Echoes from Fomalhaut #10

Gabor Lux
First Hungarian d20 Society
OSR

The Temple of Polyphema: The temple of the cyclopean goddess has been taken over by a band of marauding gnolls. Are you a bad enough dude to drive them out, and avert the terrible curse that would befall Polyphema’s gutless followers? Levels 2-4, 25 keyed areas.

Time to suck off The Gaborian again. Seriously, how do you people run a game when 90% of the people at the table are named Gabor? Nice cover on this one, with the … dancing bear?

Echoes from Fomalhaut #10 continues the tradition of fine products from First Hungarian. Seriously, other than, maybe, Fight On or Arduin, the Echoes line is producing one of the best sets of adventures and supplements in the hobby. There are others, such as Dungeon Age, who are consistently producing fine work, but the addition of a kind of consistent tone and theme really sells this in a way that few other supplements have. Do you think he’ll let me buy a complete hardcopy set if I rim him a bit also? Maybe, for like, $1000? I’ll pay for shipping. One Yul Brenner, please!

In this 56 page issue you’re getting the Temple of Jeng, a killer adventure. The Gorge of the Unmortal Hermit, a weirdo place, Oom the Many, a god/cult description, Guests of the Beggar King, a mostly civilized “kingdom” you can visit with a lot of weird shit going on and, mayhap, be a standin for mighty Kyshal as a home base,, and the Temple of Polyphema, which I’m going to talk the most about.

More than most, though, I want to talk about specificity. It’s something I cite a lot, in a positive manner, in its efforts to really bring a work to life. It adds character, as opposed to detail which just adds to the word count. Specificity gives the DM something to hang their hat on. Something to leverage in to more. It inspires, rather than the ability of detail to simply make the text longer and harder to comprehend. This specificity, along with well chosen adjectives, can help bring something to life much more so than without it.

We’ve got this temple on a mountain and a village below it. They are cursed; if they don’t worship there every day then they slowly turn in to goats. Oops, don’t piss off the goddess of polymorphism, I guess. Anyway, some gnolls have moved in and a couple of the villagers are now sporting goat heads. 

The temple has a copse of woods outside. What does that make you think of, to imagine? Ok, now, what if I told you that it’s actually a grove of olive trees. Now what? It’s a grove, not a copse, and they are olive trees. This conjures up the greek, yes? You’re now in a different headspace, you have a different framing for all that comes after. The context is different and we’re now working with different cultural baggage to leverage. This is the difference between the generic and the specific.

We see this in other areas as well. One room, the main rooms for the gnolls, has fifteen of them in it “four of them with human heads”, the text tells us. Uh, right on! It IS the temple of polyphema, after all. And, in the same room “The walls are lined with grimacing theatrical masks, their mouths stuffed with rags – the gnolls were afraid of the ominous moaning wind blowing through them.” Not useless backstory, for it tells us what happens when the rags are removed from the mouths. It has integrated the backstory in to the description in such a way that the word count is no more. 

In another room we have some old, decaying furniture swarming with large creamy centipedes. Harmless, but can deliver a vicious bite, the text tells us. Do you frequently see this in an adventure? A normal creature? Almost as window dressing, but not quite. Those six legged possums in The Upper Caves that I am so fond of. The mundane, or nearly so, presented to the party. 

Let us look at a magic item: “Golden apple: This gold apple is worth 4000 gp as a piece of jewelry. Carrying it brings a constant bless spell. Those who learn of its existence must save or desire to possess it by money, guile or bloodshed.” It’s just a fucking bless. But, also, it’s a golden apple … with all the historical context that implies. And, note that curse like thing. Kick ass man! I wish almost everything came with some of that artifact shit attached to it. A decanter full of moon-silver liquid? Sign me up!

Elsewhere in the issue we find a sickle that feel unnaturally heavy … a non-druid picking it up must save or start cutting ritual wounds in to themselves. Isn’t that fun? SO much more fun han “cursed, -1 to hit” or some other shit. How about a cel littered with gnawed bones. Psych! Restless skeletons bitches! I love it when the players slap their heads and say “Of course! They were bones! Of course!” 

I could go on and on about The Court of Beggar King also. A fucking kick ass place to sally forth from. And, get caught up in the intrigues of. For every opulent welcoming feast there is also three hanged heroes suspended from nooses in the treasury room. 

This is $6.50 at DriveThru. The preview is ten pages and you can see the first few pages of that Poluphema temple. Rend thy clothes and weep at thy own feeble efforts at adventure writing.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/414336/Echoes-From-Fomalhaut-10-Guests-of-the-Beggar-King–EMDT76?1892600

Posted in Reviews, The Best | 14 Comments

The Great Mansion Heist

By Ben Gibson
Coldlight Press
OSE/5e/Pathfinder (Conversion Notes for stats, etc)
Levels 1-2

More than a mile away from the sweaty market town that bears his name, Merchant Lord Salmo spends most of his time in his formidable manse, luxuriating in wealth and style…wealth that nobody, not his slaves, nor his workmen, nor his rivals, would mind him losing…

This 22 page adventure uses four pages to describe a local lords manor house, framed as a raid to steal him blind. It covers the necessities nicely, with plenty of situations and possabilities. A little staid, perhaps, but it does a good job of being what it is.

You’re ripping this dude off and/or doing some murdering, as needs be. In town  we’ve got a short little table of rumors/hooks to get you going. A failed handless thief will tell you shit for an ale … that’s gotta be a great sight. Or the failed drunken steward offers a map, for vengeance. Or the dog handler talks treats or there’s a dude hiring new guards. Implied, in each of these little one sentence things, is more than enough information to get a DM going and inject flavour in to things. A failed handless thief? You betcha! A doggo lover? A KILLER doggo lover? Noice! One short little table, that could have been a throw-away in any other adventure, injects a major amount of flavour in to this one. And that’s the goal. The specificity. We don’t need details, we need specificity. 

The Logos map is fine. A basement two floors above and a little turret and widows walk thing. Clear enough, although, again, I might have made note of where there are generally servants located, for sound and light purposes. We do get a little table to handle patrolling guards and some general guidelines on how they handle sounds and react. 

This IS the heart of the adventure, those reaction notes. There is a small one page key for the twenty rooms, but that is noting mostly the existence, or not, of servants and anything worth looting. But the reactions are where this thing is at. The cook, who is kindly and sweet and “worn down by a lack of appreciation for her modest gifts as a cook” will try to talk you in to fleeing. The steward is proline to fumbling and ignores all strange noises, since he’s new to the mansion. The accountant barely registers threats. The dogs are lonely and respond well to kindness … and prone to bark at squirrels. There are notes on holidays and dinner parties, on food & wine delivery wagons and how the guards react when their lord is there (more cautious about blowing their horns) You can see how each and every one of these notes, and more, are ALL oriented towards actual play at the table. Everything here is laser focused on the party sneaking or bluffing their way in, and what then happens. And none of it is overblown. Jesus, the thing uses four pages, how can it go on at length? No, just enough. Just enough specificity to bring it to life for the DM to launch it as their own. And then it moves on. Just enough guidelines to run a holiday or dinner party, two or three sentences to do a vibe, and then it moves on. Focused man, just absolutely focused on the game at the table.

