The Caverns of Steel

By Nickolas Zachary Brown
Five Cataclysms
Levels: Mid to High?

This place sits on the border between the mundane world and the world of machines. It is a horrendous mishmash of metal mechanical components, contorted and broken and pressed to form this recognizable-but-alien cavern reeking of oil. This is a place where machine life is the norm, and biological meatbags are unwelcome, prone to a toxic demise. Many creatures found here are parodies of biological life, while yet others have discarded all such trappings for a pure mechanical state. Terrible screeches and clanking and whirring of horrible entities echo through these cavernous chambers. In these twisting halls of metal, there are treasures to be plundered, for where metal abounds, there’s sure to be gold.

This 57 page adventure presents a dungeon sub-level for the Descent into Madness, machine themed, with around 130 rooms(!) It recreates the bizarro vibe of a megadungeon sub-level perfectly. I wish there were more of this in my life.

First off, the keys on this thing start on page seven and run till the end. Absofuckinglutly! Not counting the cover, there are two pages of bs in this: the “how to read a monster stat block” and an overview/pretexts for visiting page. What’s that? You wanted to buy a dungeon adventure, not a belly itcher? Well congratulations, this fucking thing is a dungeon. The designer is NOT fucking around. The keys start almost immediately, after a robust wanderers table. WHo are doing things. What sorts of things? Well, three busty steel crustations challenge the party to a dance off, by pointing at them with a claw and then doing a little dance. If you win, you get a loyal metal-crab follower.  Uh, ok. How about s party of robots, cosplaying as adventurers? Including healer and torchbearer, all dressed up? 

Oh, I’m sorry Mr Hoity Toity stick-up-your-ass D&D player, is that too farcical for you? First, maybe go play Harn. Second, I cherry picked a couple of examples. This is not a joke adventure, or weird for the sake of being weird. The weirdness here is that of the megadungeon sub-level, which has, I think, always been allowed a little room for farce. Mostly, this is a pretty normal dungeon level, albeit machine themed, with a little farce tossed in. Anyone who has spent a lot of hours writing knows how things can get a little crazy sometimes, in your head, and sometimes that translates to the page. That’s what’s going on here. 

Mostly, though, this is a metal and oil sublevel. With a decent number of fleshy folks hanging out. And by flesh folks I mean a wizard in a gemstone, all magic jar style. And a level 20 wizard with a sawed off shotgun. And a whole host of others gathered round for good time. 

There’s a little robo-town, with mostly friendly robots in it. And, a carousing table. A CUSTOM carousing failure table. Something that I’m convinced, now, having seen it in this adventure, needs to be in every adventure with a decently weird town. You ate some rusty gears. They were probably soaked in buffalo sauce. Ill for a couple of days. I love this. It really brings tha added flavour of the site. 

And, that’s what you’re after, right? An adventure that really leans in to the flavour of a site? That makes it come alive? That makes you feel it? And this one kind of does that. The encounters are all delightfull. The initial descriptions terse and, while not award winning, decent enough. Generally. I could do with fewer “appears to be “ and “you see”, ut, they ARE few and far between. Each entry gets a line or two. A few words will be bolded in it and there will bebolded section headings under that to detail those things. Effective enough. The descriptions, proper, are ok. “Metal crabs clamber over the floors and the walls, tending to their little eggs in little pools in craters throughout the room. The corpse of some metallic creature, likely a fish, sits in the middle of the room. Something strange is attached to its head, tube shaped with a crystal tip.” So, ok. Not great, but ok. I do think it falls down in “general vibes.” Like a lot of adventures it has a section up front that says something like “walls are made of metal, full of studs and rivits, with the smell of oil and dripping” or something similar. Meh. I don’t think hat really ends up working, room after room, to convey hte vibe. I’m not mad at it, but I don’t think it helps much either. A stronger room description, or putting things on the map page, would be in order, I think. Or in the margins? SOmething to help bring the window dressing more forward. 

I’m a fan of this. Interactivity is solid. Things to stab, talk to, and interact with. Pools to be drained. Monoliths to fuck with. And situations to be puzzled out, hopefully to the parties advantage. “Rhudahn – An armored angry entity of fire, kept suppressed in a nitrogen prison.” Hope you play that one right, Mr Party. Or, how about “In the center of this triangular room is a red- metal altar, covered in all sorts of barbs and hooks. Atop it is a bloody-red orb, an indentation within suited for a hand to lay upon. Hanging from the walls are more hooks, barbs, spikes, and other instruments of flagellation.” Who wants to fuck with that thing? (Me, I do. I’m DYING to!) 

This really conjures the charm of old school D&D. Deadly, interesting. Varied. A little weird. This is what D&D is made of. Sure, it could be a lot more polished. But, also, that content is GOLD.

This is $5 at DriveThru. Alas, the preview is broken 🙁

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews, The Best | 30 Comments

Cult of Ankh-Ra

By Nova Yttrium
Self Published
Levels 1-3

In this adventure, the PCs are hired to find the missing daughter Kyla of a wealthy merchant that has been kidnapped by acolytes of a cult that recently plagues the land and abducts women and men alike. The Cult of Ankh-Ra, as they call themselves, is trying to revive the forgotten goddess Ankh-Ra by sacrificing humans and performing an ancient ritual that they found on an old scroll in a former temple of Ankh-Ra that lies in ruins nowadays. Once the PCs reach the temple, they witness the result of the ritual: The soul of Ankh-Ra has been resurrected and takes possession of Kyla’s body. She then uses her magical powers to transport her temple from one thousand years ago into the current time along with all creatures that lived in her temple all those years ago. Can the PCs stop Ankh-Ra, banish her soul and rescue Kyla from the grasp of the cultists? [Ed: One hopes not …]

This nineteen page digest adventure uses about eight pages to describe about thirty rooms. It’s one step removed from minimally keyed. So, you know, at least it’s overwritten. It also lacks just about everything that actually brings a D&D adventure to life.

