Fortress on the Wild Frontier

The Nameless Designer
Self Published
Heroes of Adventure

Someone suggested this. Hrumph!

The sighting and return of the great mystical comet Mithilanthor heralds a time of wild magic, which has only added to the sense of unease. At night, under the cover of darkness, shadowy humanoid creatures have been seen riding their nightmare steeds with vengeful fury on the horizon. As a heroic adventurer seeking to make your mark in the region, you will undoubtedly face a range of challenges and dangers in this volatile and unpredictable landscape.

This 64 page sandbox region describes a little keep on the borderlands between the civilized world and the Beast Man lands. It’s got its shit together, in layout and looking pretty, but is so aggressively generic and abstracted it makes me wonder what anyone was thinking in creating it. “Maybe put a keep on the borderlands and run an adventure!” 

Ah, and adventure! You start at the Central Station and follow the river … err, no. But, the Keep and the mythos of Central Station continue to pull at us all, eh? The very borders of the civilized world, with a Keep there as a base, and the Marlows setting off for their fortunes and adventure! 

We’ve go a borderlands region, with woods, hills and so on. There’s this river with an old stone bridge over it, marking the owned lands to the west and the wildlands to the east. Up on a hilltop we’ve got a keep with its retired adventurer ruler. To the west of the bridge we’ve got a dozen or so sites to look in to and to the east, across the river … three. So, much of what you’ll be exploring and fucking with is IN the civilized lands. This strikes me as fucking weird. The lands over the river have some elves (“the wild folk”) and one small ruin and the Beastmen. And that’s it. So, we’re not really fucking around with those great black parts of the map that note Here There Be Dragons and doing some points of light. We’re instead talking to a villager who is paying moderate taxes to the local lord who is also an ok dude. 

There are some VERY basic rules for clearing hexes and generating some action for each of those hexes. Let’s see, I rolled bears, and overabundance of, and ruins. GO do something with that. Sure. The table is just a bit small though, for, what, two thirds of a double page map? And the same could be said for the wanderer table, which is WOEFULLY small AND overspecific. for a region of this size.

I’m getting ahead of myself. I layout here is professional. Nice two page spreads, decently evocative art, and a nice use of bullets and whitespace and bolding, even if long sections of italics appear to the detriment of quick scanning. Also nice is a little overview of a few major plotlines, like the beastman invasion or an incursion from the Shadowrealm. Little timeline like things, as well as a mundane-ish leaning event generator for the Keep. Trade Goods arriving! Oh, they are full of disease. Let me rif on that …

Ok, now back to the Suckatude.

This entire product is shallow. It’s abstracted and generic. To a degree, even, that I’m not sure WOTC has even achieved. And, I’m afraid, I’m going to struggle to communicate just how pervasive this is in this supplement. Pervasive is even the wrong word … it’s core to this adventure. But not in a “maybe do something like this “ way that plagues to many others. Instead it comes off as … aloof? But without the judgment that aloof implies. Distant, maybe?

And I don’t know how to communicate this. The well at the keep is “A large well and common gathering area. One of the few areas where plants and trees grow within the keep.

” So, sure, it’s a well in a keep. Why should it get a long description? But then a dungeon chasm is “The flicker of your torch reveals an ominous abyss, the ground falling away beneath your feet as if swallowed by an endless darkness” So, ignoring that “your torch/your feet” shit … It’s almost like the chasm is an after thought? Or, the description of a room with a tomb (titled as “Tomb”) comes off as: “The cavern chamber contains is dimly lit, dusty crypt, where the scent of decay and the feeling of ancient curses pervades the air.” It’s kind of like it’s being narrated, but in a kind of post-modern meta fashion? This is common in every single room and description. You get about one sentence of … read-aloud? And then a bullet or two. But nothing is really DESCRIBED. Nothing is specific. Typical treasure might be “Treasure; d20 random old empire style curiosities (value 5d20sp each item)” … abstracted and generic. Or, an example of a bullet, for the DM, meant to provide extra detail “Trophies, items from Lord Cullyn’s previous adventuring career can be found adorning the walls and drawers.” Uh. Sure. Yes, that is an idea for a room. Maybe you’d like to actually describe the room and/or trophies?

And, I guess, that’s the major thrust of every description here, both read-aloud or for the DM. it’s an IDEA for something. A deep and shadowy chasm is in this chamber, or, This is the lords trophy room from his adventuring days. It’s all a conclusion rather than the description that would lead someone to make that conclusion. The rooms. The situations. The read-aloud. The treasure. The wanderers, even.Everything

And that sucks shit. Specificity is the soul of the narrative, says The Judge.  And then …

Oh! I know! I know what this is! I wwas thinking about this abandoned and cursed village in the adventure. The descriptions for all of the buildings are like one sentence each and the village description starts with something like that they are all cursed and trapped in the shadow realm and you can there to save them. And then the boring ass abstracted village descriptions start. That got me think about this. And I recalled something else that does EXACTLY this. The old MERP supplements. They would give these generic little descriptions to the inside of the locations and then gie you like a one para or one column description. “Mim the petty dwarf could come back and dominate the region and he could live in this tower.” Descriptions were then like “This is the bathroom, it has a hole in the ground’” and so on. 

