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Into the Trolls’ Den!!!

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 11:13


By John Fredericks
Sharp Mountain Games
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 1-3

The party will enter a troll lair in search of magical weapons. But will they exit alive?

This 26 page linear adventure contains seven pages of actual adventure text, overpowered opponents, and has, the chief draw I assume, full color battle maps.

Some dude in a halfling village asks you to go check out a troll den a day away. Getting rid of the trolls does the halflings a favor and they are rumored to have treasure and magic swords. So wouldn’t you like to go do it? You follow a linear path to get there. At night you have a wandering monster encounter if the DM decides to have one. It’s suggested it be at dusk so spellcasters can still get a full eight hours of sleep in order to regain spells.

[As an aside, who here could actually be a spellcaster? I mean, do you get eight hours of sleep a night? I know, I know, “Rest”, but I’m using sleep. This is the only part of aging I will admit to.]

Ok, have some linear encounters. Get in to the cave. Have some more linear encounters. How about a treant at first level? It’s on the wanderers table. If it were a normal wanderers table I might be ok with that. A “force the party in to a fight/encounter” decision though is different. The same thing with the actual encounters in the wilderness and dungeon. At one point four wolves, each with four HD, attack the party. No chance to avoid. The dungeon proper has three five HD trolls and a four HD rust monster in the same room. At first level. Again, varied opponent challenges are a feature of old school play. You don’t know what you are encountering. But this goes hand in hand with non-linearity. You have to be able to allow the party to avoid, negotiate, etc with those overpowered challenges. “You are first level. You will die from poison in one hour. The ONLY antidote is in the cave. The cave has one room with a 23 HD dragon in it. He attacks immediately.” That’s not old school D&D AND it’s piss poor design to boot.

Your reward are some +1 items. +1 dagger. +1sword. +1 mace. The most generic of the generic. You also get 60gp in books and 507 in coins and gems. Oh boy. Abstracted treasure. My favorite. How about just saying “Treasure Parcel: 567 gp”? That would suck even more joy out of life. Plus, there’s not NEARLY enough treasure for a Gold=XP game. It’s absurd.

There IS some dust in a pouch that replicates a Knock spell. That’s nice. There’s also a scardy cat Druid in the forest that slams her door shut and locks it to hide form the party and only talks in whispers so as to not disturb the serenity of nature. Nice though that.

But, hey, you get full color battlemaps!

*sigh*

This is $2.50 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. Pages four and five show the druid, with the wolf encounter on page five also. The last page shows some of the dungeon encounters, proper. It’s a fair representation of the writing style throughout.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/243107/Into-the-Trolls-Den

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Last Candle

Mon, 06/11/2018 - 11:19


By Greg Christopher
Chubby Funster
1e
Level 1-3

The Prieuré de Chaurillon lies isolated in the upper valley of the Satrebonne river. The empire that once protected it has fallen. Barbarian hordes now roam the land. Once tamed borderlands have become infested with monsters and foul beasts. The monks of the Prieuré are all that remain of their ancient order. They stand alone against the darkness of the age; The Last Candle of their faith.

This 37 page adventure details a small home base (?), the surrounding region (?) and a 64 room dungeon (?.) This is the real deal. All three parts have very strong content with interesting encounters and NPC’s that directly relate to a parties adventures without having a “hey dummy. Here is the adventure” label on them. It’s also padded to all fuck and back with loose language and an informal style that makes finding information a total pain in the ass. Bolding, terser writing, etc would have gone a long way to making this MUCH more usable at the table. You’re gonna need a highlighter. It might be worth it.

The home base centers around an abbey. It’s got a secretive and plotting, but good, head along with a famous library and knights/soldiers patrolling around it, as befitting the last religious site in a rough borderlands region. This allows for a variety of NPC’s and subplots to be brought in to play. The library needs something, you need access to the library, the head monk wants something from you, the peasants are available as plots or hirelings. There are folk who want in the library who you can hire, etc. The place feels like a natural part of the environment and the people in it feel like they should be there. And it’s all oriented towards actual play. The people described are the ones the party will interact with or want to interact with, like field worker who also fights in bare knuckle matches. There’s a hireling for you! He wants to go get some leather armor from father-in-law first though … those are the details that bring an NPC to life and this first third is full of those. There’s an armed band camped out, with the leader wanting to see the prior about his promised wife to be … who the prior has sent away to see a mage on the edge of the territory in order to protect her from the fiance. Human Drama! It’s got a lot of REALLY nice subplots (which the adventure terms “hooks”) that allow for a whole host of things to be going on while the party is “in town” and yet still be quite relevant to a current or future Thing To Do.

The local region has a decently extensive wandering monster table, and enough regional variety of woods, lowlands, hills, etc to provide variety, with some decent little details also. Like “this area was once home to farms and a lot of abandoned orchards attract monsters.” The creatures are doing things and there’s also twenty or so more in depth encounters for the DM to toss in when a wanderer is called for. They remind me a bit of the Wilderlands hex entries, expanded in to two or three paragraphs each. Things are going on and happening. They are full of potential energy. You discover a man lying on the ground in tattered clothes, covered in blood. Dude has a secret … he’s a werewolf! There’s a lot here to take advantage of. [As an aside, the wanderers would be strong if they also included an adjective/adverb. “A FRIENDLY troll roasting a halfling on a spit.”]

The dungeon is great also. A little over sixty rooms, laid out in a roughly “square surrounding an inner bailey” format, with rooms and little mini-corridor complexes scattered around the edges. It’s got a good mix of traps and monsters, NPC’s and monsters you can talk to, and little in media res things. A group of darkelves with their leader gravely injured, trapped in a room by a monster outside. Clearly, there are opportunities here for roleplay. Those opportunities are repeated over and over again. Roleplaying in the dungeon, little almost vignette scenes, without them being full on set-pieces.

And yet this is a full on highlighter adventure. There is little to no bolding, bullets, or indents to make finding information easier. Those great village NPC’s are spread out over three pages and have two to three paragraphs each. They need a one sentence bolded summary up top that says “Hireling: crude bare-knuckle boxing field-hand. The regional presentation is likewise … lazily described. As are the wilderness encounters. As are the dungeon entries. What you are most likely to see in a dungeon room is not necessarily the first few words/sentences. Mixed throughout a couple of paragraphs are obvious sensory information. The entries are cluttered with verbose advice and explanations.

Entire paragraphs are devoted to tactics of DM advice. Verbose. “They want to avoid a fight and are hungry for food/horses” and “they pick up things and drop them a height.” is great. It’s terse. But an entire paragraph saying that on the first round they will perform diving attacks. And that they target the largest pack animals. And they knock players out of saddles. And that they flutter around the ground on the second round. And on the third round they fly in to the air with anything they have. Man. Look, I get it. You can get there with a word or two juicy unridden pack animals and destroyed equipment.

This happens over and over again in the adventure. It uses a sentence when a word will do, and comes off dry because of that.

Still, all in all, great encounters. Encounter after encounter. Great NPC’s/village/starting region. Just in need of a major MAJOR edit.

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages long. The last page is probably the closest to representing the spirit of the writing in the product. You can see how the entries can tend to the longish side of the spectrum. This page still kind of falls in to the General Overview section, and so its harder to see the issues and/or for them to stand out.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/117345/The-Last-Candle

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(PF) The Forest of Starving Spirits

Sat, 06/09/2018 - 11:17


By … Jessica Redekop, Robert Gresham, Michael Whitney
Wayward Rogues Publishing
Pathfinder
Level 10

Explore the haunted remains of Endiel Forest, the forsaken kingdom of the gruesome ghastlord Mortalbane. Once a vibrant wildwood where the ancient elves lived in harmony with nature, what’s left of Endiel now is a shadow of its former glory, a rotten wilderness guarded jealously by an enigmatic horror known only as the Endiel Witch. Tread paths no mortal has walked in over a thousand years and uncover long-forgotten forgotten secrets in Forest of Starving Spirits, part four of the Ravenous Ruin adventure path.

This thirteen page adventure is a trip through a haunted forest. Part four of an adventure pah, it is barely coherent. Motivations, knowledge, challenges … they all have some of the most tenuous ties I’ve ever seen in an adventure. Another example of focusing on the style, artwork, layout, font, borders, instead of the substance of the text.

I like treading paths no one has walked for a thousand years … I am a failure as a father because my son now plays Pathfinder … because it’s what his friends play … and he said Oswalds adventure, while great, was something his friends could not handle. Fuck your system superiority complex; it’ all about market share.

Oops. I stumbled on to part 4 of an adventure path. Still … let’s judge the entire series by this one entry and also see if its useful as a standalone haunted forest.

The party wants the magic gobstopper and is told that The EVil One has it; you gotta go in to the haunted forest to find him and get it. The forest is 400 miles by 800 miles, with each square being 30 miles on the map. There’s some mountains on one side where The Evil One resides. I think. Well, I, the DM, know he’s there. It’s unclear if the party is supposed to know that before they go in. I guess not? I mean if they did, then why would they enter the forest at the far/opposite side, why not enter the forest at the square next to the mountains, keeping to the unhaunted grasslands AROUND the forest until then? So I guess the party doesn’t know he lives in the mountains? It’s VERY clear. Just like everything else in this adventure.

