Underneath the Ruined Watchtower of some Forgotten Duke

By Eon Fontes-May
YouCanBreatheNow Games
Levels 1-2

People here just call it ‘the old watchtower.’ To the shepherds and merchants who pass by, it’s nothing more than a landmark. Young lovers sneak away to carve their names on the weathered stone walls. Among the locals, the structure is widely believed to have been the military outpost of some forgotten duke. It was not. Hidden beneath the ruined watchtower is a dark relic from a forgotten age.

This seven page digest adventure uses two pages to describe a watchtower & basement with about twenty rooms. There’s some interesting moments here, more so than usual, but fails t convey a sense of the environment. Maybe next time.

Brycy Bryce likes a short, in terms of page count, adventure. That should be clear by now. Ye Olde G1 kicks some ass. But people just loooooove to stick some fucking backstory in to their room descriptions. They fucking love to pad out entries with filler words.  Let us rejoice in overly describing the mechanics involved in a situation, to the point of exhaustion. FIll those first pages with your fiction, backstory, and a town that is in no way interesting. FIll the rear with pregens, and appendix after appendix. 

Or, you can work the fucking room description. Work it till you fucking hate it. And second, fourth, and fifth draft and disgust every time you look at the wonder you are trying to convey. For us, the descendents of O’Shaughnessy. I want to believe! But not too today, you strange enchanted boy.

This adventure is seven digest pages. The watchtower has 21 rooms, including a couple of areas outside. There are three pages of padding, with some repetition of information. The actual room descriptions take about a page and a half, plus a page for the map. There was room here, in those seven pages, to do something interesting and good. A promise, unfulfilled. The background information tells us little to add to the adventure. It does not add to hooks or situations to get the party mixed up in. It is just generic backstory and the like that adds to a rich tapestry of history, that will never see use at the table. It’s not like I’m going to get pissed if we get a little bit oft this in an adventure, or a throw off sentence or two in a room description. But when the focus of the adventure seems to be on this aspect of the writing, when the actual keys suffer, then I must suggest that focus has been lost.l You should have been working those keys instead of fucking about with the fluff. But, first,an intermission …

The thing does a decent job with some ideas. It grasps a interesting situation and dumps them in fairly frequently. There is, for example, a hastily dug and shallow grave outside of the watcher. With a body in it. That has been gnawed upon. One of the halfling bandits from inside who opened the wrong door and got disemboweled by zombies. That’s great! Not the backstory, necessarily, but the clue. It amps the players up, It provides clues as to what is going on inside. It causes questions and gives apprehension. Great little fucking encounter. All from “Recently dug gravesite for [a bandit] half-devoured by a zombie.” The element of grounding, here, that his provides, bringing home the realism and the viscerarealness that comes along with it, without falling in to the trap of “realism.” You know the word. The word I won’t use. But, yeah, that’s the magic word.

Which is not to say that the adventure does it to an overwhelming degree, but when it does, it’s hitting hard and it’s a major strength. It also explicitly provides a vibe check, up front, before the keys starts. In a little shaded box we get a vibe for the upper tower and the tower basement. Weathered stone, lovers graffiti, hateful graffiti, old campsites and scattered debris and filth. And for the lower tower, a large rat twitching with paralysis, a bloody handprint of a halfling, stacks of brittle paperwork. Nicely done little “always on” details to help the DM set the mood room after room. A zombie with a carcass crawler eating entwined, gnawing on his innards. A halfling along and crying in his room, drinking to forget his sorrows, or curled up fetally in the courtyard vomiting from the booze. The air smelling of sulfur, brimstone and smoke in a room, foreshadowing another room, nearby. Noice.

But these little situations are few, and not enough to carry the adventure. And for each one of these we get “Crashing sounds can be heard from inside this medical center its in disarray.” That’s your descriptions. Oh, there more, there’s four more sentences. But the description, proper, of the environment, is no more. Or, a ruined wagon outside thee tower, hit by the bandits. With the padded out “An unlucky victim of the  bandits” and then “There’s a unique crest on the wagon, someone might care to know about this ..?” And you, the designer, might want to provide three extra words instead of that description to really hook up the DM and get their juices going. I get what you were trying to do, and am VERY supportive, but you need to do it with specificity, not with ambiguity. Anyway, the adventure loves to give us room descriptions that are not. The Commanders office hung with outdated maps. Hastily barricaded steps. A wide set of stairs, descending. They just needed another few words, or sentence, to turn them from the sparseness of an almost minimal description in to a terse worded and evocative environment that makes the imagination run wild.

Work those key description.

This is $4 at DriveThru.The preview shows you the first three pages, of backstory and shit, but none of the keys. It should have shows a few keys, because the preview wis not good for its intended purpose, getting a sense of the adventure you are about considering purchasing.


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

Cloister of the Frog God

By Gabor Lux
First Hungarian d20 Society
Levels 4-6

The cloister has stood on a desolate ridge overlooking vast swamps since time immemorial. Dedicated to the great and terrible Tsathoggus, this edifice of evil was destroyed again and again through history, only to re-emerge from its slumber once the forces of Law grew lax and the terrible deeds of the frog-cultists became forgotten. Now a new order rises among the old walls, while older evils stir in stone grottoes and underground sanctuaries. Spies visit the settlements of the marshlands, and offerings make their way to the cloister where the monks hold their vigils as their ancestors have, guarding a nightmare that refuses to die.

This 42 page adventure presents an evil monestary with a couple of above ground areas and a three level dungeon, along with an overland through a swamp. Specificity, interactivity, and some brutal underground areas worthy of Tsathoggus himself. With eighty or so encounter areas, this thing gonna DELIVER on a difficult D&D romp.

Specificity. That’s the name of the game. When I talk about evocative descriptions and things that are sticky I am, I think, generally speaking about specificity. These are details that nail the vibe of someplace. That really deliver on imagery and allow the DM to then really grok the place and run wild with it. And this is something that this adventures delivers on, time and again.

