The Halls of Cauldron Mountain

By Jeff Simpson
Buddyscott Entertainment Group
B/X
Level 3

Long before the human settlement of Knup-Tra sprang up, the miners of the Magnitogorsk clan uncovered an ancient hall deep in the Mountains of Fire. A strange being taught them secrets  that led to their downfall. Are you brave enough to plumb the depths of the Underfurnace of the Mountain King and find what caused an entire dwarven settlement to virtually disappear

Travel to an ancient volcano overrun with purple worms wher ecults to dragons and halls to Dwarven gods once stood. As you delve deeper and deeper, a passage to Cthonia, the twisting and turning maze of subterranean tunnels might even be uncovered…but first you must survive the Halls of Cauldron Mountain!

This twelve twenty page adventure features four dungeon levels and a town with about fifty a hundred rooms. It uses a minimalistic style, with a few flourishes in the rooms, ala B2. This results in easy to scan rooms, but an environment that is somewhat less evocative, and interactive, then I generally think the minimal standard of quality should be today. But, I don’t hate it. Which is a major accomplishment.

A dude, doing his own maps and art? Rock on man, that’s the spirit of D&D! As is the mixture of B/X and 1e FF/MM that the adventure uses … just like we all did in the 80’s! I had high hopes for this … and was only moderately disappointed!

I want to take a look at the town, first. There’s a little map for it, but that’s probably not relevant. What is interesting is the page of town businesses. You get a bolded first word, like Carpenter, which is followed by the business description. Of which there are like seventeen. All on, essentially, one page,. He can accomplish this because the businesses just have the interesting bits described. “Run by the bickering couple of Silksif and her husband Granmar, much of their arguing comes from the fact that they are currently broke.” Just enough personality to run the NPC’s as their own place, making them a little memorable, and, maybe, providing some fodder for the DM to riff off of if the town becomes some sort of frequent base. A few other businesses have something notable for sale or some such, like Reeve’s badge of office, worth 900gp, or the smithy that has a silver inlaid breastplate. It never goes in to those excesses that are frequently seen in adventures where the townfolk are described in minute but irrelevant detail, along with a russian novel length backstory that doesn’t matter. These descriptions are focused on gameplay. Which is exactly how it should be!

The dungeon, proper, is a four level design, about twelve thirty or so rooms per level. As I noted, there are about sixteen rooms per page, about eight per column although it’s all in single column that contributes heavily to a wall of text feel. This makes for room descriptions that are relatively short and therefore easy to scan. Generally, a format of this type needs a good sentence to setup the room and maybe one or two more expand on things. What we’re looking for here is a great little descriptive sentence, the centerpiece of the room. That could be read-aloudish or just plant an imagination seed in the DMs head. Following that we’re looking, I think, for a sentence or two about the room that could be DM notes. Maybe a little variation in that format, with a two sentence description and a few sentences of descriptions for more complex rooms, but that’s the general idea, I think, for an adventure format that is trying to squeeze in sixteen rooms per page. You just don’t have the real estate and have to make exquisite usage of what you do have. 

But that’s not what is going on here. Instead we’re getting a slightly expanded minimalism in the description, akin to the B2 room descriptions, or at least the VIBE of the B2 descriptions. Kitchen All of the knives here are gone. 8 kobolds rummage through the empty barrels.” 5. “5. This open room was once a kitchen. Nothing of value remains. The cabinetry remains in a serviceable condition.” On the plus side the description DOESN’T starts with a keyword. You’re NOT now oriented to the room. I know what a kitchen looks like and can ad-lib what’s in it IF YOU ORIENT ME TO IT. Plus, the information to come is now filtered through the framing of “Kitchen”, which does wonders for the imagination riffing on things and filling in holes. Then we get a very B2 description. A creature, doing something. Rummaging through empty barrels in this case. The famous example, from B2 I think, is orcs shooting dice. But, there’s not actually a description here. That’s not really very evocative. It’s better than just “Kitchen: 8 kobolds” but that’s not saying much in 2022. 

I’m NOT gonna slap in three more room descriptions, CAUSE ITS ALL THE SAME AS THE LAST REVIEW, EXCEPT WORSE.

Mine The floor here is pooled with quicksilver broken up by a few loose stones. For every turn spent in this room, roll a save vs Poison; failure means the character will die in 1d6 hours. The quicksilver drips from the lips of a stone bust of an emaciated dwarf with sunken eyes. If the bust is disturbed, four half-petrified ghouls (AC4) burst from the walls and attack.

Grand Hall There is a large oaken table in this council chamber with a fossilized skeleton of a blue dragon. There are 4 pyroclastic golems here who have been instructed by the orc sham- an to draw a thaumaturgical circle to reanimate it. There is a 5% chance that they succeed just as the party enters the room. The golems under- stand Dwarven and Giant. 6 dwarf skeletons (3HD), 4 armed with longswords and 2 with crossbows, attack anyone entering this room.

Cave The corpse of a rust monster lies next to an un-rusted sword. Disturbing the rust monster or the sword activates a silent alarm that alerts the dwarven vampire in Area 3 of intruders.

Looking at these you can see the format clearly. A brief one sentence description and then a thing, along with a note that is usually mechanics related. The monster, the treasure, the trap, etc. But we also see a certain abstraction. “An alarm sounds” is not very much fun. A pile of bones, or tin cans, dropping from the cei;ling may be more. Or a pile, precariously stacked, that falls down. Some additional interactivity and a little bit more on the descriptive/interactive unified front. Note as well the weird Gand Hall, with some golems, notes about an Orc shaman, and then also some skeletons thrown in for good measure? Weird disconnect there. Every once in awhile you get a great line, like the quicksilver dripping from a dwarf emaciated face with sunken eyeballs … great descriptive text there! 

What the adventure needs is more of those descriptive keywords. Pushing things a little bit more in both descriptions and interactivity, as with the alarm. What we get, instead, is an almost minimal adventure much in the vein of the much beloved B2. But, it’s also 2022. We can do better than B2. 

And, I noite, I have not even touched on this being a level 5-7  3 adventure. For a level range like that I might want a few more complex situations to appear. As it stands, there are drow and a vampire that might roam around a bit, but the adventure is far more “individual stand alone” room based than I think I want at level seven. I should mention that mroe. Oh well.

At least, those, he didn’t fuck it up. And “It could be better” is a far measure better than “This makes me hate my life and wish I had never learned about D&D.” I don’t think this kind of things cuts it today. The splendor of Xyntillian was how much it packed, in interactivity and evocative descriptions, in to so little space. That’s the bar to shoot for,

This is free at DriveThru.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/403914/The-Halls-of-Cauldron-Mountain?1892600

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 25 Comments

Troll Pit

By Morten Greis
Greis Games
B/X
Levels 5-7

In a mysterious cave, darkness whispers secrets to those who dare to listen, and daring adventurers can win divinations and learn the magical secrets of Dark Magicians, but not everyone escapes alive from the Troll Pit, where darkness consumes the careless.

