An Easy Task

By FEI Games Inc
FEI Games
B/X
Levels 3-5

A group of minotaurs have moved into the area. A farmer spotted them at the ruins down the road and now the locals want them gone.

I don’t know man. Really, I don’t. I apologize.

This seven page adventure is actually a (very small) one page dungeon with four rooms. It features fourteen minotaurs and fourteen dire wolves. It is minimally keyed ala Palace of the Vampire Queen. Uh, it has 4000cp of treasure. I don’t know what to say. It’s one of the worst?

Seven pages for this. One title page. One page with the adventure on it. One page with the stats for the two monsters. One page to note 4000cp in treasure. Two pages of license and one blank page. I am an optimist. Really, I am. The wurstest pessimists are always the most idealistic optimists. I WANT to believe that a short adventure can be good. There are some! I promise! But not this one.

Ok, a hunter sees some minotaurs at a ruin down the road, goes to the inn, and insists the party take care of it free of charge since they’ve been staying in the area. Of course, they can keep any treasure they find. This is the hook. It appears on the one adventure page. It preceded by a section telling us that the minotaurs have moved in to the ruin because they had good luck with their last raid. I guess that’s the background. The last two sentences is the wilderness adventure: the hunter takes them to the ruin but will not fight. The five-ish sentences that make up those three things take up half the page. The one one page that has the entire adventure. I question if that was the best way to spend the word budget allocated to this title …

It’s minimally keyed. “Room 1) 5 minotaurs.” That’s it. Nothing else. There are four rooms, all minimally keyed. The map is a small plus sign; one central room up high with three other rooms connected to it in the cardinal directions. Each room has a bunch of minotaurs and/or dire wolves in it. There is an order of battle! One of te minotaurs will ring the gong in the central room, summoning all of the minotaurs ot the battle, if, I guess, they didn’t already hear it, being 20’ away from it and all that.

Fourteen 6HD minotaurs at … third level? Fifth Level? And that’s doesn’t even include the fourteen 4HD dire wolves that are also included. A combat. Just a hack. Nothing else to this. 

The treasure is 4000cp. Seriously. And 500sp. A jewelry worth 30gp. 2 potions. “Various mundane items worth 700gp.” Ok, so, realistic, I guess? Oh, oh, and, of course, “the DM can also place any other treasure they would like.” Yeah, no shit? Can I, the DM, also breathe while running this? And speak? Just last night I was just writing an article about this”feature” of adventures. How they put in this “add an encounter of your choice” or “include any treasure you want.” Surprise surprise surprise, I see another example of it this morning. 

What’s the count at? I don’t know.

A one page adventure listing itself at seven pages. Because it is seven pages: one page of adventure and six of fluff. A hack a thon in B/X, where Hack a thons are essentially insta-death, so, no basic understanding of the game system. Also illustrated by having the third to fifth level adventure having fourteen 6HD monsters and fourteen 4 HD monsters. That will, essentialy, attack en masse. Also no understanding of how gold=xp work, since 4000cp ain’t gonna cut it for leveling purposes. That’s where most of the XP comes from in basic and it ain’t present here, especially at this risk level. Minimal keying, bringing nothing to the adventure. A hook relying on the party to be Goodies. A map small enough that order of battle doesn’t matter.

No exploration. No wonder. No joy. This is a 4e adventure pretending to be B/X.

This is $2 on DriveThru. Being one of the worst, it of course has a three star rating on DriveThru. Because reasons. You cannot, in any way shape or form, trust the ratings on Drivethru. There the weirdo page-flip preview instead of a full size one. If you squint hard you can see the map and the minimal keying next to it. That’s the adventure. The entire thing.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/300205/An-Easy-Task-An-OSR-B-X-Fantasy-Rule-System-Game-Scenario?1892600

Posted in Reviews, The Worst EVAR? | 19 Comments

(5e) The Secret of Cedar Peak

By Hein Ragas
Capybarbarian
5e
Level 1

Kingshold is a sleepy garrison town at the edge of the kingdom. Bertu Arnels, the respected herbalist in town, sent out an expedition to Cedar Peak Forest, about a day’s travel across the border, to look for useful herbs. When the expedition does not return, she seeks adventurers to investigate and make the forest safe for herb picking. Will you travel to the base camp, and discover the truth behind the horrifying Secret of Cedar Peak?

This 27 page adventure details a small seven room cave and a couple of outdoor encounters using about eleven pages to do so. Straightforward hack/explore of the usual “figure out what is going on, sneak around, kill shit” variety, it uses a good room format to support its weaker evocative and and interactive elements. Continuity problems stand out. With work this could be on the duller side of “ok.”

There’s this thing I like to call “Pretending to be an adult.” This is where you ape the behaviours you’e seen or heard about, thinking that’s the “right thing to do.” Without understanding though, it appears to be just going through the motions. What if you have good ideas, though, or at least not bad ones? Then it’s surrounded by this ape’ing. And thus, this adventure.

This is not a bad adventure, or a good one for that matter, in its core concepts. The party is hired to find some people who have disappeared, an herbalist expedition. Investigating, they visit a small village, “explore a forest”, find some caves, and kill the thing in the cave. I might call this “the usual layout for a plot based adventure.” Hired, investigate, village, wilderness, lair dungeon. To generalize, interactivity in these affairs is usually limited to a little sneaking around to get in to the dungeon and some roleplay in the village. And thus it is with this adventure as well. The usual beats happen. Interactivity is low, with a little roleplaynig and maybe sneaking up on a guard post being non-hack highlights.This doesn’t have to be a bad thing in the plot-based world. Yes, it’s a bit formulaic, and I’d like to see better, but reality is that most plot-based games and adventures follow this formula. They almost all need to up the interactivity element, but, if they can solve the ease of use problem then you’d have a great sea of Marginally Useful Generic Adventures … instead of  the great sea of crap we have today.

This adventure DOES try to excel and rise above the usual dross, and it largely succeeds. Yes, the villagers are in on it, they are always in on it, but at least these villagers have some self-loathing. And, if confronted by the party, they attack the party. But, it’s not a combat! The advice is to let the party slaughter them as the villagers die to the last. Oh, and what do you do with the three young children left behind? I was surprised, and delighted, to see the designer breaking out of the usual formula. And, if the party comes back to the village after defeating the cave monster (assuming they did not confront the villagers beforehand …) they will either find the village burned down (if they were warned by an escapee) or the villagers will throw a huge party, their relief at the end of The Situation, being palpable. Also, the party gets out of hand, there’s a fire that burns everything down, and the villagers disappear. Weird to end all plots threads on this point, but whatever, they all work as a real conclusion in one way or another. Both the village slaughter and the party/burndown show that a little extra thought has gone in to this adventure. And you can tell. 

The singular enumerated village encounter, with the smith, shows signs of life also. Is reactions make sense. Further, there’s a nice little bit of formatting with bolded heading and short little sentences that relate his responses to common questions. A similar format is followed by the room entries in the dungeon, with a short read-aloud followed by some bolded heading that have more information for certain things on the read-aloud. This sort of formatting makes it easy to locate information, allows for easy scanning, and therefore ease of use at the table. All nicely done. 

