(5e) Harrowing Heights

Daniel McDonald, Sam McDonald, Pete Pinner
DeepDark Designs
5e
Levels 1-3

A level 1-5 adventure module for 3-5 players and a game master that pitches the PCs against kobolds and drakes, with strong nordic-themes and a focus on overland travel.

More crap. I thought this one would be different. Five reviews. All five stars. A closer look reveals that all of the reviews are long and sing the praises of the product, list cons, and still give it five stars. Treachery?

It would match the other puffery. You’re partaking on a Grand Journey! Best of all the adventure is lovingly illustrated with art and cartography! No, that’s not best of all. This is 114 pages. Five or so scenes and a couple of overland journeys. How does it accomplish this? By perhaps the worst cases of hand holding I’ve ever seen.

NOTHING in this thing is simple. If you simply cut out all of the regional and cultural information (the vikings tolerate all religions and treat everyone as equals. Oh, my, that’s unusual. Never saw that coming. So, it’s a bunch of humans that wear furs and act just like every other D&D culture?) then you’d still be left with about fifty pages and about five scenes and a couple of overland journeys.

Hand holding. Conversational text. There’s SO fucking much of it. SO much that I can barely make heads or tails of the actual encounters. “The kobolds occupy the spaces indicated on the map, split their numbers however you like.” On and on and on it goes. The fucking thing can’t take a sentence to say something, it has to take a fucking paragraph.

At one point the jarl is presented as an NPC with a section on how to roleplay him. He’s a concerned father … so we need an extra couple of sentences to tell us what that heading means. He’s authoritarian, not draconian. So we need another two or three sentences to tell us what that means. It’s fucking stupid to the extreme how much this thing drags on.

Oh No, jalrs daughter hasn’t arrived! Go look at the ambush scene and fight some kobolds. Go back to town and talk to the Jarl. Wilderness journey to druid who knows where the kobold live. Kobolds destroyed a bridge, so talk to a nearby cartoony eccentric wizard. Talk/kill kobolds at their giant village and talk/kill the old lady behind it all.

You get to prove your worthiness to the druid before he helps you. Isn’t that original? Proving your worthiness. I mean, every shitty adventure on the face of the earth does this, so why not this one also?

The read-aloud is long, of course it is, and it tells you how you feel, because of course it does. “There’s a sinking feeling in your gut …”

If you kill the jarls guards at the viking settlement then you are recognized as brave and loyal men and not charged. Wereguild? No.

You see, the designer has a plot he wants to force down your fucking throat. Getting arrested isn’t in that plot so it doesn’t happen. Capture a kobold? Guess what, he doesn’t know where his lair is … because that would eliminate a couple of scenes to the adventure and we just can’t have that happening can we? And the viking theming is just pasted on in the loosest way possible, so no cultural stuff included. Just get on the railroad, do what your told while playing with your phones, and wait until four hours have passed so you can go home.

Unless you’re the DM. In which case you get to wade through all of this shitty shitty text. It fucking holds your hand in the text in every way imaginable, using the loosest of all conversational styles, but then says things like “there’s a 5% chance he possess a magic item.” or Suggestion- Put some debris on the map as difficult terrain to represent the looted wagon contents. Fucking really? Seriously? You can’t even set the fucking scene or rewards up for us? You can give us multiple sentences of backstory and explanation justifying everything that happens in every part of this adventure, but not that?  You know, of course, that the backstory is fucking useless and just gets in the way of the details that we need to run the adventure? That the loose conversational style is a disaster at the table, while you’re looking at the book trying to run the adventure?

“An Incentive. Depending on their motivations and personality traits, the PCs might already be moved by Dalla’s plight. Either way, Orm is prepared to offer them a tremendous reward for going above and beyond the call of duty.”

There is absolutely no understanding displayed AT ALL about what an adventure is or is meant to do or how it should. Or maybe there is and they just selected to do the opposite at every possible decision point.

Bad Adventure Design. Bad Adventure Formatting. Full of puffery. In retrospect, I should have known from the 5-star reviews. Why do people put up with this shit? Are there no standards at all left? “I tried” is worth five stars? I guess this is what people want. Paying $10 for a PDF that has almost no adventure in it and is padded out? I want to think that people just don’t know what good design is. That the consumer doesn’t so, so they put up with this garbage. That the designers don’t know and thus keeping churning out this same stuff over and over again.

This garbage is $10.50 at DriveThru.  The preview is eight pages and shows you nothing of the actual adventure, just the background garbage.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/210760/Legendary-Adventures–Harrowing-Heights?1892600

Posted in 5e, Reviews | 14 Comments

(5e) The Tale of the Haunted Ravine

By Josh Dixon
Skullbox Games
5e
Level ... ?

Wild necrotic magic, magical mutations, undead, lost souls, and demons all cloaked in a fog fog-choked landscape; forsaken by the gods and scarred by the battle fought here long ago. Will your adventurers survive and escape the Haunted Ravine? Or will they join the legions of cursed souls imprisoned in this corrupted land?

This 46 page adventure details a hexcrawl/point crawl in a haunted ravine with about 12 fixed encounters. Great imagery abounds, but it’s ruined by the simplistic combat/skill check attitude. It’s tries hard but lacks any but the most basic understanding of an adventure RPG.

I’m reviewing this today because it says its system neutral with few mechanics. Turns out that means “I’m 5e through and through but not using stat blocks.” Given the reliance on skill checks this is probably only a 5e/Pathfinder adventure. It also lacks a level range, which is weird given it DOES actually have specific 5e monsters listed, from Ghosts to Bodaks (so, probably level 1 … says the man disillusioned by 5e turning “big” monsters in to level 1 foes.) Anyway, I’m tricked in to buying it, which is never a good thing. Uncool start.

But, lets talks how good the imagery is before I start to rip on this. One o f the three Bryce pillars is evocative writing, and this has that. I want strong writing that creates a mental image for the DM that they can then translate to the players. This is, I think, one of the hardest parts of writing an adventure. You have to get the idea out of your head, down on paper, and in to the DM’s head in such as way that they can transmit the vibe to the party. This manages that quite well.

A ravine, full of dense fog. Necrotic energies making weird lighting effects making it hard to discern day from night. You can never get warm enough, a deep chill staying with you even when next to the fire. That’s a pretty decent vibe. It takes a paragraph in the adventure, which is not great, but the vibe is a good one. There are strange things that can happen to you in the fog. Like worms crawling and wiggling OUT of your face. Your hail falling out. Vomiting blood with little slug like creatures wiggling around in it. A tooth that falls out. Tears of blood welling up in your eyes every time you feel stressed or emotional. And on it goes. This shit is CREEP.

