(5e) 1-6 Skeletons in a Stable

By Steve Wright
Deus Ex Minima
level 1

Why are there so many skeletons in this stable? What secret does the town chandler hide? Who is asking all these questions?

This eight page adventure uses four pages to describe a stable with some skeletons in it. What was I expecting? I was expecting more of what’s actually hinted in the marketing and the content … short & punchy. There’s not enough here. I know, Surprising, isn’t it?

How much of this site is performance art? Surprisingly little. What you get here are the expressions of my inner child. That’s someone who’s not generally let out in public unless I’m sleeping with you and it’s time for the seasonal 11pm Sunday night ennui. But, these feelings are honest. The hopeful,  high expectations. The crushing disappointment. Expectations are a terrible thing. You can’t have the highest highs without also feeling the lowest lows, can you? Generally it’s the case that I expect the best of what I’m reviewing, with very few exceptions. And because of that you get what you experience on this site: crushing despair when it’s nothing nearly matching those expectations. High standards? Nah, good sir, simply standards in a sea of product that has none! They only seem high when compared to the quantity of what doesn’t make the cut.

Which leads me to marketing. I’m a sucker for marketing. I’ll go for the weird thing on the menu, every time. With the extra tentacles. You’ve got a speciality cocktail menu? Yes, bring me one of each. Not every experience can be good, but every one can be magnificent. Like Mulder, I want to believe. “The booklet has everything you need to meet …” “Skellies included!” Great for a one shot, Setup, NPC’s, story hooks, maps, loot, all included! Help with NPC names! Ideas for future encounters!  Well, you know what Obi Wan says about a certain point of view? I guess they cut the scene where Luke screams profanity at Obi Wan for the deception. Do we accept a certain amount of puffery in marketing? Do we accept that we’re going to be lied to? How much is ok? Where’s the line? If it’s ok for the publishers to puff their marketing, then is it really any surprise when the non-jaded are upset by it? Life is a game baby. You get to puff, but you have to expect pushback. And then as a publisher you get to be mock outraged. You should probably check first, to ensure your neighbor is growing vegetables and not roses. Cause you don’t fuck trivially with the neighboring lord who grows roses.

Hook! That’s what it says! Hooks! “You heard something in town.” “You were sent by a patron to deal with it.” “You stumble out of the woods and need a rest.” Hmmm. I think we have misaligned expectations here. That is pretty much word for word what the “hooks” are. Three very generic idea, used a million zillion time before. The most basic and simple of things. 

“Hmmm, I can’t say the product contains complete sentences … let me see … Leverages the full power of the Unabridged dictionary to present exciting and dynamic hooks! … that’s it! That’s the ticket!” 

Ultimately, it’s a stable with some skeletons in it. The tactics, puffed up in the marketing, are that they relentlessly attack anyone who enters the stable. “They have no particular tactics”, we’re told. Well, I feel cheated. There’s a house, next to the stable, expensive looking, Unbroken windows. You can’t break in to it though, you’re prevented from doing so by magic. 

And this is all too bad, because other parts of the adventure are quite intriguing, at least in as much as revealing what might have been. The wanderer table is a good one, terse, with giant snakes dropping on the last person, bugbears holding people up, and bandits lost in the woods. The two chandlers in town hate each other, one paying to cover up things his dad did, another paying to find out what the other guys dad did, and the innkeep buying info to keep those two from each others throats. And it takes about as many words to describe it as I used here. Terse.

So, there’s nothing here, but there are hints of what could have been, Instead of four pages of content the adventure could have had eight pages. The stable, tactics imagination and and encounter depth could have been greater. The hooks could have involved the town. The town could have been given six paragraphs instead of three, to expand the rivalry/triangle a bit more. 

But that’s not what we got. Insead we got puffery and a note that this adventure requires the addition of a DM to bring it to life. 

That’s not an excuse.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $2. There is no preview, but, as PWYW, I guess it’s free.


Posted in 5e, Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 17 Comments

B2.1: Game of Kobolds

By Gagmen RPG Podcast
B/X, etc
Levels 1-3

Sometimes you run across something interesting. Note that I didn’t say “good.” 

This 42 page adventure supplement describes a stronger faction play element for adventure B2: Keep on the Borderlands. Concentrating mostly on the factions, their NPC’s, goals and motivations, you really do get a Game of Thrones type of sentiment coming out of it. It’s also pretty one-sided, being mostly NPC’s and goals, and lacks the guidance or DM aides needed to actually use this effectively without a substantial amount of work. It’s not bad. It’s just a first draft quality.

Some podcast I don’t listen to asked some other podcast I don’t listen to how they could make their D&D game more like Game of Thrones.The podcast said they didn’t know, but that the podcast should go off and do it themselves. And, in a surprise move, they did! And they used B2: Keep on the Borderlands, with it’s many factions, as the foundation. I thought this “adventure”, or “supplement” was interesting enough, at least in concept, to cover it even though it’s not a traditional adventure. Which means I’m on dangerous territory. But, being adjacent to adventures, as supplement material, I’m hoping  I’ll be ok. 

