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Updated: 1 month 3 weeks ago

Incursion from Outer Space

Mon, 05/18/2020 - 11:20
By Metal Turtle Games Self-published Generic Level ... 2?

What would happen if inhabitants of the stars visited a fantasy world ?

This 24 page digest-sized adventure has a few pointcrawl locations in the wilderness and a four-level pointcrawl dungeon with about 24 rooms. It’s fairly plain, in spite of it’s gonzo nature, with little in the way of evocative descriptions. Interactivity is lightly implied, but in the abstract. There’s just not much to this, in spite of the length. Also, it’s more “weird cultist” than alien, but absolutely has tech and aliens in it.

Villagers hear sounds in the woods and see weird figures in the fog and call in the party. There are four pointcrawl locations, once of which is the four level cultist dungeon, and another location which isn’t on the pointcrawl map. Basically, an alien shuttle has crashed and some cultists, in the dungeon, have captured a few of them. The village, Cowshire, has five locations, each with a single sentence description. “Market: a regular market with a huge choice of beef street food.” Cowshire, The Laughing Cow tavern, a wide variety of beef-based street food? I can get in to that. It’s the consistency of the theming that inspires the DM to push things in their own game and dig in to it. I might wish for some off the wall examples, especially in a gonzo/alien adventure, but, the designer is certainly on the right track with theming, at least in the village. 

There’s a vampire hunter in the tavern. He’s convinced he saw vampires the night the sounds were in the woods. He tries to convince the party to buy garlic to protect themselves. That’s the extent of his description. Maybe a a bit lack lacking again, but the core of a good encounter is there and I’ll take that over too little or too much. Further, it ties in to the first couple of encounters in the dungeon proper.

The wilderness pointcrawl is really just three locations, and maybe a fourth, the shuttle. The shuttle isn’t on the map but the crash can be seen from another location. What’s weird here is that the descriptions seem out of order. I’ve seen this in a couple of other products, only a handful though, and it’s weird everytime I see it. What if you put the main encounter first, the dungeon with its four levels and its twenty rooms, and then listed the other wilderness encounters, each of which took, like, half a page? That’s what this does, putting the main dungeon first after the village and then following up with the minor locations. And then the shuttle appears BEFORE the location where you can see the shuttle. It’s out of order, and weird. I don’t know if this is just convention, staring me in the face, or of there are actual usability issues in this. But it’s weird, in any event.

There’s no stats, and no real treasure to speak of. Well, there is, but it’s mostly text descriptions. “These are very valuable books” and things like that. A blaster pistol. An alien multitool without a description beyond “useful to the party.” And a giant statue worth 1,000,000,000gp if you can get it out of the dungeon. And eyes worth 5000gp each. And that’s not on the lowest level. It’s weird. Stats are “as bandits (b44)” I assume that’s the basic book? Which one? I don’t know. And that’s the GOOD stats. There are a couple of new creatures that don’t even get that treatment. It’s listed as 1e/Basic, etc, but there’s not really anything here to tie it to any system other than that confusing “B44” thing. 

Encounter descriptions are very basic setups with not much more. There tends to be something interesting going on in most rooms, but the descriptive manner is somehow a major turn off. I can’t quite put my finger on it. The second room has a group of vampires living in it, not evil, they steal cows to drink their blood and will talk to the party. Another rooms description though is ”In the middle of the room, there’s an area of the ground with a lighter tone. This part of the ground is actually a trapdoor covered in stone, hiding a pit full of deadly spikes (save against breath or die).” it’s very basic. Very matter of fact. Mechanically based, with little attention paid to the descriptive or evocative elements of an encounter. Thus there’s a nugget of goodness in many rooms, but not much to inspire the DM to run it well. “This old library has miraculously survived many catastrophes and the passage of time, at least for the shelves and a few books.” Well, ok. At least it’s not overwritten? But those descriptions could be massaged in to something more evocative, I guess is my criticism. “This room is full of tentacles, some passing by, others looking for an unknowing prey to catch and strangle.” Ok…. well … what does that mean? I mean, nice, I guess, but … I’m just, I’m not sure what to do with it. I guess i could do anything with it, is my point, and I think a good description needs just a little more grounding. “12 orcs” is too open-ended as a description. “Rowdily dicing”, when added on, gies me something to work with. The descriptions in this seem closer to the “12 orcs” side of the house. Not exactly minimal, or maybe they are? But not concrete in the way I’m looking for in an adventure. Something to wrap my mind around during play, to kickstart the imagination and then take it and riff off of it for the current circumstances.

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is seven pages. You get to see the entirety of the village of Cowshire, and the first nine rooms of the dungeon. This should be more than enough to give you an idea if the style is something you’ll be in to.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/311571/Incursion-from-Outer-Space?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Diluvian Disaster

Sat, 05/16/2020 - 11:06
By Mike Myler Legendary Games 5e level 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B O R I N G

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

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

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Tomb of Raven Darkmore

Wed, 05/13/2020 - 11:11
By Joseph Mohr Old School Role Playing OSRIC Levels 9-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Bring Me Her Bones

Mon, 05/11/2020 - 11:00
By Dirk Detweiler Leichty Games Omnivorous OSR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Dachshund Dungeon

Sat, 05/09/2020 - 11:11
By Nick LS Whelan Self-published OSR Level ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The whole thing needs a good SHOVE. 

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

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

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Hoard of Delusion

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 11:43
By Mark Ahmed, Sean Ahmed, Scot Hoover Axe mental Productions OSRIC Levels 1-4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Night Crystal Pass

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 11:01
By Matt Kline Creations' Edge Games S&W Levels 2-4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

All Through the Long, Dark Night (5e)

Sat, 05/02/2020 - 11:11
By William Fischer Sneak Attack press 5e level 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Place of the Skull

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 11:11
By Mark Hess Self published LotFP

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Beneath the Remains

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 11:11
By D.S. Meyers Oldegrave Adventure Company OSR Levels 1-2

What will the characters sacrifice to save the Western Wood?

Soooo … yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The High Moors

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 11:11
Stephen J. Jones Unsound Methods 5e/OSR Levels 1-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Ghoul Prince

Wed, 04/22/2020 - 11:06
By Zzarchov Kowolski DIY RPG Productions DCC Level 3

Behold the gripping terror of the GHOUL PRINCE, bargain your very skeleton to the unsettling BONE LADY, and claim the powers of the mysterious DEMON IDOL.

This 22 page adventure is a stunt dungeon that uses four pages to describe the same dungeon in five different ways. Decent map for its size, nicely evocative interior, interesting monsters (as all DCC creatures should be) and good magic items combine with some pretty good interactivity. An interesting project that proves the point it trying to make.

Sometimes designers have interesting ideas and want to explore them, and this is one such case. Can you take a standard dungeon and write it in such a way that you can retheme it easily/ Can it be written so that it can be a desert tomb, or an alpine mausoleum, or an iron-age bog tomb? Can you seperate the theme from the specifics and/or do it in such a way that it can serve several purposes? That’s what Zz is trying to do here, and what he succeeds at … at least in a dungeon of this size.

So, twenty rooms and four pages in a 22 page adventure … something is up, right? Eight or so pages are concerned with the specific theming. For each of three environments, plus your own, two pages are spent on what the various elements are themed as. What do magic symbols look like in a desert tomb as opposed to a bog tomb as opposed to an alpine mausoleum. What is does the trap on the chest consist of? What type of sword is the magic sword, and so on. There are a few more pages explaining the stunt concept and then a few giving some background on the guy whos tomb you’re about to rob, and his relationship to a new patron. The end of the book as new magic items, new monsters, a patron, etc. 

