The Honest and Plain Village of Scio

By G Edward Patterson III
The Skull as a Complete Gentleman Company
S&W
Levels 1-4

This 73 page booklet describes a town and then also a small, dozen-ish room dungeon. The town is absurd, in the best way possible for D&D. Idiosyncratic and full of things to amuse yourself with between dungeoncrawls. The dungeon is fine, turning in tone a bit more serious, as it should be. And, everything is ruined because the thing is unusable because the designer decided to fill the entire fucking with a selection of hard to read fonts. A great supplement, that is unusable.

We’re gonna cover this FUCKING FONT ISSUE. I can’t fucking stand this shit. “Ooo, Bryce cares too much about usability and not enough about design.” Yeah, fuck you man. Look, I’ve only reviewed a small percentage of adventures released over the last few years. And yet there are at least a hundred on my Best of list. You could play these fucking things for the rest of your fucking miserable fucking lives. Why, on gods green earth, would I EVER torture myself in order to run something  that I have to fucking flagellate myself to fucking use? THE NUMBER ONE FUCKING COMPLAINT OF ADVENTURES IS THAT THEY ARE HARD TO USE. Don’t be a fucking idiot and make your fucking adventure hard to use. 

So, this thing is trying for some product image of some branding “the skull as a complete gentleman company” or some shit. And thus the designer has deigned to fill the fucking thing with some unusual font selections. Some kind of gothic cursive? Illuminated manuscript? I don’t fucking know. “Fucking Illegible” is what it shows up as in Word. So, the main body of the text, being the most legible, just has a font that is full of curly-q endings and shit. Then the section headings have some kind of illuminated-ish or gothic font. This is fucking bad enough that it takes my brain more than a few seconds to struggle through figuring out what the fuck the heading says. Like which fucking business the following text describes. I had to actually copy/paste one section heading in to a text document so I could figure the fuck out what it fucking said. Summary sections, for a person, place,e tc are a few sentences long and are at the tope where they should be. In italics. Sorry, no, in the italics version of the fucking curly-q font. 

I’m not putting the fuck up with it. This thing is going on the trash heap, just like so many fucking others have. That’s right, all the fucking effort you put in to this causes it to end up in exactly the same fucking place as BloodyMage or Alfonso or the fucking rip off artists. The don’t give any fucks at all about your content … BECAUSE I CANT FUCKING DECIPHER IT!

That having been said, the content is magnificent. ?

The town is my kind of place. While I like my dungeons tending to the more serious side (with some absurdist situations) I like my towns and villages to tend towards the absurdist side of things with some serious situations. Ankh Morpork. A place full of hucksters and morons. With a rather fatalistic “adventurer” street people eat, drink, fuck, bet, and have a good time … because tomorrow they may die. And this city gets close to that.

It’s got absurdism. Like a flock of wild geese on the wanderers table. And a dude, in a separate location, called the goosemaster who “can speak a small amount of conversational goose.” (Note the use of the modifier “conversational” in that sentence. It adds a lot to the ambiance, yes? That’s good writing right there!”) There’s a table of petty businesses, which has as an entry “2. Carver of Knobs – ‘My true passion is shelving!’” That’s it. Absurd. And you can fucking run that fucking entry! Thats what I mean by the DM something to hang their fucking hat on!  The dude that sells sticks/kindling does so with a call of “The finest sticks in all of Ouaricon”. Disrespect him and he offers you an exclusive deal: a branch from the golden tiny-apple bush which has ultramundane properties that reveal themselves to the person who possess it.’ If you agree, he tells you to come to the same spot at midnight. Where you are attacked by the thugs he sells you out to because you are clearly fucking morons who need to be relieved of their fucking money. Absolfuckinglutly!

So, usability wise, it could use a few more cross-references and putting some page numbers on the “map” of the town. 

The dungeon at the end, a kind of point-crawl also-ran, has … fifteen rooms? I don’t know. They are not numbered and its laid out in a pointcrawl style, so one room tells you where to go fort the next room. With no fucking page references. We’re getting a little too fucking cute for our own fucking good here. Put some fucking numbers on it so I know if Mumified Garden is likely to be the page before or AFTER the page I’m currently fucking on. Otherwise, same shit. Too much italics. Fancy fucking font shit. Decent use of bullets and para breaks, and the interactivity is nice, if a little less exuberant. A little overemphasis on bring words, like Large and Small. But, it’s pretty much decent enough. At least it would e if it weren’t formatted/fonted in a cute way. Right now it’s just too busy. But, hey, lots and lots of interactivity, at least of the kind that fifteen room dungeons can have.

Monsters, in the appendix, are decent, but could use a little more emphasis on their descriptions, higher up in the text block. You want the visceral feel of a monster, and it’s lacking.

So, good example in this one of different text styles needed for different parts of an adventure. The town gets one thing. The dungeon needs another tone and style, and the monster descriptions yet something else. One size does not fit all in adventures … 

I’d slap a Best Of on this, except for the font crap. Yeah, even though it’s not an adventure and I’m a little suspect that the adventure is a little more “victorian gentleman” than I’d prefer. It’s a rocking town setting with a possibility of becoming the one I use most, up with Pembrocktonshire and the one I can never spell correctly. But, with that font shit and little finger arrows as bullets? Absolutely the fuck not. I don’t give a fuck about using your content if I can’t actually use your content.

This is $5 at DriveThru.Preview is sixteen pages, and is a good one. CHeck out page seven for some eye glazing action and page five for some great wanderers. 