This 24 page adventure uses eight pages to describe thirteen rooms, most of which are in an underground cave. It’s got a nice premise, but doesn’t explore its themes enough, and the individual room entries, from read-aloud to DM text, overstay their welcome. I don’t need a theme, unless you tell me there is one. 🙂

Ok, so, a  lot of lame-o hooks about bandits, goblins, apprentices and so on. They all suck and can fuck right off. What IS good is the core premise: inside a cave system in a bog/swamp is a great chasm, a bottomless abyss. And if you listen hard enough, it will whisper secrets to you … Fuck yeah man! SIGN MY ASS UP! This is a good thing. Oracular visions. Places of power. Loot. These are the things that drive a PLAYERS soul. Well, the things that are easy anyway. Other emotions may serve better, but are substantially harder to accomplish. Re: Making the PLAYERS revile the villain … through non-odious/non-fiat means. So, yeah man, “You can become a Dark Magician if you stand by the abyss in the depths of trolls and let an Abyssal Fly take up residence in your body” Uh huh! In the depths of the trolls? Stand on the abyss? LET AN ABYSSAL FLY TAKE UP RESIDENCE?! I got visa’s in my name bitch! Take my money!

There’s are things here that speak to your soul. A crow suddenly taking flight. Goblins, “The goblins can smell the adventurers, and the adventurers can hear the goblins talk about being able to smell people.” YES! That’s the fucking way a goblin works! A scream in the dark on the wandering table. The rays of dawn striking a statue though a hole in the roof, causing a hole in the wall to appear for one hour, revealing a treasure! Or, the mists, rolling in the caves after dark, obscuring things. There are parts here that are just RIGHT. They make sense, in every definition of the words. The context in to which the adventure falls FEELS right. And the rumors! “Two drunk people compete to talk about how dangerous the caves are. Goblins abound! There are lots of them and they eat people raw and preferably alive! It is best to go there during the day when they sleep!” Fun! Interesting! Or perhaps, you’ve been listening to those whispers from the abyss, trying to learn a secret, like “Dire Words of a fateful moment: The character receives a warning of a deadly trap. The next time a trap kills the character, the character is reminded of the words and the deadly effect of the trap is avoided (depending on the type of trap, the character fails to step in, activate, or be exposed to the trap; avoid interacting with or activating the trap).”

But, alas, the promise is not fulfilled.

Our read-aloud is long. VERY long. And thus will not be paid attention to. And it over reveals. Instead of simplifying saying a towering statue it must go on and describe the statue … which leads to the long read-aloud. These things, the details, should be saved for the back and forth between player and DM that is the heart of the D&D experience. And this happens time and time again. In the read-aloud, or, in the DM text. Yes, you could, potentially, make them long. But only f you’ve dona lot of work to make it very scannable and usable at he table. ANd that is a heroes effort seldom found. And not here. Instead, maybe, don’t over describe in the read-aloud. A tower statue stretching to the ceiling will do. THEN tell the DM what is going on so they can relate it to  the players when, hopefully, the fuckwits ask about it.

And, the adventure has this whole Troll Pit thing going on. IDK what that is. Maybe it’s lost in translation or has some cultural context I’m missing? There IS a troll down there. A troll king, a corrupted human. Who basically talks to you. (And the adventure notes that, at 8HD, if too much for the party to handle? This is a level 5-7 adventure, right?) Anyway, the whole Troll Pit thing is not really present and doesn’t come across very well. And, for that matter, neither does the whispers in the darkness, though that manages things better than the troll pit thing does. There a crazy lady in one room, a dude in another who exists only as a whisper, and the core abyss whisper mechanic, with you going deeper and more precarious to get a better listen roll, works well. Still, it all FEELS lightly themed. Perhaps because of the length of the thing? It’s just not FANTASTIC, although it does lean that way with the crazy lady, abyss, voice in the darkness, and that statue. Maybe even the troll king thing, but it’s out of place here. 

And for all that there’s a lot missing. Confusion about the entrances. Read-aloud that is a little too flowery “Only reluctantly it gives way to your light.” Uh uh. Or descriptions in the text that don’t match up to the map very well, not communicating things well.

So, it’s not a disaster, but, also, it’s not a home run either. I think, perhaps, if the theming were stronger or the text a little more organized/shorter/better I might have bumped this in to No Regerts. But, as is, there’s jts too much for me to handle. 

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. You get to see those rumors, as well as several encounter descriptions. So, it does give a feel for how the writing is.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/390975/Troll-Pit–A-B-X-adventure?1892600

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 15 Comments

Country Meat-Grinder Classics – Wasted

By Tim Snider
Savage AfterWorld
DCC
Level 1

Well, I swan…this season’s been a rough ‘un, what with alluva crops gone sour with that corn blight what’s been runnin’ wild through the county. But enough of our miseries! I cain’t wait to git to the Addersbrook fair and relax fer a spell! Get me some good eatin’ and listen to a tune or two. And if’n we’re lucky, maybe Junebug’ll be there with some of his pa’s hootch!

This eighteen page single-column adventure contains five scenes in a small farming village. It’s the kind of adventure that contributes to a certain malaise one finds in a one-shot or con game.

This is a rural village themed adventure, from a request that I review it. And, I generally agree that the Country Crawl Classic/Shudder Mountain adventures can be used, to a great degree, in a wide variety of games, from fantasy to Gamma World. Horror, in general, I think transcends genres well and is relatively easy to translate from system to system. And thus, we come to this review. 

A rural area. You come upon some smoke. A farmer and his daughter are burning a portion of their fields of corn. They rush about, now and again, to keep it from spreading to the nearby woods. A part of their crop has a blight and they are handling it. (ObFact: Farmers & Adventurers: Brothers in “Fire Will Fix It!” arms …) This is quite the nice little scene. An introduction, perhaps, to rural life and a time honoured way of fixing stuff. It also introduces some blue corn, that the farmer shows off if the party asks about the blight. This is all a little too on the nose for me, revealing up front what is going on. As if the farmers statement that “a bunch of it went missing.” At this point I think the adventure writes itself if you’re a player. A little scene where the party helps stop some minor fires … and if they miss a luck roll they get attacked by a rapid “blue mouthed” animal. And the farmer invites them to the county fair this afternoon. Is there ANYONE who now DOESN”T know what is going to happen? I recently saw a discussion on metagaming in which, I believe, the majority of respondents would get upset if the party acted on this information, but, come the fuck on … they’re not idiots!