A village/town is introduced. It lies on the edge of a miasmatic swamp. The locals laze about in their hammocks, smoking their bitter herbs from pipes, bats are nailed over doorways and cats are hung up on high poles. Dirty ragged and lean ne’er-do-wells. Or, perhaps my favorite line, a place worthy of neither trade nor conquest. Ouch! I fucking love a diseased hovel of a village. You wanna grow up and be like them, safe-ish, diseased and boring, a life of toil, misery and boredom? Or, you wanna go stick your head in that hole in the Dreadmarsh and see if we can find that gold rumored to be down there? Cats strung up on high poles. Dead bats nailed over doorways. Bitter herb from pipes in hammocks strung up. That’s how you paint a fucking picture. 

“That’s not enough for me, Bryce!” Well, ok fuckwit  How about a hook to go with that? You get one locale in town, the temple of Murtar. Five wrinkled old men in lots of rings and necklaces endlessly polish an idol sitting behind a ragged leather curtain; a naked obese human figure. They need the sacred oils to polish their idol, a tenant. Here’s some cash, the Cloister is rumoured to have some. Oh, and here’s the local tax seal to help you get it. Fuck yeah man! Tax seal! Oh, and a raft with supplies to navigate the swamp. But, also, TAX SEAL! The players should be DROOLING. And a hook that motivates the players is the best kind of hook. 

We raft our way through the swamp, taking in the local sights and hopefully avoiding most of the local vermin. In the swamp are a few folk to talk to. A wizard-lady, loosely allied with the Cloister. At least enough to know that if they get pissed off she’s first on their list so better suck up a bit. Also an old swamp hermit dude, straight outta Maine, who MIGHT show up at an opportune moment later if the party aren’t asshats. And, a couple of half orc villages. Some nice social commentary there, putting them even further on the outskirts of civilization … with lives that are in no way worse off, it seems, than the lazy fucks in town. But, also, we get two fine examples of using that fucking tax seal. In the first village the party must sit in judgment, as is their duty, on local disputes. “Stinkegg, a youth, has broken all of his neighbors clay jugs, but did so when both the sun and moon rested, and thus, no witness from the sky could see the deed. What is the judgment?” And so on. My favorite being a marriage, dowry, and bigamist, and … I don’t know what else. It’s a doozy of a case. Lots of fun and an example of heavy hangs the head. The second being realpolotik: the second village resists your authority unless you prove your might in the combat in the frog pit. That seal is only a symbol. And a symbol is only as good as the ass kicking it represents. You pay your taxes because of the coercion of force, with perhaps the bargain that if you do then there will be less force in the future. Anyway, great swamp encounters, with one or two that could prove quite deadly. In an instant if something goes wrong.

Let us imagine you are exploring a dungeon and encounter a room and are hit by a fear spell. Most, if not all of the party flee. Randomly. Thus impacted, they end up generally alone in other very deadly situations. This has been the story of my most memorable TPK’s, both in playing and DM’ing. But, imagine, you are a well organized group confronting obstacles… and then something goes WRONG. Can you still survive in that situation? And thus, our main dungeon …

The cloister, proper, as two building complexes, with a ruined one in between them, with dungeons beneath both. There are, I don’t know, eight entrances? From the two building complexes to trapsdoors in the ruins to cave entrances in the hillside it sits upon. This is a complex. The little map feels like a real place, with all of the complexities that has with various entrances. I once lived in a house with eighteen doors. EIGHTEEN. And that’s OUTSIDE doors. Life is weird. And this map reflects that complexity. 

So, it’s a church. An evil church, but still a church. Show up during the day and maybe pray or something. At night we’ve got a black mass or two going on. Makes sense. You’ve got like eight guards, four priests, sixteen zombies and an evil high priest to deal with. Doesn’t seem too bad. On the surface. Hopefully the parties alpha strike goes off well. Anyway the place is a working church, albeit in decline, and is stuffed with goodies to steal … a lot of which are going to require some raft management to get out because of their bulk and/or cumbersome nature. But then, underneath the cloister, comes the crypts and high temple areas. And man, you do NOT want to go messing about with those sealed off tombs. Especially not while the Abbot and his dudes are still running about. There is some shit in them that will FUCK. THE. PARTY. UP. I hope you nuked the main idol with some holy water to get rid of that unhallow spell surround the cloister. You’re gonna need all the help you can get.

People in the swamp to talk to, and in the cloister also. Traps to fuck you up. Shit to play with, including Ye Olde Statues. A running battle. Enough interactivity to choke a troop of horses. And writing that is terse: “Casks of sour wine stand in the recesses of this vaulted moldy cellar.”

This is exactly the kind of thing you want in your game, and to run. Sure, I can quibble about the large map, or small maps. And sometimes the formatting and editing could place a little more emphasis on scanning, and I prefer my reference material in easy to view places, but those would simply be icing on the cake. This is a great adventure.

The print version, with PDF, is $10 at the BigCartel storefront. 


Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Reviews, The Best | 12 Comments

The Webs of Past and Present

By Gabor Csomos
First Hungarian d20 Society
Levels 4-5

A group of adventurers took a job they were unable to finish. They went into the ruins of Túr Eridenal, an abandoned elven palace of some kind, and never returned. The characters’ mission is to find out what happened to them, rescue the survivors, and – if possible – finish the job they started. Besides the predatory creature the adventurers were hunting, the ruins are overrun with all kinds of monsters, and corrupted by a sinister curse. There are survivors, however, whom the party may rescue if they are smart… even more than just some lost adventurers. All shall be caught in… The Webs of Past and Present!

This 26 page digest presents a two level elven manor with about forty rooms. It’s got that OD&D vibe with idiosyncratic things and a natural way of encountering things in the dungeon that just make sense. Decent writing, terse, with good descriptions and interactivity that seems effortlessly varied. This is the way you do an adventure.

Nostalgia is a terrible thing, smoothing over rough edges and amping up the joy. When you think back on old adventures, Thracia, Dark Tower, Amber, Silver Princess, Wilderlands … there is this kind of wonder you experience in your memories. Those products, or at a minimum the memories we carry of those products, conveyed a sense of D&D that feel things can match. Some  kind of deadly whimsy? Or a sense that you were in another world experiencing weird things? Certainly you’ve entered the mythic underworld, as the DM, and are experiencing a kind of heightened reality. I don’t quite know how to put it. But I know it when I see it. And this adventure does the exact the same thing. Except it doesn’t have the benefit of the beer googles of nostalgia. Looking at this with the much stricter standards of today, this thing lives up to those grandiose memories of past. And it does it while bringing all of the knowledge of the past forty year to bear on itself. Effortlessly and seamlessly.