Let’s look at some descriptions!! “Dingy and dusty, with improvised table and chairs used by shirking guards” Great. The magicians bedroom smells of sulfur and ammonia. The upper gallery is well lit and cool with a gilded statue in a nook. 

Notably, there’s not an over formatted description here. The description and the game elements are just integrated together in to the description. This is, I think, my favorite description style. It’s hard to do, requiring focus and great writing skills, but produces a text that that feels natural and everything just fits together nice and smoothly. 

It’s the little details here, the specificity, that bring so much more to this. Just little off hand phrases. Like the no hands thing. Or the fact that the wine in the wine cellar is worth less “watered down due to servant and guard pilferage.” The shirking guards, the attention to the garden and the tree that can be climbed to leap to a tower roof. Extending this snarkiness to the pregens, we get a collector, reluctant muscle, and a couple of freelance murderers. Alright man! I dig it!

And, like all good adventures, you can piecemeal some treasure together, but the real hoard is going to take some good work to get. I could do better with the magic item descriptions, but, otherwise, a pretty good job in crafting an adventure for an evenings play! Maybe just a little less than what I prefer, but I’ll err on the side of checking this out.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $2. The preview is just a couple of pages but is essentially all of the actual parts of the adventure, so you can see what you are getting and how it focuses on on the reactions, etc.


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/464648/K6-The-Great-Mansion-Heist?1892600

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

Fortress on the Wild Frontier

The Nameless Designer
Self Published
Heroes of Adventure

Someone suggested this. Hrumph!

The sighting and return of the great mystical comet Mithilanthor heralds a time of wild magic, which has only added to the sense of unease. At night, under the cover of darkness, shadowy humanoid creatures have been seen riding their nightmare steeds with vengeful fury on the horizon. As a heroic adventurer seeking to make your mark in the region, you will undoubtedly face a range of challenges and dangers in this volatile and unpredictable landscape.

This 64 page sandbox region describes a little keep on the borderlands between the civilized world and the Beast Man lands. It’s got its shit together, in layout and looking pretty, but is so aggressively generic and abstracted it makes me wonder what anyone was thinking in creating it. “Maybe put a keep on the borderlands and run an adventure!” 

Ah, and adventure! You start at the Central Station and follow the river … err, no. But, the Keep and the mythos of Central Station continue to pull at us all, eh? The very borders of the civilized world, with a Keep there as a base, and the Marlows setting off for their fortunes and adventure! 

We’ve go a borderlands region, with woods, hills and so on. There’s this river with an old stone bridge over it, marking the owned lands to the west and the wildlands to the east. Up on a hilltop we’ve got a keep with its retired adventurer ruler. To the west of the bridge we’ve got a dozen or so sites to look in to and to the east, across the river … three. So, much of what you’ll be exploring and fucking with is IN the civilized lands. This strikes me as fucking weird. The lands over the river have some elves (“the wild folk”) and one small ruin and the Beastmen. And that’s it. So, we’re not really fucking around with those great black parts of the map that note Here There Be Dragons and doing some points of light. We’re instead talking to a villager who is paying moderate taxes to the local lord who is also an ok dude. 

There are some VERY basic rules for clearing hexes and generating some action for each of those hexes. Let’s see, I rolled bears, and overabundance of, and ruins. GO do something with that. Sure. The table is just a bit small though, for, what, two thirds of a double page map? And the same could be said for the wanderer table, which is WOEFULLY small AND overspecific. for a region of this size.

I’m getting ahead of myself. I layout here is professional. Nice two page spreads, decently evocative art, and a nice use of bullets and whitespace and bolding, even if long sections of italics appear to the detriment of quick scanning. Also nice is a little overview of a few major plotlines, like the beastman invasion or an incursion from the Shadowrealm. Little timeline like things, as well as a mundane-ish leaning event generator for the Keep. Trade Goods arriving! Oh, they are full of disease. Let me rif on that …

Ok, now back to the Suckatude.

This entire product is shallow. It’s abstracted and generic. To a degree, even, that I’m not sure WOTC has even achieved. And, I’m afraid, I’m going to struggle to communicate just how pervasive this is in this supplement. Pervasive is even the wrong word … it’s core to this adventure. But not in a “maybe do something like this “ way that plagues to many others. Instead it comes off as … aloof? But without the judgment that aloof implies. Distant, maybe?

And I don’t know how to communicate this. The well at the keep is “A large well and common gathering area. One of the few areas where plants and trees grow within the keep.

” So, sure, it’s a well in a keep. Why should it get a long description? But then a dungeon chasm is “The flicker of your torch reveals an ominous abyss, the ground falling away beneath your feet as if swallowed by an endless darkness” So, ignoring that “your torch/your feet” shit … It’s almost like the chasm is an after thought? Or, the description of a room with a tomb (titled as “Tomb”) comes off as: “The cavern chamber contains is dimly lit, dusty crypt, where the scent of decay and the feeling of ancient curses pervades the air.” It’s kind of like it’s being narrated, but in a kind of post-modern meta fashion? This is common in every single room and description. You get about one sentence of … read-aloud? And then a bullet or two. But nothing is really DESCRIBED. Nothing is specific. Typical treasure might be “Treasure; d20 random old empire style curiosities (value 5d20sp each item)” … abstracted and generic. Or, an example of a bullet, for the DM, meant to provide extra detail “Trophies, items from Lord Cullyn’s previous adventuring career can be found adorning the walls and drawers.” Uh. Sure. Yes, that is an idea for a room. Maybe you’d like to actually describe the room and/or trophies?

And, I guess, that’s the major thrust of every description here, both read-aloud or for the DM. it’s an IDEA for something. A deep and shadowy chasm is in this chamber, or, This is the lords trophy room from his adventuring days. It’s all a conclusion rather than the description that would lead someone to make that conclusion. The rooms. The situations. The read-aloud. The treasure. The wanderers, even.Everything

And that sucks shit. Specificity is the soul of the narrative, says The Judge.  And then …

Oh! I know! I know what this is! I wwas thinking about this abandoned and cursed village in the adventure. The descriptions for all of the buildings are like one sentence each and the village description starts with something like that they are all cursed and trapped in the shadow realm and you can there to save them. And then the boring ass abstracted village descriptions start. That got me think about this. And I recalled something else that does EXACTLY this. The old MERP supplements. They would give these generic little descriptions to the inside of the locations and then gie you like a one para or one column description. “Mim the petty dwarf could come back and dominate the region and he could live in this tower.” Descriptions were then like “This is the bathroom, it has a hole in the ground’” and so on. 

