The Salt Shipment

By Matthew Evans
Mithgarthr Entertainment
Castles & Crusades
Levels 4-6

Charcuterie in Nefford may never be the same… A butcher was supposed to receive a large shipment of salt from the Dwarves of Kamoz Kamendom two weeks ago and has heard neither hide nor hair from them. He’s willing to pay for someone to find out what happend to his friend and business partner, Harbem Bottlebringer. The road wasn’t easy for the Dwarves, nor will it be for those seeking them…

This 44 page adventure describes a linear 40 hex wilderness journey with several side caves to explore. There are some situations and details here that are quite above average, showing some interesting non game centric thought behind them. But, also, It pads things out, is linear, maybe a little treasure light, and doesn’t revel in its situations quite enough for my tastes.

Strap on boys! The local butcher didn’t get his salt from Moria and wants you to go track em down and find out what happened! There’s only one road, so off you get, traveling 200 miles away to Moria to get your 500gp reward. I wonder just how much he paid for that salt, anyway? What is that, a forty day journey? I admire putting the place 200 miles away. Anyway, you walk down the road, with each hex having something in it. Sometimes it’s just a note about weather. Sometimes it’s a traveler. And sometimes it’s a monster ambush. That’s all the adventure is. Travel to a hex that you don’t have a choice entering or not, have the encounter, and then move to the next hex and repeat. Not exactly the height of player agency. But, let’s look at those hexes.

Hex 1, six miles or so at most from the city, is a cave by the road with smoke coming from it. Full of flinds and gnolls. Uh. I’d like to lodge a complaint with the local magistrate about the dereliction of the lord of the city of Nefford and its city fathers. Yeah, I’m being an ass, but, also, it’s less than six miles from a major city. Anyway, what I wanted to focus on was the description details here. “The smell of wet dog wafts out, mingled with the smoke which attracted the PCs to these caves.” We can see, in that first line of the first cave encapsulated both what I like and dislike. The smell of wet dog and smoke. Wafting out, as the initial description said. Great description. I think of a craggy hillside cave and smoke coming out of it, the smell of campfires and wet dog. I think it’s great. And then “which attracted the PCs to these caves.” And, of course, I loathe padding. And padding there is indeed in these hexes. Maybe a third or a little less is outright padding, with maybe a third more being less than tightly edited text that makes me frown and maybe a third representing some pretty decent descriptions. Hmmm, no, I take that back. In some cases we get some decently evocative text and in others we get a decently good situation description. Hex five has us meeting a human peddler, a woman, who tells of a cyclops lair nearby, with nothing to see in it, it’s dangerous. She’s anxious to leave. Inside the lair (more on it in a bit) the party finds the body of a beautiful woman, recently dead. “This is the body of Tara Featherlace, a beautiful brunette who was murdered by Teofil [that chick you met on the road]  with a leather awl after becoming the subject of her jealousy” That’s fun! I love it when the real world creeps in to an adventure. It’s a little abrupt, there’s not much going on here beyond what I just typed. It’s like finding a dude with a bloody dagger standing over someone dressed as a king. Uh. Ok. Now what? There are no complications here, no follow ups. You can track the chick down and punish her, I guess (which the adventure takes a paragraph to describe) but that’s all. More on this disconnection in a bit.

The inside of the cave, an old Cyclops lair, is a good example of wll that’s right, and wrong, with the world. Giant bronze door off its hinges. The dead chick on the floor. The main chamber, rather lage, has collapsed and is sunken in to the floor about twenty feet and is more cave like now. A decaying corpse of the cyclops and two pet bears, someone having already killed them. And, then, above the cave floor, an old doorway to the rest of the abandoned dwarven outpost the cyclops took over. A hidden area! I really like this. A lot. I like the abandoned outpost, being taken over by the cyclops. The fact he’s dead and decaying. The dead chick.That’s all great. The collapsed floor and “hidden” area. The world here is lived in. That comes through loud and clear. It adds to the specificity and gets the players thinking. 

And this is something that happens over and over and over again in this adventure. Yeah, there are ambushes by monsters. And maybe things are a little too exciting, hex to hex, for a 1e adventure. And  maybe they have a little too little treasure for my tastes. And the fucking encounters. For all of my love for that lived in feel, they are also SO abrupt at times. The text focuses on the wrong things, the mundanity, the  mechanics, what the party might do, padded out phrases. Instead it should be offering tantalizing hints of where the encounter could go. Teasing the DM to expand it further. The fucking actress you meet. The asshole elves that let you pass. There’s nothing more BEHIND those encounters.

And, more to the point, they seem entirely random. I mean that in a way that they don’t seem to be related to the plot of the adventure. Sure, a few of them are. You can find some dead dwarves, or maybe a living one, in a couple of the encounters. But, otherwise, these are almost disconnected from the adventure at hand, finding the dwarves. I guess you have to investigate every game and demihuman lair, to check to see if THEY were the ones who killed the dwarves, or if it was the ones in the next hex up. Or the hex after that. Or the hex after that. Don’t get me wrong here, it’s not necessary that every encounter lead to the inevitable conclusion. Randos gonna rando, after all. But, also, as isolated pinpoints there is something lacking here. Both in the ‘main’ adventure and in the scenarios. I can imagine a possible world in which the actress encounter, or the dead chick encounter, had a little more legs under it, building a bit. Perhaps adding some intrigue, for any definition of that word. But that’s not really to be found here.