There is one nice thing. You enter a room, a guard shouts that he’s willing to die for his god and pulls a lever, locking the doors and causing the ceiling to lower, classic trap style. Ten rounds to get out, with a dude in the room. Nice twist.   

Frank the merchant hires you to go get his daughter back, who was abducted for sacrifice “a few days ago.” Nice job Frank. You’re father of the year for that one. You approach the ruined temple the cult uses and there’s a flash of light and the temple repairs itself. Looks like In Media Res is the new hotness. Anyway, there’s no pretext before the actual room keys. Yeah, there’s eleven pages of intro, but none of it is about Frank, the abduction, the journey to the temple or anything else. It’s just mostly creature stat blocks, up front instead of behind in an appendix. Not that there has to be more. But, you know, an order of battle for the temple would have been nice, instead of everyone just staying in their rooms and ying, the way they do. Or, even, sticking monsters on the map for reaction purposes. Whatever.

Here’s a kitchen: “This big kitchen spans the whole room and is used to prepare various meals for the entire temple.” Yes, kitchens usually look like a kitchen. I would want to know if it ididn’t, and don’t want to know if it does. How about a dorm? “More than 20 simple beds are in this room.” Now, why would you say that? Why would you say “More than 20?” 6000 beds? 21 beds? Presumably the DM should know? No? It’s not important? Then why the fuck mention it? And why put it in such imprecise language for the DM? “The pit is more than 10 feet deep.” Uh huh. In other places guards “performing an obscure ritual”. Or “One giant scorpion is being trained by a jackal guard.”

This is just minimal keying. It’s one step removed from just listing “1 scorpion, 1 jackal guard.” There’s no value in that. There’s no language being used to bring the environment to life. To create a dynamic situation to be excited about. There’s no thrill. There’s jus a grind. One room after the next.

The resurrected queen, Ankh-Ra, is in Kyla’s body at the end. Dressed in yellow and blue silks and covered head to toe in jewelry. Which is some nice imagery. That’s what you do to your sacrificial victim to bring back your god. But, once you gack her, that’s it. We never learn anything about the jewelry. You see, it doesn’t matter. There was no thought about this. Fuck D&D. And so it goes, even with the puzzles. “Give your goddess an offering and bow down or face her wrath! Also, put it in the bowl, at least 10cp worth, preferably in cash. No checks. ApplePay accepted. Exchange rate set by the latest edition of The Times.”

Oh, hey, did I mention there’s not actually a cult? They don’t appear. Just the guards and shit, transported from back in time. This is just more garbage being churned out.

I’m done with Shadowdark for awhile. To my readers great joy and mine own further cynicism. 

This is $3 at DriveThru. Preview is six pages. You get to see nine rooms at the end of it, so, decent preview.–An-Adventure-for-Shadowdark-RPG?1892600

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 19 Comments

Pan, His Majesty in Yellow

By Wayne Robert
Wyrd Valley Press
Level ?

Pan, His Majesty in Yellow is a fairy tale cosmic horror sandbox campaign setting that combines the lore of Peter Pan, Hastur, Neverland, and Carcosa into a strange and unique experience.

This 76 page supplement is a setting guide fo a Neverland that is mashed up with Carcosa. Maybe it does that well? But the hex crawl sucks ass.

This isn’t a real review because I screwed up. But, I do talk about hex encounters. I don’t know why I thought this was hex crawl, but I did. Anyway, it uses about ten pages to describe 38 locations on the Never Island chain. The rest of the pages are creatures and the general vibe of the place.

And, as far as Peter Pan settings go, this one is ok, I guess. It expands on the genre (or, maybe there are more books? I’m too lazy to find out) and then mashes the entire thing up with some Hastur/Carcosa shit. Which, kind of makes perfect sense. There’s the usual stuff, with a new pirate in town, the faeries, the lost boys and so on. And then there’s a Carcosa-like dream city full of nightmares from beyond that melts in. There’s a continual theme of Pans capriciousness, and the consequences of it. There were Wendy’s before Wendy and Wendy’s after Wendy. What becomes of them? Hence The Old Ladies, appearing in the adventure. Other items are expanded upon as well. And almost everything has this slightly dark twist to it. What appears to be the frivolity of Peter Pan and the environment has dark undertones and origins. And it all works out pretty good, as a theme. It’s not my thing, but it brings the weird … never in your face but hiding as origin stories and in deep dark caves.

The hex crawl is, well, not a hex crawl. In several aspects. First, the hex map has no keys. The map WITH the keys, more artistic, has no hex boundaries. In spite of a big deal being made of wanderers and travel times. So, good luck with that.

Ten pages for 38 locations isn’t much space. It is certain hex energy in that respect. But the encounters would have to be more Gazetteer in flavour. Both because it’s not a hex crawl and therefore a setting and therefore a Gazetteer, and in their details. 

You’ve got three old men who live in a little hut. “Hank PuddingbottomsS regrets the capitol S he once acquired in trade to add to his name and would like to trade it in for an o. Or, from those same three, an elephant shows up and they can’t agree on the nature of it and its causing an awful ruckus during their breakfast. The absurdism comes through well, as is befitting a Pan setting. But they are only ideas, with nothing to carry them along. Go Forth and figure out a way. This borders on some of the artifact destruction themes in the 1e DMG. Or a site where “Something” has begun hunting inhabitants of the island. They are looking for help in hunting it. The IT is not expanded upon. None of the ideas are. Not even outlines, these are mere thoughts. Disconnected from most of the rest of the entries (usually) and given not much to help the DM breathe life in to it. This is much closer to the Isle of the Unknown. 