It’s an elf manor, a place for elves to go to regain their joy for the world when they grow too weary of the Works Of Man. Or, it was, a couple of hundred years ago, before some asshat elf fucked the place up by doing the whole Summon A Cosmic Entitiy to Deal with Mankind thing, that elves are wont to do. The manor falls to nature and the vermin set up shop. In this case, spiders, mostly. (Although, man, fuck those giants wasps!) So, the sad ending of a bunch of elves, with some nature and evil mixed in. And, I must say, this thing does the melancholy end of the elves quite well. Capturing the majesty and ruin, a kind of sadness, suicides and such. As well as the glory of the elven MAGIC ITEMS!!! 

This thing does vibes GOOOOOOD. Its full of that fourth pillar, design. Things in this make sense. To a degree seldom seen in adventures. Mostly it’s all “let me pick a monster from the book and slap it in.” But not in this. Shit makes sense to be there. The vargouilles. That’s not what they are. They are the heads and entrails of dead elves. And you can run them like vargouilles. Or, the giants wasps. Those fucking giant wasps. Outside the manor, as you perhaps creep to find balconies and terraces as alternate entry or to perhaps avoid an encounter or corridor. There they fucking are! Assholes. And of you fuck with a body they’ve killed perhaps it explodes with babyones swarming out! Or, if you’re inside the manor, next to a giant wasp encounter outside, and open the window then the fucking wasps come in. Of course they do! That’s what SHOULD happen! It makes so much sense. Or, magical runes on a door, barely visible. Want to disarm them? Just smear them. Duh! There’s a ladies bath area, a spa thingy. With skeletons in it. And a vial, a potion. What kind? Poison, duh! They fucking killed themselves in the bath! Shit makes sense, it’s not disconnected from itself. There is just tons and tons and tons of interactivity in this, from puzzles to things to fuck with to MEANINGFUL things to figure out. And, of course, a stalking monster that is gonna FUCK. THE. PARTY. UP. Really good job with that one. And, an ending room that turns the adventure upside down for play again. You can run back and forth across this place, inside and out (there’s a small section of grounds covered also) and it all FEELS like a D&D adventure. A glorious glorious D&D adventure. Imagination first and then the fucking book stats.

Magic items kick ass. Book, with a few words more to bring them to life. A +3 shield so gleaming you can use it as an actual mirror. A warhelm that protects you from three nat 20’s. Again, they make sense and aren’t just the same old shit everyone throws in. 

The writing here is good enough. Slender columns. Curved balconies. Overrun weeds, untended hedges. Carcasses instead of bodies, in some cases. The individual entries are by no means a masterpiece, but the overall effect is to build up a picture of the place entry after entry, and that works well. The descriptions are, however, the place where the adventure is the weakest. I do not pretend that this is easy; it’s the hardest part of an adventure, I think. They are more than workmanlike but not so good as to receive gushing amounts of praise. Which is weird. Because I’m in a gushing amounts of praise mood considering most of the rest of this. Well, some of the entries get a bit long also. There is good formatting for most of the adventure, a bolded word here or there, appropriately so, and some bullets here and there to help with things. Entries are written generally in order of importance and the order, in a room, in which the party will encounter them. If I scan an entry then the first sentence (of … on average, eight?) and a glance at the bolded words will be enough to get the room going for the players white I scan the rest, which is how an adventure should be written. This gets a bit cumbersome in some of the longer room entries, of which there are but a few. I could bitch, also, about the map in a digest sized adventure. The one in the book is a bit small and the gorgeous giant map that is included … I don’t know how to use that during play. And I prefer, for a print product, for wanderers and or reference material (the grand illusion changes?) to be someplace easily referenced .. the front and back inside covers, a fall open middle page, etc. 

A magnificent effort here. I am prone to hyperbole, but, I think you could make the case that this is the best levels 4-5 adventure written. Seriously, and if not then it’s right up at the top. Design and imagination forward. Shit makes sense. Interactive exactly the way an exploratory dungeon should be. Room after room adding to the vibe and history of the place. Easily one of the best.

This is $10 for the print & pdf version at the bigcartel web store. Normally I’d trash the dude for no preview, but the level range is on the cover and we’re dealing with a well known quantity here. Still, it would be fucking nice …


Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Review, Level 4, Reviews, The Best | 18 Comments

Dirge of the Forlorn Piscator

By G.A. Mitchell
Self Published
Journeyman, Expert, Master
Levels 1-3

A ghost is haunting the foreshores of a mountain lake, wailing despondently about his long-lost love. Eaten forty years ago by merrow, what has drawn this sad fisherman back from beyond the grave to bemoan his fate now? How will the party fare exploring a sunken fishing vessel and the labyrinthine lair of the water ogres? What is that dark, slithering doom that lies at the bottom of the cave?

This thirty page adventure presents a cave with twelve rooms. Stabbing and, potentially, talking are the orders of the day as you try to put a ghost to rest. Brief glimpses of what could be good a prevalent throughout. Expansive text for a small adventure pollutes the end result, but maybe you can ignore that?

This isn’t my style of D&D. I recognize that. It’s a kind of home-table plot D&D. You know, investigate something and end up in a lair assault killing shit. I don’t think any of it hits particularly well, in this adventure, but there are some glimpses of that OD&D style and some interesting writing here and there that I think are quite admirable and rise above the de riguour crap that floods the market today. It’s got some idea of what good is but it doesn’t really understand how to get there.

Fishing village on a BIG mountain lake. There’s a ghost been showing up lately, out on the lakeshore a bit away from town, causing some trouble. Go gettum tigers! Turns out some old lady in town is finally getting married and the ghost is the dude she loved, like sixty years earlier who died, getting eaten by merrow. Her getting married has brought him back as a ghost. That’s kind of nicely done, yeah? Oh, and now the merrow serve a dragon-thing. Oh, there’s this fucking hag in the caves also. And the shipwreck, of the ghost dudes boat, it’s got a gollum hanging out in it. Ok, I think I’ve covered everything. Go meet the ghost dude, he wants to give chickula the wedding ring he had planned for her. The merrow have it, except the dragon-thin now has it. Got it?