The idea here is that you are going to take the two pages specific to the theme you’ve chosen and have then ready as a reference as you run the four pages of the actual dungeon. Here’s an example of how this works with the dungeon rooms. The entrance, body, wards are all described in the theming page, with the bodies being described as “Leathery bog mummies.” 

A: Entryway

A sloping set of stairs lead down from the [Entrance]. A [Body] is curled into a foetal position at the bottom, surrounded by crudely made [Wards].

Monsters and magic are good, exactly as one would expect from a game with no monster manual or magic item list. Everything is nicely unique, with their own non-standard abilities. The lack of standard monsters and magic items is one of the things that makes DCC great, and Zz does a good job creating some new monsters and items to fill in nicely. Terrifying, unique powers, and objects of desire.Keeping the players on their toes, never knowing what the monsters abilities are, no monster manual to memorize and therefore remove the fear from a terrifying new encounter. No mundanity and victorian-era lists to catalog and remove the wonder of discovery from new items. 

The map is a small dyson one, with twenty rooms, but one of the better ones. There are a couple of places where one section crosses over another, or same-level stairs, details are nicely placed on the ma and it looks suitably rough for an old tomb. I’ve been down on Dyson maps in the map. Too often a designer will take a small uninteresting one and try to build something around it. He does do good ones as well, even at this small size. I wish people would gravitate towards those instead.

So, put it together and you’ve got a pretty decently themed dungeon, with good interactivity. It’s got a nice villain to chase you around, Jason-style, things to use in the dungeon against him, mysteries to unlock and lots and lots of ways to die. All in a package that is four packages in one. You could take any one of themes and have a pretty good dungeon exploration with it. I DO think, though, that the format is going to wear a little thing in larger dungeons. There’s only so many ways you can say “magic wards” and have it come out inspiring and well. T some point the two page reference sheet will grow longer and at that point the utility will break down. For these smaller style dungeons, though, sure. Three dungeon themes to fit your specific campaign world, plus a couple of blank sheets to fit in to your.This is $7 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages. You get to see the intro, background, and part of a theming page spread. Ok, but a room encounter would have been nice as well.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/238775/The-Ghoul-Prince?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Lighthouse of Anan Marath

Mon, 04/20/2020 - 11:11
Jim Stanton Frog God games S&W Levels 5-7

From the shoreline of the village of Saemish, waves can be seen tossing their salt and spray upon four small islands, the largest of which is Anan Marath. A great bridge, aged and deteriorated, spans from the mainland connecting these islands and ending at colossal lighthouse of Anan Marath. Each might y structure is created from the deep-green bedrock found only in the bedrocks of the watery abyss. For Decades, the Lighthouse of Anan Marath has remained dark. Slowly devolving into a state of shappy disrepair. But no longer! The village council has decided-narrowly and after angry debate-to restore the lighthouse and clear it of its dark and bloody past.

This thirty page adventure details fifty or so rooms of a lighthouse complex off the short of a small village. It has an interesting approach with the map environment and the writing can be quite evocative, if a bit unfocused in places.  Some additional “context” work could have/should have been done, but otherwise it’s a solid effort.

Off the short of a small village is a chain of three islands, connected with a stone bridge, Florida Keys style At the far island is a lighthouse. Trade is returning to the region and the locals need someone to sort out the lighthouse so they can relight it, after many MANY years of disuse, allowing them to bring trade back to the town. It’s not  abad set up and gets to that “points of light” theming of reclaiming the world. It also has a nice little non-standard reward: in addition to what you find they are willing to give you a percentage of all the trade goods/trade that come by. An investment in your future! I like that, and I like the way it cements the village in to the characters lives as a someplace other than a “one and done” adventure. There’s a bit of a disconnect in place: the lighthouse complex is either 250’ off shore (according to the text) or 50’ offshore (according to the map) and it’s stuffed FULL of evil baddies, from monsters to cultists to pirates. Why any one of them haven’t laid waste to the town is anyone’s guess. It’s pushing believability/pretext in that regard, but, at worst, it’s the town sewers problem all over again. And if I can deal with that I can deal with the baddies only being 50’ offshore of the village.

The writing here is not bad at all, from an evocative standpoint. Rotting trapdoors, mix with scrub and surf, wait-high crenels, bridges glistening with salt & spray and dark green seastone with the waves lapping up against it. It hits more than misses in this regard, with the locales really coming to life in the DM’s head through the word choice of designer. It doesn’t feel forced, it feels natural. I love this. The ability of the designer to put an image in to the DM’s head is one of the pillars of a good adventure. If the DM can really GROK the location then the chances they will communicate a great environment to the players is all the better. It really feels like the designer visualized the environment and then brought the power of the language to bear to describe it without going and on and on with the descriptions.

The map here  is interesting, or, perhaps, the locale it is describing. Because it’s a causeway, it lands on the top of towers. Thus in many cases you are exploring DOWN, to the towers proper, or even to the rocky islands that support the towers the causeway lands on the top of. Likewise, the lighthouse is entered, in one possible method, midway through the top, where the causeway lands, giving opportunities to go down and up, with additional underwater tunnels. It’s a good effort of breaking the mold of just exploring down or up. Although, not always the clearest in it’s descriptions. There’s some puzzling to do to figure this out.

It does tend to lack focus in its descriptions. It mixes background and history and “this is why X is Y …” in to the descriptions. Regular readers will know that I eschew this. It detracts from the ability to scan the room at the table and relate the information to the players in a quick manner. The usual mistakes are made, from explaining why. Blah blah shaped this by magic, who were actually cultists of god blah blah blah. This is trivia and just gets in the way, and its done over and over again. Again, this is more like the writing I would expect in a style guide for the world rather tan in a technical resource for the DM at the table. In other places the writing isless direct, like with “This place has recently become the lair of an X.” Good that we’re being told X lives here, but it can be done in a more direct manner. These two things make the actual locations quite a bit weaker for use than if they were not present/used. 

Of secondary interest is the lack of a polish edit. Certain things are confusing, or could be more direct. It mentions an arrow slit in one case, and only by extended thought does it turn out to be an alternative entrance to the lighthouse. The initial description, therefore, is not really effective in what it’s trying to relate: this is an entrance to the lighthouse that the party can use. It implied, rather than stated, and not implied very heavily. There are multiple examples of this in the adventure, things that require some puzzling out to figure out what is meant/intended. In other places there are opportunities missed. That one that sticks out, but its not the only example, is of the old town drunk, dead in a cellar from a beastie. He even gets a name ‘Cooter.’ That’s great, but the emphasis on this, up front, n the village, or an mentioning it up front in such a way that the party can learn it, is missing. There are passing references to clutists emerging from sea and ships in the night, but the emphasis and follow up isn’t there, up front in the overview and village, and this the opportunity is lost unless you read the entire thing and take notes. Not the strongest support and substantial missed opportunities for support play in the village before the adventure proper starts. There’s also a bit of lost opportunity to give overviews of the situations, since you’re outside and can see the entire thing. Thus if you want to do this you have to read the entire thing, figure out which parts are “visible” and try to come up with something on your own. Again, these sorts of “vista overview” descriptions are worth their weight in gold when trying to relate the overall situation to the party. If you can SEE cobwebs on the island, from the bridge, then that needs to be up front, not in the room key that describes that location.

Some of this, I think, is due to the Frogs lack of good editing. Simple mistakes crop up, like the HD3 fighter who is level 7. And, of course, the level range is missing from the cover or the product description on DriveThru instead hiding on the title page of the adventure … I wish the Frogs would make a fucking checklist and continously improve on it for these little mistakes ther continually make. At least they’ve stopped slapping the wrong cover on things. 

