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Updated: 1 month 5 days ago

The Dark of Hot Springs Island

Wed, 07/25/2018 - 11:15


By Donnie Garcia, Jacob Hurst, Evan Peterson, Patrick Stuart
The Swordfish Islands
OSR

This 200 page adventure is a jam-packed hex crawl on an island full of factions and weirdness. Close attention to both usability and imagination have resulted in a must-have product. Magnificent. And it would have been even more magnificent if they had put in fewer words justifying the lack of monster stats and had put in monster stats.

Sometimes products come along that are clearly exceptional. A strong creator vision combined with something new. On the Adventure side of thing, Wilderlands was an early example. We might also list Stonehell, Rappan Athuk, Maze of the Blue Medusa. Something new, leveraged to see a vision implemented. This is one of those.

There’s an island, with sixteen hexes making it up. Each hex has three encounters in it. Some of those are minor and some of those are multi-room dungeons. The first one hundred pages of the booklet deals with that. Two pages summarize each hex and encounter. Then each hex gets a more in-depth description, with all of the detail of each hex fitting on a single page. Then there’s an expanded section for each major encounter that describes each one in more detail, generally a page or two. Think of it as providing the map and encounter key for those little dungeons on the isle. This section is cross-referenced to all hell and back. Factions, NPC’s, other hexs … if something is referenced a page number is given.

There are great summaries of the island, the hexes, the factions. Wonderful examples of how to actually USE the book, and tables to help generate rando things, like names for NPC creatures. The travel system outlined is simple and easy to use. The maps are clear and easy to read. I am a hard art critic, not liking much, but I must say the two-page spread of “Hot SPrings City” is something I would have framed it it were larger. (Joining the cutaway of the Starship Warden that hangs in my living room. I note that they are both very busy pieces.)

The second half of the book describes the factions and the major players, as well as monsters and magic items and tables, the usual appendix stuff. But … the factions. Man. This fucking shit is deep. There’s a group of ogres on the island, fighting a rebellion. The ogres get a one page write up. Then one more about the high priests influence, whats going on right now, and a major subplot. Then there are eight different major NPC”s presented, each with a little history/write and bullet point list of what they want and what they don’t want, followed up a few subplo/traits. And they are not just things to hack! And that’s just for ONE of the six major factions. It’s nucking futz!

Th creativity is off the charts. Not exactly gonzo … more Isle of Dread with a bit more “ancient elven magic” mixed in. More Dread than Dread, I think also. The environment for creative play is there, and then …

AReas are lightly keyed. Generally this means a map, some brief descriptions of the map, a table to determine what the general 411 of the map is, and then en encounter chart with they are doing. The ide being you have a place (the map and keys) and then roll to see what’s going on. Simplified, let’s say “turf war!” And then you roll for each room to populate the room and what activity they are engaged in. And your mind naturally related everything to “Turf War.” The system works very well. If you are in to building it on the fly. I’m not sure I am.

Oh, and there’s no monster stats, which is why there is no level rating. And there are seriously enough NPC’s to choke a horse.

I am a jerk-faced jerk. I insist on usability at the table. That’s my definition of “adventure”, which is what I review. I don’t want to prep an adventure. If I have to prep its a toolkit and, while I might be fine with a toolkit, I want to make sure I understand that’s what I’m buying.

Didn’t someone redo the maps in DCO? This thing needs someone to stat the damn thing. And make a one-page/one-sheet NPC summary list. (Ahum, with page number cross-references.) And maybe a rando generator for the rando stuff. (Although, I could probably do that in about 30 minutes, by hand, for the whole book, which doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. Remember, I’m also a hypocrite.) Didn’t I rip Gardens of Ynn for the same thing? It IS pretty easy in Hot Springs to do that, easier than I recall Ynn being. This is almost certainly a case of me being unreasonable and citing something for the sake of citing it. The generation takes about a minute per “major area”, which seems fine to me. I also kind of wish that the travel rules were condensed and on the map. That would be a great final nod to usability.

The intro nodes that the island is a powderkeg and the party is the spark. I like that analogy for a good adventure. If you’ve got a lot going on then you can dump in the party and watch the place explode. Lots going on, and lots of threads to follow and exploit. That’s D&D.

If you’re still on the fence then you might also red my review of the Lapis Observatory. It is ONE of the locations on Hot Springs Island.

The Lapis Observatory

Yeah, the physical thing is pricy. But … really? For the amount of play you’re going to get out of this the price is trivial. Most price pressure, I think, revolves around the fear of getting ripped off. I don’t have a problem paying if I know it’s good … and this is one of those stake-in-the-ground products. You’re a fool for not having this.

This is $20 at DriveThru. There’s a 20-page sample available at the publishers site. It goes through how to use the book, and then page nine shows you main hex summary descriptions, with a few samples of the locations to be populated and the NPC faction data. It’s a great preview of the writing.
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B2vRPHp5ZV31YjYtMmhhTENZRXc/view

http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/215340/The-Dark-of-Hot-Springs-Island

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Shadows of Forgotten Kings

Sat, 07/21/2018 - 11:17


Zzarchov Kowolski
ZERObarrier
5e
Level 3

The villages on the edge of the jungle used to be wealthy: they gathered fruits and exotic hardwoods from within the jungle and sold them as wines and furniture to regular merchant caravans in exchange for grains and other staples. But caravans do not make it through anymore. A handful of tattered survivors have made it back to the city and reported being assaulted by wave after wave of panthers that would attack, retreat, and attack again in replenished numbers. The merchant houses want their lucrative route back. The villages need grain and supplies; their people cannot live forever scavenging fruit and huddling by their hearths in fear every night. Tales lead deeper into the jungle – to the ruins of an ancient empire fallen to a terrible curse.

This 31 page adventure uses twelve pages to describe a ruined and forgotten city in the jungle. The encounters form a great neutral environment for the adventure, full of interesting things to get in to trouble with, and the final section of ruins contains a 90 minute timer. The text frequently forgets to get to the fucking point, and drives me crazy with “this room used to be”’s. Be it the writing, editing, or layout, someone fell down. Hard.

This is a pretty good forgotten jungle ruins city. It feels like one, and there’s lots to get in trouble with … without it feeling directed at the party. Each night a tree grows in the heart of the ruins. Fruit ripens and turns in to severed heads with sewn together kips, trying to scream. Eventually they burst and flies come swaming out. Which carry the plague. They fill the city from 15 minutes after dawn to sunset, when they die. Bursting the head before they do so naturally cause gore and maggots to come out of them. Ain’t that a stinker? That’s fucking AWESOME. Now that’s a what I call a curse! In another area there are fallen glass doors that, when you step over them, cause a magic mouth to appear and speak … which causes cursed panthers that roam the ruins to show up. But the next room is a hall of mirrors, which causes them to become disoriented. The entire thing is written in this very neutral manner. It’s not deck stacked against the party, it’s a natural environment that they can exploit, if they are smart enough.

A gold chain hanging from the ceiling may cause you to search the floor, to find what was hanging from it. IT MAKES SENSE. Someone thought for one than one second about the room, and it shows.A shadow demon who doesn’t want to be guarding anymore. Spells on clay tablets. A rosetta stone to crack the ancient language used throughout. Clues in one area to secrets in another. This adventure is CONSTRUCTED, a thing that few are.

And it’s weakened, overall, by its routine use of common sins. The number of fucking times I had to read “this room used to be …” and/or “its all dust now …” is beyond number. You know how I knew the room was a library? YOU CALLED THE ROOM “#12: Library”! And you follow up by telling me the room was once a library? USELESS. And it doe this sort of thing over and over again. It was once decorated with luxury, but now all is dust.

And voice! “Unlike whatever wooden furniture was once in the room, the club has not rotted to dust.”

Room entries bury information important to other rooms inside their own text. “The creatures in the numbered entries are treated like mummies” or”treat the undead like skeletons. When do reach the impacted rooms/text there’s no hint that they are mummies or skeletons. Bolding/etc for monster encounters or other important things is non-existent. “If you put the emperor’s body in this tomb then you get the following bonus.” Great! You know what would have been better? Putting “(#8b)” next to “emperors body” so we all know where it is. The relation of one area to another is great, and it doesn’t have to spelled out in the text, for clues relating to another area but a reference on where to find things is CRITICAL in an adventure like this, that tries to integrate the explanation of what’s going on inline with the text.