There’s some X-card warnings up front, for, I think, a little kid who survived an abduction. His mom might get eaten in front of the party by the cave monster. There are a couple of possible “gruesome” little vignettes with the kids mother/family being eaten. (As an aside, aren’t we ALL responsible for the X card shit, because we didn’t push back on the edgelords hard enough when they did their edgy shit? Or do we blame it on the indie RPG and their Psychological Growth RPG’s?) Again, a nice little element to heighten the horror. SHOW don’t TELL. And this shows. He’s not an evil monster because the villagers, or diary, says so. He’s evil because he calls people “meat” in conversations with them (Objectification! The true definition of evil!) and gruesomely eats still living people. No fucking moral quandryies there. I presume he won’t be arrested with non-lethal combat?

This is not, however, a good adventure. 

Read alouds tends to the dull side with boring words like “large cave” and other such descriptions abounding. There’s a two paragraph section on spotting a wagon. And two paragraphs up front on “roleplaying” that seems to have nothing to do with roleplaying. The start town gets one and half pages of description in spite of it having nothing to distinguish itself from every other generic border town.We do get a paragrapgh, multiple in fact, on the entire life fucking history of the person who hires them, including her life as an apprentice. All of this padding takes seven pages before the hook shows up. IE: it’s padded to all fuck out. 

This also shows up in long DM notes section. Rather than emulating the bolded section heading style, perhaps augmented by bullets, whitespace, tables, etc, it instead relies, as per usual for these sorts of adventures, on the long multi paragraph exposition, a nightmare to dig through at the table. It repeats information, telling us the same information about the “telepathic” monster over and over again. Offering justifications for people’s behaviour, or why cultists believe what they do. This is all padding. 

Worse are the basic editing/continuity issues. The blacksmith can show up one point “with the little girl in tow.” This being the first time the little girl is mentioned, I have to wonder “Huh?” Or Telling the MD that by now the party has had a few encounters with the cultists … when in fact they’ve probably had none at all. Other misses include room descriptions that don’t actually mention what the room is (the Chapel being a major offender here … just mentioning a few details and nothing much chapel like in the RA) or burying monster entries in the DM text instead of the RA. You have to tell the players the obvious/important things first, and ten bloodthirsty cultists seems like an important room detail to me. 

Or maybe not. “The rest of the cultists are found here in this room. “How many is that exactly? We don’t know. The Rest. But there’s no number to begin with. Other examples include the monsters being buried in the last sentence of a text entry, or things like that, things that make the DM hunt for the information instead of ordering the information in a logical manner that’s easy to use at the table. This is not a Nit. These are core usability issues when the text runs long, as it does in this. 

And, ultimately, the party never does really find evidence of the people they sent to go looking for. I guess you can make an assumption, but dropping a few details in a room about bodies or gear would have seemed appropriate. Combine all of this with what is an abstracted “forest/wilderness exploration” section and this is worth a pass. It’s got some ok elements that do try to elevate and show more talent than is usual in these things, but it needs to stop pretending to be grown up and learn how to relate information other than in long-form paragraph form. And write descriptions that are more evocative (while staying terse!) and look for opportunities for more interactivity. 

This is $5 at DriveThru. There’s no preview. Put in a preview! And make it a good one that shows us a bit of the dungeon encounters and a bit of the wilderness ones (if there actually were any instead of a handwave …) a bit of social. Let us know what we are buying!

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/299279/The-Secret-of-Cedar-Peak?1892600

As an aside. This takes place in a sleepy frontier town. Are there such things? Or are all frontier towns bustling affairs with people going out to homestead and seek their fortunes? And the guards don’t give a shit because it’s outside the border of the kingdom, the kingdom ending, evidently, right outside the gates. A) these people deserve what will inevitably happen to them. You keep problems from becoming End Of The World by taking care of them early. Besides, they threaten your tax base, even if they are outside your border, proper. A border that doesn’t exist since there’s no else who owns the land out there. So why didn’t the lord claim it anyway?

Also, I’d totally have some tourist traps. “Come see the egge of the World!” and a Four Corners type monument. Tours, An official “kingdom border” line. Trinket shops. The whole nine yards. Why yes, I did just take a road trip last weekend in which I passed many roadside attractions, why do you ask?

Posted in 5e, Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 23 Comments

At the High Point Inn

By Bill Reich
Self-Published
OSR
Level 1

This fourteen page adventure is set in an inn. There’s a fight, I think, that happens? In the inn? More than that I’m not sure. I’m not even sure what system this is for. It’s very hard to figure out what is supposed to happen.

As best as I can tell, you go to an inn to stay the night, someone hires you, or tries to, for protection. AT some point during the night three dwarves staying in the inn star a fight. Or kill the guy? Or something? It’s never really stated. This is really as close as the adventure gets: “If Barnart Hartwell is alone in the Taproom, the dwarfs prevent him from sounding an alarm that might warn other inn residents. Barnart may survive an attack by these ruthless, practiced fighters.” So ….

This IS, I think, all there is of the adventure. Arrive at inns common rooms. Maybe get hired. Hear and/or engage in a fight with three dwarves.

And now on to the system. It’s listed as OSR and the cover states OSR/D20 systems. But then it talks about air, body, and power magic. That’s not OSR/d20? And a point of magic protection and two points of undead protection? That’s not D&D? Or d20? Mineral fiber and plat over fiber? Is that some system? It’s got AC, HD, and HP, as well as a single “Save” number. Weapons are d4/d8. Spells include some recognizable ones and “Darkness Globe,” I have no fucking clue what system this is for. Money is in $, 80$ and such. No clue.

The first two or three pages are oriented at the players, I think. I think it might be read-aloud. I think. It’s not formatted like that. But it does use language “Upon entering the taproom you recognize …” and other first person kind of text that seems oriented toward telling the party what they see, feel, think or do. The lack of … understanding? Formatting? Provided to differentiate the text is one problem and text that IS read-aloud that tells the party what they think or feel is another common mistake. There’s also this weird abstraction of detail that’s present. Or time dilation? “Table H is the rowdiest table in the room, what with three dwarfs playing cards and drinking by-the- mug lite. Later, as they switch to a by-the-pitcher dark brew, the table quickly fills with bronze coins. You hope that they are not mean-spirited when drunk.”  Note not only the “You hope …” text but also the “Laster, as they switch to … “ text. Rather than playing EITHER section out in the game both are summarized. The You Hope portion should be something that the players actually feel, rather than being told that they feel. The “Later …” section should come through roleplaying. Instead it’s this weird time compression. And almost all of the first few pages are like this, the text weirdly summarizing things and telling the party what they think … without any regard to the formatting. It’s almost like there should be a boxed about the first two pages of text, to indicate read-aloud.