There goes the last great American dynasty

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/419925/The-Honest-and-Plain-Village-of-Scio?1892600

Posted in Reviews | 18 Comments

Lamia Temple

By DMDave, Ninetoes82
Self Published
5e
Level 3

To the locals, the Temple of Healing is a myth, a cautionary tale they tell their children. The legend says that the temple appeared one day on the edge of the desert. At first, the locals thought it was a mirage, as it was the miracle for which they had prayed: their city was in the grips of a horrific plague that had already decimated their population.

This ten page adventure features a symmetrical temple with sixteen rooms. It’s fucking dumb. Poor formatting,inconsistent descriptions, and a shitty implementation of the idea.

“Hey Bryce, is DMDave the Real Deal or just good at marketing or both?” Well, he’s got 4,500 patrons, so, we know he’s good at marketing. Dude is banking $12k a month, at least. Nice! He probably tells his visitors that he loves them, they are awesome and make him feel so special. He interacts with them. That’s how you build a fucking following. And, ultimately, how you make bank. No matter the quality of his work, I’m sure he’s outearned everyone in the OSR by a factor of at least ten. No single work produced can outearn $12k a month, month after month. So, you wanna make bank? Be a DMDave. You can stop reading now.

But, there is something else. In generations to come, will someone find the copper tablet-box and slip loose the ring-bolt made of bronze? Will they draw out the tablet of lais-lazuli and view the works cut therein? Will they be DMDaves? (The jokes on Shelley; .gov moved his monuments when the high dam was built!) No, obviously not. Baby needs to be a black sheep and a whore, outside of society. The cultural hero cannot be OF the culture. Build your walls, plant your orchands, cut your works in to the tablets; it’s as close as we’re getting to the bitter herbs … cause the snake always eats them first. But, fuck it, it’s something, right?! (This essay on selling out and mortality brought to you by Ramses 2, Patty Smith, and Melanie Martinez.)

Ten pages, fifteen rooms. The temple is symmetrical, which ALWAYS bodes poor;y. Symmetrical maps suck shit and are boring to play. There are brief exceptions for small symmetrical sections, especially when hinting at secret areas, but the entire thing symmetrical is boring

We got no hooks. That’s reserved for people who pay DM Dave. (Evidently this is the free version of the “you give me money” version.) So, ok, we don’t need that. We only bitch about hooks if they are actually included. Moving on, though, we see that detect magic doesn’t work inside the temple because everything is magic. We see, right here, that DMDave is not, actually, a good DM. DMDave insists that you experience the adventure the way he intended and fuck you for thinking otherwise. Get on the fucking railroad and follow the ‘Story’ tha the DM tells themselves is wonderful. We don’t do this. Not in the OSR, not in D&D, not in ANY RPG. The party makes the decisions. This is one of the key elements of ALL game play, I would assert. Otherwise it’s not a game, DMDave. The party earned the abilities. They get to use them. If you can’t write a level twenty murder mystery adventure because of SPeak with Dead then guess the fuck what? You’re not writing a level twenty murder mystery. 

Ok, so, back to the actual adventure. Lamia takes over a ruined temple. She cats a powerful illusion over everything to make it looks like its new and fresh and I guess people come to it now for some reason. I don’t know why. I assume she eats them or makes bank, but that’s not really covered well. JJust shit the fuck up and “experience” the game.

The writing sucks ass. “During it’s heydey this section of the gardens was used to grow and harvest verbs used in healing and potion-making.” Fucking wonderful. A history lesson. We don’t care about that. We care about actual gameable content. NOW. When the party enters the room. Whats going on NOW. The number of fuck ass adventure that still do this fucking shit, in this day and age, is fucking absurd. 

Ok, so, illusions everywhere, in where room. Covering every creature, just about. The description tells you what you see. Sometimes. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you just get the illusion description. Sometimes you get get the non-illusion description. I guess DMDave can’t actually be bothered to be consistent? Or his editor “The DMDave Team” can’t bebothered to actually do their jobs as editors? What ya doing here man? Pick a fucking path. 

We also get justifications for things, like a cursed pool. “And has been cursed by the lamia with powerful magic.” Wonderful. We already know its cursed. What did that sentence add? You don’t need to justify things. Just do it. Cogito. It is. Stop fucking justifying things in a fantasy fucking game. (Or, any RPG for that matter.)

The kitchen is real. Maybe? Illusions are supposed to cover everything, but it says the kitchen is really kept up? A couple of cooks make food. Its kind of gross. And they are guarded by two cocatrice. Seriously? As intelligent guards now? Are they covered in an illusion? What the fuck is going on?! 

Your reward is a +1 mace. So, you know, full of the majesty and wonder of a game that enables the imagination, this one. That’s the fucking point. The +1 mace, appearing in this, is full on representative of everything wrong. Ok, sure fuck wits, you can have a different opinion when the adventure is stuffed full. But, as a single magic item? This is the thing? A +1 mace? DMDave does NOT know what makes a good D&D game.

The formatting is all over the place. It’s just paragraph form writing, with no effort to enable the DM to run the adventure effectively at the table. We get some building, but that’s just “Trapped Room” or something. It’s an ineffectual format, as it has always been. To use it effectively you have to really focus the writing and that’s just beyond the casual form of writing, and production speed, that DMDave is going for.

Is it good? No. Is it bad? Yeah, kinda. Is he making bank? For sure. So, as a means to that its great! But, if you actually want a good D&D game? No. It’s just Kabuki, like the Pathfinder “most people just read them” shit. It enables the revenue model. Is he as cynical as Paizo? I hope not, so, I’m not going to give this one a Crook tag. But, also, DMDAve must, in some way, like the game. I hope he makes something that embodies that, rediscovering his love, rather than the production line stuff he seems to be crapping out.