There is a big purple bird here. It sings to the sun.” [My example] Ok. And? Why do I care? There’s no real reason to gain an ally for most folks. And therefore there’s no real reason to interact. Except, in your quixotic tasks for the sake of tasks. 

And, perhaps, this is what makes a setting The DM must put something together to tie everything together and use this booklet to help inspire that. 


This is $20 at DriveThru. Only a quick preview. Boo! Hiss!

If I didn’t want to know where you were April 29th then I wouldn’t have asked, now would I?

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 9 Comments

Demon Bone Sarcophagus

Patrick Stuart, Scrap Princess
False Machine Publishing
Level 1?

A pile of dead bodies in the desert! Results of a triple-cross! The PC’s investigate! Glass Women! Tunnels in the Earth! A scrap of torn paper in a dead hand, only one fragment of a plan to rob an evil corporation of incalculable wealth! A mysterious tomb beneath!What strange drama lead to this catastrophe? What secrets of primeval forgotten history will be revealed beneath in the tomb of the First Queen of Fire? Will they all interrelate in the (hopefully) third book of the series? Explore the tomb! Meet survivors of the battle above! Make choices between factions that will (hopefully) influence your journey through the next two books! (Hopefully) recover the Heist Plans!

This 144 page adventure uses about sixty five pages to describe a dungeon with about sixty five rooms. It is a rich experience, with evocative writing and great situations, a true dungeon delve worth exploring. It is also overly written with some confusing layout and dubious choices made in presentation and detail. Absolutely not something to pick up and run with minimal prep, but, also, almost certainly rewarding if you’re willing to study the text. A lot.

The situation here is that a lot of people from different factions met up/encountered each other on a plain and they got in to it, in a big way. A big battle ensued, which was complicated further by a creature popping up from underground. Turns out that the plain/spot of the inciting incident was directly over a big tomb complex. A slaughter ensues, and several of the people end up in the tomb, through various holes in the ground/collapsing sections of the plain. The party stumbles upon the plain/battle just after shit goes down. They investigate the battle remnants and then head down in to the to to encounter the shit down there, both the NPC’s from the battle that have fled there/fallen in and then also the tomb stuff.

Everything here, EVERYTHING, is non-trivial. Everything is fleshed out. The NPC’s are all fully detailed with wants, goals and little snippets to help you run them. It’s done in a good way, meaning that the content is directed towards the party interacting with them and them interacting with the adventure. Everything in the tomb is don in exactly the same way. Richly described. Interactive. Situations. Room after room does this. Encounter after encounter. “Naked girls of glass wander in the chaos, smiling absently at nothing at all.” or “A Man Hangs in the Claws of the gigantic HYPER-SLOTH! He is alive. Eyes fixed on a woman, she has been eviscerated and drags her body across the ground smearing blood, holding an obsidian knife. She is CRAWLING TOWARDS the hanging man.” Your soul is dead if you can’t something of those things, while running them. Those description, in particular, are rather short and get the point across in a magnificent manner. And that’s what you can expect here. Sentence after sentence of things of this rich tapestry. All perfect for running. Dudes wearing dark masks, difficult to pull away from their faces as if the mask were resisting more than they should. Their faces covered by back scabs once you do. That’s good. And the interactivity here is spot on. From things to talk to, ally with, things to stab, and a rich amount of interactivity beyond that. Shit to fuck with, and non-standard treasures. You couldn’t ask for more. “Crystal shards scatter the floor making it a blinding starfield. A cracked porcelain woman sits upon a crystal demon skull.”

Except …

This thing got issues. Hella issues.

Ignoring the backstory/flufl up front we get to the maps and the description of the battle. This is a mess. The maps are a pain. It feels like there wasn an attempt to overload then with information and make them somewhat artistic also. But these choices end up, I think, confusing the maps more and subtracting from the primary purpose that the maps are supposed to provide. There’s a db UI overhaul at work. The overhaul makes it easier to support the code in the long term, a lot easier to support. And the UI proper is more than a little outdated. But, also, the UI overhaul has negatively impacted the primary use case: the ability to locate and analyze massive amounts of data at a glance. The font, colo choice, kerning, line spacing .. it’s not substantially less easy to look at a massive amount of data at once and get what you need out of it. The cognitive burden is much, much higher. Which is the primary purpose of the UI, in this case. Thus the secondary and tertiary goals have, seemingly, trumped that primary goal. And that’s what it feels like is going on here with the maps. The map layout is a bit unusual, a giant triangle made up of smaller triangles that represent the individual rooms. That’s a choice. But I’ll go with it as a mythic destination. But the map choices, the detail added, from color scheme to in-room details, seem to detract from the overall primary purpose of the map. That could have been a lot better.

And that is a theme of the presentation of the entire adventure. Those wonderfully rich NPC’s, focused on actual play? There’s just too much to them. You can’t grok the NPC in a few second,s you’ve got to absorb A LOT of information about them. All play oriented, but there’s too much. Even with the formatting, a clear effort was made to help the DM. HERE”S WHERE YOU LOOK FOR WHAT THEY SAY WHEN YOU QUESTION THEM. The headings are all there. But there’s just A LOT.

And that rich tapestry for the rooms, their contents and descriptions. Sentence after sentence richly described. There’s just a lot to wade through. The most simple of rooms is going to get a column of information. All wonderful. But way too much to ever use. I absolutely fucking love ALL of the contents. But I can’t use it all. And it detracts from my ability to run it. 