Later, during the night, “Any PCs in the corridor come to the aid of Hobson and Bifur.” Uh, no I don’t …

There are some timelines present, and some NPC’s, as well as a summary sheet of a BUNCH of NPC’s. I THINK the party is supposed to talk to people and that there are supposed to be differing alliances from the NPC’s and the party talking to them is supposed to do something, like make the fight larger? But that’s conjecture, there’s nothing like that. I’m just guessing because there are a lot of NPC’s presented and some kind of political overview about internal and external dwarf factions. I have no idea about the timeline. Someone takes a bath at 3am? Is that relevant for some reason? The action happens before then, pretty sure, based on the timeline. 

So, the system seems all over th place. The text is all over the place. I’m not sure what’s supposed to happen in this “sandbox” expect for a fight … lethal, non, no clue. It seems like the NPC’s and timeline should interact with everything somehow, but it’s not clear how. 

This is $.5 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. Pages two and three are that weird maybe read-aloud? Page six has an adventure overview section that details the action? I think? Based on this can you run the adventure? Because the other other pages don’t really help much more. At all.


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/300900/OSR-At-the-High-Point-Inn?1892600

Posted in Reviews, The Worst EVAR? | 11 Comments

The Lizardmen of Illzathatch

By Shane Ward
3Toadstools
Labyrinth Lord
Level 3

The green dragon Illzathatch has been dispatched by local heroes “The Shields of Atreu”, thus ending his reign of terror across the countryside.  Only one problem remains, the adventuring party left to raid the lair of the dragon, they have not been seen since.

This thirteen page adventure, from 2014,  features a small fourteen room dungeon described in five pages, the rest being advertising, licensing, etc. The map bears little relation to the text, and the encounters a bit sparse. It’s a straightforward dungeon with a few twists but not much that’s memorable.

The dungeon here is pretty straightforward, just a few rooms and just a short description for each, about four per page. The encounters tend toward being interactive, more so than combat anyway. A dwarf drinking, who’s actually someone else. Bandits and lizardmen fighting each other. Other lizardmen, no longer slaves of the slain dragon, gaming and drinking. These are highlights of the adventures; little encounters that are more than just a monster or a trap that springs. This is a strength of the adventure: the encounters, the monster ones anyway, are generally not just hacks.Except when they are, like a giant snake that barely fits in a room that has a chest in it. Obviously a hack, and not much player choice in that, since the party don’t see the chest AND snake. Seeing the chest and CHOOSING to fight the snake to get it is a much different affair than opening a door and having a snake attack the party … and then finding a chest.  Does everyone understand why? In the first case it’s a player choice. The chest is the temptation, the bait, to get the party to engage with someone they know they should not. In the second it’s a “It Attacks when you open the door” case, with the chest then treasure. The first requires a layer choice while the second does not. Certainly, not every encounter needs to involve choice like this, but player choice and interactivity are SUPPOSED to be a hallmark of our hobby. Can anyone argue, without resorting to corner cases, that’s not true?

The map is simple, and a mess. While it has same-level stairs and tunnels that run under/over some of the rooms and hallways (great additions to a map that use it leverage even more interactivity and mystery out of a DM tool) it also bears little relation to the text. Some of the text refers to rooms having doors. Some of the text does not. None of the rooms on the map have doors. The room text describes each room; this room is 20×30, for example. Except on the map it’s not 20×30 it is instead 50×60. Weird features on the map are not explained, hallways that go nowhere or look to go elsewhere. 

There a bit too much emphasis on GotCha! Traps. A trap in the middle of the hallway, tis happens several time. Or, you’re walking down the hallway and the DM asks for magic saves from everyone. First, these arbitrary traps create paranoid players. Instead of playing the game they are busy trying to not get fucked over by the DM. They search every 10 square for a trap, for example. D&D becomes a slow grind instead of being full of wonder. The traps have little in the way telegraphing them, nothing in most cases. Thus it’s completely arbitrary.  Arbitrary is seldom good, especially at this level. Little clues like mentioning dust, cracks on the walls, blood, etc, are a way to the DM to drop hints that are then expanded upon if the party follows up with more examination. Otherwise it’s the old “Yup, you all missed your save, you were disintegrated when you entered the empty room. New characters!” There might be some role for this as the party gets to higher levels and they should be using their spells and research to find out more about the dungeon, but at lower levels especially you might as well just roll a d6 at the start of each adventure for each character and on a one or two they just die. ITS THE SAME THING. It’s arbitrary. It doesn’t matter if it’s a trap they can’t see/don’t have a chance of detecting or a BLATANT roll by the DM, abstracted. Both are equally bad. If you roll a save you detect a strong odor. How about instead the DM somehow mentions an odor that, if followed up on, is chlorine? Interactivity vs arbitrary.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of … $0! The preview is five pages and shows you most of the rooms, so good preview from that standpoint. Note the writing style and in particular the disconnect between the map and the text. 


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/140087/The-Lizardmen-of-Illzathatch?1892600

Posted in Reviews | 4 Comments

(5e) Voice in the Machine

By Will Doyle
Self Published
5e 
Level 2

The brokers of Salvation pay good coin for artifacts scavenged from the haunted battlefields of the Mournland. In this nest of cutthroats, daring explorers gather to carve their destinies from the ruins of Cyre. The adventurers head deep into the Mournland to rescue a missing salvage team. In the heat of battle, they unearth a strange device from the ruins: the Oracle of War. This machine knows all the secrets they need to overcome their enemies—if only the adventurers can figure out how to operate it!

This 32 page adventure has the party exploring an old marketplace to rescue another salvage crew. The big payoff, half the adventure, is a handwaved open tactics sandbox. Poorly implemented, as usual, and as usual, you can see where it WANTED to go and those ideas are quite good. I look forward to the day they actually deliver. If it ever comes.

Right off, let me say that this series as won me over to the Eberron setting. I don’t think I ever understood it before but now I see promise. A STALKER (or Stalker) like experience in a post-apoc setting. These are all things that speak to my soul. There’s been this little newspaper handout in each adventure thus far that has some colorful little things in it, adds for leaving your will to the war orphans, notes that the last group to explore was drown in a pool of living mercury … the whole series has these little things it drops in that adds a lot of brief color. It’s doing some other interesting things as well, like placing good effects from mournlands travel hazards in a table with bad effects also. I’m a big fan of mixing in good effects with bad ones on choices the players make: how else will they ever  be convinced to eat the glowing tree fruit if ALL glowing tree fruit fucks them up? It’s mis-implemented here, on a table of “what happens if you fail your survival check”, but, still, their hearts are in the right places.

