The Diluvian Disaster

By Mike Myler
Legendary Games
5e
level 8

Up from the Depths! Dark and disturbing dreams of the deep wash over Marriwell harbor, and the townsfolk wonder if that nightmare of a vast wave was terrifyingly real. For the heroes, something has changed as their bodies now crave the salt and the brine, with their skin slowly sloughing away to reveal gills and scales. The scummiest seaside wharves hold secrets long hidden, and a voyage into the deep must brave savage storms to reach a sunken city where maelstroms above and below the surface hide a fleshwarping tide of mutation and madness that threatens surface dwellers and merfolk alike. What strange magics are bubbling up from the ocean floor in The Diluvian Disaster?

This 32 page adventure describes a thirty room underwater dungeon. There are two encounter types: set piece monsters and room with a DC skill check or take damage. It reminds me of a 3e adventure. It is boring. 

Ok, so, an illusion tidal wave washes over the party, and the party only, and now they can breathe underwater and have to be immersed in salt water for ten minutes before they can take a long rest. Three random buildings in town have some sort of information that says there is an underwater city off the coast. I guess the party should go there? It’s the usual underwater problem: how do you keep the party alive? In this case, you turn them in to fish people and tell them they have to go underwater to stay alive. Ta da! They can now breathe water, and nary a level 1 adventuring party being gifted 2 billion go in underwater breathing magic items to be found! It’s all just a pretext, I know, I know. But when the pretext is this blatant, with so little effort behind it … whatever, I guess.

Three locations in town. A tavern, a merchant, and a sea temple outside of town. Who the fuck knows who you find your way to each of thr three. There are no real hints, or guidance, just three isolated places. Fine, ok, I can work them in, i guess, but it IS traditional to provide the DM just a few threads to hold an adventure together, even in the bullshit “investigation” portion before the combat starts.

Underwater adventure! Yeah! Except it’s not. It’s dungeon, essentially, but filled with water. No real 3d element. You face two kinds of rooms. First, monsters attack. Standard stuff. Second, make a DC check. In the most monotone voice you can manage I want you to say “The room is full of corrupted coral. Make a DC 15 Strength(Athletics) check to avoid taking 4d4 damage.” That’s about half the rooms, right there. Serious. Gee, that’s fun. Wonder. Whimsy. Exploration. Discovery. Or, just make another fucking DC check.

Speaking of … DC checks abound! For the most trivial things! Make a DC8 check to figure out you’re covered with seawater. Make a DC check to see who falls asleep first. Make a DC check to see who wakes up first. Make a DC check to see that the people don’t notice you freaking out about the tidal wave. Fucking garbage. Useless rolls. Rolling dice for the same of rolling dice. And in some cases, at the cost of horror. It would be great to add the horror-ish elements of the seawater and people not noticing the tidal wave … great horror elements there. Hope someone sees that so it can happen! Why the fuck would you hide this behind a DC check? Just make the fucking thing happen to build tension at the table!

Unlike, of course, the skeleton attack. “If the party is having an easy time so far, then 8 skeletons in this room attack,” ARRRGGGGGG!!!!!! What the fuck is the point of it all? Read-aloud in red italics, because THATS easy to read in long chunks … Read-aloud that over-shares details of the room, destroying the interactivity between player and DM that is the heart of RPG’s. A lack of section headings in places, causing text to run in to each other. Meaningless detail. Boring encounters. One room tells you that in the final room you get to roll a DC 15 check if you’ve been in this room. Why the fuck would you put that in this room and not the final room, where ts actually fucking relevent? . 

Yeah, the adventure is comprehensible. If you can make it past the red italics rea-daloud, that assumes you go counter-clockwise around the circular dungeon hallway (why would you assume that and write it that way? Was is that important?!) You can figure out what is going on. Because it’s just a boring fucking combat and then a boring fucking DC check. There is no wonder of being under the sea. There is no interactivity. I missed the Necromancer era, but is touting people from Necromancer as being involved. Is this what Necromancer was?

B O R I N G

This is $7 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. You get to see the ? of the tavern description on the last page, as well as all of the “make a pointless DC check” stuff for th tidal wave illusion. Useless fucking preview, showing nothing of what you’ll actuall be buying.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/311270/The-Diluvian-Disaster?1892600

Posted in 5e, Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 8 Comments

The Tomb of Raven Darkmore

By Joseph Mohr
Old School Role Playing
OSRIC
Levels 9-12

Raven Darkmore is the legendary Grandfathr of Assassins. He has ruled the night for the last forty years. Now he has been laid to rest. The location of his tomb has been a mystery until recently. A pair of thieves have found the location. Unfortunately, one of them died, trying to explore the tomb. His partner decided that he needed a little help. He has contacted the party offering to lead them to the tomb for a share in the treasure. But not everything is as it appears. The thief leading the party to this tomb is not trustworthy. And the tomb is not as empty as it might seem.

This 27 page adventure describes a small 23 room tomb dungeon with a “central star” layout. It stuffed full of high level baddies, all living in harmony, waiting to kill the party. And is in single-column format. And is dull.

