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The Submerged Spire of Sarpedon the Shaper

Wed, 09/20/2017 - 11:20

By Ben Laurence
Necrotic Gnome Productions
Labyrinth Lord
Level … 4?

This is a 25 page adventure in the From the Vats zine. It describes a five level dungeon with 32 rooms of a sunken palace/home of a LONG dead sorcerer lord. It brings the OD&D and does a GREAT job of describing a slightly alien environment, underwater wizard, that is still approachable by the players. It brings the weird and it JUST on the normal side of gonzo, clearly D&D and yet a GREAT environment. The picture of OD&D. Vivid imagery, great encounters, weird treasure. It’s let down by the formatting, and deserves a second edition that formats it better. Oh, it’s been a great week! TWO great adventures this week, and, weirdly, both with an underwater component and/or ruins sticking out of the water. I’m bouncing in my chair; a clear indicator of being excited.

Crumbling steps spill from the shore directly in to the sea. A seaweed choked stone path can be glimpsed winding down in to the depths. A broken onion dome sticks out of the water, forlorn, the roost of seagulls. That’s good. It conjures up imagery and feelings. You build the rest of it in your head and any description that does that is the BEST kind of description. SHort. Puchy. Evocative. Easy to scan. It injects a seed deep in to your imagination and you get to build from it, the way a brain does.

Here’s another example: “A glass column dominates the center of the room, through which runs an eerie beam of green light. The column is cracked and filled with water; where the cracks show, motes of green light spill from the glass into the surrounding water. The light emanates from a hole in the ceiling at the top of the glass column. At its bottom, copper tubes run from its base into the wall. Clustered around the cracks in the column are many Luminous Jellies” That does a GREAT job of building a picture of the room. Great language, building, what do I see first and then what do I notice. I should also note that is just about my limit on schnitzengruben. Any longer and we get in to Pay Per Word dreck and problems with scanning. That description length is right at the limit of what I can stand to reference during play.

There’s reference material located after those descriptions. A description of the curse if you steal the giant pearl, or what happens when you touch the thing. The writing here is focused in a way that few adventures are. Evocative. Terse. To the point. Focused on PLAY.

The encounters proper are great. A floor, red from silt, that can get stirred up … FILLED WITH RED PARASITIC WORMS! Aiiii! Things floating on/above pedastals that you can fuck with, flicking quartz balls, a necrophidius that FEELS like it should be here! Traps of rapidly growing razor coral to trap you. The entire place FEELs dangerous, and wondrous, and alien,

I love almost everything about this adventure. There’s a nice little overview that describes the environment around the palace … as seen by the party when they approach. I wish more adventures did that to orient both the DM and players. The wanderers feel fresh, and those with a little description (more than just stats) have great little one and two sentence writeups. Those without don’t seem to need like, like schools of fish or luminous jellies floating by. They feel RIGHT and you want to use them and describe them. You’re excited as your mind races to find uses. The treasure is great, lots to loot in both “normal” treasure and in inlay pried from unremovable things and in the weird and wonderful magic items. There’s great guidelines for restocking and continuing time within the place as the party may return. Even the fucking underwater rules presented, one just one page, are not odious … which is indeed a feat! ANd the map, because it’s underwater, is essentially three dimensional with multiple entrances in to the location.

It does have a formatting problem. It’s BARELY acceptable. It generally keeps most of the description in the first-ish paragraph and DM’ish notes/reference material in the second paragraph … and that’s what I mean by barely acceptable. It’s uses single column, large text, and little formatting otherwise except giving some shading to monster stats to make them easier to pull out (great!) What this needs is some bullet points, indentation, more breaks, and occasionally a sentence moved around from the description to the notes and vicey versey. Techniques to improve the scannability and readability of the adventure. As is it veers quite close to the Wall of Text. That USUALLY means too many words but I think this is the rare example of focused writing that STILL faces Wall of Text issues. The rooms that use more breaks, and italics, and indentation (like room 15m the Hall of Bio Horrors) are the more readable ones.

Do Not be deterred! This thing is great! I’m fond of saying that most underwater adventures don’t FEEL like underwater adventures. This is by far the closest I’ve seen. It feels like a different environment, with the descriptions and encounters to match. Easily a keeper, even if it DOES deserve a second edition to take care of the formatting issues.

It’s included as a part of the From the Vats zine/thing. It’s $0 on DriveThru, which means you would be a FOOL to not pick it up, if for no other reason than to argue with me. The preview is of the zine, but the adventure is first in the thing so you get to see some of it. It’s just the wanderers table and the intro/overview, but I like both of those and while not the strongest parts of the adventure, they are QUITE above average. http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/151451/From-the-Vats

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Towers of the Weretoads

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 11:19

By Michael Raston
Gorgzu Games
Labyrinth Lord
Level 1?

Are you in need of a breeding factory that spews out torrents of mutated weretoads into your campaign world? Do your adventurers enjoy exploring slimy, wet ruins inhabited by depraved, vile creatures? The Towers of the Weretoads is a mini-dungeon you can plop down in the edges of any of the lakes/fresh water bodies in your campaign world. It’s filled with treasure, danger and slime.

This is a six page adventure in a three level partially submerged manor/keep. It uses the one page format to present the levels with a little introduction page, a title page, and one page for new monsters. Good imagery and nice formatting for play are significant strengths, while the it suffers from generic magic treasure, a little sameness in the monsters, and a slightly confusing ground level/outside environment. It’s also free, so …

The imagery in this adventure is great and works well with the one page format. Towers, located in shallows of a great lake, the tide coming in and out revealing various portions. Slimy stone stairs. Near-naked slimy warty idiotic men, drowsy. A flooded basement a soup for zygotes. Crude stone doors on rusting hinges. Creaky ladders down housed in a dead black soggy tree. Stone pots fill with writhing misshapen beige tadpoles. The outside, near the manor has puddles filled with countless toad eggs, and young weretoads croaking pityingly and dragging themselves through the mud to bit .. .It goes on and on. This is all strong imagery, tersly written, and it puts a picture in to your head. The outside, a slightly submerged manor, pools or mud and water, with slime and eggs stacked up in piles against the walls, trees, rubble, etc, and the young weretoads crawling towards you … This sort of tersely written imagery, integrated in to a one page dungeon, is a great example of form and function combining to deliver a useful tool for the DM. Did I mention “toad-bears eating corpse mushrooms growing on piles of long dead adventurers …” and all in that soggy partially flooded environment. Grooooovy!

This is a collection of one page levels, three of them, with an intro page to tie things togethers. I’m fond of these collections of one-pagers, although they do have limitations. They put everything in one place that you need to run the level well. This one uses color to effectively call out certain sections. The downside is that none of these one-pagers does a very good job of presenting a large environment. At best they can combine a lot of one-pagers in to a larger area, as this one does. That’s good, I like it and it’s a good way to present these smaller “lair sized locations.