This is free at his Patreon.

https://www.patreon.com/file?h=75750960&i=12513972

Posted in 5e, Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 35 Comments

Ear Notch Lair

By Pete Racek
Wolfhill Entertainment
1e
Level ?

Pffft, they’re just Goblins. What are all of you so Scared?

This fifteen page adventures features a twenty room cave dungeon full of goblins. And is shit, representing all that is wrong with the world.

I heard that Ear Notch Lair killed a man in Arkansas. And, also, that it burned down a house in Reno. And jaywalked in Burbank. And took the sucker from a babies mouth in Altair. Also, I heard it plays 4e.

Making humanoids great agin, right?1 Right on man! I mean, ignoring the divisive slogan,I can get behind some Yrchyn The Tyrant style lair! Let’s get some kobold action going baby! And not that Tuckers shit, but some hard nose fuckers with some iron pipes comeing for you!

Oh, wait. That’s not this adventure. This adventure has the party stating captured, only in rags. So, it’s making goblins scary again by taking away everyone’s spells and equipment and dressing you only in rags (why do that? Why not go full on FATAL?) So, you know, the designer didn’t even try at all.

It’s a jail break. You’ve been captured, off screen presumably, and now are manacled up in a cell. Make a HARD Muscle check to break loose! Ok, so, you know when it says “1st Edition” in what this is written for? Yeah, no, not so much. Life Points, Armour equivalent to Splint mail, a to hit equal to the most proficient person in the party … this is generic garbage that is actually 1e but too fucking afraid to put in some stats. Did I mention that one of the first sentences in the product is “There is No open game content in this product and no portion may be reproduced for any reason?” Hey, man, I just reproduced your Do Not Reproduce statement. Better sue the fuck out of me. Or, you could stop being a FUCKING IDIOT and take that shit out and just concentrate on actually writing an adventure using 1e stats. You know, what everyone else is doing? I know, I know, you’d have to actually concentrate on the adventure then and that’s _hard_. You put the fucking effort in to the fucking adventure. You put it in to making it good. You agonizing over the writing and the fucking encounters. You don’t put the fucking effort in to coming up with a synonym for Hit Points over fear of a fucking lawsuit. The main fucking thing is the main fucking thing. 

Ok, back to the adventure. I missed my HARD muscle check. So did everyone else. I guess our adventure is now over since we can’t escape? You don’t put the fucking adventure behind a gate. You don’t make the evenings play depend on a single roll. Jesus, it’s like the last ten years of adventure analysis doesn’t fucking exist at all. 

Oh, hey, hey … remember you start in just rags? You can use the goblins weapons, right?!!!! Except they all break on a 1 in 10 every time you use them. But, of course, that doesn’t happen to the goblins when THEY use them. Cause, you know, the designer is a cool dude. We don’t do adversarial play. 

Oh, lets see … the map. Pretty decent. Caves. Some larger caverns. Asream flowing through it and some water. Some flowstone steps. Some tunnels. I’m digging on it. There’s a color coded one that makes no sense ta all, and simple things lie the guard patrols are not shown on the map at all, but, hey, a designer can’t be expected to do their jobs, right? Why make it easy on the DM? It will, no doubt, build their fortitude, to just write a description of the patrol  instead of putting it on the map. 

Oh! Oh! The chief has 360gp! That’s your fucking treasure! ENjoy your 1e Gold=XP life experience you fucking morons! Hahahahahaha! And you thought you were playing D&D! Welcome to the hellish world of the DM/Designers creation where they toy with you for no reward! This is what people think D&D is. It’s sad.

Rooms have, like, a one sentence description in normal text and then a fuck ton of bolded text that is DM text. I most often mention italics, and long sections of it being hard to read, but that goes for any fancy font treatment. Short bolded words to call attention. A sentence. Maybe two. Not paragraphs. It makes it unreadable. 

There’s nothing here. Room notes on how to sneak past goblins, that take up a huge amount of text, per room. DM notes out the wazoo rather than shit going on for the DM to leverage. Meaning, advice to the DM on how to run the room rather than setting up a situation for the DM to run. 

It’s all just so depressing. A fifteen pages for twenty rooms. And the chiefs quarters near the entrance/exit, since that’s the goal, instead of deep inside, as it normally is. 

This is just another low effort entry to the long line of low effort entires that make up the D&D adventure market.

This is $1.50 at DriveThru. There’s no preview. Sir Hiss says “Suuuckkkkerrrrrr!”

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/417728/Ear-Notch-Lair?1892600

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

Shadow from the Stars

By Matt Kline
Creations' Edge Games
S&W
Levels 8-10

That covers got fuck all to o with the adventure, so ignore it.

An evil cult has taken over the Bronze Aerie Observatory. They’ve used the site’s main telescope to fulfill an ancient prophecy, calling their “Dark Lord” down from the stars. The being is trapped inside the observatory, for now.

This eighteen page adventure uses a few pages to describe a nine room observatory. No interactivity. No good descriptions. A paragraph formatting. It is just another shovelware title.

