By Franklin Hicks Self Published Shadowdark Levels 1-3
A small village at the base of the mountain holds a terrible secret. Unknown to all but the village elder and the Shrine Keeper the villages goddess, Adeva, is actually a devil. Each year an innocent is sent to the mountain shrine to ‘join’ the Shrine Keeper. When the truth is they are destined to be a sacrifice to the devil. This years sacrifice, a dwarven boy named Orik, escaped the Shrine Keeper and fled into the mountain. Edwin Swift, the village elder will ask the players to venture to the top of the mountain to find the boy and return him to the mountain shrine. Little does he know that soon the Shrine Keeper will be dead and the villages secret on the cusp of being revealed!
This seventeen page single column adventure details a small dungeon with eleven rooms. Some nice ideas in this one, and a touch of or or evocative writing. It never goes goes far enough, though, in its writing or the logical consequences of things in order to bring the place to life.
This thing has some decent ideas in it, rather than just being another throw-away. The premise here is a village full of goody goodies. They live by a strict code of charity, asceticism and devotion to their protector goddess. Really good people, the way you wish religious people were. I mean, we can argue about the asceticism part, but, otherwise, you get the idea that we’ve got a nice little village here, and they truly like to help others. As a player this would SO set my teeth on edge. I’m ready to be drugged and wicker-manned and because of that I’m ready to start slitting throats and burning shit down on a hair trigger. And that’s a good thing. You’ve manipulated the PLAYERS through an in game thing. They are invested, and that can be quite rare indeed. Oh yeah, once a year they send a kid up to the mountain shrine to join the others up there in their Adeva religious order. KLast kid, though, got scared and ran off. Maybe you could help find him?
Really solid foundation there. And, like so many other things in this adventure, that really solid foundation is going to be fucked up by the designer. Subverting expectations, or appeals to imagination abound … but then are generally drug through the much of traditional RPG tropes, ruining things.
The kid is a little dwarf kid, and he’s run in to a kobold sorcerer … with a backstory. Great. So, look, we all recognize all of that shit as crap, right? It’s some kind of fucking excuse to throw in some kobolds in the mountain shrine. And, that kid, he was about to be sacrificed by the shrine when the sleep drug wore off and he ran off. LAME. Just an excuse to include the kobolds. THis could have been so much better with a little more thought. The village gets almost no attention at all. Turn up the charm. Get the party in to the mood, or either being paranoid as all fuck or loving the place. Throw in a couple of (very) short vignettes and NPC’s. Bring that pat of the adventure to life. Then get rid of all that “he was almost sacrificed” shit. He just ran off because he missed home, or got lost or some kind of shit. This allows the party to get invested, have some mountain encounters, and then get to the shrine, Turn up the paranoia there. THEN you can turn the entire thing in to what it is, once the party clues in. You can some dips and rises here, which are just not present.
There are hints of good things though in almost every room. One of the wanderers on the way up the mountain are the bloody remains of a mountain goat on the trail … fortelling a mountain lion. All of the wanderers get that little bit of extra to help the DM bring the encounter to life. And we get little snippets of good descriptions, like a sacrificial dagger is wrapped in a gold trimmed red cloth. That’s a good detail. It brings it to life in the mind. Or a small leather book on a bench … with three spells in it, like a scroll. Good little description, nothing complex, recalling all of the little leather bound ratted up books in bookstores and movies and the treasures and secrets they contain. A description that is overloaded, alluding to more than there is on the written page. And to use it as a scroll, instead of just saying “scroll with three spells?” Perfect. Or, skeletons in a jail cell, manacled up … who struggle to free themselves. There’s great tension there.
But the issues here are pretty major, beyond the nonsensical plot design, missed opportunities and mismatch in tone. The read-aloud over reveals, destroying that back and forth between the players and the DM. The DM text gives details on the mundane. “Bed. The small bed is neatly made and has several thick wool blankets.” That does nothing for the DM. You lean on the DM to provide that sort of information while the designers role is to tel lus why THIS kitchen/bed/etc is different and relevant to the adventure. Backstory is embedded “the last remaining embers in the brazier have died out.” Well no fucking shit they have. Or, phrases are repeated between the read-aloud and DM text, telling us, for instance, that there are faded and tattered red & gold banners hanging on the wal … repeatedly. This, instead of, say, working a description that ended up as “On the other side of the portcullises is a dead kobold lying in the center of the hall. A faceless statue stands on the south end.” Joy to you! Or, a glyph glowing with purple light … with no real details on it. I’m gonna ask what the fuck it looks like. Don’t leave me hanging Mr designer! And, of course, the fact that the goddess here is a Erinyes. Who can actually grant boons. The implications are staggering!
This is not just a generic garbage adventure. There are bots and pieces of imagination and evocative descriptions that shine through. But, it’s not consistent enough. There’s not enough of them, and the missed portions, the straining of disbelief … there’s just too much of that and not enough of interest. Maybe next time?
Also, put the fucking level in the marketing blurb!
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