Mundane treasure is good, with most of it being nice & creepy objects for resale. It falls down in several places when it says “Horde XIV P106LL) in a watertight chest.” I’m not sure why it’s doing this .. there appears to plenty of room to actually describe a treasure found instead of using a random roll. I don’t get it.

When the enemies show up THEY. SHOW. UP. d20 weretoads building effigies. D20 weretoads patrolling. D20 weretoads transporting spawn-pots. Bulging eyes and lolling tongues aside, the combats here tend to be with lots of opponents. There’s generally nothing wrong with that, but in this case the environments they are found in are a little smaller than I would like for that quantity. It feels a bit off. It DOES have the effect of being above to explore most the level without combat, until you meet the big group on that level. There’s a nice exploratory and/or push your luck element there that’s good.

This is PWYW (with a current price of $0) at Drive Thru. The preview is GREAT, showing you two of three one-page levels. This is easily worth the price/time. You can practically run it without even having read it first. This is EXACTLY the sort of supplement you want when you’re looking for something to run tonight.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dungeon Magazine Summary: Issues 26-50

Sat, 09/16/2017 - 11:15

Dungeon 26
The Inheritance is one of the stronger Dungeon adventures, featuring an assault on a small keep/manor taken over by humanoids. It’s got a decent sandbox feel to it and, with work, could be a home base for the party, kicking off a campaign.

Both the Cure & the Quest and Nine-tenths of the Law have decent portions. 9/10’s has a good urban vibe going on with characters that make sense while Cure/Quest has a couple of good encounters with some serious issues around them. Both could be salvaged with a lot of work.

Dungeon 27
Bride for a Fox continues my obsession with OA. Almost every OA adventure that appeared in Dungeon, including this one, is pretty good. If you can deal with the setting. These would also be good rethemed for one of those modern indie storytelling fantasy/folklore rpg’s.

Courier Service has decent encounters but doesn’t really use them very well to make a cohesive adventure.

Dungeon 28
Visitors from Above had some shitty Spelljammer ship (grounded) explorations but a MUCH better second half with a wizard in a mine. A varied environment, three-dimensional map, lots of potential.

Night of Fear is Yet Another Shitty Shapechanger mission, but it did have a nice table of NPC responses as an organizational highlight.

I like Sleepless because of the social powder keg that could turn in to crazed combat. Lots of factions, lots of good imagery … surrounded by WAY too much description. It’s one of the better Dungeon adventures.

Dungeon 29
Mightier than the Sword is absurd, in that magical wonderful way that D&D adventures can go. It’s got a village at arms with each other over an absurd premise: the invention of a metal nib for quills. Taken to its logical conclusion, everyone has an opinion and are more than willing to put them forth … with vigor. This adventure does not qualify for my overused “Decent” label, but is actually good.

Dungeon 30
Wrastle with Bertrum has a nice tavern to steal, but I’m not sure I’d run it as an adventure.

Thiondar’s Legacy is an honest to goodness ADVENTURE. It’s got an epic vibe that many try for and few manage. Wordy, but sticky in your head.

Dungeon 31
Beyond the Glittering Veil has well developed NPC’s and location, in a city of undead, that also feels real. Not simulationist realism, but rather NOT fucking up the suspension of disbelief. The massively overwritten text is a real problem.

Local Legend had a good idea, with a nice 100 Bushels of Rye thing going on, but lapses in to being contrived.

Dungeon 32
Elf in the House is a Mansion Murder with potential, but it unrunnable due to the way the thing is formatted.

Dungeon 33
That Island Charm runs almost like a farce for the first half, and I LUV farce in D&D. A bunch of castaways INSIST that things are a certain way, when its clearly not that way. Wonderful!

The Siege of Kratys Frehold gives the party control of an army and a siege. “Here’s a bunch of resources, here’s the locale and here’s the goal. Make it happen.” Needs prep, but, fuck, it’s Dungeon, everything in it needs prep.

Dungeon 34
Isle of the Abbey is above average for Dungeon. Again, it’s a location with the party having a goal and the freedom, mostly, to pursue it and reclaim a lighthouse for the guild of mariners.

Dungeon 35
The Whale shows how good Wolfgang Baur used to be. Great social setup, good consequences, a background that DRIVES action instead of being trivia … it’s a great big mess, in a good way.

Ghost of Mistmoor is a decent haunted house adventure, better than U1. Good imagery and good DM advice.

Dungeon 37
The adventures in this issues are all at a consistently high level of quality, which was quite rare for Dungeon.

Mud Sorcerer’s Tomb is much loved and does Tomb of Horrors better than Tomb of Horrors did. Great imagery, good setups, less forced than ToH.

Dungeon 38
Horror’s Harvest was a Ravenloft mostly-social adventure with pod people in a village. If this were rewritten/reformatted you could have a good adventure; it’s VERY disorganized.

Dungeon 39
Below Vulture Point is a small mountain lair that has a nice three-dimensional environment but needs better descriptions that are more evocative.

Last of the Iron Horse could be mistaken for an adventure from Fight On! A lot of adventure packed in to a small ten room complex with evil little fairy tale-like dwarves.

Fountains of Health is aimed at people with second grade reading skills, but has a lot of classic encounters and a decent OD&D/basic thing going on.

Dungeon 40
Son of the Fens has a good premise and nice imagery but needs better rewards and is quite tough for first levels.

Dungeon 41
Lady of the Mists has a slow melancholy feel to it, in spite of its wordiness.

Dungeon 44
Hot Day in L/Trel takes place over a couple of weeks in a city on fire. The city seems alive and everything is a hook. Great.

Dungeon 45
Rudwilla’s Stew has a basic D&D vibe going on with that kind of folklore vibe that is one of the things that wins me over. Jersey accents for the bugbears is a turnoff.

Prism Keep is a nice adventure with good imagery and encounters and puzzles and so on. It’s going to take some serious work to get it in to good fighting trim, but it’s got good lines.

Dungeon 46
Dovedale has an forest folklore thing going for it, with talking animals and old style goblins that don’t exist just to be hacked to death. You suck if you don’t like this one.

Goblin Fever had a nice idea but ruined it.

Iron Orb of the Duergar is a tough nut to crack. Good ideas, allies, craziness, and sticky writing. High level and NOT a shit show is enough to make it notable, if not reccomended.

Dungeon 47
Both the Assassin WIthin and Fraggart’s Contraption have nice ideas and outlines but serious serious flaws that keep them from being good without a lot of work.

Dungeon 48
Them Apples, Melody, and Oracle at Sumbar all deserve better than they got from their writing. There are various ways to save all three … but why would you want to?