And I guess thats great, but that makes it a regional setting and not really an adventure or a sandboxy adventure. To do that you’ve got to make something specific. And while there ARE creatures in some of the rooms, the rest of he adventure and its descriptions, everything else, is more of this distant view of things. 

Oh, and the orcs … err, Beastmen, don’t really show up in the adventure. One of the big plot things involve them, but you’ll be doing all of that yourself. And, thus also, there is no Caves of Chaos. Or, I would suggest, anything else of real interest. Enjoyyour abandoned villages and their ilk.

This is free at Itch. 

https://nameless-designer.itch.io/fortress-on-the-wild-frontier

Posted in Reviews | 12 Comments

The Mythic North

By Isaac VanDuyn
Esoteric Ludology
OSR

There are no wizard guilds, no orcs or dwarves. Monsters exist, but only as legends haunting distant reaches. The ascendant Church hunts down any hint of magic, and witches and enchanters practice their forbidden arts only in secret. Lords command, knights ride to battle, and peasants die in the mud.

This 320 (!) page supplement is not, as it suggests, a hex crawl but rather a regional setting complete with sandboxy elements and hidden locales and “dungeons” to explore. It’s fucking DENSE man, and needs some reference docs. It’s also a fucking WILD ride, with the most Darklands vibe I think I’ve ever seen. 

Mudcore motherfuckers! Errr, no, not mudcore. And not quite Darklands. But, closer to both of those than The Forgotten Realms. The setting here is, as the designer tells us, vaguely Scottish in the … 1200’s? Let’s not take what I just said there too seriously … We need to emphasize the vaguely part of that sentence. Anyway, it’s a regional setting with a healthy sandbox component and dungeons. It’s unlikely you would need anything other than this to run a decent length campaign.

We’ve got this island, with a wall running over the a chunk of it in the north. To the south are the south are the southerners ruled by Edward and to the north … well, he rules there also. But the northern tribes/lords don’t like it and are vaguely in rebellion. At least a smooch as they think they can get away with. There’s the catholic church running around here also. And, the Romans ruled everything a thousand years ago. So far we’ve got a pretty mundane setting. Except, demons are real. So is magic … but don’t get burned as a heretic. There are a few mythic creatures, although no real Humanoids, as we know them in D&D, except for some giants. And some Old Ones, the Rishae, which resemble, in temperament and technology, the Engineers from Alien. Oh, and there’s a fucking dragon. Just don’t roll a fucking 00 on the wilderness wandering table while off the roads. (+20 to your die roll off the roads … meaning you rolled a 120. And that’s not great … well, I mean, it is for the dragon …) 

The region map is about thirty hexes across and about … forty tall? With each hex being 2 miles. Yes indeed. Mountains on the east with a pass leading to the civilized lands, a wall on the south cutting off the north from the same. An ocean on the west (with a couple of islands … not Ireland) and frozen/glacial mountains in the north. So, not exactly Scotland. But, whatever. It’s a nifty little region map. Roman roads, trails, a couple of coutposts and places of note (twenty, in fact! 🙂 and eight hidden locations. Its supported by some hex generation tables to help the DM out in populating hexes when the party searches, with some name generators and such. In addition, the wandering table is relatively extensive, with each entry taking from half a page to a page. The entry for “guarded prisoner”, a half column ot so, gives us some options on where the prisoner is being transported to, the numbers of prisoners and guards, what the prisoner is accused of, and a cute little “Desperate offers of prisoners” table, with “riches beyond anyone’s wildest imagination” and “dark powers” being a couple of the options. And thus we can also see the tone of the setting. It’s not quite grimdark, but it leans towards a human-centric historically accurate setting, with a little snark and fun thrown in. I think it’s a great fucking tone. 

There are six or so primary factions, with each taking a couple of pages to describe. Who they are, what they want, what they think of the others, and some dark secrets they have. This is the primary driver of the region. Those groups are working with and/or against each other and almost every locale is related to that subtle, or not so, power struggle. And by now everyone should know how I like Katey Perry,. Baby, the party’s a firework … and they are adventurning a gas factory. 

The hooks here are interesting as well. Hook may be the wrong word … it’s more how to get the campaign started. Each lasts a half page or so, maybe a third of a page. There’s a prison riot, with good advice to get the party started and how to get them off of the prison island … without it being a railroad and WITH giving them some entanglements in others affairs to drive further adventure. Another has them being tasked with doing Night Work by .gov … a perfect reason why the local knights aren’t doing the work given the hotbed political situation. And so it goes, with a good variety and some really good advice, for each of them, in how to get the party started and entangled in things. I appreciated that a lot.

Several of the sites have “dungeons”, which just means floorplans, to one degree or another. A couple, such as a spider lair or the alien masterminds, are more of a “real” dungeon, with others being closer to “well, fuck  it, lets loot the abbey!” but all have a reasonable potential for the party to be murder hobo’ing in them. These are not full of exploratory dungeons, but neither are they site based. The maps tend to be more simplistic than a full of exploratory dungeon and more focused on the functionality of the site. 

These dungeons are pretty good. The Shrine of Shulls reads “Skulls piled upon skulls. Giant skulls, human skulls, rishae skulls, skulls of strange beasts. The cup on the altar is made from a skull and the curate wears a skull as a hat.” Place a skull upon the skull throne and receive the Blessing of the Dead. (The chalice fills with black blood. If smeared upon the forehead, it allows those thus daubed to see and speak with the spirits of the dead for 1 watch.)”  Come on man … is your soul dead? That’s fucking rocking. The chalice fills with black blood? Smear it on your forehead? I’m an SOOOO in. There’s a little bit of an over-reveal in the read-aloud/summary text, but when it happens it’s pretty light. “The rear wall glows hotly, the rock nearly molten. Before the wall, an enormous pile of ash. Before the ash, many jars of metal containing sacred oils.” Pretty kicking, even for some sacred oils. Did I mention the thing is extensively cross-referenced? And hyperlinked? I couldn’t really find anything mentioned that I thought “ i wish I knew where to find that at …”

So, I think this thing is really fucking rocking. A nice mundane-ish world punctuated by moments of pure terror. And I fucking hate it also.