Speaking of what’s going, a gentle reminder: background information is ok … but not when you bury important things in there. Like DC checks. Which this adventure does repeatedly, thereby forcing me to read the backstory. LAME. Let me guess, Empire, Fallen, Curse, Evil, Corruptions, Gods. Did U get it right also?

I’m not a happy man this morning. I was hoping for better, 5e or no. There’s a decent mechanic for getting lost in the jungle and for adding some variety to the wanderers, but it’s plagued by a lack of proper editing. The starting village is plagued by pather attacks … but there is no data on that. The NPC (and wanderer) descriptions are lengthy. I don’t want to break up play at the table by reading a two paragraph NPC description before that NPC interacts with the party. I will read it once, a few hours beforehand, and I will glance down for a couple of seconds. That’s it. If it takes me longer than a couple of seconds to absorb then it’s no good. That’s how these things need to be written.

This isn’t garbage. It’s well constructed. A good wilderness followed by a good exploration area followed by a good dungeon. You just need to spend a lot of time with a highlighter going through it. I’m not going to do that. That’s supposed to be part of the value proposition that the designer/writer, editor, and production staff provide.

You know, bits of the writing remind me of that shitty Dungeon magazine room description of a trophy room that went on and on and ended with “but it was long ago looted and now nothing remains but dust.” It’s the same … cadence of words?

This is $7.50 at DriveThru. The last page shows you some of the Exploration system for the jungle, while the two before it show you the village NPC’s. Talk about wall of text!
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/243857/Shadows-of-Forgotten-Kings-5e

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Vanilla Adventure

Wed, 07/18/2018 - 11:15


By Wind Lothamer
Knight Owl Games ( https://knightowlpublishing.com/)
OD&D
Level 1

As the players arrive in Boson Bay, it should be assumed that they know nothing of the particular culture of this area. If anything, they will have learned that Boson is a bastion of humanity in an untamed wilderness on the frontier edge of the world.

Vanilla doesn’t mean generic.

This 52 page adventure is a wilderness crawl with an inciting event: dragons begin a rampage and burn the town to the ground … and then move on to do the same elsewhere. This starts the party moving and, I guess, a motivation to stop the dragons. It is charming, brutal, winks at Tolkien, and has no Vanilla in it. It’s also single-column and a hot mess. But man … it just needs a little more …

The party is level one and new in town. Night two: dragons burn the town to the ground. Then orc slavers move in and capture the refugees. The burning down of the town is, I guess, supposed to get the party moving in the wilderness to other locations, by stumbling upon them/talking to refugees, and provide an overall goal: stopping the dragons from burning down EVERYTHING. Because that’s what they do. There’s a mechanic in this for which wilderness encounter the dragons burn down each day. The 9HD dragons. (1e was 8HD at Ancient? OD&D is different?) The party move around the wilderness, learn of new areas from others and from refugees, and eventually … well, I don’t know. As far as I can tell there’s only way to learn what is causing the trouble: talking to the orc slavers.

But fuck that, this thing is charming as hell. Footpad Ferd is a thief you can recruit, as is Borrmormere and Eric Snow. Mary Pippins is a halfling in their village you can recruit, as is Billbeaux. The elves are forced to stay in their forest because they wear silver collars that cause their heads to explode if they leave. There are 200 orc slavers in their camp. There’s a poly’d unicorn who has forgotten who she is, and a harpy, her mortal enemy, is after her. The Dorkenstone is in a mine that has awakened the dragons, deep in the caves, and you need to make a -10 save to not go mad. Also, the caves are full of dead bodies and some weird insect hybrid monsters. This place is FUCKING. MADEHOUSE. And I LUV it!

You can talk to just about everyone. The orc slavers. The humans at the various guard keeps. Poor dwarves, elves, halflings, outlying farms, the unicorns. Go ahead, talk to them, make a reaction roll. Try and recruit them to your side.

The mechanic of burning down the main down and then having the dragons burn down everything else is MAGNIFICENT. It gets the party moving and provides motivation for for role playing skeptical people (who haven’t been burnt down yet) and in recruiting folks to help fight the 9HD dragons. As with the best ODD, it seems to started with imagination first and ignoring the deriguour elements. Yeah, and ripping off Tolkien with funny names is a time-honored D&D tradition.

It’s not super clear how the party is aware of the Dorken stone. The map for the Dwarf dungeon is missing, there being just a blank page where it should be. (As is, I think, a temple map.) There’s no scale on the wilderness map in spite of checkins being called for “for each day in the wilderness.” It’s single column. The stat boxes are HUGE, and the writing needs to be tightened up a lot. This thing should come in at 15-20 pages instead of 60, with better formatting. Layout, and tighter editing. It goes out of its way to use vanilla elements and rip off Tolkien, and probably more I don’t recognize, given that John Snow NPC reference. (Dorken stone ripped off from Heavy Metal?)

But fuck me man, this thing BRINGS IT. Each encounter packs and delivers. Lots of creatures. Lots of HD. The encounters are almost entirely written for play at the table with little no bullshit trivia. It’s a fucking mess, a glorious glorious mess! Get the party moving. Let them talk to things. Give everyone a bunch of treasure to tempt the party. Pretty fucking simple formula.

Also, it has Giant Beavers. As is wont in OD&D. Even those adventures not set in Canada.

Want to play some Vanilla OD&D and have a good time? This thing is it.

This is $5 at Drive Thru. The preview is 12 pages, with the (charming) regional map on the last page. Check out those monster stat block on the pages before that! This writing is not very typical of the rest of the adventure, it being mostly prologue. The Dragons, on page eight, would be the most representative, I think, although most the sections are shorter than this.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/205032/The-Vanilla-Adventure

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

To Bring Down the Sky

Sat, 07/14/2018 - 11:12


By Benjamin Gibson
Coldlight Press
5e/Pathfinder/1e
Level 4

The overcast sky and dusty road are working in concert to make for a truly dismal day. It’s almost a relief to hear something out of the ordinary, like a wailing cry of panic and a harsh, coughing roar. Looking up to the clouds, a thin human figure hurtles down, chased by a savage beast with reptilian wings. But looking up past the two is an even stranger sight…three mighty isles loom out of clouds, impossible and yet somehow real.

This 49 page adventure, with about four actual adventure pages, takes place on three islands floating in the sky. The party travels there to recharge a feather of mass fly, and ends with fighting an quantum ogre. It’s terse, got good encounters, has a couple of interesting product concepts, and delivers on the “everything you need for one night” promise that so many other products fail at.

Normally, a 49 page adventure with four pages of content would arise my ire. This is PWYW, with a price of $1. I can pay a $1 for four pages. But wait, there’s more! This promises everything I need for a one shot/one night of adventuring. So many products do that. I’m pretty sure I’ve yet to see one deliver. Except this one. All of those other pages are support material. Blank character sheets. Party handouts. Pre-gens. Gear lists. A one page primer on how to play. 25 pages of battle maps. Some printable mini’s. I’d have a hard time imaging how someone could do better than this.

Then the adventure does something else interesting. There’s a DCC adventure that you can use when someone dies. You go off to the underworld to save their soul, if I recall. Blades Against Death. You pull out the adventure when someone dies. At that time I called it a whole new genre, the SItuational Adventure. You pull it out when a certain situation arises. I’m not sure I’ve seen another one in that genre since I reviewed Blades in 2013. Until now. This adventure gives you a magic feather that has, essentially, a mass fly spell. If your party needs to get a long distance, fast, then you can whip this one out. At the end they will have an item that can take them a long distance quickly.

Of the four pages of actual adventure you might consider two of them background. You read those ahead of time, once. They provide some background, a general overview, some clarification of wider goals, the preamble, hook of the adventure, and so on. Then there are two pages that are used during play, one a map and one a key. The map, isometric (I love isometrics for larger/complex places! DL1 to the rescue!) contains a few other pieces of information as well; some personality overviews and some stats.

