The Psionic Crucible of the Fat Cannibal

By The Bugbear Brothers

The Bugbear Brothers

5e/OSR(!)

Levels 3-5

The bastion of the North, Xaefen Keep, has succumbed to darkness. Recently, there have been whispers of forbidden psionics that have taken root in the citadel. It is feared that this vile new craft is being used to torture the minds of young squires and madden them, thereby undercutting the Crown’s power. The renowned knight, Ervin Greystyle, also known as ‘The Axe’, has recently ventured North in order to investigate these troubling rumours. It has been several weeks since Ervin’s last correspondence, and he was due to return many days ago. The last letter Ervin wrote to the Crown contained a cryptic, macabre reference to a ‘gluttonous baron’ and his ‘mage juicer’, who reportedly dwelt in the lower crypts of the Keep. A reward of 500 gold pieces has been issued by the Crown to any who would confirm or refute the ravings contained within Greystyle’s last correspondence. There isn’t much time left now…

This 28 page adventure details a ten room dungeon in about nine pages. It’s got some good ideas and tries to be original in both treasure and descriptions. It also drones on too long in it’s read-aloud and DM text and is constrained by it’s smaller size. It’s notable for what it could have been.

This thing is so un-generic. It’s not using the generic fantasy tropes that are seen everywhere. It adds more detail to just about everything. It edges over in to Eberron territory, probably. There’s a fat cannibal baron. There’s a wizard addicted to potions. The local villagers are afraid of the Wendigos that plague their village at night, gaunt figures with decayed deer heads. They are engaged in pacifism, led by their local priest, in the hopes their god will save them. There’s a magic item that consists of a pair of of sow’s ears. And another that consists of a ghouls finger. And a pool of water around a column that if full of cloudy eyeballs, floating. It has a hut, underwater, of translucent glass, held down by “thick black tendrils and vibrant green roots protruding from the sea floor.”

And that’s only a sample. The environments here ARE interesting. They are new places with new things that the party has likely never encountered before, like the pool of eyes. The magic items are unique and well described. Mechanics are not overly emphasized in magic … that ghoul finger wants to return to its shelf … at a speed of 60’ and push 300#. Hmmm, now can I, as a player, exploit THAT? And that’s a good item. 

Haunting choir music, a woven meditation carpet, the scent of rot permeating your nostrils. Thick hemp straps. Note the use of adjectives and adverbs, the way these things are described. Not large or big or small or red. This is excellent use of language in order to add more to a description, to paint a vivid picture for the DM. “One of these paintings is molding and teeming with cream coloured maggots-some in the midst of hatching, others fully grown-chewing at its outer edges.” Sweet! Oh, did I fail to mention the cariboo skulls lined with nails that some prisoners affix to their own skulls in their madness… the faux-wendigos? This is good shit. It’s not all great, there’s are some “large” room contents and the like, but it’s got it where it counts.

What its also got is a case of Mouth Runneth Over syndrome. The read-aloud is long. The DM text is long. And long for interesting reasons. 

It’s not the usual irrelevant bullshit detail. There’s a thing that 5e adventures sometimes do where the read-aloud fully describes the room. If there’s a bookshelf with an interesting book on it, in a hyperbolic example, the initial read-aloud describes the bookshelf, the book, and also tell you what the books contents are. In other words it assumes a certain amount of follow-up and just infor-dumps the entire thing up front.The first room, that one with eyeballs, is a good example. The entire first paragraph does NOT describe the first room of the dungeon. It’ describes the ruins outside that you come upon. Oops, guess that should maybe be in a separate section, to make it easier to find, etc? Then it tells us of a room dominated by an obelisk. And it describes in detail the damage to the obelisk. ANd then the moat around it, filled with clounded eyeballs, with irises of various colours. From their state of decay it’s clear they’ve been here some time. The description goes on about some murals, but lets pause and just examine that obelisk and moat descriptions. The damage detail would be perfect for a follow-up in the DM section, as would the eyeballs, cloudy, and iris details. By NOT infor-dumping you encourage back and forth between the players and the DM. They ask about the pillar, you reply it looks damaged, They examine more closely. You describe more. (Someone, somewhere wrote an article/blog on this that was very good, but I can’t recall it.) The moat. I look at it, it’s full of something. I go over and look closer. Eyes. Ewwww! I look at the eyes, they are cloudy … with scintillating irises. Ewww! 

The adventure also engages in a lot of if/then clauses in the DM text. IF the players do this THEN this happens. Ray’s book on editing covers this, and other common writing issues, pretty well. These sorts of writing mistakes are common in this adventures and the designers would have benefited greatly by Ray’s book. The DM text proper is also lengthy for other reasons, mostly through some sloppy writing that takes a more conversational tone. That style is ok in places, all work and no conversational asides make DM Bryce a dull DM, but when it goes excessive it make the DM text long. And long DM text is hard to reference during play. 

There are also other missed opportunities. The village nearby, with the “Wendigo” problem, is given very little attention. Serving as a base and intro to the adventure it could have used quite a bit more. And better organization than a simple paragraph dump of information. It’s got good roots but needs more to bring it alive. A missed opportunity. Likewise … and I think I realize the gravity of what I’m about to say, this thing is constrained by size. Expanding it, a bit better design and integration of the areas, and you would have something that people would talk about the way they talk about Thracia. No, it’s not Thracia, not close, but it had that potential. 

On the nitpicky front, it’s got a random Big Bay Guy location chart. I don’t get why people do that, for multiple play throughs? In this case it can be a little justified since there’s a kind of map puzzle in one room that can show you locations … and creatures moving about in the place adds some life to the place. Generally though … it’s something that raises my eyebrows as a sign of ill things to come. 

It’s also got this weird System-less thing going on. It lists itself as generic/agnostic and OSR. And then mentioned exhaustion checks. And advantage. And lists DC’s for stat checks. That’s 5e. But is it, really? I suspect it’s just the designers home system which is a mash up of many things. The DC stats checks will wrankle the hard core OSR crowd, but it’s all easily ignored/converted on the fly by even an ok DM. 