This kind of writing extends to most of the twelve fixed encounters. Steep black cliffs, the smell of decay, a low continuous moan of a wind, wind & snow swirling around a foreboding figure on spectral horseback at the entrance to the ravine … “Turn away. Turn back now. Only death await you here. All who pass these gates of the damned never return to the living. Turn back now before it is too late.” Luminous green glow drifts off of him like smoke. Dented armor and ragged cloak hang, with a grinning skull peering out from a rusted helm. A skeletal beast of a horse wrapped in shadows, the wounds it took in life showing up as gap in the darkness leaking luminous green glow drifting off like smoke.

Yeah, pretty fucking good. I’d be shitting myself if I were a player.

The problems, though, are many. The writing is in paragraph form, making it hard to pick things out of of. There’s little in the way of bolding, highlighting, whitespace, etc to call the DM’s attention to certain areas of the text. This forces a long read of the text in order to run the encounter. Inevitably, this results in the DM having to do it themselves with their own highlighter, and if you have to do that then why didn’t the designer do it for you or write/format it better in the first place? Maybe because they don’t recognize the problem since they wrote it? That’s my usual guess in these situations.

There’s also a question of motivation. Why would you enter here in the first place? It’s suggested that the ravine blocks the only path between point A and B that the characters need to travel from/to. Ok, sure, I guess so. That’s pretty weak. There’s little motivation. “Why the fuck are we subjecting ourselves to this? Why didn’t we fly/teleport/take a boat?” And while there’s always “for reasons” as an excuse, that’s pretty poor. A strong element of exploitation, goals, etc, a reason to risk your neck in this place, would have made this far stronger.

There’s also the very simplistic nature of the place. There’s a bunch of backstory but the encounters feel disconnected from each other. There doesn’t seem to be any themes/anything going on other than a bunch of people died here. This IS a background, and some related stuff, and some ghosts with different goals, but it’s all pretty weak and not tied together very well. It’s a pointcrawl with a distressing number of encounters being straight up combat (as per the skeletal horse dude guarding the entrance) or is some kind of skill check. In fact, there’s an entire table of “obstacles” which are nothing more than “something blocks your plath. Each of you make a skill check to bypass it.” In the text this is put as “You reach the edge of a frozen lake that stretches off into the fog as far as you can see. Do you try to cross the thin ice or do you turn back and find a new way?” On top of that there are “weird effects” that can happen to you that are just weird for the sake of weird, bearing no other relation to anything. It’s not constructed. It’s not designed. It doesn’t feel cohesive. Better, I think to have not included the tables and just made the weird & obstacles static but give them a strong relationship to each other. It just leaves a hollow feeling.

Long passages of text. A writing style in a weird CHoose Your Own Adventure voice “What do you do now?” is not really in anything that is read-aloud but exists all over the place in the text. Then there’s the stuff like treasure being weirdly absent, even when present. At one point you find bodies in the cliffside, their skin turned to gold and guts turned to jewels … but then hte value is never mentioned.

Take just that encounter, in a vacuum, and you can see how this is the classic sin of writing an adventure to be EXPERIENCED rather than an adventure to be INTERACTED with. Pointcrawl. Skill-check obstacles. Weird “you” writing style. When a D&D adventure is nothing more than skill checks and combats then we’ve lost something major from the play style.

There’s promise here, in the evocative vignettes, but the deeper design issues and lack of orientation towards play at the table makes it suffer, much.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is two pages long. It shows you a random table of creatures and the first page of the obstacle table. If you squint hard you can extrapolate the “obstacle” writing style to the rest of the adventure, but it would have been far FAR better for the adventure to show an encounter or two, to better gie an ideal of what you are buying.


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/269811/The-Haunted-Ravine?1892600

Posted in 5e, Reviews | 2 Comments

Dire – Tomb of the Fallen

By Rodrigo Flores, Randy Musseau
Roan Studio
System Neutral/"OSR"
Levels 3-5

A desperate ghost, a plea for help, and a forgotten crypt filled with peril and plunder. This is a tale of past conflicts, where blood magic has left a foul and dire aftermath, and time is of the essence.

This 32 page adventure describes a fifteen room linear dungeon. Art & layout heavy, it looks good and is just garbage. Bad descriptions, failed novelist syndrome, linear and annoying, the “adventure” fails because of a lack of understanding of what an adventure should be, from formatting to design. Notable for the map giving me a headache.

Fifteen rooms in 32 pages isn’t QUITE as bad as it sounds, given the art heavy layout. WHile there is the occasional page of text, it’s much more common for art to take a half page or more, leaving but a short paragraph or two on the page. Which doesn’t excuse the product; there’s at least seven pages of intro and I’d say the adventure doesn’t actually start until page fifteen … and ends on page 21ish. We’re  not looking at a content-heavy product here, in spite of the 32 pages.

“Padded” is what I might say if I were polite, and “failed novelist syndrome” if I were being blunt. The first room description contains such gems as “One could feel the passage of time itself upon entering the tomb” and “[the air] which promises to become even more dank as the adventurers move forth.” and then ends with this beauty “This is the threshold to the Tomb of the Fallen; a place of legend, and a place of sorrow. With the entryway on their back, a single dark passage opens up ahead.”

And this ain’t even read-aloud. I get it. We’re trying for something mythic here. To leave impressions. But it’s trying to accomplish that task by loading up on the text. When you load up on the text you’re forcing the DM read the entire room. To stop the game and pause  everyone at the table and read the entire room. And then figure out how to relate it to the party. Room one has three paragraphs of text that don’t actually say much, but the DM must still waste a bunch of time. It’s no wonder there’s so many reports of people playing with their phones; they’re bored!

If this were a book then the passage would be ok. A small chamber carved out of solid rock. Two stone slabs lie in the middle. You feel the passage of time. Moss, grass, weed have crept in where sparse sunlight intrudes. Fresh outside air mixes with the foulness of the chamber.  There, I just used most of the same words the first room did but left out (most) of the garbage “novelist” text. The sense of the place is there. Sunlight streaming in, the last vestiges of the outside giving way to the rock.

I should also note that room one is one of the better room descriptions and most are not that good. There’s A LOT of explaining going on. Embedded backstory and justifications. Room two tells us “The water chamber is a large area that the Gnolls avoid due to the difficulty in getting across and the presence of some form of Water Elemental, that is continuously creating waves along the surface of the aquifer (underground lake).” IE: it adds little to no content to the adventure, instead justifying things and explaining backstory. Some relevant history where the gnolls don’t go in to the room … usually.