Those personalities overviews are something Ben has done before/frequently, and I love them. He gives an NPC a three word description. The apprentice wizard on the isle is helpful, curios, and panicky. The old caretaker couple is dour, scared, and nostalgic. These perfectly communicate what you need to know to run the NPC and integrate them in to the adventure in a fun way. Panicky and curios gives you ideas. Nostalgic and scared gives you ideas.

The adventure uses a lot of techniques that I’m willing to call The Ben Style. Centered around a one or two pager, or a series of them, these short NPC descriptions, terse stat blocks and key descriptions, and some background information that is generally read-once orientation. It’s a great format. He also does things like give adventure follow-on suggestions, social mind maps for NPC interactions(Yeah!), and gives location reference in the text descriptions so you know what/where to look for things.

The encounters, proper, are interesting as well. The halfing couple are trapped in their house, with wyverns in the barn … along with the calf they don’t want to leave behind. A bridge pulls away from the main island. Wyverns lie sleeping, gorged. Bathing an artifact in the quantum ogres blood recharges it. They are interesting and make sense.

There ARE a few things that annoy me. The bridge that pulls away, it does that 30 minutes after the players arrive. That could have used some bolding or otherwise some sort of standout text instead of it being in the key description. Likewise, the monster descriptions are a little light. There’s at least one sentence/thing I don’t understand at all: “Pass to second isle exit is behind secret door.” Huh? The isle is connected to the main one by ropes … how can there be a second exit?

Is this one of the Best? I would say it has done as much as you can with with the format of the one/two pager. A little light on monsters descriptions, or evocative text. But … it’s a one pager. There’s a limit, I think, to the amount that can be accomplished with this format, and I think Ben has pretty much reached it. This is, absolutely, an acceptable level of adventure writing. If you were looking for an adventure and picked this up you would be satisfied, both with the adventure and with the claims it makes. It’s a good, solid performer. This goes against my absurd desire for every adventure to be an evocative tour-de-force, which is stupid. This is a good adventure. Ben would be my go to for 5e/Pathfinder content, at this point.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a current suggested price of $1. The preview shows you the main four pages of the adventure, all of the actual content. How can you ask for more than that?
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/244681/One-Session-Kit-K3-To-Bring-Down-the-Sky

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Grudge Immortal

Wed, 07/11/2018 - 11:15


By Emanuele Galletto
Rooster Games
LotFP

The Year is 1564. A group of Western explorers reach Japan on board Portuguese vessels, lured by the promise of adventure, fame, and riches. What awaits them on the ghastly island of Takashima, however, is a much darker tale…

This 40 page adventure details a small Japanese island with a very bad spirit on it. Good theming can’t disguise the verbosity and formatting issues though. This could easily be half as long, if not less, and be much better for it. It’s a good horror adventure, and those are few and far between. But man, it’s a textbook example of an adventure making sense to the author, but needing the hand of a good editor to cut Cut CUT.

While in a small Japanese village the players hear some rumors. Some primitive villagers on a nearby island have silver with weird runes on them, there are pirates on the island, the island is a Heavenly Ark, left behind during the Age of Gods, and/or there’s a legendary sword on the island. This brings the party to the island. The first eight pages are full of background, historical and fictional, which condenses down to “you’re in a village and hear some rumors”, with it assumed the party follows up on. The actual content in this section is pretty weak, consisting mostly of just the half-column of rumors. Everything else should have been stuck in an appendix to safely ignore.

Achieving the island, it’s full of massacre site after massacre site with great horror imagery. A ruined fishing village full of the bodies of women and children cut down. The elders hut on a hill has some bodies torn apart, impaled, in a wholly different way than the rest of the village, and the headman is at the bottom of a ladder, his neck broken from a fall. Elsewhere on the island there a woman’s body stuffed in to a sacred well. In the ark proper there are the bodies of children in various states of decay mired in muck in a small dungeon room. It’s creepy as fuck, and a slow burn until it explodes in action. It’s got some great imagery, the dungeon proper has a lot for the players to interact with and get in to trouble with, and feels for all the world like both Japanese horror AND a deadly LotFP adventure. That kind of “the only winning is not playing” high character stakes shit that Raggi adventure have had. Good horror, the slow build with creepy as fuck shit, is hard to find in adventures. This is good horror.

The adventure is also a total pain in the ass. It engages in LENGTHY descriptions of things with seemingly on the very basics effort made to organize itself. So while you get major section headings like “Village” or “Pirate Base” you also get facts mixed in to the text, all stream of consciousness style. Mixed in to the pirate base description it tells us that at night you can hear gunshots from the base all over the island. Well, fuck man. That’s important. That’s not something that you bury in the text of one location. “Wilderness encounter 45 of 134: A great visage of God hangs over this site and can be seen everywhere, pointing a big red arrow downward.” The gunshots are perhaps the most glaring example of this lack of thought, but it shows up everywhere in the adventure. The formatting of large chunks of text is just plain WRONG. Important things are mixed up in the text of trivia. You have to read a full column or more to get a grip on whats going on in a location. General descriptions should be up front, with the most obvious things, with follow up text explaining more. Summaries, indents, bullets, bolding … use the full power of word processor and layout to bring clarity to the adventure text. This is just verbose stream of consciousness writing. Sure, the layout is nice, but who cares if its a pain to run?

Here’s the description of one of the rooms in the dungeon/Ark:
“Partially submerged within the sludge on the floor are the rotten corpses of eighteen male children, each in a different state of decay and swarming with arhropods. The most recent has probably been dead for less than three weeks, and the oldest is little more than a skeleton. All of them had their neck broken; a careful examination of the more intact corps- es reveals they were tied or restrained.

These are Tokiko’s failed experiments, the children kidnapped by the villagers and killed for Antoku’s soul to possess them. This process has never been successful: the young child-emperor has retained some of his sanity and purposefully resists the process. Tokiko doesn’t know this, or perhaps she refuses to acknowledge it.”

Note that the second paragraph is all fluff/history. Irrelevant. We’re actually told this information three other places in the adventure, iirc. The first paragraph is good, but, perhaps, formatted sloppily. The last sentence, maybe the last two, could be broken out in to another paragraph or via bullets or something. It’s not such a big deal in this room description, but as the descriptions get longer and the DM text does also, it becomes critically important to make the data easily transferred to the DM during a quick text scan/read at the table. It does this over and over again. You’re not writing fluff. You’re writing a tool to be used at the table. It CONTAINS fluff, those evocative descriptions and so on, but its primary orientation must be use at the table.

I like the adventure. Nice slow burn horror with dire consequences. That’s rare enough. But man, I can’t stand the format. This morning, it’s not worth it to me to go all highlighter on it. Let’s all remember though that I have very high standards; this thing is certainly interesting and its cons may be more manageable/acceptable to a wide range of folks.

This is $7 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. It shows you all of that background data on Japan, historical and fictional, and the small section on the second-to-last-page that has the rumors/hooks.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/230052/Grudge-Immortal

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Scenario from Ontario

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 11:18


By Kiel Chenier & Zzarchov Kowloski
Self published
NGR/LotFP
Low levels

(These are the results from a writing contest, with little extra polish.)

This 49 page canadian-themed adventure has two scenarios: Sugar Shack Slaughter and Maple Witch of the Beaver Wars. They each take up about half the book. Both are set in the pseudohistory of the 17th century of LotFP. They both ooze a lot of flavor, local and otherwise, with quite good encounters. And they both could have used more editing/layout, with the first being better than the second, but not great either. The first is essentially a monster hunt while the second has just a bit more roleplay, although I would say both are very roleplay heavy.

The first scenario is more developed than the second, with the second being more in the line of free form ideas in paragraph form with some general large section headings. The first dows more with whitespace, indents, bullets, and so on to make the information more readily available to find during play. The second has long paragraph that has three NPC’s in it, describing all three of them. Bullet points or paragraph breaks, perhaps with bolding, would have done wonder to make it more accessible and less like a wall of text … which major sections of it are.