And there’s no level range on the cover or in the product description, you have the buy the damn thing first to learn it’s levels 3-5. Not cool.

Nonstandard. Imaginative. Some decently evocative writing. But suffers greatly from Too Many Words. And, a couple of large missed opportunities. And sup with that title? It feels randomly generated.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $1.50. The preview is four pages and shows you nothing. Bad preview! Suck! Show us a room! Give us a sample of what we’re actually buying! Oh course, in this case it’s Pay What You Want, so you can get the entire thing, but, still. 

Cannibal?1892600

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(5e) Citadel of Terror

By Paul Riegel-Green & Ben Burns
new Comet Games
5e
Levels 1-4

Spring time has arrived, the fields planted, the trade routes are opening and the Orc raids will be coming soon. It also means the arrival of the mysterious but powerful mage Melius. But this year, he has yet to make his appearance. What chance does the small city of  Adwick have against the ravaging hordes of Orcs without the wizard’s assistance. Every day that slips by, causes the leaders worry and concern. You and your small band of adventurers have been tasked with traveling through the abandoned ruins of Rochdale, then into the swamp known as The Moors. To seek out Melius’ tower and discover what has become of the wizard.  What evils lurk in the ruins? What dangers will The Moors hide? What will you find at the Citadel of Terror?

This 68 page adventure details a wizards tower with about twelve rooms as well as a couple of overland encounters. It’s massively overwritten, both in DM text and read-aloud, and is one of those “make a skill check to tie your shoes” adventures. At least I got to pay $15 for it …

I’m supposed to be nicer. I’m supposed to explain more. I’m supposed to describe why things are the way the way, or should be, in detail. I’m supposed to do a lot of things.  And then something like this comes along and saps all of the life out of me.

It starts with the party being ambushed by 24 orcs. “That’s a lot” I thought “for level 1’s.” Not to worry, it’s not an actual encounter. A calvary of gnomes and halflings on war dogs come to your rescue. Well Buckher, some strings are more obvious than others. 

This then degenerates in to the town where the party is sent to find a missing wizard in his tower. And it’s all done in third person read-aloud. “He tells you that …” “he explains that you have been selected” “when you enter the bar the dwarf behind the counter welcomes you and introduces himself as …”  Jesus. H. Fucking. Christ. Abstraction. Filthy fucking abstraction. Read-aloud, when used, should immerse the listener. Abstracting to the third person and abstracting thing like “your welcome” is utter bullshit. Specififty is key. He raises a tankard drains it and slams it down spraying out “Your Health!” through foam. Contrast with “the swarf behind the counter welcomes you.” Abstracted vs specific. 

Not to mention the fucking length of the read-aloud in this. It drones on and on and one, in spite of people not paying attention to long read-aloud. There’s even a faux-study by WOTC proper! But out designer friends don’t know that. 

This is joined by the WAY TOO EXCESSIVE dm text. Mountains of it. Mountains of mountains of it. A five goblin fight takes a page. Some stirge around a pedestal takes two pages. Excruciating if/then clauses. 

You need a DC 16 persuasion to have the bartender tell you about the missing wizard. The most mundane of information. That’s in his own best interest to relay. And skill checks of this type are generally set low. But not in this adventure. But don’t worry, they are everywhere! And All of the conditional clauses take up lots of extra room! Are you an elf? There’s a special line for you in the column long perception check results … your DC is 2 lower than everyone else! THis is a total and complete lack of understanding of how skill checks are supposed to work. No doubt learned from other badly written  adventures. 

One of the outdoor encounters, with five goblins, has a master goblin thespian pretending to be an old woman. I’m pretty sure that’s not meant to be literal, but it still trends the wrong direction. And DC 19/24 skill checks at first/second level? Is that even possible in 5e?

No real overland map, in spite of their being an entire swamp to cross with multiple random encounters in it. Or an entire series of woods encounters … that are essentially linear since you get led to each and need to find some rings at each to get in to the wizards tower. 

And the actual writing? “They appear to be dead.” Well no shit. That means dead. This REEKS of just about every bad writing/editing decision you can make. What’s the name of Ray’s editing book? These people need that bad.

And our 8th level wizard, who can’t rescue himself … I just can’t go on. This. Is. Bad. 

This could easily be a one page adventure and loose nothing, in spite of the massive limitations of the one page format, it’s that overwritten. It concentrates text in all the wrong areas, giving painstaking room descriptions that are meaningless to the adventure. 

It is for designers like this that I feel sorry. They had an idea. They want to do good, I’m sure (doesn’t everyone?) but they have NO idea how to get there. No doubt they had some design principals … as evidenced by the massive skill check text, but they were the wrong things to concentrate on. Also, I applaud their eschewing of DMsGuild. But, man, ya gotta actually learn how to write an adventure. It’s got nothing to do with the motivations of the NPC’s or the balance of the encounters or how correct the rulings are. Usable at the table, Interactive, Evocative. This is none. 

Also, where my Terror? I was promised terror!

This is $15 at DriveThru. And for $15 (fucking bullshit!) you get no preview. So it’s a blind buy. Of $15 crap. To be clear, price is pretty much irrelevant if the adventure is good. But when they are bad, and they are almost always bad, the fucking $15/pdf shit stings. ESPECIALLY WHEN THERE”S NO FUCKING PREVIEW!


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/286774/Citadel-of-Terror-5E?1892600

Posted in 5e, Reviews | 9 Comments

Purging Woth Nrld Oekwn’s Muddy Hole

By Jay Murphy
Vanishing Tower press
1e/BX/etc
Levels 2-6(!)

A gasping faithful of the Grim Gauntlet, gripping bloodied mace in gashed hands, lies wounded in the forest. They have just crawled out from their failed mission within the “Hole”. A trio of fanged-mouthed humanoids killed their party before they escaped with their life. Robid has sworn to destroy this forgotten shrine of evil. Will the PCs help?

This forty page digest adventure describes about twelve rooms in about fourteen pages. There’s a small cave complex combined with a small weird temple complex … petty-god ish. Good interactivity and evocative writing combines with spotty organization. 