Remember that super big 400×800 mile forest? The one with the map? The map doesn’t have locations on it. The text of the adventure eventually tells us that the lost city is in I-4 and waterfall is in G-8, but that’s at the top of each entry, spread out through the entire adventure. So what the fucks the purpose of the map? I don’t know. The evil spirits in the forest get you lost and evli dryads lead you to danger … but the map doesn’t tell you where anything is.

The climax is in a ruined city. “Once the players reach the ruined city …” Really? Once they reach it? Were they trying to reach it? That’s not mentioned anywhere. In the ruined city (city!) are some crypts. Are you looking for crypts? It doesn’t say we’re looking for a crypt in a ruined city. There’s a total disconnect between what the players are trying to do and what the text is assuming. More on this later.

There’s a stinking cloud above the forest, it makes flying above it hard. (I Guess it reaches outer space?) So you’re footslogging 30 mile hexes in a tangled forest. What is that, 8 miles a day or something in a bramble filled haunted forest? For every hour spent in the forest there’s a chance the evil witch shows up to fuck with the party. What is the chance? We’re not told. Just “there’s a chance.” Wandering monsters? No, no list. At all. There’s a couple of entries: Winding Woods (you get lost) and an Unnerving Presence that makes you have a -2 to WIll saves. Oh ,it also says that you an encounter a poison pit tap, four shambling mounds, four lacedon trolls, and a ghoul treant. In as many words. That’s literally a quote from the adventure to describe the encounters on your trek. Nothing else. That’s it. I’m not making this fucking up.

There are knowledge checks. “The forest is wild and overgrown.” Ok. They are all just as useless. They tell you nothing of consequence. It’s just trivia. Why the fuck do they exist if they are just trivia?

Grief builds inside of you, silence is deafening, and the writing is hackneyed. More to the word, the formatting is terrible. Recall how a modern bullet point system works in a word processor. If you indent then the text is offset to the right and the style of bullet point changes. This denotes this is a sub-item to the item above it. This allows for easy visual groupings of data and relationships to be immediately obvious. Yeah, this adventure don’t do that. Everything is at the same level, and appears in the same style. Is this a new monster? Is this a part of a different encounter? Who knows, because the formatting makes everything confusing as fuck. You know those monstrous long Pathfinder stat blocks … imagine three of them all in a row with something else FORMATTED THE EXACT SAME WAY appearing between two of them. There’s no way to tell where one things ends and another begins. I wouldn’t quite call it wall of text, but “confusing mass of text” is a relative of it, to be sure.

Oh, oh, in the crypt in the ruined city (again, why the fiuck are the party drawn there?) you finally battle the evil witch that has been harassing you. This time she flees to an estate. Uh. She has fled in every encounter. Is the party still chasing her? Why are they following her? Killing the witch isn’t a part of the adventure, getting the gobstopper is. It makes no fucking sense AT ALL.

Back to that total disconnect I mentioned earlier? I think this adventure falls in to the “throw some shit at the party” category of product. Here’s some shit, throw it at the party until bored. Make them have this encounter, and then this one. Lead them to this one. Just put them in the ruined city and tell them they see a crypt. (Aside: Roll to find the crypt, to trigger the witch encounter? That’s a roll to continue. What if they DON’T succeed in their roll? Nothing happens, ever? No, the DM fudges it. So why the fuck is it in the adventure?)

This is a bad adventure. It fails on the most basic points. Great encounters might be a part of my review standards, as might evocative writing, terse writing, useful to the DM at the table. One of the most fundamental points though, that I never mention because it’s NEVER an issue, is a goal. I don’t mean a hook, or some such. But communicating to the players what they need to do. This adventure doesn’t do that. Sure, I think the read-aloud is hackneyed, I see that in a lot of adventures. Terse and evocative? Meh, again, lots of examples of that. Useful to the DM at the table? Again, lots of product fail at that point. But to be so incoherent that no one at the table understands what is going on in the adventure? That’s a new one. I think. I’ll have to go reread my review of Golanda.

Giving the designer(s) the benefit of the doubt, I have to question the editing of this. What the fuck is the purpose of editing these days? Copy editing? Fact checking? It’s certainly not “point out basic things wrong”, which is much more important than an orc having an ac of 13 vs 14.

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is one of those mini things, so you can’t actually see what you are getting. Boo! I Boo I say! Still … on that last page? That’s two things you are looking at, nt one. See how everything is in “one line” green boxes? Yeah, no indent. Confusing as fuck. On the page before that, #3, that’s THREE things in that text on the left side column. Good fucking luck with that.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/242806/Forest-of-Starving-Spirits

Oh, and one more thing. A Poison pit trap is CR13 in Pathfinder. Ouch.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Wizard of Bald Mountain

Wed, 06/06/2018 - 11:19


By Ken Goudsward
Dimensionfold Games
Goldensword/Generic
Entry Level

Our adventurers are commissioned by the Jarl of Connaught to investigate strange weather phenomenon at Bald Mountain. The Jarl also sends his personal mage to accompany them.

I don’t even know where to start on this one.

This 24 page adventure details a short overland journey to a ruined keep on top of a mountain with a wizard in it. The keep has ten rooms and has two monsters: the wizard and his fighter buddy. Single column, sparse, and yet with 24 pages … there’s just nothing here. Condensing this to a one page dungeon would still leave ¾ of a page to spare.

The jarl charges you with getting to the bottom of the weird weather coming from the top of the mountain. He gives you a sword and some armor. He sends his mage with you. (Ug. NPC with the party means betrary by him and/or DM pet. And in this case it’s a party betrayal.) You wander up a mountain for a day, find a ruined keep that is mostly empty, and fight a wizard. Everything here is more than little off.

Take the overland. The mountain is eight hours away, walking. Each hour you have an encounter on the wandering animal table. “Woah!” I thought, way too much. Foolish me. The encounters involve flies, mosquitos, crows, grouse, rabbits, deer, geese, a falcon, etc. I was then surprised there was no wandering rock table.

Once again, the adventure should concentrate on player interactivity. The mundane has little place. Wanna set the mood, or foreshadow? Great, no problem. Roll on table 12 each hour to see what kind of gravel the road is made of that hour? No. This is a caricature of D&D and, much like the rest of this adventure, reminds me of fantasy heartbreakers. Someone’s got a bug up their ass about how things should be.

“The team will need to gain entry into the keep. The keep can be entered easily from the east, north, or west.” *sigh* And does the sun rise today also?

The keep, proper, has two levels and ten rooms. “R3: (Servants quarters) (dark-empty torch sconce) 3 beds, only 1 with blankets; 1 dresser with shabby clothes” Fucking wonderful. My life is now complete. I never knew what I was missing. This is adventure? This is value? This is supposed to help you run a good game for your players? Yeah, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, but it also doesn’t DO anything. Room after room is like this. Well, at least all ten rooms, that is.

The adventure ends on page ten, after starting on page four, with the Boss Fight. It’s labeled The Boss Fight. It’s one page long, with TOO much whitespace, and full of tactics for the evil bad guy wizard. The rest of the page count is monster stats, tables, etc. Any EVERYTHING is in single column “i wrote this in word and printed in PDF” format.

There’s just nothing here. It would make, at best, a quarter to half a page of a one page dungeon. I get “slow burn”, but this is a little silly.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a current suggested price of $3. The preview shows you the entire adventure. Enjoy, in particular, the boss fight on page ten. Or maybe the adventure design on pages two and three.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/242468/the-Wizard-of-Bald-Mountain

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Desecration & Damnation

Mon, 06/04/2018 - 11:16


By Davis Chenault
Troll Lord Games
Castles & Crusades
Levels 4-6

All along the banks of the Vindig River people worshipped the river goddess. She blessed the people and kept the trolls at bay. But in time, she grew weary and to guard them she set statues upon the river to watch over the people, and then she left them to their own devices. But no troll fears stone, nor the forgotten promises of a goddess. They have returned to the Vindig, but this time with a vengeance.

This is a twenty page adventure detailing a small/dangerous river journey and a small river temple. Full of flavor but too long for what it is, it takes a lot of words to get where it’s going which results in confusion on more than one occasion.

The Trolls can be frustrating. This adventure is FULL of flavor. It’s got a nice river/delta setting, kind of Lewis & Clark or Mississippi River rafting setting. Everything is wet, there’s a big wide river with some rapids and sheer cliffs in places. Slippery mud and slick rock stair. Sunken temples wet. Rules for swimming, storms, drowning, rapids. Ancient protective river gods and beast-like men ruining their temples. It’s got a nice slow pace and realism to it without it going too far down the “roll every 10 minutes of game time for heat exhaustion” nonsense. There’s this primitivism that would be at home in Harn or maybe even Runequest. Not bronze age, but a good rural river thing.