My experience, with OD&D, has been that once you reach level 6 you are pretty much bad asses. Sure, maybe a little fragile, but, also, you can pretty much nuke shit from orbit. People should be shitting themselves when you drop by for tea. So, this is a level 8-10 adventure. And it’s nothing more than a simple hack. Show up and stab some shit in a simple nine room dungeon. You are offered $5k to go to an observatory and collect some star charts. They give you five days rations and some horses if you don’t have them. So … you killed Great Cthulhu last week, are flying around in his severed upside down head, and defeated the monstrous deGrazzi Kingdoms last Tuesday. But, sure, do a fucking fetch quest for $5k. And, the treasure inside is so minimal as to be not really worth picking up. Maybe, I don’t know, $15k worth? Split? There’s no fucking XP there. But, sure, I’ll send in my level 10 dude. 

Oh, oh, and inside he can fight a bunch of 8HD cultists! Cause, now, level 8’s are just running around the fucking countryside! Not that any of them have names, but, whatever, right? We just needed something to stab and so “8HD cultists” made the pick. 

Interactivity, right? You stab shit. Then you stab some more shit. Then you stab some shit. Then you talk to the bad guy, a giant floating head. Maybe help him out, or, maybe stab him. Stab stab stab. Stab stab stab. … what fun we’re having … 

The writing sucks ass. The first line of the first room is “It looks as though a struggle recently occurred here.” That’s a conclusion. We don’t do conclusions in read-aloud. We describe things. That same room has all of the history of the dude that unlocks the doors. He’s not in the room. His history has NOTHING to do with the actual gameable content in the room. But it’s sure as fucked shoved the fuck in there, clogging shit up. Orm Redzig is stationed there during the day, folks. The key he uses to unlock the doors is currently missing. Not that the fucking party would know that, at the fuck all. 

Here’s a fun one. The room name is “Staff’s Quarters.”  The read-aloud describes a dorm. The first line of the DM notes is “This is the living quarters for the observatory’s staff. For serious?! I had no fucking idea! It’s just padding. It’s the repeated use of the same information. Multiple rooms read-aloud starts with “This room serves as the observatory’s blah blah blah” Exact words! 

This is just shovelware. It mimics the form of an adventure but has very little to do with one. There is no interactivity. There are no evocative descriptions. There is not useful formatting, everything just appearing in long multiple paragraph form. It is the most simple adventure possible. Barely one step removed from a minimally keyed dungeon, except it’s just got more words. 

Shovel it out man! Shove. It. Out.

This is $1.50 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages. You get to see some wandering monsters on the way to the observatory. Shit ass preview since its show sus nothing of the core.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/418665/Shadow-from-the-Stars-A-Swords–Wizardry-MiniDungeon?1892600

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

The Hall of a Thousand Bones Part 1 – Approaching the Cathedral

By Jean-Claude ''Raznag'' Tremblay
Le paysagiste de l'Imaginaire
OSR
Level 1

Will you be brave enough to explore the ruins of the Forgotten Cathedral to find Orane’s Scepter? What mysteries are hidden in these places?

This twenty page adventure uses seven pages to present a single ruined room with seven encounters spaced around it. A page per encounter. Of nothing. I have a hard time believing this is actually a thing. But, I’m looking right at it.

So, a page per encounter, right? Must be pretty awesome! 

No, of course not. What’s the opposite of that? “Approaching, several skeletons can be seen prowling the ruins! These are equipped with shields and swords! They are very aggressive and will attack on sight!” Magnificence! They are all like that. Barely there minimalism. There is nothing to this that “1d6 skeletons” doesn’t also accomplish. Oh, wait, no, I lied, there is more. A treasure list for them that only a Victorian could love! “Sword (1 each) Shield (1 each) 1 Helmet, 1 leather purse (empty) 1 Belt” I am dazzled. I am amazed.

The map is hyperlinked. Like I said, one big above ground ruined room. There are seven icons scattered around it, on the map. A goblin head and so on. You click on the head and it takes you to “Graveyard.” So, absolutely no chance you’re actually going to use this map during play without literally toggling back and forth between the map and the encounter you are on. You know, the encounter that says “Seven skeletons attack relentlessly and on sight!”

I do NOT have it in me this morning to deal with this crap. Under what fucking theory of adventure design is this a thing? What is being used as an example to model this on? There were, what, like TWO adventures that used this format, Palace of the Vampire Queen and one other, before the theory moved on? And this is what we get these days?

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a suggested price of $1. So, no preview.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/418861/The-Hall-of-a-Thousand-Bones–Part-1-Approaching-the-Cathedral?1892600

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

The Creeping Terror

By Kormar Publishing
Kormar Publishing
OSR
Level 3

Undead frost pirates, mad imprisoned fae, and a pile of loot guarded by a monstrous slug…

THis nineteen page digest adventure features a three level sea cave with about 22 rooms. Colourful descriptions and encounters compliment an easy to scan/use format to produce something that you’re excited to run!  OD&D returns motherfckers!

Yeah, ok, it’s not OD&D. But, also, I think  there is an OD&D vibe and it’s my preferred gaming vibe. I mean, fuck that hoity toity version. And that high fantasy version. And that superhero version. And that minis combat version. And that Ca$sh Cow version. Gimme me some OD&D vibes baby! Yeah, sure, #NotAllVersions, but, whatever man, yo know what I mean. An OD&D vibe is WHERE. IT. IS. AT!

Sometimes you crack a cover and you know. You just know. One of the first sentences, talking about the local village, is “Some folk farm, others fish, all are miserable.” This, gentle reader, is the epitome of evocative writing. There’s a juxtaposition here. I was expecting the normal fantasy village shit when I read “some folk farm, others fish” … but then WAMMO! Fuck yeah baby! I can run that village. I can run the entire thing. I don’t need ANYTHING more. This will be the greatest village I have ever run in my life because of that sentence. 