Nitpicking at the first, the hex map is a little light to read hex boundaries, and the wandering and movement stuff really should have been included on the hex page also, to put everything together instead of spread out over multiple pages. It does this in multiple places, and could have been formatted better to keep important things, like what the syrup farm owner knows, all on one page. But …

It DOES have a nice little section NPC’s. The core concepts of both are great and there are PACKED with flavor. Furt traders, one sick, will trade some beaver pelt for a cure … but not all of them! That’s a great roleplay scene, between the party and them and between the two of them. “Jaque! Give them more so I will be healed! No! We need that money!”

The monster hunt has a 50hd 600hp blob monster that, if killed, reforms, That’s pretty nice! Finding your way to a cursed tree and a trapped spirit to be banished finishes things up. Along the way are complications from the natives, and government/business conflicts with bribes. Maple syrup, beaver pelts, witches, native tribes, fur traders … all its missing are some mounties and hockey players for the most canadian thing ever written.

(Speaking of, Canada needs some more tourist traps. Mounties, first peoples, hockey players, fur traders, all walking around in the same fake forts.)

The hooks present are pretty blah … except for one. It’s mostly just hired jobs and missing relatives. But, a central point of the first adventure is a missing maple syrup mogul. One hook has you searching for her … but for revenge! She has wronged you and by god you’ll not let her get off so easy as to have a monster take her! I love the logic of it! Great hook!
My, what a worthless review I’ve written. If you’ve ever wondered why I usually just reviewone adventure in multi-paks, this is it. I do a terrible job.

Anyway, they are both very flavorful and evocative. The encounters in each are top notch, memorable without trying to be over the top. And they both FEEL like Canadian adventures. And they both have serious usability issues. Whil the first, the monster hunt, has better formatting, it’s still quite lengthy, the sort that digest with large margins gives you, and the second is just free form text, IMO.

This is $4.50 at DriveThru. The preview is worthless, giving you no idea of the writing in each section.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/239661/The-Scenario-from-Ontario

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Beholder Contracts

Sat, 07/07/2018 - 11:15


By David Whiteland
Fantasy Chronicles #3
AD&D
Level 3

Eight pages of four column tiny font from an obscure Irish(!) rpg magazine from the 80’s that is ALSO a favorite of Kent? Sign me up! I finally tracked down a print copy of the magazine … well, two. The first was lost in the mail and the second came in from Uganda. I know. The things I do for love. We’ll pass on the usual wall of text and usability criteria for this one and just accept the limitations of four column tiny font in a magazine. That part blows.

But

I often talk about digging through boxes of junk adventures at cons and stumbling across a masterpiece. A hidden gem. That’s what this is.

This is a good adventure. Adventure outline? Something like that. Imagine something like B2. We’ll call that a normal and/or standard adventure. Location, keys, etc. Then there’s those BS plot adventures. Lengthy, scenes, a series of locations, etc. Something like Stonehell, or other one-pagers, might be seen as an outline of the standard B2 type adventure. It tries to keep flavor and what’s important while minimizing the rest, all in an abbreviated page count. (I’m straining the example a bit, B2 is pretty abbreviated already.) Beholder Contracts might be seen as an abbreviated version of the plot adventure. It provides a general outline, specifics to add color, and lets you, the DM fill in the rest. You get more than the usual plot adventure because it leaves things out. By providing an outline it allows for more room to color outside the lines, avoiding the typical railroad elements. We might think of it as a small number of places for the players to visit all connected by some threads.

While healing, the party is approached by a henchman of wizard 1. He wants the party to go recover a lute stolen by a musician who was then captured by wizard 2. Wizard 2 knows nothing, but finds a reference to the lute pointing to some barrows. Visiting the barrows turns up a ghost of the musician. Seems wizard 1 steals peoples eyes … and wants to steal the parties eyes for what they saw in Wizard 2’s home. A visit to wizard 1 is in order …

And absolutely every little bit of that outline I just provided is WONDERFUL. You’re resting in a little monk grotto/gardens. The flavor is well communicated in the text. Wizard 2’s abode is great … high on top of a mountain … with a great view. Not a meany, just a wizard. The ghost? Not actually. Half alive and half dead, he plays on the lute to partially revive his corpse each day … before the effect begins to wear off. The wizards? Flavorful as FUCK. Bob the all-seeing collects eyes. Wizard 2 is a lightning. Their stats break ALL the rules. Treat as level 6, but only with access to level 1 spells. Except for lightning at level 12. They FEEL like idiosyncratic wizards … which is exactly how the fuck NPC wizards SHOULD feel. The PHB is for the players, dummy!

The supporting material is good. General maps, showing just enough detail to ground the DM. Stat blocks and magic items are easy to find. There’s an abstracted overland travel map that concentrates on JUST what the DM needs to run it. It’s 120 miles from a to b, add 20 if you are taking roads. Roll on the hills wandering chart in the DMG once a day. As Shao Kahn would say … Excellent!

The writing style is quite evocative. It’s sticky. It’s all free-form paragraph descriptions, not typical room/key. For most people writing I would suggest room/key and the one or two sentence evocative description. But that is not the only way, and I would never suggest it is. It’s just the easiest way for most people, especially amateurs. But you can do anything you want as long as its effective. I’m fond of quoting the description for Old Bay, the retired hill giant who LOVES giant crab legs. Once read you will never forget him. The descriptions here are more akin to that. Sticky. Plus, the amount of detail to be kept in the head is relatively short for the DM. At just four double-sided pages, the DM need only read a column or so of text to keep in their head, and they can run the nights game of just that. There’s probably enough content for, I don’t know … three or four sessions? Thus you read tonights section, it gets cemented, and you run it. It’s all general descriptions, the vibe and feel of a place, with the rest left up to the DM. It’s a perfect amount, and type, of content.

The NPC”s and places are all memorable. The magic items are great and unique. There’s a natural progression to the adventure that doesn’t really railroad players but still has a kind of plot going on.

Having said all of that … this will require a highlighter. Some bits are more important than others and they are all mixed in. Plus, you’re not gonna find this for sale. Haha suckers! I got it and you don’t! (Which is why I tend to not review older things and I’m shoving this in to a weekend “free for all” slot.) Some kind person should get the authors permission to rewrite it, keeping the spirit and flavor while ditching the limitations of four-column tiny-font magazine layout limitations. Whitespace, bolding, boxes and indents … Some layout would be most of what it takes to turn this thing in to a 9 or 10.

Bah! My google art foo fails me! There’s an illustration of a water nymph standing in a pool of water, clutching a garment to her, with adventurers next to her with a spear, I think. Classic D&D art, maybe in the style of those old turn of the century styles that everyone grabs for free for their OSR stuff. This reminds me of that. The feel. The richness of it. I’ve seen 2e is be good ONCE. When it is it feels like classic free-form OD&D. Rich beyond belief. That’s what this adventure is, rich beyond words.

I feel like someone I know has reformatted other older adventures that were kind of a mess. Maybe they would like to get the authors permission and bring this one in a more usable form also, so the world can enjoy it?

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Palace of the King Under the Water

Wed, 07/04/2018 - 11:14


By W. R. Beatty
Rosethorn Publishing
S&W
Levels …? Mid to high?

Long forgotten by the people of the Rosewood Highlands, these ruins, now called Blackfalls Hall, have become the palace of the mysterious King Under the Water. […] What does the King Under the Water want? What is he hiding? Who will brave the depths of Blackfalls Hall to discover its secrets and treasures?

This 59 page adventures describes a multi-level complex of humanoids dominated by an evil king. With about 120 rooms, it is the real deal when it comes to multi-level dungeons. Fleshed out and fully realized, it has great variety and a … continuity? to it. Also, the editor was on LSD. I want to say something like “this is a nightmare of epic proportions” but that would be a great exaggeration. It’s disorganized with the DM text being all over the place, making it hard to parse at the table. For some reason I’m reminded of Dark Tower … great, but not simple to use. Or maybe Yrchyn the Tyrant from Usherwood … fully realized.

This thing don’t fuck around. It has a short background on page four and starts the keys on page five. Page 45 ends the keys and starts with the maps, monsters, magic items, AND A MONSTER SUMMARY SHEET!!!! The entire thing might have two pages of background info; that half page at the beginning and one page at the end describing rumors, hooks, and factions. The font is small and the information DENSE. It’s been a long long time since something like this popped by.