The meat of the product is roughly thirty of its 42 pages describing NPC’s and their goals and motivations. Roughly, each of the Cave lairs gets about three NPC’s, the wilderness sites get an NPC or two each, and the town gets six or so. These NPC descriptions can take up a column to most of a page, each. You get a some little background on the NPC, their goals, and then a “Hamartia”, what their motivational aspect is. Hatred, Love, Pride, etc, and how it relates to them. Which you can pretty much tell from the backstory/recent history anyway. Essentially, as that NPC interacts with the party they will do so with a bend towards their Hamartia. Frank loves Mary, as he interacts with the party there will be some twinge of Frank trying to achieve his goal of loving Mary. It’s generally not that simple, and has a bit more nuance, but doesn’t drone on either. It’s nice. And NPC’s motivations and goals are almost always related to other people, even in other tribes. Thus you get this tangled web of NPC interactions in the Caves and Keep, with each site having at least three NPC’s (with Minotaur, Ogre, and Owlbear exceptions, of course) and those NPC’s all having things things they want to accomplish, and they each having some relationship to someone else either in their tribe or in another faction. It’s a pretty deep amount of faction play.

The Kobold king, on The Briar Throne, leads all the tribes. They are opposed by the lizardmen in the swamps, led secretly by an undead Kobold “god” … daughter of the old king the new king killed. That’s already pretty good. They have traded, in the past, with the Keep, providing Spider Silk Steel, a unique and special steel. But the lizardmen raids have stopped the flow of the spice … err, spider steel. Various humanoids in the caves support the new king, don’t support him, have their own shit going on. And the same for the keep, and the wilderness bandits and lizardmen. Fucking thing is complex as all fuck! And brilliant! Really really nice job on the faction play and the motivations. It’s all extremely interesting, and I’m not being hyperbolic. From the Rosencrantz & Guildenstern gate guards to just about every other NPC, they make sense and, most of all, are PLAY ORIENTED.

There’s some decent advice on techniques on how to get the party to not just go in hacking (like: consider everyone in the caves speaks common)  and a short “sample timeline/plot” to give the DM some guidance on how things might go. The party arrives with a writ from THE KING to investigate the lack of spider steel shipments. Gonna pull rank on the keep lord? Got an army to back you up? He does. So maybe you don’t go in all obvious pulling rank …  really really nice initial setup, provoking the paranoia of these situations from the very start and supporting it well. Who CAN you trust no to just outright kill you … in the fucking keep?

It’s also got some pretty big gaps. The NPC’s really need more cross-references. Instead of “Ack-Ack” it needs to be “Ack-Ack(o43)” to show he’s an orc and on page 43. Those NPC descriptions also, as great as they are, need to be tightened or formatted quite a bit to make motivations, goals, and backstory information for readily apart from each other to ease the running during play. A nice summary sheet, with the same, and maybe even a mind fucking map would be a good help also. The factions and their relationships are key to being successful with this, and it really needs help in this area. Right now it’s just a text dump and that’s just not manageable. Having said that … a few more NPC’s in the keep would be nice also, or, rather, in the style of this adventure, expanding on the NPC’s already there. 

Finally, I think the thing has a flaw. It’ needs a timeline for goals and some way to manage combat effectively. Right now the timeline is not really present, for the caves people, and it’s not clear how to handle combat, when it breaks out, alongside the political side. Single killings, etc, how are they reacted to and handled … WITHOUT LOOSING THE POLITICAL GAME?  This is presenting a different sort of a game and it needs more guidance on how to handle the situations that come up in the situations likely to happen in that style … especially when mixed with traditional D&D. 

Still, all in all, a great draft of the faction play elements and rich NPC’s pretty tightly focused on actual play. It just needs more to be able to shine through the difficulties of running it. It needs to be more than just the NPC’s and some lite advice.

This is free. I think. The fucking download link is a major pain to find. And the podcast link is currently broken. Joy. Here’s a scribd link or google “game of kobolds”. Scribd can sometimes be a little sketchy. If I find out its infringing I’ll yank the link.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 6 Comments

The Tombs of the Whispering Worms

By Mark Chance

Self Published


Level 1

This seven page adventure describes a fifteen room dungeon with zones connected by chokepoint passages. Evocative read-aloud and generally short DM text is augmented by some decent interactivity. This deserves to be larger than it is.

There’s no backstory or anything for this, it’s just a hole in the ground, a cave mouth for the DM to use. Which is fine, and better than including some shitty toss off of a caravan guard/asked to look in to it by your patron hook. If you’re going to include a hook and/or backstory then it needs to contribute, meaningfully. I mean, I guess, no harm no foul if I can just scribble over it with a big black magic marker and it has no impact on the adventure. Other than pointing out to everyone that you’ve made no effort. Hmmm, is it somewhat telling that, even in an adventure that does things right, I still find a way to complain about something that the adventure DOES right? I mean, there’s no low-effort hook! That’s great! Now, let me bitch about low-effort hooks …

The map here, but Matthew Lowes, is relatively interesting. More so than the usual dungeon maps. It’s a combination of caves and dungeons. There are maybe three or four zones, or little room complexes, with each one connected to the last by some kind of chokepoint. Not exactly amazing, but for fifteen rooms, taking up about a quarter of one page, I’d say it’s a pretty decent map effort. The map also has a decent number of terrain features. Flowstone stairs, sinkholes, terraces/shelves, corridors running under others, same level stairs. It’s like someone was paying attention in “interesting map school.” It’s refreshing to see. The details ALMOST get lost to me, being a quarter page map, but are still easy enough to see. So, I guess, right size? I could do with it just a little bit larger though, for super ease of use. It looks like Matthew drew the map and then Mark found it, didn’t tell Luke & John, Mary, or Ignatius, and created an adventure for it. 