Do you think your life has meaning? Let us assume you were locked up, today, in solitary confinement for the rest of your life, with little to no agency in your life from now on. Let us contrast that to the life you have now, or, perhaps, what you imagine to be #BestLife. Is one more meaningful than another? Can the choices and outcomes of either life be declared to be meaningful … because there can be no meaning, making everything, essentially, the same, and the struggle against the absurd what brings value? But, what if there is no struggle? What if you are not aware of it? Sometimes, reality has a way of slapping you around and challenging those beliefs of your. Reality, in this case, in the form of The Tomb of Raven Darkmore.

Blah blah blah. Grandmaster of Assassins dead, buried in a tomb, thief dude finds it and recruits to you help him loot it. He will, of course, betray you and, of course, the GM isn’t actually dead but is hanging out inside with all of his assassin buddies. As in, there are ten 10’ squares with ten high-leve dudes in the room, about half assassins. If you follow the DM advice then they just backstab instead of doing their assassinate strike. Oh, and then there’s the ghost that hangs out in the tomb. And the two bad-ass vampires running around. And the mummy lord priest. And the Death Knight. All in a small tomb complex laid out like a central star. No one really cares that you’re there, or hunts you down, or really cares that anyone else is there either. They just hang out in their little rooms, waiting for someone to come visit so they can attack. 

This is the problem with tomb adventures. This is the problem with ihg level adventures. A static environment with unintelligent undead for low level adventurers is not the same as a high-level adventure with intelligent (super intelligent) undead. If this were a low level adventures, returned, then it would just have the “I am a boring tomb adventure” problem to solve. But, as a high level adventure, is has to solve all of the high level adventure problems also, and it just doesn’t try at all. They are all just there, waiting. 

And I didn’t even mention the two assassin patrols or the black pudding or the hang of displacer beasts wandering around. There are, of course, a lot of traps. 

It’s all in single column. It’s gots continuity errors. The ghost loves his wife, but I guess he never leaves his own tomb to go find her missing bones? Plus, her tomb is LITERALLY on the other end of the room, an open room. And her locket is in her crypt. But he’s never gone over there to find it? And then, when her bones DO show up, later in the adventure in another room, they are labeled as HIS bones, not hers. It’s like no one tried.

A chapel to a forgotten god. A tomb with an alter to the same god. That’s the detail you get. Nothing special. All abstracted. Everything boring and generic, when it exists at all. The descriptions are all facts and mechanics. Both doors are locked with extremely complicated locks (-50% to picking.) Of course. “The coffins of the king and queen lie side by side in death. Dominik and Eliza were king and queen of a minor kingdom that once existed in this area. They died nearly 400 years ago during a war that engulfed this region.” That’s your room description. Enjoy. Abstracted detail. Non-existent detail. This is like a randomly generated dungeon. Just roll on the DMG chart and put the monsters in and slap a trap down in each room.

This is not D&D. Oh, I know, one true-way-ism and all that fuckery. Why bother writing an adventure when you could just randomly roll on tables to produce the same thing? 

The highlight of the adventure is Ghosty McGhostface, who will help you, maybe, in the final fight, maybe, if you find his wife’s bones. Maybes. There are essentially no room descriptions. Maybe one room has “murals of his best assassinations.” Everything else is backstory and trivia, when it has descriptions at all. 

Love bland descriptions with an emphasis on mechanics? Do I have an adventure for you!

And, of course, there’s no level range given on the cover. Or in the product description. Why bother? Three stars on DriveThru. Ouch!

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a suggested price of $3. The preview is six pages. For that, you get to see the level range, on the title page, as well as two pages of wandering monsters in the wilderness. Bad preview. Previews need to show you something of the meat of the encounters, what you will actually be buying. 

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/310981/The-Tomb-of-Raven-Darkmore?1892600

Posted in Reviews | 17 Comments

Bring Me Her Bones

By Dirk Detweiler Leichty
Games Omnivorous
OSR

Young king Agenor, for peace and wealth, sold his soul to the Green Sun – and such has been delivered for sixty-six years. Now old and fearing the far hells, the king has turned his worship to the BEAST, purchasing extended life with gruesome sacrifices. The BEAST, still hungry, and seeing the beauty of the king’s daughter Europa, became infatuated, saying “bring me her bones, which I will devout, and she will be my wife,” and promised in return that the king would never die. But the princess could not be found …

This 56 pag digest-sized art-punk thing is probably not an adventure, but rather a genre-neutral city setting with a meta-plot going on that the party can experience while going about their normal fucked-live schemes being schemed. Or, maybe, you can play it like a indie-rpg thing, with this being the adventure/ Who knows. Well, i do. It’s not a fucking adventure. It’s a fucking setting. Which is ok, I like settings, especially city-settings. But not when I think I’m buying an adventure.

This is system-neutral. There are not really stats and things are described in such a way that the city could be used in just about any setting. As long as you can have an Monaco-like city with a king and are ok with a couple of mythical elements, like a devil and maybe an elemental spirit, then you can use this in anything from modern-day New York (a super power CEO? The Mayor?) to sci-fi principalities to CoC to fantasy. The fantastic elements are not really forward and a lot is open to interpretation. A religious sect, collecting tithes aggressively? Ok; pretty genre-neutral. A coven? Ok, could be real could be fake. There ARE fantastic elements, the king has sold his soul at least twice to two different beings and  some nature spirits make minor appearances, as well an esoteric wishing well or two. But it’s not in your face. The veil has not yet been torn aside and the world, as you know it, is still how you know yet … until you start to probe the surface …

There are ten random-ish things that can happen, each a page, and each with some variation. These are controlled by a die drop astrology chart that handles seasons and phases of the moon and constellations in the sky, etc. Yes, seasons. With encouragement to keep track of days so seasons can change, and guidelines on the party being able to perform four “actions” per day. You can see how this could play out in both an indie-rpg like game and also as a backdrop setting for a larger RPG games. It’s a die drop table for rando stuff with the word “ASTROLOGY” plastered above the top. 