Speaking of, the thing has a lot of ok ideas that are mis-implemented. It REALLY like to abstract descriptions. “In here, the town’s brokers do business from behind armored counters.” Well, that’s fucking boring. This was a perfect opportunity to describe a Thunderdome like weapons check, or something else, and instead it’s all “behind armoured counters.” B O R I N G. Because it’s an abstracted description. Specificity is the soul of narrative. Instead we get words wasted on “The Salvage Market is a dirt-floored warehouse built from scorched wood planks scavenged from the Mournland. The room reeks of dust, sweat, and oil.” Dirt floored? Great. Scorched wood? Great. Dust, sweat, oil? Great (I maybe would have thrown in “sweltering” also) “scavenged from the Mournland”? Who gives a fuck?Do they have twisted faces and scream? Otherwise who cares? Better to stick in a couple of more words and/ore rewrite the last sentence to describe someone behind an armoured counter. Now, I’m being pretty specific in this one example but the adventure does this abstraction over and over again. “Leaving Salvation, you’re soon swallowed by the fogbanks that encircle the ruined nation of Cyre.” I thought it had a bunch of faces that were screaming and buildings collapsing and other freaky deaky shit? “Fogbank” ain’t that. The writing does this over and over and over again, taking an idea that should be cool and then abstracting it to boring placeholder drivil. 

You travel eighty boring miles in to find the other crew (proving once again why adventurers never have love interests, family, or friends: the DM will use them against you.) Once again THE FANTASTIC is reduced to boring. Once there you see a marketplace where the other crew was and you explore it. You find the crew, they are under siege by a raiding force … and then the raiders allies show up. The party is supposed to use the marketplace things they’ve found/been informed of against the LARGE raider force in order to escape with the other crew.

I have about ten thousand VERY valid critiques of this, the main part of the adventure. 

The map is linear. It’s unclear if it’s buried or not? Or what the roof situation is? This is important because the party will face a VERY large number of raiders and be given advice on how to deal with them, using elements found in the marketplace. But how do you GET to those elements in a linear map? And who the fuck doesn’t use rooftops to travel when you can? What’s interesting is that the adventure DOES provide some DM guidance on several points, like using mending on a torn and faded map that is found. But on other topics, like the roof, and others, its as if there WAS no playtest feedback. How many raiders spill out when they all show up? A dozen? A hundred? This is an obvious question and is left for the DM to dig through to discover. If you have to take notes, or highlights, then the adventure was not written well.

A lookout hides in place and tries to get to their buddies if he sees the party … but there’s no way (linear, remember) for them to do this without the party seeing. An elf hologram has it’s “stuck in a loop” saying related as “stuck in a loop”, destroying the joy by summarizing a conclusion rather than letting the players do so. The marketplace encounters are all a little samey-samey, with animated brooms, animated armor, animated rugs, animated … you get the idea. (And, maintenance bots in the shape of brooms? Unless these are Mickey references I think you can do better than this. Or a fucking suit of armorfor that matter. THEME the monsters. Trashbots, use stats of animated broom, for example. Mannequin, as animated armor, for example. That’s what you’re being paid for, after all. To add color.) 

The last section of the adventure, where the massive raider force shows up, is terrible. It takes up, like a page of text, if you delete the unique magic item (that gives the party advice on how to use the marketplace.) No advice to the DM on how to run this part, which should take up half the time. The most complex part. Where are the raiders. What are they doing. How does the linear map and advice mesh together with the raiders. Where’s the fucking giant hole they smashed in to the wall?  The idea here, using the marketplace against the raiders, is a good one. The cat and mouse, the hidden goals of finding other missing scavengers, roaming raiders. It’s a classic trope. But instead the adventure is padded out with useless repetition and padded entries instead of helping the DM run the more complex part of it. 

STOP FUCKING ABSTRACTING THE THE FUCKING SPECIFICS!! YOU ARE DESTROYING THE FAVOR AND TURNING THE FANTASTIC IN TO THE BORING!!

This is $5 at DMSGuild. The preview is four pages. It is completely fucking worthless, showing you nothing of what you are buying. It’s all just Adventurers League padding. The preview needs to show us something of what we’re actually buying. An encounter, the encounter writing styles, etc.


https://www.dmsguild.com/product/299680/EB02-Voice-in-the-Machine?1892600

Posted in 5e, Adventurers League, Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 4 Comments

Castle Xyntillan review

By Gabor Lux
E.M.D.T.
S&W
Levels 1-6

The immense, rambling complex of Castle Xyntillan has stood in its mountain valley for many years. Built over several generations, it has now been deserted by its former owners, and left to time and the elements. However, that is not the end of the story, for Xyntillan’s fabulous treasures and Machiavellian deathtraps continue to fascinate the fortune-seekers of a dozen lands – and never mind the ghost stories!

Non. Fucking. Stop. Buy more. 

Buy more now. Buy more, and be happy.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree – – Legendary was the Xanadu where Kubla Khan decreed his stately pleasure dome. Today, almost as legendary is Florida’s Xyntillan, world’s largest private pleasure ground. Here, on the mountain valley, a private mountain was commissioned and successfully built. One hundred thousand trees, twenty thousand tons of marble are the ingredients of Xyntillan’s mountain. Contents of Xyntillan’s palace: paintings, pictures, statues, the very stones of many another palace. A collection of everything. So big it can never be catalogued or appraised. Enough for ten museums – the loot of the world. Xyntillan’s livestock: the fowl of the air, the fish of the sea, the beast of the field and jungle. Two of each, the biggest private zoo since Noah. Like the Pharaohs, Xyntillans’s landlords leaves many stones to mark his grave. Since the pyramids, Xyntillan is the costliest monument a man has built to himself…

This 132 page hardback adventure, an homage to Tegal, I don’t know know, fuck it, 350 rooms? In a castle, mansion, just like Tegal. Full of family members, paintings on the walls, a map reminiscent of Tegal … it shows what good writing and design actually ARE. Magnificent in its achievements, Charles Dexter Lux has created something very rare and wonderful. 

Sometimes publishers will respin a classic. They will rewrite Borderlands, or create new levels or caves or areas for it. They will update a classic adventure for fifth edition, or third, or whatever. I always look forward to these. And they all suck, disappointing me to no end. Inevitably the update is to add A LOT more words to existing entries and pad them out with trivia, what the butler ate for supper two weeks ago and the exhaustive contents of the kitchen cabinets. Maybe three paragraphs of tactics for some encounter. 

Xyntillan is not that. Xyntillan is the real deal. 

A respin of the Tegal Manor concept, it takes a sprawling manor home filled with the crazy Tegal/Amber family members that occupy it, as well as their paintings. Tegal fell in to the minimal keying side of the genre, just a step beyond “only a monster listing.” Xyntillan takes inspiration from Tegal and then expands the text to EXACTLY THE RIGHT AMOUNT. Both have a certain OD&D charm to the encounters, with Tegal being so because of the minimalism and Xyntillan having it because Melan understands adventure design and his soul evidently not (yet?) having been crushed by modern life. 

The encounters are reminiscent of Tegal, but not one for one respins. Tegal has a room where a screaming woman runs across a room every four turns. That’s the extent of the entry. Xyntillan has a room where a screaming mortally wounded woman in white runs across the room (33% chance), stumbling before she reaches the NW corner. And this is after a two sentence description of the potting room. And before a few sentences describing what happens when you dig in the NW corner. Evocative of, but expanded to the correct degree.