Dungeon 49
North of Narborel lacks color but has enough elements that are above average, for Dungeon, to make it worth looking in to for pirate towns, etc.

Dungeon 50
Vaka’s Curse and Back to the Beach are both small things pretty well done. Vaka could be included in any sea voyage adventure as an additional complication, while Back to the Beach has possibilities for longer term integration in to a campaign.

The Object of Desire has issues but a couple of hours should fix it up and make it fit for play. The final location FEELS wondrous, and getting rid of some of the deus ex shit should be pretty easy.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Blood Pharaoh

Wed, 09/13/2017 - 11:15

By Jayson Gardner
Silver Bulettes
Swords & Wizardry
Levels 5-7

The party is hired by a caravan to guard a mysterious cargo. What can be so important to require a full group of 4th-6th level adventurers?

This is a 22 page “linear event” type adventure which has you escorting a caravan. Linear events. Nonsensical maps. Lots & lots of combat. At least there’s a lot of read-aloud? Oh … wait …

This adventure has some SERIOUS issues with making sense.

Ok, so Pharoah Bob goes to some kingdom and dies. His body gets shoved in a crate and a caravan hired to take him back home. This, then, is the very first thing in this adventure that doesn’t make sense. He appears to have no retainers and sending him home is done by … the king of the place he was visiting? Isn’t he supposed to be a living god, with lots of loyal followers? I can buy in to the dead foreign dignitary bit, but the rest of the thing makes no sense to me.

Parts of the initial timeline make no sense. You’re hired, and meet the caravan … at night .. a few hours before sunrise. You set off immediately, travel a couple of hours, and then make camp. Later, you break camp, travel a couple of hours, come across an inn, and then stop for the night at mid-morning. It just makes no sense at all!

There’s a hex crawl portion. But there’s no hex crawl map even though it’s referred to repeatedly. Other wilderness maps have no scale on them … and I think it’s clear the scale varies widely on them. You’re supposed to roll twice per hex for encounters on a small wandering table … which has a 50% chance of having an encounter. And then at night you roll at least three times, meaning encounters are assured. This seems pretty excessive, especially for an early edition game with healing issues. And the wandering table, just listing a few monsters, can’t really support this quantity of wandering play. It’s like someone through it in as an afterthought.

The encounters are linear. “Night of day one” you get to have an encounter with a wild boar running through camp. Night three a demon shows up. Day three there’s some goblins up ahead. And so it goes. The read-aloud, of which there is at times PAGES worth (night three, I’m looking at you!) assumes you kill things. No talking to the goblins, the readaloud says “I’ve never seen such combat prowess!” and then goes on for a lot more …

This is just someone writing down some combat encounters and then expanding them with a fuck ton of read-aloud. Not even the addition of NPC’s named Magic Master and Stealthy Steve can save it from itself.

It’s PWYW from DriveThru, hanging out at $1. The preview is one of those “page flippers” and it WAY too small to read at all, only giving a basic overview of the layout style.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Dragon’s Heart

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 11:12

By M. Greis
Greis Games
Labyrinth Lord
Level 1-3

In the deep, it has awoken. Hidden in the ruins of an old dwarven kingdom awaits a powerful relic, and an army kobolds are on the march to retrieve it. Dare the heroes enter this ancient place, and will they find the relic before the army arrives. In a race against time the adventures may unleash the greatest evil, while trying to save the world from a grim fate.

This is a twenty page single-level dungeon describing an abandoned dwarf hold, with eighteen rooms described on seven pages.. Good factions and decent read-aloud and DM text make for a good journeyman dungeon. This does a good job of presenting a nice mythic vibe in parts of it, using some techniques from various blogs and media. I recall reviewing another adventure from Greis Games, The Sunken Temple, and was favorably impressed. A Danish translation, this adventure presents a good baseline level to measure adventure against. It covers all bases, from hooks to wanderers to encounters, at a level I find Acceptable.

Let’s cover that mythic vibe first. The adventure does a good job of making the events feel important without it being The End Of The World. In reality it’s no more important than the Caves of Chaos, but the difference here is that the threat FEELS real. The backstory is only a column and describes THE dragon. Not A dragon but THE dragon. This is a technique that can be used to great effect, presenting a creature as THE creature. The adventure doesn’t present the dragon as the only one, but the text implies it was the first with that name. A great enemy, defeated, but hanging on in death, now only its heart, made of gold, remains. There are several blogs describing this technique, and of course various media and folklore also. Calling it THE, giving it only a heart, of gold … it calls out to all of that folklore and imagery of our youth. It calls to its minions, a more subtle Suaron-like influence, even to the point of having a kobold shaman/prophet called Speaker for the Dragon … ala Mouth of Sauron. The halls are full of dwarf bodies, from a former battle with The Dragon, which adds to the SOMETHING IMPORTANT HAPPENED HERE vibe. Then it combines with some room elements that presents WONDERS in the dwarf hold as truly that, truly giving that feel of lost civilization greater than now that came with Moria and the like. This FEELS like an adventure in a place greater than yourselves, and its communicated pretty well.

To this is added hooks. Not just one sentence “caravan guard” hooks, but a paragraph or two for each. There’s enough detail to communicate motivation adequately and get the DM’s imagination running so they can fill in the rest. Then there’s the rumor table, telling you actually useful things about the situation in the dungeon, and other factions that may be present, all communicated in a style that represents a little vignette, in only two sentences. And then there’s the wandering table. Most of these, creatures and events, have a little bit more to them, so they are doing something. Even the ghouls are “responding to noise and on the prowl”, the shortest, conjures up imagery of them crawling along, furtively, looking for their next ravenous meal. Finally, there’s the timer. How to solve the one hour work day? The Dragon calls to its old followers and a large band/army of kobolds is responding, you can hear their horns and drums in the distance. There’s this sense of potential energy in it. And then there’s the factions: a bugbear and his band, the kobolds, an NPC treasure hunter party, and a religious sect that wants to bury the dead dwarves. This liven the place up and it truly feels like they add to the mystery and turn it from a hack mission to an exploration mission. I note that several of these elements, from the timer to the factions, were also present in The Sunken Temple, and in both used to good effect.

And, as in The Sunken Temple, the read-aloud and DM notes are both a strength and weakness. The read-aloud only lasts couple of sentences but does a decent, but not rockstar level, ability to convey a feeling. Wisps of web sway in an unseen breeze. Air heavy with dust. Bodies covered in cobwebs and white and black tiles covered in dust that make them appear grey. Stones are “mighty” and there are sounds of dripping water. And then there’s “for awhile you lose all sense of time” and “you’re brought back by …”, these first person sections being the weakest of the writing. Likewise the DM text could be a little more focused and formatted a little better to call out different sections better. Which is not to say its bad, but just that its not perfect and little more thought and focus could really punch it up a lot. The mundane treasure usually gets a little description while the magic items tend to be just book items “a potion of levitation” and could use more improvement.