You get to the fair. You participate in a greased pig contest, or a wrestling match. The imagery is pretty light here and there could have been more, especially when it comes to bonding moments with the villagers/townfolk. If you make a DC20 check you see a hulking ogre-like man “with dead eyes”, but loose him in the crowd. Uh huh. This is going swimmingly. A meaningless roll. If you’re gonna let them not catch him then just have everyone see him.

The inevitable occurs and the townsfolks start drinking tainted moonshine, made from the infected corn. They die. Then they get back up again, now zombies, and attack people and try to get THEM to drink the moonshine. This is one of those “throw more 3d6HD zombies at them until you are satisfied” things. Which I hate. Just do an encounter man. It’s all written pretty lifelessly, with not much to riff on in the town and no little vignettes to enjoy. Just “They attack.” Then the surviving townfolk ask you to go talk to the moonshiner so he knows his liquor is infected. 

You set off through the woods. You get attacked. Didn’t see that coming. There’s a table of four or five encounters that you roll on, once, to see what happens/who attacks you. And make no mistake, they are all “they attack” moments. The table makes no sense here. Why detail four or five encounters if only ONE is ever going to be used? Just put some effort in to ONE of the encounters. You got to understand this is not a wandering monster table. This is a set scene. And if you’re gonna have a scene then have a scene. Fleshed out. In to something that it interesting, or evocative, or interactive. And not just some infected bobcats dropping on to you to attack, or some zombie villagers attacking.

At the shack you meet the moonshiner. He’s evil, and controlling the shine zombies. You fight him and the zombies in a pretty uninteresting fight. At some point the still gets kicked over in to his skinning guts pit and they come to life as an organ zombie that you fight. 

You win the fight. You go back to the village. They celebrate, and continue their fair … unconcerned, I guess, that a bunch of locals have fucking died. Not too interesting or realistic, that.

So, everything is telegraphed..

And, all of the fights are relatively simple affairs, with almost nothing to riff on.

And, there’s no real bonding scenes with the community. Or help doing that. Or evocative writing..

And, there are meaningless rolls of the dice..

I’m not down on scene-based adventures, man. I’m down on BAD scene-based adventures. No, not even bad. But, just, ladventures that seem to lack effort. Like there’s not really much goin in to them except a few random rolls to create it and then some scenes that just are not very memorable. Which is my definition of a bad con game/one-shot. I was there. It took up time. But it wasn’t good, but neither was it laughably bad. 

This is $2 at DriveThru. There’s no preview. 🙁


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/404355/Country-MeatGrinder-Classics-Wasted?1892600

Posted in Reviews | 11 Comments

Dwarrowdeep

By Greg Gillespie
Self Published
S&W
Levels 1-7

Gundgathol lies in ruin. Over 250 years ago, an evil host rose from the underdark and pushed the dwarves out of their ancestral mountains. Since that time, orcs and worse have defiled their sacred halls. In recent days, the high dwarven clerics cast their runestones and read the portents: the time has come to retake Gundgathol. Are you brave (or fooloish) enough to enter Dwarrowdeep?

This 336 adventure attempts, once again, to do Moria. It has specific keys, using about half its page count, for about thirteen different areas, and then some D1 hexcrawl & procedural generation for other Moria locations. It’s using a B2-like descriptive format. Do you want that slightly generic feel? Are you willing to put up with doing your own maps (using geomorphs) and keying them and having a generic-ish vibe? Great, then this is for you. 

I am, clearly, not having this shit anymore. 

It’s another attempt at Moria. Moria is too big to key so you get a hex crawl map to get you from location to location, ala D1, and then some rules for using provided geomorphs to create levels and deeps, and some rules on how to populate them. So, you get some DMG like tables and then, the last step, step 15, is “Interpret the Results.” Great. Bring it to life, he means. If I wanted to do that I’d write my own from scratch. I’m not buying an adventure to create it from scratch, procedurally. I’m buying an adventure so I DON’T have to do that. Just grab the old Moria supplement and the DMG and crank some shit out. Why, exactly, do you need this booklet? “But Bryce, how else can you do Moria?” Well, maybe, don’t do fucking Moria if you can’t figure it out. Besides, the Fellowship Moria thing was just a trip through it, not a delve. 

Ok, so, no, some of you are not going to be happy with that analysis. Let us, instead, forget all about the procedural generation thing. Let’s pretend it doesn’t exist. Let’s instead review the maps/keys/areas that are presented. This is six entrance areas and seven other location sites, most of which have 100 or so rooms, or more. (with a notable exception in the ruined tower on the mountain peak that has a dragon.) Let’s just review that, shall we? After all, I don’t really care how much something costs, or background shit or any of that. Let’s just look at the value we’re getting for our $35 for those thirteen areas.

“Four Dwarven Skeletal Guards AL: CE, AC: 4, HD: 1, HP: 8, 7, 5, 4, #AT: 1, DMG: 1d6, lay on the floor here. They burn with malice for the living. One has a pouch with 3d6gp and another has a Seax Knife +1.”

Laying on the floor! Burning with malice for the living! Have you ever read such majesty before on the written page?! Does your heart not leap with joy at the prospects of running this room?! Are you not entertained?! No? You’re not? Ah, then how about this little gem of a room:

“The Orc Rat-Master AL: CE, AC: 6 (Studded and mShield), HD: 1, HP: 5, #AT: 1, Weapon: Whip (1d4), Scimitar (1d6), and Dagger (1d4), Treasure: 5gp, 8ep, 9sp, 2cp, uses this room as his quarters. Under a stone in the floor, under his bed of dirty furs, is a Huge Broken Pale Green Variscite (20gp), a Large Transparent Green Augelite (24gp), and a Small Deep Blue Azurite (20gp).” 

Of course! Masterful!

There’s nothing here. It’s just a hair above a minimalistic keying style. Sure, there’s some rooms that have more text. To no real effect. There are no real evocative descriptions anywhere in this. There is, though, padding: “The Ruined Temple of Thaneduhr: This rough- hewn temple to Thaneduhr All-Father was defaced and defiled by the orcs. It now lies in ruin.” That’s a meaningless couple of sentences, especially to start with. It goes on to describe a large statue with the face changed to that of the orc god, rubble, a bloody altar, and some bodies and chained prisoners. There’s some potential here, but it’s described lifelessly. The rooms are just padded out with stats and what the monster is wielding, and treasure. If this is removed you may get, mostly, one sentence per room. “The orcs here are wagering over a fight between two stirge” The alcove contains a pile of decaying corpses infested with rot grubs. Something partially buried in the dirt gleams at the back of this dead end. There’s no life in any of this. I’d have much preferred to gloss over the stats and weapons and instead have an extra sentence or two to bring the aggressively genetic minimalism to life. Because that’s what you should be paying for in an adventure.