Mother fucking white text on a black background. Extensive use of italics in sentences. And some goofy ass fucking font choices that seem custom tailored to make the fucking text hard to read. Fucking faux-gothic shit. Red fonts on a black background. You can go FUCK YOURSELF! And, man, those factions. I need like a one pager to keep the major shit straight for all of them. And the same again for the locations. Maybe both on the same sheet. So that when the party meets someone or I’m hacking something up from the wandering table I have the major shit ready to go, rather than thumbing through. 

You are ABSOLUTELY going to have to put a little work in to this. Roll some wanderers up ahead of time and think about them a bit. Same for the “explore a hex” sites. Roll up thirty or so. (Gee, sure would be nice if the designer had this on their website/discord …) I’m pretty ok with this amount of work, given that this is a regional setting. 

This is for some medieval OSR rpg. I might check out the main rules. Mostly, I think the OSR rules, chargen mainly, fit on one page, but, I might be down for this as a setting. In any event, this is a GREAT supplement for anyone with those rules, or anyone looking for a more human centric world … but with some monsters in it. 

It’s also 321 fucking pages long. Wanderers start on page 35 … with most of what comes before not particularly useful, but for the extensive faction information that I already wish were shorter. Wanderers run 100 pages. Ouch. The main civilized locations are just a little too much. There is GREAT lite sections, bulleted, with quest-like things from some factions, etc, ranging from “i just met you “ to “ok, so, now that we’ve killed someone together, lets talk about some serious shit you could do for me …”  I can’t help but think, though, that the formatting and layout used for the more civilized locales detracts a bit from running them well. I fucking lvoe towns/cities/etc and I’m not sure I could do this one justice, running it, given the way the information flow is organized. Could be, also, the use of whitespace and bullets, while generally a fine choice, is clashing somewhat with the goals of comprehension and reference in these sections. I don’t know. It’s just so fucking dense with gameable content. I need a little more formatting to get the shit flowing right. 

This is $35 at DriveThru. The preview is a one pager and shitty. For $35 for a fucking PDF you can reach deep and give me a slightly better preview of what I would be, potentially, buying to help me make an informed decision.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/436957/Outcast-Silver-Raiders-The-Mythic-North?1892600

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews, The Best | 38 Comments

Adeva’s Mountain Shrine

By Franklin Hicks
Self Published
Shadowdark
Levels 1-3

A small village at the base of the mountain holds a terrible secret. Unknown to all but the village elder and the Shrine Keeper the villages goddess, Adeva, is actually a devil. Each year an innocent is sent to the mountain shrine to ‘join’ the Shrine Keeper. When the truth is they are destined to be a sacrifice to the devil.  This years sacrifice, a dwarven boy named Orik, escaped the Shrine Keeper and fled into the mountain. Edwin Swift, the village elder will ask the players to venture to the top of the mountain to find the boy and return him to the mountain shrine. Little does he know that soon the Shrine Keeper will be dead and the villages secret on the cusp of being revealed!

This seventeen page single column adventure details a small dungeon with eleven rooms. Some nice ideas in this one, and a touch of or or evocative writing. It never goes goes far enough, though, in its writing or the logical consequences of things in order to bring the place to life.

This thing has some decent ideas in it, rather than just being another throw-away. The premise here is a village full of goody goodies. They live by a strict code of charity, asceticism and devotion to their protector goddess. Really good people, the way you wish religious people were. I mean, we can argue about the asceticism part, but, otherwise, you get the idea that we’ve got a nice little village here, and they truly like to help others. As a player this would SO set my teeth on edge. I’m ready to be drugged and wicker-manned and because of that I’m ready to start slitting throats and burning shit down on a hair trigger. And that’s a good thing. You’ve manipulated the PLAYERS through an in game thing. They are invested, and that can be quite rare indeed. Oh yeah, once a year they send a kid up to the mountain shrine to join the others up there in their Adeva religious order. KLast kid, though, got scared and ran off. Maybe you could help find him? 

Really solid foundation there. And, like so many other things in this adventure, that really solid foundation is going to be fucked up by the designer. Subverting expectations, or appeals to imagination abound … but then are generally drug through the much of traditional RPG tropes, ruining things. 

The kid is a little dwarf kid, and he’s run in to a kobold sorcerer … with a backstory. Great. So, look, we all recognize all of that shit as crap, right? It’s some kind of fucking excuse to throw in some kobolds in the mountain shrine. And, that kid, he was about to be sacrificed by the shrine when the sleep drug wore off and he ran off. LAME. Just an excuse to include the kobolds. THis could have been so much better with a little more thought. The village gets almost no attention at all. Turn up the charm. Get the party in to the mood, or either being paranoid as all fuck or loving the place. Throw in a couple of (very) short vignettes and NPC’s. Bring that pat of the adventure to life. Then get rid of all that “he was almost sacrificed” shit. He just ran off because he missed home, or got lost or some kind of shit. This allows the party to get invested, have some mountain encounters, and then get to the shrine, Turn up the paranoia there. THEN you can turn the entire thing in to what it is, once the party clues in. You can some dips and rises here, which are just not present. 

There are hints of good things though in almost every room. One of the wanderers on the way up the mountain are the bloody remains of a mountain goat on the trail … fortelling a mountain lion. All of the wanderers get that little bit of extra to help the DM bring the encounter to life.  And we get little snippets of good descriptions, like a sacrificial dagger is wrapped in a gold trimmed red cloth. That’s a good detail. It brings it to life in the mind. Or a small leather book on a bench … with three spells in it, like a scroll. Good little description, nothing complex, recalling all of the little leather bound ratted up books in bookstores and movies and the treasures and secrets they contain. A description that is overloaded, alluding to more than there is on the written page. And to use it as a scroll, instead of just saying “scroll with three spells?” Perfect. Or, skeletons in a jail cell, manacled up … who struggle to free themselves. There’s great tension there. 

But the issues here are pretty major, beyond the nonsensical plot design, missed opportunities and mismatch in tone. The read-aloud over reveals, destroying that back and forth between the players and the DM. The DM text gives details on the mundane. “Bed. The small bed is neatly made and has several thick wool blankets.” That does nothing for the DM. You lean on the DM to provide that sort of information while the designers role is to tel lus why THIS kitchen/bed/etc is different and relevant to the adventure. Backstory is embedded “the last remaining embers in the brazier have died out.” Well no fucking shit they have. Or, phrases are repeated between the read-aloud and DM text, telling us, for instance, that there are faded and tattered red & gold banners hanging on the wal … repeatedly. This, instead of, say, working a description that ended up as “On the other side of the portcullises is a dead kobold lying in the center of the hall. A faceless statue stands on the south end.” Joy to you! Or, a glyph glowing with purple light … with no real details on it. I’m gonna ask what the fuck it looks like. Don’t leave me hanging Mr designer! And, of course, the fact that the goddess here is a Erinyes. Who can actually grant boons. The implications are staggering! 