The initial text, up to the keys, is a good “read once” type that you should not have to refer to again and is a quick read with bullet points and call out. The “appendix” information after the keys is most monster stats and the like, leaving the encounters proper a feel of a separate section that you can reference … which is exactly what I’m looking for in a supplement.

Multiple entrances, a chance to make a pact with the dragons heart, or abuse it for power … there’s an interactivity here that most adventures lack.d

This is $2 on DriveThru, and worth every penny. The preview is six pages and shows you the background, hooks, rumors, factions, and wandering monsters but, alas, no actual encounters of the read-aloud & DM text. Still, I think you can get a good idea of the “read once” nature of the intro portions and it can get you excited about running it.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dungeon Magazine Summary: Issues 1 through 25

Sat, 09/09/2017 - 11:19

I’m trying to write up my notes and finish up my Dungeon reviews, so you can expect a few more of these as I work on 25 issues a week. Then I’ll write up a grand summary and be done with the thing.

Dungeon 1
Into the Fire, the cover adventure, is surprisingly good, with LARGE wilderness encounters with huge numbers of humanoids. 12 trolls, 100 bandits, 20 soldiers, and so on. Falls in to the “gimp the players” trap in order to make an 88hp dragon challenging. That’s too bad.

Dungeon 2
Caermor has a great low magic/peasants vibe going on, with mobs and morons. Needs fleshed out more.

Keep at Koralgesh reminds me a lot of Silver Princess/Amber/Lost CIty … a little generic complimented by some very specific window dressing.Creatures & magic are both a little generic though.

Dungeon 3
Falcon’s Peak feels like a tactical assault on a real location. Good map, and the entire place presented as a sandbox locale.

Blood on the Snow is nice, but its going to take several months of game time to pull off this scandinavian themed adventure of long treks through the snow

Dungeon 5
Kappa at Pachee Bridge is another linear OA folklore adventure … that I LUV. OA gets fairies and monsters right.

Lady of the Lake has an almost dream-like air to it. The wonder of D&D is communicated fairly well, in spite of the adventures many problems.

Dungeon 6
Forbidden Mountain has a non-euclidian dungeon and it’s good to see something a little different and more wondrous. Most of it is worthless, but the non-euclidian part is neato.

House of the Brothers is much loved in Internet circles, but I don’t think it works. It’s too adversarial for my tastes.

Dungeon 7
Nightshade is pretty worthless except for a reprobate wizards home you could steal form.

Matchmakers is a good adventure hampered by its organization. Notes & a good amount of prep can turn this in to a zany adventure complications in a great town environment.

Dungeon 8
Wounded Worm has a nice evil villain and minions that you could integrate in to a region as a kind of evil bad guy … if you can dig through the mountains of tex.

Dungeon 9
Golden Bowl is an OA adventure. I like the way these tend to integrate folklore much more in to the adventure … similar to leaving out milk on the stopp for the little people. Roleplaying and combat get a good mix, with a strong folklore theme.

Dungeon 10
Secrets of the Towers is more like a group of adventure seeds than an adventure. It stands out as something worth stealing for your own ends.

Dungeon 11
Dark Conventicle is an evil temple with a good map and a massive final fight. Lame encounters will require work to turn this in to something decent.

Ward of the Witching Ways is a tournament adventure, but isn’t linear as most are. Too much text stands out, but it’s open in a way that few things are.

Dungeon 12
Spottle Parlor
A social and event based adventure with strong NPC’s and a great whimsy and absurd factor to it. Strong themes and classical archetypes for the NPC’s make this a delight.

Huddle farm highlights the mundane drama of idyllic halfling life. That’s the background to the hook … the rest is ok but very badly organized for the type of events adventure it is.

Dungeon 13
Ruins of Nol-Daer is good adventure in a ruined keep in the countryside. Good hooks, countryside, descriptions, magic items. This thing is a cut above.

Nests & Nations is going to be more of an outline that you have to build from. Good concepts but you need to throw a lot away and do a six million dollar rebuild. Lots of events, lots of chaos, and a good monster enemy.

Dungeon 14
Masqueraider was a small wilderness area and cave system that really got close to the line of being acceptable. Most of the encounters had a nugget of something good with some decent descriptions.

Stranded on the Baron’s Island was a social adventure, full of NPC’s to interact with. Unfortunately it was formatted like an exploratory dungeon instead of a social adventure, and needs to be completely reorganized to be useful.

Dungeon 15
Dragon’s Gift is a linear adventure, but it’s got that Oriental Adventures charm. I think a lot of the early OA adventures in Dungeon had a strong folklore vibe, and I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. Talking animals, classic situations … and paperwork from the celestial bureaucracy. These have a social element to most of the encounters which boosts the adventure up above its weight class.

Roarwater Caves
A great little dungeon crawl with lots of chaos, a good map, decent encounters, and a short timeline to mix things up further.

The Elephants Graveyard
I mention this one because the Internet and I disagree. I think it’s got a couple of decent ideas but falls down in the tedium of managing an expedition. The Internet has fond memories of it.

Dungeon 16
Necropolis was a short adventure in a village with a fraudster and a real undead guy that could be a future resource for the party. It could provide some nice background trivia for a starting locale.

Vesicant was a ok-ly done pirate town with some decent factions and a nearby dragon lair. With some subplots added, you could respin this through a lot of work in to a decent town campaign locale.

Dungeon 17
The Waiting Room of Yen-Wang-Yeh is Yet Another OA Adventure, meaning of course that I want to suck it off. The beginning is better than the end, feeling more like an OA/Brave Little Trailer adventure. The second half devolves in to boring old hacking.

Dungeon 18
Irongard is a Ed Greenwood adventure. He does a great job coming up with interesting encounters and decent imagery, along with great magic items. I think it’s close to unusable because of the bullshit word padding, but it is decent.

I have mixed feelings about Tallow’s Deep. It’s very tactical focused, and I’ve become very wary of that sort of adventure. There IS a place in my D&D for stabbing bad guy goblins, and this would probably meet that threshold had I not just slogged through a zillion crappy tactics-porn 3e adventures from later issues.

Crocodile Tears is another OA adventure with a strong folklore vibe, and thus I ignore, again, the linear nature.

Chadrather’s Bane has a small region with factions and an ok social element with lots of potential. It brings the factasic to D&D by presenting the characters as shrunk down and the region is the inside of a house.

Dungeon 19
This issue was plagued by good ideas used as doorstops. In almost every one, there is some good ideas, or content to be stolen, but its then WRECKED by the rest of the adventure, or goes nowhere. Nothing reaches salvageable-with-work levels for me, but there are a lot of individual elements to be stolen for other projects.