This adventure delivers that evocative style over and over again. It’s not exactly word choice, although that helps. It’s more of a framing of the sentence itself. The local bar? “The menu consists of salted fish, turnips, and cheap beer.” Rock on! Or, lets look at the fey, some creatures that feature prominently on level two of the dungeon, in particular . Stats as elf, but “: translucent blue skin, permanent fanged smiles, makeshift seaweed garments” Thats a fucking description! And fort the “bloody crabs?” “child sized crustacean, fleshy shell, pulsing veins.” Or how about a waterlogged corpse covered in barnacles and ocean detritus? Or a specter pirate … missing eyes that have been replaced with crab/small crab claw. The fucking descriptions are good man. It’s like someone IMAGINED the place, the thing, whatever, first and THEN came up with words for it. 

The map is three levels, with the last having only four rooms .. but flooding during high tide. The rooms are concise. Maybe a first bullet with a two or three sentence description and then a follow up second one with a little more information. (I would note that I think bullets are misused here. Bullets are great for calling attention to things, but, if you’ve only got two paragraphs, both of two or three sentences, you probably don’t need to bullet them. You need a clear separation, for scanning, which bullets do, but also, you don’t need them if its short. Bullets alot a magic solution.)

We got good encounters. NPC’s are on a table, with some great terse aspects to them, along with where they are found. Easy to use and memorable. Encounters are chill. “Four skeletons are impaled on stalagmites and message has been carved in to the southern WALL: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES” Yesh baby! We’re no a fucking adventure now! The back wall has a crack … that can be SHIMMIED through. Excellent word choice. A rotting trap door, it’s handle encrusted in barnacles … that cut you if you try to use the handle. Hey, man, the DM warned you! This shit goes on and on “A fae bruiser and three bound fae hold court in this dank cavern debating the finer points of sun worship, namely, whether the sun exists. They vehemently despise the moon worshipers in cavern 15.” da da da! Strong encounters that, by their very nature, contribute to the evocative nature of the writing. Ghouls bicker over if they can eat zombie flesh. Skeletons SCALP their victims … thats chill! Nice specificity! And, there are things going on in the caves that you can nuke. Return treasure to the pirates and they all disappear. Lets the fae out and they leave you alone. Oh, they slaughter everyone in the village above … except for the one proto-witch girl that they abduct and train. Is that a bad outcome? Meh … it’s an outcome. Shit happens. And I fucking love the attitude of giving the monsters what they want to appease them and also a Fuck Around And Find Out attitude.

So, yeah, I fucking love this one. It’s not the end all and be all of creation, but, also, I’m SO much more excited about it than that last thing I reviewed and Bested. This one has the spirit of D&D that the other was perhaps missing. At least for me. Cause, you know, I like to have fun when I play D&D.

Oh, also, hey, put those “environment” things on the map, dude. The “crashing waves, dampness, etc” that make up the “always on” descriptions for the entire dungeon? Stick it on the map or some place that I’m always looking at so I remember to add them!

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a suggested price of $2. No fucking preview. But, then again, PWYW, so, the whole thing is a preview.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/418780/Cavern-of-the-Creeping-Terror?1892600

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

The Oneiric Hinterlands

By Stephen Jones
Unsound Methods
OSE
Levels 1-7

Deep in a hollow hill in the ancient Woldwood lies the Dream Gate: a beachhead for a war against reality that never came to pass. Its custodian, Lord Nuada, has disappeared, and now the oneiric energies have begun to warp the very fabric of the world. Nuada’s subjects – the sapient animals called the Danu – are too distracted to care. Following his disappearance, a civil war ended in a magical catastrophe, and the ascension of cruel predator overlords.

Meanwhile, the ‘Goblin King’, deposed by Nuada, has returned from Underland. Sending his fungal minions into Nuada’s abandoned hill palace, he seeks to retake his throne. Nearby the dwindling human colonies are still dealing with the aftermath of their war with the giants two decades earlier. Rumors circulate that the leader of the giants may have returned from death, and now treasure hunters arrive to disturb things best left buried.

This 144 page adventure features two dungeons and a wilderness area, all interconnect with plot hooks. It’s a real deal adventure. Lots of interactivity and a decent format compliment an adequate job at evocative writing to produce an environment that can occupy a decent amount of your campaign.

The general set up here is a vaguely points of light type environment. A war with giants awhile ago left many of the surrounding kingdoms destroyed. This we get a wilderness, and a starter town. The wilderness has a about twenty locations to wander around in. But, those encounters generally have a common theme … linking them to the larger situation going on. A woodlands fey ruler is missing, there’s a new one in town “the goblin king” (ala Bowie) And the local baddie, killed awhile ago, may be back! Andthen there’s some intelligent animals running around the first, split in to the SOme Are More Equal Than Others group, in charge, and a small rebellion, and the bulk who are just trying to get by. We can supplement that with … idk, like, twelve other groups running the forest, including escaped prisoners and the people hunting them, and A LOT of others. 

The wilderness environment is almost large enough to support itself as its own campaign. I’ve seen a lot of shit that don’t come close to it in with regard to size and degree of interactivity. So, what we’ve got is a relatively complex (but easy to follow!) social environment with plenty to stab and steal and talk to. But that’s not all, by a long shot. Because the wilderness here is just the larger context in which the “main” adventure takes place.

And that’s two dungeons, of 34 rooms and 118 rooms. These are related to each other, and related to the things going on in the wilderness and the overall “plot”, if we can call it that. FOr there is a timeline here. Shits going down motherfuckers, with or without you! We’ve got about thirteen weeks worth of activities that can happen while the party is out fucking about. People are on the move and they got places to go and shit to sack!