When I first looked at this I misread it and thought it was for OSRIC. As I was looking it over I thought to myself “Jesus, the OSRIC guys heads are gonna explode”! Then I looked again and it was 1e/BX/OSR systems. Ok. We’re talking a tone here closer to OD&D than 1e or generic B/X. Not really gonzo, but with a healthy, healthy non-standard monster and situation mix. “Petty God temple with Trogs” maybe describes the tone?

 The tone is very OD&D: lots of new monsters and new magic items … no book items at all. The situations are weird. A sickening yellow membrane across a doorway. A harbinger in the dungeon. Dismembered corpses scattered about … with the things you need to desecrate/shut down this temple. It’s weird mix of trogs and petty gods stuff … it sets a dark and ominous tone with the text.  A room is barren, with the heavy smell of wet earth. Corpses ripped up, parts missing, with maggots infesting them and maggot/wing/wasp things festing on them. The smell of ammonia precedes the pink slime monsters. There are weird alters and things in the dungeon to fuck with. It’s a good mix and sets the tone for “weird” without it being gonzo. 

Treasure seems light for anything but level 2’s … and the first monster encounter is with 11 2HD monsters in a room blocked by monsters … that’s gonna be rough for level 2’s. Blocking monsters can be a problem in older editions of D&D. Or, maybe, it sets a pretty strong level range if there’s no way around them or clever way through them. It also does some weird things with information in place. “If Bob is with the group he’ll tell the party that his buddies died in the next room …” Well, if Bob is with the party then they may have asked that before getting to this room. Having the Bob section tell us what Bob kbnows is far better than digging through the text for each room to ferret out what someone knows.

The organization of the text is …  inconsistent. Some rooms do a decent job or organizing the text for the DM. Room two has two dead bodies that have attracted Muckwings (stats for muckwings) (order of battle notes) (body 1 descr)(body 2 descr.) That’s a decent layout. You’re likely to se ethe bodies and then the monsters when you enter, and then you’ll search the bodies and the layout reflects that.

Another room, though, mentions the smell of ammonia first (good) but then monster stats. And then mentions a small hole in the floor the size of an apple. THEN it mentions the back wall being dominated by an upright stone coffin. Then it covers reaching in to the hole. Then the same paragraph covers the coffin and it opening. It’s all over the place. First things first then second things second. Jumping all over the place with your room text forces a complete reading for the room … which is not good at the table during play. Other areas tell us that pink slime encroaches out in the hallway from the room. Well, fuck, that a detail that should be on the map or somehow otherwise noted prior to the room so the DM can run it correctly. 

But, it’s certainly original. And full of evocative writing and interesting interactive encounters. And is non-standard as all get out. If you want something a little different then I’d Regert this … but the somewhat tortured writing in places and lack of clarity in others makes it a tough recommend on the Bryce Lynch “On the Best” scale. A scale which is unfair to original works like this.

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is GREAT. You get some art samples (which do a good job conveying a Darkest Dungeon tone and brining the monsters to life) and you get to see about seven of the room. Note room two in particular. Can you tell me what items the bodies have and if they are pertinent to the adventure? Check out room five and see how the bolding clases with the monster bolding … and that giant hand/head alter. Pretty spiffy!


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/285390/AA03-Purging-Woth-Nrld-Oekwns-Muddy-Hole?affiliate_id=414579

Posted in No Regerts, Reviews | 19 Comments

Goddess of the Crypt

By Vagabundork
Self Published
Into the odd

This small dungeon combines subtle Egyptian and Mayan themes, weird fiction, non-Euclidean geometry and a touch of gonzo oddness.

This 24 page adventure details a fifteen-ish room dungeon  in about twelve single-column pages. It’s interactive, evocative, and tries hard to be useful to the DM at the table using a nested tree-like description format. Commitment to a vision is a good thing. Too much commitment to a vision is fanaticism and not good. You gotta know when to sacrifice. This don’t.

A great many of my positions can be thought of in terms of a spectrum. You’ve got two extremes and a middle point and I’m generally encouraging people to move off of their position near an extreme closer to the middle where a great band of “good enough” surrounds the “perfect” midpoint. This is usually confused as “Bryce wants everything spelled out for him” or “the reviewer favors minimalism.” No, neither. 

The descriptions in this adventure are pretty well done. They’re evocative. This isn’t achieved by droning on and on. This is achieved both by good word selection and leveraging a “less is more” attitude. Many things lose their wonder when overly explained. Magic items, Wonder. Magnets … how do they work? One interesting technique, used here, for being evocative is to remain mysterious. Our brains want to fill in detail. They want to explain. By giving them the right degree of detail, in the right way, they leap to explain and imagine and fill in. The main description for room nine, The Crypt, is “Scales cover the ground. An altar in the southeast corner. Murals of religious scenes: snake as deities, snakes as priests” It’s not much but revels, in a way. I’d summarize it, but it’s already essentially summarized for you with crypt, scales covering the ground, an alter and freaky murals. And note that the freaky murals are DESCRIBED. It’s not just “murals of victory” or some other abstraction, as many adventures provide for. No, it’s specific: as deities, as priests. It’s not the only way to get to an evocative description, but the combination of specificity and starkness does a great job.

It’s also fairly interactive, pillar two of the Bryce Watchwords. More than just stabbing things. There a great set of snake jaws that make up a door with gears to move them. More than trap, a trap wto PLAY with. An alter of snake bones (in that crypt, great detail, again) that releases toxic gas when disturbed. Jars hanging from an intertricate techno ceiling with fluid in them … and proto snake things as well.  A wall covered in lichen and vines … and a hidden power cable. There’s so much that reveals itself to further examination … and reckless play. Check.

[Note: this next part has some comments about Engligh as a Second Language. I would not say this adventure has language issues. Far from it. But some of the choices made in formatting remind me of non-Engligh Subject/Verb order … and I see things available in Spanish as well. It’s an academic comment, not a usability one.]