This is not just a generic garbage adventure. There are bots and pieces of imagination and evocative descriptions that shine through. But, it’s not consistent enough. There’s not enough of them, and the missed portions, the straining of disbelief … there’s just too much of that and not enough of interest. Maybe next time?

Also, put the fucking level in the marketing blurb!

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $1. The preview is broken. ?

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/466489/Adevas-Mountain-Shrine?1892600

Posted in Reviews | 24 Comments

Lair of the Battle Mage

By James Floyd Kelly
The Tabletop Engineer
Generic?
"Low Levels

The best stories told by Niloshis the Whisperer here at the Dented Helm Tavern seem to always involve a theft. That old half-elf sorcerer has got a never-ending supply of wild tales. The Lair of the Battle Mage, for example… it’s one of my favorites and the one that’s been asked for tonight. Yes, a detail or two will sometimes change, but the heart of the story? That’s always consistent. Here – have a seat. It looks like he’s beginning his tale…

This 36 page adventure details a wizards tower with five floors. It’s over verbose, over explains, and doesn’t really have any treasure in its boring environments. Yet Another Boring Wizards Tower.

I don’t know how to do this one. Maybe walk you through it from the beginning? That doesn’t seem right. But, this thing seriously has me down in the dumps. The … futility of looking for that shining planet known as Earth.

We start with the usual “feel free to modify this adventure to fit your campaign” shit that prefaces all adventures. This is followed up by the page long backstory telling us all about some wizard that we don’t really care at all about. “The auction houses implored him to seel off part of his magical treasure collection!” Sure. Whatever. So far this is just the usual bad adventure stuff. Or, rather, maybe, the usual de rigour adventure shit that people feel compelled for some reason to include in their adventure serving to pad it out. Then comes a page of plot hooks. Number one is to change the location of the adventure from the city of Windblade to the city the party is currently in. Not a hook. But ok. Number two tells us to push the party to the city of Windblade by having the party encounter ex-members of the wizards adventuring group. This shit goes on and on. There are no real hooks in the adventure included. Just Ooo, maybe there’s treasure inside! Adventurers like treasure! Or maybe someone gives the party a reward for going inside! Or, maybe, they some gossip in the local tavern! No hint of what it couldbe or how to run it. Well, ok, there’s a handout. But really this hook is just “Maybe they get the handout in a tavern as gossip. I really can’t emphasize enough how useless these “hooks” are. More so than usual. It’s not even a caravan guard idea. That would be FAR more specific than anything here. It’s fucking weird man. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this before.

Then we get a full page write on The Searchers, and the ex members of it. That could have been in one of the hooks. I have no idea. Am I really supposed to be using that hook? Is this the designers old pc party that he is Mary Sue’ing in to the adventure? Whatever. Let’s ig nore that also.

Then we get a full page write up on the local thieves guild and how they are watching the tower, and have been round the clock for two fucking years. When the local spies see the party goin then dude sends two thieves in after them. Not the worst idea on earth, but, also, anentire page for this? Sure man, whatever. 

Then we get a description of the tower. I guess that’s what this next page is. It starts with “To say that Ploren Darkstream was over-protective of his book collection and magic items is an understatement. While Ploren had no desires for lichdom or any post-death modifications to his body, he was sincere in his desire to protect his possessions for all time, including his body.” So … not a description of the tower. Some kind of backstory or justification nonsense. The entire page is a waste except the last paragraph. The tower sits in the NE chunk of the city wih some stables to the left and a burnt out warehouse to the right. At night you can see candles in the the two windows, up high and sometimes hear wood sawing from inside. That’s it. Urban? I guess so … I mean, it is a city. SOmething across the street or behind it? Crowded street? Out in a field on the outskirts? No clue. 

We finally, then, get to the two page description of the front fucking door and getting in. The read-aloud, in italics of course, tells us that “To enter the watchtower it appears that one must go through the front doors. No windows or other entrances are visible on the ground floor.” No. I refuse. There’s a window on the third story? That’s what the fuck they make rope for. But, no, we’re forced in to the front door, which must be picked. It does have a nice little section called “Observations.” This tells us that a candlelight flickers from the topmost window. That You can hear carousing from a tavern two blocks away, and that randos walk by every few minutes and you can smell burnt wood from some nearby warehouse ruins. This is quite nice. We won’t ever get anything quite this nice,in terms of scene setting, any time else in this adventure. By far. It’s also, I think, out of place. The lead in, with the read-aloud telling us we have to go in to the front door, is wildly misplaced. We should have started with this setting information and then transitioned in to the door. Also, I guess we’re kind of in the city since people wander by and the Guards can show up if you are obviously picking the door? Doesn’t sound realistic to me, but, again, whatever. 

Inside we get three pages describing the twenty foot hallway. Then a bunch more pages describing the first floors giant room (one room per floor here, the hallway making the first floor have two is an exception.) Wizoo McWizardson was such a bad  ass that his protective spells, for the first floor, involve a skeleton with a crossbow. Seriously? A skeleton with the crossbow? Melt the wall of reality, command tears in the fabric of existence. But, your protective spell ia skeleton with a crossbow? I LOATHE the fact that wizards towers never FEEL like a wizards tower.

Ok, I’;m out. The read-aloud massively over reveals in every room. Your Call To Adventure (an explicit section heading in each room) in one level is to “survive the traps in the room. Survive the awakened crossbow-wielding skeletons. Move to the second floor.” A call to adventure indeed! Where “Adventure” is defined as Monotony and a lack of interactivity.

The fabulous fucking treasure that the wizard is known for? A set of gauntlets and a shield. Oh, and a small leather pouch with some gold coins in it. The GM is encouraged to put a value on some of the books in the library. “The GM may also use the desk as a source of a magic item or some treasure for the players to discover.”

I loathe my life.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages and shows you nothing of consequence to make a purchasing decision. 


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/390781/Tavern-Tales-1-Lair-of-the-Battle-Mage?1892600

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Prison-Pit of the Agelast King

By Thom Wilson
ThrowiGames
Shadowdark
Levels 1-2

A Request!

An exiled king’s castle has aged centuries overnight, terrifying locals and passing travelers. Although relieved to be rid of the ruthless despot, farmers are fearful of what the small keep’s sudden and unexplainable ruination could mean. Will some curse or foul magic now creep into their lands? Rumors of the king’s remarkable wealth have lured adventurers and brave villagers into the perilous tunnels below the castle, but none have returned. Can anyone find out what is going on at Castle Grushnal?

This 24 page adventure details a 25-ish room linear dungeon. Most rooms are the same. One or two decent ideas doesn’t make up for the monotony of it all. 