Order of battles for the pirate and cultists are missing, but there are other strange comments like “If the party strikes up a conversation with this group of pirates ….” the ones guarding something, that you just killed a bunch of other pirates to get to? Are they in a talking mood? The adventure strikes me as a hack with little opportunity to talk to people implied in the text, so this comes out of nowhere. 

But, still, a decent effort. Good environment, nicely evocative. Strains believability in places and the DM text is muddled, but, such is life in the age of cholera. 

This is $11 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages and the last page shows you the first encounter description. It’s relatively good for determining what the writing is like for the rest of the locations, but I’d like to see more of them in a preview.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/304474/The-Lighthouse-of-Anan-Marath-SW?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Fell Deeds in Felfair Grove

Sat, 04/18/2020 - 11:16
By Simon Goudreault WanderingDM 5e Level 2

… you will search the Witchwoods for missing people, overthrow a tyrant, and bring peace and justice to a small frontier town by the name of Bromwich. 

This 54 page adventure uses about 25 pages to describe a hunt in the woods, avillage, and an small fight with the mayor as the climax of the adventure. Weird mechanic choices abound in this, as well as the usual “I don’t know how to write an encounter description” issues that plague nearly every adventure. 

There’s a convoluted backstory to this which I’ll complain about in a bit, but, first, the basic adventure outline. You’re hired to find some missing lumberjacks. Each day, when you are searching the woods for the lumberjacks, you roll survival. If you roll over X then you could encounter any of the encounters, on the chart, with a survival DC<=X. So, a chart full of fourteen encounters of various DC’s, once of which has the lumberjacks. After finding the lumberjacks the party is betrayed by the person who hired them. They are then rescued by the sheriff and given the “real” mission, to find someone to replace the corrupt mayor of the town. You go talk to some people, and then tell the sheriff who you want to be the new mayor. You then ambush the corrupt mayor, who offers to reward you if you take his side. And then the adventure ends, one way or another, with the party choosing a side and finishing up the combat.

The adventure is trying to have some complexity to it and be a little sandboxy. There are other quests to perform in the lumberjack camp, little fetch things, etc, and the “mayor candidates” that you talk to, pre-revolution, MIGHT have some things to do. The NPC’s are laid out up front, for the town, as well as descriptions for ten or so town locations. There’s also a pretty open-ended “get your stuff back” section, that is not supported by the text AT ALL, but feels like an infiltration from the few words there are about it. Further, there’s at least a bit of complexity to the otherwise stock characters, in places. The corrupt mayor COULD actually surrender, and he COULD keep his word, if the party throws in with him at the end. Further, his (nice) son is probably the best equipped to be the next mayor but, of course, no one trusts him. There are a decent number of opportunities to roleplay and gain allies as well. So, Simon tried.

Tried and failed.

The mechanics of this are terrible, and you know I seldom talk about mechanics, so they must be egregious. Fourteen locations on the forest chart, you can find one a day and only one has the lumberjacks. Further, the other locations do NOTHING to make your search more productive. At most, you might get rid of wandering monster checks. (which are fucking lame in an adventure like this, especially in the throw-away form they are presented here. Wanderers do different things in 5e than in OSR. Just make some decent encounters to scatter in instead of a traditional chart, if you’re going to use them.) So, just roll a check every day, have an encounter, and hope that, randomly, you get the one you are looking for. No chance to influence. The worst kind of random. Just suffer through without ANY ability to influence your fate. The journey IS in fact the destination, but no ability to influence your fate is a shitty shitty journey.

Likewise, when you talk to people, mayoral candidates, you need to convince them to take the job. They each have a different chart. If you do X things from their chart then they will take the job. BUT YOU DONT KNOW WhaT THE THINGS ARE, as players. It’s just fucking random. Did you do all of the bulltin board tasks? Do you know Bobs spouse was kidnapped? He won’t tell you that. This is all BS. You can’t engage in meaningful decision making unless you know the decisions you are making. “HAhA! Gotcha! You should have carved your initials in to random tree #2353 in the forest! You didn’t, now you loose!”  Of course the DM is gonna cheat and fudge to make things happen and keep the action going. Is that the point of a DM? Maybe, but it’s more the job of the designer to keep that shit from happening in the first place.

So, you find the lumberjacks. And are then backstabbed by Mayor McDickCheese. He’s taken all the money he would have paid you and instead bought sleep poison. He poisons you and throws you in the river, tied up, to drown. Why not just kill you? Why not use killing poison? Why not just PAY YOU? Because, gentle readers, Wandering DM thinks they are STORYTELLER. FUCK YOU AND FUCK YOUR STORY! IT”S THE PLAYERS STORY, NOT YOURS! This sort of forced shit really pisses me off. If you make your save DC then bandits burst in and shoot you with sleep poison crossbows. The room has no doors or windows ,locked, everything set up against the party. Fuck you. Adversarial, railroad designer. Fuck. You. All so you can tie them up and throw them in the river so they can make a DC10 check or drown. That’s fun. Or, they missed? Don’t worry, the sheriff will rescue them. Because fucking plot. Shitty, shitty, shitty design. The players are viewers in their own adventure instead of participants. 

Read-aloud is weird. There’s not much, but it’s long and in italic (bad!) when it does poop up. You have to read the fucking backstory to udnerstand the hooks and what exactly is going on. Again, terrible design. Encounters and NPC descriptions are full of meaningless trivia and backstory instead of tools and ideas to help the DM bring the adventure to life. “Karl moved here 25 years ago after a life of adventure” is meaningless trivia backstory. “Karl runs an underground booze ring and is looking to X with Y if he can” gives Karl a reason to be in the adventure and the ability of the party to interact with him in a meaningful, adventure driven, way.

Blah blah blah, says the generic ad copy, “discover a dark secret.” Zzzzz…….

This is $5 at DriveThru.The preview is fifteen pages. You get to see the setup, the NPC’s and town locations and their lack of adventure-driven focus in their writing styles. That’s about it though. A fifteen page preview should also show some encounters (and yet, the NPC’s COULD be encounters, so, ok, it does show some, but, still, real encounters also, please, so we can make an informed decision.) Two five star reviews as of my blog post. Geee, that’s surprising.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/306191/Fell-Deeds-in-Felfair-Grove?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Halls of Arden Vul

Wed, 04/15/2020 - 11:18
By Richard Barton Expeditious Retreat Press 1e

This 1122 page adventure details a ten level megadungeon, with fifteen sublevels, numerous pyramid levels, with some levels having upwards to 160+ rooms. An impressive feat of overall design, with many level interconnections and puzzles/rumors/clues spread out across levels. A decent effort has been made to make the size manageable, which helps but isn’t a home run. DM text can get long and it less useful than I would have liked, a testament to unfocused DM text. A singular creation, for fans & students of the megadungeon.  

It’s a eleven hundred pages and I’ve been working on it for three weeks now, and I’m still not sure this review is any good.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Arden Vul is big. REALLY big. The biggest so far, in fact. In addition to the ten levels, fifteen sublevels, numerous “pyramids & towers with their own levels”, a ruined city outside, a wilderness area outside, and a local town, it is not uncommon for a main level to have 150+ rooms on it, with sublevels having 30-50 rooms. If a modern OSR product is expected to have around fifty rooms, then this is equal to AT LEAST, say, sixty or so levels. Added in to this mix are at least twelve major factions, from cultists, to major humanoid tribes, to a dragon, to a wizards. Dungeon levels have a crazy large number of interconnections to each other, including the requisite “giant chasm that runs through many but not all levels.” ig, here, is an understatement.