Expanded to the correct degree? Indeed. We’re looking for an encounter description that inspires the DM, the implants a seed idea in their head that will grow and allow the DM to fully visualize the room and riff on it as they describe and run it for their players. Writing that inspires the DM to greatness. And, writing that does it in a split second. And I mean a second. The DM glances down at the page, takes a second to read the entry, look up and runs the room. A second. Maybe two. The DM’s job is not reading the adventure at the table, it’s interacting with the players. The DM glances at and scans a room entry and then runs it. While the players are fumbling about with that to do, etc, the DM is glancing/scanning a bit more, in another couple of seconds. Not minutes. Not 30 seconds. A few, less than five or so. (I should time this one day …) So the job of the text is to give the DM the mental picture that inspires them to run a magnificent encounter and to do it in mere seconds. Evocative and terse, is generally the technique. 

And Gabor Lux does it magnificently. The text is the correct length. You get the overview of the room. Then you get indents and bullets to highlight important aspects of the room that the players may follow up on. The rooms have titles to orient the DM. Monster stats are brief and at the end of the room for easy reference during play, almost Ready Ref sheet style. (Although, perhaps not quite as stark as the Ref sheets, thankfully.) It’s cross-referenced, so if there’s a quest, or an object of a quest, for example, it tells you where to find more information. Bolding is used appropriately to highlight important features and call the DM’s attention to them, sometimes with further follow up text again, indented, bulleted.) The text manages around eight or so entries to the page, with wide margins, with the generous formatting contributing immensely to usability by the DM at the table. 

Encounters are wonderful. Skeleton guardsmen sing and tall tall tales in their barracks. The kitchen knives fly at the party … once. Statues mock the party, or give them a level boost. An unseen hand stays a killing blow, if the party restores a statue. A body buried under a gazebo on a small hill in the center of a pond. A horseshoe in the stables that, if found, gives you a good luck effect. These are things you fucking expect to happen, which make them wonderful. A horseshoe giving luck? Of course it does! That’s what SHOULD happen when you find a horseshoe. Of course the skeleton guardsmen sing and boast. Of course there are phantom steeds in the stables. Duh? WTF? Aren’t we playing D&D? Of course the iron stove in the kitchen closes, biting you in half, if you look inside. It makes PERFECT sense. Tropes are good for a reason and when done right they really shine, acting as cultural clues to the metagaming player. Which is exactly what the fuck they should be doing in order to stay alive in this place. 

Oh, what else? The wanderers are easy to find, in the back of the book. The little town presented as a home base has EXACTLY enough detail to fulfill its purpose. It’s a home base to make forays from. It details a couple of bars, etc to recruit henchmen and stay at to recover. A cleric to heal. Some secret police. Wait, what?! Yes, a couple of subplots in the town. But no more! It concentrates on the details and flavour that are useful IN PLAY. And only the important stuff that inspires, not boring old lists of prices, etc., or Yet Another Description Of a Jovial Barman. The maps are great, Conley does a great job of making something reminiscent of Tegal but much more useful, with little side notes on the maps about webs in the hallways, lighting, sound, refuse on the floors, etc. A perfect tool to assist in both usability and creating an evocative environment. Treasure is magnificent. Ocacular brains in jars, unique magic swords. A whole host of things both mundane and magic to keep the party busy and for them to leverage. Notes on how the family in the castle react to intruders. It’s all great. And presented in pretty much the perfect amount of detail. And monsters? How about “The Blind Beast of Xyntillian.” That’s fucking right! No generic-o “animated statue” crap in this adventure! I got a name baby! New rules./clarifications are present for morale, hiring, fleeing the dungeon … things very pertinent to actual play. It’s perfect.

There’s an occasional miss. Every once in awhile there’s a bit of information that you wish were present. The most notable, for me, is the roof/window/vista-view situation. Only a sucker goes in through the door. A couple of words on the exterior entrance situation, and overview if you would, would have been nice. And, also, a little description of Xyntillian when seen from approach. This is clearly a tie in to the roof/window/door commentary, giving the party notable landmarks to seek out (a dome, etc) and/or holes to poke their heads in to. “Where are the doors?” the party asks. One can intuit a great deal from the maps, especially major border landmarks like doors and side towers, but the dome, interior towers and courtyards are less clear without intense study … the kind I don’t like to do during play. 

But, magnificent! Ye Olde Kente once said that Thracia was the only adventure you ever needed. He was, I think, correct, at least in general. This however IS the only adventure you ever need. You could run a party through this for YEARS, with more than enough information present to riff on. A perfect OD&D product, with whimsy and wonder without going off in to Funhouse territory. I got this last night, stayed up all night reading and re-reading, write this the next morning, and will be adding it to my “No Prep” Dungeonland game tonight. 

This is good. 

This is available at his storefront: for $40 for a Print+PDF copy. $40 is a FUCKING STEAL! G1, at 8 pages, would be $20 in todays cash. $40 for this this is a BARGAIN! But it also costs $22 to ship to the US so, even at $62 it’s a bargain. (Mother fuck! Seriously? $22 to ship it? I don’t doubt this is the actual cost; my own experiences with international shipping have been price gougy also. You can ship a boatload, literally, of stuff from Asia to the US for nothing but the worldwide national post office conspiracy bends you the fuck over and makes you take it!) 

There’s a sample layout on MEGA, if you want a preview: https://mega.nz/#!dwIkXYiJ!4lZA2ar0h5RhKM7n7Z9U0ACJqPkJStmF0wnCB7U8HYQ

But why not go ahead and just buy it? Because you hate quality? Seriously? You’re on the fence about one of the five best adventures ever written? Why, because it’s $60, shipped? I’ve had lunch for one that is more than $60. It’s not worth a lunch to you? Really?

https://emdt.bigcartel.com/product/castle-xyntillan

Gabor Lux also has some philosophical statements about adventuring and how they apply to Xyntillan on his blog. They are useful to understand the concepts behind Xyntillan.

https://beyondfomalhaut.blogspot.com/2019/11/news-castle-xyntillan-announcement-and.html

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, Level 4, Reviews, The Best | 42 Comments

Solar Sanctuary of the Cannibal Corpse

By R.J. Thompson
Appendix N Entertainment
OSE
Levels 1-3

The plague year has been harsh. Countless victims have fallen to this terrible disease. Many commoners with no knowledge of healing have been called to assist the healers as plague doctors, checking on victims and clearing the dead bodies. Yet in this dark time, darker rumors have emerged. In the north country, it is said that those who die of the plague are rising from the grave! Worse, these undead have a taste for human flesh, and seem to spread the disease to those who survive their attacks. Many believe that this new evil marks the place where the plague originated. Do you dare to solve this mystery by entering the Solar Sanctuary of the Cannibal Corpse?

This 44 page adventures features a 23 room dungeon described in twelve pages. It features a Vampire for your Level 1’s to destroy, because nothing means anything anymore. And you get to Save or Die all the time. And it’s full of padding. And is mostly a hack. And is mostly devoid of flavour. And there has to be something better than this as we search for meaning in a world devoid of it. 