In the first big room of this adventure there are two actual fucking angels standing in a room, each guarding one hallway. You can check in any time you like but you can never leave. That’s pretty nifty! Mythic, you might even say. Like, we’re making sure the evil don’t get out. Therest of the room is not quite ENtrance to the Mythic Underworld, but a couple of fucking angels standing guard outside? Fuck yeah! And, in another place, you’ve got a room with a bunch of skeletons just standing around in it. Almost a trap, yeah? That’s a pretty sweet concept, using hordes of creatures as a trick or situation instead of just a straight up combat? Noice! And then it happens again with zombies. And in both cases it’s more of a fight than a trick/situation. There is, I’m afraid, no salvation in this adventure.

Our enemies list, up front for level 1-2 adventure, is: Two angels, 20 lesser skeletons, 4 imps, 1 imp-mother, 30 zombies, 4 succubae, 1 devilish advisor, 1-4 bone devils, 4 shadows, and 1 devil-king. My old complaint returns again and again: you have to know what you’re up against. If a 600’ tall titan has 1 HD and an orc has 20 HD, seemingly at random, then we’re not doing a good job with adventure design. What the fuck are you fighting at level three? Vampires? Gods at level four? (Actually, I think I just did review an adventure with vampires at level … two?) 

The rumour table is a disaster. “A few young villagers who went to explore have not returned.” Where’s the specificity? The young rapscallion, Blind Billy, who picks pockets and empties cess pots, has gone missing?! But, no, please, just shovel in some more generic abstracted words. What’s that Immortan Joe line? Don’t drink too much water lest you become addicted to it? 

Ok, back to the adventure. There’s this castle and it’s suddenly started decaying in to ruins. Like, overnight. The upper level is four big open areas. And a pool of water down at the bottom of the hill that a stream runs through. That has been poisoned by cultists. Now, the cultists are just an afterthought here. They show up in one room in the upper ruins. But, also, they have poisoned the pool of water. The pool of water that is meaningless to the adventure. In every way, this pool of water does. Not. matter. But, there it is, poisoned, and taking up space. The cultists don’t matter. The dead bandits in the next room don’t matter. It’s almost like these are separate adventures. There’s no foreshadowing, or secret entrances, or anything like that. It’s like I just stuck an exploding chest out in the wilderness for no reason. Sure, not everything has to have meaning or contribute to a larger cause of holistic design, but, this one just stands out as being … meaningless.

Let’s see here. The map is essentially lineart. Perfect. The text is full of “Seems to be … “ statements. You find a glowing magic sword at the bottom of a pool of acid. It does “an extra point on damage.” 

The adventuring environment is … a little repetitive. Here’s the description for one of the rooms: “Grand room. Massive collapse covers half of room. Broken furniture. Pieces of tables and chairs found throughout the room.” Got it? You now know what just about every room description is. Oh, I guess there’s the smell of acid thats missing, as well as the acid pools up against the wall, that are in … three quarters of the rooms? An acid pool., a collapsing room full of rubble and a monster. There’s your room. Just repeat that a dozen times or so. Ten of the eleven first rooms have acid or are collapsing, with a great many doing both. I stopped counting after that because I was bored. 

Mostly linear maps. Little to no specificity. Repetition to the point of monotony. Monster zoo or demons. At level one. 

This is $5 at DriveThru. There is no preview.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/453803/PrisonPit-of-the-Agelast-King?1892600

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You Should Never Have Come Here

By Thom Wilson
ThrowiGames
OSE
Levels 3-5

After being spurned by a handsome noble, the warlock Zor Zaynne placed an infertility curse upon a region of the land. Although she accepted numerous payments from noble families to reverse the affliction, she never intended to allow any family to reproduce. After years had passed, rumors of the warlock’s death became popular. Recently, an acolyte of a local order uncovered a potential reversal ritual. All it requires is the warlock’s organs, but they are hidden deep within her treacherous tomb. Nobles have offered the reward of any treasure found in the lair if the organs can be retrieved. Many have already tried, and all have failed.

This 42 page single-column digest adventure explores the question “What if the Tomb of Horrors was for levels 3-5.” There’s nothing evocative here, just room after room of traps and summoned/undead monsters. 

Didn’t Grinding Gear, or some other early LotFP adventure do the same thing already, better? Much better? Anyway, this is a tomb of horrors adventure. I hate tomb of horrors adventures. I hate trap dungeons. I think they suck and are not fun. They drain the life out of a game while the players search for how they are going to get screwed eight different ways in THIS room. And to do it in a level 3-5, without the massive resources/divination available? Pffft. Anyway, I have now disclosed my prejudices, so, make what you will of the rest of this review.

So, some wizard curses all the nobles in a region to be infertile. Then, a long time later, maybe dies and is buried  by “his loyal followers” in some tomb full of traps and guardians. They send you in to get his internal organs to break the curse. The infertility thing never comes up again, anywhere so it’s pure pretext. 

Let’s see here … the first real encounter area, room two, is a sixty foot hallway. Yes. It takes a page and a half to describe. Uh huh. And it has … seven traps in it. There are barely visible glowing runes on the floor and ceiling. And there is a “swing over” pit trap with an ochre jelly in it that is right out of Grimtooth. Seriously. What was it called … the Johnny Weissmuller memorial, or something like that?

Let’s see … save vs poison or die … 50% chance every minute of ceiling collapsing for 4d6 damage, save vs death or die, save vs poison or get a fatal disease. You get the idea. It’s just room after room of screw you traps. 

The room descriptions are utilitarian. After all, you’re here to get fucked. “Narrow hallway with four half walls staggered throughout. Wall murals of gory executions of nobles. Portcullis gates opened by control panels in area 21 or 29, or with a successful Strength (Open Doors) check. Air tingles with electricity. Humming noise within each half wall. Floors covered in white powder.” (BTW: Those half walls have instantly resetting blade traps and the rest is mini explosions that do 1 point of damage for each individual footstep you take. ) There’s nothing really to that. The gore thing and humming is getting close, but, also, its all very utilitarian and just not very interesting from a holistic standpoint.

But, ah, the magic items. Book items. +1 shield. +1 dagger. You enjoy that.

So, a lot of save or die, a lot of high damage traps, or continual damage traps. A lack of magic item resources or spells at level  3-5. A designer who says “the adventure continues until all of the characters are dead or the mummy-lich is.” Tomb of Horrors is one of the worst things to ever happen to D&D. And then whatever the fuck started character-driven super-heoric shit. 

This is $5 at DriveThru. No preview … SUCKER!