I can roll on a table. I can find a program to roll on a table for me and spit out a generic dungeon. This is not the heart of D&D. The heart of D&D is the magic of imagination and the weirdness of the interactivity. That’s what you’re paying a designer for. Otherwise just go play some Angband. 

Barrowmaze had some life. The towers thing had some life. The Caverns thing was, as is this, aggressively minimal and generic in a way that doesn’t work with the adventure. This needs A LOT more of step 15. A LOT more of it. 

“Dwarrowdeep is the single largest dwarven themed adventure in the history of role-playing games.” I don’t love you, you don’t love me. Da Da Da”

This is $35 at DriveThru.There’s no preview because it’s a zip file blah blah blah. 

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/384269/Dwarrowdeep?1892600

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 99 Comments

Shadow of the Devourer

By Gaz Bowerbank
Self Published
5e
Level 4

Stop The Ritual, Save The World! An evil cult holds sway over the settlement of Temple’s Shadow. Rumours abound of a nefarious ritual to summon a demon from the abyss to consume all the Devourer Cult’s enemies! Who will put a stop to the desperate plans of the deranged cult and ensure chaos isn’t unleashed on an unsuspecting world?

This 36 page adventure, a review request, uses about 25 pages to describe a Dark Tower like environment of a small town and three ruined/cultist temple pyramids. The designer has a witty writing style and a talent for situations, but its writing is way Way WAY too long, making it unusable. And the map choice sucks shit.

I’m working through my Requested list, so, if you requested something expect to see it soon-ish. 

The designer, Gaz, seems to run a long-standing podcast. I’m sure his listeners loved this adventure. I, however, will never run it.

The basic set up is a desert town, most of which is controlled by a cult. There are three nearby pyramid ruins. Each has a different cult faction in it. Yeah, the cults kind of at war with itself, as the leader tries to summon a demon. It’s not totally unlike the general setup from Dark Tower. It’s a classic concept for a reason, giving someone a lot of room to work through a lot a different things going on.

Gaz has a breezy style that interjects sly humor in to the writing. It’s not humor, per se. Humor in adventures sucks shit. No, Gaz interjects some situations which are darkly comedic, general in a manner that pushes towards farcical, but never reaching it. An NPC, for example, in the market yells about weapons for sale, only one careful owner. Some of which are covered in blood. He doesn’t linger on it too long, or push it too far. They are almost asides to the DM at times, and generally all advance the game, or at gameable content, in some way. He’s not taking himself too seriously, but also isn’t writing jokes. It’s a style, pushing closer to farce than not, that I can really get behind and makes reading the adventure breezy. 

He’s also got a certain talent for creating situations. You meet a small crying child in one pyramid room, the abandoned pyramid. They sit outside a charnel house room, full of bodies, the chil noting its parents are inside. Everything up to this point leads to this being believable … in spite of the child actually being a succubus. Or, a group of prisoners and a small enemy cul t faction hold up in a section of the dungeon … starving, making raids, the cultiss on edge about the prisoners .. and the wail of a nearby banshee keeping everyone on edge. There’s shit going on, a decent amount. It’s relatable. And relatable content is GOOD content, making it easy for the DM to riff on and the players to accept. I wish I knew, better, what makes content relatable. It really is a differentiator. He also interjects good advice at times, like having all of the NPC’s appearing to be short on time, to give the illusions things are going on. THings are happening, to put a time pressure feeling onthe PC’s. 

He’s making an attempt with the format, integrating small sections of bullet text, a cross-reference table for cult faction beliefs, mini-maps, and icons to denote which rooms belong to which faction. NPC’s get some brief describer words (sweaty human, obnoxious, barely clothed) to help the DM run them. The NPC describer words, in particular, work very well. I understand what he is trying to do with the faction icons, but I don’t think it really helps at all in a meaningful way. And the bullets … well …

It’s also an unrunable adventure. By which I mean it’s such a pain in the ass to run that I am never going to run it. I’ll select any of a hundred others before this one, simpler to run and just as good in design. And that’s the game a designer is playing today, folks. You’re competing against every adventure ever published, ever. And while I’m fan of supporting new designers over the older content, there’s STILL enough new stuff that hits all the marks to recommend it over this. Adventures need to be GOOD to make it to the table. Evocative writing. Interactivity. And easy to run at the table. And this is not that.

First, let us discuss the map. Each room entry has a little mini-map next to it, showing the room in questions, highlighted. That is your map. That’s it. Oh, there’s a larger map in the appendix, but it’s more a players map, unnumbered. Of course, the mini-maps are unnumbered also. ONLY THE ROOM SHADING INDICATES THIS IS THE CORRECT ROOM. So, to find a room you have to thumb through things to find the correct room, by its shaded entry. It’s fucking nuts. Why the fuck wouldnt you just number the damn things like a normal keyed dungeon? Numbereing works fucking fantasticfor exploration adventures … which this is. Is the room they are going to before or after this current room in the adventure text? Who the fuck knows, thumb both directions until you find the shaded room. It’s fucking crazy. There is no way in fucking hell I’m gdoing that, which means I get to number the rooms with I want to run this. Or, buy something else that does it for me …

And Gaz’s writing is way WAY too long. Remember those bullet points I mentioned, for rooms? Well that’s not all. First you have to slog through four or so LONG paragraphs of text. And then you get some bullet points summarizing what you just read. But, not enough to run the room with. It’s fucking nuts, again. Four paragraphs?! You want me to read that and refer to it while I’m running this room? No way! And it’s almost all padding.

Here’s a room called Preparation Chamber: 

“Here the important members of the cult prepare for high ceremony, none more supreme than this one. Hanging on hooks are robes and accoutrements of ritual. Shining slivered bowls hold scented oil and water; incense and spices sit in colourful powder cones next to delicate burners; parchments and books languish on carved walnut lecterns.

From the archway to the west can be heard the chanting of Snevets Zab, as he works to summon The Decapitator to aid him. Here also, are the most loyal and fanatical of the high priest’s followers, attending to the ritual and representing a guard for their leader (see Cultist Mob in the Appendix). They fight to the death, assured a glorious reincarnation awaits them, should they perish”

The first sentence is complete padding. The first in the second paragraph over reveals. And the second paragraph either over reveals or is confusing. Are they in this room of the next room? And can’t I have a page number for that cult mob, to help me find it? And isn’t most of the text an aside, not really pertaining to the running of the adventure? As I said, I can get behind an occasional aside, but too much, with too much padding, all combine to make a text that it hard as fuck to scan. And text that is hard to scan is hard to run. You gotta read through everything and hold it in your head, which is impossible. 