Ok, here we go: Village. Bubonic plague. Zombie infestation. Ruined temple nearby. Vampire in it that created the plague. You got the makings of something mighty fine in there! Alas, tis not to be. There’s no real pretext here, you’re in the village, determining that it’s the center of the plague that’s festering in the kingdom. Plus, it seems to have mutated here, creating zombies from the plague victims when they die. It seems, though, to still be a fully functioning village. Any hint of  flavour or local color from it being a plague village or the victim of cannibal zombie attacks is not present at all. It’s just a village. For some reason you to go the ruined temple two hours from town. I’ve looked things over several times and I can’t seem to figure out why the party would learn about or go there. A couple of people know about it, but it’s not clear that they think the plagues comes from there. There’s a rumor or two on the table, but again, not really connected. Just something like “there’s a ruined temple nearby,” In game terms this is probably ok. Like, sledgehammer to the head ok. I mean, everyone knows that’s where to go, but, still, it’s nice to have a pretext for suspension of disbelief. I mean, we could just roll a d6, on a 1-5 you win the adventure and on a 6 you roll again. No, don’t like that? Then perhaps just a few more threads to follow up on in the adventure, please? 

The journey to the temple takes two hours, which of course means two pages for a wandering monster table. For serious? For a 2 hour walk? I get it, they are a staple of adventures, but this seems more like a “just a have an encounter” opportunity. Anyway.

Did I mention the village entries? They are at least 80% worthless trivia. Entry 1, the Stable, tells us a stable boy runs it and then spends multiple paragraphs telling us about the former stable operator and how he is now found in the temple and working for the vampire.  The entries are full of this trivia, hiding the real information that they know about the vampire, the temple, etc. There is the opportunity, though, to acquire a chicken lazer rifle. I kid not. An oracular rooster that shoots sunlight from it’s eyeballs once a day, former rooster of the temple of Helios. It’s dumb as all fuck and I love it! 

Let’s talk plague! Getting bitten by a zombie requires a save or die or you get the plague. Walking through a miasma cloud requires the same. Getting the bubonic plague means you die in 12d6 hours and rise as a zombie. This seems a bit rough to me. Deadly, for sure, and perhaps in a high level adventure I’d be ok with it. But sweet Vecna, you have to give the suckers an even break or they don’t come back to play anymore! 

Ok, so, vampire in the ruined temple. 7HD, full on no joke vampire. Don’t worry, there’s a magic sword called Lightbringer, that’s also in there! It can create Light three times a day. It also has the Undead Bane ability that is described as “acts as a normal sword against all living foes.” Well, yes, that’s what all swords do, right? And Light doesn’t impact vampires … it’s Sunlight … or am I wrong in OSE? Whatever, fuck it, there’s no time for that anyway, you have to roll a d6 every turn to see where the vampire mvoes to in the dungeon. EVERY. TURN. I have a hard time remembering to roll wandering monsters, and I have a turn tracker to help me …

The writing is ineffective and padded out. “4. Stable Boy’s Quarters: !is simple room contains a small foot locker, a rope bed and a chamber pot. Anything of value is long since gone.”

No, not good enough? How about: “7. Commander’s Quarters: These were the quarters of Commander Auron, who now resides in area 22. !e room contains a bed, a desk, a footlocker and a #replace on the northern wall. There is nothing useful to be found in the room, save a …” All of that text to tell us nothing at all. Joy. 

Monsters are, of course, listed in the appendix. Yeah! And they have both too little and too much formatting. Bolding abounds, making it quite difficult to look up the different monster entries. Plus, they run over several pages, with little effort to do a proper layout. Guy Fullerton has a series of excellent articles on adventure layout from his blog that are worth reading on this subject. 

It does have mobs of floating heads that attack you, so, that’s pretty cool. And the core concept? Great as well. It’s just the wrong level, has no detail to speak of to bring the place to life, has too much padding text and too much trivia embedded in it.

Save yourself. Take up knitting. Or write down the numbers of passing trains. There will be more joy.

This is $6 at DriveThru. There’s no preview because, why would there be?

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/298003/Solar-Sanctuary-of-the-Cannibal-Corpse?1892600

Posted in Reviews | 7 Comments

(5e) The Color of Chaos

By Spencer Crittenden
Self-Published
5e
Level 2

What power lies behind the mischievous colored constructs marauding the Prang Manor? Find out in this colorful and unique single session adventure module that can be run on its own or added to an ongoing campaign! 

This 28 page adventure takes place in a thirteen room manor home. Two-dimensional crayon monsters are attacking people, traced back to the manor. Decent organization and descriptions are high points, while the tone is going to be the hardest thing to overcome. 

So, right off the bat we have this statement in the adventure from the designer: “… Is meant to bring some light fun without completely upturning the fantasy and suspended disbelief of D&D.” And that is the core issue of the adventure. The adventure revolves around a 2 year old kid who has found some magic crayons. Thus we get scribble monsters in crayon, two-dimensional, and other challenges like drawn gold coins, colored in doorways, crayon-drawn watermelon bombs and the like. Your ability to enjoy this adventure is going to directly relate to your ability to handle those elements and handle something on the silly side on your D&D game. This is too much for me, but maybe you’re different. I will note, however, that the adventure description on DM’s Guild could be more up front on these points. As in: it does not mention them in any way, shape or form. Expectations are everything and if you go in expecting a “normal” adventure only to find this silly one, well, you’re not likely to be a happy consumer. This, ultimately, was the problem with the Great Betrayer: WG7. 

Beyond two-dimensional crayon-monsters drawn by a two year old, there is also the “magical world” tone. The kids parents are stuffy pants arts lovers who ignore and pamper him and have a set of Nystuls Magical Crayons in the attic. (Hmmm, found, perhaps, in the still yet to be delivered Infinite Dungeon … not written by Mike?) There is a Wand of Scrubbing hanging in the kitchen that refreshes three charges a day and is kind of like a magic eraser. Sovereign Glue. EVerything oriented around this kind of setting where magic is common and you use +! Toothpicks at dinner that are then thrown away down your Sphere of Annihilation garbage disposal. Again, another niche setting to contend with. 

Many things I normally take issue with in an adventure are NOT present. Information NPC’s can relate to the party is given in bullet point format, making it easy to find and relate. Monsters have an emphasis on their descriptions, and the descriptions that matter to the party, instead of backstories that will not come up during play. Encounters are well constructed with several elements. One room has statues in it and short rules for shoving them over … and monsters behind them to shove them over on the characters. The manor home gets a short little overview, something for the DM to relate to the party to give them a glimpse of the manor “as a whole” to get them oriented to it and where they should begin investigations. This is a kind of “I’m standing on a hill looking down on a manor, what do I see?” sort of thing that more adventures could do more with. Rooms have hints in descriptions, with one standing out as having black cracks in the walls … which of course have some kind of trap in them. 