There are twenty locations on the “map.” And by “map” I mean “typical art-punk art piece that calls itself a fucking map BUT DOESN”T HAVE FUCKING KEYS ON IT. Instead it has little pictures of buildings. You get to flip through the little book until you find the little picture. Or, search the map for the little picture of the place you want. Fuuuuuuuuucccccck You! Someone made the decision to not dirty the map with a key. WRONG. FUCKING. DECiSION. And, this is where art punk gets its bad rap from.

The adventuring environment, though, is a good one. King Asshat sold his soul to someone. Then he sold it again to #2 “the blue eyed prince”, in exchange for his daughter. Who has run away and is in hiding in the city. He, his family, and his guards look for her, along with a lot of other people. There are cults to the two entities, weirdo other things, the princess showing up as a jockey at the horseraces, and other things. There’s a FUCK TON going on.

In what way, you might ask? One of the first tables in the book is “A place to stay”, describing your lodging, rent due at the start of each month. Your landlord: 1) More like slumlord. 2) Over-nurturing aunt. 3) Debauched partied. 4) Spuy for the king 5) Devout christian. 6) Royal guard sergeant.   That sets the tone for the book Things you can work. Three words, each, and yet NPC’s so packed with flavor. This is what every NPC in every game should be described like, something you can hang your fucking hat on. Who the fuck cares how much rent it, or that fish soup is the special, or frank moved to town 26 years ago. “Over-nurturing aunt” … that’s something I can fucking work with at the table! Something I can play with, and build upon. That’s what a fucking NPC description should be!

And a lot of the encounters, locations, and the random building generator is like that. It gives you, in a quick brief hit, something to build on. Not specifics, not detail. No, eait, yes, detail and specifics, but not overly explained. Instead something evocative and short that you can riff on. Something that you can integrate in the ongoing situation easily. A principal or idea, but one terse and full of flavour .Really well done. 

So, not an adventure. And maybe not even a city setting. More like a meta-plot for a city, with some key figures and locations to spice up your own city. And it’s FUCKING GREAT as that. But, not an adventure. This could be an interesting type of product, meta-things to weave in to your existing campaign, city, location, etc. No rating, because it’s not an adventure, but it is something I’ll keep and weave in to my home campaign city, immediately.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages. Page “3” of the text has that landlord chart and a brief overview, but the rest of it is the astro-chart stuff. A pretty piss poor preview. I’d have liked to have seen a page with the NPC/wanderer encounter and/or a location encounter so people could know what to expect. 

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/303426/Bring-me-her-bones?1892600

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 1 Comment

The Dachshund Dungeon

By Nick LS Whelan
Self-published
OSR
Level ?

Send your players to visit the cordial society of the Gentledogs. Presently they’re beset by a moral quandry: trying to live up to their own values while pressed on one side by imperialist forces from the Underdark, and on the other by a treasonous wizard attempting to engineer a fascist coup

This eight page adventure features a fourteen page dungeon described on one page. It’s full of intelligent dogs. Pugmire, then, I guess? But it implies it is not? And the dogs have guns? Anyway, it’s all Stonehell style, with a few intro pages and then a half page map with a page of keys. The key descriptions are pretty ok, focusing on what they need to. But I have to ask: why? And to what end? It feels hollow.

These little dungeons are always hard to review. Both from a size and a page count aspect, but, not this one I think. 

So … Pugmire, I guess? Pugmire is OSR now? I mean, the dungeon has a backstory, it’s full of intelligent dogs, they have rifles and pistols in a kind of 19th century England landed gentry kind of way. There’s no level range mentioned anywhere on the cover, description or product … It’s clearly D&D-ish with morale .. .but something else called the Hatespark? The backstory implies that the dogs were created by a wizard though just to guard the dungeon. So … I have no fucking clue what is going on here. Lets’ make them Mushroom-people with swords and bows and take care of the entire thing.

The backstory is a bit humorous. To quote: A couple hundred years ago a wizard who could feasibly be described as “good” defeated one who was “bad,” but could not kill her. This is the kind of DM writing I can get in to. It’s Just a few little enhancements to the verbange and punctuation and you bring so much more to an otherwise generic backstory. This is great, and it’s a good example fo what I mean by focusing the power of your writing and brining detail and specificity and colour without adding a lot of words. 

And then there’s the  hook-ish/intro to the dungeon. There’s a tunnel in the sewers. It’s long. No one knows where it goes. It takes two days to traverse it to get to the dungeon. Smarter than your average sewer adventure; the sewer is just the front door.

Five and a half pages in to an eight page adventure and we get a small fourteen room map on half a page. A couple of loops. A crevice running through a couple of rooms. It’s serviceable, not stellar.

And then the room keys start, all on one page … with room for art at the bottom. I’m going to bitch a bit about things left unsaid in this adventure, and I feel like there was some internal constraint that the room keys only take a page. Which is too bad; the problem with all one page room keys is that they are limited by their format. Basically the judgement comes down to “Is it good … FOR A ONE PAGE DUNGEON? The “for a one page dungeon” has to be added on to every statement. Why do that? The one-pagers are, essentially, performance art. Why constrain yourself if you don’t have to? (Says the six page dungeon man.) 