The book tries to make this size manageable. It has overview sections, up front that introduce central ideas and groups them together. So you might get a giant multi-page section on the factions, an in depth on each of them,how they feel about each other faction, things they want, their size and how they replace losses/are likely to react to events, areas they control and contest for, and other topics. Then, at the start of each level you get a little overview/introduction to the level. This will again mention the faction and briefly describe a few things about them, what’s going on, with a concentration on what’s happening right now. This same sort of general concept is followed for several different topics at the start of each chapter. Areas of legend/note get their own section, and then a brief intro in the chapter heading in which they appear. As do important NPC’s, construction/style notes, ingress/egress points, and so on. Further, it’s all pretty well cross-referenced. If it mentions an NPC it notes their location. If it mentions a location by name then it tells you where it is, if a clue is mentioned somewhere in the keying, then it both cross-references to the location the clue is for AND has some notes that explain it to the DM, for additional context. 

But the place is big. IMPOSSIBLY big. And those efforts to make things manageable only help so much. The cross-references and “DM notes” work really well. “Places of legend”, iconic locations within the dungeon, also work really well. Introduced up front, rumors, things everyone knows about, and then overview of them and their context etc. It helps them integrate naturally in to the game. Other areas though, like the factions, start to get long in their multi-page “summaries.” You almost need a summary guide for the summaries. This is, especially with regard to the factions, a side-effect of the writing style, which I’ll cover later on. I’m open to this being a side effect of PDF version and the print version being easier to reference during play. In this case, at least, I could have used a reference table. And the same issue with dungeon styling and areas of control. I think I would have wished that this be embedded, somehow, on the maps. Different shading to show construction styles or who’s domain you were in, and/or notes on the maps to remind me what Achachian styling consisted of, or what Kertil styling consisted of. I’m am NOT gonna fucking remember that during the game. It’s more likely that I will ignore, intentionally or unintentionally, that section in the level overview. And if so, then why include it at all? This is not an argument to NOT include it, but rather better methods, in our hobby, to handle these sorts of “always on “information items. I need a memory prompt, dammit! Which if why I harp on summary sheets, or on-map information so much. There’s just SO MUCH. Handled well, it’s going to be a major enhancement to the game. But this doesn’t handle it as well as it should. 

This is, at least in part, because it’s not breaking new ground as a product, in terms or styling and organization. I know, I know, hipster art project D&D adventures are almost a meme now. But, there’s also a trend in those products to search out the best way to present information to the DM, exploring new grounds of presentation and layout for clarity and impact purposes. This don’t do that. It take the usual standard dungeon format and adds some overview/summary chapters and some introductory text and that’s it. The cross-referencing and “ DM notes” for the clues are just about as far as this product is willing to push the boundaries of new layout/presentation/ideas. And yet, of all the products to come out, these large ones are the very ones that NEED that additional design/layout work. You saw this in, for example, Stonehell, in which the one page dungeon was then supported by breaking it in to four sections and then also giving each section three or so pages of supporting information. I’m not saying this product should have done that, but rather using Stonhell as an example of breaking new ground in order to handle its environment better. This could have/should have gone a little further down that path as well. What? I don’t know, but I do know it could use more help in this area. Is it bad? No. Above average, at least. But, not effective, or maybe completely effective, in helping the DM manage its size.

The dungeon has a serious flaw and it’s best to get that out of the way: the writing is unfocused. It mixes the past and present of the various rooms, hiding decent details in favor on expounding on the past glories of the rooms. What detail there is can hide behind an indirect writing style that further obfuscates scanning. 

The room of Jhentis the Ghoul is a good example of this. In the middle of a floor covered in shards of broken bottles, a strange throne of bone and wood scrap rests on a desk that rests in turn on a table Jhentis sits on this throne gnawing bones and murmuring hungrily and angrily, wearing a key around his neck and piled next his throne are coins, jewelry, unbroken bottles and scrolls. But that’s not the description we get. Instead this is the description we get:

“This former alchemical laboratory houses the ‘court’ of Jhentris,

a particularly ambitious priest who returned after death as an

unusually powerful ghoul. Originally three large workbenches

sat in the middle of the room, and wooden shelving filled with

paraphernalia lined the walls. Most of the glassware has been

shattered, and Jhentris has built a strange throne of sorts out of

the surviving table and scraps of wood. The ‘throne’ consists of a

chair made of bone and wood resting atop a desk placed on top of

a table. Jhentris sits in his throne, gnawing bones and murmuring

hungrily and angrily. The walls are undecorated, save for marks

where the shelving used to rest. The floor is covered with glass

shards and other debris, rendering movement more difficult (-10’

movement). Some scraps of ‘treasure’ sit on the table to either side

of Jhentris’s throne”

Note the rooms previous usage, leading off the description. Is this the most important thing for the DM to know when the players open the door? Of course not. It’s the image of the ghoul gnawing bones, sitting on his throne, treasure, broken glass, and hungry mumbling. Note how it tells us what USED to be in the room, what is USED to be used for. This is trivia. It should not be included at all, and if it is it should not be what the room leads off with. Note how the walls are undecorated, except for the marks. Great indirect writing if you are writing to be read and substantially less so for play the table. 

This is, though, a good room in terms of both imagery and in terseness. It’s not uncommon for a room to go on for a page or more, as each item gets some description, again in this unfocused style. Another room tells us thar the halflings have already looted a body except for a scroll in a boot. Mening, of course, that there is a scroll in the boot. I know this sounds like I’m pixel bitching, but the product if BIG and the rooms are LONG and this all makes the rooms a chore to scan and therefore to run easily. This sort of burying of information, either deep in the paragraphs or as the secondary part of a sentence is a common occurrence. 

This is furthered by a writing style that likes to use the word “large” and other common adjectives. Three stone sarcophagi lie broken and looted in the middle of a chamber. This is not evocative writing. For every Ghoul on a Throne there are fifteen or twenty broken and looted sarcophagi. These rooms seldom come alive in my mind. Again, reference being made to the more … plain? Writing style of Barrowmaze. Highlighters out! Actually, better buy a gross of them, you’ve got 1122 pages to read, absorb, and highlight. No bueno. Normally, this would be the killing blow for me in a review. Confused and lengthy writing making the thing hard to actually do what its intended to do: be run at the table.

But, this has something else going for it: it’s interactivity..

This megadungeon is stuffed to the gills with it. The different factions, and their goals and how they can use and be used by the party is only one aspect to it. In addition to this “stretch goal” of roleplaying interactivity, the adventure is also full of “the usual” interactivity, the most common types. Hidden floor tiles full of treasure, passages, and pools and statues to mess around it. But, it then takes this to another level. It is STUFFED with those features. And, in particular, many of theme are themed. So, as you learn more about Thoth and Set, you figure out more and more how to work the various things you find the dungeon. Which position to put the statues arms in, for example. And there are numerous clues, murals, graffiti everywhere in the dungeon and its environs which help with party with their sense of discovery. “Ah! I bet this relates to that statue on Level 2!” Players LUV LUV LUV figuring things out and this allows them to do it. Plus many of the clues are for things on other levels as well, giving an additional aspect to it. There are also a TON of mini-quests to take on. These can be relatively standard things, like people in town needing/wanting something, or rescuing prisoners. I think, in fact, there’s something like two pages of captives, summarized and cross-referenced of course, that you can rescue in this place. And not one room with two dozen people in it either, scattered, with different goals and different purposes. And that’s just the beginning of the interactivity in this thing. Did I mention it provides rules for training? Yes, finally, an adventure setting that covers how to rid your MU of all that gold so he can train with a dude in town to get his level. It’s there to cover all the bases, in the dungeon and outside of it, with scores and scores and scores of opportunities for the party to dig in deep and the DM to take adventure of emergent play.