“Assuming the PC’s have an adequate source of light, a platform can be seen on the eastern side of the chamber, It’s easy to deduce that a passage extends northwest from there.“  Beyond the fact that this just describes the map, and the usual joke I’d make about quantum platforms, this is a classic example of those an if/then clause writing style. The description is muddying the waters between game play and location description. It lacks any kind of focus, and that’s icing on top of it repeating something that the map shows and needs more explanation. Further, it’s the most basic of information. It’s akin to typing “If the party has a light source then they can see the room floor to the extent their light allows them” in every single room.

The adventure engages in these activities over and over again, providing little in the way of interactivity, beyond gnolls that “being fierce warriors, attack on sight.”

On the subject of “annoying” … there’s an owl that you get to let rob your packs. Food, spell components, odd trinkets. “This is a great way to lighten the adventurers loads and make them more reliant on their surroundings & environment.” Master thieves, they pick pocket as 7th level thieves. If you act aggressive they behave as shriekers, attracting more monsters. If you kill one you get bad luck for d4+3 days. IE: the DM gets to fuck with you and there’s nothing you can do about it. This is bad Bad BAD. This is adversarial play. This is pixies who the DM doesn’t let you deal with. Suck it up and be fucked with and there’s nothing you can do. Uncool.

And on the same subject … the map. I don’t know WHAT is going on with it, but it hurts my head. It’s some kind of isometric thing and I swear to Vecna it’s got some weird Magic Eye thing going on. Every time I look at it it seems like it is upside down and I have to concentrate HARD to make my brain view it with the right perspective.

This is a mega-pass. Little real content and what there is hides.

This is PWYW at DriveThru with a suggested price of $3. There’s no preview.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/272972/DIRE-Tomb-of-the-Fallen?1892600

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(5e) Tides of Blood

Christopher Walz
Self-published
5e
Level 6

Menthias Dolgutha, a Coreanic priest in Mithril, has received a vision of the Silver Bastion, a fortress used by the knightly Order of Silver during the Divine War, rising from the Blood Sea. Searching Mithril’s libraries, the priest discovered the fortress was built before the titan Kadum was defeated and imprisoned at the depths of the sea. The Silver Bastion was overrun with titanspawn as the last remaining knights stayed behind, allowing others to retreat to the mainland. Menthias believes a Coreanic relic, the Brightshield, may still be hidden in the once-lost castle. Will your heroes be able to brave the dangers of the Blood Sea and contend with the Heartseekers of Kadum to wrest control over the powerful relic?

First, some secret shame. I have a Patreon! It’s got free adventures, commentary on adventure design, and random musings about RPG’s, etc. And, it does help me buy adventures to review. It’s at https://www.patreon.com/join/tenfootpole?

This 37 page adventure details a small over-ocean voyage and a ten room fortress. It’s nothing more than garbage combats. Encounter after encounter. Room after room. “Combat!” “Roll for init!” “They attack!” Oh, and the baddies? A cult. Wow. Really. A cult. How original. I wonder how long that took to come up with?

My plan was to check out some NON-Dmsguild content. To see who out there was raging against the dying of the light and jousting against the windmills of corporate licensing agreements. Don’t get off the boat man, don’t get off the boat …

This hunk of junk claims to have content supporting all three pillars of D&D play: social, exploration, and combat. I have no fucking idea what Social and Exploration mean in 5e circles these days, but if one were to take this adventure as canonical, not much. There’s not exploration to speak of, unless “I go in to the next room” means exploration. The social seems limited to … the quest giver? Some generic sailors on a ship you take? It’s all combat. Your quest-giver is interrupted by combat. “There’s bloodtained on the docks!” yeller a commoner. Uh huh. Blood tainted. Because people talk like that. Feels more like a”throw a combat in early” garbage advice being followed.

You sail to an island to follow up on the “a cleric hired us” hook. The DM rolls weather occasionally. “Players can think weather is boring, liven it up” says the adventure. Yes, that’s because simulationist shit is boring. I got four hours this week in between 60 hours of assistant crack-whore trainee work and you’r chukcing “light rain” at me, and taking up a significant page count doing so? Or, maybe, the forced combats twice a day. Once each twelve hours you have an encounter/are attacked on the seas. Joy. That seems like fun. Then you get to the island and have more “fun” fighting room after room of creatures/cultists.

This sort of stuff is soooooooo boring. Combat is boring. Tactics combat is boring. Yes, I know some people like this shit. 40k is thing. Descent & Gloomhaven is a thing (I’m playing Gloomhaven in … 90 minutes from now. Dr. Nick the DOOMSTALKER. And yes, I just spoiled the game.Mayor McDickCheese, aka Nico Crystalhead the Spellweaver was just the first to retire]

Spot distances on the boat are short. Like 30-60 feet. Wasn’t it like 320 yards in 1e/0e? That’s because there is no more Combat as War, it’s all Combat as Sport. God forbid you do anything but use your Encounter powers and roll to hit. Everything on earth sneaks on board your ship as a wandering encounter. You gotta make DC20 insight checks to figure out the evil cleric is evil. Solid silver doors are given no value and not one word about looting them. The adventure is rife with the words “at your discretion you can …” Yeah, no shit. Roleplaying advice for NPC’s is long and  boring, with bonds and ideas and flaws straight out of the book, still generic and boring.

The monsters are all Blood Sea Mutant Killer Whale and Heaker Cultists of titspan Krathas and shit like that. Look at that fucking intro text, that’s supposed to get you excited about the adventure. My eyes are rolling so much I can barely read it.

The entire adventure is nothing but aggressively generic and focused on combat. In an attempt to be non-generic it focuses on “bloodspaned mutants” and other language that is just a different dimension of generic. There’s no details to bring anything to life. There’s nothing visceral. Specificity is avoided. It’s all just generic heroic language.

Next time I’ll try harder to find something not in DMSGuild.

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages long. The last two pages are not TOO far off from showing you what you get in the bulk of the adventure locations.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/262487/Tides-of-Blood?1892600

Posted in 5e, Reviews | 24 Comments

Beneath Dark Elms

By Scott Malthouse
Trollish Delver Games
T&T
Levels 1-3

Ever wish there was yet another vanity RPG forum where you could engage in Book Talk? Now there is!
http://www.tenfootpole.org/forum/index.php

Peachtree Village has a problem. The Horned Witch has taken the daughter of a local woodcutter. Now delvers must venture deep into The Black Crypt Forest to face an array of magical beings, both friends and foes.  Be warned, gentle player – things may not be as they seem. Why are there strange floating eyeballs following you around, for instance?