The room keys are pretty good though, at lest when it comes to conveying evocative flavour through terseness. The first room is “1. Metal hatch opened by a wheel. Pipes to the left and right expel sewage into the tunnel.” I can visualize that. I can run that. It’s at least three details: hatch, pipes, sewage, all in one line of text that takes us less than the full width of the page. Or maybe “Chugging water pump pulls water up from underground streams. Bedroll in the corner, dirty plates stacked beside it.” Short, terse. These could both be better, but they ARE a great example of how a terse room description can be both scanned quickly and be evocative at the the same time. It’s not really mundane detail. It’s not really trivia, or useless backstory. It’s focused on the meaningful parts of the room and at least an ok description of them. (Ok, of course, being a high compliment from me.)

Treasure and creatures, though, suffer from this format. They tend to be more abstracted. Treasure are described, such as “L: White lace hemmed with gold is draped along the walls. These curtains are delicate, religiously significant, and valuable.” That’s your treasure. For a generic adventure I’d say that’s pretty well, and given the dog-stuff and rifles, I guess not assuming a system is a good thing. It’s also feels abstracted to me, with the conclusions of the curtains rather than a description of the curtains, and I never like that. In addition the creatures are somewhat lacking in motivation. You get a half page or so write up on the races, but the specific creatures lack motivations. They feel like they wait in their rooms, behind a glass wall, for the party to look at. There doesn’t feel like there’s any tension. There’s one “baddie” of note, at the very end, but even he comes off like not having any tension. This could have been a dungeon that was a political boiling pot, ready to explode. Parts of the intro imply as much. But then, the rooms don’t do anything to help that along. Eight dogs discussion philosophy. Ok.  It reminds me of that chess room in Dwimmermount, where nothing happens.

The whole thing needs a good SHOVE. 

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a suggested price of $2. The entire thing is in the preview, all eight pages, which is GREAT. You might check out the room keys and jusge the writing for yourself. I think it’s tending toward the good side of the evocative spectrum, which, I also think is perhaps the hardest part of writing adventure keys.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/276120/The-Dachshund-Dungeon.?1892600

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

Hoard of Delusion

By Mark Ahmed, Sean Ahmed, Scot Hoover
Axe mental Productions
OSRIC
Levels 1-4

Hidden below the Black Fen lies the fabled Hoard of Delusion.

This 117 page adventure presents a village, wilderness region, and fifty room four level dungeon. It’s easy to see what it wants to do, but is bogged down with not knowing how to get there. Good ideas marred by poor execution; this needs a full rework to be usable.

This is striving to be like the adventures of Ye Olde Days, the better ones anyway, with a village, a wilderness region, and a multi level dungeon. It’s built around the dungeon, with village and wilderness encounters supporting/proving hints to the dungeon. The village and wilderness have interconnections within thm, and a couple of sub-plotty/other shit going on things going on. There’s even a keep in the village. The idea of a village, wilderness area and dungeon environment supporting each other is great, it’s what adventures of this type SHOULD be doing.

Further, the dungeon environment has some good ideas. New monsters, and classic elements abound. Giant octopus, mimic-like things, a giant eyeball on a ceiling, cracks in the earth that mist flows from, a rope bridge, and brains in jars. 

It’s marred, though, by being nigh unusable because of the description style used. And some pretty hairy encounters.

Level 1-4? Great! The area in the ruins, outside of the dungeon has a 5 HD hydra. The first room of the dungeon has a 7HD baddie with a gaze attack. 10HD black pudding? Toss it in there! A 12HD monster? No problem! I get it, OSR, you can run away. But the first room? And the dungeon entrance/ruins outside? This seems more like an issue of scaling. 

Further, the treasure is low throughout. It notes that the wilderness areas can be used to gain levels/experience before tacking the dungeon. (You know, the one with a HD hydra outside and 7HD monster in the first room? The one with the gaze attack?) But the loot is low, WAY too low, for anyone to be doing much leveling. Not quite comically low, but it’s hard for me to see a party leveling to three, and two might be difficult if you don’t recover everything available.

The village is described incorrectly, of course, most villages are. The mundanity and backstory of the people, with little assistance on the subplots or a reference on where the party might like to go. Villages are not explored like dungeons. You don’t walk down the street looking in to every shop. You get directions to the General Store and go there. And yet, this is laid out like a typical dungeon. 

And then there’s small map issues and other mistakes. No stairs on the map in the first room of the dungeon. Encounters left off of the wilderness maps. Just sloppy stuff.

But, the real issue is the encounter descriptions. As always.

The descriptions can be long. VERY long in cases. Page long rooms. No one can run a fucking page long room well unless the formatting and layout are par excellance. And they ain’t here. It doesn’t matter: village, wilderness, dungeon, the encounters are all done in the same manner and SO. FUCKING. FRUSTRATING. Ignoring, for a moment, the usual tavern descriptions and  how everyone on earth feels the need to redescribe it, the rooms are a fucking mess. This room used to be. However frank looted all of the bodies. A paragraph of backstory. Important details mixed in to the backstory descriptions. Conversational, with no knowledge of how to organize a description. The inn has three or four tables and a booth. Great. A wonderful night of D&D was then had. This fucking shit is garbage. This is a bit hyperbolic, but: Does every fucking word of your description contribute to the ACTIVE adventuring environment? No? Then fucking cut it. And then, when writing a description, put the important and obvious shit up at the front of the description.