Dungeon 20
Ancient Blood is a nice winter wilderness and dungeon adventure that has a great quiet horror vibe going on in it, a kind of gothic atmosphere … if you skip the Papers & Paychecks logistics shit.

I’m disappointed in Pride of the Sky. It has man-scorpions in a cool temple, but fucks it up terribly by being boring as fuck (and that’s ignoring the shitty airship hook.) You could take inspiration from this one and do something great, if you were willing to start from scratch.

Dungeon 21
Jammin’ marks the appearance of Spelljammer and Ward does a decent job of bringing a magical and wondrous environment to life.

Incident at Strathern Point is sticky. Read it once, maybe twice, and it sticks with you enough to run it on the fly. Real, grim, gritty … it FEELS like a demon-haunted adventure.

Dungeon 22
Dark Forest had a couple of decent ideas with mass combats and weird myconids, but has a pretty weak middle section.

Dungeon 23
Vinyard Vales has a decent Viking-like theming, and a good “beast man” thing going on with some lizard men, supplemented by great wandering monster tables.

Old Sea-Dog is a great little city/harbor adventure tightly done. Good town environment and well designed.

Dungeon 25
Of Kings Unknown contains an almost platonic entry on how to write a bad room description: “4. Trophy Room. This room once contained trophies of war. Swords, spears, and armor of all kinds were dedicated here to the everlasting glory of the fallen orc leaders. Centuries ago, the walls were draped with elven banners, dwarves sigils, gnome heraldry, and the flags and standards of men, goblins, and various orc tribes. The moon orc leaders have stripped the room of anything useful in order to outfit the tribe. The weapons and armor were quickly divided among the warriors, while the flags and banners were torn down and used for blankets or ripped apart and resewn into bags, sacks, and clothing. The room now contains only refuse and rusty, unusable equipment.”

Hrothgar’s Resting Place has a good map of a “realistic” cave environment and encounters that feed off it. Nice treasure and fun stuff like a spider lowering itself on silk.

Rose for Talaka is another I disagree with the Internet on. They like it and I think its loads of emo crap with no real adventure to it.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Yearning for Adventure

Wed, 09/06/2017 - 11:13

By Frank Schmidt
Self Published
Level 1

A religious festival in the nearby town of Saratoga is the spot your introductory level PCs have opted to begin their careers. With so many people coming to the festival the group anticipates finding information on adventures they can start their budding careers with. Action begins sooner than expected as the celebration is interrupted by a group of Stirges bothering some of the revelers and it quickly gets worse…

This 32 page starter adventure takes characters to level four from adventures in and around a small village being attacked by undead. Single column, bad read-aloud, bad DM text, “challenge” orientation … There are certain things in adventure design that make you say “ought oh!” and anticipate the worst. I’m not saying it’s right, but it happens. A high page count to low encounter count is one such thing. It doesn’t always mean trouble, but can. Another is PROMINENTLY DISPLAYING YOUR TRADEMARK NUMBER ON THE COVER. Priorities may have been misplaced. This is the usual combat dreck.

This adventure has a point of view and it embeds it in the text, deeply. The player background is a good example of this. “The time has come for you to be the hero you want to be” and “your master has explained …” and “you’ve finished your training and said your goodbyes …” Typical of most railroad adventures, you’re told what you feel and how to be. The player is robbed; their story is no longer theirs but the DM’s … or designer. This isn’t a village being attacked by undead that the characters encounter; that kind of open ended thing that you can slot your game in to. You’re told who you are and why you are there. This is embedded throughout the adventure.

Moving on to the DM text we’re told “The path of an adventurer is not an easy one and great care should be taken in selecting associates of a similar train of thought.” and “Although it is a small village, the area of Saratoga is about to present the young adventurers will a very large opportunity for their careers.” This kind of nonsense drives me nuts. It’s filler. It serves no purpose. Unfocused writing, not understanding the purpose of an adventure.

The read-aloud is consistently weak. “A quick look around shows several people near the edge of the festival attempting to fend of large flying creatures. As you look on you realize that this is a problem.” Really? They realize that this is a problem? Large flying creatures? Well that certainly makes the mind race and the pulse quicken. And the DM text for this? It starts “The first test for the new PCs will be a group of four Stirges …” Weak read-aloud, unfocused DM text …

The adventure is essentially linear, with programmed events occurring. Skeletons come down the path to the village, after the stirge attack. If you’re not there then a small child comes to get you. No skipping! Then you go to the cemetery and enjoy text like “You wanted a little adventure in your life, seems it has found you already.” Then on to the next encounter/challenge. No real village to interact with, generic descriptions …

You know, there’s something to be said for Just Do It. It’s admirable. Dude wrote and published an adventure. That’s a hurdle a lot of people don’t get over. He’s also charging for it and didn’t disclose that the fucking thing was 5e! Uncool. This thing is just a series of combats broken up by read-aloud.

This is $3 on DriveThru. They have it in the OSR category. Nothing could be further from the truth. The preview is two pages and it shows you EXACTLY the kind of content you are getting. Ponderous read-aloud. Ponderous DM text. Embedded plot. Enjoy.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wyrd Ways of Walstock

Mon, 09/04/2017 - 11:15

By Dan Osarchuk
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 1-3

‘Wyrd’ things are afoot. This town might seem like your ordinary, post-apocalyptic-now-turned-fantasy locale, but it is not! Fell Cults have begun to take over and it is up to the brave adventurers to stop one in particular: the Cult of the Shield Ghul.

This 32 page adventure presents a timeline of a cults attempted takeover of a town. The cult has a timeline of activities and the party will, hopefully, get in the way of a few of them. At the end of the third day there’s a percentage roll to determine if the cult thinks its been effective in its lead up activities, and if they proceed/succeed. It presents a great D&D town, full of the oddities and character that I like so much, ala Pembrooktonshire and Marlinko, with the more out there elements of those filed off. It could use a reference sheet for the NPCs, and some names, in addition to numbers, on the town map. It uses, though, a pretty focused writing style that concentrates on gameable detail, with few exceptions. It’s a good town, and a decent series of events in that town.

What this adventure does, that so many fail at, is to provide the correct amount of detail, the correct amount of GAMEABLE detail, for the locations. There’s enough here, and its generally written well enough, to spark the DM’s imagination and allow them to fill in the rest. It relies on strong situations, iconic and stereotypical stretched just a little more. In one vile inn the stairs up are listed as: “These lead to a series of rickety, filth-ridden rooms, rife with vomiting and diseased dregs and harlots.” Nice! No need to stat out each of the individual rooms upstairs; from this we can get a strong idea of what the upstairs is like and run it on the fly. I could quibble, about a couple of events upstairs, but the rest of the locations, most of the more common rooms especially, have a nicee series of events/tables already for adding little things. The back door to the place is “barely functional.” There’s a pig fighting ring. The drinks are served not in glasses but in a trough that runs down the bar. Odors of manure and ale emanate on the outside. Another Bohemian, sho is bedecked with flowers, crystals, and potent incense. I think we all understand what this kind of place has, with dreamcatchers and lace and the like. These are descriptions and locales that you can hang your hat on. Further, most of the locations are contained to a single page, or part of one, meaning little to no page flipping to make scanning the entries harder.