And a pretty good adventure it is, especially for an existing map. The content matches the map pretty well. The adventure “fits” the map in way that few adventures do, even those that have custom maps for them.

The writing here is decent. The descriptions are evocative. It does that thing, that I think is the easiest barrier to entry, in using short punchy statements and not fucking around with full sentences. The entrance cave is “Rough walls of rock. Evidence of past fires seen in the black smudges of soot on the ceiling and the shallow depressions full of burnt sticks and ash. Rubbish, small bones, a musty scent.” It’s in italics, but isn’t TOO long. Still, some shading or some other offset method would have been better, for legibility purposes. It’s formatted (italics) like it’s read-aloud but it’s one of the few examples of read-aloud that I think the COULD actually be scanned by the DM and paraphrased. This sort of “less is more” theory of evocative room descriptions allows the imagination to wander. It doesn’t fuck around with filler words. It’s just a needle to the neocortex. Again, I think this is probably the easiest way for a new designer to write a good description. Is it THE BEST way? Who knows, but it’s not a BAD way, at least when you are actually trying. ROUGH walls, SMUDGES of SOOT SHALLOW depressions. It’s not digging in to the High Gygaxian Unabridged Dictionary territory, but it is trying to use actually descriptive adjectives and adverbs instead of the boring same old same old shit that does nothing to inspire.

DM text is also short. Usually. Room two has a sinkhole. The DM text tells us “The sinkhole is about five feet deep, about half of that being full of water. The water is cool and relatively fresh.

Nothing valuable or dangerous is found in this area.” Now, i could do without the “nothing if value” line; there’s is very seldom a need to tell the DM that something does NOT exist. There is NOT a bag olf gold outside of window. I don’t need to tell you that though, since you wouldn’t expect that to be the case. Still, through, the good DM text covers what the DM needs to know and it does it in a short manner. 

Interactivity is pretty decent for a fifteen room dungeon. Things happen when blood is spilled in some rooms. Cool things. There are stone sarcophagi to break in to. Braziers to fuck with, and get fucked with by. The elevation things in the various rooms also help with interactivity, providing obstacles for the characters to navigate. It’s not just combat. It’s a bit short for NPC/talky-talky stuff, but there is at least one person inside that MIGHT talk to you, before the Drow fucks you up. I’ll take it, in a fifteen room dungeon.

Treasure seems a bit light for a GOLD=XP. The magic items loots are book items, but it does include miscellaneous magic items quite a bit, which is decent option to mix things up as opposed to the usually floor od +1 swords and shields. These sorts of non-mechanical items, which tend to dominate the Misc category, allow for so much more free-form play and possibilities than the simple mechanical buffs. If you gotta go book then lean heavy on the Misc table, which is a thought I had not had before. I’m gonna add this to my notes and hopefully bitch about it in many reviews in the future … and we have this adventure to thank for that.

It is in single column format and I wish it were not. It’s using little offset boxes for dungeon notes, which is a good thing, but I tend to find long single-colum text harder to follow. The eye has to travel farther. I know, it sounds like bullshit, but, just like with the italics stuff there is research to support this two column, and three, is much easier to read. 

A few of the rooms do get a bit heavy with the DM text. A few sub-headings, in bold would have helped in these rooms, to better organize the thoughts and help the DM know where to scan/look. There’s also a weird-ass table. There’s a room with a monster in it but you roll on a little offset table to see what the monster is. I mean, it’s not BAD, I guess, but nothing like this can ever reach its full potential. For an adventure like this, that has no meaningful procedural element, to include one is weird. Just pick one, Mr Designer, and do the best job you can with it.

Overall, though, I was left with a strange feeling. A feeling of … wanting to see more of both the mapmaker and the designer. The small size/low room count here means there’s only so much that can be done with the design. It’s not BAD, in fact I think it does a good job with it, but a larger space, with more room to breathe, would be interesting to see these two tackle.

Fuck. I had something else to say but forgot it. And … I’m back to writing a two page review. Nice. On a seven page dungeon. That’s free. And decent. Oh, I remember now! The last room! It;s a BIG spiral stair down the outside of a huge well-like pit. Fuck. Yeah. That turns this entire adventure in to a “front door” for the Mythic Underworld of your choice. Nice. That’s right. I’m giving this The Best. Fuuuuuuuucccckkkkkkkkk You, gentle re

This is free at Matthews blog:

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Level 1, Reviews, The Best | 9 Comments

A Single, Small Cut

By Michael Curtis
Level 3

“Human greed meeting weird horror with a quite messy outcome.”

This is one encounter padded out to eleven pages. You can’t write something good when it’s padded out like that. 