There’s a good sense of the familiar in this that is twisted just a bit to make it different. This is great for the players, and the DM, since it gives them a starting point in their heads to build upon. There’s a stargate-like teleporter pad, with addresses and stones to find and place correctly in order to dial in an address. And the theming of Set and Thoth, for example. Trolls that are not trolls that are trolls are present. Familiar elements, that you can latch on to in your head, but given just a little twist in order to bring some freshness to them and make them un-generic.

This being such a large product, the question is going to arise if you can yank specific levels and reuse them for your own purposes. Yes? Maybe? I don’t know? There are things going on in this that is going to make that more challenging than usual, which is going to require a little work. The level interconnections are many and varied. They are clearly outlined at the start of each chapter, which is a boon for fitting this in to your game piecemeal fashion. Certain things, though, like the chasm running through the levels or the stargate-like teleporter system is going to require a little creativity to get past. While many of the factions are generally self-contained, there are incursions of other-level factions and references to them. Again, this is going to take some work to mold and fit in to your existing game. The interactive elements, from the teleporter gates and discovering their addresses, to the Set and Thoth theming, to the statues/interactivity clues that refer to things on other levels, just are not going to make sense if you pull just one level. And, of course, the faction roleplay elements themselves. The integration of each level with the other levels is really quite involved. And that’s absolutely GREAT if you’re using this as a standalone and presents a challenge if you want to yank a random levels. Having said that, some levels and sublevels are more easily yoinked for standalone than others. So, CAN you? Yes. Put if you really like a level and want to yoink that specific level then you may face some rather substantial work in order to filter out and/or replace the interconnected elements. The summaries though, of the iconic locations, level interconnections, faction/level overviews, DM notes, captive-to-rescue table, cross-references and so on should help you quite a bit in this effort. You’re not alone!

My notes for this adventure run eleven pages and I’ve only touched on the major topics. This adventure is interconnected in a way that few others are. The cross-level design and faction play across levels. The interactivity of the levels. The support for the DM in terms of cross-references, tables that summarize hostages, quests, and other topics. My chief complaint is the writing for the individual rooms, proper. They evocative nature of the writing is inconsistent and the DM text long and lacking focused. That means extra prep work, highlighters, and the like. This isn’t the sort of thing that runs easily at the table, because of that. And yet, there’s nothing like this on the market at all.

The PDF is $110 at DriveThru. The preview is twenty pages. Of that, there are a few pages that hint at the summarization levels: the iconic locations on pages fourteen through eighteen. Prior to that there is a section on the various builders of the dungeon, and their dungeon feature types, meant to be used for level theming architecture notes, etc. The two, taken together, given you a good hint of the sort of information the adventure provides for the DM. Can you keep the level theming fresh on hand? And yet the iconic location summary is perfect for dropping hints, legend lores and the like.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/307320/The-Halls-of-Arden-Vul-Complete?src=newest?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Crypt of Fendoom Groom The Marvelous

Wed, 04/08/2020 - 11:32
By Tony A. Thompson Outpost Ownbear S&W Level 3

The stories tell of Fendoom Groom and his powerful magics. His life long study of the arcane arts benefited so many until one day he came to the village babbling and muttering. He purchased some of his usual items and returned to his tower just outside of the village. The next morning a loud explosion awoke the village who went to discover that Fendoom’s tower had collapsed and evidently sealed the wizard to his death. The village mourned their mage and life slowly returned to normal.

This five page adventure features a small twelve room dungeon under a ruined wizards tower. It tends towards minimalism and does the best job it can, I guess, with a limited map size. It’s also trying to hit the interactivity parts of adventuring, but there’s a critical component missing in most cases: why? And fuck you all, I’m not giving up some smll adventures yet. A man can dream, can’t he, of short and good adventures? Focused to a razors edge. But not this one.  

This thing is using a description style that is on the minimalism side of the spectrum. Fact based, a little abstracted, just a sentence or two in most cases, and with room dimensions up front in a format that, for once, I will NOT be bitching about. Here’s an example: “20 x45 room appears to be a temple and shrine to the Moon Goddess Netia. Searching under the statue reveal a secret compartment of various treasures as noted below.” The dimensions come up front, in a format that’s easy to follow and either take advantage of or ignore, so, pretty much a perfect way to include that information, if You’re going to. The core room description, though, is lacking. “Appears to be” is almost always a sin of padding, as if the “If you search then you find” format seen in the second sentence. More seriously, though, is the rather dry and abstracted nature of the room description. There’s almost nothing there for the DM to work with. I guess “Moon Temple’ is better than just “temple?” Better yet would have been replacing that sentence with a one sentence description OF the moon temple instead of a conclusion statement that it IS a moon temple. 

It’s trying to be interactive, with a number of rooms having something hidden in them or some object to interact with. But, most feel a bit hollow, as if they were just half realized. One room, for example, has six stone columns that reflect different elements. (air, fire, stone, etc). To what end? Nothing. That’s the end of the room description. Another has a stone tree. When you touch the leaves they fall gently to the ground. And when you chop it then the tree explodes. Why chop it? Or, better yet, why is there not a hint that chopping the tree is dangerous. If the leaves disappeared with a little “poof” of incineration when the hit then the party would have some clue of what to do. As it stands, the interactivity almost seems random. If you do this then this thing will happen, will little ability to tell good from bad. Level 3 is a little early for that, IMO. Weal/Woe helps.

Treasure seems both heavy and light. Gold/gems/jewels is very light indeed, but there is a fairly large number of magic items present for a small 3rd level tower with 2 wights at the end. The map for the place has its own page, but only takes up about one quarter or less than the page. Hats weird. Why wouldn’t you use the entire page if it’s not being used for something else? Rumors are trying to be in voice and are better than most rumors in products because of that. 

So, ultimately, it’s a VERY basically described dungeon with some attempts at interactivity that fall short of their goals. A little more design in the interactivity/puzzles/things and deleting the rooms descriptions to replace with them someone a little more evocative, and about the same word count, would get you something easy to scam and run with, hopefully, some decent room evocativeness and interactivity. 

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $0. I’m glad to see it PWYW, that’s the way most adventures should be until you get your feet under you. There’s no preview, which is not the biggest sin since it’s free, but, still, I do like a preview to show a few rooms of what you’ll be buying, so you can evaluate beforehand.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/307654/The-Crypt-of-Fendoom-Groom-the-Marvelous?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Stolen Child

Mon, 04/06/2020 - 11:06
By Dave Tackett QuasarDragon Games OSR Levels 7-9

The pleasant town of Sligo has its tranquility shattered when a young boy vanishes in the middle of the night. Investigating the disappearance, the characters discover lost ruins and an ancient plot for revenge and a long forgotten enemy of humanity. Will the characters be able to rescue the stolen child or will a cruel, wronged race be able to wreak vengeance on all humanity?

This 39 page adventure details a two level guardhouse with forty rooms on a demiplane full of evil elves. It’s trying to build a fairy/fey theme, since it’s based on a yeats poem. RA is in the characters perspective and the ancient evil elves have no order of battle. Treasure is quite light and rooms have backstory. This seems like an adventure out of the early days of the OSR when the excitement of rediscovery of D&D trumped meaningful design.

So Mr. Levels 7 through 9, you’ve stopped in a small village and a child goes missing. Your do-gooder heart goes off to find it. You wander through a forest, find an island, and teleport to a demi-plane of evil elves. Because, I guess, it was in the poem. There you fight a bunch of elves who never leave their assigned rooms, until you find the kid, or don’t, and come back. End.

There’s an opportunity lost here, I think, to orient this towards domain play, where the village BELONGS to the party. The bosses can torment the village to get their taxes, solve the problem themselves, or assign troops, etc. That would have been an interesting idea.