Your encounter locations need to be focused. You’ve got to put some effort in to them. And by SOME I mean A LOT. First, you gotta come up with an idea. Then write it. And you need to edit it. HARD. Make sure it is evocative. Is important stuff up high. Have you pruned it back to just whats needed, but not destroyed the evocative nature of the room? Have you integrated it in to the other rooms? Edit Edit Edit. Sweat over it. This is what adventure writing is. This is the hard part. And, this is what will separate your adventure. It will make it good. It will turn it from something that is forgotten shoverware in to something that people will talk about. It’s not that appendix shit. It’s not all that background garbage you put in up front. It’s not how well you balanced the thing or adhered to the rules. It’s the fucking encounter descriptions. Alive. Interactive. And easy to scan/run at the table. Yeah, sure, you can do a four paragraph room entry. Room after room. And you can make it good. And easy to run at the table. But you are still gonna work it. You’re gonna work it as hard as a terser entry. The players just walked in to the fucking room. I glance down at the page for one second. ONE SECOND. Count one one thousand. By then I need enough to begin to run the room. There are a lot of ways to get there. But that’s what your selected format, your editing, has to be able to do. And it better be an evocative room description also. I want something that comes alive in my mind. 

You know what? This adventure actually has a tl/dr section. If you have to put in a tl/dr then you should know you’ve got a problem. Yeah, ok, I support adventure summaries. But a tl./dr?

“Whatever use this room once had” Ug! Padding! The death of adventure writing.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is twelve pages, and the ;ast three show you some rooms. So, good preview.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/382966/Shadow-of-the-Devourer?1892600

Posted in 5e, Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 2 Comments

The Obsidian Anti-Pharos

By Alex Mayo
LotFP
LotFP
Low Levels

1631 – A strange island materializes off the cost of Plymouth, England. At the center f the island stands a lighthouse, but instead of warning nearby ships of danger, it hypnotically draws them to the island’s deadly shores. Where did this island come from, and what is the source of its occult power?

This 24 page digest adventure details a tower with nine rooms along with a small island with two tribes on it. Rife with errors, it’s another Wizard Tower Out Of Time adventure … combined with the signature LotFP screw ending. It’s an ok job, but 22 pages for what it is seems long, and the loot seems quite low for the risk involved.

Ok, so, lighthouse shows up ten miles off shore, shooting strange lights up in to the sky. Ships within ten miles get hypnotically drawn to it never to appear again. On the island, full of thick woods, are two tribes of humans at war with each other, and a black obsidian tower in the middle that they consider holy. It’s actually a wizards tower, cast back in time, and the tribesmen are the former servants, now in warring factions. Inside, a trick to getting in to, you maybe get to the top and turn off the light. And get screwed by the wizard who shows up at just the right time. This is all pretty much the standard LotFP formula for a location like this, with the usual assortment of tricks and traps. 

There are a few standout portions to the adventure. The two warring tribes are an interesting concept, each having a color theme that they paint themselves … and try to paint the tower doors. There’s a nice “tree starfish” monster mentioned that I think would be fun in a thick forest setting. There’s a prison room that is an interesting “figure it out on your own” room. You’re on a platform, surrounded by an acid pool. A keycard in the acid, visibly. Another platform, 40 feet away. Fuck around a find out. No real solution obviously presented, just a challenge for the party to overcome. Nice! Another room has a mechanical crock with its mouth open. You have to reach in to pull out a key from its stomach. A Classic! 

Also, there are two keys and picking the wrong one will get you attacked. Also, there’s no way to know which witch is which. Its hooks are lame, being shipwrecked or getting paid 1000sp each to Stop The Light by the merchants guild. The lights on top of the tower are it searching the cosmos for the wizards mind to resurrect him … which happens just as the characters enter the room with his body. Uh huh. I don’t really mind the LotFP screw job endings; its a little Broodmother SkyFortress/Shake Up Your Worldy. Which is fine. But, the treasure total being about 2500sp … and all from the croc encounter? That seems a bit harsh to me. 

The thing is rife with editing errors. I think its set in Plymouth … although Portsmith is mentioned as well. Pretty sure that’s a mistake? The text claims light is marked on the map … but I don’t think it actually is. The tribes use blue and yellow paint … but in another place red paint is mentioned as a color … Yellow and Blue make green, right?  Other sentences are clearly missing the first phrases of the sentence. “The adventure with the adventurers shipwrecked on the island.” That the entire first sentence of the second hook. Just weird mistakes an editor should have caught. 

Other things are weird, from a design standpoint. The hatch in to the tower has nine random locations around the island map … but it also appears randomly on the wandering monster table? And that island map is hard to call a map, not really functioning as one at all. I don’t get how you are supposed to use it at all. Basically, draw a big circle and place a dot in the center. Now just randomly throw nine numbers on the map, for the hatch locations. Everything is heavy forest. Scale is one inch is one mile. Uh … sure man. 

Speaking of one mile … the island is four miles across. The center is a big clearing. Let’s say, 1.5 miles from the shore to the clearing. 5280 feet in a mile, so, roughly 8000 feet to get to the center from the shore. The party moves at ? speed in the forest. Let’s generously say 120 feet per turn, unencumbered movement, 40’ with the rough terrain/forest penalty. So, 40 per turn. You make a wandering monster check, a 1 on a d4, ONCE PER TURN. That’s roughly 200 checks, right? With roughly 50 encounters? On a table with ten entries? Is that serious? Did I fuck it up? Did the designer fuck it up, or the editor? It can’t possibly be meant to be played that way.

So you get to the island. Each tribe has about, idk, 80 warriors in it, let’s say. You need a keycard from one tribe to get in the tower. A device from the other tribe can locate the grate that the key opens, the hatch, that teleports around randomly. And you have to figure all of this out. And you have to figure out not to touch the doors, which teleport you to the acid prison. I don’t know how you do this. There’s a dude on the wandering table that also has a keycard, so, maybe you just murder him and then wander until you find a hatch? None of it makes sense. I’m guessing this is some handwavey shit, in play, and then they tried to write it down.

And the tribe descriptions? The little sections that describe them? They don’t mention the keycard or the hatch locator device. That’s just mentioned in the text. What the fuck man? Why? And, along with all of this, you need to figure out the solution to one puzzle is turning four bedpost knobs in a specific order, with no clues. And you don’t get to the end of the adventure without figuring that out? I’m all for letting the party figure things out, but, some of this just seems whacko crazy, especially for a low level party with no divination magic to speak of.