As a social adventure it has factions, something like eight of them. The cultists, a group of healers, an ineffectual town council, the tired corrupt guards and two main merchant houses/families … not quite alike in dignity.

The timeline is summarized, the locations generally cross-referenced for easy lookup in them. There’s an overview, with more detail, of the plans that you could read once and not have to refer to again unless you want. The locations have events, like pickpockets, being vomited on, an aging harlot, and so on. There’s a table of descriptions and personalities you can use to fill out random NPC’s as an idea generator for when the party acosta someone. It’s all great stuff. Strong imagery. Decent descriptions. Not too much filler.

It’s lacking in really strong reference material. The town map is just numbered. Looking up which places are bars, or inns, for example, means hunting through the pages looking for them and then looking at the (numbered) town map. This is a good example of where putting the place names on the town map would have helped a lot. Similarly, the NPC’s are all found in their “home” locations … scattered throughout the text. That’s not good for a social adventure where the party is running around, asking questions, talking to people, investigating, and so on. It needs one page with all of the NPC’s on it, where they are found, a brief personality/feature, and their goals. Those two reference sheets would have really kicked this adventure up to another level, making it very easy to run at the table. One of the nuns in the convent runs around in all white at night, on the rooftops, as LADY LIGHT, casting light spells and preaching the wonders of Minerva. That’s the perfect kind of thing to throw in at night to mix things up, but it’s hidden in the description of the convent and not right at the DM’s fingertips, staring them in the face when they glance down.

This is a good town adventure. It provides lots of memorable opportunities for play, without forcing them on the players or feeling too contrived. Formatting for scanning could be better, and it needs some prep work for the NPC’s and map, but then again most adventures so. The amount of bullshit extraneous text is minimal, and what there is of it usually adds to the local colour of the place. This is a keeper.

This is $6 on Drivethru, and worth the price of admission. The preview falls down some, showing just the general overview of the town, factions, timeline, and plot. This is probably the weakest writing in the adventure and only hints at the better things deeper in.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dungeon Magazine #150

Sat, 09/02/2017 - 11:19

I made it. I fucking made it! I’m not proud of the lack of analysis some of these adventures got, but, fuck man, THEY SUCK.

Kill Bargle
By Jason Bulmahn
Level 3

WoW! A non-shitty adventure in the final issue! A three level dungeon with seventy rooms, maps that are not terrible, terse read-aloud AND Dm notes AND introduction. The encounters are good: search a chimney and be in danger of rubble falling. A hat box with poisoned string tying it shut. Gold dinner plates covered with yellow mold. There’s an interactivity here that most adventures miss. Attacking a zombie in room C can draw zombies from room D. This thing is constructed, and constructed well. The read-aloud is not evocative, AT ALL. “The chamber contains a large amount of trash, but nothing else.” is not the height of prose. Or “The room is filled with boxes and crates of many shapes and sizes.” But, at least the read-aloud is only one sentence. I could quibble with some encounter choices, like the carrion crawler in encounter 1 that attacks if you come within 20 feet of its lair. This feels forced to me and I prefer a “curiosity killed the cat” thing where it attacks if you disturb its lair. But this is petty of me, and there’s certainly rooms for both types of encounters in the world of D&D. This adventure is worth having. I love the introduction to this adventure, short, to the point, and with advice like “the town is full of wild rumors about Bargle.” Maybe a line or two about personalities of the notables, but otherwise this intro does a great job hitting the notable facts, orienting the DM, and keeping things short.

Well fuck. I think I’ve been trolled. I did some research, based on the designer’s notes, and … I’m not sure Jason wrote this? I’m a B/X Moldvay fan, so the history of BECMI is beyond me, but after digging in some I understand this adventure may be based on one in the DM’s book for the basic set? I guess this is somehow the basis of the internet’s obsession with Bargle … which I know nothing about?

Quoth the Raven
By Nicolas Logue
Level 8

Oh it’s fucking Eberron, for fucks sake. You know, I didn’t feel like this when Planescape or Dark Sun or Masque shit popped up; I wonder what it is about Eberron? Anyway, this is just a confusing mess AND linear … quite an accomplishment. Chick is marked for murder by a psycho, and several linear encounters follow as you protect her and track him down. There’s a house at the end with a bit of a creepy vibe going on, but it feels forced.

Prince of Demons
By Greg A. Vaughn
Level 20

The final adventure in the Savage Tide adventure path. It’s just a bunch of overwrought set piece garbage trying to build exciting shit but burying it in TONS of text. There’s some decent roleplay opportunities at the start with the allied demon lord armies, but, again, its buried in confusing text. Jessu Christo, learn to use bullet points!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Mines of Valdhum

Wed, 08/30/2017 - 11:15

By Matthew Evans
Mithgarthr Entertainment
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 5-7

Nordriki, the northern kingdom of the land of Mithgarthr, has been relatively free of dragons for hundreds of years, but recently the locals have been reporting sightings of red, white, and green dragons all throughout the Drekiberg mountains to the north. Recently, a green dragon has taken up residence in an abandoned mine that is close to the city of Valdhum. The surrounding land is rich with wildlife for the beast to feed on, and the lair it has chosen is well protected and secluded.

This 37 page adventure details five levels of a mine, with about eleven rooms per level, as well as a separate abandoned complex/level with another ten or so rooms. It’s got a German/dark forest vibe going on that I can get in to, as well as interesting encounters in the mine. There’s a variety of hints, things to talk to, stuff to explore, and trouble to get in to as you delve deeper to find a dragon to slay for the townfolk/reward. The encounters, both empty and not, are solid, but the adventure needs more focused writing to turn it in to something special. It manages about seven rooms per page, so it doesn’t drone on, but with some focus this could be a REALLY good delve.

The intro/hook is too long, but it IS good. Bear-people tribes live in the forest. If you travel to the town at night you get attacked by them. In town you find out killing them is trouble, as it riles up the tribes, which are under pressure anyway from game being eaten by a dragon that just moved in to a mine/quarry nearby. Thus you are tasked, either as penance (if you killed them) or as a reward to stop the dragon. It’s a nice geopolitical hook and makes sense. It ties in with dark forest vibe thing, which is strengthened further by an encounter with an “evil tree.” Notably, however, you can dig up the tree after killing it to find a buried chest with loot! This pulls HARD at my love of folklore-ish callbacks in adventure.