A middling effort in every way, it starts out with describing three buildings in town. Fine, you don’t need to do an entire town, just the important bits. But the blacksmith and general store still has to go in to t detail on item availability and markups, with nothing else interesting, and the inn takes a column of text to tell us it was once called the Dagon’s End, with a pic of a dragon mooning someone. This is not the tight, terse, evocative writing style that I think makes an adventure both easy and interesting to run.

You’re supposed to go in to the nearby forest and look around for the missing child. There’s no scale on the hex map though, so who knows how long it takes. The town lays out in four hexes long by 2 hexes wide, and the forest is about 8-12 hexes away, so, I guess it’s a minute walk? And the lake with the important island is inside of two hexes of trees, so I guess you can see it from the edge of the wood? Or maybe not? The wilderness text implies this is supposed to be a long search. I don’t know.  In fact, I’m not sure why the players even go to the forest, other than “it’s there.” There’s not really any information that leads the party to it. Oh, a couple of rumors on the inn table mention it, but, ultimately, it’s the DM leading the party by the nose with no support from the adventure. 

A focus on going through the motions of adventure design format, instead of concentrating on what’s important for the adventure, is revealed by this. “Pretending to be grown up” is what I call this at work. People using big words and doing things because that’s what they think grown up business people do. A kabuki. But there’s no understanding of WHY something is done, ot when, and thus it’s generally just a time waster that doesn’t lead to anything worthwhile. 

Read-aloud is atrocious. It’s full of character perspective. “As you walk by” and “At first you are uncertain “ and “Someone walks up behind you” and “As you walk along …” This is quite a weak writing style, putting things in this voice. It’s far far better to describe just a scene, the environment, then it is to try and insert the party in to it. There’s little to no benefit to inserting the routinely, except perhaps  in special circumstances, It comes off as amateurish, pedantic, and removes the agency that a 7-9 party might have. And no, “the DM can just summarize it” is not an appropriate response. If that were the case then why put it in like this as all? Why not put it in a format that’s easy for the DM to scan and summarize? “Why, because that’s a spurious argument bryce.” Indeed.

So you make it to the island in a pond/lake in the woods and on it find some evil elves guarding it. That’s all you get, so work with that. In the middle of the island is a fairy circle of mushrooms. You stand in the middle and say “Shiek” and go to the fairy demi-place. How do you learn the code-word? Or even that there is a command word? Fuck if I know. Why is there even a demi-plane? Probably as a callback to the Yeats poem, which I refuse to read out of ennui. The lockdown impacts us all in different ways.

So, you teleport through and see a fairy castle in the distance. And then a bunch of elf knights ride out and attack you straight away. I guess they say you teleport in? From the distance that’s implied is far away? Whatever. It’s a guardhouse, the text tels us. But the elves riding out will be the last interactive things the elves do. They all just wait in their rooms to die, no order of battle. 

The rooms inside are just boring old things stuffed full of, usually, elves. Lots of backstory. Lots of history. An unfocused writing style. Treasure is quite light for levels 7-9. GOLD=XP! GOLD=XP! GOLD=XP! Jesus, I wish people would learn that.

The kitchen tells us “There is little here to interest the characters” Indeed. No truer words.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $2. The whole thing could be a preview since it’s PWYW, but the real preview is nineteen pages long. That’s a good preview and gives you a good idea of the writing style for the adventure, both the town, wilderness, and guardroom/dungeon rooms. It shows you exactly what you’re getting, so, very good preview, and also happy to see PWYW.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/134488/PO1-The-Stolen-Child?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Silent Screechers review

Sat, 03/07/2020 - 12:18
By Maximillian Hart Self-published 5e Levels 4-5

An ancient shrine in the center of a small jungle island is filled with small, lifelike statues and ape-like monsters. Dangerous fruit and a deadly fountain round out the perils in this short adventure for the world’s greatest roleplaying game!

This seven page adventure uses 2-3 pages to describe about six encounters on a small jungle island. It waffles between decent organization and evocative writing and the usual bland and unfocused writing that is the hallmark of most adventures. It gets closer than most though, leaving me hopeful for the future.

So, island, covered in jungle. From your ship you can see some ruins poking up through the jungle … as well as three wrecked ships on the beach. You stop and go check out the ships and ruins because that’s what we do on Wednesday nights. More seriously, the usual pretexts are included, from on the trail of an evil cult to some kind of treasure map. There’s a gap niche, I think, in adventure pretexts and complications. How does a ship and/or sea voyage actually work? Something that told you that would help you run and/or design adventures that include a sea voyage. Like, the ship needs to take on water and therefore stops at he island. Or, the mill has flour in the air that can explode. Interesting things, oriented at adventures, that matter in actual play and.or design. Anyway …

Having diverged once, let me diverge again. A 2-3 hour adventure? “Explore a forbidden jungle island”? World’s greatest roleplaying game? I guess the last is a reaction to the trademark stuff from Teh Hasborg? But, I would suggest there’s a slight disconnect in the marketing of “Explore a forbidden jungle island” and a 2-3 adventure, along with everything implied in “forbidden.” Marketing is marketing, but, still, it backfires when you get peoples expectations up and they go away disappointed. IE: the story of my reviewing life. Finally, 2-3 hours? Is four hours not the standard anymore? I’m being serious here, not a douchebag (for once.) I know that gaming store play has changed the culture a bit, but is the norm now 2-3 hours? This adventure, in particular, feels like it could have done better if it were a bit more open/larger/longer. You could get a 4 hour session out of this if the designer put in a little more work, and easily another session if the island were opened up a bit.

It is, essentially, a bunch of linear encounters. I’m no fool. I know that this is how people play D&D at home. But, as I mentioned above, it feels like this could have been more if it were opened up more and has a little more freedom. As written, you go down a jungle path, part some vines, and get attacked. There’s just a little too much linearity/”lack of pretext” in that for my tastes. 

Enough of my bitching though, let’s cover the good in this. And there is good! More than usual!

It’s sprinkled with little boxed sections, a sentence or two at most, that have designer notes, advice to the DM, and so on. This is great. It’s SO hard sometimes to try and figure out the vibe a designer meant. This sort of inspiration for the adventure, what I was going for, etc, is great. It’s boxed off, doesn’t get in the way, and can be full of advice to help the DM run the adventure. It FEELS like the designer is a part of the community, referencing online tools and the like, rather than just a pure simple “PAY ME! PAY ME NOW!”

The organization is a mixed bag. At times the adventure uses bullet points to convey information, and it does this relatively well. The wrecked ships, for example, just get a couple of passing lines in a bullet point in the beach section, telling you whats up with them. Not too much detail for an elements that doesn’t really drive the adventure. That’s great! (I might complain a bit, though, that while it’s not too much It might also not be enough. A ship name and or one or two sentences each, for the party, might have been in order. They are sure to search the ships and try to figure out what’s up with them? Especially since it’s the first thing they encounter? And maybe a missed opportunity for future adventure hooks, or petty rewards from brining back a sailors boots to his wife or some such? Yes, it can be hard finding the right balance. I am hartened (get it?! Get it?!) though that there’s not too much detail.) In other players the lack of formatting is telling. Monster and room information buried in paragraph text. The long-form paragraph is not the best wa for communicating some data. I’m thinking, specifically, of the text for the four or locations in the ruins, the shrine. 

I note also that sometime it feels like overview text is left out. There are fruit trees that play an important part of the adventure, but they are handled just as a bullet. A) Good! B) This could have been mentioned perhaps in a bit more detail in some kind of overview text. IE: “you see three ships and also some trees that seem to have fruit on them.” 