I don’t know. The room descriptions tend to the column or page length, which seems like a lot. Some mechanics, a room description, and then more mechanics. It tends to flow pretty well, but not putting the description up front still pisses me off.

It’s a wizards tower. It’s ok. Nothing too special. No real cash treasure. Ok set up, but could use a good fleshing out, both outside the tower and in.

I don’t know how much this thing is. I bought it at GenCon, so, it cost a corset, two skull candles, and some token thing for keeping strict time records for an Indi RPG. Also, I got a selfie with Raggi! Also, Kelvin & Alex are the only people writing for LotFP anymore? All of the recent releases have their name on it? Also, I got to hear some rando fan ask him about the Z Man. I’m taking pity on Raggi since I’m sure he’s had to weather this conversation about a gajillion times before. It was fun watching this play out, though, as a nameless and clueless bystander.

I don’t know where/how to buy it, not in person. It’s on on the LotFP storefront yet, or on the DriveThru page yet.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 4 Comments

Isle of the Succubus

By Michael Robinson
Rutibex
OSR
Level ?

Can you see through the Succubus many disguises?

This forty page “hexcrawl” describes an island and associated area on level 69 of the Abyss. You walk around doing nothing and meet Midi the Succubus in a bunch of disguises, randomly. It’s not an adventure.

I thought the concept of a Succubus lair, fleshed out, would be interesting so I bought this. I am not amused. This runs painfully close to being a joke adventure, if it can be called an adventure.

Of the forty pages, twenty are devoted to monster stats. There are ten locations on Midi’s island and about twenty more on the surrounding hex map. Midi’s island is supposed to be a hex map also, and looks like it, but there are no hex lines and there’s no numbering for the hexes … so good luck hex crawling that map. You get a wandering monster table to help support a hex crawl play, but it’s just a list of monsters with nothing more, and, for it being an island, no “on the waves” notes for sailing around the Abyss. The maps, therefore, are an abject failure.

Midi gets more than few pages of description. You get five entire pages listing all of her disguises, maybe twenty in all. Every one of them matches her own personality, a bimbo/cutsy type (with accompanying art style) with a heart of evil. Maybe. You get a page of motivations for Midi, about twenty or so, of which about half make her misunderstood or somehow allies of the party. Which doesn’t really jive with her “attach the party repeatedly” thing that she has going on. None of them are very interesting, or detailed more than a sentence or two. This, in particular, is a mistake. These sorts of variables/tables in an adventure do little good. It would be far far better for the designer to have picked one and ran with it. Make the island, and the surrounding hexes, mostly integrated in to Midi’s plotting. Add additional information for the GM to help them along. Make the thing a cohesive whole. But, no. Instead we get a Midi disguise of “Pepper Minstix – An elf lost on this island. She needs help to get back to her workshop” To be clear, that a Santa’s workshop elf, as the art shows us. Midis is supported, in combat, by a small section that has doing hit and runs, and dimension dooring away. So, she gets 500’ away when its her turn. You’re told to roll some wanderers for her support troops if she ambushes the party … but the ambush stuff is never handled on a table or anything. You’re told she’s got a veritable army of people on the island who REALLY love her … but nothing more than that and it never comes up again. She also dimension doors a party member 400’ up in combat .. but I don’t think Dimension Door works like that?

The locations on the island and hexes around it are trying for a hex crawl type vibe. “A corrupted Abbot of Gollidar (Rowan Holmes) is in charge of the eye factory. He is concerned because the new shipment of halflings have not arrived and he needs them for the eye chamber” or “The jails of Midi, where the Rabbit Prince is on trial for crimes against his people. Little does he know that everyone in the jury are not his peers but transformed Quasits!” Hex crawls are a tough encounter type, I think. You need something that is both self-contained and ties in to the other hexes, sometimes. You need something going on, a situation, for the party to get involved in, or use as a resource, or something like that. Not all hexes, certainly, but that needs to be a general vibe. The party is going to want something to do and/or get invested in. Those descriptions locations don’t do that. It’s better than the Isle of the Unknown encounters, but not by much. There’s no real motivation for the party to do anything at all. It’s like these locations are scoped too large for ad-hoc usage at the table. And perhaps that’s it. In a hex crawl the DM is going to making things up on the fly for everything and trying to riff on things to tie the adventure together. And this doesn’t support the DM in that manner. “This grotto is actually the mouth of a particularly perverted and huge demonic toad. It encourages guests and visitors to vacation within the resort he has constructed in his mouth.” Can you do that with that description? Maybe? I guess? But you’ll need other hexes and NPC’s to tie in to that, and the adventure doesn’t do that at all.

This is just disappointing on so many levels. Clearly, the designer just wanted a cutesy shape changing succubus running around and everything else was an afterthought. The core concert is a good one, the central idea. A succubus nin her “lair” so to speak, and using her charm abilities to their logical conclusion. But none of that really happens here. 

This is $1.50 at DriveThru. The preview is just a quick one, so useless.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/393213/Isle-of-the-Succubus?1892600

Also, Mohr got me again with his House of Falknor. Bought, but not gonna review.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 10 Comments

The Perilous Puppeteer of Piepenburg

By James the DM
Self Published
OSR
Level ?

Terror!  A string of disappearances in the charming town of Piepenburg has left the townsfolk on edge.  Can the players discover the culprit’s identity before the unthinkable happens?

This 32 page adventure is an investigation in to some murders in a small village. A small village of ten buildings, one of which is a toy store. It’s trying, and has the form down, but the specifics and details are a jumble that don’t make sense.

So there’s this group called The Storytellers Collective or something, and they have a writers workshop every month or quarter or something. I tend to get requests for reviews from them around this time, or people pointing me at thier adventures. I don’t understand completely, but somehow I’m on the radar. I got a request to review this one, but not by the designer, so, here we go!

It’s amurder mystery. Murder mysteries face a challenge in D&D, especially OSR D&D. Why does the party give a fuck that someone ELSE is stabbing things? Thus the hook is usually that you get assigned to investigate, or your brother lives in the village or hoping that the party has enough humanity to want to help a random village with random murders in it. And those are the hooks here. Nothing but throw aways, with nothing to them other than what I just typed. Nothing compelling. 

And then there’s the issue with magic. When you can detect a lie, or question a dead body, where’s the mystery? Usually designers go through contortions to solve this, ith invisibility, rings of mind shielding and all that crap. The solution is to make it low level, which is what happened here, but, then, the designer also includes this warning “The adventure also assumes that magic is rare and strange, and that spells to communicate with the dead or detect lies do not exist.” Good luck with that man! It’s like writing an adventure with spaceships and space opera for D&D … uh, sure, but you do realize this is a fantasy setting, right?