The mine proper is, well, a mixed bag. The map is linear. VERY linear. It does a good job of noting room features, uses color, and has slopes up and down, but a more interesting map would have done more. Five levels is a lot of room to play with, vertically. Being shoved down what is, essentially, a straight line hallway/path doesn’t do much to enhance the fear of the unknown, tactical, and exploratory things that a more complex map allows.

The room encounters, proper, set up interesting situations. There’s an old mine office with a lockbox with gold nuggets/ore in it … along with the weakened poison trap guarding the lock. There’s a kitchen with a pot growing yellow mold. Disturbing the chimney means disturbing the bats in it, which will knock over the yellow mold pot. These rooms makes sense. There are multiple things going on and it doesn’t feel forced. There are goblins, manning a barricade on an offshoot passage, who can parlay with the party, just wanting to be left alone. There’s an interplay between the rooms, with several empty rooms providing clues, or at least foreshadowing as to whats to come. Warning signs, in the form of heads on pikes, and bones telling of backstory THROUGH THE ADVENTURE. What a concept … The levels are themed, from old mine to sacked cult temple to trogs, to the dragon and so on. The type, variety, interconnected nature, and multiple things going on are all playing in to an environment that feels REAL. Thought was given here and it FEELS natural rather than forced and created. Someone gave some thought to this, but still kept things simple.

It doesn’t meet my standards for a good room description though. I’m looking for something evocative, that scans quickly. While the IDEAS are good, the writing could be better. “A wooden structure has been built in this room” or “this room appears to have functioned as the foremans office” are neither great descriptions. “If the desk is thoroughly searched …” betrays a conversation if/then style description that loads it up with text that makes it harder for a DM to find information. The information transfer beyond the encounters is not great and what there is is frequently not evocative. Almost … “this mine shaft is littered with desiccated woodland animal corpses” betrays spiders nearby. That’s not too bad; a little plain, still, but not bad.

For its problems with information transfer, I’m fond of this. Multiple levels, a great mix of encounters, a dark forest vibe … this one is close.

The PDF is $5 on DriveThru. And, glory of glories, the preview shows you writing! The first page, room 7, shows you the dessicated woodland creatures, and the next the strong odor of death.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

[5e] Modrons, Mephits, & Mayhem

Mon, 08/28/2017 - 11:18

By Tim Bannock
Self Published
Levels 5-8

It is primarily set in a modron-designed research facility that has been abandoned by its creators but retains guardians that are still active. Additionally, two groups have broken into the facility with their own goals in mind; the githyanki and their red dragon cohort are antagonistic and provide the main source of combat in this adventure, while a modron traveling with a few mephits may prove friendly although ultimately troublesome.

This seventy page adventure describes a three-level modron lab with about sixty rooms total. Only thirty or so pages are devoted to the dungeon, with the rest being appendices for monster stats, maps, etc, and it manages about four rooms per page when it is being terse and the rooms are simple. While for 5e, t’s trying to bring in elements of older play, with factions, better (non-linear) maps, interactivity and a generally slower/more exploratory environment. It’s trying to be organized, and succeeds admirably on several points, but the bulk of the text had readability issues, in both clarity and verbosity, which detract from the more interesting room elements which don’t come across well because of it.

A village water supply, from a river, has dwindled to nothing and you go up river to find out what happened. Discovering the water trickling from a (long-existing) dam you explore it to discover some other factions, friend and foe, inside. At heart, this is an exploratory dungeon crawl with another enemy faction (and the dungeon faction proper) already inside, and some allies to potentially recruit. Both the initial village, and another along the way, serve as rumor sources to collect information before venturing in. The NPC’s are all gathered in a small section, with personalities, that makes wading through their (longer) descriptions later a lot more tolerable. In addition, the information you can gather is separated out nicely in bullet-form faction, making it easy for the DM to locate and scan. It’s a great formatting decision.

The maps are decent and the three-level dungeon does a pretty good job of feeling like a lab to explore, without going full on gonzo nutso scifi. There are lots of levers, dials, viewscreens, and so on to play with. Command words to guardians with clues left about, prisoners to rescue to join forces with, simple room puzzles and interactivity. There are things to figure out and use to your own advantage when exploring/interacting. The core concept of the dungeon is a good one and the rooms, while not standouts, hit that bar of “good enough” in terms of variety and interactivity.

The adventure falls down, though, in the actual descriptions used to explain the rooms. They are long. They concentrate on irrelevant things. They try to explain WHY things are. In essence, the descriptions tend to focus on the irrelevent parts of a room, which obfuscates the more relevant portions. What follows is a lack of clarity and a hinderance to scanning the room and running it effectively.
Room D1-2, on page 13, the first level, is a good example. The first paragraph is all background, what USED to happen in this room. “The river originally flowed from X to X and then to Z but is now dry.” and so on. It tells us nothing new and adds nothing to the room. What USED to happen is irrelevant unless it impacts the party NOW … and ancient history seldom does.

The second paragraph tells us the evil faction came through here, heard a command word, and used it, thus the automated defences are still intact. The adventure falls in to this trap, explaining WHY, in a lot of rooms. There’s a decanter of endless water, held by an iron golem, who says the command word over and over again, in order to get a stream of water. It’s currently disabled, hence no water stream. There’s a trap here. The rules, those three books, they are for the players. There’s not a single word in any of them that binds a DM. You don’t need to use the rules to explain or build an effect. It happens because MAGIC. There’s no reason for a decanter until you want the party to steal it (which they will.) A water nymph pieced by a spear that bleeds water, or any of literally a ZILLION other things could create water. Dead unicorn heads, or horns, whatever. There’s never a reason to explain WHY. (Or, almost never, anyway.) All of that just clogs up the room, detracting the really important stuff: the evocative descriptions and DM notes. It’s hard to scan during play with this much text involved.

The read aloud tells us the pool is 40 feet deep. It’s only 20 foot full. It’s 15’ wide and 20’ deep. Steps lead up 5 feet. These are not evocative descriptions. The text should get a vibe across to the DM, so they can enhance it and get it to the players. Steel-walled, a deep clear pool with a catwalk over it. A gleaming glass tube coming from the ceiling and ending in the water. Present a vibe. The map can handle the dimensions.

And there’s another issue: cross-room issues. There’s another room nearby that causes things to happen when you step on the catwalk. But you don’t know that until you get to that room. Likewise, there’s a room nearby (the one with the decanter in it) that is at the end of a long hallway that’s patrolled, with a faction guardroom down near the other end. But you don’t know that until you get to the faction control room. “Uh, sorry, hang on guys, it looks like that hallway is actually patrolled, the one you came down.” Ideally, you integrate this sort of stuff either in to the map (the patrolled hallway) or reference it in another room. “If you step on the catwalk see room 1-3.” or some such. You need a pointer. Otherwise you’re forcing the DM to be INTIMATELY familiar with it or scribble on the map, make notes, etc. And that’s not the DM’s job. That’s the designers job.