Formatting is good. NPC’s are terse and use bullets and such to make finding their personality traits easy. The details are gameable. ROom entries start with a (useless) one line summary and then move to “First impressions” … a few short sentences, two or three, that giev an overview of the room for the DM use. A few words in that description are bolded, and then those act as section headings lower to add more detail. It’s easy to scan and find what you need. 

Interactivity is great. Chasms, rooms with knee deep water, secret doors behind giant heads. Traps, generally telegraphed, and creatures that make sens in the environments they are in. And, this isn’t just mindless crawling, after all, there are a plot point or two to figure out and resolve … if the party is interested in doing that. 

The ideas, for the encounters, here are pretty good. A ghost of a dead giant in a cell, sulking, in despair over his (dead) brother. He wasn’t really in to the whole “take over the world” thing and just came to be with his brother. Or, a place in the woods where the locals dump their unwanted babies. Ouch! All pretty well done. A beginning encounter, near town, is “The zombie (9 HP) is the returned form of Old Jeb who died last winter.

f left alone he will go inside his old home, and shut the door. The terrified townsfolk will call for the Reeve, Ulric Frost. After brief consultations with the townsfolk, Ulric will wedge the cabin door shut and set fire to it with the zombie inside. The charred remains will be collected the following morning and buried outside the town boundaries (after suitable blessings from Father Benedict).”  That’s pretty well done, right?

Things fall down a bit with the actual writing of the descriptions. They are not bad, at all. But, also, they are not home runs.”A spectral male giant in tattered robes with greasy looking shoulder-length hair is muttering and swaying. Swaying, greasy, tattered, … ok, sure. Not great but ok. “Spectral male giant” is a bit bland though, yes? I spean, yes, “spectral”, which is better than most would do … but we’re not looking at most are we?. “At the bottom of the pit: a horizontal tunnel, knee-deep in muddy water, leads into darkness.” Not bad! That conjures up a pretty “oh shit! Attitude for people, I bet!

So, a real deal adventure for sustained play. A lot of running around, multiple dives in to the dungeon(s), and some maneuvering back and forth of the political situation … without judgment from the designer on which side, if any, to take. This isn’t rock star quality, but, also, it’s a pretty solid entry in the adventure market.

This is $13 at DriveThru. The preview is twenty pages and shows you a decent number of rooms, so, pretty good preview from the standpoint of letting you see what the writing and encounters are like.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/418017/The-Oneiric-Hinterlands?1892600

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews, The Best | 8 Comments

Tower of the Chronomancer

By Sean C. Sexton
Self Published
5e
Levels 5-6

I beg your indulgence, gentle readers

Standing on a grassy hilltop, it seems unremarkable from a distance. Two stories high, cylindrical, thatched roof. Simple and idyllic. There’s even a whisper on the breeze, or maybe a thought in the back of your mind: There’s nothing to see here. What brought you in the first place? Just turn around and go back. Those that venture nearer find that it’s much more than meets the eye. The closer you get, the taller the tower seems to be… until standing at its base, the tower rises dozens of floors and pierces the sky. Do you have the courage to enter the unknown sanctum? What could possibly await you within? Gather your allies and find out!

This 42 page overly formatted and linear “challenge” tower uses about 22 pages to present about thirteen rooms/challenges. Flowery text. Despair.

I’m in this liquor store. I’m trying to make some hot chocolate from the French alps. Which basically means its like normal hot chocolate but they dump some chartreuse in it. So, hey don’t have any, surprise, and dude sees me looking and is like “can I help you?” and I’m like “looking for chartreuse” and he checks the computer and is like Yeah, we normally carry it but we’re out. And that sucks, I know there was a shortage, but still? And, also, this shit ass little liquor store, sandwiched between a cigar shop and a sex toy shop, with, like three aisles in it, stocks chartreuse? So, anyway, I ended up with a bottle of anus flavoured sambuca, which is going to sit the fuck around the house forever, so, I put it in my coffee. Not bad, for anus. No, but, it will make the bottle go away. So, I’m deep in to it now. As I look at this adventure. With a resignation in my eyes. You know, that kind of defeated sigh you give? Weary eyes. Shoulders slumped down and forward. Head nodded. My whole face feels tired. So scarlet they were maroon.

Okey doke folks! How did that make you feel? Ok, and how does this line from the adventure make you feel? ““You should not have come here, but this timeline is already ruined. Can you finish what I started? Can you understand true devotion?” No? Throwing up a little? What if I added that there’s a violin version of Seal’s Kiss From a Rose playing?

It’s a challenge dungeon. I fucking hate challenge dungeons. It is the modern equivalent of putting one long hallway with a bunch of doors hanging off of it. They are SOOOOOO supremely low effort. And each fuuucking room starts with some dude giving you a clue. Hence that Can You Understand True Devotion crap. 

Have I mentioned I also hate it when the text addresses the party? Like “can YOU understand …” Or the read-aloud that ends with “What brought you here to begin with? Do you turn back?” You know what, if a fucking DM ever asks me that then I’m going to turn the fuck back. Yeah, you know, I shouldn’t ruin a game, but Jesus H FUCKING Christ, there have got to be some limits as to what you can put up with. 

Ok, so like thirteen levels and you need to complete each one. You don’t get to walk up stairs, you get to use the teleportation circles. You know it before I type it: you have to complete the rooms challenge before the circle will teleport you to the next room. *sigh* Because whatever. Which floor you go to is completely random. Unless you don’t want it to be. Then the recommended order is 2, 5, 10, 3, 4, 9, 6, 8, 7, 11, and then 12. Because 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12 would not make sense? 