The first ten pages are pretty much a waste, covering the town/village. There’s a decent little timeline, of the ghost causing trouble, but that’s about it. “Townfolk drowning themselves in the lake” is a nice little bit of it. And the adventure pulls shit from time to time, really reveling in the naturalism or realism of the things going on. A lock of hair given to a ship captain, now dead, summoning a nereid, who is thankful to know what happened to her dead lover. And while this is the SECOND time this theme has happened in the adventure, it’s still nifty. When the adventure is pulling out this shit it’s doing a real good job. 

But when it’s telling us about mundane shit it’s terrible. “Heimdal is the barkeep and owner of the Black Hound [Bryce-the bar]. His family once ruled over all of this region before their almost total annihilation. Heimdal is unaware of his noble blood.” That’s fucking useless. We get mundane business descriptions and NPC descriptions that don’t matter. You could have done the entire thing on one page instead of ten. The wedding is supposed to be a big deal but that’s handled in one sentence “make the upcoming wedding a big deal in the town.” Well, fuck me, how about some help and ideas making the wedding a big deal? There’s a rumour table but the rumours are a little too direct and on the noose for my tastes. 

There are some really good descriptions, though, in the text. Or, close to really good anyway. The ghost is “ bloated, damp, ugly. While ethereal in nature and surrounded by a dull lambent glow, his form resembles that of a drowned corpse, and he speaks in wet, slurping tone” Not a bad monster description! Or, in a partially sunkn ship, knee-deep murky water in a bedroom with a few old bits of wood bobbing in the decaying mess. Bobbing is a great word there! A coppery stench of blood and buzzing of flies, in the cannibalistic merrows dining room. Or, in total, “The coppery stench of blood and the faint buzzing of flies conveys the ominous character of this chamber. This long room sports a sizable table atop which lay the discarded bones and scattered remains of the merrows’ previous victims” Great start to the description and a total train wreck to finish it off. Scattered remains of previous victims. Pffft. And this is what I mean when I say its got some kind of general understanding of what good is but little clue in how to get there. 

Long Italics read-aloud and half page room descriptions/DM text full of mechanics. I guess I’ll ignore that for the purposes of this review. 

But, the interactivity, I don’t think I can ignore. This is not a traditional dungeon. Most of the interactivity is either stabbing shit or, maybe, trying to talk to someone. Talk to gollum, maybe. Or talk to the merrow king, after hacking your way to him, so he can ask you to kill the dragon. Oh, and that fucking hag. SHe’s the dragons Mouth of Sauron. She’s got these scrolls of deals shes made with villagers. Pretty cool! She has traded shit for things like a pail full of breastmilk in return. Noice! She’ll trade with you also … which could help out with the dragon fight. Cover yourself in spikes to prevent the snake-like dragon from squeezing you, or cover yourself in milk to prevent his breath weapon (give yous a +4 to saves, not too shabby! Very folklore, and I love that! But, also, the merrow dude, the hag and the dragon are all withing earshot of each other. SO there’s no real room to breathe int he dungeon/lair. And no one really cares if the dudes next door are getting slaughtered, so no order of battle, and, worse, they explicitly DO NOT CARE if you are killing the others. That’s a little rough. 

So, a kind of plot, but the details of it, and the window dressing of the village and wedding are not covered well. Beefing that up, to cement a real vibe there, would have done wonders for motivations and grounding. The shipwreck and merrow caves are a little … mundane? Typical D&D? But there are brief glimpses of something deeper and hints of folklore scattered throughout. Again, not really enough to ground the adventure in that but enough to make you wish it HAD done that. 

Maybe next time?

This is $5 at DriveThru. The eleven page preview shows you town and the overview of the shipwreck. You can see some glimpses of the folklore-ish naturalism, but a page of the merrow caves, or shipwreck interior, should have been included as well to get a vibe for how the actual room encounters were handled.


Posted in Reviews | 3 Comments

The Ruins of Quinstead

By Roland O’Connell
Gamer's Group Publications
Levels 1-12

Gordax “The Terrible” is gone but, the ruins of his cursed castle remain. The last band of adventurers to enter the ruins met a horrible fate. Can you discover the truth of the ruins? Can you discover the treasure of Gordax?

This 46 page adventure, from … 1989? Features 76 rooms in a three level dungeon. You got nostalgia for older adventures? This will cure it. Almost exclusively stabbin with interactivity essentially “find the blue key” spread out in padded text. 

Well, back in 89 SOMEONE didn’t like T$R very much! According to the adventure intro “As an avid supporter of the fantasy role playing games, I became discouraged by the lack of quality in the modules I was purchasing.” Ha! So dude went all Role Aids and did a whole “Zealots and damage points” reskin of AD&D and published this thing. A glorious mess of a thing, with the emphasis on mess rather than glorious. I salute you, Roland O’Connell, for bringing your vision to life and publishing! A fine example of Direct Action! If you want better D&D adventures then write a good D&D adventure! But, also, sometimes you want to go to a doctor who graduated from a real medical school …

“Can you discover the treasure of Gordaz?” I swear to fucking god, if its friendship or his wifes love or some ass I’m gonna loose my shit. Ok, so, Gordax the barbituate needs some help killing shit and summons Garznik the demon then fucks him over. Garznik kills his wife so Gordax kills himself, but wishes beforehand so he can come back to life and kill Garznik. That leaves us with a three level castle dungeon to explore. With “an arena where the servants of good are forced to do battle” Jesus H Christ. What is it with tests and arenas? Is this another one of those bs fantasy novel series from the 70’s that I ignored while reading Gerrold? Anyway … away we go! And no, I will not be bitching about the single column text or the weird room summary is not boxed by the DM text is boxed oh and also lets include space for notes. We’re just gonna assume everything before today is formatted terribly and everything after today is a paragon of formatting for ease of use and comprehension. 

I will be complaining about the interactivity and writing. It is written casually with little focus. Some rooms get the victorian list of pantry contents. Others are full of “appears to be”. Appears to be a barracks. Appears the rooms hasn’t been entered in a long time. Just padding, with little notion how it plays out. And, backstory. “The pillars are a special type of guardian created for Gordax by the mage Septor. Their purpose here is not to keep creatures out, but rather to keep creatures in” Great. No purpose at all in the adventure though. And it’s all mixed in in a kind of conversational way “As the party enters this room they will notice that it is inhabited by several small humanoid creatures.” Just a lack of focus. A room that is all burnt up has a great detail that the party smells smoke when they approach … but then all we get is that the room has been gutted by flames long ago. Nothing more. An opportunity lost to really hammer home a vibe. And that goes for most of the descriptions. The room environments are just not present or only in a perfunctory This Is Whats In The Room way. Which was the style at the time.