By my count there are seven levels, with varied map styles. Dungeons, grottos, outdoor cliff dwellings with an isometric view to help you understand it … perfect. The maps are Dyson. I know a lot of people love Dyson maps but I’m cooler on them. The ones I’ve seen generally tend to be small, almost like lair maps, with varying degrees of interesting features. Some of these are larger, to the point of being full on exploratory maps with many loops. Magic items contain a decent amount of uniques, especially with swords. For example, Bitter Root, the longsword, +2 can only penetrate magical armor, useless against non-magical armor though still cuts flesh.

Multiple prisoners to rescue, factions and machinations, up to and including the False King and the True King of the halls. Garran Ocar, High Priest of the Flood makes an appearance. Who the fuck is he? Hell if I know, but that name, oh man! Well, yes, I do know, he was drowned and raised by the true king. That’s the sort of detail that just oozes flavor. An old bitter ghost has cursed the place and now long-time residents are obsessed with birds (a part of it used to be a temple to a bird god.) This opens up some bird theming for the goblins, including riding giant vultures in places … like a cave mouth overlooking a high cliff, and a shamen that may jump out of window to be at one with the bird gods. There’s a kind of interconnectedness that runs throughout the place, with multiple themes. PERFECT for D&D exploration! Players love that kind of shit, and so do I as a DM.
Now, let’s talk about why this wonderful piece of work would be a nightmare to run. Room 1:

“The path up the cliff side is winding and treacherous, following a series of switchbacks, ending at the bottom of a series of buildings clinging to the cliffs on the western side of the waterfall. The entrance is about 50’ above the great pool below. The door here is thick oak, reinforced with iron bands and painted red and blue (the royal plumage of the Birdmen).”

That’s not a bad initial description. It even establishes some mythology with the red/blue stuff. We’ll give this paragraph MOSTLY a pass, since it’s really “the outside.”

Paragraph two …

“The door is locked. Inside the 15×20 foot room are 7 Goblin Guards and a Bird Shaman, called “The Sky Watch” by the other denizens. Normally they simply sit at tables playing dice or complaining. If alerted, one will climb the spindly winding stairs to the next levels to alert the garrison guard while the remaining six stand against the wall on either side of the door to ambush anyone who comes through while the Shaman casts darkness which covers the whole room.”

I’m gonna be an ass here. The locked door sentence belongs in the first paragraph. That describes the exterior and the lock is the exterior. In fact, that entire first paragraph could/should be a preamble before the keys start, but, whatever. Anyway, locked door goes OUTSIDE, where the information on outside is. Once INSIDE The room then you can start with those details.

Room dimensions in text are almost always bullshit. That’s what the map is for. Start strong, with the first thing. “7 goblin guard and a bird shamen dice & complain at a table. If alerted the Sky Watch will …” That’s direct. It’s targeted at play.

THEN comes the third paragraph …

“Each Goblin wears leather armor with a blue waterdrop symbol crudely painted on the chest, fights with a shortsword and a dagger and has 1d4 sp and 1d10 brilliantly colored bird feathers in a leather belt pouch. The Bird Shaman is covered head to toe in blue and red feathers. In addition to his spells, he wields the Staff of the Air (Stinking Cloud 2x/day, Predict Weather 3x/day, Air Blast 4x/day). Air Blast pushes an ogre sized volume of air (3’x5’x8’) at an extremely rapid speed, pushing up to 600 pounds of weight 4d6 feet (save for half distance). Air Blast does no damage.”

It is at this point I think the description is really off the rails. There’s really two things going on here. First is the description. Blue waterdrop and covered head to toe. Very nice, Probably belongs after the “complain at a table” since it’s something the party sees immediately. The leather/shortsword stuff, as well as the Staff of Air, probably belong in the monster stats, which is paragraph four, or even putting the staff in the magic item appendix, maybe with a page number reference. “Staff of Air (p44)”

(paragraph four)
Goblin Guards (7): hp 2,2,5,7,4,8
Bird Shaman: hp 9
Spells: Fly, Feather Fall,
Bird Form (limited polymorph self)

This sort of muddling of information happens not only within room but between rooms as well. Information from one room is referenced in another, obliquely. “They will release their pet.” pet? What pet? Oh, that’s in a different keyed entry. A reference to that entry, “rm 7b”, would help immensely. This is pervasive throughout the adventure, even if it can be excused a bit in the Cliff Dwellings section because of the way the buildings kind of all run together.

This is a great multi-level dungeon. I just wish it were edited better for use at the table. It’s a hard sell to slog through things. Something like 15 adventures made my Best Of list in the last year. That’s more than one a month. Why would I suffer? It’s time like these I have No Regerts.

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. The last half shows the keys, with room on, the bird shamen, on page four. Check out those last three pages for a great example of what you’re getting. A great preview.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/240471/Blackfalls-Hall-The-Palace-of-the-King-Under-the-Water

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Darkness Beneath Dalentown

Mon, 07/02/2018 - 11:17


By Tim & Matthew Bannock
Self Published
S&W
Levels 8-12

… Spurred by stories of restless spirits, the party soon finds themselves staring down an invading force of oozes, slimes, puddings, and jellies all in the service of demons! Worse still, the ancient dwarven lords that once protected this underground library and mining operation have been horribly transfigured by the infernal powers at work, and linger on as deadly spirits and automated guardians who are tortured by their station and forced to repel the intrepid adventurers!

This 37 page adventure has about seventeen room rooms on about eleven pages and includes a small town. Featuring sewers AND dwarf ruins, the DM text gets quite long. Pruned WAY back it would be an ok adventure.

While expanding the (very small) towns sewer system workmen break through a wall. Monsters and oozes start to appear. Adventurers were sent in and most got slaughtered. The party is sent in to clear things out and bring back the other bodies. There’s some undead, ghosts, and a Juiblex worshiper down there.

Dwarf ruins and sewers. *sigh* Once upon a time the world was full of wonder and there were ancient ruins attributed to no one .. or to cockroach people. Mystery is a good thing; it leads to a sense of wonder. Tired tropes are not a good thing.

The town provided is small, really just a village (with full sewer system …) and is Just Another Generic Fantasy Town. It’s text is expanded some to be fleshed out, just as the default hooks are. There’s nothing special going on with the town or hooks, just a little more information than usual. That little bit extra does wonders though for cementing ideas. Its right around my tolerance level in length, maybe a bit over the line. It does have a nice little events section, for what happens when the partyrests and/or takes their time. Ooze attacks and so on, with just enough detail to get the DM going. Nice length to them, short and terse with a few details, and it’s a good resource for making the place actually seem alive.

The dungeon map is mostly linear. The DM text for the encounters can be LONG. It’s full on “this used to be a …“ and “the plan was for ….” and lots of tactics, etc. But … nestled in each one there DOES tend to be a short little section that actually contains the room description. It’s not a masterpiece of evocative, but it’s a cut above the usual dreck. You just have to find it in the other text.

Here’s an example of the DM text. This is one paragrapgh in a six of seven paragrah full column room description: “The original idea was that water was stored in the cisterns, and could be heated or cooled through mechanisms that acted upon water in the shallow depression — a sort of pool or channel for water to flow through — but the exact nature is lost to time and damaged parts encased in the earth and other accessways throughout the complex that are now unreachable.”

But … here’s the first half of the first paragraph also, for comparison: “Two immense cisterns dominate this open warehouse- style room, standing in a shallow depression forming a channel that could move water through underground pipes. Iron pipes run along the length of the cisterns up into housings in the ceiling. Each cistern includes a lid”

That’s not too bad if it were standalone text. And then, of course, there’s three and half more paragraphs of text. Ug.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is twelve pages. Page seven shows you the town event chart, while the last three pages start to show the adventure proper. The text just gets longer.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/241414/The-Darkness-Beneath-Dalentown–Swords–Wizardry-Edition

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(Pathfinder/5e) The Ties that Bind

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 11:15


By Michael Allen
AAW Games
Pathfinder
Level 6

Still reeling from the twin disasters of the Great Schism and the Hoyrall Wars, the halfings of Picollo are a people cast adrift from ancient traditions. A cleric of the Great Mother strives to restore four great holy sites to the goddess, and in doing so restore the bedrock of halfling society.