You get a page on locked doors and tomb keys. You get a page on unlocked doors and combination doors. You get a page on wall murals. You get a page on Darkness, and dimensional tears. You get a page on the tunnel descriptions. You get a page on trap maintenance tunnels. You get a page on … You get the idea. It’s all wonderful content. But there is no fucking way in hell I’m holding all of that in my head. And I don’t think there’s any way I’m paging through to look up the information as I run this. And then flip to the rooms NPC’s. And then flip to the treasure. And then flip to the …

This may be one of the most richly described, effectively richly described, environments ever produced for D&D. But this is not a Tuesday night gaming location. This is something that the DM is going to have rto pour over, time and again. Note taking. Cross-references, and so on. You are gonna have to put in work. A LOT of work, in order to prep to run this.

And I have a lot of misgivings about that. I love this. I love the descriptions. I love the interactivity. I love the richness. But there’s only so much foie gras I can eat in one setting. It ends up detracting the whole. A god strong edit was needed on this one (in more ways than one), but in particular to focus the rooms down, focus the NPC’s down. Or, maybe, a few more pages, to summative the NPC’s in to a form more readily usable, with extra detail present elsewhere for those that want it. 

I’m regerting this. I’m going to study it much much more. 

This is $12.50 at DriveThru. The preview is thirty pages. You get to see the battle remains location, which is one of the more … complex portions of the adventure, in terms of layout, presentation, and detail. It’s wonderful, I think you’ll agree. But also it’s A LOT, and could be presented much much better. The rooms are laid out much better and thus the battle scene is not the best representation of the core of the adventure but does, perhaps, serve to illustrate the difficulties in grokking whats going on to run it.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, No Regerts, Reviews | 25 Comments

The Sun King’s Palace

By John Battle
Self Published
Level ? - 7, maybe? High, that's for sure.

A crumbling tower hides on the Sunbroke Sea. The last relic of the second sun in our world. Sail out on the full moon and reflect its light with a golden mirror. Follow the trail to its end and enter the Sun King’s Palace.

This 192 page digest adventure contains … the Sun Kings palace with about ninety four rooms. Talking, stabbing, and fetch quests abound in this ethereal-like location. Perfect for those of you looking to replace any darker tinted maze adventures. It is, I think, the longer ArtPunk adventure that has been missing.

Well, that intro certainly describes the entrance to the mythic underworld, doesn’t it? And that’s what we’ve got here: a mythic locale. This successfully brings that vibe of etherealness, of unrealness and slight detachment that gives something an otherworldly quality. That, and the mad, aloof, and detached NPC’s. Not since Blue Medusa has there been something like this.

So, we’ve got these biomechanical giant thingies. Think of the greek titans. The Sun and the Moon build a palace. They ignore eclipse (who doesn’t really appear in this adventure) who gets pissy and sets The Abyss on the place. The palace sinks in to darkness, there’s a coup inside, people go mad, blah blah blah. You can bring the place back though and rise it from the abyss. Get it? Eclipse. Sink in to darkness. Rise again. Sure. But it’s well done and really just a pretext. You travel through the place, through different zones (yeah!) and slowly accumulate “stain”, which causes you to mark shit off your character sheet. IE: you become like the palace folks; a one dimensional person, figuratively. You can remove stain. And/or remove it from people in the palace. In one room an angel has risen from the abyss, picking petals from a rose playing Love Me Not. “What make you guilty? Tell me your sins.” And no more stain. (And, let us not read too much in to my use of that example, in terms of pretension. It is, by far, the most pretentious of the things in th e adventure, and thus unfair that i use it without saying so. Also, it’s a fucking angel, what do you expect from it?)

It’s a single level map, with zones. At ninety-ish pages I’d not call it a megadungeon, but, perhaps it is by the typical five room extravaganzas that abound today. Layout of both the map and text is straightforward. Nothing really special on the map, but very serviceable. Book layout uses cross-references for monster stats with creature bolding and a little “what you see” when looking through doorways in to the next room. Not the best for creature reactions, but nicely done for a place with a lot of open doors in it. 

But, let’s talk encounters. And, more specifically, encounter descriptions, something this adventure does fairly well. I’ve written quite a bit that the encounter text should be on the terse side, for scanning purposes, and yet be evocative and interesting. Here’s that angel room: “Circular and made of star-speckled obsidian, floored with dancing daisies. A stone well in the center leads out into the Abyss.” Two sentences. 21 words. The image comes to mind immediately. And note the nons-standard word usage. FLOORED with DANCING daisies. That’s quite good. There’s another two sentences with the angel in it, picking petals, and covering the “looking for worship and allows those who do so to give up their stain. “What makes you guilty? Tell me your sins.” We’ve got a terse description that’s easy to scan with good usage of line breaks and bolding. We’ve got a great description that jab the room vibe in to your brain to expand upon. And we’ve got an encounter with something going on, something for the party to interact with. The writing is focusing on setting the scene and some interaction, not a static laundry list of room contents. The room right before this is Mothers Garden: “An open garden bleeding into the abyss. Graves of various sizes dot the field. Rusted weapons stabbed in the ground, and molding banners blooming with moon rot.” The garden BLEEDS in to the abyss. Rusted weapons STAB in to the ground. Banners are MOLDED and BLOOMING. AGonoize over your word choice and feel free to twist the language to your own needs and wants; it is yours to command to bring an evocative scene to light in the DMs mind.

The adventure does this over and over ad over again. Various areas of the dungeon, the zones get a little description up front, to help portray the vibe, the window dressing in which the various rooms take place. I could quibble; these deserve to be on the zone mini-maps so they are always in front of the DM. 

Magic items, and the creatures are unique. A spear that extends until it reaches something solid, sister of the unmovable rod … which are two parts of a great artifact. Of course; that makes perfect sense. This is much the opposite of the NoArtpunk contest (which, the second of which, is quite good; I’m only about halfway through looking at them and they are running to a very high quality. I encourage you to check them out!) 