When the players open the door to a room I’m not taking ten fucking minutes to read the fucking room description to myself before conveying it to them. The fucking phones come out, and rightfully fucking so. I’d be a shitty shitty DM if I did that. But what other choices do you have? Ye Olde Highlighter, going through the adventure highlighting and making margin notes? Seriously? If you have to fucking do that then the adventure was not written well. It’s failing at its core purpose: being useful to the DM as a play aid at the table. Why the fuck is this so hard to grasp? People bitch a blue streak that they don’t use adventures because they are a pain and require prep, note taking and highlighting. They are fuckign right. 

What’s all the sadder is that you can tell what this wanted to BE. The village, the wilderness, the dungeon. The interconnectedness. The classic dungeon elements. Iconic rooms that don’t feel like set pieces. But in the end none of that matters, because it’s 117 pages of unusable adventure.

This is $12 at DriveThru. The preview is 80 pages. That’s what I like to see! Take a gander at room one on page 58 of the preview/54 of the book. Good idea. Some useful imagery. One of the better rooms and MIGHT be salvage if all of the other rooms were as good ths this. Maybe.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/302841/Hoard-of-Delusion?1892600

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 49 Comments

Night Crystal Pass

By Matt Kline
Creations' Edge Games
S&W
Levels 2-4

You’ve been hired by Silver Hammer Trading to investigate a river trade route, running through Night Crystal Pass, that has fallen into disuse. Unfortunately, the dwarves they send along as observers have their own agendas. And then there are the goblins… hideously transformed goblins.

This 23 page adventure describes an eighteen room small dyson map of a dungeon/temple along a river. The usual. DM text long and unwieldy. Read aloud fairly staid and misused. A couple of NPC’s accompany the party. They add nothing except a hidden victory condition.A pretty typical OSR adventure, with all of the implied meaning that phrase has.

Ok, you’ve got a six hour river journey ahead of you, with two tag-a-longs, and you roll for wanderers every hour. 3HD and 4HD wanderers. With 2d6 being the roll and 2, 12, and 7 being “No Encounter.” Yeah .. this thing is a little rough for level 2’s. 

Hanz and Franz go down the river with you to make notes on the journey. One wants to collect magic crystals and the other LUVS a dwarf goddess. That’s their secret agendas. So, they wander off at times, or can, to do their things. It’s not really an issue with party interaction. I would probably let them wander off and not care.  Until, of course, you get to the end of the adventure. THEN, if they are not with the party when you reach the town at the other end of the river, you don’t get paid your 1000gp. So, it’s a fucking escort mission with two dumbasses but you don’t KNOW it’s an escort mission. Easily solved by an up front DM, but it still pisses me off. It reminds me of that Cracked sketch about every escort mission ever.

Read aloud is the usual. Things are described as “large” and “low.” Boring adjectives and adverbs that do little to convey any real concrete impression of an area. “It looks like an attempt was made to …” that’s a conclusion. Conclusions don’t go in read-aloud. You describe an area in such a way that the players draw the conclusions about the area. That’s a big part of the fun of D&D, or any RPG for that matter. The discovery of something. If you tell them everything up front then it’s just a slog through combat after combat and you can do that in Advanced Squad Leader instead. Or maybe Gloomhaven. There’s also broken interactivity through oversharing in the read-aloud. The read aloud goes in to too much detail. Rather than present an opportunity for the party to investigate, and discovery, through an interactive back and forth with the DM, it instead just tells you the secrets up front. It’s fucking boring.

DM text is long, of course. Full of the history of the rooms, of course, that add nothing to an encounter. Full of conversational style of detail that makes it hard to scan. A page for a simple encounter with a couple of monsters and a barrell in the room.

This smells, at this point, of someone just cranking shit out for the sake of cranking shit out. That pisses me off. I feel cheated, as if our goals are the not the same. Someone seeking the lucre as opposed to doing the best the can because of enjoyment of the game. I come back to publishers who have done bad work, time and time again, because I’m always hopeful that they’ve improved their game. Some have! There are positive examples! And then there’s the people who are just cranking shit out. Tomorrow, I do something different, I hope!

This is $1.50 at DriveThru. The preview is the first four pages. Which is all filler. So you don’t actually get to see any of the encounters. LAME! Do you think, perhaps, I’m wrong? Perhaps I’m wrong and the reason for the preview button is to ensure that it is black text on a white background? No? Yes? I don’t fucking need this shit in my life on a Monday morning during a lockdown, or, to be frank, ever. 