There’s also a decent progression in room descriptions, from a general overview for the DM to bolded sections that expand on the information given. THis is a good organization technique, putting what the DM needs first in the first section of txt and making it easy to find follow-up information.

Treasure is pretty good, from the magic crayons (The entire box of which may be overpowered for level two’s) to a magic stirring ladle to a masterwork greatsword with an adamantium hilt like an orchid. There’s an emphasis on the non-standard, on descriptions of effects (like the ladle) instead of mechanics, and in making mundane items, to be looted, in to something that the party may actually keep instead of just selling. Not the best implementation but definitely better than most adventures. 

Interactivity tends to combat and a couple of puzzle/riddles. That could be better, although the encounters are decent and layered. The first is with a candyman who is trying to run away with a gnome merchant. He has some buddies. He can throw a watermelon bomb. Appearing out of the bomb is a tiny man holding a knife and flintlock pistol. When’s the last time an adventure encounter had that many layers? 

There’s also some other issues, beyond tone. Some of the background imagery in the PDF is yellow, which makes the text hard to read. There’s also a time or two where things are missing from the general room overviews. A monster here and in one place the parlor furnishings and and an old chest that comes from out of nowhere. So, a lack of consistency, but these seem like infrequent mistakes, more akin to typos than a fundamental lack of understanding in how to write an adventure. Some of the read-alouds get long and the DM text DOES get long in places. Manageable, though, because so much of it can be ignored, and, as I said, the progression from general to specific and bolding helps organize it.

There’s a reason for this. Spencer, the designer, has a following. I know him from the animated HarmonQuest Tv series, but I take it there was a progenitor series as well, maybe podcasts or youtubes or something? You can think of these as Actual Plays, in the vein of the others like Critical Role, etc. Thus he is bringing to the market a whole slew of people who genuinely have NOT played before and ARE noobs. I’m a bit more tolerant in this situation of text aimed at a new DM, much more so than an esoteric OSR title that will not be seen beyond a few diehards. Still, there are better ways to accomplish the goal of orienting completely new players/DM’s while retaining a format that is easy for them to run. No one needs to be told, on something like eight separate occasions, that the kids parents are wealthy dilettante aristo’s. 

Spencer has one title to his name: this one. Either he is the greatest natural adventure writer ever born or there is an uncredited editor attached. And even if that’s so it’s much better than I would expect even WITH an editor attached. The tonal issue and the longish text put this on the edge of No Regerts. But … if you were looking for a light-hearted one-shot? Absolutely, I’d run this. 

This is $6 at DMsGuild. The preview is six pages. It shows you the bullet point NPC data overviews, the intro read-aloud that I think is a bit long, the longish DM’s text, and the first encounter with the candyman and the watermelon bomb, etc, a couple of room entries, including the statue encounter, and some art that is evocative of the monsters encountered. As such it’s a GREAT preview in that it shows you EXACTLY what to expect from your purchase. More designers/publishers could follow Spencer’s lead.


https://www.dmsguild.com/product/296456/Color-of-Chaos?1892600

Posted in 5e, Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 3 Comments

It’s Gnoll Time!

by Megan Irving
Self Published
For every game system ever
Level ?

Deep in the forest is a village that has been destroyed by gnolls. Gnolls are corrupted hyena monsters that crave innocent flesh. They eat anyone in their way and spread across the land like a plague, corrupting more hyenas and creating more gnolls as they go. The only way to stop them is to track them down and kill them all. This is your quest.

This twenty page adventure, in zine digest format, details a forest region plagued by a gnoll war band. It has some interesting writing and items and is trying to be a kind of loose framework for an adventure. Alas it was a little too unstructured for me to figure out … which was exacerbated by the issue I had figuring out the order the pages were supposed to be in(!)

Let’s imagine a forest. There’s a smoking ruin of a village in the middle of it. There are locations in the forest (maybe?) and some NPC’s to run in to. Thus the adventure is intended to be a a kind of investigation in to the ruined village (I guess?) and a then some travel in the forest meeting people and, eventually, dealing with the gnolls.

Each page of the digest represents one “idea”/location/NPC. There’s a short little intro text, that reads like read-aloud (IN FUCKING ITALICS! DON”T USE FUCKIGN ITALICS FOR LONG BLOCKS OF FUCKING TEXT! IT”S FUCKING HARD TO READ!) There are short and evocative little snippets of text that introduce the place/person to the party. A stench of rotting flesh. Rattling bones, teeth clattering, or a stretched humanoid form made of shadows with a strange rune on its forehead, drifting between trees and strange obelisks … not bad little snippets of text for introducing something new to the players, two or three sentences, full of flavour. What follows is a little background, goals, etc, some “fronts” (more on that later) and then some notes, like where to find them, how to use them, etc.

There’s a random treasure table, with no real treasure set. A magic cloak: the wearer isn’t easily noticeable even when they should stick out like a sore thumb. A golden tiara, might be magical, or just extremely valuable. Someone’s definitely looking for it.  A magical bow and arrow that fire arrows of pure darkness that can punch through anything, but can only be fired on a moonless night. That’s some fucking PHAT L00T! The magic retains its wonder. 

The NPC’s have goals. The “fronts” for various entries appear to be a kind of timeline of events for them, a progression as they further their own goals while the party is fucking about.

At this point things start to break down.

I will admit that I had a hard time comprehending this adventure. It’s a zine thing where you can print if out and fold it to make a booklet, or read the other version provided on the screen. The screen read seemed … like the pages were out of order? And then the zone, when printed, came out backwards and, again, seemed like the pages were out of order? So, heads up, I dug through it but, ultimately, I’ve decided that my confusion is in some part to the type of product being presented. 

The designers is, I think, trying to do something relatively new. A zine, one page per concept, a kind of framework of an adventure, open ended with the DM to bring themselves but enough structure to provide the grounding needed. That is, I think, the intent. Unrealized.

You can see some of this “looseness” of the framework in the description of that tiera: someone is looking for it. SOMEONE. Likewise the looseness of the loot proper, not given per location but on its own table to fill in the encounters with as they see fit. Further, the random encounters are “a peaceful and beautiful place to rest” or “a feral and aggressive animal that can be calmed and healed with love and kindness.” While these two tables are the extreme, there’s also a kind of looseness, as exemplified by the tables, present in most other areas. Down to the map which is more of a conceptual map, disguised as a real one. In isolation I’m ok with all of these. A conceptual map can be ok. Ideas to sprinkle in the adventure are ok. A little looseness is ok. But when EVERY element is this loose, and combine it with a kind of looseness in the layout/organization of the book itself (which may be my own lack of ability to understand it) then I’m just a confused mess. I can’t figure out how/why/where the graveyard is, in relation to other things, where the gnolls are, where the scavengers are, where the NPC’s are, or anything else. Of everything presented in the adventure the only thing I can truly understand is “The Village” the first/center location, and even then I don’t really understand how it is supposed to work. And the “fronts” that are advancing with time? Either the adventure is too short or there are too many or the wanderer chart is too small or … I don’t know. I get the IDEA but I think it’s implemented in a manner that I might call “unrefined” if I were being generous.It doesn’t work.