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/462196/You-Should-Never-Have-Come-Here?1892600

Posted in Do Not Buy Ever, Reviews | 16 Comments

Riven Catacombs

By Bart Wynants
Bolwerk Publishing
Generic/Universal/OSR
Levels 1-3

Centuries ago, the Red Death cast its shadow across the realm. A demonic plague of gargantuan proportions, it felled nearly one-third of the population. Desperate survivors nailed the crimson corpses into hastily constructed caskets and sealed them inside a hidden catacomb within the Complex. Some accused the plague doctors of being overzealous, burying the living along with the dead…

This fourteen-ish page adventure presents an ossuary dungeon area with ten rooms. It presents interesting environments, well described, with pretty good interactivity. One of the better generic/universal adventures, it suffers from a lack of focus in its room presentations and, perhaps, some issues with its central conceit.

This is an interesting little thing in the history of adventures. It looks like it has evolved from a geomorph project. Someone likes geomorphs and has created some to stick together for your campaign. Then, they went ahead and started to populate the geomorphs, as a separate project. Or at least that’s the story I’ve made up in my head. These ARE geomorphs, with the connecting sides and ability to rearrange them as you will. This particular adventure is one map section with, at this time, six being available in total. What is interesting about these, though, far far more interesting than the geomorph concept (which always seemed attractive to me but I think, in practice, always sucks) is that the adventure is not bad, at all. Oh, it’s not great, but, also, you can see some hints of something/one really talented in the ways it counts. 

The premise here is that plague victims (“The Red Mist”, a nice touch) were buried on this “level”, sometimes alive. You’re being sent in by Lemnis, who wants you to find the “‘Thurian Heresy’—a blasphemous text containing apocryphal myths about the god of magic. The only known remaining copy was held by Dûdael, the “Prophet of Ruin” who lies entombed somewhere in the Riven Catacombs.” I’m not the biggest fan of being hired to do something, but, also, we’ve got some proper names, the book/prophecy has a name, and we’ve got a Prophet of Ruin. That’s exactly th e kind of specificity that adventure descriptions should have. Fuck your eye colour; I want a Prophet of Ruin.

The map looks nice. A little small, because it’s a square geomorph instead os a larger rectangle. A little symmetrical, but good detail on the map that helps contribute to an evocative environment. There is, however, a rather childish looking “clawl mark” of caverns running through the map. I don’t know, The Great RIft or some such. It’s an afterthought int he adventure, not really being representing in it, and, looks like one of the map as well. IN addition, the map page, the unused portion, is taken up by a summary of each room, but they are kind of useless summaries. “Pauper’s Columbarium. Hatred from beyond the grave infests this area.” Sure. Do monsters react to the the next room? It’s just wasted space. I’d have put the “always on” dungeon features, like light and sounds, in that area, so the DM is always looking at them. Speaking of, one of the always on features is sounds. “Eerie silence reigns in these halls, occasionally rent asunder by deep, ominous rumblings originating far beneath the surface.” That’s just window dressing, and I like my window dressing to actually being something, so the sounds should have something to do with the level, or, maybe, a neighboring one … which can’t be done because of the geomorph nature.

Formatting is pretty good. The room summary (which could also be ready aloud) will have some important features in them that then get bolded in the DM text so you can find them easily. There’s not so much text that you need to wade through it. There are a decent number of handouts for something this small. But, also, there are one pagers also included for OSR, 5E, Pathfinder, and Shadowdark, that localizes the adventure to those systems. The monster status, saves, etc. It’s a little cumbersome. The adventure is also a two column format but only uses one column for the adventure text. The second is full of designers notes and extra information. This is a great idea, but, also, not the best use of density. I guess page count is free in a PDF, so I should not worry about it. Id still have rather had the system information there, or a separate version for each system. 

The descriptions here, as well as the interactivity, are both very much a cut above the usual and quite interesting. As I noted earlier, there’s a specificity that helps bring things to life and makes life less generic. “Thick layers of melted candle-wax cover the surface of this votive altar dedicated to forgotten saints. An assortment of coins, holy symbols, and votive gifts sits embedded in the wax. Liberating these objects takes 20 minutes (10 if heat is applied) and yields 3d6 x10 gold pieces worth of coins and trinkets”  THICK layers. VOTIVE alter. EMBEDDED in the wax. All very nice. Ripples of darkness UNDULATE. “ A human torso protrudes from the north wall, arms outstretched hopelessly towards some absent saviour” That’s a great description and a great thing to investigate, for both the alter and the wall figure. Andthe adventure is full of this shit. “A careful search of the east wall reveals an alcove with a skull carved from stone. If a character presses their fingers into the skull’s eye sockets, the jaw clicks open a …” Fuck yeah! Stick those fingers in an eye socket! 

I think, also, you get a iint of a problem with the descriptions, particularly the read-aloud.summary stuff. It’s a little dramatic and purple. “Dire runes blaze angry and read in the primeval darkness of this dismal crypt.” Uh huh. That’s very much try-hard. But, hey, there’s a spiral staircase with a trickle of blood running down it. Pretty sweet thing to freak the fucking party out!

I really dig the interactivity here. It feels imagined first and then stated. Not “let me look through the book and find something to put in this room.” There’s a little too much for the DM to do “create some people to have buried here” and little bit of useless advice “you can replace the gods mentioned with your own gods!” Thanks man. Appreciate it. But, the rooms proper is pretty great and the descriptions pretty close to great … even if there are some italics sections that are too long.

I get that the designer is probably interested in geomorphs. We are all victims of our own conceits. Designing an actual dungeon, with multiple levels, with this degree of focus on formatting, interactivity, and good writing would be something really interesting to see. 

This is $3.32 at DriveThru. The preview will show you the adventure, but not the system localization, but, great preview to check out. 

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/464502/Dungeon-Domains-Riven-Catacombs?1892600

Posted in No Regerts, Reviews | 2 Comments

Kavlov’s Sanctuary

By Jean Luc Lariviere-Lacombe, Todd Terwilliger
The Dungeon's Key
OSE
Levels ... ? 1-5?

A millennium has passed since Kavlov imprisoned the demon Balthazar deep beneath the earth, binding themselves within the Halls of Dread to guarantee their success. However, as Kavlov’s power fades, so does the demon’s prison. Do you have what it takes to stop the ritual circles from being activated and prevent Balthazar’s escape? Or will you take on the role of the villain, seeking to unleash untold destruction on the world by freeing the demon from its bonds? Explore the dread-filled halls of Kavlov’s Sanctuary and uncover the ancient secrets and betrayals that could determine the fate of the world. But be warned, your actions have consequences, and the ultimate battle between good and evil is closer than ever before!