Some dudes have cloudkilled everyone in a small church and stuffed their bodies in the crypt below. Fake priest is upstairs while some dudes loot the crypts. Party wanders in. Priest ambushes them with four extra dudes in the choir loft. Then a monster bursts out of the crypt stairs, having killed the dudes below. 

That’s your eleven pages. 

It’s like one of those Dungeon Magazine Side Trek adventures. Except this one is eleven pages long.

Yess, Killface, we can never go back to Arizona. 

Why even try anymore?

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is two pages, the title page and the FIRST page of background. You get to see nothing of the adventure. It’s got 23 reviews and four stars. Whatever.


Hey, you like seeing this shit? Neither do I. There’s a Patreon link to support me. I wouldn’t use it, but, hey, whatever you want.


Posted in Do Not Buy Ever, Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 15 Comments

The Lair of the Lamb

By Arnold Kemp
Goblin Punch
Level 0

This 54 page adventure is both an introduction to the GLOG rules as well as a zero level funnel with two levels and about fifty-ish rooms. It’s quite interactive and does a good job with creature and item descriptions, less so with evocative room descriptions. They are easy to use and scan, after a fashion. I’d pick this to run over a lot of other adventures.

The intro pages to this, the first fifteen or so pages, are used to describe the basic GLOG rules. It’s clearly B/X derived, with lower stats and a few other things borrowed from other systems. More important;y to it’s B/X heritage is the philosophy of adventure. There’s a nice little section, one for the DM and one for the players, which serves as a pretty good overview of the B/X mindset. Rulings, not rules, run away, use cunning, don’t fight fair, etc. Good enough that you could use both the DM and the player sections as handouts to give a great overview of how the game is played, philosophically. So, basic understanding of D&D? Check!

The maps have a couple of loops in them, good since there are enemies to avoid, including the titular “Lamb.” The lamb resembles a gigantic hairless obese cow. It’s head resembles a bloody horse skull with sunken eyes and a black tongue. It drags its belly as it walks. When wounded or scared it calls out “Father! Father!” in increasingly loud tones. That’s a mother fucking monster description right there! It is going to SCARE THE LIVING SHIT out of the players, which is what monsters should do. Further, the description inspires the DM. It places a nugget of flavour directly in to the central cortex. How can you NOT be excited about running something like that? My mind LEAPS to the possibilities of how to use it … which is exactly what a good description should do. Oh, and if not utterly destroyed then three little lambs wait until it’s quiet and then chew their way out of otis belly. Bad. Ass. Father Bastoval shows up in the dungeon a couple of hours after the Lamb is killed, looking for the killers. If he kills a PC he gains a level and then the DM is instructed to forever more introduce him further as “Bastoval, Slayer of X”. Goovy!

There are a handful of ghouls in the dungeon, which may talk, cooperate, or actually help the party, if the party help them. Japer – Theater & politics. Lutz – Cooking, butchery, & lewd jokes. And so they go. Just a short personality each. This is SPOT ON. No paragraphs and paragraphs of backstory. Just what you need to run the adventure. Short. Sweet. Evocative. Something y ou can work with. As 0’s, you’re trapped in the dungeon, escaped sacrifices to the lamb, and you can free your other three PC’s. There’s a hole in the walls that leads to the city, fist-sized, and a dude on the other side who will extort you and buy things to you, to pass in to you. Again, short & sweet personality and directly to the point of enabling adventure. The adventure does this over and over and over again. Direct, short, quick hits that provide meaningful play opportunities.

Interactivity is HIGH. Just about every room has something to play with, use, reuse or something. Things to collect. Classic statue puzzles. Pools of water. Creatures and NPC’s to talk to and bargain with. There are some giant rolly polly bugs at one point. You can use them to bowl a specific obstacle over that will fuck you up otherwise. Rooms are linked with info in one room related to another room, and you can return to rooms a few times. Cross-references to this are almost always present, allowing the DM to quickly reference what they need. The room text says things like “You can smell vinegar coming from the west” and “you can see faint light from the east”, handling the dungeon environment well. Characters motivations are present. Beyond getting out, you need to find supplies, including water … water which is most notable present in a pool .. that the Lamb hangs out in. You start with a -4, due to dehydration, so you’re motivated to Wacky Scheme the Lamb to get that water … it’s good. 

Room descriptions are easy to use. Good use of Bolding, highlighting, boxed offset, bullet points and whitespace to separate and draw attention to various subject headings. The longest/most complex rooms may be about 3/4 of a column but they are quite easy to scan thanks to the format.

What I am not overly enamored with are the actual evocative nature of the room descriptions. Unlike the creatures the rooms are more than a little fact based. “A stone trough half-full of vinegar. Investigating the reeking liquid reveals an empty wine bottle. Another stone trough that stinks of stale milk. It is empty.” From a usability standpoint this is great. From an ITEM description it is pretty good. From a holistic room standpoint, not so much. It is describing the objects rather than the room. This gives me the impression that only the objects matter (and, to be fair, they do from an interactivity standpoint) but it gives the impression that the immersion, the room proper, is not so important.One sentence, at the beginning of each room, describing the room proper, would have sufficed and I think developed the entire thing much better.