And yet …

There are a couple of things wrong here, or, at least not good enough to make me overly excited about this. First, the encounters to tend to the combat or talking. There is an occasional fetch quest, much of it of the “get the red key to open the red door” variety. Interactivity, beyond the talk and combat pillars, is somewhat limited. As such the exploration environment is somewhat limited. In addition the situation within the palace is somewhat static and/or localized. The encounters in the various rooms feel somewhat disconnected to each other. You don’t get the coup vibe, or a dynamic vibe from the overall effect of the dungeon. It’s not of the self-contained set-piece variety, but, rather, that the encounters seem somewhat disinterested in their own fates, beyond the room proper. I wouldn’t want to be mistaken that this is too much of a statement, but rather the tendency is in that direction, by a great deal. Thus the overall effect of the palace is that the encounter in one room is not really connected to the one in the next, in terms of the overall dungeon.

This is not a terrible adventure. In fact, its fine, especially if you’re doing something like a Polaris/Though are but a warrior vibe. The melancholy of the palace comes through great. 

This is $10 at DriveThru.The preview is 21 pages and you get to see lots of the rooms, so, great preview.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, No Regerts, Reviews | 5 Comments

The Tomb of the Ashen Queen

by Luiz Eduardo Ricon
Hexplore Publishing
Level 1

In centuries past, these lands were raided by a merciless warrior queen. Her name is legend, and the location of her final repose was a long, lost secret… until now!

This 26 page digest adventure uses eight pages to describe twelve rooms in a dungeon. 

This is marketed as the perfect first dungeon crawl for starting players. It is important, as with all things, to not believe anything you ever read. This is not the perfect first dungeon crawl for starting players. This is a total and absolute piece of garbage of an adventure. 

Our first sign is that it’s twenty six pages. And only uses nine of them to describe its twelve rooms. I guess it could be worse. It could use even more pages to describe the rooms. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. Anymore. Ever. Because some beaming idiot is always there, holding out the lumpy ashtray they just made. This is life.

Need another example? How about the map! A pretty basic affair. Just a bunch of rectangles connected by corridors in the most “I made this in powerpoint” kind of way. With a couple of same-level stairs thrown in. But, of, no, this is not the highlight of the map. Oh no. The highlight is that the fucking map doesnt use numbers. Yes, friends, our ashtray is convex. The map just has room names. Exciting names like “Orcs” or “Goblins” or “Mess Hall.” It’s up to us, the DM’s of the world, to dig through the text and find the room that says “Goblins.” I wonder if the “goblins” rooms comes before or after the “Orcs” room in the text? SHould I page further on to find it or should I turn back a few pages? If only there was some simple way to determine that! Something, like, I don’t know, an ordered system of keys. Like, I don’t number, what if we used numbers? So, like “Room 2” or something. Then, if we’re looking at Room 1 in the text we know that Room 2 should be the next room. That would make sense! Oh, what’s that? This text kind of does that? Yes! It does! “Room 1, Antechamber” That’s great! But, YOU DIDN”T PUT ThE FUCKING ON FUCKING  THE MAP IN THIS PIECE OF SHIT FUCKING PRODUCT! And, you named the fucking rooms something else. Is the “Goblins” room on the map the same as “Room 2 Goblins Attack” room in the text? Fuck it. You EXPECT the stoplights to be times?! You EXPECT the road to not be full of potholes?! You EXPECT COmcast customer service to provide customer service?! Fuuuuuuuccccccckkkkkkkk You! Wait at the restaurant for them to microwave your frozen ravioli. 

Ah, but the adventure! There we have something! Lets’ look at these amazing room descriptions! “The walls have 4 torch sconces, with burned out torches. Three doors leading out.” How’s THAT for a description, Mr Reviewerman?! No? Not your cup of tea? Then how about “This room is torch lit, 60×60, one locked door on the North wall. There’s a pedestal with a silver amulet on the east wall” Ha! Take that! I loathe my life. I yearn, only, for escape from it. And, yet, this is what I’m presented with, every day, in every way. 

Room two tells that that there is a noise and a light coming from beyond the corridor turn. That’s from the perspective of room one, so, I hope you entered the room that way. And, of course, this should have been the description of the room one exit to that direction. This is basic fucking shit. And, I know the hooks are dismissed by many of you, but, they are included. Such things as “You came here on a caravan.” Great. Or “you found a map in a chest.” This is indeed making my life better, thanks for including that.

There is one nice thing in this adventure. Room one has dirt all over the floor and an inscription on the floor under it. Nice detail, that.

Look, I’m kind of known for being a generous kind of guy, so I’ll offer this advice for everyone out there who wants to write an adventure and publish it. I’m going to assume you are writing for the joy of it. You’re not one of those commercial hacks that have a Patreon and are dumping out content to your subscribers every month. There’s nothing wrong with a Patreon, but, there is something wrong with pumping out shitty content in order to make money. At least  there is within the context of this blog. They can be lauded on the “Capitalism: How to Find A Sucker” blog. But not here. Here we’re looking for quality. Here we’re in it for the love of D&D. So, let me ask you, Wannabe Adventure Writer …

Is this the best thing you have done or will ever do in your life? If you could only be known for one thing from now until the end of time, is this it? That adventure you just write and about to publish … is that it? When you are judged before god, or talked about by your sons and daughters or mentioned in media a thousand years from now, will they be holding up this adventure as the only example from your entire meaningless fucking worthless existance and saying “Yes. THIS is it”! If you cannot contemplate this being the best thing you have written, or will ever write … then don’t publish it. Don’t inflict it upon the rest of us.