This 44 page adventure has the party escorting slaves on a sea voyage to a southern-style slavehold run by halflings in full Deep South plantation attire. Oh, there’s a wayward priestess you can convince to change her ways, a ruined temple she’s interested in, etc. That shit is supposed to be the focus, and not the slaves. Sorry, “indentured servants.” It tries to be a sandbox, but it seriously wall of texted and hard to figure out what is going on. And the slave shit is BADLY done.

This is not a bad adventure. It is a badly DONE adventure. The party is hired to accompany a halfling and her large lot of indentured servants on a two month sea voyage to the halfling island homeland and deliver them to a village. That’s the pretext. In reality, she’s a heretic cleric who has fallen from the true faith. Being nice people will help her see the errors of her ways. There are some encounters directly related to this, and others that are just seeds floating around to perhaps take on. It’s less of a railroad than most (well, except for the sea voyage. What ya gonna do, you’re on a boat.) The major MAJOR problems of this adventure are the abstraction of the indentured servants (both them and the press ganged sailors) and the DISASTER that is the formatting of the adventure. I can barely figure the fuck out what is going on. This thing reminds me of the Principia Mathematica; yeah, it’s got something in it, as long as you study the fuck out of it for a week. I ain’t no millionaire’s son; I Got a job, two kids, a wife, three mortgages, and other interests besides studying the fucking text of this adventure. It’s the designer and publishers job to present it logically in a format/layout/etc that is easily digested. And that they don’t fucking do.This thing is a train wreck of wall of text and subplots appearing out of nowhere and lack of meaningful section breaks. I can’t quite figure out what they are doing, but whatever it is it’s A) Consistent and B) Doesn’t fucking work at all. The ship voyage is the just the first little bit of this adventure, everything after is self-characterized as a sandbox, but the sections are so incomprehensible it’s hard to figure out what is going on, or is supposed to go on. After two readings I’m still not sure how everything in the second section ties together.

Then there’s the slavery. Oh, sorry, indentured servitude. (I’ll also include the press-ganged sailors on the ship in this category.) And the racism. The fucking halflings are full on bigots. The artwork shows one of them dressed in a deep south plantation master outfit. First, this is all a little heavy. If I want that BS I’ll go play Mountain Witch. But, ignoring that, yeah, I think it’s a topic you can cover in a traditional RPG … if you handle it right. This doesn’t do that.

The slaves & sailors have no names. They are hardly ever mentioned except as “you need to escort them.” They don’t exist as people. First, that’s ham handed from an ethical standpoint of an adventure dealing with these subjects. Second, and what I’ll concentrate on, it’s bad fucking design.

You’re gonna spend two fucking months at sea with these people. Not even a name for the slaves & sailors? Not a personality? Not a subplot? That’s the job of the designer. One page with names, personalities, maybe a subplot/goal or two. What, you think the party are going to treat them like paperweights? Ignore them or treat them like cordwood? Even if they do it’s going to be a more interesting adventure if they interact, are real people, with real goals.

But beyond that, what’s a party member to do? You’re clearly in the employ of deep south bigots and transporting slaves BY SHIP. There is absolutely no mention of a slave revolt or anything like it. I guess they are all happy slaves, singing & dancing? Sorry, indentured servants. “Hey man, you wanna be an indentured servant?” is never gonna come up during play? How about the obvious bigoted statements? How about the time the bigot bosun whips people until red welts appear on their back? At some point in this party is a party member going to say “Enough!” Me, I’m eager for a bit of the ultra violence and would engage in some stabby stabby early, in spite of my NE alignment. NONE of this is handled in the text. A page of NPC names and a some advice on the slave revolt and/or diffusing tensions would have sufficed. Ignoring this is a MAJOR oversight in assisting the DM in running the game.

On the more traditional front, it’s got the usual stat box/Pathfinder shit. The ship has ghosts, mephits, and slimes on it … quite the small space for space for such density. I’m not gonna claim to ever be on a slave ship but are there really that many unvisited places on a ship? The cross-references suck. At one point you eat some soup and get sick. It impacts the next day. But you have to get to the next day text, a long way off, to learn that. A simple reference to it would have sufficed to allow context.

This thing is a nightmare. Yes, it absolutely has an adventure in it, much more so than the usual 5e/Pathfinder dreck. But the organization is CRAP, more so than usual even. And the lack of Slave Revolt advice … it’s like putting in a kobold with a chest of gold and not giving the kobold stats or describing the treasure. Obvious oversight is obvious.

This is $10 at DriveThru. Page four of the preview shows you the page-long italics read-aloud. Joy.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/150280/Shattered-Heart-Adventure-Path-1-The-Ties-that-Bind

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Sacrebleu!

Wed, 06/27/2018 - 11:22


By Tito B.A.
Self Published
Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells/OSR
Levels 1-3

Discover the island of EREWHON. Fight goblins with WW1 weaponry, eat mold with analgesic properties, get eaten by man-eating black lion tamarins!

This thirteen page adventure describes a village and a few encounters on a small island. Containing both hex crawl and dungeon elements, and elements of sandbox, it’s generally terse, evocative, and a little gonzo. It’s a decent little adventure.

Let’s see if I can get this straight …

It’s a small island, maybe 6 hexes by 6 hexes with each being 6 miles. There’s a small town/village that was just raided by goblins. They splattered the wizard that rules the town during their attack. He founded the town to mine some druggy fungus on the north end of the island. The goblins are, unknown to anyone, led by the wizards father, who was turned in to a goblins by his sons. Seems the wizard left leaving his brother in charge and he was the one splattered while the wizard was just seriously wounded, fleeing to a temple he razed a few months earlier. Oh, and the goblins are lairing in a different temple and killed a squad of WW1 french soldiers that came through a time portal, eating their brains to learn how to use the machine guns, rifles, grenades, and pistols. Oh, and the dwarf CURRENTLY in charge of the town is a little shit betraying the wizard. And I see a ship in the harbor that trades in goblin slaves. And … well, I think you get the picture. The fucking place has ALOT going on. And an adventure with a lot going on is an adventure I can get behind. Add a spark of PC magic to powder keg and watch it BLOW! A small setting with a lot going on gives the party a lot of opportunity to make plans, back one side or another, and in general treat the place like a sandbox. You could kill the wounded wizard and take his shit. Or side with the goblins. Or the dwarf in town. Or yourself. Or the wizard and help him exact revenge.

The supplement supports the DM. The directions for hexes traveled are direct and to the point. As are weather. Not just trivia, but how it impacts movement and the adventure. Most of the shit is directed AT the adventure. It’s not trivia, it relates itself to the adventure proper. That’s rare. And very good. The wanders DO things. There’s even a dragon willing to parlay with the party to remove the goblins.

Did I mention the temple to time, the second temple the goblins are in, was built by the cockroach people early in their history? That’s the kind of stuff that adds flavor!

The plot develops IN the adventure, inline to the text, much in the same way G1 did. The writing is generally short and terse, evocative and easy to scan. There are orders of battle for the goblins to respond. The town has some little subplots and the shit in it is full of potential energy. The treasure is good … like a silver hairnet inlaid with elephant ivory.

The font is some weird art project typewriter thing, which, while not destroying readability, does nothing to help it. Some of the wandering monsters, in particular the ones at the beginning of the booklet, are NOT oriented towards action. They tend to the be the usual “look, you found a basket!” kind of stuff.

Things can also get a little rough. There’s a goblin ambush on the road with an MG, a rifle squad, and grenades … nine in total. That’s kind of rough at level 1. I mean, I like it, and there IS a surprise roll in D&D for that wilderness wandering monster table … but man, rough shit.