And I guess thats great, but that makes it a regional setting and not really an adventure or a sandboxy adventure. To do that you’ve got to make something specific. And while there ARE creatures in some of the rooms, the rest of he adventure and its descriptions, everything else, is more of this distant view of things. 

Oh, and the orcs … err, Beastmen, don’t really show up in the adventure. One of the big plot things involve them, but you’ll be doing all of that yourself. And, thus also, there is no Caves of Chaos. Or, I would suggest, anything else of real interest. Enjoyyour abandoned villages and their ilk.

This is free at Itch. 

https://nameless-designer.itch.io/fortress-on-the-wild-frontier

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12 Responses to Fortress on the Wild Frontier

  1. Tearful says:

    I wonder if it was broadly written by AI and merely polished up a bit by the “author”. Cover art looks like Midjourney. A chasm in a room an afterthought? Broadly generic descriptions… hmm…

    • Anonymous says:

      I watched a YouTube instructional video about people making money by using AI to generate children’s storybooks in their entirety, then using AI to make all the art and layout – all the user had to do was upload it to a cheap distribution site and they could crank out a dozen books a day, presumably at a high enough rate to earn a living.

      I suspect the “author” of this adventure is doing more or less the same thing, which is indeed a worrying trend.

      • Commodore says:

        I’d be more bought in to that theory if the author was asking for *any* money for any of his stuff, but it’s not even PWYW…for any of his stuff. I had that thought when I reviewed his main system, but I think for whatever his issues, the guy is making these for the love of the game.

        • Anonymous says:

          Maybe it’s a move to produce free work in order to build up a brand, and then charge once there’s something worth charging for?

          Remember the maxim – “if the product is free, YOU are the product”. Maybe not in a data-gathering way, but possibly in a brand visibility way.

  2. oTTo says:

    This author also created the “Heroes of Adventure” rules. Its a rather nice game. And its free.

    https://nameless-designer.itch.io/heroes-of-adventure

  3. Will MB says:

    Second that it was probably written by AI. AI writing has a tendency to be both vaguely descriptive and super generic. It’s like getting the Ding Dong of RPG content, but instead of cream filling your snack pastry is filled with tiny Vienna canned sausages. AI stuff is gross on multiple levels, and this smacks of it.

    • Pondering not doubting: why would anyone use ChatGPT/text-AI to write an adventure? The whole idea is so fucking pathetic. And I say this as someone who has some sympathy with users of AI art. At least AI art can make
      decent filler with pretty colors and is 1000x cheaper & faster than drawing or paying for illustrations. But AI text in any kind of creative capacity is just so generic and boring and terrible.

      • Reason says:

        It’s the latest buzz idea on here. We hard generic stuff from writers who didn’t understand how to translate a “vibe idea” into the written adventure mode before AI.

        It’s a very common amateur writing problem (I teach literature). Probably the most common- show don’t tell.

        The writer is trying to convey a mood but doesn’t know how “feel of ancient curses” could be “profane inscriptions seem to writhe upon your arrival”- “the bitter taste of ash arrives on your tongue, unbidden”.

        As Bryce points out, this is just clumsy writing that doesn’t understand creative writing elements, and especially not those of an adventure module, but its old as time. Not necessarily indicative of AI.

      • Shitty Adventure says:

        Jason Bradley Thompson said, “why would anyone use ChatGPT/text-AI to write an adventure? The whole idea is so fucking pathetic.”

        Because people are fundamentally lazy and looking to put in as little effort as possible. AI for text, AI for art, and then go search one of the dozens of sites on the web that provide ready to use maps, and Voila! you have an adventure.

  4. Bucaramanga says:

    >>>We’re instead talking to a villager who is paying moderate taxes to the local lord who is also an ok dude.

    So, mudcore but somehow milquetoast?

    Unpopular opinion: Keep on the Borderlands clones have done more damage to tge D&D brand than Tomb of Horrors clones

    • Prince says:

      Nah.

      S1 did more damage because very specific principles in an adventure for a specific purpose were applied broadly to disasterous effect. Context was lost. An exception is taken to become the rule.

      B2 on the other hand is pretty standard stuff, and meant to be a template for the creation of a stronghold and the start of a campaign. I will take the occasional slightly lamer clones because overal, taking the principles of B2 and applying them in other places will do no damage to D&D.

      • Stooshie & Stramash says:

        B2 was the first adventure that I DM’d (very badly, but I learned my lesson). I think that it’s a terrible adventure and hate it for being bland and unmagical. Sure there’s a few nice details here and there but both B1 and Jean Wells’ B3 are better D&D adventures as they have more atmosphere and memorable art (exception is the mad hermit!).

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