Thing about why you’re writing it. You’re not getting rich. No makes money at this shit. We already covered the Patreon/ConveyerBelt crowd. They make bank. But they aren’t doing it because they love D&D. They are just churning out content every month to make money with no expectation of quality. So, when we remove the potential of making more than $20 from the equation … why are you doing this? Presumably because you are excited and you love the game and you want to share that. So do that. DO it in a way that communicates your excitement and vision. Agonize over it. Tear your hair and rend your clothing over the adventure. Over the writing. Over the design. Truly visit the depths of despair and the heights of joy as you work it. Over and over and over again. Produce for us a work that is the best that you can possibly achieve, and then go beyond that. Make something that you believe could honestly be mentioned in the same breathe as G1 or Thracia or DCO. That’s the bar you are shooting for in publishing. Because that’s what you actually want to do. Deep down, that’s what you want and that’s what you yearn for and that’s what you envision in your head. So do it.

This is $1 at DriveThru. The preview eight pages and you get to see none of the actual adventure, so it’s a failure also.–Ashen-Queen-The-Ideal-First-Dungeon-Crawl-for-Starting-Players?1892600

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 19 Comments

Harrowings #03 – Muspelhell

By Aaron Cordiale, Jodie Brandt, Derek Bizier, Alex T., Ian Rollins, Kevin Miner, Benjamin Croft, Drew Cochran
Level 5?

The ancient cairns of the old kingdoms have beeninfested with malign powers – demons, trolls, creatures of fire. Onar the Spelunker has returned with dark news… “A door, wide and burning, has been opened to Muspelheim. I saw faces within it, terrible faces speaking of.. Invasion. The Sons of Surtr quake beneath our humble homes – they mean to sack our realm, and set up camp here – to strike Midgard without notice!

This 115 page digest uses about 77 pages to describe a three level dungeon with about 46 rooms. If you want to do a hipster dwarf-based LOTR-type quest/play DCC then this is for you. If you want to play D&D then maybe look elsewhere.

There is a nigh infinite variety of RPG available to folks today. You can play any type of game you want. The problem is knowing what you want and finding it. (Actually, it’s probably finding a few other people available at the same date/time every week, but that’s the META.) I play mudcore. You play gonzo. If we all call ourselves an OSE adventure then how to find what we each want? I don’t know … the marketing? But, it always lies.

If DCC isn’t metal enough for you then welcome to Muspelhell. It goes out of its way to be metal, without being edgy. Which is something, I guess. You’re a heavily dwarf-based party escorting a giant iron door on the back of an eight legged mule. You’re taking it down to the depths of a dwarf city to close off a passage to EvilLandia. So, like, epic quest shit. I know, it doesn’t really sound like that. But if you keep a kind of Epic Quest mindset when looking at this then it makes a lot more sense. Cause as a dungeon it sucks eight-legged donkey balls.

One of the first rooms is the Tomb of Eternal Remembrance. It’s got some dwarf heroes lying in state. The core description tells us “The party passes through a long colonnade (row of columns) into a vast cavern lit by glimmering torches. The honor guards therein are clad in black armor, so that at a distance, the torches seem to float by themselves.” So, not the best description ever, but, I think I get it. You’ve got some people visiting paying respects, putting stones on graves. This is a two page room, and there’s not much more to it. As you pass through a guard coming off duty offers to sell you an ancient artifact. And, now, there ISN’T anything else at all. Loot the graves? No guidance. Guards? No guidance. Regular folk? No guidance. How about that artifact? NO GUIDANCE. 

And, thusly, with each room. What you are getting is the idea for a room. In spite of the entries averaging two pages each, you’re not going to get anything to bring the room to life. You’ve got some concepts floating around without the specifics needed to bring them to life. And I don’t mean room contents. You’ve got none of the text required to help inspire the DM to run the room and nothing of the specifics to help support the DM. 

What you have is conceptual room after conceptual encounter. You’re going to wander around down in here like you’re Odysseus. “Some sirens sign to people” or “You meet a cyclops” But, stretch it out to two pages for no reason. I mean, obviously, the designers tried to do more, hence the two pages, but their supporting information sucks ass and is useless. This is just normal hipster zine content. If it were rewritten as “Maybe the party has an encounter with an ff duty dwarven guard selling an artifact” then it would be more recognizable as such.

I note that, in issue two of the zine (this is issue three), the following was used as a marketing line “Harrowings: The Exalted Hours hopes to explore the liminal space of Twilight and see what passages open before us between the light and dark.” Uh huh. 

Conceptually, I think this thing works. If you can imagine a DCC convention game in which the DM waves their hands around in the air a lot and rolls dice and shouts and shit happens. That’s what this is. Maybe you enter a room full of mushroom gardens and here the effects of four of them. Run that. 

What’s your reaction to that? “Maybe you enter a room full of mushroom gardens and here the effects of four of them.” If that’s all you have to run a room. And you’re a band of, I don’t know, twelve dwarves with an eight legged mule carrying a giant metal door on its back. I don’t see how there’s anything more than that in this adventure. The number of times the adventure says “Or, you can annihilate the party”, leaves no other interpretation. 

I understand that people play d&d differently. Folks are looking for different things. I have a very hard time understanding that anyone is going to run this, complete it, and be happy with it. Two pages of text, per room, to dig through to run the room. It’s not formatted in a way to scan it. It’s too long to be that conceptual DCC thing and too non-specific to be a traditional supplement. It is, I think, in the end just another failed vision of what fun is. I wish more people would succeed. 

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $10. Three stars on DriveThru. Who’s mead did the designers shit in to earn that?

