The Lost Universe

By Christina Mitchell
Levels 7-10?

A dark mystery has settled over the city of Aldastron on the rogue planet of Exlaris. Researchers dedicated to studying the cosmos have disappeared, and the Hubble Space Telescope has vanished from Earth’s timeline. Only an ambitious crew of adventurers can uncover what was lost. Are you up to the challenge?

This 44 page free adventure from NASA details the hunt for a missing team of researchers. It rivals a Bloodymage adventure for lack of comprehension. Yes, it’s THAT bad.

I try to start reviews by saying something good about an adventure. No matter how slight, they usually have something that stands out. An encounter. A nice NPC. Something. Not this one. There is nothing here. Well, ok, there are some appendices on vacuum energy and red/blue shifts that you could  read instead of a wikipedia article. Other than that …

The framing here is that you are people at Goddard, and make D&D characters, and are then transported in to those characters in a fantasy world. “It’s the Dungeons & Dragons ride!” Once in your new fantasy world city, you find out some people are missing. And get escorted by the town guard to their boss who wants you to find them. You then do the usual things or asking around, getting in a bar fight, and going to some ruins to follow an elf .. who turns out to be a green dragon. Yeah, you found the researchers! Do you want to stay in the new world or go back home?

The issues here are tha the designers don’t know anything about designing a D&D adventure. I’m not even talking about the “design” of the adventure, the plot, and how the dungeon foreshadows and such. I think I’m pretty fucking generous in those regards You’re not gonna make it in to The Best with a generic adventure, but I’m not going to hate my fucking life. This thing, though … oh boy. The basic design mistakes, formatting an adventure and what to include and why, the lack of knowledge here is, I assert, with our dear departed mage of blood. And, even when this adventure puts critical blocking elements behind skill checks, I’m not going to bitch about that. Should you do it? No. Does it show a fundamental lack of knowledge? Yes. But the DM makes the show go on. No, we’re gonna ignore ALL of those, and every other bad design decision like that. Fuck the interactivity. Fuck the evocative text. No, we’re giving this an adventure a pass on ALL of those. Yeah, none of them are present, but let’s ignore all of that.

You know what? I’m even going to ignore the NPC descriptions. Their long backstories. The trivialities that don’t matter. Their blandness. The mountains of text used to describe them. No. Let’s instead focus on one thing and one thing only in this one: wall of text.

This thing is absolutely ABSURD when it comes to wall of text. You know even the bible, in that whole begatting section, it has breaks. Some genius in the 1500’s stuck in chapters and verse to break up the text. But this thing? Yeeesh ..

Yes, it has some paragraph breaks. And some offset boxes. But, man, a single page may have, like four paragraphs on it. And those paragraphs ARE the adventure. They are full of “if the players do this then this happens” and long sections of skill checks and combats, with little to no bolding or other ways to break up the text and draw the DMs attention to things. 

Now, you’re gonna go download this and look at it and say “Brycy boy, this doesn’t look so bad!” and you’d be right. It doesn’t LOOK bad. But I would assert that the worst formatting CoC or Vampire adventure is more comprehensible than the text in this thing. I find it hard to believe ANYONE ran this adventure from this text. Took the booklet, without having written it or worked it in layout for two weeks, and sat down to read it to try and run a game from it. And I’m not talking on the fly. Just, read it to eventually run a game from it. I can’t believe that ANYONE did that. Look man, I know the OSR is on the forefront of this shit, but this is, I don’t know, a throwback doesn’t even come in to play. It’s SOmekind of throwback formatting/wall of text combined with layout that doesn’t know what its purpose it combined with the style and substance (or lack thereof) that tends to be in the forefront of modern playstyles. 

And no maps. Oh no. Instead we get things like this “The staircase, if your players choose to descend, goes down to a tunnel below that is far more easily passable than the area they just came through. As they reach the base of the stairs there is a landing with two arches, one is covered with a wall of blue flame and the other a wall of red flame.” Obviously a red shift/blue shift puzzle. But I swear to god, no map and attempting to describe the shit in text? “If they choose to descend.” No, they sit the fuck around with their thumbs up their asses. “If the characters choose to breathe.” might as well be the text. 

I understand that certain things have to be done. I assume we’re targeting new people, and such, and thus we can allow some of that “go to section B” stuff. But the rest? Absolutely not. When people bitch that adventures are hard to run they are talking about shit like this. The purpose of an adventure is to be run and if people look at this and don’t even try then it is failing to enable its primary purpose. 

It’s free, from NASA:

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14 Responses to The Lost Universe

  1. Sevenbastard says:

    And you expected a government run organization to create something worthwhile and easy to use?

  2. Gnarley Bones says:

    No maps??!?

  3. Krebizfan says:

    There is a regional map. The rest resembles a choose your path adventure for multiple players with no tactical maps. I almost think if any playtesting was done, it was over internet chatting which would be difficult to use with tactical maps.

  4. Anonymous says:

    They contract out entire lunar missions but not a D&D adventure?

  5. Melan says:

    In the 1970s, this would have been a xeroxed Traveller sector with hex maps, planets described in the UWP format, and slide rule-based gameplay. Entirely coincidentally, NASA was still capable of doing space exploration at the time.

  6. Shitty Adventure says:

    I sense a consulting gig with NASA on how to produce a good adventure. Gubment consulting job = $$$$$

  7. Bucaramanga says:

    Those reviews of experimental adventures for obscure systems have been a bumpy ride. I hope you go back soon to more relatable Rats In A Cellar, Orcs In A Hole, and To Kill A Demigod (At Level Two).

    • Anonymous says:

      I think he’s cleaning up his wishlist/bookmarked stuff that looked interesting for a moment when he saw them to warrant a click.

  8. Chibi says:

    Everyone was hype when this adventure came out so I excitedly downloaded this…
    One of the ugliest and most disappointing adventurers ever! A railroad with huge walls of text, read-alouds and the PCs being forced to do stuff with little to no agency.

    Talking for 4 hours then there’s like 1 trap and 1 boss fight.

    The Wendy’s Adventure is miles above this in the “novelty adventure written by people who have no idea what they’re doing” because at least it’s funny.

  9. JB says:

    Um…NASA is writing/publishing D&D adventures?


    [all other questions/comments are rather superfluous]

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