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/309712/Night-Crystal-Pass-A-Swords–Wizardry-MiniDungeon?1892600

Posted in Do Not Buy Ever, Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews | 8 Comments

All Through the Long, Dark Night (5e)

By William Fischer
Sneak Attack press
5e
level 1

In generations past, the villagers of Widderspire marked the eve of the winter solstice by leaving out gifts for a fey creature named Ember John. After the Aruandans conquered the Runewild, Aldric Widderspire, the village’s new lord, became determined to end this practice. He trapped Ember John in an iron cage and sunk the fey to the bottom of Widderspire Pond. Today, the inhabitants of Widderspire commemorate Ember John’s defeat by gathering around Widderspire Pond each winter solstice to exchange gifts, drink warm cider, and skate on the pond’s frozen surface. Though banished from the mortal realm, Ember John is still alive. Recently, one of John’s sprites, the icy-hearted Jack-o’-Frost, located John in a frozen corner of the Fey Realm. Instead of setting free his master, Jack stole John’s magical staff and proclaimed himself the “Lord of the Long, Dark Night.” Jack and the other sprites now head to Widderspire to seek vengeance against the mortals who defeated them nearly a century ago.

This thirteen page adventure presents a winter-festival gone wrong and a journey in to the fey realm with a couple of combats and a decent number of skill checks. It’s got a coherent plot that is fresher than most, without pandering to the “gimmicky christmas special” components that ruin so many seasonal adventures. I can take exception with the skill check mechanism and the DM text length, but overall it’s not a disaster and provides a compelling vision of a fey centered campaign world without going over the edge.

Yeah! Solstice Winterfest! Cider, ice skating, roasted acorns, gifts, maybe a mistletoes kiss! And then the frozen pond cracks and some icy fey come out, killing some villagers and freezing others in a block of ice. Rumor has it that Ember John the fey is imprisoned under the ice, and his bag of embers can warm anything up! Down in to the pond you go to find Ember Johns Prison and get the bag of embers. All of which means fighting three ice mephits and a giant toad, as well as a bunch of skill checks.

The theming here is very good. I am quite fond of a fey adventure, or, more specifically, a folklore-like adventure. Done well they summon up those half remembered tales from childhood and books and become more than the sum of their parts. The winter fest in this, with its ice skating, mistletoe, roasted acorns, and the like, helps sets the idyllic mood. It’s seasonal without pandering to a certain holiday, being more solstice party and without any overtones that would lead the party to believe that something evil is going on. Its well done. And, then, the journey in to the icy pond through the crack, the ice toads cave under the pond, with great icicles hanging from the ceiling and swirling vortex of snow that’s a gate to the fey realm. A powerful blizzard to fight through to reach a peaceful winter glade, and Ember John in a cage made of iron to keep him contained … his only responses being grins and smiles. And, of course, a bag of embers. This all feels wintery and folklorish without it going overboard. I like the elements and I like how they fit together, which is something I seldom say. I take it this is a part of a series of adventures and an campaign setting, and it’s something I want to know more about based on just this adventure.  Quite the compliment indeed!

I’m not a big fan of the skill checks in this adventure. Some of it is preference, some of it is tuning, and some of it it just badly done. DC 8 to ice skate or fall. DC 8 to puck an acorn out of the fire without taking 1 HP of fire damage. DC8 to blah blahblah. DC 8, 10, 12, 15 to remember something about the legend of Ember John. This feels either like rolling for the sake of rolling dice or guarding certain information behind dice rolls. Just tell the players what they need to know about Ember John or make them talk to the villagers, without a skill check, to get the information. This is really, I guess, a personal preference. I don’t do skill checks for mundane things in my games and I don’t like hiding information behind a skill check. If it’s going to enrich the game and/or experience I like it to just be out there, or behind talking to an NPC or something.  Rolling the dice is to gain and advantage or not die.

Speaking of not dying. Make those skill checks! Roll 3 times to dive down in the icy pond to the cave underneath. (Frozen over pond on the coldest day of the year … I would have made the pond unnaturally warm also so as to hint the party could dive in it.) Anyway, fail your roll and take damage. There’s a lot of that. Endure X by making a skill check or take damage. When you’re lost in the blizzard after entering the fey realm you need to roll a 15 multiple times, each failure meaning 3 damage. There’s some real death possibilities there, from just BS skill checks that the designer has forced on you to complete the adventure. If the skill check is a blocker in the adventure, its a gate that must be passed through, then the skill check shouldn’t be open ended. Don’t roll until you succeed. Instead apply some sort of penalty to failure, if you must include the mechanism

DM text doesn’t get to the point, instead it is the usual long and drawn out affair full of random trivia and unfocused sentences that make it hard to pull of the information you need. There’s a knack to writing good DM text, text that is terse, clear, easy to scan and find information … and there’s some mental block in most adventures, especially 5e/Pathfinder, that seems to be endemic to the writing. Emulation of what others are writing? I don’t know. But it’s a pain to work with. 

There’s also a certain sort of aggressive genericism present, especially in the winter solstice festival part. The villagers can relate details to the party about folklore, but it’s not really spelled out, or good examples given. Villagers proper don’t get a decent summary, instead the adventure pointing to a campaign supplement. What NPC summary there is is more like an … index? The details are not really adventure focused. It seems afraid to get specific. A snowball fight instead of the specifics of a snowball fight. This is the time to build specificity in; bully John, or sweet girl Clara. And yet, it’s just not there and is a poorer adventure for it.

But, not bad. I do like folklore adventures and this is one of them. It tries, as best it can, to offer multiple solutions to some problems and decent dynamic combat situations with elements for the party to take adventure of.

This is $3 at DriveThru. There is no real preview, just one of those flip-book ones. Bad designer! Put in a real preview that shows some examples of the actual encounters!