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 24 Comments

Wolf’s Head Tor

By Pauli Kidd
Kitsune Press
Level 1

Millennia ago, the ‘Grey Folk’ -the High Elves -ruled the world. They were a cruel and indolent race, obsessed with their sorceries and experiments. These beings created other races as servants, slaves, artisans and warriors. After centuries ofinfighting and intrigue, the elven lords finally destroyed one another in a vast magical conflagration. Their civilisation vanished -leaving only magical dangers, monsters and strange rums. The other races scattered out ofthe wreckage and survived. A thousand years later, we now have a world of little city-state kingdoms and towns, tribes and weird monsters, all dotted about a world filled with ancient ruins, magical wastelands and wilderness.

This 235 page adventure contains a dungeon with … 150 rooms? It’s straight out of Jr High in the 70’s, since the designer notes that’s where it originally came from. That means a weirdness from the OD&D days mixed in with non-trope interactivity. It’s light on the treasure and light on the descriptive text. Another entry in the Good Old Days category, but, it’s gonna be a rough one to run with for a modern game.

We got some 79 (hehe!) action for you. The designer notes that this is from that time period and jr high self. We got your post-apo fantasy setting where the high elves are assholes and nuked the world a thousand years ago. Everyone else is the remnant of a slave race, and it’s all your standard Pot Fantasy setting. You’ve got kobolds/jawas running around the desert along with the sandpeople/lizard men. Pig faced orcs and wood elves serve as native american tropes, and a big ass desert full of the remains of the high elf civilization. Frogtown, naked after the statues of the giant frog in the center, is our starter town with the usual assortment of places expanded upon: bar, temple, guards. And then the Jr High elements of a bath house. I say Pot Fantasy because we’ve got a kind of Wizards vibe going on in town. Magical Ren Faire, where everyone lives together, but a kind of edge. Ala the orcs and wood elves. And, sticking in a bath house and a Wererat chick who hangs out in the bar in hybrid form … well. I’m sure the pot flowed freely. But, it all works if you’re going for that Pot/Shroom fantasy vibe. 

The main attraction is the titular Wolf Head Tor. Rumors in town lead you to a high elf tower in the desert. But, dude is still around. So you romp through a couple of levels-ish of a “palace” with a fuck ton of rooms. And it’s all weirdness. An opium den. A water weird in the wine barrel in the officers club. Giant undead loster-chickens in the biolab. A skeleton sitting at a table with a sword through his chest. Still moving mummy-heads in the trophy room. This is all coming from a time in which the tropes of D&D were not yet fully formed, and so you get that variety, and the interactivity that it entails, present throughout the adventure. I talk about things being written from a neutral point of view, and this it is. Get fucked up r learn how to use it to your advantage. Who wants to fight skeletons/zombies with wolf heads! Why? Because it’s cool, so fuck off!

The main issue here is going to be how it first in to the modern D&D field. And I don’t mean in tone. The descriptions (and, formatting, for that matter) do tend toward the minimal. This can be good. You’re not wading through a lot of text. And, in fact, there is not a lot of padding in this. And, also, there’s not a lot in the way of evocative text either. 
Four ogre zombies wait in this room. They erupt out of the room one round after any fight or alarm.” Well, ok. Short and gets the job done, I guess. But, wouldn’t it have been better to get a couple of words about the zombies to bring the encounter to life? 

Or, maybe, in this longer example:  “The door to this room gives off a feint scent of sulphur. The growling of dogs can be heard within. Inside the room, a long cage at the south east sector o fthe room holds four hellhounds. The hounds can breathe fire out of the cages at torch passers bye. Fortunately their range is limited (10 feet)”  This is a pretty good example of the text present, all around. It focuses on one thing in the room, in this case the cage/hell hounds. And that’s what you get. It’s not quite minimally keyed, but its pretty close to that. It gets close to the victorian room dressing style in places, but never falls off the edge in to long lists. WHich is a good thing, but, also … it never quite builds a picture in the DMs head. The evocative text just is not present in any consistent way, or way at all. From this you are essentially running a minimally keyed dungeon. 

And I’m not sure there’s a place for this. Other than an exercise in quantness, whats the point? A modern supplement, by which I mean ready to run at the table, this is not. I wish it kept the unique properties, the encounter weirdness, that makes it an excellent example of D&D, and yet also provided those amenities that I expect to see these days in a D&D adventure: evocative text. 

This is $7.50 at DriveThru. The twenty page preview will show you some of the setting information, but none of the keys. It really should, to be a good preview.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 9 Comments

Mobilis in Mobili

By Tamir Levi
Stellagama Publishing
Levels 1-3

The manor once belonging to the nobleman Rodemus Von Sarr lies ruined on a cliff near the ocean. Local fishermen whisper of great treasure and a curse placed on this manorhouse. Adventurers exploring the ruins will encounter a wondrous secret, hidden in the caves deep beneath the manor…

This forty page digest adventure uses about 21 pages to describe about thirty locations in a cursed seaside manor. Lame descriptions, poor interactivity and text out of a fourth grade essay. 

There’s not really anything much going on in this adventure. Wander around the manor and fight a few zombies and a couple of vermin. I’m not sure how that fits the definition of “haunted.” I guess there are a couple of descriptions that mention a ghost wandering around, that you can’t interact with. BORING descriptions, that is. “You can see a ghost wandering about the yard.” Great. I’m terrified. 

It takes us sixteen pages to get to the keys, which is always a great sign. From there things gets more mediocre. You find a blind lady inside pissed that you are in the place she is squatting in. SO she throws a bucket of blood down some stairs and jumps out of a second story window. It’s ok though … because for no reason she’s also a wererat. I mean … it has nothing to do with the adventure. It has nothing to do with the way she interacts with the party. So …. Yeah. I guess if you roll “Wererat” then making her an old blind woman is cool. But, also, she doesn’t actually do anything? It’s just window dressing. It doesn’t actually advance the adventure at all. You might as well say that a random tree outside falls down. 

