, mourning despair. Uh huh. I’m down for some looming but not the mourning and fuming and dejectedly shit is a little much. I get it, we’re trying to inject that despair and forlorn vibe. But that ain’t it.
There’s also an issue with the monsters. We’ve got a wight, some “spirits” and the Rak baddies. The wight, the former Castellan, could use a good solid description. He’s gonna maybe be a central part of the adventure. (Note, he’s not really focused on in the adventure, but, his presence is there and he can be used to advantage or encountered as a baddie … good focus there without going on and on.) Same for the Rak. Bring those evocative descriptions to them. And, there’s a decent number of “spirits” in the adventure. Some are just apparitions, but some, it seems, are hostile. Telling which is which is not always easy. And, I assume that “spirit” is a creature in the OSE manual? This could be done much better.
Finally, you’re there to get the Castellans old sword. A symbol of power for the new baron. You’re returning it to a priest.wise woman in the town, the representative of the baron. When you get back to town with the sword and go see her she MIGHT be a little off. Cause she’s an imposter now, her body buried under the floorboards. “This person is an impostor, a Cultist of Ramlaat, whose influence grows in the region.” Noice! Good complication when returning to town for something that most folk would just write off as a pretext.
Really good effort here. I might point to some order of battle issues, the overland, a little sparseness in the interactivity as reason to go No Regerts. Soe may be due to the size, or lack thereof, of the adventure. But, really, quite good.
This is free at DriveThru.