It’s also quite a short adventure for the page count. The last seven are just monster stats. Before that we get an opening battle with the beast-men/trolls that is the hook. Then some village and priest roleplay, wilderness wandering monsters and the river rules, and then a four-ish encounter temple. The adventure is mostly a very conversational writing style with little of the traditional encounter/key format. Bolding runs in to DM text runs in to bolding.

This can lead to confusion in places as multiple areas kind of overlap with little distinction as to the location change. The editing really let this one down.

The wilderness is a big part of this, but the wandering table is a poor, at best. Just a list of monster stats without detail on actions. Farmers, sure, but what are they doing out in the wilderness? I like a little pretext to get the old DM juices going.

At another point, in some rough rapids, there’s a little dungeon entrance that’s left for the DM to develop, as a reward for those who brave the rapids instead of going around them. For the amount of content I would have expected a one or two room cave, at least, with some loot. (And as an aside, that’s a perfect example of putting things out of the way. If you look behind the waterfall, behind the stairs, you should find something.)

The encounters, what there is, are weirdly long, repeating background text, and quite a bit overly detailed.

The seeds are planted for a longer adventure, visiting more temples, and the setting that leaks through the detail is interesting. It’s just really simple for the page count provided.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. The second and third page show the initial encounter and gives you a good idea of the style of writing to expect. Note the three or four paragraphs on page three and the amount of text there.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/240688/Castles–Crusades–Desecration–Damnation

Oh, and as an aside, here’s a paragraph I found funny. Yeah, I think we get, mostly, what is meant, but sometimes you need the regional setting product to decipher things precisely …

“The stealing of an idol by a vindehoyer is a bad omen and may indicate that Atharioon has given up on the Vindig River and Urshoonga is coming to claim what he says is his. Since the Zjerd are invading the region, a PC will make the connection as Stroomsh is a Dorstmin.”

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Gravelbeard’s Quest

Sat, 06/02/2018 - 11:18


By Lyndsey Stern
Loremasters
5e
Levels 1-3

Take your adventurers on a daunting quest through a dangerous, uncharted cave system to discover the mystery behind the missing city guards. Will they emerge victorious or become yet another group swallowed by the depths of the tunnels?

This fifteen page “adventure” contains one encounter. Perhaps a new low in Page count to encounter ratio?

A page and a half of read-aloud to get in to the adventure. The usual nonsense hook of THIS IS IMPORTANT BUT I DONT HAVE TIME.

I wish I could truly relate the map to you. It’s a battlemap of a 50 foot secret room with two orcs in it a two pits (containing oozes) in a hallway outside. Encounter the pit and then the orcs come out.

This is what passes for an adventure in 2018.

There’s an inn at the beginning with Mr I Cant Be Bothered in it. There are rumors to be had. All in fact based text for the DM. Why is it called the Troll Stew Inn? Not because “A bit of elf a bit of dwarf, a bit of human … just like a tasty troll stew.” No. “Troll Stew Tavern and Inn was humorously named for the fact that it caters to a large variety of different races all mixed together; much like a troll might make its stew.” In character adds flavor. It sets a tone. Sure, it can go too far and there’s a place for DM text, but in rumors? That should be dripping with Voice, not facts.

The text engages in explaining; justifying itself in a game in which elfs shoot fireballs. The pit is covered with a major illusion, etc. In fact, let’s examinejust one of the six paragraphs that take up three quarters of a page to describe the pit:

“Physical interaction with the major image spell effect reveals it to be an Illusion because things can pass through it. A PC that uses its action to examine the image can determine that it is an Illusion with a successful Intelligence (Investigation) check against a DC of 14. If a creature discerns the Illusion for what it is, the creature can see through the image, and its other sensory qualities become faint to the creature.”

It’s a pit covered by an illusion (DC14.)

Describe the pit paragraph. Inspect the floor paragraph. Viewing the pit paragraph. Fall paragraph. Ooze tactics paragraph. Escaping the pit paragraph.

There is no joy.

On the plus side the read-aloud is offset in a color box, making it easy to find and read, and the orcs try to drag unconscious bodies to the pits to toss them in … a nice orcish touch.

I was hoping for more with this. I’m always hoping for more. I’m hoping this is a new writer that just has no experience and has never seen any adventure other than the Adventurer League dreck.

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages. The third page is the only one that shows you anything, and that’s just some inn text. It’s joyless.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/241634/Gravelbeards-Quest

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Delverr’s Keep

Wed, 05/30/2018 - 11:18


By Jared Nielsen
Illusionist Investment Group
Generic
Levels 1-3

At the entrance of the Below lies the remnants of an ancient keep which is still fortified despite all odds by abandoned remnants of Dwarven lineages called the Delverr.

This thirty page confusing mess describes a dwarf hold with 21 rooms. A combination of fluff piece on dwarves in this particular setting combined with a description of a keep combined with some kind of adventure. I think. After two read-throughs I’m still not quite sure.

Dwarves are in four factions. There’s a dwarf keep sitting on the only entrance to the underdark. It keeps the monsters inside out. The dwarves are unhappy because the four factions live so close to each other. They ask the party to go inside the underdark and break the magic curse that forces them to man the keep. (Morally, that is, not physically.) I THINK that’s what’s going on. Anyway, that’s the end. They escort you to the entrance to the underdark and the module ends. For ten fucking dollars.

At first I thought I had been ripped off and that this was fluff book. Fluff books are ok, I don’t hate them, but I don’t review them. Then, I figured out it IS an adventure. Barely?

This thing has two nice points going for it. First, it’s a nice capstone/entrance to an adventure locale (the underdark.) Journey in and out and you go through the dwarf keep. It’s that whole mythic underworld thing. Also, in encounter one, the desolate road leading to the keep, there’s a rhyme carved in to the stone walls that repeats over and over again with increasing frequency as you approach the keep. Again, nice mythic underworld touch. The entrance to the underworld (IE: dungeons) SHOULD feel special. The rules are all wrong and every perversion is justified, in the dungeon. The entrance to the underworld sets the mood and gets the party ready for that. That can’t be understated.

That’s it. Nothing else nice to say. Everything else is atrocious.

Massive long read-alouds. MASSIVE amounts of DM text. “As you trod along its path your gaze is drawn to the expansiveness of the desolation around you.” Nope. Read-aloud can’t tell players what their characters think and feel. It can relate an environment to the PLAYERS who will then have their characters react. That’s what good read-aloud does. It’s also short. Remember, people don’t pay attention after three sentences. The DM text is MASSIVE. Multiple paragraphs, endless words … almost one page per room in some places. There is no way in fucking hell you can look a this at the table and run it live during play without massive pauses and interrupts. And almost all of the words present are useless. “While it would be perilous to cross the metal gridwork, especially considering the narrow gaps between oil cauldrons and the heat that is emanating from them, a particularly agile person might be able to make it unscathed.” and “There are always ShieldBorne guards here, not just because it’s their assignment, but because over the centuries this is the place where more fun is to be had than anywhere else.” *sigh*

But, worse, the plot is embedded in the room descriptions. Walk the road in encounter one. Get boiling oil poured on you in encounter three. Wake up in jail in encounter 4a and have wounds tended to you. 4b sees you escorted elsewhere. 7a has a dwarf factions asking you to go on the quest. “Should the party agree to this quest, they will be se- creted out via Stone Phaze through the Western nook under the top landing of the South Parapet Stairs, and smuggled into the Trap door stairs leading down to area 21 – South Basement Runic Guildhall under the cover of darkness.” Why the fuck the rest of the encounters were keyed between this room (seven) and twenty one, I have no idea.

Oh, and it ends with a short story for the next module in the series. Joy

The secret revealed. Novelist.

The text of the adventure betrays that. I was thinking “this is a novelist”, and indeed, it was. They don’t seem to get that adventures are technical writing, not fiction. They fill the pages with words trying to paint a rich tapestry … that inevitable feels forced and keeps the DM form actually using the adventure at the table.

FYI: Generic adventure with QR codes to download stats for different game systems.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is a few pages and just shows you some of the endless background drivial that bears no relation on the “adventure.” That sylvan shit doesn’t even come in to to play ever?
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/242274/Delverrs-Keep

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Haunt at Crow’s Gulch

Mon, 05/28/2018 - 11:12


By Randy Musseau
Roan Studio
1e
Levels 4-7

… word of adventure and gold has drawn the characters to Crow Gulch A Gnome by the name of Galemon has offered 50 gold pieces, in advance, to adventurers and sell-swords willing to explore the ruins of the ancient tower in search of a silver orb. He will pay another 500 gold upon success. Rumors and fireside tales speak of a growing terror that lies deep beneath the Haunt and the rocky crag upon which it rests, but this has not deterred those hungry for wealth and glory.

This 24 page adventure details a small town (first half) and a about twenty wilderness encounters followed by about ten dungeon encounters (second half.) Small fonts, lack of whitespace and bolding leads to some wall of text and SERIOUS highlighter fodder. The descriptions get long, even if there is a nice realism to them. Far too many negatives for me, but it’s altogether terrible.