This twenty page adventure details a forest with fifteen locations. It’s got that T&T charm: a lot of non-standard fantasy mixed with just a little silliness. It’s also focused as all fuck; it’s hard to point to an extraneous word or phrase.

In THX1138 there’s a loudspeaker line in a “store”: “for your convenience, consumption has been standardized.” Fantasy RPG’s can sometimes feel like that, even Dark Sun or Eberron. The OD&D vibe harkens back to a slightly less sanitized vibe, getting closer to the folklore and grittier things. (At least the way I think of it.) And then there’s the Unbalanced Dice adventures, which feel like someone has never read fantasy before, not as gritty and with a little more lightness to it. That’s also how I think of T&T adventures, from Dungeon of the Bear forward. At least the ones that are not outright silly.

This adventure has that. There’s a bridge in the adventure with a pot next to it, asking for honey toll. Not paying it causes the hulking bee troll to appear on the other side. If you give the guy some honey you got from a nymph then he’s ECSTATIC and give you a magic item. Closer to a modern telling of a Grimm tale, a little less dark and light hearted but with a touch of the absurd.

One of the encounters in the forest, the first, is called The Decrepit Outpost. A single-room wooden shack with charred walls and a burned out roof. The air is thick with buzzing flies. A deer carcass lies in the centre of the room, it’s flanks torn off. Dried animal track leave toward a window. That’s the first two paragraphs, the “outside” being the first and the second being the inside/carcass. There’s also a broken desk with five golden arrows in it. They cause undead to explode. There’s a note “please ask me before taking – Helga.” That is the third paragraph. The fourth details the ghost ranger that raps on windows and causes chills. And animated the deer carcass if you don’t ask before taking the arrows. It’s simple. The first three paragraphs are almost verbatim from the adventure, so it’s VERY focused on actual play. It’s interactive. The magic item effects are described non-mechanically. What does “explode” mean? You’r the DM, go figure it he fuck out in actual play!

And it does this, encounter after encounter. The decrepit outpost. The honey bridge. The hermit house. The great web. It’s simple. It’s charming. It’s focused. It’s interactive. It concentrates on actual play.

There’s a witch you’re going after. The town rumors are “she decorates her house with the bones of the children she eats.” and “she dances naked with seven ghouls on a full moon.” and “she disguises herself and walks in the village to spy” and “you can only see her out of the corner of your eye.” And on it goes! They are great! It’s a fucking witch! It’s witch rumors in a hick village!

If I were looking for an introductory adventure for new players I might pick this one. It’s simple, charming, lighthearted, and focused.

It also comes across a bit like a funhouse in the wilderness. It’s a little disconnected, or maybe I mean it moves from encounter to encounter a little too easily and little too … jarringly? It’s a pointcrawl map. You enter the forest. You come across the decrepit outpost. You then hit the bee bridge. It’s feels like a pointcrawl funhouse and doesn’t have the cohesiveness that something like Ursine Dunes had. And I don’t mean funhouse in the way that a challenge dungeon like Sea Kings or Ghost Tower or White Plume does. But, it’s got that disconnected vibe that a set-piece after set-piece can have … even though I wouldn’t really call this set-pieces.

The spider queen has corrosive saliva that burns away one armor item if you don’t save. Holy fuck! Now THATS a fucking spider queen monster! She is as old as the forest, likes to bargain for more exotic food, and always keeps her word. Bam! I know her and can play her. Cordial, charming, and speaking in silky smooth tones.

Nymphs bargain for the parties hair and make a clone amalgamation from it. Grave robbers are looking for buddies to loot a vampire tomb. Reciting “Troll Maiden Troll maiden where art thou and thy wisdom” in a stone circle make the oracle appear.Fairy rings. Man beast cave. The spell tree. The black crypt. And, of course, the witches hut. And the trickster demon of entertainment and his eyeball cameras. It’s world is all heightened, because of the demon of entertainment. Whatever, get sillier at the end, I don’t care. It’s not Zap Paranoia, it’s lighthearted fun for beer & pretzels D&D. AKA: Tunnels & Trolls. The first heartbreaker wanted to be more accessible and to this day still brings the impish fun. DCC does this same sort of thing also, but on the Swords & Sorcery path. Successful because they capture and heighten certain fun aspects of the base game. Maybe not suitable for longer-term play, but certainly enough to have a fuck ton of fun with.

The map have numbers next to the location names, but the adventure text just uses the place names. Bad designer! Ise the numbers also! It makes it easier to find things.

This is good enough I’m going to pick up a couple more of Scott’s adventures and check them out. If he can keep firing like this, especially across genres/systems, then he’s AT LEAST a journeyman is a world of amateurs. At Least.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is a good one, with the last three pages showing you the first three encounters, which are representative of the style you’ll find in the rest.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/270829/Beneath-Dark-Elms?1892600

Posted in Reviews, The Best | 6 Comments

The Crypt of Baron Vraszek

By Kai Putz
Self-Published
LotFP
Levels 2-4

Once again, a quick reminder of the Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/tenfootpole And the Forum: http://www.tenfootpole.org/forum/index.php

This is a place were a bitter vampire has holed up. He prepared for these crypts to be his lair and had the help of an accomplished warlock to secure the place. Many undead minions do his biding, and he is himself a force to be reckoned with.

This seventeen page adventure describes a fourteen room tomb/vampire lair in five pages, with the rest being supporting information. . More creepy than the Strahd adventures, it gets close to some decent historically accurate imagery. And it does this through an unfocused writing style. Classic highlighter fodder.

Yeah, I know, no one cares about the fucking hooks. But _I_ care about the hooks. AT least to the extent that they give the DM a springboard. Most of the hooks, which take up a full page in total, are pretty standard “Get hired by someone” hooks with little to recommend them. One, though, the first, is different. You’re hired to deliver a merchant’s daughter, riding in a wagon, to a cloister, where she is to spend the rest of her life. You hit “the weird village where people hang out garlic and fortify themselves at night” and, sure enough, she goes missing. You need a letter from the Mother Prior, telling the merchant that the girl arrived, in order to get paid. This had got a good Carpathian/middle-ages thing going on, from the escort/girl/cloister thing (and some implication of roleplay with her/plight) to the letter thing. Leveraging all of those villages in Vampire & Werewolf movies helps orient the DM as well. It’s a good example of getting just a LITTLE specific, in certain areas, to then allow the DM to riff and go from there.  

