Desperation of Ivy

By Lance Hawvermale
Frog God Games
Levels 3-5

They say the god of nature never forgets. This deity, known today as Oon, birthed himself from nothingness by planting his own seed among the stars. His first memory was of his roots sinking deep into the cosmos, stealing secrets from the place before Time began. Millennia later, one of his clerics would try in turn to steal from Oon, and the god punished the man by transforming him into a deathless creature, forced to live in misery for eternity. Yet in his wisdom, Oon did not permit his fallen priest to roam the countryside freely and write terror in the hearts of the undeserving peasants. Instead, the very plants were commanded to imprison the undead forever.

This 24 page adventure presents a two level manor, with smalls additional basement, with about 35 rooms in it. It’s plant themed, with the place being completely overrun by ivy, and every plant monster in the books. It is, generally, just a hack with a plant theme. If this were any other publisher I’d be unhappy, but by the standards the Frogs set? Well, they put the right cover on it and write a two sentence marketing blurb. So they are improving?

It’s a manor home overgrown with plants. There’s also a small nearby village of a half dozen or so places that also have killer plants. The yardstick for success here, at least in terms of descriptions, is how much I get an Annihilation vibe from the text. That is ,I think, one of the best visual depictions of the Overgrown By Plants trope. And, surprisingly, in this adventure, Lance, the designer, does a halfway decent job of invoking that sort of life and decay and oppressiveness. A grand veranda on the verge of collapse, the floor buckled under the weight of thick vegetation, long green runners hanging down from the dropping ceiling, bees and insects in the sunflowers and thistle growing there. As it would say, a property overgrown with rampant foliage, you must wade through knee high weeks and prickly bushes to even reach the home. There are hints, here and there, like a flowerchild growing in a sunny bedroom, or a room with birds that fly out of it, the interior covered in droppings. I think what Lance does, better than most, is capture the living nature of the area. The birds, the flowerchild and the sun, the sunflowers and bees. It’s alive. Verdant, both literally and figuratively. And capturing that is no small feat, successfully communicating the vibe is a major challenge in any adventure, and Lance kind of pulls it off. 

And, well, everything else is not quite a mess, but it’s not very well done either.

Those descriptions, for example. They tend to be LOOOONG. And read-aloud tends to be long, when it appears (which is fine, it doesn’t need to be consistent) but it does lapse in purple at times, with those bees on the porch “delighting” in those sunflowers. It never goes completely overboard, but the eyes  rolled a decent amount during this. And there’s seems to be this compulsion to mention the previous states of the rooms. Not quite in a “room backstory” way, but in a weird passive way. “Long ago, guests hung their garments here, but now the ivy has woven itself through the hooks and shelves and tied them up in knots” Or that the plants have made a once-spacious room now all but impassable. Throw offs, consistently appearing. 

And there is, I think, a kind of lack of cohesion in the entire thing. This shows up in the room descriptions, in which some sentences don’t seem to know that others exist.  “This room is full of pegs and hooks for hanging clothes”, the closet tells us, and and then it inserts that “long ago guests hung their garments” line in it, and then goes on. Like the first sentence doesn’t know the others are coming. A perfect example of a sentence that could be trimmed. 

And then this extends to the rest of the adventure, in concept. The  facts, of which there are about four, don’t really feel like factions. And don’t seem integrated in to the complex very well, hanging out in their rooms and nowhere else. 

Enter a room, it’s full of plants life and vines, kill a plant monster, move on to the next room. You’re not going to get much more in the way of interactivity than that. You can talk to some mushroom men. Yeah. But, it’s just not possible to do much more, I guess, in a house full of plants?

And formatting is non-existent. Not even much in the way of bolding. It’s just wall of massive text with even few line breaks. That’s rough. 

I want to end this review with this little section of text, describing an undead dude in one of the last rooms. It’s a good example of what’s going on here. Skip the first sentence. And don’t fucking mention it’s an undead dude, fuck man, writing 101. But the rest of the description is not too shabby! A little long, maybe, but  it’s a good description! And this is the story with this adventure, too long, needs a good editor to trim a lot, and needs a lot more interactivity, but has some decent imagery in it.

“A ghastly figure confronts you. This undead wears tattered red clothing, but that is the only vestige of its humanity that remains. Its head is a skull that crawls with worms, with red motes in eye sockets that are otherwise as black as voids. The spidery hair atop its head floats around its head. Tiny insects have picked its bones clean, and no muscle mass remains, yet still it mana”ges to stand, fists clenched, empty ribcage heaving up and down in a ghastly imitation of life.

This is $8 at DriveThru.The preview is four pages. Pretty worthless, but on the last page, in the second column, you can start to get a little of the descriptive text that I think shows a lot of promise.

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3 Responses to Desperation of Ivy

  1. Knutz Deep says:

    I can think of a way to instantly make this better. I offer a quote from the lyrics of the Rush song, “The Trees” to illustrate.

    “There is unrest in the forest
    Trouble with the trees
    For the maples want more sunlight
    And the oaks ignore their pleas”

    There’s more go look them up if you wish.

    Instead of a plant hack and slash, let’s use the idea that the plants have developed at least some form of rudimentary intelligence and they have wants, needs, desires, and motivations. Doing this will naturally lead to factions, alliances, and intrigue. Some plants don’t like other plants for well, “planty” reasons. Make some up. Perhaps, much like the Oaks and the Maples from The Trees, some plants are crowding out other plants. That leads to conflict. Competition for resources is a powerful motivator.

    You could even throw in other plant-type creatures such as Shambling Mound, Decapus, or even Yellow Musk Creeper.

    So much you could do with this instead of enter room, kill stuff, enter room kill stuff.

  2. Chibi says:

    That excerpt at the end is silly. It first TELLS you “this is an undead” and the immediately proceeds to SHOW you it’s an undead in no uncertain terms with that lively description. Just remove the second sentence and you’re good! Though it still seems like a lot of read-alout to describe what’s basically a.. Ghoul? Something halfwya between zombie and skeleton.

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