“As the party traverses this hallway, they notice four bodies laying on the floor of a room ahead.”or “As the party cautiously advances they find themselves standing at the entrance of a room.”

Interactivity is mostly confined to combat. Like 95% confined to combat. A few traps (deadly as all fuck) and a hole lot of Find The Blue Key To Open The Blue Door. Or, maybe, Find the Blue, Red, Yellow, Orange, Magenta, Fuschia, Mustard, White, Bone White, and Antique White key to open the Blue door. One side effect of this is the map. While the map has some interesting features on it, it doesn’t really serve as a exploratory map because of the key thing. The party is going to have to pretty much systematically explore the dungeon to gather all of the keys. And if you have to go somewhere then its much the same as a linear dungeon: you have to go there. A little better, sure, but the outcome is the same.

And the dungeon is weird. The first level is pretty humanoid centric and pretty open to low level play. But, notice the adventure goes to level 12? The lower two levels get pretty damn fucking tough. Some nice themed areas to go with it, like an undead zone and so on, but still pretty fucking rough. This makes it almost megadungeon like. (I’m thinking of my own megadungeon world, Dungeonworld, where all of the  megadungeons exist close-ish to each other.) You’re gonna explore the first level of this dungeon and then go do other things and then come back to the second level when you can and so on. There’s no explicit notice of this anywhere, but there’s no other way to tackle something like this. Which is fine, but a little support in this area, or being upfront with it as a campaign centerpiece, would have been nice.

I’m really down, though, on the lack of interactivity and exploratory elements. I don’t know what to think here. I guess I should mention one of my favorite features, which appears right in the beginning: “ About five feet inside the room lie the dead bodies. Hanging from the ceiling are three wooden bird cages with large crows in them.” That’s their alarm system, some crows in cages. Pretty sweet. Exactly the kind of naturalism I like in my dungeons. But, otherwise? An interesting footnote in history, I guess, much like Vampire Queen.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is nine pages. You get to see several rooms on the first level. While the rooms get a bit more complex the deeper you go, I think they are pretty representative of the style of the adventure. So, good preview!


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

The Tower of Sovergauth

By DiegoZap and AndreaZap
Levels 4-7

Only recovering the ancient crown of the lands of Stakbourg will allow the legitimate heir to return to the throne: will the adventurers be able to steal the crown from the dark lord of shadows who has taken possession of it in his tower?

Zwei Vier Zwei Zwei Vier Zwei

This 66 page adventure features a dungeon with about 45 rooms. Rigged combat after rigged combat. A mass of text rarely seen in the world today. The intentionality in the face of wisdom is mind boggling.

Zwei Vier Zwei Zwei Vier Zwei

I come to you this morning a broken man. Once, full of delight and wonder at the world around me. Reveling in the joys of existence and all it contains. Now, an empty husk. A shell, contemplating the futility to our existence and the lack of meaning in the eternal march towards entropy.Pages of read-aloud. A first person narrative. Creatures that attack immediately upon entry … in the read-aloud. A near total emphasis on combat in a mostly linear dungeon. I shall let the adventure speak …

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“All DungeonisM Labs modules have a dual artistic channel available: black and white illustrations with a nineties style and the new avant-garde minimalist fantasy style of Dungeonism.”

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“Wandering monsters have been omitted as the creatures that inhabit the tower and dungeon are mostly charmed or trained to protect an area, or to have no choice in their actions due to the way the rooms are designed or how escape routes are structured.”

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“The creatures of the tower are also enchanted to resist hunger and have no desire to leave the dungeon due to the magic of Sovergauth: because of this all monsters radiate magic if it is detected through spells.”

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“When a weight exceeding 90 kg is exerted on one of the wooden protrusions the wooden beam must make a saving throw of 10 or more on a 20 dice with a penalty of -1 applied for every 5 kg more: for example if a warrior which weighs 100 kg with his equipment is on the beam the saving throw for it will be 12 or more on 1d20. Note that if a 70 kg warrior stands on one of the beams and tries to pull up a halfing, for example that weighs 30 kg, the weight exerted will actually be 100 kg. If one of the beams fails the saving throw it collapses, falling with everything on it and inflicting 1d6 hit points for every 3 meters of cumulative fall [text continues for  what seems like almost a page more]”

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“A pang of unease passes through you when the self-propelled and frenetic pupil of one of those gestation cockpits freezes in your direction and without further movement, stares at you”

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“As you make your way through the window two squat humanoids burst out of the darkness lunging at you”

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“Immediately, part of the rock wall suddenly moves, forming a gigantic fist-shaped protuberance that crashes with all its force against the character! “

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“30. Orcs lair. Each orc in this area is armed with a long sword and a short bow with 24 arrows in a large quiver, all have Thac0 19 and are of Chaotic (Chaotic Evil) alignment. The armor class and hit points of each orc are detailed below. All orcs are evilly trained and move 30 feet each round. This is a key area for the defense of the dungeon, and due to the strategic placement of the cracks, the orcs are never caught by surprise by a visible enemy. Thanks to the sound emitted by the mushroom mass, they are also not surprised at all. Orcs cannot use shields while shooting arrows, characters attacking from room 29 suffer a -10 penalty to hit orcs due to the 90% cover granted by the loopholes.”

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I truly cannot accurately relate to you the depth of the issues here. As if every bad design choice in history was followed through on. The MASSIVE read-aloud. The first person narrative. The monsters that attack immediately. Explaining the simplest concepts ad-nauseum. Massive backstory text in the descriptions. 

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This is $4 at DriveThru.There’s no preview. Suckaaaa!

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Is this the kind of work you’d like to do?

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Castle Brookmere

By Roderic Waibel
Izegrim Creations
Level 2

Rediscover a classic story, converted to an adventure for your enjoyment! Castle Brookmere converts the old Return To Brookmere book into a playable adventure with added areas to truly flesh out an adventure.