The map tries to be helpful. It notes a collapsed area, as well as an area where the parties light will attract attention from a nearby monster room. It’s going for a creepier theme than most tombs/undead adventures, and it leverages the art to decent effect. “The Hungry Dead” are more zombie like and there’s some decent art of rotting corpses, animated, that helps cement that vibe. Likewise there’s some skeleton guards that the art depicts in heavy cloaks, arrows sticking out. Not exactly Harryhousen skeletons, but a more formidable vibe comes from these dudes, and the art reflects that.  A really good job in tying the art to generate genre vibe, something unusual.

There’s some interesting magic items as well, like a heathen charm to “protect the soul using the journey to the afterlife”. It makes you the LAST person they choose to attack, which is a interesting little effect. AT the expense of 10% more XP to level. Ouch! But can also destroy undead in a funerary rite/place in mouth fashion. It suffers a bit from the description: “an intricate silver amulet on a tiny chain.”  The appeal to the real-world funerary rites, mouth amulets, and heathen fetishes is quite evocative. The description could use a word or two on design. Abstract wire? Intricate implies there’s something going on, but all we know is “amulet.” This sort of thing is not an isolated occurrence.

I can flog this out in to the general text as well. There’s a great vibe going on. The tomb of an old rural Carpathian? Absolutely! Battle murals with a knight in armor, christian imagery, it all comes together to paint an excellent picture of an old world vampire/knight surround by a christian mythos.

But man it makes you fight to get at it. Long sections of small italics have TERRIBLE readability. The room text is rich … and padded the fuck out. “The sourthern wall contains a secret door (to room 5)” [Yes, we know this form the map.] “that will automatically be found by those that inspect it (due to the wide gaps around it)” Nice “wide gaps”, but there’s a better way to get at this than the cumbersome first clause. “When enough force is applied, it will swing in to the corridor behind it.” Which doesn’t really matter in a meaningful way to the adventure at hand. It opens.

Another example: “A Magic-User may salvage some of the present stuff for his or her own laboratory. For this purpose (and only this one), items with a total value of 3d6 x50sp may be looted. Every 5+ rolled equals one additional item slot that will be occupied by this loot. If not the whole of “the useful stuff” is taken along, it will not be useful to the Magic- User at all.”  It’s long and cumbersome text, languidly taking it’s time to get where it’s going.

The mural room I liked so much takes three paragraphs to describe. “The western wall of this angular room shows a mural of a battle scene. It is much more recent than any of the other murals, more simple and less impressive.” That’s all padding. But then it follows: “The scene depicts a knight surrounded by twelve enemy soldiers who are either dead, mortally wounded or desperate in their fight against the seemingly supreme lone knight. The sky is filled with dark clouds, and seven strange and cheerful cherubim with black wings fly above the scene. The knight is the only combatant depicted in full armor, his great helmet features goat horns and a long beard protrudes from under it.” GREAT! And, is you WIS throw, the 12 soldiers are depictions of the apostles [called ‘saints’ by the author. They are a non-native english speaker, but do a great job. At least I think it should be apostles …] while the cherubs are depictions of the seven deadly sins. Nice! While I’m usually off put when adventures engages in non-gameable descriptions, creeping the fuck out of the players is an allowed activity, especially when you’re foreshadowing the villain.

It’s also got a problem with “explaining.” Dude teams up with an evil necromancer warlock, which is used to explain manoy of the tomb effects/objects/reasons. A magic mouth triggers a zombie hoard. That sort of “cause and effect using the rules” stuff that turns D&D in to a magical rube goldberg creation. Bleech! Disembodied voice cackling? Great! Magic mouth initiated? Meh … WHich then triggers something else? Bleech!

Our vampire, proper, is really “stats as a level 5 elf with these spells …” and the ability to teleport. I THOUGHT when looking at the level limit that the 2-3 range, with a vampire, was fucking nuts. But “stats as L5 elf” with a few doilies like “can drink blood” and “takes damage from sunlight”, etc, actually works out ok. I might quibble it’s “less fantastic”, but it solves the stat problem well enough.

So, a kind of quite, historical tomb raid in the historical medieval Capathains, is a good way to vibe on this one. Decent imagery, for a fake “historically accurate” vibe without it slipping in to simulationist territory. It keeps the LotFP genre/vibe well, without engaging in the torture porn that it can sometimes slip in to. I’m not sure I would run it without a highlighter … but your mileage may vary.

This is on DriveThru for $4. The preview is five pages. Page four, at the end, gets you the Convent hook, otherwise there’s nothing much of note in the preview and isn’t do a good job at all of showing you the room encounters/the adventure you are actually purchasing.


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/265243/Gregorius21778-The-Crypt-of-Baron-Vraszek?1892600

Posted in Reviews | 2 Comments

(5e) Falls Keep

By Lloyd Metcalf
Fail Squad Games
5e
Level 3

First, some secret shame. I have a Patreon! It’s got free adventures, commentary on adventure design, and random musings about RPG’s, etc. And, it does help me buy adventures to review. It’s at https://www.patreon.com/join/tenfootpole?

An old keep at the head of nearby falls fills the local tavern with rumors of the past lord of the land, Lord Venwexal. The purpose of his towers is the subject of wild speculation, late night tales, and rumors.  After the lord was removed from power by a revolt, some twisted sorcery took up residence, or so the tales say. The abandoned towers have certainly fallen to the wildlands, and few, if any, survive venturing anywhere near the falls. What is sure is that the stone buildings are not standing empty, and most can agree that some powerful magic is at the heart of the unusual keep.

This twelve page adventure describes a farm and a couple of small towers full of “cursed” people. The usual long read-aloud and DM text is married to their usual bride “it attacks!” Meh.

A couple of towers next to a river. About eleven rooms total between them. On the way to the river you pass a farm, with five locations, that has some cursed chickens running out to attack you, and then a couple of more encounters. It’s trying, but never really gets to where it needs to be.

One of the first locations, at the farm on the way to the tower, is an old well. The read-aloud mentions an old barn nearby, an overturned horse trough, and the well parts dismantled and strewn about. But the DM text then tells us that we MAY (DC 15 pass per) notice blood dripping from the branches of a tree near the well. “Two children of the farm have pulled a farmhand up into the branches and are slowly devouring the the remains.” I call a foul on this encounter, putting a tree dripping blood next to the well but not mentioning it in the readaloud. As written, it rewards a min/max development. Did you get your PER up to 15? No? Then you get surprise attacked! This isn’t D&D. I know, different strokes for different folks and all that shit. CharOp is a bane and should have never been associated with D&D. D&D is a back & forth between the players and the DM. The players digging in to the environment. Mentioning the well next to the tree invites the players to look up in the tree, the non-dumb ones anyway. Player skill is trained and rewarded. Interactivity between the DM and players is reinforced. AND the players get the joy of the “children devouring the remains” imagery.