Anyway, good adventure. Creative, LOTS going on, a kind of open-ended sandbox design, good treasure … little wonder the designer credits Sholtis, Gus, and other luminaries as helping to inspire them. Easily makes the Best Of list, which can tell by now because of my shitty shotty review of it. I gotta figure out a better way or writing positive reviews.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a current suggested price of 50 cents. The preview is a pretty good one and gives you a good idea of what to expect. Typewrite fonts, good sidebar usage and bolding, both the good and bad wandering tables.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/243550/Sacrebleu

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Dragontongue

Sat, 06/23/2018 - 11:16


By Matthew Maaske
Games What Games
5e
Level 1

Many have heard the songs sung by the bards about Justin the Vindicator and the heroic deeds that he performed with his magical sword, Dragontongue. But the sword once had a different name when it was forged by the dwarves and was used by their own in defense of their lands. Now the dwarves want Dragontongue returned to them. But where is the sword now?

This ten page adventure describes a twelve room tomb with bandits and an undead guy. It has a good idea or two but also has the usual 5e bloat and makes bad choices in presenting the text of the adventure.

Dwarf hires you to go find the sword, buried with a knight. Seems it was once a dwarf relic before the knight took it. Just find it, that’s all. Look around. It’s in a burial mound six miles away. The mound is guarded by a senile knight of an almost disappeared order.

That encounter is the primary bright spot of this adventure. He guards the entrance, and is lawful good. How do you reconcile that with your charge? He’s senile, so you could trick him … how does tricking a LG knight in order to grave rob/enter the tomb of a famous knight strike you? It strikes me as some good roleplay. Mostly. There’s always the possibility that the party WON’T talk themselves in to it. In which case … there’s a band of brigands that have dug a hole in the tomb on the backside. I might have suggested a few words about what to do/how to use the brigands to solve the moral issue if the party talks themselves out of it, but, whatever.

This is the primary high point of the adventure. There’s some business about trapdoors and mirrors and levers controlled by the leader, which should provide some interest, but it’s mostly just a plain old ordinary small dungeon complex. Bandits, an undead guy on a throne in the basement, the usual.

But the choices made in presentation turn it from “meh” to “pain.”

First, there’s the use of a small font AND combined with italics … it’s a pain to read through. Italics should almost NEVER be used, and certainly not for large chunks of text. Yes, I know lots of adventures do it. Italics is a pain to read in large chunks. Don’t do it.

The read-aloud, when it’s not a column long chunk of italics, engages in some dubious behaviour. We’re told that there’s dust on the floor. Then it also has “Some of the dust has been disturbed.” NO! NO NO NO! You save that shit for when the players ASK about the dust. “I examine the dust.” h, ok, then some of it looks like it has been disturbed. There’s supposed to be a back and forth between the DM and players. You don’t abstract things that contribute to play. That’s why this is ten pages and not a one sentence adventure: “You go the mound, trick an old knight, fight bandits and an undead guy and then retrieve the sword. 300xp each.”

The rooms also do weird things with the DM text. It takes three paragraphs to describe a tripwire crossbow trap. Seriously? Or, how about the single dire wolf you encounter … which then takes pains to tell us that dire wolfs get advantage if they fight in a pack. But that just means the designer copy/pasted some shit in. There’s only one wolf. Why the fuck would you include that? It all feels sloppy and not put together. AN order of battle for the bandits? No, they just wait in their rooms to get hacked down.

There’s not much interesting in this. The knight, maybe the leaders use of trap doors and mirrors and levers. That would make it just “the usual adventure” (meaning it would be better than 95% of the dreck published today.) But then it go forward with the italics, read-aloud, weird and lengthy text padding … It’s just not worth it to dig through to try and run it.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is only three pages long and the only one of ANY value is the last one. It’s a good example of the italics/small font and lengthy text, but it doesn’t really show you a room and the text here is less focused than the room/key encounters.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/243000/Dragontongue

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Caverns of Ugard

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 11:17


By Shane Ward
3 Toadstools
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 1-3 maybe?

The name Ugard is notorious with pain and fear! Thru-out the surrounding lands Ugard and his minions threaten, bully and extort money and lives. The vile Minotaur is holed up in some caves on the outskirts of town.

This ten page adventure describes a twelve room cave with goblins and a minotaur, as well as a completely separate adventure in a thief guild in the city sewers. The primary cave adventure takes up four pages with the map. It tends to the drab & dry side of the D&D adventure spectrum, but doesn’t drone on.

With twelve rooms, there’s not much room for things to go on. Some goblin guards, a wolf pen, spiders, some friendly dwarves, and the minotaur. The guard play dice, a prisoner is being held ransom, dwarves mine and want a pickaxe back. There’s a big underground lake to get past, full of piranha. (Shouldn’t ALL lakes be full of piranha in D&D? Hmmm, they will be in my next D&D campaign.)

The room text tends to be short, two or three longish sentences and its done. That makes it easy to scan. The text tends to be on the dry side, I think, but clearly an effort has been made to be evocative. Crumbling stone bridges, a strange idol on a pillar emanating a dark green light. A crude jail with sticks wedged in to holes in the ground.

It’s there. How effective it is is a subject of my nitpicking. Can a room be both utterly dark AND have an emanating green light in it? “At one time there was a stone bridge across the lake, but it has since crumbled.” Well, ok, but is there a better way to say that? “To the SE there is an exit. There is nothing in the room.” Well, yes, obviously, if there’s nothing in the text then there is nothing in the room.

The crumbling bridge is, I think, a good example. Yes, it does tell us that the remains of a bridge wareere in the room. But I think it uses a rather passive voice to get us there, with perhaps some inference required. There’s room for this in places in an adventure, but I think of it more of an aside, after the main description. “Crumbling remains of an majestic bridge litter the lakes surface.” That’s more direct, it tells us what is there now and hints at what was. I’m not the best at this, and second guessing word and sentence structure is not the point of the blog, but the avoidance of a passive voice and engaging in active voice descriptions are a much more effective way to communicate features, IMO.

I could quibble with other aspect also. Some rooms have obvious sounds, or smells, that should emanate from them. Chanting, laughter, animal sounds and latrine smells. It would have been nice to have an odor comment, for example, in adjoining rooms. Treasure also seems quite light. With just +1 weapons augmenting a few coppers and silver. There’s no level listed, so I guessed at 1-3. Most enemies are goblins, with the 6HD minotaur being the big bad. The goblins and minotaur don’t really have a response to their buddies being hacked to death.

What you’re seeing in this review is, I think, a response to an adequate dungeon that still doesn’t meet my (very) high standards. It’s basic, and there’s not much wrong with it. But there’s also not much in it that makes you excited to run it. Noth the romo text, or encounters, or anything else that would seem to fire your imagination. And thus it comes off as a bit dry & bland.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a current suggested price of $0. The preview doesn’t work. Me can has sad.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/128306/The-Caverns-Of-Ugard

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

An Overwhelming Sense of Loss

Mon, 06/18/2018 - 11:15


By Roger E Burgess III
Red Flag
OSR
Levels 1-3

Or, The Occasion Of a Visit Into The Underworld By Way of The Grand Entrance To The Ancient Dwarven Fortress of Thrumi`Zud: SOMETHING brought down the mighty civilization. The sages say it was desperate invaders from below, escaping something even more horrible. Whatever it was, Thrumi`Zud was quickly overwhelmed and sealed, forgotten except in the stories of the old. The vast riches of the fabled Dwarves must surely be hidden within its depths. Perhaps you will be the one to rediscover them. Perhaps there are secrets better left unearthed. Horror lies within. You have been warned.

This FREE 39 page adventure describes the first level of a dungeon with 82 rooms, on about eighteen actual pages. The rest are maps, patrons, new monsters, etc. It has a twerse writing style that makes it easy to run the rooms, with an effort at evocative language use. There are some window dressing issues, but, otherwise, it’s a decent dungeon adventure.

There an introduction to this adventure, a kind of designers notes, placed up front. I like those; a one-pager or less on what the designer was thinking can provide some good insight that might otherwise slip away. This time around the designer notes that the dungeon is geared toward three OSR concepts that, he asserts, don’t get much love: Fantasy Fucking Vietnam, Henchmen, and Reaction Rolls. I must say, he nails all three concepts. He’s using Henchmen as a stand in for the geometric XP charts. If you die at level five then your new level one will reach level five again by the time your fellow level fives reach level six … not leaving you too far behind. This allows for a lethal game which encourages henchmen. Horror, isolation and loss in the dungeon are the hallmarks of FFV. There’s got to be survival tension. Reaction rolls mean that there’s a good chance you can talk to and interact with the dungeon creatures in a manner other than just hacking them down. Or, as I like to say, you can always resort to a bit of ultra-violence, why not interact some first to break up the d20 rolls?