Ok, so, small village. Murders in it. About ten buildings that are businesses. The usual. Inn. Church. Mayors house. Guild house. Toymaker. Wait, what? Ok, I set fire to it, kill whoever comes out. Game over. Seriously, man, you gotta do better than this. The village is too small for such a specialized building. It’s obviously him. 

The plot has an initial first encounter, with random villagers getting a brawl in the town square, citing the shitty shitty longtime advice of “getting your players rolling dice!” It’s a non-lethal brawl. If you kill people then everyone turns on the party and the mayor wants answers! But, also, it’s ok, he really wants you to solve the murders also. ?!  If you don’t want to deal with this then don’t put that party in that position. Seriously. You set them up for a combat and then yank the rug out And then try to fix that. If you don’t want them to just kill everyone then don’t do your initial combat with a village brawl.

It’s this kind of design stuff that’s prevalent all throughout. Basic things. Along with even simpler things. Your brawl is interrupted by a scream (the second time a row your scene is interrupted by a scream from elsewhere, transitioning to the net scene.) This time it’s the wife of a dead guy, missing two weeks, holding his mutilated body at the edge of the town square. So. He’s been missing two weeks? And no one saw his body at the edge of the town square? And his wife is the one to find him? Uh huh. 

Read aloud reveals too much. “An adorned statues of a long deadhero”. The party doesn’t know that. Describe it, not the conclusions drawn from it. In the first body read aloud, don’t reveal the fact that there are no footprints, but describe the body, which the designer doesn’t do. And absolutely do NOT have the read-aloud say “The people of Piepenburg recognize him as a skilled healer, but many distrust his methods as “ungodly.” You’re commenting. Don’t do that. Describe. 

Oh, oh! One of the rumours is “Hans the toymaker made my daughter a lovely doll!” This is in the middle of rumours about evil raiding goblins and undead in the graveyard and the like. Just horrors everywhere, and a seemingly random bit of info about the toymaker. Doesn’t matter, since we’ve already burned his place down though. 

There’s a chase scene, because, drama, I guess. If you don’t make your roll then “as fog swirls in and prevents the characters who failed to keep up from making it to the combat.” Great.. Fog rolls in. Deus Ex much? And if you kill the baddie you’re chasing? IDK, he’s important to the plot. I guess you win? Some advice here would be nice.

Descriptions are too wordy, containing useless info like Frank the barber having “A former adventurer ennobled for his rescue of the Countess von Nachtingal,” useless. Means nothing. Advances nothing in the play of the game. A room, described in readaloud, mentions no rug and yet its a major important point in the room. 

Nothing is really described about the odies up to this point. No CSI for the players, or questioning their families, or looing at their graves or anything. 

On the plus side, it does use bullet points to convey information about what people know It does this well. 

The format here is not bad. The basics are ok. The text needs a heavy edit to keep things focused on play at the table, with reward to relevance and what comes first in a description. The inconsistencies need to be cleaned up. Things need to make sense, in a fantasy setting. Just nothing here to work with in a useful way.

This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages of the single column version. It shows you the bullets, but they make more sense in a double column view. It’s not a very strong preview 

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/404684/The-Perilous-Puppeteer-of-Piepenburg?1892600

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 13 Comments

The Scorched Citadel

By Carl Ellis
Broken Arch Publishing
OSE
Low to Mid Levels

Beneath a dying sun, uncount- ably many years into the future, the Scorched Citadel lies in the ruins of a once great city. A wide, lazy river meanders near- by, chocked with nenufares and water dwelling creatures. 5 great towers rise from a hill like rotting fingers, the hill itself a great necropolis of moss- covered graves, crypts, and mausoleums. Squat, crumbling buildings radiate from the Citadel, becoming part of the ground as the wasteland edges towards the flickering outpost of civilisation.

This 45 page digest adventure/setting revolves around a ruined city, in a Book of the New Sun/Dying Earth type setting. Containing several civilized areas, all in a small area, and a few nine-ish room dungeons to explore, it is at once too large and too general, missing the mark of a hex crawl and a dungeon. 

Ha! I did it! I saw an adventure titled The Great Rift, was intrigued, and THEN saw it was by Bloch and avoided it! A first for me in controlling my unbridled enthusiasm! Yeah! Or, maybe, condolences on my loss of innocence? 

Yeah, so, this thing. The Scorched Citadel. Sounds cool, right? Meh. It’s a setting, really, with a couple of dungeons. All in 45 digest pages. Of which about 25% is a bestiary, etc. So, about 33 pages. That’s not much for about 45 hexes and four or so dungeons and five or so populated areas. That means each gets about one or maybe two pages of detail. That’s not much. At all. 

What you get, then, is something quite abstracted. Rumors are somewhat generic. “Eternal life lies in side the citadel” … which, while probably a relatable rumor for a place of power, gets old when they are all like this. We get descriptions like “Library. Contains records and medical texts.” Well, coloured me inspired. “Skeletons. 3d4 appear upon entering for either direction. TT O.” Ah ha! A delightful game ahead! We get this same level of details, maybe one sentence, maybe of something interesting but probably something generic and certainly abstracted, for all of the locations, dungeon or town. This is a problem. There’s nothing really to hang your hat on here. Yu’re going to riff, continually. You’re going to make things up, continually. And, I know, we all do that. You HAVE to do that. But the question is to what extent? There’s just not much to inspire the DM here. The setting is, to me personally, appealing in a Dying Earth kind of way, but you need more text, evocative, to give the DM SOMETHING to go with. Even a hex crawl sets up a situation to deal with (well, a good one does anyway) and doesn’t just say “Skeletons. TT O” You need SOME specificity, or, I would perhaps assert, you are not actually an adventure … which will not doubt piss off the people in to extreme minimalism … but fuck them. 

And, also, further abstracted. In a nineteen story tower, a centerpiece of the town, we get: “Levels 3-19: Abandoned dormitories” I get it, you want something impressive, but, also, you can’t stat the entire thing. Of the 45 hexes only a few have dungeons/encounters, with the rest showing potential dungeons and “The hexes are only partially stocked with content from this module. Sure, leaving some room for the DM is a time honored tactic. But, also, when EVERYTHING is abstracted, down to the dungeon encounters themselves, we must instead examine the choices made.

There’s an appropriate level of zooming in/out for an adventure of a certain type. A dungeon needs a certain level of detail. (Misguided people think that there’s room here for different people to like different levels of detail.) A town needs a different level. A region needs a different level of detail. Your product needs the match the level of zooming in/out that you are doing, providing enough information, barely, for the DM to riff on. Preserving the ability of the DM to scan the needed text and run the specific thing, quickly, before the players phones come out. That’s going to be different for a dungeon room than it is for a city than it is for a continent. 