Which, frankly, could be better. I like the farm children devouring thing, but a word or two about bloody grinning faces, missing jaws, pulling out entrails, etc could have much more reinforced that imagery. The “two children” DM text, above, is one of the stronger sections of the writing, with several other encounters having something close. A dead body leaning up against a door, and so on. In all cases though it comes through muddled and not emphasized or taken beyond a slightly genericism. Just pushing it a little further, rewording a bit, reworking the emphasis, would have turned these encounters in to something much much better. Over and over again this happens.

One encounter has four paragraphs of read-aloud followed by four paragraphs of DM text. I guess there are encounters, somewhere, that could justify this, but not routinely. It detracts from the adventure as a whole. Short. Encourage interactivity. Keep the DM text focused.

And then there’s the usual shit. I’m pretty sure everything in the adventure just attacks. This is boring. As with the children, you don’t get a chance to develop the encounter, or horror. It just turns in to hacking everything down. And if you’re gonna do that then why not just Burn It Down. Seriously, if everything is going to try and kill you then you’re an idiot for exploring, just burn it all. All in all, the occasional death of a kidnapped person is going to be ok when compared to all the good you’ve done in the world by stopping an ancient evil bent on world destruction each and every week.

I would note as well an example of gimping the players. There’s a door that must be opened by living flesh and you have to solve the puzzle lock. No Knock or other magical devices will get you through. IE: the designer wants a player to have his character risk losing a finger or two to get in, while solving the lock puzzle. Uncool. Is Wizzy McWizard prepares Knock for the day instead of Fireball then that should be their decision. Knock opens doors and bypasses this shit. That’s what it’s there for. “But, ma story!” Fuck that noise. Wizzy won’t be fireballing later on, they make a cost/benefit analysis and decided on Knock. (Smart Wizard, IMO.) But to then tell them “Nope, better just prepare combat spells.” is fcuking lame. And to make them lose it at that, when they cast it? Bad design. Bad DM’ing.

Petty Shit: There’s no level mentioned in the description, you have to open up the cover images to determine what level it is. Bad form old chap!

The art, at least one piece, almost works. It shows the falls and the two towers. A little close, with a bit of “down angle” to get the top of the falls might have been a better choice to get the “vibe” of the place. As is, it’s an ok art piece to enhance the adventure, which is rare enough.

This is $4 at DriveThru. There’s no fucking preview. *sigh* Looks like there’s a S&W conversion available also.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/258693/Falls-Keep-5E?1892600

Posted in 5e, Reviews | 11 Comments

House of Illthrix

By David A Hill
Mothshade Concepts
OSR
Level: ?

First, some secret shame. I have a Patreon! It’s got free adventures, commentary on adventure design, and random musings about RPG’s, etc. And, it does help me buy adventures to review. It’s at https://www.patreon.com/join/tenfootpole?

llthrix was an evil genius that liked to kill adventurers. His dungeons and traps earned him a measure of infamy matched by few villains of the age. He’s dead now. But, you’ve found a way to his hidden lair – Illthrix’s own home. A place rumored to contain special trophies and treasures from the long career of the famed trapsmith. Illthrix wouldn’t bother to trap his own house, would he?

This 35 page adventure details the house of a master trap maker and wizard, with about thirty rooms. There’s some nice ideas in this, but it lacks any real keying, has long DM text, and I find the read-aloud off putting and uninspired. Warning: I’m not fond of these “challenge” dungeons.

Some years ago Bob the trap wizard made a bunch of trapped dungeons and invited adventurers to come explore them. The party has found a map to his actual house, so off they go.

The fun starts outside. There’s a tree next to the house and some clouds in the sky. Climbing the tree causes some of the limbs to catapult you to the ground. Also, the clouds can either descend like a cloudkill spell or just solidify and fall on you. That’s cute. When the adventure is good its got that kind of outside the box thinking. When it’s bad it’s got some Bad Grimtooth going on.

In multiple cases doors slam shut behind you and then something bad happens in the room. This happens in the read-aloud. The read-aloud says things like “the door closes behind you with a soft click” or some such. Other read-aloud causes you to click latches on doors, and other things that no sane minded adventurer would do if they knew this was a trap dungeon, or after the second trap in a row had been sprung. This sort of forced player movement is a bane and should not be done.

The traps are sometimes telegraphed. The read-aloud for the clouds notes that they are tinged with green and turquoise. The front door description notes that they are two doors, one with  un motif and one with a moon motif. It is from this that one is expected to know that the sun door is used during the day and the moon door and night, otherwise a fire or cold trap is triggered. Initially, you don’t know it’s a trap. Once you know it’s a trap dungeon then these little trap clues make more sense. I’m still a little … iffy? about them though. On the front doors, for example, my own style is to do something like mention charred grass or a bare patch or something like that. Thus while the trap CAUSE is the focus of these read-alouds I tend to go more with a trap EFFECT in my own DM’ing. In any event, basically anything mentioned in the read-aloud is a trap and just about every room has one.  

The map is hand drawn. I like hand drawn maps. You know what I like more? Legibility. The map is small with words outside the rooms pointing back to the room. Not ideal for quick comprehension. Further, the keying of the dungeon is done via words. So there’s a tiny box on the map and some words outside the map, proper, that say “Study” with a line pointing at the tiny room. Then in the text of the dungeon there’s a section heading called “Study”. No, that would be too simple. It goes further by having the section heading say “Beyond the metal door (study) or something like that. As a reviewer you see a lot of the same stuff over and over again, so seeing novel new ideas is a joy. But the designer can’t lose track, as they did here, of the purpose of the adventure being to help the DM run it. Getting cute with the room names and relying on a non-key to key your dungeon doesn’t do wonders in that category.

The read-aloud tends to be bland, with “small” things in rooms, and other plain adjectives and adverbs. In other cases the read-aloud leads the party down the wrong path, a critical error in a trap dungeon. One room specifically notes the stairs are not slick, although the air is a bit damp. The DM text then notes that the surfaces are damp. I get it, not slick doesn’t mean it’s not damp. But we’re splitting hairs a bit in actual play. Telling the party its not slick is almost certainly going to lead to them thinking “not damp”, which doesn’t help them when the damp ass grey ooze shows up. There’s this thing tha DM’s, and adventures, sometimes do when they want you to say the exact thing. “I check the door over for traps and unusual things” isn’t good enough, because the trap on the hinge and you didn’t say you were checking the hinge and so … This sort of pixel bitching is not cool. There are a few places in the adventure where this happens, like the ooze, but it feels more like it’s from unclear or confusing read-aloud then it is from a deliberate attempt to jerk the players around. In other places the read-aloud leaves out text … in one room there are three homunculus rooting around, but no mention in e read-aloud. Again, not cool.