Still, great adventure. Loads of magnificent individual elements. I’d run it. 

This is free at the Goblin Punch blog. 


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

Caverns of Slime

By Alex Schroeder
Self Published
High Levels

Level 13 of the Fight On! Megadungeon.

This 35 page single-column “adventure” describes a cavern. Full of slime. Kind of? It has fourteen of so large areas, each with a situation going on. 

Lomax: Can you describe its form?

Lena: No

Lomax: Was it carbon based?

Lena: I don’t know.

Lomax: Did it communicate with you?

Lena: It reacted to me.

Lomax: You really have no idea what it was?

You and me both lady. You and me both.

The orc tribe in this rides around on flying sharks. No, it’s not gonzo. Stay with me.

The caverns of slime is really one BIG cavern, with the River Styx flowing around it in a circle. There are some sub-areas hanging off of it. There are no maps, per se, except for the one large area map showing the various major locations and their relation to each other. Weirdly, that kind of works. 

It’s also not as slime heavy as you might think, given the title. Or maybe it is? Anyway, there are slimes down here. The orcs throw bottles of it. There’s an ooze lord. But there’s also more of a toilet/sewage theme, so you get both the literal slime and the figurative slime. Nicely done! 

But those are just rando facts. The major thing to be aware of with this adventure is that it’s really a list of ideas that the DM needs to work in to a whole, more so than other adventures. This is, I think, somewhat related to Alex’s philosophy of how to make high level adventures work. It IS an adventure, I think. Maybe it is ACTUALLY a high level adventure? I mean, one that actually works? And this is what you have to do to do that? 

Anyway, you get a list of locations. Each location gets a short little description, a few sentences, and then some themes for that location to emphasize while the DM is making up places and describing things. Then there’s a list of things that can happen. Encounters. Maybe six to  location, with some locations having more like “pre-revolution” and “post-revolution.” A description of who lives there and their goals. Some of them want to use you. Some of them want to be used by you. There might be some supporting information, like, “Here’s a list of demon names to get you started if you need some for rando demons in this location.” And then it’s on the next place.

What you do NOT get is a keyed encounter map. Or descriptions of travel times. Or anything like that. This is all for the DM to make up, riffing off of the information in the adventure and what the party does. Situations.

And situations there are! You need to navigate down some falls, stuffed full of fungus, and an exiled fungus lord. There’s a city full of spiders. Civilized. But Hungry. They have “barbarian” spiders outside of the city. It’s likely that the city will attacked by an army of ghouls. Who you gonna help? Anyone? It’s good to have friends …

There’s the orcs riding flying sharks. I swear to you it fits. It’s not just stuffed full of gonzo shit. If you can accept a city of intelligent spiders then can you accept a ghoul army? And orcs on flying sharks? There are ships plying the River Styx. There’s a trapped ooze lord. A dam, that you need to destroy, probably, to get out of the level. Refugees that fell down toilets and ended up here. A beholder wizard. A mind flayer on a spaceship. Things, obviously, related to other levels. Drugs to do, rituals to learn. A prison of DIs, full of demons and people in cages, and LOTS of them are willing to trade things with you … for a price. 

The areas are evocative. The scenes and encounters imaginative. You can, possibly, take and/or trade with a LOT of the people down here. This is an adventure of making allies and getting what you want. 

It’s also riding the line as to what an adventure IS. I’m going to give it a bit of a pass here, in that regard, but also mention two things. First, logically, there’s probably a tonal shift in this area. That can’t be helped, I think, in a collaborative project like The Darkness Beath. I’m thinking specifically of the fungus lord and spider city, and maybe other areas, before the party learn they are trapped and/or REALLY need to make allies. Maybe that’s ok, though, since they are high level. I might have made a note in the first or second area, though, to hint out what was going on to get them going in that direction. Second, The format, being non-traditional, I think could deserve a few words on philosophy/how to run it. This may be how Alex runs things, and I’m sure there are others that can wing it, but a few words on that would help, I think, train a new generation on how to run it this way. Which, hopefully, leads to more adventures of this type. IE: high level that don’t immediately SUCK ASS because they are just emulating level 1 dungeons except with more HD for the monsters. 

This is free at Alex’s website. I would encourage you, therefore, to go download it and take a look at it. The first few areas, anyway. Then maybe ready the design notes I’m going to link to. As an example of how to write a high level adventure I think it has some interesting things to say, with examples presented in the Caverns of Slime. You could, salso, mine the fuck out of this and create about a hundred adventures from whats withing it, if you expanded on them in a “traditional” manner, stealing ideas and riffing off of them. 


And, a philosophy/design notes post:


Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews, The Best | 6 Comments

(5e) Children of Dust adventure review

By George Sutherland Howard
Pond Strider Games
Levels 3-4

A village gripped by terror. A mother consumed by grief. A leader struggling to find answers. A deadly threat, waiting in the blasted hellscapes of the Badlands. […] Set in a brutal, sun-scorched wasteland, Children of Dust tells a tale of trust, powerlessness, love, grief, and selfishness. It asks how far a parent can be driven to save their children, how harsh a leader can be before they become a tyrant, and what difference separates love and insanity – if there is even a difference in the first place.