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/261993/Seasons-of-the-Runewild-All-Through-the-Long-Dark-Night?1892600

Posted in 5e, Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, No Regerts, Reviews | Leave a comment

The Place of the Skull

By Mark Hess
Self published
LotFP

A Sci-Fantasy adventure for old school gaming. A princess has been kidnapped, the players must save her by infiltrating a strange fortress of unknown origin. Weird tech, mutants, and evil swords abound.

This eighteen page adventure uses five digest pages to describe thirteen rooms. A little sci-fi, borrows from Conan and He-Man (and probably others) and uses a minimal format … although a decent one that concentrates on the right things. Still, a little light on the encounters for  my tastes.

So, kings daughter has been kidnapped by Skull face. King brings out platter of rubies and throws them at party, saying that riches mean nothing next to the love of your daughter. Oh, and she’s a warrior princess virgin, so in addition to Conan and He-Man we’ve got some She-Ra stuff going on also. And probably more. There’s the Fun Guy, who has fungo growing from his head. It’s got some sci-fi elements to it, broken computers, a couple of plasma rifles and so forth. And also magical elements, like the Doomsword, which turns you chaotic and melts your face off so you can be the next Skill Face. It’s over the silly line for me. A little too on the nose with cultural references. Instead of allusion it’s direct reference after direct reference. Maybe as a silly con one shot but, as always, comedy and references are tough in adventures. Placed in directly, there’s no buy in and the game suffers. Referenced tangentially, they allow the DM and players to refer to those memories and the expanded meaning that they refer to.

There;s not much to this, just eighteen pages overall and just thirteen rooms over about five digest sized pages. That keeps the descriptions terse, all right! “The cave entrance branches to the right and left, only to meet on the other side. A hewn hallway leads to a set of stone double doors. The doors may be pushed open.” The hewn part is good, nice imagery of a hewn tunnel, I think, even if the right/left just repeats the map data and doors opening are doors opening. The throne room has “A large chamber with a wicked looking throne of shaped stone. The throne and the raised dias it sits on are surrounded by an anti-magic field.” That’s it. Large is a boring word. Wicked is a conclusion, but would be used ok if  the throne stones were described as jagged or something like that. But, basically, this is all there is to the rooms. A kind of abstracted description with a little bit of iconic imagery referenced and not much beyond that. There’s just not much here to work with. MAYBE one thing per room, a little abstracted at that. You can see where the designer wants to take it but it never reaches any potential.  There’s just not much here. It’s almost like an outline rather than an adventure.

This is $2 at DriveThru. There’s no level range given, but the preview is six pages and shows you the first four rooms, and the lead in information. So, decent preview, EVEN IF THE LEVEL RANGE IS NO WHERE PRESENT ANYWHERE.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/310386/The-Place-of-the-Skull?1892600

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

Beneath the Remains

By D.S. Meyers
Oldegrave Adventure Company
OSR
Levels 1-2

What will the characters sacrifice to save the Western Wood?

Soooo … yeah.

This 54 page digest adventure details about forty locations outside and in two small fifteen-ish room dungeons. Weird bullet format and a strange … forced? Nature to it, along with some abstracted detail, make this one a miss for me.

While staying in the town an old guy shows up in a wagon, shot by goblin arrows. His kids have been kidnapped, so the party traces them back to a fey circle and then a rose petal path to a glade. The fey queen says he was abusive and they killed him and are keeping the kids. Oh, by the way, could you go clean out a bunch of undead from some ruins nearby? I’ll give you The Gift of the Forest if you do. (Amulet of +5 CHA vs Fey/woodland.) The ruins are about eleven locations, with two mini-dungeons of about fifteen locations each. One of them has this artifact. A PC has to willingly give up their life to destroy it. If they bring it back to the fey queen then she kills them all for doing so and not destroying the artifact that she has never mentioned before. So …. Yeah. Obviously more than one thing wrong there. The overall vibe is a good one, enhanced by the old timey public-domain art selected. Well, good up until the point the fey queen sends you off. Then it’s just a boring old slog. The entire tone and style of the adventure changes. It was better BEFORE the dungeon stuff started.

The encounters for the ruins and two dungeons are trying to be useful to the DM. basically, each encounter has, like, three bullet points and then some stats and maybe a small section on treasure. There might be another small section explaining something or some development in some of the rooms. GL02-Hall reads “*3 goblin skeletons approach from the bend in the hallway. * Close quarters fighting.” Well, ok. I guess maybe that’s define in OSE? GL04-Kitchen. Big Chef Goblin Skeleton and 2 other goblin skeletons. Timer for ceiling collapse as the chef swings cleavers aimlessly hitting walls. Uh …. This is minimalism, or just a hair beyond it. And minimalism is No Bueno. I can roll on the monster charts in the 1E DMG and do minimalism. 

The timer, mentioned above, is one example of them in this adventure and there are a few others. They seem … weird. I guess maybe the goblin chef one is ok. You can at least see him hitting the walls and I guess, somehow, you know they will collapse? But in another place the timer is just used to have some raven fly through a window in a few rounds. What’s the point of that? Suspense? I mean, the party doesn’t have any choice over it.

And, then, there’s the issue. The party has no choice. Not with the kidnapped kids. Not with the quest pretext. Not with the artifact that makes you have to kill yourself to destory it. Not with the fey queen who kills you if you dare bring it back to her, presumably wiser, guidance. Or with the ravens and maybe the chef. Interactivity is important in an RPG. Without it there’s this false sense of mission. You know you have no impact so you don’t buy in, or, worse, buy in to your character instead.