And then there’s the “Helps the DM run it”, of which a major part is the DM’s ability to scan the text and locate the information they need. This adventure is trying a format I’ve seen a couple of times before, with nested bullet points to describe things. Major thing. Then a nested detail, and then maybe a nested detail of that. It’s not a bad idea. The top-level bullets helps bring the eye to the important details while it’s then easy to find additional information about those things by looking at the nested/indented bullets. 

The adventure has a couple of problems in its specific implementation though. First, it’s gone overboard on the nesting. There are four or five levels in some cases. And three is pretty frequent. This end up making things harder to understand. I THINK I get what is going on. It’s almost like it’s one of those modern grammar teaching lessons where you break a sentence down in to clauses and make a tree-like structure from it. Now, let’s assume you did that for EVERYTHING in the adventure. That’s not the case here, but imagine it. It’s trying to follow some quite strict rules about nesting of detail … and has made that the assumption that this is good. Well, yes, it’s KIND OF good. But, by strictly following those nesting rules you’re loosing sight of the overall goal: usability. This reminds me of those adventures that always put a Sight, Sounds, Light, Door, Smell, taste, etc section at the start of EVERY. SINGLE. ROOM. regardless of if they need it or not. Too much implementation of a decent idea. Instead, focus on the overall outcome, usability, keep your general technique in mind, nesting, and sacrifice the technique when it detracts from the outcome. In one section there are some While Apes. That’s the top level. Ok. Second level nest: chained to the walls. Well, ok. Third level nest: they are food for the goddess. Uh … was that necessary to nest? White Apes-? Chained t o the wall, food for the goddess would have worked also. Even better: White Apes chained to the Wall-> Food for the goddess. Then the important detail “there’s fucking apes chained to the wall!” is immediately apparent. The adventure does this time and again. It needed to add a little, the obvious shit, to the top level nouns and combine a bullet of two. That would substantially condense the adventure. 

In other places the nesting looks backwards to me, with the important details deeper in the nest. A door-> Make a dex save to open it using tools->if opened make a dex save vs death->success: leap backwards to avoid being buried by snakes. The snakes falling from the ceiling is the important bit (so many they smother you!) but it’s buried. It should be moved higher up. Likewise there are other details that seem to be in a weird order as well, like a stone circle in room one that left dangling near the end. And for its attempt at usability, I still have no idea what “1g” and “1p” refer to in the monster charts, or which door in room one is stuck and which isn’t. Still, it’s trying, with cross-references and all.

I think it’s a great attempt. The format needs some polishing, but it’s got potential. And the evocativeness and interactivity are certainly present. 

This is free at the designers blog. Which is interesting in and of itself. 

Posted in Reviews | 6 Comments

(5e) Secrets of Mistcutter Isle

by Rick Maffei
Goodman Games
5e
Level 5

Mistcutter Isle has always had a dark history. For years the isolated isle served as a haunt for pirates and smugglers looking to hide their ill-gotten gains. But before that, legend has that the Isle was home to a race of savage, sea-dwelling creatures that enslaved other races. Somewhere on the Isle, it is said, is their hidden temple. Such tales were not always believed, but recently sailors have seen unusual purple lights in the sky above the Isle. Something is happening, and those with long memories fear that evil is afoot. Do the adventurers dare investigate the secrets of Mistcutter Isle?

This 28 page adventure details a sea cave complex with about seventeen areas. Editing mistakes and a formulaic approach make it bland.

Let us imagine you had a formula for making an adventure. You drew a map. In each romo you placed a monster. You also place some obstacle in some room that the monster is not impacted by. You do this for each room. You call this an adventure. 4e did something similar where there were these big set piece rooms with terrain modifiers and some kind of magical effect. It felt generic in 4e and the formula approach feels generic in this adventure. Oh, not every room is this way. Some just have a monster. And some just have the trap/obstacle. But it’s close enough.

There’s this naga and she’s luring adventurers to an underground temple so they will trigger traps so she doesn’t have to. Mistake one: luring adventurers. God this is so overused. Isn’t there any other reason for things existing other than this? What happened to just being evil? And having loot? In fact, there are two decent hooks that in no way involve the bullshit “luring.” The navigators guild hires you to map the island, for navigation purposes/threats, and a nearby town sees purple lights coming from the isle and “that can’t be good. Better find someone to look in to it.” I’m not a big fan of “hiring”, but the navigation guild stuff is a great pretext for getting in to trouble, and more realistic than hiring mercenaries. The “we see purple lights and that can’t be good …” thing is at least more interesting than the usual “hired by archeology/wizard/sage” boring of stuff. Which to be fair, is present also; I just don’t mention that shit anymore. If the designer doesn’t make an effort then why should I?

The read-aloud is in italics. I hate long sections of italics. I find it difficult to read more than sentence, and sometimes less. Bold it. Box it. Offset it. Just don’t fucking put it in italics. It’s hard on the eyes and comprehension.

Editing is terrible. I mean REALLY terrible. I mean more than the usual terrible editing, which plagues RPG adventures. In this case numerous mistakes creep in. “The area B colossus …” There is no colossus at area B. There’s a big statue elsewhere. Do they mean that? The map has shaded areas to indicate flooding …which don’t make sens to me AND are wrong. The text refers to six, nine, and ten as flooded … but six is not shaded on the map. But room one is. And the flooding text, combined with the map notations are supremely confusing in and of themselves. I still can’t figure out what’s flooded when to how deep and how deep if not. Are they entirely underwater? Who knows. I spent some time looking for a map of a specific dead-end hallway that referred to “areas a, b, and c on the map”, but there was no map with a, b, and c on them. Then, finally, on the least encounter, I saw that they had a full page map for the last room. ANd inset below it was a little map for the dead-end hallway. NOT a good editor.

This is on a small island. There are a number of encounters, five or so. There’s also a wandering monster table. The encounters are essentially just entries from the wandering monster table that’s been expanded to fill a lot more text. There’s just no meat to them. Fight a monster, big stat block, move on.

Encounters details why the monster is here. What it thinks and feels. How it got here. Why it is still here. It’s history of past battles. None of this is fucking relevent to the adventure. Instead of spending the word count on, tersly, describing an evocative environment it instead indulges in this trivia nonsense. 