Complementing these design philosophies are the formatting decisions made. The writing style is terse, one step beyond minimal keying, with a decent attempt made at being evocative. This allows the DM is quickly scan the room during play and embellish it fr the players. It’s full on trying to implant an image in the DM’s head and leveraging that to greater effect … EXACTLY what the fuck a room description should do. The room titles are descriptive, in and of themselves, which complements the entire affair. Thus a room might looks like:

Preparation room 2.
Barrel of rancid oil, torches, barricade of columns to the north. Moldering cloth lines the walls. Light, glowing softly blue, emanates from the West.”

Not the most evocative ever, but still WAY above average. It’s focusing on giving an impression and letting the DM fill the rest in, which is what a room should do. Another room has alcoves “guarded” by faded tapestries. That’s EXACTLY the way you are supposed to use language in describing a room. You can do ANY fucking thing you want as long as its clear and jabs the vibe of that room in to the DMs head.

Sometimes, though, the writing engages in window dressing. Weird for the sake of weird. This can be ok, but I generally think its better when the weird is targeted. The opening room has some column covered in glowing glyphs, sputtering like a bad CFL. That’s it. It could have been strong if it were a warning, or clue to something deeper in the dungeon, or even even just general “protection against great evil” stuff. IF the players investigate, and they will, what’s up with them? No, you don’t have to give away every secret, but it would have been great forshadowing.

I mentioned that the writing is decent, but could be more evocative. Clearly an effort was made and it shows and IS decently effective … but could have been better. I know, that’s shitty feedback. I wouldn’t say flat, but, maybe I’m picking it apart because I see so much potential here. Anyway, I was going to compare the evocative writing to the map. It’s a decent exploration map, with a couple of loops … but it also feels like a star formation with little clusters of rooms hanging of the central point. So, decent map, better than most, but not superstar quality.

The encounters, he meat, are generally pretty good. A decent mix, you can talk to things, and a lot of neutral elements to get in to trouble with or exploit. In one room there’s a group of demons (manes) trying to figure out how to loot a temple nearby. In another, a group of warriors has another group trapped in a rooms. There are things going on, thing happening. There are effects in the dungeon that are neutral, waiting for the party to fuck with them and then maybe exploit them in the future for their own gain.

This thing is EXACTLY what you are looking for in level one of an exploratory dungeon.

It’s not rock star, but it could have been. I think I tend to pick things apart, like the wanderers not doing things or the writing not as evocative as it could be, when things are close. But, anyway, this absolutly goes in my DM toolbox.

This is free at DriveThru. The seven page preview shows you the map and the designers notes section but, alas, no rooms. That’s too bad. Every preview should give you a look at the rooms so you know what to expect.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/127617/ZH01-An-Overwhelming-Sense-of-Loss

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Svarog’s Anvil

Sat, 06/16/2018 - 11:09


By Thanasis Tsiakmakis
Geek Society
5e
Level 4

The long lost Dwarven Kindgom of Gleodemar holds a relic of the past, Svarogs’s Anvil, a magical artifact, that when used by a Dwarf it can help mass produce weapons, armor and ammunition. The Heroes are send to reclaim it, but the ancient fort is not empty and the new denizens have settled for good and seem to be also looking for some lost treasure. Will the Heroes manage to win them in a direct (and bloody) confrontation, or will the try to slip through the shadows to reach their goal? Maybe they will be captured and the “cavalry” will have to save them? In this adventure anything goes and it takes only one mistake to unravel the Heroes’ careful plans.

This fifty two page adventure (the appendices start on page 32) details a raid on a ruined keep to retrieve an ancient dwarf anvil. A decent basic premise is ruined by a lack of understanding of basic adventure structure/formatting. It’s ok, but too hard a slog to use at the table.

Conceptually, it’s a decent basic adventure. Journey to keep. Figure out how to get past monsters. Probe depths and loot quest item. Get chased on way back to town. There’s even a kind of basic sandboxy element as you see the keep from the outside and humanoid patrols and figure out a way to get inside. Force, sneaking, deception … all of which will result in The Best Layed Plans of the party … a classic part of D&D fun. There is no greater joy then a plan being devised and then the fun of watching it execute/go south. Elements of the journey to the keep, as well as being chased/followed by the humanoids you stole from, on the way home, give this a decent little third act, something most adventures miss.

There’s nothing really new or exciting about this. Or, maybe instead I should say, it seems to cover all of what you need for a decent adventure, which is in and of itself exciting since so few adventures, especially for the modern games, seem to hit these notes. Three are mercs to use/hire, and even a Casper to perhaps win over to your side and exploit. The mercs even have some personalities that are not expanded upon too much. There’s an order of battle for the humanoids responding. You could view this as a nice little sandboxy humanoid keep.

Except it’s executed like a NIGHTMARE.

MOUNTAINS of read-aloud and DM text. The writing is directed at the players. There’s no real map key or organization to the adventure. And, there’s enforced morality.

The last is first. At one point you kill an orc mother holding a an orc baby. The baby is crying. If you kill it your alignment shifts to either neutral (if good) or evil (if neutral.) This is not how alignment works and it is not fun. Yes, I know, many adventures do it. They are WRONG. This is an arbitrary DM ruling and those have not place in D&D. The ONLY way this works is if you tell the party “If you kill the baby your alignment shifts towards evil.” At that point they get to make an explicit decision: take the hit or not. That’s ok (in theory anyway.) I would still argue though that this is a bad thing. Do you really want to have a nature vs nurture discussion in your D&D game? Shall we all read some Peter Singer before or next game? Further, the proposed solution, leaving the orc baby in a crib you found in one of the rooms, is abandoning the baby to die … the same as if you’d cut its throat. Arbitrary DM’s are not fun. The trolly problem doesn’t have a solution. That’s the fucking point. It forces discussion no a hard topic. By saying it DOES have a solution (in a world in which evil gods come down and fart on you, no less) you are wrong..

There’s no map key to speak of, or creature annotations. Guards in the keep walls? It’s in the text not on the map, in spite of the map having a lot of other notes. The text is quite free form, not being in room/key format, and really just a conversation that flows. A kind of linear running text of how the adventure might go.

The read aloud contains text like “You stop to assess the situation.”

No doubt much of this was learned by copying other adventure. Other adventure suck ass. Seriously, the modern adventure is written terribly. The purpose of an adventure is to be used by the DM at the table to run a game. That means no lengthy sections of text. That means text that is easy to scan at the table, find you need, and improvise on. Do you really need the introduction? Could the NPC personality section be rewritten to make it easier to scan? This is technical writing, almost like a dictionary, more than it is a novel. Help me run the adventure. You don’t do that with mountains of text. ANd no, you don’t get to use “written for n00bs” as an excuse. A: don’t pander. B: that’s an excuse.

Too much of this seems like it was written “because you have to have to do it that way”, where the “have to” is learned from modern adventure styles. A REALLY strong edit, not a copy edit, is needed to get the designer to prune back the text to about a third of what’s offered, and formatted much much better,

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a current suggested price of $.5. The preview is eleven pages, and is decently representative. The last few pages, in particular, offer a good example of the mish mash conversational writing style and lack of structure/formatting.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/242922/Svarogs-Anvil-5e

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Into the Trolls’ Den!!!

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 11:13


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, hey, you get full color battlemaps!

*sigh*

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

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Last Candle

Mon, 06/11/2018 - 11:19


By Greg Christopher
Chubby Funster
1e
Level 1-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(PF) The Forest of Starving Spirits

Sat, 06/09/2018 - 11:17


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Wizard of Bald Mountain

Wed, 06/06/2018 - 11:19


By Ken Goudsward
Dimensionfold Games
Goldensword/Generic
Entry Level

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Desecration & Damnation

Mon, 06/04/2018 - 11:16


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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