And that’s is, essentially, my summary of the adventure as a whole. It’ doesn’t work. I can’t really figure out how its supposed to work. (And after 2000+ reviews I’d like to think I have some comprehension in that area …) Mechanical issues with the layout/printing. The front issue. The kind of aggressive abstraction of conceptual encounters and items … would it hurt to say WHO is after the tiera? That would add color. Or the creature that needs love? Why the emphasis on the conceptual instead of the concrete?

I think I can understand what Megan is going after here. And I think I can see the promise in the concept. And the evocative writing and treasure is good. I think it just needs to be a bit more grounded. More specificity. If I understand the intent correctly then I think the goals can still be accomplished while being more specific in wanderers, magic, encounters … maos. EVerything more … comprehensible, without resorting to something like a more traditional format. I look forward to seeing how this format progresses in the future. And “I look forward to …” are not words I write often. It’s interesting as a design idea and needs some further refinement, if I understand what’s being attempted.

This is $5 on DriveThru. There’s no preview. Ouch! Put in a preview, please? And there’s no level given. And it’s listed for every system under the sun from 0e to 5e, include 4e. This is another clue to that … abstracted framework thingy that is being aimed at.


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/299031/Its-Gnoll-Time?1892600

Posted in Reviews | 10 Comments

The Dungeon of Kursh Velgont

By Jonathan Hicks
Farsight Games
S&W
No Level Given. Shame on you!

You and your friends are about to embark on a dangerous yet rewarding adventure into the floating dungeons of Kursh Velgont, a powerful but long-dead wizard. The magical dungeons of the wizard have risen from the ground and toppled the abandoned castle that it used to be part of. Right now it is drifting through the air towards Chalisan, and the undead denizens of the dungeon are falling from the rapidly collapsing hunk of earth and corridors and terrorising decent folk! How has the dungeon risen? What power keeps it aloft, and what damage will it do to the lands? The PCs have been commissioned to get into the floating prison and find out why this is happening, and to try and find a way to stop it before it reaches the town of Chalisan and the evil dead are deposited upon it!

This sixteen page adventure, details a seventeen room dungeon that if floating through the sky, dropping undead and dirt and stuff from it as it floats towards a major town. It’s a conversion from Advanced Fighting Fantasy and shows it. A few neato lines of descriptions are scattered throughout, but that can’t stop the disco: long italics read-aloud, and bad design.

How shall I rail against thee? Let me count the ways … 

This is a conversion from AFF. It shows. This is where I now go on and on about the unique flavour in a game system and how most conversions don’t capture that. Let us take a game like Polaris: Chivalric Tragedy at Utmost North. (AKA: The Harry Clark game containing no Harry Clark.) Sad tragedy marked by failure and people saying “but though are but a warrior …” to fail you. Now, let’s take G1/Steading and stat convert it to Polaris. Is it a Polaris adventure? What if I don’t convert it AT ALL and just call G1 a Polaris adventure? What if G1 had no stats, could I call it a Polaris adventure? What if I took an adventure for a game like Polaris or Lacuna, something with esoteric targeted rules and just said “Yeah, It’s an OSR adventure now” … a game whose entire concept was based around player ingenuity, no forced combats, gold giving you XP. That’s what this is. The designer has little understanding of what makes a D&D adventure and has just stat converted the thing from AFF to S&W. The big loot at the end is 200gp in gems. That’s great, right? Let’s see, split five ways … better to stay home and ambush people in the alley and take THEIR stuff for xp. Being a hero don’t pay, at least in XP. And then there are other things, like falling damage. You can fall from the floating dungeon. You take a d6 damage, even though its very high up. Is that how falling damage works in S&W? I don’t think so. Or, maybe, “high up” means 10 feet from the ground?

Nevermind the abstracted treasure in the form of “200gp in gems”. Nevermind that we’re not told how fucking far offt he ground the dungeon floats. A super basic quality. Something everyone wants to ask, I’m sure, as they approach it. “How long are the ropes hanging down from it? How long must we endure undead attacks while we climb?” Or even “how fast is it travelling?” since that’s a main theme of the adventure. Nope, none of that. It’s all fucking abstracted. No brave little tailors here. Look, yeah, I can make it up. But that’s not the point. It’s a pattern. It’s a basic lack of understanding of what to include and not include in an adventure.

What should NOT be included? How about column after column of read-aloud? And it’s in italics, making it super hard to read! And it’s full of bad fiction writing! 

“The lands are rife with danger, but there are plenty of rewards for adventurers willing to take the risks and face the evils that threaten to plunge the lands and lives of decent folk into darkness. Most days pass by without incident and people go about their affairs peacefully, but some days are dangerous and can change lives forever.Today is one of those dangerous days.”

Uh huh. That’s the read-aloud?

It goes on and on with the read-aloud. “Which way do you venture?” the read-aloud tells us. Uh huh. Priorities misplaced. And none of that fucking “its for beginners” shit. We don’t fucking pander. Besides, thats just justifying bad writing, there are better ways to present to n00bs. 

So, mountains of read-aloud. Including a big bad monologue. Joy. A room description of a hallway junction that takes a quarter page .. for nothing more than a hallway junction. 

And then there’s just bad design. There’s enforced morality “no matter how many foes the players defeat they should not receive any XP.” No, that’s not how D&D works. That’s how bullshit enforced morality works. “Once you defeat the monster you notice the large key on its belt.” No, that’s bad design. By making the party notice the key in the outset you make it a temptation. The point becomes getting the key rather than just engaging in another fight, which is how it’s written. AFF or no, a fight for the sake of a fight is bad design. “Don’t be too hard on them this early in the adventure, just have one or two skeletons per player attack the party.” No, that’s not how things work. Again, combat for the sake of combat and an ATTEMPT to have a dramatic moment. Those enforced moments SUCK BALLS. Better are the moments that come from the players own attempts. That’s what you’re writing for. 

The writing is muddled, with various elements all knotted up in the same paragraphs making it hard to find information. It’s conversations “don’t tell the players, but in 6 rounds a numbers of skeletons will come to investigate.”

What’s sad here is that there’s some good imagery. Buried in a column of read-aloud is, in the opener., a woman riding up frantically yelling “Have you seen it?! Have you seen the dungeon?!” That’s a good opened. The lower parts of the ropes leading up to the floating dungeon are slick with blood. Skeleton heads have an inner green glow. There are bloody handprints on doors. That’s all greta. It’s just too little, too far in between, and buried under mountains of useless text and bad design.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages. You don’t get any dungeon rooms, which is bad, but the last two pages DO show you almost two full pages of read-aloud. That’s a pretty good indication of whats to come. Also, THERE’S NO FUCKING LEVEL RANGE GIVEN. *sigh*


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/299081/The-Dungeon-Of-Kursh-Velgont?1892600

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