Enter room. Listen to read aloud. Identify obstacle. Find and kill monster while avoiding obstacle. Get treasure. Go to next room. That’s no D&D. That’s a caricature of D&D. 

This is $7 at DriveThru. The preview doesn’t work. So you can’t actually tell the quality of what you’re buying beforehand. I can has sadz.


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/280347/Fifth-Edition-Fantasy-17-Secrets-of-Mistcutter-Isle?1892600

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QF3 – Malady of Kings

By Sean Smith
Self Published
Quarrel & Fable

A harried messenger collapses in the town square with news that the king at Firefen has succumbed to a demonic parasite.  And where the king is ill, the land is ill. Will YOU rid the kingdom of this evil before the disease spreads?

This nine digest page adventure details a road journey from a town to the home of the king, through a demon-infested land. Nice little ideas are abstracted to a degree that they are no longer useful. It’s too short for what it’s trying to pack in, falling somewhere in between the abstracted nature of a hexcrawl encounter and the details of a regular encounter. It doesn’t do either any justice.

I accidentally bought this. All I saw was “OSR” and not “other OSR systems” on DriveThru. In my own defense, I tend to think of the OSR label as “compatible with B/X” … and many light systems are essentially NOT. They bear more resemblance to indie RPG’s then to B/X. System aside, the adventure bears the marks of being essentially a linear set of encounters, something we should all be familiar with from more modern versions of D&D play styles where they eschew the game element and concentrate on the experience. So I’m reviewing it anyway. Such as it is.

It’s Meh.

It’s organized in a kind of time-based manner. First you encounter this and then you encounter this. It’s not really laid out in a keyed format. There are some headings for different regions/areas, but then it just runs through the “first this and then this” thing. It’s still relatively easy to follow though, with paragraphs being clearly laid out and information contained within, even without area headings, blding, etc. 

The general format might be “first this little things happens and then you’re in this big situation.” First you meet a bandit on the road, jumping out of a copse of trees. “Your lupins or your life” he shouts. That’s your encounter. That’s followed up with about four sentences, in the next paragraph, describing a small starving village, the abbey in it that has closed its doors, they sell salt, and the villagers wants to eat an albino cock and black chicks running around. So, a LARGE situation. Farmers jump out to attack … and then run away. Small encounter. You happen to a friendly well-fed village of kind people … who are cannibals. Big Encounter. 

All of these are, essentially, underdescribed. The bandit and farmers are just people that jump out. There’s nothing to them, no soul. They need more than once sentence, maybe two, to bring the encounter to life. To give it some character and flavour. 

The bigger town/village encounters are essentially the same. It attempts to describe these huge situations but it doesn’t give enough detail. It turns in to an abstracted idea of an encounter, like one of those “fifty ideas for fucked up villages” garbage supplements on DriveThru. Here’s your three sentences to describe your new campaign world. Run it! 

I’m not arguing for things to be infinitely explained, or rigid beyond use. But a fun extra details, an NPC or two, a roving gang, some farmer details, SOMETHING to bring the place to life and help spark the DM. It’s as if it were “an exciting new campaign supplement!” and it only contained the words “the dark lord or Mordor is trying to take over the world.” Well, ok, sure, but there’s lots of possible shit in that. Maybe you could give me just a little bit more to work with? Otherwise this is just a roll on some random tables that’s put down on paper.

The wanderers are a great example of this. A short wandering monster table. Farm bandits. Slug fiends. Demon friar. That’s it, just a list. But each one can only be used once, it tells us. Well then why the fuck didn’t you include just a little more information about a vignette? The friar forcefully converting a flock through demonic executions, or the farmers, idk, doing a wicker man or something? It’s all so abstracted that it might as well be Wilderlands. Although, come to think of it, Wilderlands had MORE detail and was organized better. 

It does, at times, engage in a decent word or two. Fleeing across a river hiding in the “long reeds.” Long reeds in a river, fleeing, hiding in them, that’s great imagery and gives me something. I want more of that.

Also, while I’m not an expert in this system, I think combat is unusually deadly and the idea is to come at things sideways? But then why all of the forced combats in this with many encounters being a “they jump out an attack!” type? Maybe I don’t understand the system.

Weirdly abstracted. There are two roads between your start and finish, and you’re only ever gonna encounter stuff on one ,meaning half the book is wasted. Quantum Ogre don’t matter here, it’s bad design in a non-exploratory railroad. 

This is $6 at DriveThru. Of course, there’s no fucking preview. $6 for nine pages is pushing things. Quality deserves payment. But the reality of the situation means you’re just getting fucked over for these high price/low page count things … that don’t have a fuck preview.


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/284980/QF3–Malady-of-the-Moor-King?1892600

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Tower of the Moon

By David Pulver
Night Owl Workshop
S&W
Levels 3-6

[…] The tower filled with howls and screams. Tales say that all perished in the struggle, the frenzied wolves even turning against their pack mates and devouring one another; only a few servants escaped to tell the tale, and recall Mordark’s dying words to Artesia before he was eaten alive: “if I could not share the Tower of the Moon beside you in life, I do so in death…” Today, the Tower of the Moon is a monster-haunted ruin, its shadow falling over dark forest and desolate wilderness. Only the brave or foolish dare its secrets.

This delightful 23 page digest adventure details a tower with four levels and about 25 rooms. Interactive, interesting, and not too overwritten, it provides that OD&D like vibe that I enjoy so well. It could also use some work for scanability. 

The cover is actually a decent depiction of the tower, imagine that! And the front door of the tower? You enter through the teeth of a giant wolf head face carved in to it. Mythic Underworld here we come! These are but two examples of the decent design that Pulver imbues in to this adventure. Making the art work with the adventure to help inspire the DM and evoke the setting, as in the case with the cover picture. And then there’s the wolf head. You’re passing somewhere else when you go through it, and everyone knows it. The mood changes. It’s D&D time. You’re elsewhere now. The rules are all wrong and every perversion is justified. 