But, then there’s clouds falling from the sky thing, or the catapult tree, things that new under the sun. There’s also a nice little scene with a will-o-the-wisp that’s “at rest”, looking like a silver dandelion puff. That’s great! When the adventure is doing these sorts of things its firing on target. But then it goes and puts in a long backstory and embeds important information about an NPC in it.

Or it does something like “not putting a level range on the adventure. I still don’t know. 6 Maybe?

Finally, I leave you, gentle readers, with this little snippet from the adventure. It’s been a hard haul to get some treasure, for a GOLD=XP game, and then you come upon this section. I don’t like this. I like my designer to put a lot of the work in. If I wanted to put the work in I’m do my own adventure.

“For treasure, the Referee may include specimens of valuable metal ore, or rough gemstone. Other possibilities include rare antivenins, a variety of large pearls of various sizes and hues (10-800 gp each), curative pastilles or elixirs, valuable pieces of amber (20-500 gp each), and alchemical powders that replicate the magical varieties of “dust.”

This is at DriveThru for $3. The preview is six pages. You can see the hand map on the second to last page and tree/clouds on the last page. None of it really gives a good idea of the actual rooms though, so a poor preview.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/271320/House-of-Illthrix-Adventure-Module?1892600

Posted in Reviews | 14 Comments

The Shrine of Ptatallo

By Jay Libby
Dilly Green Brean Games
Swords & Wizardry
Levels 3-5

Half naked Hobbs, a mystic wizard and a shrine long since abandoned call players in the first Stairs of the Immortal: Swords & Wizardry adventure module The Shrine of Ptatallo!

This 23 page adventure is a linear mess in free verse form. I don’t even know what to call this style anymore. This is just a garbage linear “modern” adventure with the stats converted to S&W.

Look man, I know I can be a caricature of myself at times. Yeah, I have these things I like to say about criticizing the work not the author, giving feedback, writing a review so you can find it useful even if you don’t share my tastes, and then I show my ass by doing Reviews As Performance Art. But jesus H fucking christ man, it FEELS like adventure design is going backwards. My first exposure to the incomprehensible were the Willett/Bloodymage adventures, and it seems like the number of trusly shit-tastic things is getting more and more prevalent.

I went through this spate, in the early days, of reviewing a pile of things that were CLEARLY money grab conversions.  Slap a different game system on the cover and maybe half-ass a couple of stats and release it for thirteen different game systems. Mechanic confusion abounded, idiosyncratic parts of games were ignored (xp=gp, for example) and so on. I developed a strong hatred for the people involved in the money grabs. Sometimes you can see this spill over when I spit out the word “conversion” like it were venom. Perhaps unjustly at times.

Willett and Alfonso were different. Alfonso hadn’t played D&D in like twenty years and was just publishing to get titles under his name so a big publishing house would pick up his novels. Like the money-grabbers, his motives were less love of the game and more something else. Willett seemed like he NEEDED money, but seemed to have a love of the game that he just could not express and get down on paper in a logical way. I have a lot of sympathy for those folks. Getting a vision out of your head and down on paper in a way that makes it easy for someone else to pick up and run with is not a trivial task. And yet thousands of people manage to do it. Emulating, mostly, they get it out and down in a format that looks like it could work. And then there’s things like this adventure.

There’s this trend lately to publish an almost stream of consciousness adventure. An almost novelization. And I don’t mean fiction and I don’t mean the Paizo over-wordy bullshit. Imagine there were no maps and you were telling a story to a friend over a beer and you kept saying “and then we …” and “then I … “ and so on. Rapid fire. No pauses. Almost stream of consciousness but without as much randomness.

This seems to be format that people use when writing adventures. This is now the (fourth?) adventure in about a month or so that I’ve seen use it. I just don’t fucking get it. It’s completely confusing. You have to dig through paragraph after paragraph of data to get ahold of whats going on. The section breaks are few and far between. “The room to the right contains” and “the room to the left contains …” are the extent of the keying. Oh, wait, no, there’s also “the tunnel leads to another room that has a …” sort of thing. What kind of fucking thing is this? It’s like you just described a dungeon, room after room, in one big long section. There are paragraph breaks, but no section breaks to speak of. Some paragraph breaks are new rooms, Some are different things in the same room. How the fuck is this usable in any way? I don’t get where this is coming from but it needs to fucking stop. It’s bad enough that this adventure is completely linear, but this format, on top of it, does nothing but make my life harder at the table. How the fuck are you supposed to use this?

And the adventure is only about six actual pages long, everything else filler, fluff, and monster stats. How about some cash so you can level? Of course not.

Look, you gotta meet me halfway here. I’m happy to review new people. It’s hard as fuck to get any publicity in the DriveThru marketplace. But you need to do a little research and figure out for yourself a modicum of adventure design.

I present to you my new ratings scale, which I promise to promptly forget about as soon as I close my browser:

  • Not An Adventure
  • Stream of Consciousness Adventure
  • Emulating an Adventure format without knowing how it works
  • I know what I’m doing
  • I know what I’m doing and life has not crushed my soul

This is $2.50 at DriveThru. There is no preview.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/271573/SW-Shrine-of-Ptatallo?1892600

Posted in Do Not Buy Ever, Reviews, The Worst EVAR? | 25 Comments

(Pathfinder) The Book of Terniel

By Lucas Curell, Chance Kemp
Embers Design Studio
Pathfinder
Level 1

Four factions struggle for the Book of Terniel, and in the middle of them: you! Choose a side or claim it for yourself.

This is easily one of the best Pathfinder adventures I’ve seen. It MIGHT be worth it to convert to Your Favorite Gaming system, be it 5e or OSR.

This 226 page adventure details the search for a missing book/artifact. Investigation, hex crawling, diplomacy and bluffing are all mixed in to provide what I would call A Real Adventure. There’s a lot going on in this and, while it provides good support information, it doesn’t quite provide enough to orient the DM easily.

An overview: you are in a village, investigate a missing book (with social, searching, and fighting.) It culminates with the party exploring a little mine and then it getting invaded by undead. Part two has the party doing a hexcrawl through a swamp to find the people who hit the mine before they did and who now have the book. Explore the swamp, talk to and kill people, and eventually find the lair of the “giants” who took the book. (Let’s call them “ogres.”) Part two is non-trivial and involves several humanoid village & towns in addition to the usual swamp stuff. Part three has the party in the ogre home, a huge place with multiple factions. Again, multiple social, exploration, and fighting possabilities.