This 22 page adventure fleshes out the Endless Quest book with a total of 35 rooms (in eight pages) on a dungeon level as well as a token wilderness area. It’s got that non-traditional whimsy that comes from an outsider to the hobby. And it’s descriptions are abstracted to a degree that makes it relatively useless. 

Yes, it’s based on the Endless Quest book. And it’s got a little three or so page description in the front of the process and history of them, as well as quite the long section, a life history of sorts, of Rose Estes, the author of the original books. If you were SUPER in to these books then that might be worth it. For most of us though it’s not gonna be worth the $5 to just read that section.

I don’t remember much, if anything, from the Endless Quest book. There is, though, a sense of whimsy, but dangerous, and a non-traditional approach to the fantasy in this. And I assume a lot of that comes from the original book. A doorway to nowhere that turns you in to a kind of firefly trapped within? Absolutely, that’s the kind of thing you don’t typically see. And the ever popular giant crystal in front of a wizard that then crumbles? Yup! It’s these points in the adventure, when we encounter things not out of Tolkein or the last forty years of D&D, in which the wonder and delight of the game, fresh and new, shine through again. No de-rigueur. THe gnoll who hates killing and two guards passing out drunk. Ogre twins, and the ending with Fang the wererat. These all feel wonderful … is a little scripted when talking about Fang. And they certainly bring to the forefront the situation … and ol Brycey Bryce LOVES a situation in his adventure. And loves an adventure full of situations. If only there were mof this in the adventure. 

How’s this for whimsy and wonder? “The regional leader has hired the PCs to scout the castle” Hmmm. no. This is abstracted detail. That’s not good.Or, a hook about a reclusive hermit. That’s not much to go on. We want the designer to fill in just enough details to inspire the DM, to bring the thing to life in their head enough that the DMS head fills in the details and it springboards them to other things and it all comes pouring out in a wonderful encounter for the party. Instead we get “a regional leader.” Wonderful.

Likewise, we’re told that “It is recommended that you start the part in a small town or village just off the map” Now, I would been ok, I think, f that had never been mentioned. I wouldn’t have cared at all about a town or village. But once you put it in, and especially once you tell me that its RECOMMENDED that I do it, then the obligation balance falls to you, the designer, to give them three sentences on it. 

The map had one loop and is otherwise linear. The overland journey is … weird? There’s not really a path in, or any seeming rhyme or reason to the locations of the encounters. But, there is a cave with 50 goblins in it? Err, five caves. Anyway. It’s just a forest map with the castle ni the middle and a few other encounters scattered around haphazardly. I really don’t get how this is supposed to be an overland adventure. I guess I might describe it as a hex crawl (with the same sized map) at level two, with a wandering table that doesn’t support that scope, and encounter locations you’ll never find that all have an overwhelming number of enemies in them? It’s fucking weird.

The writing is subpar. “The winding tunnel opens up to a cavern where dozens of varying types of fungi appear to be cultivated in some version of a mushroom farm. Oribius used this area to grow alchemical components for his experiments. One of the dozen types of fungi is deadly poisonous. The creature must succeed on a Saving Throw vs. Poison if ingested or die.”The classic appears to be. And another with the classic if/then statements. We see exclamations and backstory embedded in the description. A description that, at its core, is rather boring. It’s almost, again, like this is cliff notes version of the adventure. Or the script guide version. A placeholder for future expansion. “Yo, put a mushroom garden here.” And entry after entry in this adventure falls in to that pattern of weird abstraction … and yet wordy at the same time. There’s a lack of focus on the intent and purpose of a room, for literally and figuratively in the sense of the role that the room description has during the running of an adventure. 

I don’t know. I like the firefly doorway a whole lot. Even if it a save or die … with no save allowed. But so much of the rest is just devoid of any life, even given the potential of the various situations presented. Bleech.

This is $5 at DriveThru.The preview is six pages. You get to see the overland map. A  very poor preview to help you determine if you want to buy it or not. But, also, you get to read all of that Endless Quest author background detail I mentioned earlier!


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Kazad Mor

By Taylor Seely-Wright
Self Published
Level ... 1?

Crawlers delve into the cursed, abandoned halls of the dwarves. They delve for gold, glory, and magic. They delve to find the truth of the fortress and its abandonment.

The product page on DriveThru has a kicking map; go check it out before looking at the review! It’s what lured me in!

This 24 page adventure presents a Moria of about fortyish rooms. Nice map, some decent ideas. But it lacks life in it’s descriptions and the interactivity is a little CRPG “fetch the blue key.” More than a little. A nice try. 

A return to Narnia. Err, Moria. Err, Kazad Mor. These things never work out. Nothing ever captures the scale of Moria. Plus, stoic dwarf rooms are boring. As are elfhomes, for that matter. Nothing compares to the epics of men. Anyway, you’ve got the ancient dwarf blah blah blah of Kazad Mor It’s got loot. It’s got a cursed thingy in it. Let’s head the fuck in and fuck some shit up, yeah?!

Our first room is the entrance. “1a: Ruined Bridge. Collapsed bridge over magma.” starts the description, telling us of collapsed supports and signs of blast marks. It goes on with another sentence, telling us that we enter through a carven dwarf mouth. (This is all in a terse, almost OSE format, but more on that later.) But what we have here is a very fact based description. There is a collapsed bridge over magma. We don’t get the heat, or the eerie red glow. There  is no looming darkness from the other side of the carven mouth. Churning, flowing, bubbling? Yes, you can absolutely write that you have a collapsed bridge over magma, but if you can write four more words to bring in the VIBE of that scene then you’ve gone above and beyond in bringing the encounter area to life. That’s the challenge of being an adventure writer. And, also, the hardest part, I think.The entire dungeon is like this. A terse but not evocative description of the room that relies mostly on facts rather than feelings. And that’s not an effective way to convey whats going on. Sure, you need to include facts at some point, but you want the DM to really understand the mood of the room at a very primitive level. Collapsed bridge over magma isn’t a bad description. But it is also not a good one. 