You drudge up a cliffside, having wilderness encounters along the roadway, then get to the tower and explore the dungeons underneath. Along the way are a couple of expanded wilderness areas: a harpy lair and dragon crevisse, if you choose to go off path to chase down some fleeing monsters for their lairs. Inside the dungeon you find a sorceress … turns out the gnome hiring you was ruse and she uses him to find strong souls to sacrifice in order to summon a demon. So, while a test/challenge adventure, it doesn’t feel artificial like those usually do.

That is the great strength of this adventure. The encounters feel natural and things seem to fit as a part of the natural world. It’s not because the toilets and fresh water were provided for. Rather the text gives that natural feel and also a kind of ‘in the moment’ sort of vibe. You find prisoners almost dead, or raving madmen who rushing down a narrow cliffside trail … who slip and fall off the edge. Harpies and dragons feed, creatures are doing things. More than that though it has that natural feel that the best MRP products did.

That does, however, come at a steep price. The font is small. Whitespace is sparse and bolding/offsets/etc non-existent. This text is THICK and hard to wade through. This all combines to make the text something torturous and I can’t see how you can run this at a table easily. Highlighter? Sure.

It engages in repetition to pad things out, with the same details being repeated. It has motivations and background and history embedded in the text. It engages in … definitions! Roblins are playing dones(dice.) There is a jacinth (orange gemstone.) Folks, if you’re gonna use a two dollar word then don’t explain it. Give your readers some credit. Otherwise 7th grade me will never pronounce Chaos as if it rhymes with Taos.

One of the harpy lair rooms starts with “Large Cavern. The ceiling is a dome of sharp stalactites and filth covers the floor. A ledge along the right wall is covered in piles of twigs, rags, fur and clothing, each arranged in a nest-like fashion.” That’s not so bad. Relatively short. Not a paragon of evocativeness, but better than most. Then come harpy stats, inline, then comes the searching, inline, all in the same single paragraph, with comments. “Searching the nests (8 in total) will yield …” (four more sentences, including telling us what a jacinth is.)

It engages in this behaviour in a variety of ways, over and over again. At one point you encounter a will-o-the-wisp trying to lure a victim in . It has in it: “This is a trap. The boggart is trying to lure victims in” and then at the end of the encounter everything is justified. “The Boggart is an immature Will-o-wisp. It is building strength by feeding off the essence of its victims. It can appear in humanoid form or as small and bright hovering lights. The net is old and useless. The crackling was coming from the Boggart itself as it attempted to maintain its current form.)” Well, no shit to both.

But, the core of the encounter is great. A tony writhing and twisting figure trapped under a small net crackling with blue electricity. And if you watch long enough you can see it change to tiny hairy man, giving you a hint something is not right. It’s great little encounter.

Most of the encounters here are great. People slipping off cliffs. Harpies luring you off cliffs (cliffs are a feature of the wilderness part of the adventure.) They are great. They just get ruined by the fact I don’t want to slog through the text.

That’s all commentary on the back twelve pages or so of the adventure. The first half describes the region and town. In the same, if not more, detail. Lots of motivations for the butcher’s wife to stay in town, and so on. It feels more like a writers guide for a Tv series than it does something to use at the table.Way WAY too much detail, and a focus on things not needed.

It’s not a bad adventure, it’s just not good. Or, rather, it’s a pain to dig through. It feels like the setting should be pulled out for a fluff book, while the text proper needs to be pruned back a lot to remove all of the extraneous stuff, and then some whitespace and bolding, etc added for improved scanability. Also, I might buy a fluff book on the region, but it also needs to focus more on game ability rather than why the baker chooses to stay in town … unless there’s a hook in there.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview can give you a sense of the font size and density of the text, but not really the encounters, etc.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/152482/Crow-Gulch

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) The Gauntlet of Spiragos

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 11:07


By Matt Franklin & Richard Thomas
Onyx Path Publishing
5e
Level 1

For centuries, titans bestrode the world, colossal heads and shoulders lost in the clouds, carelessly smashing and crushing all beneath. When the youngest of them had enough and declared war on their ancient parents, even the land itself suffered. These scars of the Divine War, which ended less than 200 years ago, have still not healed. One such scar is the Chasm of Flies, a rent in the earth created when the titan Spiragos the Ambusher was smote down by one of the young gods, Vangal the Ravager. Now, the Chasm is inhabited by spider-eye goblins and their spider allies, but it is also thought to be the resting place of powerful artifacts from that elder age.

This thing is a fucking mess.

This 45 page adventure is extremely linear, and, in the modern way, has so much text that it is impossible to follow and/or pick out the parts of the text that you need to run it. It’s got a good mythology behind it, and the dungeon setting is nice, but none of that justifies the excess for the actual content.

Forty five pages? Well, The actual “dungeon” doesn’t start until page twenty five, and the appendices with new monsters start at page thirty five, so you get a ten page dungeon. That contains maybe … eight encounters? Asides, advice, history, backstory, repetition … and it all works with a kind free-flow description style that bucks the room/key format … making the entire thing nigh incomprehensible.

The gimmick here is that, of the three magic items you are looking for, you are actually adventuring inside one of them. A titan’s hand, inside his gauntlet, is embedded in the earth and that’s the pit/chasm you descend down into. Nice setting, with metal cave walls, old bone columns, etc. It’s nice, as is the titan war backstory/setting.

But fuck me man. There’s A LOT of read aloud. And it’s all in a small italic font, making it a pain to read. The goal is to help the DM not make their eyes worse. If I have to hold it up to my nose, instead of laying it flat on the table, it wasn’t a good design decision.

The linearity is stupid. “Here are three optical encounters the party can have on the way to the pit.” They are all just combats, nothing more. And there’s a fourth provided, a kind of hit & run necromancer to dog the parties tails. Again, all optional. The actual dungeon is just more of the same. On the way down encounter this, then this, then this. And it’s all fucking combat. You might as well be playing Descent.

The worst part is the free form layout. It’s linear, but without an encounter/key format. It’s all “ then this and then this” and mixes advice, history and backstory in to the text. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to figure out which area is being described, transitions, etc. It’s one of the most stream of conscious styles I’ve ever seen.

I loathe modern design. “At your discretion this body may have any treasure you wish to give the party.” Well no fucking shit sherlock. How about you add some value and put something on that body? This whole “optical combat” and “freeform treasure” design style is loathsome. Provide some fucking value for christs sake.

This extends to the adventure format proper. There are no real maps and the adventure essentially relies on skill checks. Want to find a trapdoor down to the next level? Make a skill check to find one on your current level. Just roll the fucking dice and master the combat rules; that’s all there is to this adventure.

It does have a decent synopsys, which I wish more adventure had, and the new magic items are decent, leaning toward the low-powered artifact end of the scale. They don’t quite feel wonderous, but they are a cut above the normal slop and include notes on how to destroy them. That lends an air of mystery to them, which is what magic items SHOULD have.

This is free at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. They don’t really reveal what the adventure proper is like. At best you have to discern that it takes six pages to get to the hooks. That’s not good.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/171523/Gauntlet-of-Spiragos-free-5E-OGL-adventure

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Mines, Claws & Princesses

Wed, 05/23/2018 - 11:39


By Oswald
Oswald Publishing
OGL
Level 2-4

The groom is dead, the bride Sunnhild taken. Men rave in pain whilst their women wail in sorrow. Blood mixed with tears, the chieftain Erfried cries out “Only you are left who can hold a sword. Go now. The orcs ride to Sanjikar and you must follow.”

Fuck yeah!

Magnificent.

This 48 page tour-de-force of an adventure takes place in a four-ish level dungeon in a mesa with about eighty rooms. Terse. Evocative. Well formatted. Interesting encounters. From the first paragraph it makes you want to run it. With this Oswald cements himself as one of the best writers currently producing material. As with all of my “best” reviews, I’m just going to rant some in a nigh incomprehensible manner over how good this is. My good reviews always suck.

Simplicity can be deceptive. It’s easy to fall in to ruts, to do what is expected, to go on auto-pilot. You can, at times, see this in art, looking at something that seems very simple and yet very profound. Behind it is a very deep understanding. We don’t need routers, turn off NTP, transponders are for fools … understanding the environment and what you want to do and laser-like focus. Oswald has written something that could be dismissed by fools as simple … and yet is masterful in all of its details.

This thing is EXCITING. From the first paragraph it makes you want to run it, makes you want to play it. There’s an implied urgency to the adventure which everyone can feel immediately. The premise is ridiculously basic: orcs raided a wedding and stole the princess and are gonna marry her to their chief. Fabulous! That opening blurb, above, is the first paragraph and contains the literal call to action. And it just builds and builds on itself. Tension ramps up over and over again.