Looking at that page count, I would have expected a lot of garbage detail and very little in the way of adventure. That’s not the case. There’s very little trivia and what there is presents well and doesn’t get in the way. I would have also expected a long appendix, as is usual. That ALSO is not the case. This thing is about 200 pages of actual adventure. At the end of it you are expected to be about level four, after starting at level one. I can EASILY anticipate this thing being the centerpoint of multiple months of gaming. For me that would be about twelve or so sessions. Again, this is the real deal.

Looking at the $10 price I groaned. We’ve been through this before, each of us. You pay $10 and get you a bunch of crap. And yet, I’m fond of saying that I’ll happily pay up to $50 or more for a good adventure. But we go in to this EXPECTING crap, and thus the groan. Such is the marketplace. This is worth it, easily. It does a lot of what the WOTC hardbacks are trying to do and for which only Strahd partially succeeded.

We start with a village, multiple NPC’s with short little descriptions. Several rumor tables. Talking to people yields clues on where to follow up, and maybe a side quest or two. Theoretically, this is what most adventures of this type do, so that description should be boring to you. And yet, this thing is complex. There’s a lot going on. It’s not just one throw off thing, but multiple avenues to follow up on. Likewise the swamp, with multiple areas in to gain clues and multiple paths to follow up on, with minor “quests” floating around also.

It’s able to do this well by organizing itself. Bullet points, white space, indents, colored boxes, bolding. The text is formatted to draw your eye to certain areas. There are summaries of what’s going on, of the different factions and their goals and what they want and what they will do. Oh, Oh! There are two evil factions after the book and you could ALLY with them! Your choice! I know, right?!?!?! The sidebars present extra information, trivia,or mechanically effects like what you find out for a local knowledge roll. There’s no pages of trivia mixed in. It gets in and gets out. Oh,oH! Stat blocks are NOT LONG. I know! Like, ¼ of a COLUMN!    Wtf!?! It’s like these dudes didn’t read the Pathfinder script and are actually thinking for themselves!

Here’s the description for the region the party is in, presented in a sidebar. Ready? “The countryside is quiet and serene, consisting of beautiful meadows and bubbling brooks interrupted here and there by small copses of trees. The journey should leave the PCs refreshed and comfortable.” Terse. Evocative. Provides you the exact information you need, no more, and lets you know exactly how to run the place and relate it to the players. Note how it does NOT drone on and on. That’s usual. Even in the main text the details tend to be terse.

A giant fly is “the size of a boar.” Ouch! I’ve not seen that description before, but it’s relatable. Of a misshaped giant with giant maggots in it’s rolls of fat, tossing them at the party. Visceral, in both example. A quasit has suggested dialog, both imperios or groveling, depending on the situation.There’s loot hidden in strange places with clues about to reward those who take just a little more time to follow up on details. Rewarding good gaming, imagine that!

This thing delivers a rich and complex environment, with the large fonts and varied formatting leading to the larger page count, instead of useless drivel. I could go on an on about how skill checks are used correctly, and so on (if you accept that a game has skill checks, and this being Pathfinder we’ll allow it.)

As is usual and expected, it’s not all good.

Rumors could use a little more “in voice” instead of raw facts. The hooks are terrible and probably would have been better to just not include them instead of the throw-away “guard”, “relative” stuff that is usual for garbage adventures. New magic items are overly sparse (but the few examples are pretty good.)  There are a few other minor things, like bullet point being out of order. (A good example is this cave with prisoners tied up in and two goblins. Neither appear high up in the description and only show later deeper in the bullet summary. Important/Obvious things should come first!) Related, there’s this wizards tower. And in some other place, the NPC descriptions, it relates a nosy neighbor the wizard has. But wouldn’t that have been relevant in the wizard location? To see a nosy neighbor hanging out of a window? Instead you have to remember that there’s a nosy neighbor and go look her up. These sorts of contextual references/cross-references are missing in lots of places in the more free-form play areas.

The major issue is … context? Relevance of information? I don’t know what to call it. This adventure has summaries. It does a great job with formatting, bolding, whitespace, callout boxes, sidebars, etc. (Well, for the most party anyway.) It even provides a kind of Big Picture overview. Of many of the areas/goings on. But it lacks a kind of medium level zoom/summary.

Town has some location descriptions, some NPC descriptions, a “scene” where you have dinner with the quest giver wizard, and so on. It’s even got little sections on how to follow-up, etc, on the various stuff, in places. What it lacks though is an overview of how this all works together. Normally that wouldn’t be an issue, but there’s enough going on in this that I think it’s necessary. Here’s how A relates to B relates to C. Yes, it IS possible to do it inline in the text (G1/Steading) but this adventure ain’t that one. There’s a lot more going on here. How do the various NPC’s and clues and locations interrelate? There’s an orientation missing. Same thing in the swamp for part two and the giant lair/town in part three. While the giants have a nice faction overview, how everything works together is missing and it’s too large/complex to hold in your head without it.

This means a read-through, probably multiple times, and notes and highlighter. Any time I’m REQUIRED to put in work to run the adventure I’m not happy. But this, as a kind of twelve session or so adventure, may be worth it. Individually the locations are ok and pretty easy to understand. I was also able to grok enough of the Whole Situation from the initial overview that I understand how the parts worked together … which helps with comprehension during the read-through which helps during the running of the game. But then in the middle zone, the big picture for the individual parts just wasn’t there.

But … this is easily one of the best, if not the best Pathfinder adventure I’ve seen. It tries hard to orient towards play. It avoids railroads. It’s much more than a hack. I’m having a hard time with the notes thing. If it weren’t for that I’d slap a Best on this. Given the general dreck in the Pathfinder world, I’m going to err on the side of Best, considering I consider a B, A, or Perfect to be The Best. This is good enough, if it were an OSR product. As a Pathfinder product its easily one of the best.

This is $10 on DriveThru. The preview is a good one. Pages 6&7 (in the book) give you an overview of the adventure. Pages 10&11 (in the book) show the bullets, whitespace, bolding, and sidebar usage. In fact, pages 10 onward give you a good idea of how the individual encounters/locations are presented.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/140711/The-Book-of-Terniel?1892600

Addenda: Evard says their follow-up products stink, being more typical Pathfinder. So, maybe be wary of your follow-on purchases with this publisher.

Posted in Pathfinder, Reviews, The Best | 12 Comments