Which is interesting, because I’d guess that, oh, half of the monster descriptions in this adventure are pretty decent. Pulling four at random: A squat, sawtoothed humanoid with one red eye. A gruesome specter with unfinished business A black light, darker than darkness with a horrifying face in its heart. Grotesque melding of dwarves in a hulking mass of madness. I can criticize the spectre description, and i don’t think Gruesome or Grotesque are descriptions, but rather conclusions. But the rest isn’t that bad. Squat, sawtooth, red eye. And the black light thing is an interesting description as well. When monster descriptions focus on appearance (or, maybe, vibe? If they make you feel chill or something?) then the description is doing well. You want one that matters to the players. The ones that focus on ecology suck donkey balls. This isn’t the monster manual. I’m running a fucking game here and the players want to know what they see and I want them shitting their pants because of what they see. The monster description needs to help do that. We do, though, get a page of monster stats, I think fourteen stat blocks on a page. Not bad! 

And the interior sometimes has some very interesting encounters in them. You can meet you a ghost with unfinished business … who might possess you for eight hours before departing, leaving you with knowledge. That’s fun! And, Jesus, one of the wandering entries is a horde of 100 living corpses in a great moaning hoard, arriving from one direction. Can you imagine? As a wanderer? I love that sort of environmental hazard. Usually it’s like a robot sentry or something, but a horde of living corpses just hits differently. Speaking of the wanderer table, you can also get things like this on the OMENS table: “1d6 frozen dwarf corpses wearing stone masks emblazoned with an eye. These dwarves are standing in a semicircle facing the door” Gah! That’s gonna FREAK. THE. PARTY. OUT! And that’s what shit like this should do, after all. Those are some nice entries. But, also, a lot of the interactivity is the traditional stabbing and more than a few “go find the blue key for me” sorts of things, except you need to put ghosts to rest by watering plants or arranging a feast or something. Fetch quests, especially these basic ones, are not really the height of interactivity. And, other than traps, that’s about it. It’s an attempt, I think, to introduce situations in to the adventure, which I can appreciate, but I don’t think that’s the depth I’m looking for in things to do other than stabbin. We do, however, get some zones of play, from the Hag zone to the Zombie zone and the great hall and so on. That’s quite well done.

I need to bitch a bit about formatting and layout. That map is what drew me in, it’s great,  but, also, the numbers tend to the illegible. That’s not cool. Especially “1e”, which took me about five minutes to figure out. Doors are also almost hidden. The number one function is use at the table, and so I have to be able to read it. You know where this is going, don’t you, The Designer? There are two versions of this adventure,a print and a printer friendly. The print version is an atrocity. White text on black backgrounds, yellow text, lots of italics in funky hard to read fonts. And a shading system that DEemphasizes the main rooms and emphasizes the notes. Both versions use icons in the text to note traps and monsters, which I think causes more confusion in this text, in the way its implemented. You know, you might find a middle ground where the print version is STILL nice to look at and yet is actually possible to use easily at the table without stabbing your fucking eyes out? 

I would note, also, a tendency of the formatting to place emphasis where it should not be. We get, in a room or two, notes about the distance, like a fetid wind blows from the north or the south hallway is glazed with webs. That’s great. But in other places there’s this weird order to the text that I can’t figure out. I’m a strong believer in, generally, putting the most obvious things first in a description or list of bullets. But, in a room with a crack in the wall that is glowing red, should we bury that in the text? Maybe stick it up front? Or, in the finale room. It’s got a stone tablet in it covered with shifting text and an eye diagram thing floating around on it. Cool? Eventually we learn that it’s as big as a barn. Oh. Hey. Need the info. This isn’t exactly OSE format, it’s got more words than that, but in both cases I think the same comment applies: it can be good if you really work the descriptions hard. And if you don’t and don’t really understand how to use them then you can get something worse than text description. I’m not saying that this is a full on disaster, but it definitely causes some disjointed moments again and again. 

DId I mention that, at a minimum, room 39 on the map isn’t mentioned in the text? Well, I think it might be there, but there is no “Room 39” label, just a room description where I think it should be. Hrumpf. Shit happens. Life will go on. 

I could go on. There’s a lot to talk about here. Mostly because the designer actually tried. It’s almost there man, a great first draft.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is thirteen pages and shows you every keyed entry. Great preview! But also it’s the print version, so you’re gonna have to look past that and spy the actual entries to get an idea of the formatting and fact based descriptions and weird orders of things. 


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Grackle’s Vale

By Randy Musseau
Roan Studio
Levels 3-5

The otherwise peaceful village of Grackle’s Vale has been terrorized of late by a creature that has taken up lair in the nearby ruins of Reeker’s Keep. It is a Boarman, a foul lycanthrope said to haunt dark forests and murky mires, feared for its savagery and accursed tusks. At least a dozen people have gone missing after attempting to track the beast, the most recent being a Ranger of some renown. A reward of 1000 gold pieces has been offered to anyone willing to help free the community from the Boarman’s bloodlust.

This 24 page adventure uses about ten pages to describe … thirty encounter locations in a small valley and dungeon. It’s verbose, boring, not formatted to any particular manner, and has little to no treasure, as compared to the needs of a party of three to fives. “Worldbuilding” at the expense of adventure.

This is in two parts. The first part is the village of Grackle’s Vale. It’s a fishing village on a coastline. The Barons men don’t get involved in the villages affairs. The adventure spends ten or so pages describing the village, but, “fishing village” gets you 95% of the information contained in this part of the adventure. Many many MANY words are spent describing the village.Which is just a fishing village. There is absolutely nothing special or interesting about it. I don’t care the the chick that runs the local bakery lost her husband at sea  awhile back. That does nothing for me. How does that create adventure? How does that create interactivity? How does that inspire the DM to something to do in the game? Instead of a couple or three paragraphs describing her and her bakery I might instead say that she grins too wide, is kind of slow, and makes a show of putting in her SECRET INGREDIENT to her special buns. I have now done more for this adventure, in one sentence, than the ten pages of the village description ever did. Jesus christ people, I don’t need yet another description of a smith or tavern. Give me something that I can run with the fucking party. It doesn’t have to be a fucking evil cult, just make it something that is gonna be fun or interesting at the table. Compelling. Conceptually dense. Not yet another description of the shopkeep having blue eyes. That only works if everyone else in the village has black eyes or blue eyes mean you’re divine or the devil or some shit. “Dogs are commonly used for work and as guard animals. The lower valley is quite fertile and harvests have been abundant”.I loathe these fuckign descriptions. Someone spent time and effort on each and every one of those descriptions. They wasted their energy and creative juices on page after page after paragraph of boring ass mundane descriptions instead of using it on compelling and dense content. I’m sure, though, that the actual adventure will be better? 