There’s no fucking garbage! There’s no “this is an adventure for 4-6 characters” or any “As a DM you can modify the encounters” or any “This is set in the region of Boring Generic land.” It just GOES. Oh? Don’t like princess wedding kidnap? How about scabrous beggar vet displaying his ruined limbs and medals, trading food for the location of four magic sword? No? A dead bishop with a map in a secret pocket showing the location of the Hand of St. Aren? This fucking thing packs and delivers like UPS trucks! Dense, word choice offering implied mystery and depth. That vet doesn’t show you ruined limbs (Ruined limbs!). He DISPLAYS them. That offers so much more inspiration for a DM and implies and others things. Word choice fucking matters. English, the most rich language ever, is full on displayed.

It’s like every sentence, every paragraph delivers on something evocative and loaded with implied subtext for your brain to grab and run with. It does this with a minimal word count and good use of bolding and white space to facilitate scanning by the DM. You INSTANTLY find the section you need and the the part of it you need. The first couple of pages orient you toward the adventure. A summary of main character, an outline. The starting village is in an appendix so as to not get in the way. There’s an In Media Res beginning, ala DCO, showing the aftermath of the orc raid on the village. And it gives you the possibility to recruit peasants to your cause! Fuck yeah! D&D FOREVER!

Oh, Oh, let’s talk about one thing he does … There’s this encounter with an old woman who begs you to no go rescue the princess! She does it on three separate occasions. Three, of course, being a magic number. Refused three times she, the last of a line of warrior-maids and secret keeper of the magic sword Hadviya, gifts the sword with cryptic words. That’s fucking mythic. It’s obviously mythic. It preys on overloaded legend that resides in the back of everyone’s consciousness, that almost generic memory. It’s fucking perfect.

The encounters? A big bubbling cauldron with a head floating int? Orcs man, can’t live with … Orcs tossing live sheep off a cliff for fun? Orcs you can talk to. The bride, trapped in a room with her dead bridesmaid (the orcs thought she would want company) staring ahead in shock while she bleeds on the floor from her wrist … Magnificent. Orcs are orcs. People are people. It’s all turned up to ten … never over the top but all at the height of what it could be.

The maps are great, using color, same level features, tunnels, multiple loops, multiple paths in an out. Further, they manage this while being relatively small, at about 25 rooms or so per level. A good map, while being small, is quite hard. AND HE PUT THE FUCKING LIGHT SOURCES ON THE MAP! Good lord, it’s like Oswald thought “What does the DM need?” and then he fucking did it! “Because you told me to drill sergeant!”

There’s just so much to this and I could talk about almost any aspect for pages. Monsters grok their own nature. Blackbirds are jerks, orcs bestial, a succubus deceptive but egomaniacal. Magic items are wonderous and on-standard. They FEEL magical! Set in an old dwarf fort, it feels a little THX “Mandatory Recreational Smithing Area.” Follow up to the parties actions, both during the adventure for delaying and then at the end for consequences. Terse. Evocative. Every. Fucking. Word. Delivers.

“Upon the door lie engravings scarcely seen through dragon acid gouges of a dwarf lord holding his hammer high, 5 swords above him, aside him a skull. Once he was legend.”

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a current suggested price of $2. You are a FOOL for not purchasing this. A fucking FOOL. Two fucking dollars. I’ve spent $20 on PDFs that were shorter and infinitely more shitty. I’ve spent $50 on hardback adventures of hundreds of pages that didn’t contain as much adventure as one page of this adventure.

The preview is NINETEEN pages long! NINETEEN! You get to see what you are buying! Check out the map on page 6, or the brides waiting room on page ten.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/240094/Mines-Claws–Princesses

There’s another review of this floating around that gives the adventure a 3 out of 5. “No read aloud and no plot.” I am incredulous.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Chamber of the Serpent

Mon, 05/21/2018 - 11:15


New Realms Publishing
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 1-3

Delve into the dark depths, explore ancient halls and chambers in search of gold, glory and adventure! But beware the hazards and horrors that guard the Chamber of the Serpent!

This thirteen page adventure details eight rooms in a small dungeon. It is a solo adventure. The publisher’s blurb starts with “for 4-6 characters”, which is what caught my eye. It also ends with “can be played solo or with a group, with or without a GM.”

Yes, I guess that’s correct. You can play a solo adventure with a DM. But this isn’t a choose your own adventure style solo adventure. It’s all random. Take the tables out the rear of the 1e DMG and put a subset of them in the text. Ta da! You can now charge $5 for an adventure!

When you go in a room you roll to see what’s in it. You roll if you search the room to see what you found. There are a couple of unique rooms, each of which also random tables for what happens when you touch the door, etc.

I’m really at a fucking loss here.

It is, at best, a solo adventure and at worst just a bunch of tables.

Once again, I feel ripped off. It’s like someone sold you a new razor. The box talks of how wonderful it is. You open it to find a rock. Well, yes, I could chip off a blade and use it, and I’m sure people have in the past, but that’s not what we expect. The nox needs to say “contains one rock” in giant letters. It’s what’s in it.

This thing needs to reveal that it’s just a bunch of rando tables. Not bury that in the text and declare itself an adventure for 4-6. No, it’s fucking solo adventure full of tables. That should be the first fucking line of the blurb.

Starting today I have a new tag “Do Not Buy, EVER.” This is to remind me that the publisher in question has issues with product descriptions.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is two mini pages. If it were any longer you’d know you were getting ripped off.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/241803/Deadly-Encounters-1-Chamber-of-the-Serpent

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) The Tomb of Mercy

Sat, 05/19/2018 - 11:14


Sersa Victory
Kobold Press
5e
Level 8

Humanity’s Last Hope Corrupted! The Tomb of Mercy was built centuries ago to house arks that would preserve the souls of humanity from an infernal invasion. Now you must travel to the Wasted West, unseal the Tomb, and send the last ark safely on its journey. Fail, and humanity faces extinction!

A DriveThru Hot Seller! Let’s see how much I regret the purchase …

This thirty page adventure is a linear crawl through a dungeon with twelve rooms. The core adventure appears on ten pages, leaving the other twenty pages to fluff, monsters, pregens, etc. This could be a cool one-shot con adventure, but is too limiting for anything else.

I have opinions on this one. I feel like I was ripped off; that the marketing doesn’t actually tell you what you’re buying. Given the rather niche corner this occupies it feels important that expectations are set pre-purchase. This doesn’t do that, not by a long shot.

Did you know you could win D&D? Yes! It’s true! In this adventure the DM and players compete with each other to draw Augury cards. At the end of the adventure they use what they’ve drawn to try to figure out which three random cards were sealed in an envelope at the start. Whoever guesses more wins the game!

And there are respawn rules! If a PC dies then they respawn the next round next to an ally. That’s nice, isn’t it? Oh, but if PC’s die six times then the DM wins automatically, so …

[The adventure commits two unforgivable sins, and this is one of them. D&D is not adversarial. Any hint that it is needs to be stamped out. There is no greater mindset of evil than “Adversarial D&D. Respawn? Ok. Die six times and the DM wins? No.]

I want to touch on two other issues before I get to my first bullet point. First, an emphasis is given to terrain that I don’t usually see, except in 4e adventures. Second, killing things/defeating challenges give you the key to get to the next room.

You now what this feels like? A boardgame. A scenario for Descent, or some Neverwinter Nights scenario. As a one shot con game that’s fine. Weird rules for three to four hours and then you’re out. No commitment beyond that; it’s fun. As a standard adventure… well … This is a one-trick pony.

Read-aloud is in light green italics, which makes it hard to read. In spite of there being twenty pages of support material, the map is all on one page, in some weird scale. It’s gorgeous, and clearly meant to be printed out, but is too small to do that. But, hey, they got it all on one page.

Magic items are good. Unique items like a shield you can feed monster bodies to in order to get a breathe weapon attack. They feel mythic.

On the monsters, well …

The first monster is a “conjoined bonewraith dust goblin spirit caller.” It’s hard to take that seriously. I’m guessing this is some templated build? I don’t understand that shit. Just slap some stats down; why do designers feel the need to use the rules to build a monster? And if it’s not a templated build, then why the fuck would you give it a six word name that seems like a template build? It’s hard to take seriously when adventures do this. Not to mention the monsters are long. Like, a page and half in one case. There’s this style of adventure that seems to take rules lawyering to a new heights, and this is one of them. Everything explained using current rules and two paragraph entries for new monsters. Didn’t the OD&D mind flayer just each brains on a 1-2 out of a d6? Seems easier to run than digging through 1.5 pages of stats to read two paragraphs while you’re trying to run a combat with six players.

The read-aloud is ok. It’s certainly evocative although it tends towards to the unnecessarily flowery novelist style. And while there’s a LOT of DM text it’s formatted rather well in most cases. Too long, way too long, with too much crap in it that doesn’t matter during the adventure. It does matter if you are reading the adventure for fun … nice fluff. Which, of course, is also a major sin of adventure writing. More is not more. More gets in the way of running the adventure at the table.