When you walk up to the tower you have to make a DC12 investigation check to find the door. I wonder how many parties fail that check? Does the DM fudge? Do they say “Well, no adventure for you tonight?” Do no parties every fail because DC 12 is trivial for a group of sixes? Oh, also, KNOCK doesn’t work on the front door because Fuck You solve the fucking riddle. This is not how D&D works. 

“The tower seems unremarkable” We don’t do that. We do not use seems or appears to be. 

“You may only hold one Tempus Rose at a time.” Why? How? I can’t physically hold more than one? 

“In the event the party can’t fly, climb, or otherwise reach the [elevated] exit …” then the DM is instructed to lower the exit to their level. 

Why even bother anymore?

I guess I botched about the formatting. I should cover that. Bolding. Underlining. Bolded and underlined. Boxed text. Shaded text. Blue text. Different type of shaded text. SOlid bullets. Open bullets. Bolded and larger font. Another different type of background shading for text. Red text. Orange text. A different color of blue text. Italics. Green text. 

Sometimes designers go off the deep end in trying to make things clear, and this is an example of that. In trying to make things clear you make the text too busy to follow. Don’t do that.

This is $4 at DriveThru. Preview is seven pages. You get to see several pages of the adventure, so, look upon it and despair! But, hey, great job with the preview man!

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/402142/Tower-of-the-Chronomancer?1892600

Posted in 5e, Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 15 Comments

Play, Repeat, Return

By Brayden Fiveash, Stars are Right
Self Published
Call of Cthulhu
One Shot

On a bright summer’s day in Alaska, something is lurking at the edge of the investigator’s property, watching their every move. As the investigators sleep, their dreams are filled with horrific visions, and when they awake, they find themselves hooked up to an alien life-support machine with a blizzard raging outside. Has a blizzard hit Alaska during the summer, or have they been pulled through time?

This 29 page adventure uses six pages to describe a Groundhogs Day type time loop. It perfectly illustrates “the room issue” with most non-D&D adventures, and in particular CoC adventures.

Ok, so, first the adventure. You wake up, all members of the same family, in farmhouse in the middle of summer. Except it cold and dark outside. Then the lights go out. Maybe something eats you. Then the 20 minutes realtime (or, if you all die) timer resets and the time loops starts over again. There’s an elder thing in the barn (isn’t there always in CoC?) building a time machine, a caveman shows up, and two raptors eat you with routine. That’s the adventure. Either fix the generator and time machine or destroy the time machine to “win.” 

That’s not very interesting. It’s a CoC one shot, and I think those are the BEST convention games to play. I’m sure this one will be fun also. It’s only about a six page adventure, with the rest being the pregens, handouts, and so on. CoC has a good tradition of supporting the DM through handouts, diagrams, and solid pregens for one shots … a kick to the player in a personality for the PC. Also, fun fact, the Keep Resources for this adventure, that you can download also, are for a different adventure. Meh, people fuck up, at least they are also in the main text.

And that main text is what I want to spend some time on in this review. It sucks ass. I find this to be the case with most adventures, for some reason CoC stands out … perhaps because they tend to be simple. 

Everything is just thrown down on the page with little semblance to how a Keeper would use it. Information is just everywhere, in the text, with few to no cross-references and little through to anything other than the most basic formatting. Which tends to be poorly used.

The generator. The generator sits out back. “The gentle sound of the generator engine noise can be heard from all around the farmstead.” That’s a line in the description of the generator. But, it’s not mentioned anywhere else. This is, essentially, the same as noting, in room two, that the monster in it responds to noise in room one. We put this kind of shit where it’s needed, not deep in the middle of the fucking text for the DM to stumble over at a later date. “Oh, yeah, I guess you hear a generator. And have for a long time.” 

Likewise the raptors. These are the things that push action most notable, as they attack the inside of the house at about the same time, fifteen minutes or so in the twenty minute time loop. They are described in the outside section. WHich makes sens, right, they prowl around outside. Except, you need to know them inside also. And, the outside section? It doesn’t mention anything about the cold and the blizzard … a  major effect outside. That’s in a different section. Why would you do this? Stick in the information some place relevant .. like a section up front that’s easy to find called “The Raptors” and “Outside”, with everything you need to know. Or, stick it on the one page reference sheet you included with the timeline flowchart (great chart) which DOES have the outside effects on it. Instead we get a pick of the monsters. Great. 

The bedrooms are generically described. There are hidden things in them. Except, the PC’s live here. It’s not bedroom 3. It’s Franks bedroom. And, presumably, Frank knows about the stuff under the floorboards. But there’s no indication AT ALL about any of this. (Although, to the adventures credit, it notes molotov and chemical component availability. But we’re not bitching about that here.) 

Everything is just willy nilly thrown in. The actual room descriptions, and the relevant “general” information is essentially unformatted. Simple paragraph text descriptions, everything munged up together and hard to find. No use of bolding or bullets or whitespace. And, shit that HSOULD be noted elsewhere stuck in the middle of it. It’s very much a “the party will do this first, probably, so I’ll put that information there.” WHich is fine … except you need that information elsewhere as well. The DM must be able to quickly find it and reference it. 

Thus it all comes out as a giant muddled mess. Information is everywhere. You have to hunt continually. You’re fighting the text for the information you need to run the place. THings are bolded that are meaningless. Oh great, Science(CHemistry) is bolded. I’m  never going to need to spot that quickly. 