This 107 page digest adventure is a Caves of Chaos thing, done for Mork Borg and then respun in to OSE. It’s not the worst thing ever written, but tends to to the Shock Jock side of the spectrum, and combines minimal descriptions with an ability to expand the text in to paragraphs while still not providing value beyond the minimal descriptions. 

This is a Mork Borg thing. Sure, it’s been respun a bit in to OSE, but at its heart it’s Mork Borg. What’s unusual is that they’ve managed to write something longer. A full on dungeon with supporting wilderness and town. And, yes, it’s inspired by the Caves of Chaos. The wilderness map is evocative of it, as is the BX version of the main map: a valley with a lot of caves in the walls. You’ve got about ten dungeons here, in the same environment as the Caves of Chaos. Dwarflings, Cannibals, Barbarians, a Cyclops, Orcs, Lepers, Hobgoblins running an arena, a Gorgon, a Lab, a giant boar, a basilisk, a “wight crypt” full of vampires, and the Halls of Dread … a little temple area with a dude continually back the chaos void devil he imprisoned long ago. 

I guess I’ll describe the supporting problems before I get to the dungeon proper. The town is a few pages long. It’s mostly boring description of boring shops. There’s a throw off line here and there about someone in the main temple (thats runs the town) actually being an evil cultists, with a few entries elsewhere in the town about how they are in cahoots with the evil faction. There’s not really all that much to go on here, for the DM. It’s like I described a town of, oh, eighteen sites? In about five pages and then said something like “The second in charge at the temple is actually working against it, and has a few followers in town.” This is about what you’re going to get out of the town here. It is the old wound, my lord. If you’re going to say something then say something interesting. That’s what the content of the town should be concentrating on. Something for the DM to hang their hat on, otherwise, don’t bother describing it much, or at all. I’m not paying $15 to read about how the general store has general store items for sale. There is, I think, a significant missed opportunity in town. The walls of the temple bleed evil blood that the temple sometimes uses in their ceremonies. That’s interesting. It smacks vaguely of reality and could have been expanded upon more. Also, the town has a fuck ton of laws, almost their only laws, realted to the dead and burel thereof. And five, I think, of the buildings,, are guild halls for the dead. Morticians, gravediggers, coffin makers, etc. And that’s not really expanded upon at all. Something seems missing here. These are the areas that could have been expanded upon, that and the subplot. 

The wilderness is where things get a tad more interesting. And Mork Borgian. There’s a fey encounter. Except they wear the skin of the people they’ve enchanted. WoW! That’s new. And fits well for fey, I think. It even has a little section on them skinning the party alive and how the party can keep playing. More on this in a minute. There’s also a “Carnivorous Keep” that has no context or details except that it has stomach acid, a treasure in the basement, its only entrance is 40’ up, and it can thrown stones up to 200’ away for 2d6 damage. I truly can’t describe the confusing nature of this. It’s like someone had a cool idea and had four people jot down notes about it ad just threw all of thor notes in. None of it really works together or has context. And then there’s The Forest, which has five encounters in it. Not mapped out. Just things for the DM to throw at the party. All of this is supported by a wandering monster table that is both long and provides nothing for the wanderers to do to help the DM out. 

But that Fey thing, what about it? It’s the perfect example of what I think is wrong with this entire adventure. It presents this idea: the fey wear the skin of people they’ve captured and skinned alive. That’s pretty freaky! Very old world of them, I guess. But it does nothing with this. It’s a minor encounter. There’s no context. There’s no lead in. We simply take that description, that they are waring the skin of people, and do nothing more with it or the environment in which you encounter them. And, I’m down for some randomness in an adventure (and in, weird shit just happens, like meeting fey wearing skins) but its nothing more than combat here. This could have been so much more, but nothing more is done with it, ever. This lack of a greater context, a greater environmental “Feel” is a major problem with the caves, once you reach them.

“The walls appear to be caked in mud.” This is in the first sentence in the caves descriptions. An auspicious beginning, using the word appears to pad things out. What we’re ging to find in the caves is much the same as in B2. It’s a lot of hacking with an occasional fetch quest here and there to bring something back. The interactivity is limited to little more than that and, even  then, is a little disjointed. A secret door in one room leads to a cobweb covered arch in the next. “A minecart and boulders obscure a secret passage.” vs “thick cobwebs cover two small passages leading to the Mining tunnels …” So … a secret door? Or not? It’s this confusion which abounds.

There are weird misses, like a pixie in a lantern with its wings torn off, being used as a light. What if you free it? No notes for the DM, even though thi happens in multiple places, including a room with dudes actively tearing the wings off of them. These sorts of missed opportunities are all over the place. It’s focusing on the shock factor and not the interactivity that the situation could bring. Or, I should say, potential situation, since they are just all combats.

And this lack of depth and focus on the shock extends to most of the adventure in the caves. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a dude strapped down to a table with leprosy and have his eyes rotting out! Or, the barbarians have a rabid dog with them … which I guess is not rabid with them? Also, no rules for rabies? Fucking sticking some rabis in should send the party in to a terror fit. The cyclops cave is full of feral children as kind of servants … who he eats the fingers and toes off of when he gets too hungry and they are too slow to cook. But they don’t escape? And, again, there’s no larger context. The cannibal caves don’t feel like cannibal caves. It just feels like the designer wanted to put ina room with someone getting butchered in it. Even the dude feigning death and rushing out with a knife, which could be a great little scene, is not handled particularly effectively. 

“Upon closer inspection, the merchant’s eyelids and lips have been removed, exposing their weeping eyeballs and gums” This is shock value for no other purpose. The caves don’t really FEEL like the environments they are trying to present. The descriptions are minimal, although they are expanded upon at length to no effect. This is the major sin with this adventure.

The BX map, and town map, in the adventure booklet are so fuzzy as to be unreadable. Fortunately there is a separate map pack that makes them readable. But the individual cave maps in that are a monstrosity of some background image overlaid, no doubt from the Mork Borg heritage. Which makes them impossible to use. But the mini maps in the actual booklet are fine. The net effect here is that the excesses of the usual mork borg presentation values are generally avoided. 

The Mork Borgians managed to write a longer adventure. That’s good. The focus on shock value descriptions might have been ok if the actual locations FELT like what the individual descriptions were trying for. Interactivity beyond pure combat (which, I allow for, B2 had little of) and focusing on situations rather than encounters would have gone a long way here.

And stick in a fucking level range and some order of fucking battle. Jesus. Still, one of the best things to come out of that genre. I look forward to seeing the next one from this group.

This is $15 at DriveThru. The preview is 31 pages. The end will show you the caves and the two page spread. It’s a nice emulation of the OSE format, although I think kits missed the mark with its minimal descriptions and using that format.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/453667/Kavlovs-Sanctuary–An-Old-School-Essentials-compatible-campaign-module?1892600

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