Okey doke … let’s talk about shit descriptions. And, in particular, burying information not relevant to the room at hand inside of a rooms description. This is seen quite often when the room description for, say, room eight says something like “the mummy here will react to noise in room four.” Well, when the party is in room four then the DM is going to be looking at the description for room four, right? So … they are not going to know about the mummy reacting …. Right? This sort of thing happens about a hundred zillion times in this adventure. You come upon the manor. The outdoor keys start. You reach the one for the gate and you then get a description for the manor … what the party sees of the house beyond the gate. Do we get this in the wall section? Or the yard section? No. Do we get this in the general overview section … where it probably belong? No. We get it in the gate section. Great. The fucking wall is 6’ high … presumably I can see the fucking manor over the top of it. Or, some random location in the adventure telling us that if a mage concentrates anywhere then they can tell there was a great magical energy released in the past. Wonderful. Hope I’m reading that key when the mage concentrates. This happens over and over and over again in the adventure.

Descriptions padded out. “Other than that there is nothing of value in the room.” Yeah. That’s what we fucking expect. “It is a simple matter to break down the door: make an open doors check.” You mean  like the fucking rules say how to? You mean what the party does a hundred times in any adventure? Why the fuck say this? Its the overly flowery style in which the designer writes. “Even during the day you can feel the sea breeze” Great. Wonderful. Fuck off. 

Trivia. The descriptions are trivia. A description of a bathroom that is meaningless. A cloakroom description telling us that one cloak, a red one, is smaller than usual. For no fucking reason. Trivia. Sure, you can get away with this shit in an adventure, but when the ENTIRE adventure is this … then no.

Out interactivity here is stabbing shit. Nothing else. The haunted house consists of “there is a zombie here” or “there is a giant centipede here.” And, maybe, a ghost wandering around that disappears before you interact with it … with no other interactivity with it beyond that. 

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is ten pages. It just shows you general overview and none of the keys. However, the general overview is so non-specific that you can get an idea of how non-specific the keys are. Try page eight, and then never walk Cornelia Street again

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

Order of Succession

By T. Elliot Cannon
Sleddog Games
Level 5

“You must come to Castle Vezio for the Yule season. We have a special present your father told me to pass on to you. Your uncle, Lord Uri of Lake Unterfallen.” You knew the trip to Castle Vezio would take a few weeks, and the story about your father and your relationship with him has never been a topic of your conversations. You wonder though, what gift did he set aside for you? Why now does your noble uncle reach out from his small wintery kingdom in the northern mountain lakes tucked away from the world?

This 44 page digest adventure is …  useless? An outline of an adventure claiming to be an adventure? At what point is something a useful adventure and at what point is it just an adventure idea?

We start this adventure with … a two page read-aloud. Because life is pain. I hope, by now, we all know why this is bad. Anyway, what follows is a series of scenes. (Or, outlines of scenes, I would suggest) and then some maps/keyed locations for three places. We get Uncles castle, which is just a generic castle description with no action taking place there. Then a little monastery where everyone is dead … that only impacts two of the rooms though … everything else is standard boring monastery. Then a nine room “glacial cave” that serves as the hack part of the adventure, where you kill giants and drow. Everything ends with you falling unconscious and waking up in chains, so the next adventure in the series and start that way. Joy. Fuck off, man. 

There’s a good description in this. EVeryone in the monastery, including A BUNCH of children, have had their hands tied behind their backs, had their throats slit, and then been hung up inside the chapel to bleed out. Gahhhh! That’s rough! That’s the kindo f shit that should motivate people to get hacking! I like!

Otherwise …

The adventure doesn’t really start until page twelve, by the time you get through eighteen different “How to Play/To Run This Adventure sections. That say nothing of consequence. Again, not a good portent of Things To Come.

What follows is a series of chapters, that could really be called scenes. Uncle takes you out. Want to explore the castle and talk to people? There are a series of things you could learn … mostly trivia. But … there is nothing there to SUPPORT that play. No NPC’s. No attitudes of people in and around the castle, or even names of anyone other than uncle. You get to make it all up. Yeah You! Each “chapter” follows the same format. Eventually you get some map/keys, at the end, to support the hack portion. And the non-hack portion … even though you don’t in any way need them for anything other than the final assault chapter. You don’t need a map/key if the play doesn’t require one.

Anyway, the outline nature of the adventure is the difficulty here. No real specificity to speak of. A lot of “just handle it” advice in the main text. Or, “in my game the players blah blah blah so I blah blah blah.” There’s nothing really here to support any sort of play beyond the bare minimum that minimally keyed thing might provide. 

An adventure needs to support the DM. It needs to provide them the tools to run a great game. Yeah, the party could learn something in the rumors by just talking to someone random, and the DM could make them up on the fly. But, part of the value add is the designer providing something. Something specific. A NPC with a quick, to provide the information, or a vignette to show instead of tell. You don’t have to drone on about it, but the DM needs SOMETHING to hang their hat on to riff on for the party. Without it, youve’only provided an outline of an adventure. And, I would suggest, that even if you WERE providing an outline, as the core product, you’d still owe the DM a little more to help bring it to life. 

But, this, has no life. Ins pite of trying RALLY hard to have an heir behind everything, who saves his chick friend from the slaughter, and then gets double-crossed by the giants and drow. Cause thats what always happens. The animosity between the heir and the uncle is NEVER brought to life in any way other than “try to make the party understand he hates his uncle” Great.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a suggested price of $5.The preview is thirty pages. More than enough to get a sense of the adventure/outline/chapters thing.–OSRIC–ADD-v-12?1892600

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 19 Comments