This is the way. People just throw these things together with little thought of how they will be used. The adventure is useless unless the DM can run it. That’s why it exists. We’re not going to put a ton of effort in to fixing it. I’m not taking notes and highlighting. That’s the fucking designers job. If I have to fight the text then I’m going to turn to a different adventure to run, one in which I DONT have to fight the text.

This is $3.50 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages and just shows some general information … so not a good preview at all of what you can expect from this.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/417701/Play-Repeat-Return?1892600

Posted in Reviews | 7 Comments

Brine Lord Cassidy’s Tomb

By Malex, James Whitchurch, Johnny Normal
The Merciless Merchants
OSE
Levels 5-8

While visiting a sea-coast town, PCs hear a call for arms by several excited bards and minstrels! Korwyn, mighty hero of the lands, known for vanquishing the sea devil Dwormer and its minions, seeks experienced volunteers to assist him in recovering treasures from Brine Lord Cassidy’s Tomb! Korwyn claims he has a map to the fifty-year old tomb, a ship full of sailors, a sharpened sword, and wishes to set off at once! Volunteers receive a fair share of the plunder!

This seventy page adventure has a three level dungeon with about sixty rooms. It’s a real deal adventure. And, also, there’s something wrong with it that hurts my brain. Formatting? It’s busy. It fits, to a T, the definition of idiosyncratic adventure that people talk about in the future.

This is a tough nut to crack, literally and figuratively. The core of the adventure is the titular tomb, with 24 rooms. We might instead call it more of a dungeon crawl, rather than a tomb crawl, although in reality it is somewhere in between. The map, for the tomb in particular, is above average, with some decent variety on it, same-level stairs, water shown, notes on it, etc. 

So, the tomb, right? We’ve got statues. We’ve got secrets. We’ve got riddles. The fucking entrance is through a trap door in a cave ceiling that you can use the tide to help you get to. Giant fountain? Yup. Giant octopus statue in the middle of the mountain? Yup. Water spurting out its tentacles? Yup. Pull on a couple of the tentacles like levers to open secret doors? Yup! Rock on little gom jabbars! That’s what SHOULD happen. A ledge, in a partially flooded room, leads to another dungeon level. “ Halflings and gnomes can fit through the stream cave that leads to T#10.” There’s a variety here, and the environment FEELS natural. It feels like a real place. Of course a collapsed room floods and leads to a new dungeon level! I don’t give a fuck about fresh water sources. Or places for the monsters to shit. Or any of that other naturalism nonsense. But I do want my environment to make sense and feel right. So, shit to fight. Shit to fuck with. Shit to explore. Treasures to loot. Rock on man!

And then we start to add other elements. We’ve got a dungeon level above the tomb (which, I guess, is below the island proper, which has a few encounters on it. Eight or so?) So, a dungeon before you get to the dungeon. Awesome! And then, in the tomb, as I mentioned earlier, there’s a level UNDER that level. The tomb is a part of the world around it. Oh, and, also, there’s a demon and some demon fish on that level under the tomb. So, you know, there’s that. Oh, and, on that level above the tomb? There’s some alien jellyfish. They really don’t like the demon fish. They’d like you to go kill the demon lord, close the rift, etc. Oh, and, also, they crawl down your throat and possess you. And then the PC is like “Hey, lets all swim down this hallway full of weird jellyfish and maybe go kill some demons, yah?”  Yeah. And then there’s a sea voyage. So, tomb adventure. On an island. with levels above and below it. With a sea voyage. With some demon fish/alien possession jellyfish running around everywhere. And this gets us to what I am calling a real adventure.There’s context. A larger environment in which the adventure is taking place. Not the continent. Not a bunch of irrelevant shit. 

Oh, yeah, and the art is a bunch of hand drawn shit from amateurs. Fucking great! I love i! It really brings the homebrew vibe. Charming as all fuck!

However … 

Something the fuck is rotten is in the state. I’m struggling, a lot, with this adventure. My eyes glaze over at ever opportunity. It’s something, I think, with the formatting. We have, no doubt, grown bored with my “bold, bullet, whitespace” chant. However, what I’m actually chanting is usability, with those just being some common means to get there. However, can they be applied … incorrectly? Maybe? And maybe that’s what is going on here? It starts with the numbering scheme. “T#9” Meh. That seems a little busy, with the hash sign? And the letter in front of it? I know I know. It sounds like I’m just nitpicking. But. Combined with the bolding, whitespace and bullets, … I know, I know. I’m a terrible fucking person. But it’s hard to grok! I think we’re looking, in many cases, of encounters that are three quarters of a page or longer. And in those cases the formatting seems to wander around, with creatures and text intermixed. It’s hard to follow! And, then, add in the wanderers, and a couple of other special tables before each dungeon level. Rumour page for the level, Map page. A couple of pages of wanderers. THEN we can start the level … it’s all just a little … expansive? 

I think, what I’m seeing, is the merchants house style reaching about the limits of what it can accomplish, and even going further than it would allow. As things get larger, and longer, there need to be certain adjustments. And I’m not sure I see that here. Which is real fucking polite way of saying I don’t want to fight this text for the adventure underneath. Even though, i do think, that the adventure underneath is a good one. I mean, sure, I have some doubts about the mind-control jellyfish shit, but we’ll chalk that up to past trauma. 

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a suggested price of $8. The preview is a nice and long one. Check out pages three, four, five, six and seven to see what I’m talking about with the more expansive formatting used.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/397251/Brine-Lord-Cassidys-Tomb?1892600

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, No Regerts, Reviews | 31 Comments