This thing is the definition of idiosyncratic. The “Winning”, respawn and six deaths things. The setting is a world overrun by hell with the PC’s launching an ark in to space with humanity’s last souls. The pregens are all female and named “Sister of Mercy” and “SIster of Judgement” and “SIster of Fury.” [Sadly, no one sang corrosion to me during the review.] This is hard to use during a normal game and probably a decent con game. But then, the pregens are not formatted for easy printing, running to multiple columns. And the monsters are hard to grasp. And the map is not optimized for a con print.

I’m going to give the designer the benefit of the doubt. I think they wrote an ok convention game. And then the Kobolds got ahold of it and fucked it up by putting the map on one page, spreading the pregens over multiple columns/pages, and forcing a “standard monsters format” and mechanics bullshit. Then hey marketed it as an general purpose adventure instead of a one-shot … which I fucking HATE.

The preview s five pages. The last page shows you the map and the second to last shows you the first room. Nice imagery, and mechanics associated with it, but WAY too long.
This is $7 at DriveThru.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/240933/Tomb-of-Mercy-for-5th-Edition

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Echoes from Fomalhaut #1

Wed, 05/16/2018 - 11:13


The Singing Caverns
First Hungarian d20 Society
Gabor Lux
Levels 2-4

This is a 44 page zine from Gabor Lux containing a variety of higher quality D&D-ish material. It includes a two level cave complex with fifty rooms, over fifteen pages, called “The Singing Caverns”, which this review will be concentrating on … since I only review adventures. Terse writing, interesting encounters and a good map all combine to create a delightful little complex to explore … reminding me more than a bit of Thracia. Could there be a higher compliment?

Gabor Lux/Melan has created some interesting material that seems to appeal to a wide variety of folks. When Guy Fullerton creates a bibliography of your works AND Kent likes you, well … you’re doing something right. Note also that my review standards link to his great article on dungeon map design. Echoes From Formalhaught is a zine he is putting out, with issue one just dropping in print ind and PDF. It’s got a lot of good content, and starts strong is a great random merchant generator. “A distracted farmer selling haircuts drawing a small crowd.” Note how it both creates a memorable NPC quality “distracted farmer” and creates some potential energy “drawing a small crowd.” That’s a great example of a perfect NPC encounter. That table alone is good enough to go on my binder … and I’d put it on my screen if I had room.

But … we’re talking about adventures.

The Singing Caverns is a two level cave system with about fifty rooms spread out over fifteen pages (maps and full page artwork taking up four or five, so ten pages of text,) Fifty rooms in ten pages … and single column wide wide margins to boot!

These encounters are packed. The wanderers are up to something. Giant rats are cowardly stragglers that try to drag down stragglers or rip open food bags.” Perfect! You’ve got your encounter right there. When the rats show up they are doing something. Drunk exploring bandits? Great! Now you’ve got a little NPC interaction before they get a bit belligerent, and an obvious way for the party to appeal to them. These things are done in a short sentence, or maybe two. You don’t have to drone on and on while writing a description. You just need to set it up, as is done here. The goal of writing in an adventure is to inspire the DM in order to leverage their ability to take something and run with it. In order to do that you need to give them a shove. And that’s what these encounters do.

Looking at room one, “Water trickles from the mouth of a grinning long-nosed strong-chinned stone head into a dented brass basin. Several footprints in the mud.” After that is a short sentence saying the wind wails through the passage, blowing out torches on a 1-2, and there’s a crude tripwire a few steps in knowing down a support beam with stone for 2d6hp.

The initial description is short. The important stuff is bolded to draw the eye. The second paragraph contains DM information, again short and bolded. This isn’t the ONLY way to write effectively, but I do think it’s one of the most straightforward ways. The adventure does this over and over again. It’s like terse little jabs to your imagination in every room.

The maps good. Same level stairs, multiple ways between levels, loops, features drawn in on the map like ledges, etc. The keying is clear and legible.It’s what you want a map to be to encourage great exploration play in the dungeon..

This is $6 at DriveThru. You get to see the merchant table and, at the end of the preview, the first few rooms of the dungeon. They are representative of the entire thing.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/241136/Echoes-From-Fomalhaut-01-Beware-the-Beekeeper

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Those Dam Goblins

Mon, 05/14/2018 - 11:15


by Cristopher Clark
Fail Squad Games
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 1-3

A few years ago human settlers discovered a marsh-covered valley that they knew would provide fertile cropland if only the marsh could be drained. The deflected water flooded a goblin lair, ousting the ornery creatures and reaping their undying hatred. Now, the goblins seek deadly revenge!

This 38 page adventure details an eleven page dungeon and/or mine. goblins are digging a complex under a human dam in order to blow it up and reflood their valley. It’s got some interesting encounters and non-standard magic effects that have that very BASIC and OD&D vibe that I enjoy. It’s also eleven rooms in thirty eight pages … meaning it’s hard to wade through. Long read-aloud, weird read-aloud, directions & dimensions in the text, and conversational commentary to the DM are all in play. It’s serious hi lighter fodder, if you want to go there. I don’t have time in my life for that; thats what I pay someone else for. Or, hope to anyway.

The heart of this is a little eleven room and three level dungeon dig out by the goblins. It’s supported by a couple of wilderness encounters and a little bit of town information that is, essentially, clues and hooks to what’s going on The idea is that the DM takes this clue information and when the party shows up he drops hints form the townsfolk, which gets the party involved. It’s presented in bullet point form another are eight or so various things to find out. I like the format. It is, essentially, just a summary of the town information, rather than detailed room/key format for a generic village. The format should provide enough to let he DM run with them. Unfortunately, the data here is a bit generic. Eight townsfolk have gone missing in the last month. Well … ok. Like rumors, a little bit more local color would have been nice. A drunk who stays out and his nagging wife, that sort of thing. I’m not talking a book, or much more in the way of ward count than is already here. But instead of generic writing “8 people are disappeared” a little more specificity. Something for the DM to run with and expand upon. “Write anything you want!” is a much harder assignment than “write a theme on why Walden Pond sucked.” Yes, I understand tastes vary. There is some line and I just don’t think there’s much room at all for the generic in what is supposed to be a play aid for running a game at the table/ Just how much prep work should you be expected to do?

There are more than a few nice encounters in this, and that’s it strong point. Goblins have torches … with some mini-mechanics for setting huaraches alight. Nice! Or giant cockroaches who can still fight for up to ten rounds after their heads are chopped off. it’s that kind of idiosyncratic stuff that I think a good D&D game lives and dies on. It’s fun. Others are more … interesting. At one point there’s a cart full of dead and bloated animal bodies. What happens to adventurers that dig through such things? That’s right … rot grubs! A perfect application of sticking your nose in. I love it. The adventure is at its best when it’s dealing with these little things. There’s a great little albino outcast goblin, barely cognitive, and ways the party can encounter him. He’s not really an enemy, more of an NPC that could be mistaken for something else. In fact, he’s really just window dressing since he doesn’t really have a part of play in the adventure except as a “would ya look at that!”, ut it still shows the strength of the imagination behind the writing.

But … not the writing proper. It’s terrible. Long.

The usual suspect are at play. First is the read-aloud, which concentrates on the obvious. “There are three exits in the north, south and east” or “the room is 40 x 60.” Yes, these are the things the map tells us. Other times the read aloud is weirdly short and in response to specific character actions. “You open the door to see a dark room.” I’ve seen this before; some designers have their weird obsession with providing read-aloud for every situation. As if those are the only words the DM can ever utter.

The kitchen gets three paragraphs of DM text, to describe to us what is in a kitchen. I know what a kitchen looks like. The extra writing adds nothing to that. What it DOES do is distract the DM by hiding the important fucking information behind stupid shit like “there’s a table up against the wall.” Unless it’s fucking pertinent to the adventure we don’t need to fucking know that.

My favorite example of bad writing in the entire adventure is “once that doo is opened a strange sight awaits your intrepid players.”

This, gentle readers, is SIN. Not just minor sin. Not just bad writing. But SIN, in a major way. The designer is having a conversation with the DM in a bar, telling them about their character. Not. Cool. That’s not the fucking purpose of the writing. This is supposed to be a play aid. This sort of conversational dreck has absolutely no place stuck in a room key. It represents all that is bad and wrong and no fun about this writing style. Evil, pure and simple, from the eigth dimension!

Seriously. Eleven rooms in 38 pages. This is what D&D has become.

This is $6 at DriveThru.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/235859/Those-Dam-Goblins-Revised

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Insurrection in the Abbey

Sat, 05/12/2018 - 11:13


Sidequests
5e
Level 1

The Kobolds have grown strong – surely strong enough to overthrow the local abbey that they’ve been eyeing! This SideQuest begins as word has spread about the Kobold army that is planning to lay siege and take control of a humble monastery. The only thing that stands in the Kobolds’ way is, of course, your group of brave adventurers. This is a perfect introductory campaign to the world of D&D; it is designed to give your first-level players their first taste of combat and dungeon-crawling!

This seventeen page adventure details a small abbey that kobolds have taken over, holding the poor people inside hostage. It could easily be a 1-pager and has A LOT of filler text and overly dramatic read-aloud. Some ok magic items don’t forgive the lack of monster specificity, with only general guidelines offered.