This 48 page suck-fest wants to be Dark Sun sooooo bad. It follows the standard adventure plot adventure template. Do not be fooled, as I was, by the enchanting cover. Nothing is inside but the usual overwritten text wrapped around a boring adventure.

This is set in DeadWorld. Defiler magic, ruined world, low water, deadly. Clearly an attempt at a Dark Sun setting. That’s ok, I like post-apoc. I just don’t like BAD post-apoc.

This adventure follows the standard template. You arrive in a village. You are treated like shit. You get to know the village. You are treated like shit. Something bad happens in the night. You are treated like shit and forced to look in to it. It’s a red herring. That night n the village something happens. You can’t stop the village. You go solve the villagers problem, ending in a confrontation with the bad guy. There must be an online generator that turns this crap out.

The safest thing to do, the safest thing to ALWAYS do, is just burn the place down and kill everyone. That’s always the answer. Weird house? Burn it. Mists? You’re in Ravenloft, time to burn .There’s a reason adventurers do this shit, because the DM treats them like shit. SOmetimes because the adventure treats them like shit.

You know the drill, arriving at the village forces the party to eat shit. Then you wander around getting to know people while the DM digs through their column-long backstories looking for pertinent information hidden in the overwritten NPC descriptions. It’s like people have never used an adventure before. I suspect it’s actually because they know their open adventures too well and don’t understand how hard it is for someone coming in fresh to run a column-long NPC. Whatever. 

Then something happens in the night, kids abducted. The usual. Characters beaten and arrested, forced to eat shit in order to play D&D tonight. Want to play D&D? Time to just accept you’ll have to eat mouths of shit in order to play. Ok, so, beaten arrested, forced to look in to the kid abductions. You get to wander in the desert, earning “tracking points”, one a day, maybe two, until you get six. While the DM wades through the column long wandering monster encounters. 

Yeah! You found the lizard men kidnappers! Except, they didn’t do it. At least there’s a diplomatic option offered. Back in town, that night, there are more abductions. The bad guy shows up and gets away. Of course. Because there has to be a climax in the next scene on a cliffside. Oh, before the climax you go look for an old woman in the village you was the first to lose her child.  Maybe you overstep and find her diary (arg! Diaries! When I become king of the world my only act will banning diaries from adventures. SHOW don’t TELL!) Blah blah, lost her kid, blah blah, sacrificing kids to bring hers back. Fight her on the cliffside if you don’t make your DC25 skill check.

Interspersed is long sections of read-aloud, in italics of course, because italics os easy to read. 

The usual adventure template. The usual treating of the party like shit. (And none of that “it fits the game world” bullshit either. Just burn the fucking place down, loot them, and move on with a better adventure.) 

Columns and columns of words. Every action and motivation explained multiple times. Everything covered. It’s fucking impossible to find what you need while running this at the table. 

This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is sixteen pages. That’s enough to get a sense of what the writing is like. Once you skip past the overview, campaign world stuff you get to see the arrival in the village and the first night abduction. The entire adventure is written in this style. But more so.


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

The Stygian Garden of Abelia Prem

By Clint Krause
Red Moon Medicine Show
Levels 1-2

This 31 page adventure uses about  twelves pages to describe around fifty locations in a manor and its grounds. The writing is tight and usually evocative, with some care paid to actually being usable by the DM. It is also a little slow and lacks some interactivity and, i might, motivation. It reminds me of Tower of the Stargazer.

There’s this class of adventure, I usually think of them as Lamentations adventures, in which there’s a recently abandoned X that the party goes to check out/loot before anyone else does. “No ones seen old man Roy in a week, he must be dead, let’s loot his place!” As a fan of urban adventures I’m generally on board with this sort of thing. This adventure has touches of that. A manor home, and grounds, the home of a slightly senile old woman, and a rumor table and backstory relating her dismissing her servants and dismissing them. Maybe a country estate, since the grounds are quite large.

 Usability here is high. The maps, there are eight or nine, are refreshingly clear but still have lots of details on them. It’s easy to tell which witch is which and make out doors and the extra detail on the maps makes does a lot to help fill in the details of the rooms and orent the DM. There are multiple levels in some areas, balconies, dumbwaiters, and windows to the outside THAT CAN ACTUALLY BE BROKEN! Imagine, a real environment to explore!

Beyond this though the writing style of the rooms is direct. There is no conversation tone. There is non padding with “this was once” or backstory embedded in to the rooms. The entries tend to be short, or at least the individual sections of rooms, with bolded headings indicating where to look for additional data on special items in the room to explore. Important and obvious things tend to come first in the description, helping the DM run the room well as they quickly scan the rest of the description.  It’s really not fucking around here at all and I struggle to recall another adventure in which the writing was as tight as this one, devoid of useless word padding.Usability is further enhanced by a one page monster summary sheet, especially useful for the wandering monsters.