The town has sixteen locations. A few sentences each. None of them really doing much with the locations. They don’t overstay, except in the way that no content overstays. They just don’t really matter in any way. 

Other details are abstracted. You can’t really talk to the kidnapped kids, or, lat least, the guidance on running them doesn’t exist. Likewise a fairy shows you the way to the undead ruins … a fairy with no name, description, personality or anything other than “ a fairy,” This is not assisting the DM. Is the party really unlikely to talk to the fairy?

GL01, the first room in the first dungeon is missing. It’s on the map but just isn’t in the text. 

Look, I get what the designer is trying to do. But the bullets are just minimalism instead of interesting detail. A bullet that says “They attack when the party enters the room.” isn’t adding value. I applaud the attempt at being easy to scan, but I also want the content behind the scanning. It had an interesting thing going on with the fey queen and her no solution parley. But then it turned in to standard old minimal dungeoncrawl.

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is seven pages and shows you several rooms. In fact, it’s mostly the first few rooms. So, great preview! I encourage folks to take a look at it and review the format used. It’s not a bad layout, it’s just the content that is lacking.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/310162/Beneath-the-Remains?1892600

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

The High Moors

Stephen J. Jones
Unsound Methods
5e/OSR
Levels 1-9

The High Moors beckon… Little is known of the Ieldra – a race of cruel and depraved elves that once ruled the northern tableland called The High Moors – and no one has seen an elf in living memory. Their civilisation is dead, destroyed by an incursion from the Far Realm brought about by their hubris. The ruins of the High Moors have lain undisturbed for centuries. With news from a successful expedition, people have finally considered the treasures waiting to be discovered in the forgotten north.  A number of expeditions have now been dispatched to bring back magic and riches. Unfortunately, danger, horror and madness awaits most of them.

This 198 page “adventure” is actually a mini-campaign setting, taking characters from level one through about level nine by way of a hexcrawl with about seventy location of varying depth. It’s above average, as hex crawls go, in terms of the situations developed and the adventures support for it. For $10, you get an entire campaign … not a bad deal at all!

So, a campaign setting. This means gods, races, leveling, coin systems, and other details have been changed. This hex crawl makes sense in the world that it lives in and would be quite the challenge to move it, unless it’s a pocket dimension, etc. It is such a Of This Place that conversions are going to be difficult. It’s a Gold=XP system, for 5e (and easily enough older school D&D) that also has attached to it unique roles for dwarves, elves, goblins, halflings, demons, giants, and a myriad of other races. It’s going to hard to fit this in without some effort … but … it does contain enough adventure in it to handle levels one through nine. So, why fit it in at all? Just start a new campaign using this, make it the centerpiece, and off you go!

The core of the adventure are the hex locations, about sixty scattered across three maps, each of which is about 11 hexes by 15 hexes, with a 1 hex=12 mile scale. These tend to stretch out to a page or so, especially where stat blocks are involved. In spite of this, they entries are relatively well organized. Each one tends to starts with an overview, what you might see from a distance as you approach, and then additional detail as you get up closer. Finally, the individual elements of the “up close” view get their own little bolded section that describes what it going on with them in a format that is relatively easy to scan. These locations have SUBSTANTIAL mysteries to solve, things that are missing, NPC’s to interact with, and so on. There is definitely some potential energy in the vast majority of the encounters.These are not the static models of Isle of the Unknown, but rather something more akin  to the newer Wilderlands, that had more detail and the old Wilderlands. Interactive, lengthy, but generally easy to follow. There’s only so much you can do, though, via a pig-man village and the intrigue therein without running the words the top of the bowl. The same with the ruins, or mini-dungeons prevalent throughout the hex crawl. There’s just a degree of abstraction that you have to accept with a hex crawl. The hexes need to do a good job to inspire the DM because there’s just no word budget for detail. Nor should there be.

A substantial element to a hex crawl campaign is getting the players crawling and keeping them exploring. Numerous hooks are suggested, both more generic ones and then also more race-specific ones, which come off a little like secret society missions. Combined with the need to explore for coin purposes (you spend your coin, one GP to train for 1 xp) and magic then you get a nice little loop of coin, hooks, and missions you pick up out in the wilderness/hexes. It’s good. I think it more than adequately covers the pretext needed to play D&D tonight.

I’m pretty happy with this. The setting has a lot going on, factions and the like, along with some substantial “game world” mysteries to resolve. There are numerous opportunities to screw things up “Broodmother Skyfortress”/Rients style. There’s good cross-referencing, generally, and good imagery. The setup for the various sites seem interesting and more than throw-away sites. At one point there’s an invisible chain, going up in to the sky, that you can hear but not see. Climbing up it reveals a platform and a building to explore. It’s done very well. And almost everything is done well in this. There are significantly more highs than lows. 

It feels like this was done in word, or some such, with a 2-column format used. This FEELS off, in place, maybe a little amateurish? I appreciate the singular effort of a designer, but the product could have been better with good layout. Not that it’s bad. Maybe it just REMINDS me of the look of products that ARE bad?

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is eleven pages, but not very good. It’s just the first eleven pages, which cover a bit of the overview. A few of the hexes would have been a much better preview.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/309401/The-High-Moors?1892600

Posted in 5e, Reviews, The Best | 7 Comments