There’s good DM advice, as I mentioned, especially around tactics. Many designers can either leave this out or go full on tactics porn on the issue. Here it’s covered briefly and flavourfully. Apes, being the main enemy, get some flavour in their combat. They tear off huge chunks of bark ad throw it at the party! Flavour! A thing an apre would do! They hang upside down and swing from vines! Not just a throw-away monster, but it FEELS like an ape monster. Nicely done . Irrelevant background text is generally handled well, at least in the beginning, it being just afew words at the end of a scene surrounded by parens. It doesn’t get in the way, being both at the end and signaling to the DM via the parens. It’s also inconsistent at times, with other background information deeper in to the adventure not doing this and just appearing. “This ledge used to be.”

Evocative writing, like organization, is hit and miss. Bare masts rising up above the trees is a good bit. Other times it feels a bit on the blander side. Not full of “large statue” boring territory, but as if there were missed opportunities everywhere. There’s a room with an alter in it, a spider alter. But there are jewels in a loot pile. Better, i think, to put them in as a part of the spider alter? Who don’t like desecrating psider alters for jewels? It’s great imagery. Likewise, a folding boat doesn’t get a name or any details other than “it makes a loud clanging sound when unfolding” That’s good, but it’s also a missed opportunity, just like with the other magic items and most of the other descriptions, to add just a little more flavour with better word choices. 

A few rando notes: It comes with both a print-friendly version and a “pretty” version. Nicely done, keeping the greyscale background template off the printer friendly version. Also, the “pretty” version is laid out in such a way that the background imagery doesn’t interfere with the text that’s on top of it, something that more designers should pay attention to. It gets hard to read when your text runs in to the background imagery and you don’t also use a box, shading, etc. The monsters, listed in the appendix, could use a bit of description. As is we get some description in the adventure text proper “tall thin ape-like creature with long curved claws.” Not the most exciting description and, also, buried in the text of one room. A line or two in the general description/monster appendix would have been in order. (And a little more opportunity to be evocative also …) Finally, the map is very clean for ruins. Nice clean lines with 90 degree angles, etc. Black on white. Trust me, I feel your pain. Getting the fucking maps right, with all the shitty or complex mapping tools available, is a serious pain. So, while I won’t hold this against a designer I will say that’s it’s an opportunity to learn, grow, and do better. 

So, an ok adventure, better than most. Limited somewhat but it’s smaller size/shorter length. It doesn’t engage in excessive text sins, which makes the lack of organization tolerable, especially given the attempts to make things more scan-able for the DM. The mantras: better organization, tighter writing, more evocative writing. Once those basics are down you pass the first hurdle: not a fucking nightmare to run. This makes you better than 95% of other adventures and you can then concentrate on evocative writing, interactivity, and holistic design. A little more work to get over that first hurdle, I think. Still, I wouldn’t curse the world TOO much if this were dropped of fon my me five minutes before a AP con game started.

This is $3 at Drivethru. The preview is seven pages, showing you all of the pertinent parts of the adventure. Nice use of bullets in some places (the beach) and less other places (the shine rooms.) In fact, the bullets in the beach pretty much encapsulate everything about this, both from a positive quality (the mast/ship descriptions, bullets, high level/correct level overviews) and bad (ruins lack flavour, ships lack appropriate details.)

https://www.dmsguild.com/product/304309/Silent-Screechers?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Temple of Asibare review

Wed, 03/04/2020 - 12:17
By Dave Tackett Quasar Dragon games OSR Levels 2-4

Lying undisturbed for ages, this accursed tomb is discovered by the characters and a great evil is encountered. Will they survive this brush with darkness or will they become its latest victims. An OSR compatible module for any old school RPG or modern clone, The Temple/Tomb of Asibare is designed for character levels 2-4 or an especially harrowing first level.

This nineteen page adventure describes a twelve room temple/tomb with a vaguely middle eastern theme. Long read-aloud, mountains of backstory text in the rooms DM text, wall immune to everything but a Wish, this adventure has it all! Well, except treasure. So, not exactly an OSR adventure. More of a “Great example of how to not write an adventure” adventure. What RPG system is that? All of them Frank, all of them. Also, which one of you “gentle readers” suggested I review this? No christmas card for you this year!

Recall the new basic Bryce criteria for adventure success: Do I want to use my cheap yellow/beige mechanical pencil to stab my own eyes out when I try to run this? IE: is it bad? Evocative writing and interactivity might be “not boring” but making something not easy to use at the table easily earns you the BAD moniker. This is BAD.

You’re caravan guards. There’s a new building revealed out of the sand at an oasis you are stopped at. That night some other guards get killed. The next morning the caravan master asks you to take twelve(!) other guards and go inside to try and see what killed them. Ordered to your doom by those who control the means of production. Typical! And not even a bonus for your trouble!

The read-aloud in this adventure is BAD. It is LONG. Very long. Several reach a column in length. Read-aloud, is used, can’t be long. It has to be short. Why? Because people stop paying attention. You get a couple of sentences. 2, 3, maybe 4. No more. No one FUCKING CARES after that. They are here to play D&D not listen to DM monologues. No, listening to the DM is not the core D&D mechanic/loop. EVERY RPG thrives on the interactivity between the players and the DM. Back and forth. The DM presents. The players respond. The DM follows up. Then the players. And so it goes. Short. Bursty. Interactive. Long read-aloud breaks that cycle, people get bored, phones come out, and the DM wonders why no one is engaged.

The read-aloud in this adventure is BAD. It tells instead of showing.Instead of describing a locale, scene, event, it instead tells the players what their characters think and feel. “Every instinct tells you to run.” “By the flickering of your torchlight …” This is some hollow and false attempt to write an impactful encounter by making the players feel something. But it’s doing it by TELLING them instead of SHOWING them. You write a description that makes the payers feel a certain way, yo udon’t write a description that TELLS them tey feel a certain way. Besides, it’s also embedding actions in the read-aloud, assuming they are using torches, etc. This is never good. “You walk around the pyramid and see nothing”, again, in the read-aloud and again, assuming player actions and destroying the interactive loop of D&D. When you put extra descriptions in the read-aloud then you prevent the players from taking the actions with their characters. Instead of the read-aloud describing the first room and every detail of every aspect, instead the adventure should give a general overview and then allow the players have their characters investigate, with additional details coming out as they walk around and look at things. This preserves the interactivity loop.

The DM text in this adventure is BAD. Mountains and mountains of backstory in the rooms. This monster is here because of X, Y, and Z, which goes on for a paragraph. This is not what goes in to a D&D adventure. Or, to be more specific, this is not what should USUALLY go in to a D&D adventure. This sort of backstory, why the monster is there, why the trap was placed, what the room used to be used for, etc, is only of interest if it somehow drives the action of the adventure. The Why’s of things are less important than the current interactivity. The Why’s are for readers. The Why’s are a plot guide for  a series Tv writer. Interactivity is, instead, aimed at ACTUAL PLAY. That thing we’re supposed to be using this for? And the Why’s get in the way, clogging up the text, making it hard for the DM to find the information they do need during actual play. 

And then, at one point, you see a succubus in a circle. As a read-aloud, one of your twelve henchmen guar buddies walks over the circle and gets kissed out by her, drained. *sigh* I knew this was coming when I saw you had twelve buddies going with you. Not this, explicitly, but something like it. The NPC’s being dumb. 

There’s nothing to see here in this adventure. Just room after room of undead, etc, animating and attacking when you enter the room. All combat, no treasure is not exactly the crafty OSR play I am expecting.