Long lame throw-away hooks, like “missing caravan” and “deliver my letters” have the party ending up outside the walls of the abbey, facing the closed doors. This is the perfect introductory campaign to the world of roleplaying games, designed to give my first-level players their first taste of combat, stealth, and dungeon-crawling! (I know because the marketing garbage mixed in to the text tells me so) so I was quite surprised with the crappiness of the hooks. I mean, I went in to it expecting crappy hooks that the designer put in because they just didn’t care, but then that marketing blurb in the text got me all worked up only to deflate me again with the “missing caravan” pile of crap. Either don’t stick the fucking hook in or put some actual fucking thought in to it. No, that does not mean you need to write a paragraph on it, as you did there. It means you need to turn it in to something that will interest and intrigue the party and a pretext saying “this is the adventure I’m running tonight, bite it or we don’t play D&D” ain’t it.

Hmmm, I get the sense I’m coming off as harsh. If this adventure were one page and 99 cents it would be an ok adventure. But it’s not; it’s seventeen pages and $5, both of which make promises the adventure doesn’t deliver.

Ok, ok, nice stuff first.

There’s a few decent magic items. A magic arrow that always flies towards creatures with an evil heart. In practice, this is just advantage on demons and monsters, but it’s a nice idea. I like the effect, it’s just ruined a bit by the mechanics. A chalice that always fills with water is nice also. Magic items described as effects instead of through mechanics … who woulda thunk it! For the uninitiated, when you name a thing it loses its power. Mechanics bring magic items down the realm of the rule books. “Always seems an evil heart” is open to interpretation, and thus wondrous and mysterious. This is what magic items should be … magical! The boring ass +1 longsword is less wonderous and lame.

The gates to the abbey are locked so there’s a brief section on getting in that outlines some methods the party might use and gives advice to the DM. Great. I love this. You are making the DM’s life easier. The advice is WAY too long, but it DOES also include befriending the gate guard, a kobold. That’s not something you see everyday!

And on the bad front … just about everything else.

The tone is childish. It replicates the “new” tone for kobolds where they are simpleton children who worship dragons and talk like dumb 20’s henchmen. I know tone preferences are subjective, but OVERT humor in games is a turn off for me. I love spontaneous silliness, both in D&D & Gamma World, but when embedded in the rules (newer editions of Gamma World) or the adventures then its a turn off. It’s trying to force the spontaneity and that always comes off as obvious … and therefore bad.

The read-aloud is he usual overly dramatic crap one comes to expect from read-aloud. “You get the feeling that this Abbey has been through some dark times, yet has always managed to find light and redemption in the end.” reads the last sentence of the initial “see the abbey” read aloud. That’s not the sense I get. I get the sense that the designer is a failed novelist and/or trying to hard. It’s critically important that players NOT be told what to think. It’s the job of the designer to communicate a vibe that lets them draw their own conclusions. Your job is to write something that makes the DM communicate it to the players so they get the sense it’s gone through rough times and things turn out ok. Telling them what to think is bad writing.

The DM text contains such gems as “Read this outloud:” right before offset and text-boxed read-aloud. Advice to the DM is “The boss may or may not notice the party entering depending on how they enter.” These examples are not in isolation; in fact the actual useful text might be the exception rather than the rules there is so much padding. The text is being padded for word count for the DM. Not cool. It detracts from the DM’s ability to find the important stuff at the table. Remember, during the game the DM is scanning the text. If you’re writing for a DM sitting down on their sofa reading it then you’re writing for the wrong audience. Other examples include the usual “tell me where the doors go in the text”, duplicating information the map provides.

There’s no real order of battle, so monsters wait in their rooms to die. Well, when the adventure tells you where there are monsters. “You may want to have your party encounter a kobold here” is not adventure design. The walls are supposed to be crawling with kobolds, but there are non listed. Dozens of footprints, but not dozens in the adventure. This basic keying data is fudged. I understand there may be a role for that sometimes, but not as a general purpose in a basic adventure!

While I haven’t touched on it in awhile, this is a good example of why I like humans instead of humanoids. The kobolds add nothing to this adventure. They are just 1d3 hp bipedals to be killed. Why kobolds then? What makes this special? I would argue that it, in fact, makes the entre world LESS special. When monsters are the norm they lose their appeal. Human bandits would have worked better.

As a one-pager this would be a servivable first level adventure. But not as written. No way. Just more dreck.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages and is worthless.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/240540/SideQuests-Insurrection-At-The-Abbey

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Tomb of the Lovelorn

Wed, 05/09/2018 - 11:13


By Morten Greis Petersen
Greis Games
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 3-4

For generations the anger of a scorned wizard has kept two lovers from each other, but now adventurous souls delving into an ancient tomb is about to change all that, though they may never live to see the results.

This nineteen page adventure details a thirteen room tomb inhabited by a pair of undead servants who maintain the place for some (dead) separated lovers. It’s got a great undead vibe going on and good imagery, magic items, challenges, and monsters. It does get a bit long in places, in both flowery read-aloud and DM text, but good formatting helps.

I’m rather fond of these Danish translations. They belong to a series called Hinterlands and I’ve looked forward to seeing new ones; something quite rare for me. They are, at once, both low fantasy and high fantasy. They have that sense of the places being natural and well developed without droning on or appealing to the baser elements like “waste disposal” and the like. My favorite adventures seem to have some thought put to them, not in mechanics or balance, but in motivations and What Would It Be Like … without forgetting that the goal is to have fun.

So, a tomb. Two lovers, one dead and one undead and trapped. Two undead mummy servants who maintain the tomb and sometimes kidnap people to feed to the I-Dont-Know-I’m-dead guy. The party can stumble on the ruins of a grave complex, or encounter some youths just back from an expedition. That’s my favorite since it involves the traditional tavern, stupid braggart kids, and others in the tavern overhearing. Anyway, the thing is supplemented by some rumors which are, generally, more in the realm of hooks. This includes two guardsmen trying to calm a group of peasants by encouraging them to just stay inside at night and lock their doors, as well as a different one that has Fake news! all over it. The more typical dream and//or woman-in-a-crowd are there also, and are significantly weaker.

There’s good monsters and treasure. They tend to all be unique entities and not book creatures. The two mummy-like servants have personalities and will talk to the party, always a good thing. They want to eventually kill them, of course, but the friendly undead before I kill is a classic and I do love the classics! There’s also some undead spirits and ghosts that can/could talk before combat, and even the dead guy who doesn’t know he’s dead. (Getting him to realize that is one of the main adventure goals, so he can move along and meet his dead girlfriend in the afterlife.) The unique nature of them is a good feature, and even extends to the tomb rats, who try and drag bodies away. Those extra little bits liven up combats so they are not just roll-to-hit … something DCC recognized as well. The magic items get good descriptions and have some unique properties that DONT seem like the mechanics were thought of first. The map has some nice same-level features like same-level stairs and hallways going over and under others. I love the vibe those features give exploring parties.

The descriptions are evocative, with swarms of fat flies and putrid congealed bodily fluids and reeks of rotting flesh. An oozing mass of flesh from several merged headless bodies with a sickening stench of rot … quivering flesh covered in leaking pustules with acidic liquid flowing and popping with a spray of … well, you get the picture. And that’s the point: getting the picture. Good evocative writing is short and paints a picture for the DM so they can expand and enhance it for the party. That’s what this does. Well, for the most part.

It falls down on the “short” point. The read-aloud can sometimes tend toward the overly flowery and the DM text can get long. Mechanic effects get long and sometimes there’s a sentence or two of backstory. I know that sounds trivial, but the third time were told the mummies were charged with maintaining the tomb … well, it gets redundant and distracts from the important stuff at the table during the game.

The use of paragraph breaks and bolding is ok, which helps break up the text and focus specific topics to specific paragraphs … something that seems obvious but which many adventures don’t do. So, it’s not unworkable but it is on the edge of it.

Ik kan glas eten. Het doet geen pijn.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages and shows you some of the hooks and rumors and a few rooms. “The darkness retreats from the light” can be seen in the read-aloud, as well as a good sense of the writing style, both positive and negative.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/240685/Tomb-of-the-Lovelorn

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Shrine of Fallen Angels

Mon, 05/07/2018 - 11:28


By WR Beatty
Rosethrone Publishing
S&W

The faithful will sometimes make a pilgrimage to pray at the Shrine of the Fallen Angels. Legends tell of angelic visitations and miracles. Certainly there is more to this shrine than simply a place for pilgrims to pay homage to a long forgotten saint.

This nineteen page adventure details a 20-ish room shrine/tomb of a local saint. It’s got a great OD&D vibe but suffers from formatting issues that lead to a wall of text. It could also be a disaster for the party, scale-wise. The content is ok, but I expect more from formatting/usability in 2018.