But, I shouldn’t have started the review in the middle. This thing has the OD&D thing going on. What is that? It’s a degree of creativity that is not standardized for your convenience. As D&D has aged and the various editions have marched on, the various tropes of D&D have become more and more ingrained. Sword, +1. Hero. Innkeeper. Loyal Knights of blah blah blah. Everything comes from a book. Going the other direction there tends to be more non-standard elements and they tend to be combined in more unusual ways. That first level of The Darkness Beneath does this well. A flaming roll rolling the ceiling shooting off fire blasts didn’t come from no book. Nor did cursed plate mail shouting “Here I Am!” or an orange gem that you can use to shoot fireblasts … until it ,elts your hand off.  None of this is writ in stone, of course, it’s just a general trend; exceptions abound. But it’s also a convenient shorthand label.

This has that OD&D feel. There’s a magic well with curses and delights. It’s related to silver, and the moon, and has a sullen werewolf in it. And, it does magic stuff. One example is that it can turn stone back in to flesh, like the cockatrice statue you found in an earlier room, if immersed. But that’s an example, not an exhaustive list. It reminds me of the way LotFP (the system or an adventure, I forget which) used Bless as a kind of general-purpose thing. It wasn’t exhaustively spelled out and with the spell you could, well, Bless things. AND WHAT HAPPENED DEPENDED ON WHAT YOU WERE TRYING TO DO. The game world kind of made sense, general guidelines were set up and left for the DM to follow. And this adventure does a lot of things that feel like this.

Interactivity abounds and the monsters are sometimes integrated in to that. A ballroom, with shadowy dancing figures … that beckon you to join them. Shadows. (A nit: if you survive 30 minutes of dancing with them they kiss and release you. You should have gotten something for that, a +1 con or wis or something else. Reward must come to the daring, or else no one will ever be daring.) Rooms are generally written in a neutral tone, not designed against the party but rather existing for the party to exploit or fall for. A statue with a face that speaks? Do you give it a drink? Kiss it? These are the ways of OD&D and these are the ways of this adventure.It’s done well and I like it.

One the mediocre side if Pulvers writing and roo morganization. It’s primarily paragraph based, three or so per room of maybe two to three sentences each, with monster stats being bolded. Each paragraph generally describes one thing fully. I suggest that this is a poor format, in the form its taken here. Room two is a store room. The first paragraph details smashed crates and casks, blood stains, etc. The second gives more detail, a discarded mace and a broken quarterstaff. And the statue of a surprised elf. HOLY FUCk?!?!! What?!?!?!  This format forces the DM to read the entire room description before running it. Not. Cool. We don’t delay games because of bad writing. Better to bold important details in other paragraphs, or, put all of the majorly important/obvious stuff in the first paragraph and then use the later paragraphs to follow up, perhaps with bolding to draw the eye immediately to the correct place. Otherwise we need to bring out Ye Olde Highlightere. And what do we say to designers that force us to do that? That’s right: Go Fuck Yourself, it was your job to do that for me, the DM/consumer. It’s not egregious in this adventure, but its enough to be annoying. 

“Bob the wraith Lord put 7 skeletonsin this room (using his magic book) to prevent him from being disturbed.” That’s fucking trivia. Use that word count to create a more evocative description or increased interactivity, not to justify the existence of why there are 7 skeletons in the room. That trivia has no impact on the adventure being run and is this (almost always) irrelevant, distracting, reduces scanability, and the word count used for better things. It smacks of the crimes of pay per word padding.

Treasure is light. Really light. So light I wonder if Pulver has run a S&W campaign before. And  there’s a lot of boring old +1 magic items. That’s a serious miss and substantial departure from the OD&D ways that the encounter in this feel like. Other than that there’s amiss here and there; one room has a high ceiling with an overlook/balcony … that isn’t actually mentioned at all until you get to those higher rooms. Oops. Plus, if this had been the other way round, with the gallery encountered first, we would have had a classic Thracia tease. But, it’s the lack of balcony mention that’s the sin.

Still, A decent adventure for its flaws. Interactivity is strong. Themes are strong. Creativity is strong. Organization and evocative writing are at least not terrible. 

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $3. It’s certainly well worth that price. The preview is six pages and shows you fuck all of what you are actually buying. You get to see the full tower maps (there are mini-maps for each level also) as well as the bullshit background pretext and hook. But there’s nothing of the actual room contents. Major miss with that; that’s what we’re paying for, that’s what the preview should show us a bit of so we can determine if its crap or ok.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/289553/Tower-of-the-Moon?1892600

Posted in No Regerts, Reviews | 12 Comments

(5e) The Temple of Misfortune

By William Murakami-Brundage
Menagerie press
5e
Levels 1-3

The adventurers are sent to stop a pair of star-crossed lovers and collect the bounty on a gang of ruffians. Unfortunately, the bandit hideout is on the grounds of a haunted temple, and the recent tumult has awoken the restless dead.

This 24 page adventure details the grounds of a ruined temple with 36 rooms in about seven pages. The writing is mostly flat which forces a generic feel to plae in spite of several attempts to beef it up with some non-generic details. “Not odious” does not mean “good”, but the designer at least has a good start on producing better work.

Girl runs away with bandit in order to have a more exciting life. Her dad, a petty noble, has promised her hand in marriage to someone else to cement power. Bring her back! Oh, and the bandit also has a bounty on his head. This is the pretext to the adventure. The entire thing is explained in a one page summary overview which is clear and well organized. The hook-ish/hiring part in the town is also covered quite well in another page, also generally well organized and clear, not overstaying its welcome. It does force you to read instead of making better use of highlighting, bolding, bullets and whitespace for better scanning. Still, in and out quick, so it’s not terrible. The worst thing to be said is that “she eloped” is shouted out by the crier in the town square, in the “reward” call to action. That would probably be kept quiet, or at least reserved for a private audience with the noble/staff. 

36 rooms in seven pages is a decent density for 5e. The rooms generally don’t overstay their welcome with excessive trivia and background and read-aloud. Skill checks are done better than in most 5e, with logic and common sense coming in to play at numerous opportunities. 