Maybe my car will get hit by a truck today.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $2. The preview is six pages and shows you the intro and several of the room keys. So, a good preview since it shows you some of the encounters, the core loop of the adventure, so to speak. Take a look at some of the read-aloud and bask in it.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/138888/FM2-The-Temple-of-Asibare?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Horror out of Hagsjaw review

Mon, 03/02/2020 - 12:11
By Levi Combs Frog God Games S&W Levels 4-5

Travelers have long considered Hagsjaw a place to avoid. The town is known to outsiders by whispered tales of witches and strange doings in the old days. Once terrorized by a wretched coven of witches known as the Karnley Hags, the town was held in a grip of fear that saw its citizens oppressed and its children stolen. Anyone who dared oppose the hags was viciously murdered. When the witches were eventually overthrown and hanged in the town square, they muttered a unified curse with their last breaths, promising nothing less than misery and doom for all who remained in Hagsjaw. That was a century ago, and now Hagsjaw is little more than a forgotten watering hole. Time has not treated the decaying town or its folk kindly; it seems to die out more and more as each generation passes. The farms at the edge of town are empty of cattle and crops, the town’s buildings are crumbling, and even the sagging roofs of the abandoned, twin steeple church don’t look like they’ll hold up much longer. There’s little left to suggest that the town hadn’t withered away completely… until recently.

This 22 page investigation adventure is fairly straightforward and OOZES with flavour. Mostly horror/investigation, it’s basic form should translate easily to just about any genre, from CoC to Modern and maybe even to SciFi. The evocative writing is long and there’s significant room for improvement in that area.

Let’s start out with two important notes. First, I love decrepit towns and villages and adventures in them. Second, I think that adventures with a strong horror theme translate well to almost every genre and RPG system. If you’re allowed ANY supernatural in the system then horror is horror and good horror adventures tend to use simple non-genres specific creatures (ghosts, witches, etc) of which the theming is more important than the specific stats, and the themes tend to genre-hop well. 

Horror this is. The creatures you face are a blobby-like gelatinous human-ish creature … stat’d as a gibbering mouther. But because the emphasis is on the description rather than just saying “there’s a gibbering mouther in the church” it allows the creature to translate well. It’s a gelatinous blob/human/form creature first. This is EXCELLENT. The emphasis is on the creature and what the stats say is of secondary important. Flavour tends to always triumph over mechanics. This extends to the strange lights on the edge of the foggy forest … and a cliff. Will of the wisps. The use of generic “witches” and a witch coven in the backstory. That crosses genres well. They come back, as a kind of spirit of posession-ghost, taking over villagers and then charming more. That translates well. And then you have a mob of villagers, possessed, bribed, etc. Again, translates well. A straight up ghost? Yup, translate well. Maybe the only thing that doesn’t translate well is a halfling and a stayr. The halfling feeds you information because he was alive to see the witches hang, originally, a hundred or so years ago. Turn them in to an old man and shorten the time a bit and it works. The satyrs could just be degenerate villagers in the woods, ala HPL, and it wouldn’t loose anything. It might even work better, if The Old Gods didn’t play a part in your game world. Anyway, takaeway is that a well-written horror adventure relies on themes, like hanged witches, 3’s and the like, and this is a well written horror adventure. Not exactly scary, but you FEEL the creepiness viscerally.

And you feel it not only because of the well executed themes but also because the writing is evocative.  This great writing extends even to the hooks. Throw away hook. The worst ever. Caravan guard. Sent by the church, etc. But given fresh breathe by how they are written. The caravan guards? The first line is “Storm’s a comin’ … we better get off the road.” BAM! Instantly sets the tone, even before someone says “that place don’t nobody e’eer go.” Twist the language. Torture it. But communicate the FLAVOUR to the DM, and this does that. And it does it over and over and over again. Great, well written sentences. Great word choice that makes you FEEL the scene, and therefore be more likely to translate it to the players.

The writing here is very sticky. You remember the FEEL of the place. Which is good because it’s not organized very well. Details are buried in those evocative paragraphs. While they do a great job conveying a vibe that vibe is useless to the DM at the table running it if they can’t remember it. This is typically solved by writing text that’s easy to scan. But paragraphs don’t scan well without bolding, italics, bullets, whitespace, indents, etc. And this don’t do that. What is DOES do is bury information in weird places. The local farm has a great little thing about whipperwools. But that information, that there were hundreds, isn’t where you need it. The farm doesn’t tell you that, a person will tell you that. It needs to located someplace where it’s useful to the task at hand: an NPC communicating it. Otherwise it’s useless text that clogs up the DM’s ability to scan the text while running the game. And it’s TOO good to give up. This happens over and over again. Great NPC’s, over written, or, perhaps, not organized well enough to easily run them during play. (And the NPC’s are really really good. From the old coot to the rando’s you can throw in. Tropes, leveraged, are a good thing when done well.)

Treasure is light for a S&W game. But it’s also got versions for 5e and Pathfinder, so I suspect no one upped it for S&W. The Frogs could do a MUCH better job in that regard. It would help better communicate that they give a shit about S&W.  Although … layout seems cleaner and more modern than the Frog adventures I remember in the past, the memories anyway, so maybe they are stepping up their game? Anyway …

Let’s talk some magic treasure! How about this? “This silver ring is fashioned to look like monstrous, overlapping claws clutching each other in a circular pattern. Once each day, the

wearer can summon forth a swarm of disembodied, clawed hands that crawl over one creature  …” Great physical description (again that evocative writing) and effect (that then gets a mechanical description, but, at least it starts with the non-mechanical.) A certain potion is “horrible-smelling black ichor.” Good writing, even if “horrible smelling” is a conclusion that is telling instead of showing.

The adventure design relies on the party being nosy nellies. Or, ratherm a mob attacks them the first night and the party is expected to follow up on that if they have not followed up on things previously. There’s also a trip in to the woods which I don’t think is telegraphed as clearly as it could be. Essentially, half the adventure lies in the woods, or comes from it, and there’s not much i9n the way of pointing people to that as the next step. Easily solved by a DM dropping some hint in questioning, but, still, a slight weakness in the adventure there.

The whole things FEELS like someone who had never seen an RPG write an adventure and then stat’d it for the mechanics and that’s a VERY good thing. And I don’t mean the mechanics are wonky or don’t make sense, they do. I mean it feels like someone came up with ideas and then looked to see what the closest thing mechanically was to them. That’s a great way to design. It’s not a blob because it’s a gibbering mouther. It’s a gibbering mouther because it’s a blob. The church in town is boarded up and you have to break in. But it feels more like a real world imagining of a boarded up church you’re breaking in to then it does some kind of fantasy lockpick/knock kind of thing. The basement of a farmhouse is unnaturally cold. IN a supernatural adventure? Really? Yes, it has brown mold. Shit makes sense in this. You can telegraph it, it makes sense, layers still won’t get it, until AFTER The encounter, when they are kicking themselves. That’s good.

You probably can’t save the village from the decline it was going through. But, if you save the villagers then “They carry the names of these heroes with them as they tell tales around the campfire or trade news with those traveling through.” The actions have consequences and the parties fame will grow. That’s a good reward. 

So, overall, a great adventure. I’d recommend this if it were organized a bit better. As written, it is highlighter and note taking fodder to run it. It’s the designer’s job to ensure I don’t have to do that. Design is good. Evocative is good. Interactivity is good enough. But it needs better organization. And I got No Regerts saying that.

Also, there’s no level designation anywhere on the cover or product description. That’s a MAJOR fail by the publisher.

This is $8 at DriveThru. The preview is only four pages and doesn’t show you ANYTHING of the adventure except the background. That’s a shitty preview. A couple of town entries, or a page of encounters is what should be in the preview, to let the buy know what kind of writing to expect.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/303758/The-Horror-out-of-Hagsjaw–Swords–Wizardry?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

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