By the Light of the Whispering Flame

By Aaron Hedegaard
Self Published
Levels 1-3

Welcome to the city of Collant, Jewel of the Serrated Coast, powerhouse of magic and industry. But when the city’s corrupt leaders make a bargain with a sealed demon, cataclysm strikes and the city’s reliance on tainted magic exacts its toll, wrenching it from time and space. Scars in the planar fabric now tether Collant to the shadow realm of Nowhere, and the demon’s return is at hand. But hope is not yet lost. The Order of the Whispering Flame has begun to wield their holy fire to push back the encroaching darkness and cauterize the Scars. To complete their mission, they now seek brave adventurers to bear the flame and press in to the lost depths of the city to finish what was started.

This 68 page digest adventure presents a pointcrawl in a city being dragged to hell. Good descriptions and formatting compliment one of the better (best?) city-imminently-in-hell scenarios I’ve seen. The interactivity is lacking … which may not be an issue for 5e/Pathfinder fans.

Ought oh! Someone made a deal with the devil and now the city of Collant is being dragged to hell all “melt reality in to the plane of hell” style. Some god has come through though and The Whispering Flames light can heal the planar scars. Someone just needs to go find them all, in the city’s eight sectors, taking The Whispering Flame to them to heal them. Guess it’s gonna be you, boyo!

The normal issues, the surface level ones that plague so many, are generally not present here. I’m not going to even try to run an adventure that makes me fight against it. And that issue is not present here. The formatting is clear and easy to read. Cross-references exist when needed. We get a short little description of the area with some folding and then a description oif the exits. I’m not even mad at that, since this is a pointcrawl in a city and sometimes the exit is “you see a tent in the distance.” 

The descriptions are also fairly decent. The very first area is “Mulberry Grove: Shaded grove, crunchy with fallen foliage and fruit. Trees hold clusters of white and pink berries. Reeks of rotting fruit.” That’s a good description. It’s terse and evocative. You get the feel for it instantly. That’s exactly what a room description should do. And, laudable, almost every single room description is about that good. SHADED grover, Fruit REEKING. CRUNCHY ground. It works and works together. Another one, in a silkworm room, reads “Damp, moldy. Steel ducts pump hot, humid air here from the east. Latticed shelves fill the room, bedded with leaves, littered with eggs, crawling with worms.” You get whats going on. So, good descriptions. I’m glossing over both formatting and descriptions for this review.

Interactivity is where things get hairy. There are two basic situations going on. First, there is the demon dude, trapped in The Nowhere/ He wants out. There are clues and things sprinkled about the various points about his true name, what happened, and so on. Then there are eight or so individual city sectors, each with a scar in them that needs to be located and healed and generally has someone there willing to give you access if only you’ll do X for them. There are very very few SITUATIONS beyond those two … and the demon dude is few and far between. The general vibe is that you enter somewhere with some bizarro creature doing something bizarre and you probably end up stabbing it a few times. Sometimes you get to talk, but, generally not in a way that is going to lead to interactivity beyond that. There are things to make friends with, like a mail delivery ghost machine that can deliver a letter to any slot in the city. That could, I suppose, be exploited by the party and IS the kind of open ended shit that I like. It’s also just a little too … random? For me. Most of it seems like window dressing rather than true interactivity. Two possessed spooling machines, full of ennui, painting with ink. Ok. Sure. To what end? And while not everything in an adventure needs to be a situation, there do need to be things going on beyond the main plot points.

Let us assume, for a moment, that the 5e/Pathfinder way of playing D&D has merit. If so then this would be one of the highlights of either system. Seen as series of adventures, they have some definite end points to their quests: a scar in each sector to heal and someone to treat with to make that happen. As a platonic idea of a 5e/Pathfinder adventure I think this would hit the mark, better so than anything I’ve seen for them. (Accepting that Ravenloft tends more to traditional adventure than the 5e/Pathfinder meme of an adventure.) And I don’t mean that as an insult. This feels to me like every 5e/Pathfinder adventure I’ve ever been a player in at a con, except about forty times better than those. 