Well, no. Part two is a trip up a little rift valley. Seems there’s a boarman up there and you’re being offered a thousand gold to go get him. A thousand gold! Oh my! What ever shall we do with all that cash?! Anyway, lack of compelling hook otherwise, up the rift valley you go. You have thirteen encounters, all in a row since it’s a rift valley. At one point you probably take some tunnels up so you don’t have to climb a waterfall. That’s another fifteen or so linear encounters. Then you find a ruined tower and fight Yet Another Wereboar (that’s the fourth or fifth in this adventure, I think) and the adventure is then over. Yeah you!

Slog ye through … and encounter with a wereboar and his overly described cabin! Slog ye through … two ogres and a bear in a bear trap! Slog ye through … some zombies! SLog ye through … combat after combat. Maybe a spike trap here and there. Toss in a hobgoblin and some redcap and a couple of shadows and you’ve got yourself an adventure. The adventure up the waterfall, which is the closest thing to being interesting, had the potential of feeling like the Fellowships slog through Moria. Dark hallways and chambers. Echoes in the distance. An enemy unseen. Natural hazards and stumbling upon crypts. Instead it comes off as Just Another Room. A large dark chamber. A small cavern. A 30×20 room that serves as the quarters of the redcaps. These are the actual starts of room descriptions. And they don’t get better. Instead going on for sentence after sentence, expanding upon nothing interesting, backstory, meaningless things, instead of concentrating on an actual interesting encounter. 

Theres a throwaway sentence about one of the guardsmen in town being infected and the loyalty of his fellow guardsmen. That’s the only thing remotely interesting. That could have been expanded with another sentence and turned in to something really good. A kind of Dawn of the Dead (remake) and the tenseness of a transform vs the love and loyalty of your fellows. Real human shit. But, hey, why not tell us who has blue eyes and who has brown instead.

“The journey will take two days (unless magic is used.) Yes, wel, thats understood in all contexts, correct? And the treasure here is subpar. The magic items might be books, but are about the right amount, I think., The mundane, gold-xp treasure, though, seems far too little. 

And the maps all seem backward. They are kind of isometric.Not really, but drawn to give perspective. And the focus, then, is confused. The waterfall tunnel map seems backwards from the keying, as does the town map. As if one were drawn North to south and one was drawn south to north. You can figure it out, but it takes a minute (or ten) to figure out what you are actually looking at and how it fits with everything else. Not really a bitch, but, an interesting observation. I don’t know I’ve encountered this kind of map dissonance before.

Anyway, A combat slog with WAY too many words, little to not formatting to help the DM through them, little to no interactivity beyond combat, too little treasure, and nothing really interesting going on. I get what the designer wanted to do, but the whole thing feels wrong. And the lcimax, with the boarman, has a Lareth the Beautiful thing going on.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. You get to see part of the town. It would have been better to show a page of the dungeon as well, or at least the wilderness encounters.


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Parlour Tricks

By Daniel Herz
Stromberg Press
Levels 1-3

Zolberg the magician runs a small discreet tavern called The Silver Globe. With the use of a magic item, he charms the unfortunate patrons to stay and suffer through his magic show, day after day.

This four page adventure describes a tavern with nine rooms. More location than adventure, it has no idea how to do what it wants to do: be an adventure.

Zolberg runs a mundane magic  show at a little tavern he owns. It’s a really bad show. But it feeds his ego. So uses a Gem Of Control to poison the ale. It forces people to stay and enjoy the show. When he’s done with them he kills them and put them to rot and be eaten by a green slime in his basement. He’s got a couple of thugs in the bar, also, to keep order. That’s the adventure. That’s all of the adventure. There are not events. It’s just a nine room room/key. The party drinks the ale and stays in the bar, watching the show, or they don’t and, presumably, do something about the show. It has exactly one interesting thing in it: there’s a red disco ball over the stage … a red herring for the party. 

The bar has nine or so NPC’s in it. One of them, the miller, has the following description: “The miller. His wife believes him to have abandoned the family but his son doesn’t believe it.” None of that is from the millers perspective. It’s what people OUTSIDE the tavern think. It’s not gonna have any outcome on the adventure. Maybe you can riff on it. But, the other descriptions for the NPCs are generally as weak as this. 

The entire adventure centers on this gem of control in an ale keg. It turns the ale in to potions of human control. Like, 192 doses a day of human control! This is an absurd magic item to put in the parties control. Further, the description of the potion, that it lasts two hours, as given in the appendix to the adventure, kind of contradicts the adventure plot as a whole … what happens when it wears off? It doesn’t make sense. Or, even better … the only actual mention of kegs in the adventure is in the kitchen. Mixed in to its description It says “A collection of large beer kegs sits in the southern corner.” That’s it. The main focal point, the gem and the ale, is not even really mentioned in the adventure!

The magic show? The one that runs three times a night? Another focus of the adventure? He does popular tricks like pulling a rabbit from a hat or sawing a lady in half. I think it’s a one sentence description and nothing more. There’s no interactivity here. There’s nothing for a DM to riff off of.

This thing is a fucking mess. I wouldn’t even call it an adventure. It’s the description of a tavern with a magic show. It’s like you took one location, a tavern, in one city supplement, and then took one NPC from that tavern and tried to expand the entire thing in to one adventure. I can’t possibly see how this thing could last more than … ninety minutes? At best?

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


That was short. Bleech.

There’s a one pager on DriveThru called Frans Cave. Here’s the description for room three: “Lower Chamber: The north entrance to the cave leads to a large chamber that slightly descends into the earth. It’s cold and wet, yet due to its large size there’s not a lot trouble moving around. There’s various candles lighting the chamber (and the rest of the cave).

Terrible description. Mostly filler. If we trim the filler we get to Cold & wet with various lit candles. I’d work that concept and try to make it more evocative.

Bonus #2!

The Heart of St Bathus (OSE) by Frog God. No page count listed in the DriveThru description. Also, NO ACTUAL DESCRIPTION in the DriveThru description. A new low from the Frogs? They do not give a fuck and only want your money.

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