Some interesting ideas in this, in places. And a touch of evocative writing here and there. And, also, it’s padded out quite a bit with both empty phrases and with meaningless detail when more evocative and loaded content could have been included. Treasure feels light as well. And, of course, the disconnected nature of the encounters is not quite where I’d like to see things. It’s a balancing act, between plot and non-plot, but for a world that is so lived in, it feels strangle disconnected from itself. But, also, it doesn’t earn my eternal hate.

And then there’s hex 31.08.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is nine pages and shows you several hexes. Very good preview.

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19 Responses to The Salt Shipment

  1. Jeff V says:

    The introduction to the module does say it was “in a a large part created by the Hexploration tables in MECC4”. So its not surprising they seem random. Looks like the rest of the MECC line is setting, rather than adventures.

    I like the look of the wilderness map in the preview (although the long string of encounter numbers looks absurd), but what sort of wimpy dwarves take the much longer lowland route just because the direct route has a few mountains in the way?

  2. chainsaw says:

    Replace salt with cocaine or meth – you find the dwarves high on their own supply, berserk raging.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Nope’d out as soon as I saw the cover.

    • Anonymous says:

      Words of wisdom here.

    • rekalgelos says:

      Not trolling, genuinely curious because I don’t see it. What about the cover was a red flag? The charcuterie line? If so— I get it. But were there other elements as well?

      • Yomar says:

        Probably the AI-generated image.

      • Anonymous says:

        AI generated art. I detest it. It all has a certain look that just sits so unwell with me. I’ve seen worse and I’ve seen better, but they all have a quality, a certain “wrongness”.

      • Anonymous says:

        Lots of people have auto-hate boners for AI art.

        I get the hate when it’s for products that are being sold for profit (people just trying to skimp on paying an artist), but can we not all act like AI art is evil just by existing? It actually really helps the “zero budget” productions when they have some actual art in there that looks nice and not like something doodled by bored a third-grader.

        • Gnarley Bones says:

          OK, how about the cover art being utterly banal and uninteresting?

        • Anonymous says:

          Bull. I don’t “auto hate” AI art. I loathe it with every fiber of my being, because I know what it is, how it’s created, and can see the results with my own God damned eyes. It’s shit because it always looks like shit. I have standards and you should too.

          I will never buy something that has content created with generative AI. RPG products don’t ‘need’ art. If you want art and feel like you can’t create your own then use clip art. It’s either free or very inexpensive. Lots of amazing RPG products use public domain art to great effect. It’s free and doesn’t look like absolutely dog shit.

          • Anonymous says:

            Y’all some hella-thin-skinned folk round here. It’s a generic picture in a sea of millions, on a product you’re not even going to buy. Chill a bit.

        • Yomar says:

          Regardless of the aesthetic quality or lack thereof, using an AI picture for the cover is a choice and tells you something about the designer, and the impression it gives is a negative one. I’m sure it sells better than no cover art at all, but since this is a DIY hobby and the market is flooded with shovelware nobody is obliged to have a tender concern for your bottom line.

        • oTTo says:

          The AI art here looks much better than many of the really bad pieces of art found in various OSR products. I’m thinking about something like Basic Fantasy where too much of the art is just plain fugly.

  4. The Middle Finger Of Vecna says:

    Nothing says epic adventure featuring finding treasures of lost civilizations, killing dragons and carting away their hoards, bizarre eldritch magic, and magical glowing swords like………….charcuterie?
    Really? charcuterie?

    What am I playing here, a D&D-type game or something I might watch on the Food Network?

  5. Vorshal says:

    Charcuterie; the Holy Grail of the Lunchable Gerneration.

  6. Bucaramanga says:

    I remember Bryce REEEing how “guards in a caravan” is the worst adventure premise but here we are now, looking at an adventure where we protect a delivery of seasoning to a butcher shop at level 5 (after presumably having killed a demigod at level 2).

  7. Dave says:

    Levels 4-6 should be where things get good. Where the DM can take the gloves off run some tough encounters, and leave it to the players to play smart or have tricks up their sleeves to still pull out wins.

    There just might be a way to do that in a caravan adventure. Put a camp of 30-300 bandits in a forest along the line of travel. Have a young dragon “attack”… by stealing a horse every night until someone does something about it. The creative constraint can be a useful prompt, but you’d need to bring your A game. Find a way to simultaneously up the stakes and awesome up your players.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I’m so perplexed why this is called The Salt Shipment when that’s just boring backstory that doesn’t matter at all. It’s like calling LOTR Gandalf’s Fireworks Delivery

    • The Middle Finger Of Vecna says:

      I agree about the name but this is what many adventure writers do these days. They give it some silly title and doesn’t evoke any sense of fantasy or wonder. Some people will scoff at the old TSR modules names but many of those were named in ways that were quite evocative.

      I’m sure the next adventure this designer makes will be something like “A Trip to the Accountant” or “Over to Jed’s Apothecary to Pick up Some Analgesics”

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