The writing tends to be evocative as well, for the most part. Balconies overlook, doors in floral patterns, pantries invaded by rats, rifled kitchens, gilded harps. It’s using a terse writing style but it’s punctuating it with adjectives and adverbs other than “large” and “black”m along with room titles to help orient the DM immediately to what sort of room it is. Room one is titled The Foyer:

The front door of the manor is carved with a complex floral pattern. It is slightly ajar. Inside the foyer are four marble statues of female forms with scarves loosely draped over their bodies.Near the door there are two candelabras,each of which holds three dusty, half melted candles. In the center is a grand staircase that leads to the second floor.A second-floor balcony can be seen overlooking the room from above.

It’s direct. The front door is first. Floral patterns. Slightly ajar. Statues with scarves draped over them. Dusty half-melted candles in a candelabra. This isn’t a masterclass in writing, but its far far better, both in being direct, lacking weasel padding, and sticking in some evocative imagery, than the vast majority of whats being produced in adventures. It’s a little scene, in a few words. I would, generally, wish for things to be just a bit ore evocative, but for the most part this thing is on the correct track.

Interactivity is … somewhat lacking. This is slow, much in the same way/vibe that Tower of the Stargazer is slow. There IS interactivity, statues to mess with, sleeps to have, and so on. But there’s also more combat than interactivity … and there’s not an awful lot of combat either. It’s a slow, tension suspenseful thing, but it feels like the tension is somehow being mismanaged. As if there’s not enough release, or not enough things to play with and investigate. For each statue that does something (attacks, spins, etc)  there are maybe four or so that do nothing. (Not to give the impression that the adventure is nothing but statues, but there are a lot of them in it,) It feels, I don’t know, a little mundane? Slow? You need some, for horror and tension and suspense, but the balance just feels off.

Combine this with a kind of lack of motivation for the adventure. I’m gonna get shit for this, but there’s nuance to what I’m about to say. A site-based adventure needs something going on, especially at this length. There’s no other team coming in to loot. There’s no ghost in charge of the place. There’s no pressure, other than the wanderers. I think, maybe, the open environment of a manor home and grounds, combined with only wanderers as pressure, seems to dissipate some of the tension. 

As a slower, dread and anticipation thing this works ok, and the descriptions are above average, as is the usability. I may elevate this to The Best upon further reflection.

 This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is the first six pages, which, unfortunately, doesn’t show you any of the rooms. That’s disappointing, as is the lack of a level range on the store page.


Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, No Regerts, Reviews | 9 Comments

The Hasting’s Party

By James A Youhas
Just One More Fix LLC
Level ?

The Hasting’s Party is a celebration of triumph against the elements and of survival in one of the most inhospitable places for mankind to live. It is a moment to remember the community and sacrifice it takes to survive in a harsh world, but is there something more sinister beneath the surface?

This 22 page sandbox adventure “details” a small winter mountain village and the feast they have every month .. as well as the cave of a witch. The basic architecture of the adventure is good, but it fails on almost all of the details.

First, let’s cover what I mean by it has a good basic architecture. I’m stating this in relation to a sandbox adventure … which I wish more adventures of this type would choose to be. More than a specific plot, and specific encounters, it is presenting a situation that the party finds itself in. Iedally the adventure then provides the DM the resources they need to handle the situation in response to the parties interactions with its various elements. In support of this there might be a little background information on whats going on, the location/village, etc, the people in it and what they think/generally react, an event timetable, the lair of the bad guy, and then some support tables, like what are the names of the people for that random house you just busted in on, and so on. You’re giving the DM the tools they need to react and go with the flow, riffing off of what the party does. This adventure understands that basic format required of a sandbox adventure and lays out the parts of it well. There’s a short little background, describing whats going on, and a little section on themes that I found nice. Essentially, four bullet points with instructions to “pull the adventure back to these elements/insert these elements in situations.” Hey, that’s great! Being so important to the adventure, I would have located those themes on the DM reference sheet included, so they were always at hand, but, hey, how many times do you see an adventure explicitly tell you “try to make your riffing related to one of these elements” in an adventure? Never? Once? Yeah, I’ll take it.

It is unfortunate the, that the specifics of most of the sections are not handled well by the adventure.

Let’s start with the village. It’s a fucking die drop. Do the die drop to make the village map and then use the map to help define the relationships between the various families in the village. Why do this? This is a finite location. It’s not like you’re making an “empty house generator” or planetary design generator. It’s one specific location, whats the purpose of a die drop table? Extra work for me? No thank you. If you insist, because of “replayability” then stick the same thing in the appendix and give me the specifics of a situation in the adventure. The singular can be concrete, it doesn’t need a random generator. 

The witches cave is a one pager art piece, with nice detail, and a two or three sentences describing each room. Most of which, skinning, butchery, rendering, are pretty gruesome. And, beyond that, pretty boring. There’s not really much to investigate. A random table determines if there’s someone in the room, an escaped child or a monster. And there’s no real treasure to speak of. AT ALL. I mean, NOTHING. The The family relationships are likewise empty (because of that die drop shit) and the wandering in the wilderness and exposure are generic and flavourless. It’s just all lacking the details to bring it to life. There’s a little time-table table (ug, because of the die drop) but it’s really just “how many days until the next feast!” There’s no real events in the village, or things to do or things that happen, or drama, except for It’s Feast Day! And once that happens then its pretty obviously killing time. 