The final room of the most important dungeon, the quest the party has been running after, is: “Heart Chamber. The heart itself is interred under a central glass floor. The walls are covered with screens and technological devices. A camp and supplies are in the southeastern corner. Anders is here, working at one of the devices. Tagros is attending him.” This is uninspired writing. Covered in technological devices. *yawn*

This is $6 at Drivethru. The preview is seventeen pages, more than enough to get a sense of writing style and level of detail.


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/404655/The-Scorched-Citadel?1892600

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Underfurnace Excavation

By Jeff Simpson
Buddyscott Entertainment Group
OSR 
Levels 5-7

Long before the human settlement of Knup-Tra sprang up, the miners of the Magnitogorsk clan uncovered an ancient hall deep in the Mountains of Fire. A strange being taught them secrets  that led to their downfall. Are you brave enough to plumb the depths of the Underfurnace of the Mountain King and find what caused an entire dwarven settlement to virtually disappear

This twelve page adventure features four dungeon levels and a town with about fifty rooms. It uses a minimalistic style, with a few flourishes in the rooms, ala B2. This results in easy to scan rooms, but an environment that is somewhat less evocative, and interactive, then I generally think the minimal standard of quality should be today. But, I don’t hate it. Which is a major accomplishment.

A dude, doing his own maps and art? Rock on man, that’s the spirit of D&D! As is the mixture of B/X and 1e FF/MM that the adventure uses … just like we all did in the 80’s! I had high hopes for this … and was only moderately disappointed!

I want to take a look at the town, first. There’s a little map for it, but that’s probably not relevant. What is interesting is the page of town businesses. You get a bolded first word, like Carpenter, which is followed by the business description. Of which there are like seventeen. All on, essentially, one page,. He can accomplish this because the businesses just have the interesting bits described. “Run by the bickering couple of Silksif and her husband Granmar, much of their arguing comes from the fact that they are currently broke.” Just enough personality to run the NPC’s as their own place, making them a little memorable, and, maybe, providing some fodder for the DM to riff off of if the town becomes some sort of frequent base. A few other businesses have something notable for sale or some such, like Reeve’s badge of office, worth 900gp, or the smithy that has a silver inlaid breastplate. It never goes in to those excesses that are frequently seen in adventures where the townfolk are described in minute but irrelevant detail, along with a russian novel length backstory that doesn’t matter. These descriptions are focused on gameplay. Which is exactly how it should be!

The dungeon, proper, is a four level design, about twelve or so rooms per level. As I noted, there are about sixteen rooms per page, about eight per column. This makes for room descriptions that are relatively short and therefore easy to scan. Generally, a format of this type needs a good sentence to setup the room and maybe one or two more expand on things. What we’re looking for here is a great little descriptive sentence, the centerpiece of the room. That could be read-aloudish or just plant an imagination seed in the DMs head. Following that we’re looking, I think, for a sentence or two about the room that could be DM notes. Maybe a little variation in that format, with a two sentence description and a few sentences of descriptions for more complex rooms, but that’s the general idea, I think, for an adventure format that is trying to squeeze in sixteen rooms per page. You just don’t have the real estate and have to make exquisite usage of what you do have. 

But that’s not what is going on here. Instead we’re getting a slightly expanded minimalism in the description, akin to the B2 room descriptions, or at least the VIBE of the B2 descriptions. “Kitchen All of the knives here are gone. 8 kobolds rummage through the empty barrels.” 

On the plus side the description starts with a keyword. You’re now oriented to the room. I know what a kitchen looks like and can ad-lib what’s in it. Plus, the information to come is now filtered through the framing of “Kitchen”, which does wonders for the imagination riffing on things and filling in holes. Then we get a very B2 description. A creature, doing something. Rummaging through empty barrels in this case. The famous example, from B2 I think, is orcs shooting dice. But, there’s not actually a description here. That’s not really very evocative. It’s better than just “Kitchen: 8 kobolds” but that’s not saying much in 2022. 

I’m gonna slap in three more room descriptions:

Mine The floor here is pooled with quicksilver broken up by a few loose stones. For every turn spent in this room, roll a save vs Poison; failure means the character will die in 1d6 hours. The quicksilver drips from the lips of a stone bust of an emaciated dwarf with sunken eyes. If the bust is disturbed, four half-petrified ghouls (AC4) burst from the walls and attack.

Grand Hall There is a large oaken table in this council chamber with a fossilized skeleton of a blue dragon. There are 4 pyroclastic golems here who have been instructed by the orc sham- an to draw a thaumaturgical circle to reanimate it. There is a 5% chance that they succeed just as the party enters the room. The golems under- stand Dwarven and Giant. 6 dwarf skeletons (3HD), 4 armed with longswords and 2 with crossbows, attack anyone entering this room.

Cave The corpse of a rust monster lies next to an un-rusted sword. Disturbing the rust monster or the sword activates a silent alarm that alerts the dwarven vampire in Area 3 of intruders.

Looking at these you can see the format clearly. A brief one sentence description and then a thing, along with a note that is usually mechanics related. The monster, the treasure, the trap, etc. But we also see a certain abstraction. “An alarm sounds” is not very much fun. A pile of bones, or tin cans, dropping from the cei;ling may be more. Or a pile, precariously stacked, that falls down. Some additional interactivity and a little bit more on the descriptive/interactive unified front. Note as well the weird Gand Hall, with some golems, notes about an Orc shaman, and then also some skeletons thrown in for good measure? Weird disconnect there. Every once in awhile you get a great line, like the quicksilver dripping from a dwarf emaciated face with sunken eyeballs … great descriptive text there! 

What the adventure needs is more of those descriptive keywords. Pushing things a little bit more in both descriptions and interactivity, as with the alarm. What we get, instead, is an almost minimal adventure much in the vein of the much beloved B2. But, it’s also 2022. We can do better than B2. 

And, I noite, I have not even touched on this being a level 5-7 adventure. For a level range like that I might want a few more complex situations to appear. As it stands, there are drow and a vampire that might roam around a bit, but the adventure is far more “individual stand alone” room based than I think I want at level seven. I should mention that mroe. Oh well.

At least, those, he didn’t fuck it up. And “It could be better” is a far measure better than “This makes me hate my life and wish I had never learned about D&D.” I don’t think this kind of things cuts it today. The splendor of Xyntillian was how much it packed, in interactivity and evocative descriptions, in to so little space. That’s the bar to shoot for,

This is free at DriveThru.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/403913/Underfurnace-Excavation?1892600

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 10 Comments