As an OSR adventure, though, I think the lack of situations and exploration elements in the various rooms does tend to detract quite a bit. I am ABSOLUTELY certain though that many people will be fine with that and, in fact, this may be the perfect example of an adventure path type thing that doesn’t have a fucking railroad in it. 

I do note a few things, beyond the situations, which could be quite a bit better. NPC”s tend to show up in the front of a section. And while they have wants and needs (Great!), sometimes we get short lists of them. “Frank” in bold, with a short description of whats going on with frank. This, I think, needed a little extra work in the formatting department. We need to know, for example, that Frank is a blacksmith and we need to be able to figure that out quickly. That mean bolding or some such, rather than just telling us, in the middle of the paragraph, that Frank is a blacksmith. We’re likely to be looking for one, rather than introducing Frank as a NPC and THEN learning he’s a smith.

Monster descriptions are terrible. Mostly because they don’t exist. While there is great complimentary art in places, the actual descriptions of the nightmares you’re facing just aren’t there. At all. And when they are it feels more like an afterthought. They don’t hit viscerally, which is odd given the strength of the area descriptions. 

I think, however, tha the major issue is with the wandering monster tables. There is a separate one for each area, but they all have the same issue. They don’t feel right. Or at all. Just a sound, or a monster entry like “1d6+2 corrupted hounds.” What you don’t really get here is the aspect of a city being dragged, whole, to hell. You don’t get mobs. You don’t get the street preachers or desperate people or random wacko shit … or even normal people. Ths vibe isn’t really present in the wandering monster tables, or in the actual room descriptions. Sure, things have gone to hell in most places, but that doesn’t come through moment to moment. In totality, it’s still one of the better (and maybe the best) city being dragged to hell adventures. But it also doesn’t really FEEL that way, moment to moment. The priest at the start, who gives you the Whispering Light lantern to heal the scars and charges you with that … he’s not doing it himself because he’s got too much to do. And there are oblique references to refugees. But the vibe of, say, the church in SOylent Green, doesn’t come through. The masses, the desperation, that would actually put the priest in that position rather than, say, saving and entire city. And that same thing happens time and again in each secretary of the city and in each encounter. Sure, they are weird, and smacking of Shit Has Hit The Fan, in some way, but also the chaos just doesn’t come through. And, while there is a timeline and some major events (the adventure probably taking place over weeks, in … ten sessions, at least?) 

I’m not really sure how to rate this one. This is a real adventure. Dude tried hard and succeeded quite a bit. Sure, the chaos doesn’t come through, the fact that the city is on it way to hell. The individual encounter descriptions are good and you can run this easily. And, if you were not looking for, say, and exploratory element that implies interactivity, then this may be one of the best 5e/Pathfinder style adventures. I don’t think, though, that as an OSR adventure the interactivity is going to hold up for me. But, also, I think it will be fine for most. THe look forward to the next one by this dude.

This is $4 at DriveThru. You getting the entire thing in the preview. Page eighteen of the preview/fourteen of the book gives you the first page of actual encounters. That’s a good one to check out for fit.

This entry was posted in Level 1, No Regerts, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to By the Light of the Whispering Flame

  1. SargonTheOK says:

    Author here – thanks, Bryce, for the review! It makes some good points, and definitely gives me some areas to pour extra effort into for the next time. I’m cooking up a hexcrawl, to be released… I have no idea when. When it’s done. I have no desire to rush it. Anyway, this kind of critical feedback is gold for the budding adventure designer.

    Picking up on the 5e-ness: yeah, I can see that, despite efforts to the contrary. I do have 5e roots and they can be hard to hide. (WWN being my system of choice may not help either, as it’s something of a halfway house to full-on old school play.) I consciously avoided turning the adventure into a railroad but a “narrative structure” still permeates the thing. Another reviewer noted it as “video gamey” but not meant in a bad way. And it IS video gamey (my first draft was VERY structurally similar to games like Dark Souls and Hollow Knight – much of that influence never left). But I think it’s challenging to do that and also retain an OSR feel. In other words, mea culpa.

    Still, I’m not ashamed of a No Regerts the first time out of the chute, and I’ll aim for The Best next round. Thanks again!

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