As a result we get a very flavourful set up, with a mountain spirit, a pact, an interesting, if familiar, thing going on … and then almost nothing specific to support it with. At best, you get “this family is suspicious and this one is not.” and little else. Hooks are generic and forgettable “looking for someone” stuff, although, there’s nothing wrong with a “you come across a mountain village in your travels” inserted in to an ongoing campaign. 

There is, obviously, a lack of level ranges given by the adventure, . There are a lot of 3HD monsters though, A LOT, so, maybe 6-7, given that the main baddie is a 10d12 HP monster?

You know, there is something else I like. It has a consequences section. Again, mostly abstracted and of little use, but there is one part. The witch is a spirit of winter, and will be reborn with the next winter. That’s nice, but better, the characters will, anytime they are in the winter wilderness, get a shiver up their spine. “The quiet moments of a cold and frozen death are where [the witch] lives” Nice!

So, decent gameplan but poorly executed.

This is $5 at DriveThru. There is no preview. Naughty Naughty! Put us in a preview and a level range, so we can figure out if we want to buy it?


Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | Leave a comment

Lost Temple of Ibholtheg D&D Adventure Review

By “Weird Dave” Coulson
Cut to the Chase games
Level 3

Far to the south, on the borders of the Great Jungle, brave caravans of merchants, traders, and settlers have begun to colonize the frontier. For several years now they’ve cut into the harsh wilderness, but stand on the brink of destruction from unknown, terrible forces. Just as rumors of a lost temple have surfaced, those same forces seem to be on the move.

This 34 page adventure describes a seventeen page temple in the jungle. Long read-aloud, longer DM text and boring environments make this the usual sort of thing to be avoided. Oh, also, versions exist for 5e, pathfinder, DCC, S&W, and SnW, whatever that is. So, you know, it HAS to be good!

You go to this frontier trading post in Darkest Africa, err, I mean a jungle place, and get hired by one of three companies making the same offer: go talk to to some friendly dark-skinned natives, orcs in this case, and find some lost temple. You walk through the jungle for twenty ot so days, having some boring rando encounters, have a fest day celebration with the friendly native orcs, and go to the temple where you get bored before it collapses. 

There’s only about ten pages of content in this, and that includes the friendly orc tribe stuff, the rest being appendices and the long, and boring, lead in and wandering monsters. All three groups that can hire you are essentially the same, with just some window dressing changes: dwarves, or humans, or … Then you get the walk through the jungle with your half-native guide. The guide is, at least, handled well. He’s got a little personality and he’s got some things he can relate to you if you talk to him on the journey, and they are easy to find and scan quickly.

This is in contract to most of the other writing in the adventure which is the usual terrible stuff, with a sentence or two of description being a brief highlight here or there. DM text is LONG. I mean, a column or more of DM text for rooms. The usual stuff, relating history and past purposes of the room, a conversational style, explaining why, all things that get in the way of finding the information the DM needs.

Not that you actually need much. I am not kidding when I saw that just about every encounter ends with words “They attack” and/or “They attack immediately”, or some derivation thereof. And the one that don’t end that way STILL have creatures that attack immediately. This is little more than a hack of an adventure. Go in a room, trigger the Doom monsters teleporting in, and then kill them. Except, of course, this is DCC so fighters have Epic Deeds. Except the rooms are generally boring with few features for the fighter to riff off of. LAME! These are the risks of a conversion adventure. 

Read aloud is, of course, long, because why would it be otherwise. There is an occasional bright spot in the writing of the Read Aloud. If those sections were isolated and the rest of the RA ignored then the RA would be much better. It over describes, ofton, telling the players immediately what they see instead of leaving details for the players to follow up with. The walls should be described as having murals, leaving the party to follow up by asking what the murals are. Otherwise you kill the interactivity, the back and forth between the DM and the player, and there is no greater sin in an RPG. 

Let’s see, in the friendly orc village they have a feast and go through the motions of some ceremonies. If the party doesn’t follow suit then they roll or get a faux pas point. Also, they get to roll some completely random faux pas checks during the evening. Fail three times, as a group, in total, and you get kicked out of the village without finding the next clue to the temple. There’s no guidance on where the take the adventure from here. Bad. Failed checks can cause complications, but they should not gate an adventure. Gating is generally bad in a published adventure. Make like tougher. Give the party boons for making rolls, but “No more adventure” is not the right way to go.

The read-aloud can be good at times. Here’s the description of a well: “A muted muttering

punctuated by an occasional scream drifts lazily up from the depths of the well, which appears to hold only inky blackness to an unknown depth.” That’s pretty good. I can take exception with over-sharing that comes before and after this, but the evocative part is down tight. 

The interactivity in this needs to be stronger. Much stronger. More than just They Attack for creatures. Things the party does causing attacks, pushing your luck, and other mechanisms. The text needs to be GREATLY shortened, both the read-aloud and ESPECIALLY the DM text. The hooks/job offers in the beginning are nigh unrunnable because of length. 

This isn’t as bad as I thought it was going be, having seen the systems it was available for, but that’s mostly because of the creative writing elements. The rest of this is just a hack, and I’ll go play Gloomhaven if I want to play tactical mini’s combat.

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview doesn’t work. 🙁


Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 11 Comments