The maps, two of them, appear to be Dyson affairs. Two of the better ones, one of an outdoor ruined temple/manor area and one of a small cave system. Both are noticeably more open than usual and have unusual features like tree copses and water features scattered throughout. The maps would have done well to have “rooms with reacting monsters” marked in them on the map, for ease in DM’ing. In addition, a side-view/perspective piece of art, showing the ruined temple, would have been in order. Given the number of collapsed wall and the general ruined nature, a more 3d adventuring style would have been well supported by this and a better use of the art budget than the generic full color monster art that several pages were devoted to. 

And on a related note, the ruins could have used with an overview description for the party. It just starts out with room 1, the ruined bridge that leads to the ruins. Some adventuring areas lead themselves to a scenic overlook type of situation. When you can survey the whole of an area from a distance the adventure deserves a little overview section, noting general features and standouts. If there’s a ruined dome with a bright light shining up out of it then it makes sense to mention that when the party first looks down on the place, doesn’t it? Otherwise you’re relying on the DM to either remember the important details of every room and if they apply to the scenic overlook description, or forcing them to go through the adventure and make notes. And if the DM has to make notes then the designer has probably failed in some way. 

The writing in this is generally flat. In spite of a few words like “tarnished bell” or “rusty pots and pans”, it generally just comes off as boring old generic ruins. The writing really needs to be beefed up with better use of adjectives and adverbs. I’m not advocating more MORE words, but generally different ones. I loathe purple prose, but it’s the designers job to bring the scene to life in the DM’s head. You have to give the DM something good to work with, something for their imagination to take ahold of and run with. You’re inspiring them, or you’re supposed to be anyway. The writing in this doesn’t do that. 

In particular I’ll mention the Shadows in the adventure. A lot used to be halfling bandits, some didn’t. But none of them really get any description at all. Either of them or how they rise and attack. A couple of hiding under the bed and come out to attack. Much better to have the shadows of the corners of the room to stretch, or to see them rise in some malign way from the slain bodies on the floor, yes? Something to make them come ALIVE. 

I note that this uses the modern 5e adventure convention of noting, at the start of the keyed entries, the sights, sounds, lighting, and terrain. I get the reason, and it’s ok. But that’s not an excuse to NOT include it in the individual rooms also. Bring them to life! Also, wouldn’t this information be much better suited for the map? Imagine 18 point font at the top of the map reminding the DM of the dusty nature and the occasional moans of the undead. From where, the players ask? The DM consults the map to find the nearest room that has monsters marked on it. That’s how all of this is supposed to work together to hel the DM bring the adventure to life. 

It does little good to tell us, as this adventure does, That room “10. Kitchen. This was a kitchen …” yeah, no shit, you just told us that. Or that the ruined bridge once allowed people to access the temple. Or that the well once provided water to the temple. Ok, that last one is mine, I made it up, but you get the idea. The trivia, backstory, and repetition does us no favors. At worst, it ills the adventure with garbage that the DM has to fight through while scanning for the important bits. They added nothing to the actual adventure. Use that word count to instead add more interesting adjectives and adverbs to make the place come alive.

It’s an ok adventure, if with a generic vibe. It does integrate the pretext in pretty well, with the halfling eloper/bandits, without making it a railroad. Maybe a little light on treasure. Alas, I have no time in my life for ok adventures and as such I’m afraid this gets buried in with the mountain of 5e adventure dreck on DriveThru. Still, high hopes for the future with this designer. I hope they can beef up their writing and give some more holistic thinking to adventure supporting the DM. Maybe finding a good DM or two that they can use as playtesters, who will tell them what they had to do to run it, so things can be corrected before publication. Yeah, hard work. Same as with the evocative writing. But that’s what separates the garbage with an idea from the good.

This is $6 at DriveThru.The preview is nine pages, with the last three showing you some of the room keys. You can get an idea of overview, hook summary, and how it uses its text to bring it to life (or not.) In that respect it’s a good preview. You can also see how it handles skill checks a little differently than most 5e adventures. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but it’s nice to see a little more sanity in that area. 


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/286939/Temple-of-Misfortune?1892600

Posted in 5e, Reviews | 3 Comments

The Hobgoblin Bride

By Megan Irving
Aegis Studios
O&O
Levels 1-2

Urgoblins are an all-male hobgoblin subrace who have limited regeneration abilities. Most urgoblins live among other hobgoblins with no issues; however, some believe their abilities are a gift from Ragnar and a sign that they should be leaders of their clans. Some of these urgoblins have split from their hobgoblin clans and come together to create an all-urgoblin clan, focused on taking over and ruling the Untamed Gauntlet. To further this goal, they’ve kidnapped hobgoblin women with the plan of breeding more urgoblins to join their power-hungry army. Mara is one of these women, and she has recently managed to escape their clutches, leaving four others behind in her flight to freedom. Mara wants to rescue the other hobgoblin women from the cruel urgoblins. A kindly centaur named Ronan has brought her request to the clerics at Chandra’s Haven, where the party can accept it and attempt to rescue the kidnapped hobgoblin brides.

This eleven page adventure describes ten room hobgoblin hideout. It’s small, simple, and tries to add immersion through trivia, which is never a good idea.

So, yeah, hobgoblin woman wants you to go rescue some other kidnapped hobgoblin women from some regenerating hobgoblins. Ignoring this, let’s talk difficulty. There are fifteen regenerating hobgoblins in the lair, and a few more on the way there. That seems like a lot for level one? I mean, you can stealth, run away, etc, but, still … this seems like a lot even for level two’s? And they regenerate?

It’s another simple map, looks like Dyson. Two ways in/out from most rooms. Nothing too interesting except maybe the two outdoor areas that offer some vegetation, porches, elevation, and other features to spice things up. 

The writing format is not very good. The rooms themselves tend to be rather plain, with trivia descriptions, which follows for most of the hobgoblins also. I mean, yeah, they do get some personalities, especially the women, but there’s this focus on trivia that embedded in to everything and FAR more prevalent than any interesting or evocative detail. One room has some columns. Underneath the paint of one, it’s cracked. Uh. Ok. An Frank the builder constructed it, but that also plays no role in the adventure?

