Dirge of the Forlorn Piscator

By G.A. Mitchell
Self Published
Journeyman, Expert, Master
Levels 1-3

A ghost is haunting the foreshores of a mountain lake, wailing despondently about his long-lost love. Eaten forty years ago by merrow, what has drawn this sad fisherman back from beyond the grave to bemoan his fate now? How will the party fare exploring a sunken fishing vessel and the labyrinthine lair of the water ogres? What is that dark, slithering doom that lies at the bottom of the cave?

This thirty page adventure presents a cave with twelve rooms. Stabbing and, potentially, talking are the orders of the day as you try to put a ghost to rest. Brief glimpses of what could be good a prevalent throughout. Expansive text for a small adventure pollutes the end result, but maybe you can ignore that?

This isn’t my style of D&D. I recognize that. It’s a kind of home-table plot D&D. You know, investigate something and end up in a lair assault killing shit. I don’t think any of it hits particularly well, in this adventure, but there are some glimpses of that OD&D style and some interesting writing here and there that I think are quite admirable and rise above the de riguour crap that floods the market today. It’s got some idea of what good is but it doesn’t really understand how to get there.

Fishing village on a BIG mountain lake. There’s a ghost been showing up lately, out on the lakeshore a bit away from town, causing some trouble. Go gettum tigers! Turns out some old lady in town is finally getting married and the ghost is the dude she loved, like sixty years earlier who died, getting eaten by merrow. Her getting married has brought him back as a ghost. That’s kind of nicely done, yeah? Oh, and now the merrow serve a dragon-thing. Oh, there’s this fucking hag in the caves also. And the shipwreck, of the ghost dudes boat, it’s got a gollum hanging out in it. Ok, I think I’ve covered everything. Go meet the ghost dude, he wants to give chickula the wedding ring he had planned for her. The merrow have it, except the dragon-thin now has it. Got it?

The first ten pages are pretty much a waste, covering the town/village. There’s a decent little timeline, of the ghost causing trouble, but that’s about it. “Townfolk drowning themselves in the lake” is a nice little bit of it. And the adventure pulls shit from time to time, really reveling in the naturalism or realism of the things going on. A lock of hair given to a ship captain, now dead, summoning a nereid, who is thankful to know what happened to her dead lover. And while this is the SECOND time this theme has happened in the adventure, it’s still nifty. When the adventure is pulling out this shit it’s doing a real good job. 

But when it’s telling us about mundane shit it’s terrible. “Heimdal is the barkeep and owner of the Black Hound [Bryce-the bar]. His family once ruled over all of this region before their almost total annihilation. Heimdal is unaware of his noble blood.” That’s fucking useless. We get mundane business descriptions and NPC descriptions that don’t matter. You could have done the entire thing on one page instead of ten. The wedding is supposed to be a big deal but that’s handled in one sentence “make the upcoming wedding a big deal in the town.” Well, fuck me, how about some help and ideas making the wedding a big deal? There’s a rumour table but the rumours are a little too direct and on the noose for my tastes. 

There are some really good descriptions, though, in the text. Or, close to really good anyway. The ghost is “ bloated, damp, ugly. While ethereal in nature and surrounded by a dull lambent glow, his form resembles that of a drowned corpse, and he speaks in wet, slurping tone” Not a bad monster description! Or, in a partially sunkn ship, knee-deep murky water in a bedroom with a few old bits of wood bobbing in the decaying mess. Bobbing is a great word there! A coppery stench of blood and buzzing of flies, in the cannibalistic merrows dining room. Or, in total, “The coppery stench of blood and the faint buzzing of flies conveys the ominous character of this chamber. This long room sports a sizable table atop which lay the discarded bones and scattered remains of the merrows’ previous victims” Great start to the description and a total train wreck to finish it off. Scattered remains of previous victims. Pffft. And this is what I mean when I say its got some kind of general understanding of what good is but little clue in how to get there. 

Long Italics read-aloud and half page room descriptions/DM text full of mechanics. I guess I’ll ignore that for the purposes of this review. 

But, the interactivity, I don’t think I can ignore. This is not a traditional dungeon. Most of the interactivity is either stabbing shit or, maybe, trying to talk to someone. Talk to gollum, maybe. Or talk to the merrow king, after hacking your way to him, so he can ask you to kill the dragon. Oh, and that fucking hag. SHe’s the dragons Mouth of Sauron. She’s got these scrolls of deals shes made with villagers. Pretty cool! She has traded shit for things like a pail full of breastmilk in return. Noice! She’ll trade with you also … which could help out with the dragon fight. Cover yourself in spikes to prevent the snake-like dragon from squeezing you, or cover yourself in milk to prevent his breath weapon (give yous a +4 to saves, not too shabby! Very folklore, and I love that! But, also, the merrow dude, the hag and the dragon are all withing earshot of each other. SO there’s no real room to breathe int he dungeon/lair. And no one really cares if the dudes next door are getting slaughtered, so no order of battle, and, worse, they explicitly DO NOT CARE if you are killing the others. That’s a little rough. 

So, a kind of plot, but the details of it, and the window dressing of the village and wedding are not covered well. Beefing that up, to cement a real vibe there, would have done wonders for motivations and grounding. The shipwreck and merrow caves are a little … mundane? Typical D&D? But there are brief glimpses of something deeper and hints of folklore scattered throughout. Again, not really enough to ground the adventure in that but enough to make you wish it HAD done that. 

Maybe next time?

This is $5 at DriveThru. The eleven page preview shows you town and the overview of the shipwreck. You can see some glimpses of the folklore-ish naturalism, but a page of the merrow caves, or shipwreck interior, should have been included as well to get a vibe for how the actual room encounters were handled.


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3 Responses to Dirge of the Forlorn Piscator

  1. Sevenbastard says:

    Honestly this sounds like something not terrible. Like a second pass through with an edit and a changes to the monster lair. I’m intrigued.

    After reading this I want to run something where I tell my players.

    “The hag says if you bring her bsck the pail filled with breast milk she can enchant it to protect you from the dragons fire”

    That’s going to lead to one heck of a night of memorable D&D.

  2. Reason says:

    PC’s needing to douse themselves in breastmilk to protect vs fire… that’s fire G.A. Mitchell. Well played.

    I kinda think they don’t even need to enchant it. The folklore vibe from that works on it’s own without any further explaining vis mitochlorians.

    And it’s SUCH a witch thing to do/know. Because that’s an _awful_ lot of breastmilk and some (all but the nobles?) of the babies in the village will be going hungry for days- borderline starvation for the witches request. Classic witch trade off in my view.

    Maybe extra people are coming in to the village for the big deal wedding and desperate villagers are asking any mothers to feed their babies/fill the pail. A _good_ item gets you riffing and suggests it’s own clues and adds potential action/life to other parts up or down the line.

    • Gary M says:

      So when I ran it in playtest this is exactly what one group did – getting dozens and dozens of peasant to hand over breastmilk. Glad you thought this bit was cool.

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