I dig an OD&D vibe. By that, I mean a style of encounter that doesn’t seem a derigour as conventional encounters. It’s not that the encounters are all that different, deep down, but they seem more natural. Each encounter must, eventually, debase itself in to providing mechanics, but it seems like OD&D-style encounters tend to do that much later in the designers thought process, and with less devotion to standard mechanics. It’s as if someone sat down and thought about what a hermit pilgrim, for example, might be and imagined it in their head and then wrote it down. Then, at some point, with almost no preconceived notions, noted mechanics for it.

There is a freshness that comes from these, and they seem effortlessly natural to the location than a lot of other writing styles have.

The wandering table is a great one, for example, because of this. Note this one: “A grave digger carrying the ashes of the Lord of the Valley. He is supposed to bury them at the shrine, but he is worried about his sick wife at home.” There’s so much embedded in that description. Most notably, it gives the grave digger some reason to interact with the party and to drive some potential action. And such it is with almost all of the wandering encounters. They contain a kind of potential energy,

But, it is also these wandering monsters that the first hints of issues are encountered. Some of them can be quite long. FUll of flavor? Absolutly. An owlbear with maximum hit points referred to by the locals as The Grey Bear with a hideously deformed left paw … which causes him to not hug and fall over if he hits of max damage? A minor demon (his patron) and a ghost show up on the encounter tables if you kill him? That’s some serious fucking chrome right there. It’s not just all in the owlbears favor, with a hit bonus, but has a natural vibe with the no hugs and falling over. It also takes a lot of text to get there.

That text journey is the adventures major problem. It’s long. There’s not much formatting with whitespace or even bolding. THis lends to a wall of text property that is quite hard to dig through during play at the table. Details are hidden in the middle of paragraphs that you would want to know or call out during play. It’s almost feels like a stream of consciousness writing style with no pauses to take a breath. There is a lot of richness and depth, but it can be conveyed better with a little bolding and whitespace.

Old school can design without an appeal to scaling and that’s done here … perhaps too much. Some creatures have 1d3 HP and others are 10hd or 60hp. Further, defiling the tomb has some SERIOUSLY bad consequences and it’s not clear to me that any warning of that is present. Looting abandoned places is what parties do … but in this case it can EASILY trigger a massive retaliation that even higher level parties would be hard pressed to live through.

So while the adventure has a very natural vibe to it, and is rich in gameable detail, it also hides that in a way that better editing could have solved. The disproportionate response to defiling is a little out of place also.. It may be a personal style thing; if you know your DM runs games like that then its ok. But if you’ve been defiling places with little godly consequences and then out of nowhere get TPK’d, well, the party might justly note a bait and switch.

This is interesting the way MERP products are interesting. But I’m seriously not convinced of its usability.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview shows you some of the great wandering encounters near the beginning. The last page shows you some of the location writing style, and gets in to some of the writing style positives and negatives.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/237736/The-Shrine-of-the-Fallen-Angels

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Whispers from the Void

Sat, 05/05/2018 - 11:19


By Benoit de Bernardy, Richard Jansen-Parks, JVC Parry
LoreSmyth
5e
Level 4

After enjoying many long decades of peace, the small port town of Sestone has found itself at the heart of a mystery that threatens the entire region – if not the very fabric of the mortal plane. In hopes of learning more about the growing danger, the adventurers are tasked to seek out a secretive druid circle. But the heroes are not the only ones looking for the druids.

Thirty four pages of linear encounters. Joy. With too much read-aloud. Joy. And read-aloud that tells you what you think and feel. Joy. Lots and lots of meaningless text. Joy. Why people put up with this dreck is beyond me. Do they just not know that there is better available? Yeah, yeah, “we had fun.” Whatever. I choose Camus. THis is just more of the usual 5th edition garbage.

Baron Cant-Be-Bothered asks you to go find some druids who might know how to shut down a mutation rift nearby. He gives you the name of a woman in a nearby town who may know where the druids are. She is dying on the floow when the party finds her. The druids in the forest are being attacked by pirates. You follow the pirates and kill them. There’s some other minor shit. It’s linear.

The maps are small and the key numbers on them are hard to read. Strike One.

The adventure opens with Baron I-dont-care and some villagers memorializing some dead people. No details given. Specificity is the soul of narrative. “Bob had 18 sons and never caught a fish though he loved fishing.” There. One sentence. The DM can now build on that for the eulogy’s that are supposed to take up the intro/hook. Nope. Can’t be bothered. This is bad fucking writing. It’ abstracts the parts of the adventure that the DM needs to run the encounter.

To add insult to injury it them expands useless background detail. This kind of crap reminds me of style guides for a Tv series. We gotta know the minor characters backstory for episode 89 … but there ain’t no episode 89 in D&D. It’s all just garbage and detracts from the information the DM needs to run the adventure RIGHT NOW … well, if that information were in the adventure to begin with.

You find your contact in town dying on the floor. The read-aloud is long. I guarantee that before the DM finishes reading the shitty text that someone will have cast cure light. But, no, no provision for that. The plot calls for a death and so their contact dies. It’s fucking lame. Don’t want to have the contact tell them something? THEN MAKE THEM DEAD. Yanking the fucking parties chain, teasing them with possibilities that you will DM fiat away, is no fucking way to run a D&D game. And if you think it is then you’re a fucking idiot.

Shitty long DM text abounds. Here’s the FIRST paragraph for an NPC found in a inn: “For many years, the Tomund siblings paid little attention to the town where they lived, but after his brother Guthber was found to be the cause of the missing townsfolk, Heleste has been making an effort to get to know the locals. Many still look on him with suspicion, but Ared at least appreciates the effort.”

What the fuck is the point of that? Does any of that fucking shit matter when the party strides up to him? Bad fucking writing.

“You see a winged monstrosity gliding …” Yeah, ok, failed novelist. That’s a fucking conclusion. Tell the fucking party what they see if you are going to make us suffer through read-aloud. Better yet, write one sentence of DM text that inspires the DM with a great description, the way good adventures do.

There’s three paragraphs devoted to a geographical feature, darkstone pass, which is completely irrelevant. The next encounter is the manticore , err, “”winged monstrosity”. The pass text adds nothing but to the page count.

“Weary from your long walk, you’re glad to see the walls of Moonstone draw closer.” No. Just, No. Conclusions. Telling the party what they see and think. Just fucking textbook bad read-aloud.

And none of that even touches on the linear nature.

You know, I really wish DriveThru/Now offered no questions asked refunds. Yeah, yeah, piracy, blah blah blah. People don’t deserve this kind of crap.

This is $7 at DriveThru.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/212028/Whispers-from-the-Void-5e-adventure

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Midnight Duke

Wed, 05/02/2018 - 11:18


RPGpundit
Precis Intermedia
Dark Albion
Mid-Level

Taking control of the Debateable Lands, the Midnight Duke and his followers spread darkness and Chaos. Whether sent to investigate claims of dark powers by the Clerical Order or ordered to stop the threat at all costs by a rival lord, the PCs are sure to meet trouble in this open-ended scenario.

Well fuck me. 0 for 2 this week.

This seventeen page “adventure” details a couple of evil NPC’s and lightly outlines a situation. In a lawless border region an evil dude has taken over while everyone else is busy in a civil war. There’s some nobleman who might hire the party to go kill the dude. The dude has three followers and a duke of hell lives in his keep. The local villagers don’t really support him, but are beaten down.

It takes Pundit seventeen pages to outline this. Lots of history and background, if you are bored and can’t sleep.

NOT.
A.
FUCKING.
ADVENTURE.

There’s a crowd that says something like “it’s art if the creator says its art,”

Maybe.

Unless I pay fucking money for it. Then I’ve been ripped off. And I’m bitter.

The gang is coming over in a few hours and you go to DriveThru to buy an adventure to run. That’s my bar. “There are some evil dudes on the border and a demon” don’t cut it.

This is $3 at DriveThru. It has a four page quick preview that shows you nothing.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/239948/RPGPundit-Presents-28-The-Midnight-Duke

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Gemsting Caves

Mon, 04/30/2018 - 11:17


By Peter Rudin-Burgess
Azukail Games
Generic

In Gemsting Cave, characters explore a cave once haunted by Gemstings – Giant Scorpions – which have now returned after many years. The cave can be dangerous, as the Gemstings are able to climb on the walls and roof, attacking fro

This fourteen page thing is not an adventure.

The intro implies that it’s an adventure.

The rip-off at one point refers to itself as a mini-adventure.

If I search on DriveThru for “Adventures” it shows up there.

If I did REAL deep and look at the page count on the right in the product details and then go look at the preview and compare them then I can see that it’s actually a nine page map you print out and tape together. There’s one page that says “there are giant scorpions in the caves and they can walk on walls and ceilings.”

This is fucking bullshit.

These creator marketplaces are fucking rip-offs. Steam solved this problem by implementing a return policy. I now buy more from them because I have more confidence that I’m not getting ripped off. DriveThru needs a return policy.

And if you’re a creator about to whine about your already tiny profits then go fuck yourself.

This is $1 at DriveThru. Go fuck yourself.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/240006/Gemsting-Cave

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

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