The bad guys gets weird descriptions. Hair tied in a bun. Shaved heads. Mean expressions. One has a goatee, another has a scar across his nose. Another has a vest made of goat pelts. I guess this is ok? I mean, it helps the DM identify them to the players I guess. “The one with the nose scar walks over to the door” and so on. It just feels out of place because there feels like there is very little room for that sort of play.

The rooms are just full of this trivia, all squashed together. What they do when on alert and not would normally be good information, but it’s all mixed up in text form in this. Highlighter time! Except I won’t do that; that’s the designers job, to make the text easily navigable/scannable.

And the treasure is quite light. Almost no loot. I guess maybe Gold!=XP in O&O? Which means it’s a plot RPG? Which means it’s, essentially, a setting for 5e with OSR stats?

This is just another in the long long line of forgettable published adventures. Also, I guess “The Hobgoblin Bride” sounds better than “The Hobgoblin Multiple Gang Rapes Sexual Assault Victim.” Yeah, they put a sexual assault warning on it. And then they humanized her. If you’re gonna do that then calling her a “bride” is kind of disingenuous, eh?

This is $1 at DriveThru. There’s no preview, so just fork over your precious dollar and take what they decide to give you! Fuck yo for wanting a preview anyway! What do you think you are, an informed consumer making a logical purchasing decision?


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/288412/The-Hobgoblin-Bride?1892600

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No Rest for the Wicked

By J. Stuart Pate
lotFP
LotFP
Low levels

The year is 1632 and the wars of religion engulf Europe. Can you imagine it? A war so total, everywhere you have ever known and everywhere you might know is touched by it. It’s taken friends and family members. Maybe it swallowed your village whole. Perhaps it even took you, conscripted by a King or an Emperor or a Pope you have never met. […] So, when you seek an inn to stay for the night, why are you so surprised to find the war has arrived ahead of you? 

Hey, there’s a patreon link at tenfootpole.org. My goal is $152,000, at which point I can pay off my mortgage. Seems reasonable to me … 

This 32 page adventure is an outline of a situation that is going to go down in an inn. The party may involve themselves in The Troubles. It is, essentially, an orc baby adventure. It’s pretty well organized, if longer than need be. 

I’ve been on a Lamentations hiatus, burned too many times by Raggi. I saw the “Hell is other people” tagline and, sucker that I am, bit immediately. Insane in the membrane I am. (Again, Hexstatic Cocaine sample.) Have you ever wondered why those three fucks in No Exit don’t just bend a fucking little in order to make eternity more tolerable? I’ve known two people in my life who were intractable and they both, to varying degrees, were self-destructive because of it. Content to watch their life burn down around them rather than reframe. Then again, if our room occupants could do that then they wouldn’t be there, would they? I digress. 

Let’s cover the orc baby situation first. Do you like adventures with orc babies? IE: do you like moral quandaries that can split the party. I don’t. I played in a Mountain Witch game once in which some famous RPG dude was also in. They found the game emotionally unfulfilling. I thought it was kind of fun. If I wanted to play some indie game exploration of death or a crumbling relationship then I’d go watch On the Beach again and get my misery that way. As the Tom Tom Club would say, Fun, natural fun. And before you fucks freak out, I AM a new wave boy, but I know this from Hexstatic Cocaine samples. Anyway. Fun, Natural Fun. I digress.

This being Lamentations, it’s set in the Catholic & Protestant wars in Bohemia. That don’t matter though, you just need a human warzone for it to work. You stop at an inn. There’s a family in the common room. The innkeeper comes riding up (he was gone) and says there’s an army coming. The family go and hide in the basement and the party is urged to not know anything. Some mercenaries show up to stay in the inn … who are actually advance spies for the army. Around 2am an army search party shows up, looking for a deserter who burned down a town. Seems he’s got his family in tow. Motherfucker, my ‘C’ songs suck. After Cocaine it switch to a bunch of shit before I figured out it wasn’t on shuffle. Frankie will have to do. I digress.

The timeline of events is handled on a couple of pages. It is the core of the adventure and it’s just about all you need to run the thing. It’s supplemented by a bunch of words that describe various things the party could do, generally who they help/what they do, and how the NPC’s react to that and it changes the situation. This is almost like a designers notes section, or an outcomes section for follow-ups to the adventure. I really appreciate that sort of thing to get me kickstarted in a direction that I can run with at the table. There’s also a brief description of the inn which is, appropriately, kept short in a non-keyed description. This ain’t an exploration and you just need the barest details of it to run what is, essentially, a social adventure. There’s also a couple of pages of simple inn maps and NPC descriptions. It does a good job giving you a short summary of the adventure up front and then the several page timeline is perfect for actually running the thing. I do not digress.

I might note that I found the NPC descriptions worthless. Well, not worthless, but inadequate. Given the map and the timeline then what this needs is a one page summary of all of the NPC’s; their quirks, looks, motivations, etc. Then you could run the thing without the book at all. Similarly, I might take some of the features mentioned in the inn room descriptions and add them to the map. The sword and gun in the common room, and so on. Maybe some notes, etc, with pointing arrows. This would make the book even MORE superfluous to running the adventure. By now it should be obvious how much I enjoy taking notes and highlighting things in order to run an adventure. If this thing did those two points then it would be pretty great in the “run at the table” department.

It’s ok. I like the drop in nature of it. I might have also appreciated a little more going on, for more chaos, but, as far as orc baby adventures go this one is pretty light on the morality. It just makes you feel like shit no matter what choices you make. Is that fun? I’m gonna regert this, even though it has orc babies.

This is $8 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages and shows you the VERY brief outline of the adventure. That’s a great orientation of whats to come in the more detailed notes. A page of that more detailed timeline, a page of the inn, a page of the outcomes all would have supplemented the preview better than the generic title pages/intro would have.


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/281988/No-Rest-for-the-Wicked?1892600

Posted in No Regerts, Reviews | 8 Comments