I don’t want to come off too harsh. For a 5e exploratory dungeon, this thing is headed in the right direction. It’s got a nice order of battle for creatures in the dungeon, doesn’t have more than sentence or so on monster tactics, and uses bullet points pretty effectively in room descriptions. What is really needs is a stronger focus on the CORE of the rooms. The evocative nature. The text should be terse, but not minimalist. Every line should help the DM run the room. A BIG edit for verbosity and more evocative descriptions (not longer, more evocative) would do wonders for this and turn it in to a really good 5e exploratory dungeon.

It’s $5 on DMsguild.

There’s a free preview of ALL of level 1. Check out the last page & last column to see room 2/2a, with its backstory and explaining why. The entirety of 2/2A, that is seen here, could be shortened to maybe three sentences and be just as, if not more, useful to the DM running it.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dungeon Magazine #149

Sat, 08/26/2017 - 11:20

Not as bad as I was expecting for issue 149. Nice ideas, poorly implemented.

War of the Wielded
By Richard Pett
Level 5

Well, you don’t see that everyday. I tend to like things stretched to their logical conclusion, or at least I’m morbidly fascinated by it, and this adventure does that. A world with intelligent swords that can ego-overwhelm people? Ok, let’s see where that goes … Two groups of intelligent swords, with conflicting goals, are engaged in a kind of war. The party stumbles on a dead body and one of the swords. ENcouraged by a magic sword, and told of where to find more, they are encouraged by the sword to go rescue his “friends” … the other swords on his side. This leads to a fight in a bathhouse, capturing a rust monster, and destroying all of the magic swords with it. It’s linear, but the setup of magic swords engaged in a “war” with each other is a good one. You meet someone after the first encounter who wants you to destroy all the swords and it’s simply a given that the party will … but this comes out of nowhere. There’s no real motivation, horrific acts, etc, to motivate the party to give up a bunch of magic swords. It’s just the next stop on the railroad. It plays out more like a series of set-pieces with token roleplay to tie things together, and that’s never good. There’s a decent idea here; it needs to be given more room to breathe, with fewer descriptions of ordinary rooms. In particular, the hooks appeal to the PLAYERS, but tempting them with magic swords. Nice job that.

Twisted Night
By Stefan Happ
Level 10

I’m not sure about this one. There’s an abandoned village with a mad dude in jail and a boy under a boat, neither of whom know what happened to the villagers. There’s a sullen, forlorn vibe that I can dig. You eventually find out a tree monster signs after dark, luring people to their doom … which in this case meant slavers. But the slaves are still dying and the only way to save them is killing the plant monster. Good imagery with ogres skinning and hanging meat, the initial village, a drunk satyr, and, of course, the potential for pirate/slaver allies. It’s also very … encountery? Ogres in the village. A centaur slaver on a hill. Pirates on the shore. It all just feels like there’s monsters there BECAUSE. Still, nice adventure concept and some good imagery. It’s just needs a rework.

Enemies of My Enemy
By Wolfgang Baur
Level 19

Meet Charon and journey the Styx picking up allies to attack Demogorgon. Lots of words. Lots of forced combats and “testing skills” and meaningless read-aloud. There’s some decent roleplay in this, in negotiating the various creatures/scenarios of the planes and recruiting demonic allies, but it’s buried in a horrid page count from stat blocks and overworked “aren’t I clever!” text. It’s feel formulaic and repetitive.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Catacombs of Chaos

Wed, 08/23/2017 - 11:20

By Walter P. Jones Jr.
New Realms Publishing
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 1-3

The trading season has begun and the town of Ravenor is filled with merchants and celebrators looking to enjoy the upcoming Spring Festival. But not all is well in the capital of Crysamar Vale. Tremors rumble through the land, damaging buildings, and fisherman complain that the fish are becoming scarce. And during quiet moments, when the fires burn low and most revelers have long since gone to bed, the rumors grow darker. Tales are whispered of bloodless bodies being found in the streets at dawn, of boats drifting down river in the morning mist, their crews gone, and of strange smells and sounds that make the blood of even the hardiest soul run cold. Something dreadful has come to Ravenor.

This 25 page adventure describes a fifty room “standard” dungeon The map is actually decent, but it is PLAGUED by long read-alouds, boring history and room trivia, and massive amounts of DM text. This reminds me, most of all, of the initial draft of Dwimmermount: minimal keying expansively described.

The start/introduction has a column of read-aloud. The town council, a column of DM text later, has another column of read-aloud text. The rooms have read-aloud. The read-aloud is boring. Here is a masterpiece: “ A small stream of water flows into this chamber from a passage in the north wall, feeding a large pool in the southwest corner. Light debris litters the floor and there is an opening in the east wall.” The focus is on trivia from the map. Where the stream enters. Where the pool is. The detail is uninteresting “light debris.” This is not specific, generic, using boring adjectives like “light” and unspecific nouns like “debris.” This read-aloud has done NOTHING for the DM or the players. Floors have dirt and debris in read alouds. Mounds are “large” in the read-alouds. This is poor writing, evoking nothing but boring genericism. This is then exacerbated by long DM text. It’s long, contains history and room trivia not relevant to running the adventure. “A hidden catch will open the secret door, revealing the passage beyond. There is nothing of value in the room.” This is akin to telling us, in a normal village, that the sun shines or that a door can be opened. Of fucking course a door can be opened. That’s the nature of a door. It’s notable if it CAN’T be opened. Expansive text for minimal keying.

There are bright spot. Creatures with bulbous eyes and webbed claws. And here’s a temple description in read-aloud: “Trailers of mist drift through this large room, diffusing the pale green light that emanates from a crystalline dome overhead. Mottled blue stone forms the walls and floor. To the south, a large object looms in the mist.” That’s a decent read-aloud description, painting a picture of a room in your mind. But there’s FAR too little of it and far too much DM text to wade through. Focus, people. FOCUS!

The map is decent, using color and having themed sections and a nice selection is flopping corridors, the way an exploration dungeon should have them. It’s only half a page though, making it hard to read; a full page map would have been better.

The adventure also has an objectives table You go in to the dungeon at the behest of the town council. As you come out, and share information with them, they will offer you various rewards. Did you tell them about the evil temple? They are pleased to know about it and they’ll pay you a little more. There’s about twenty entries on the table and I think it’s an interesting mechanic to push the party to interact with the council/town, and push them to explore. There’s not really any decent information to help the DM interact with the town, but, hey, the table IS interesting.

Lots of read-aloud. Lots of DM text. It’s a pain to wade through and the bulk of the text just isn’t that creative or interesting. The core of the dungeon, as a “generic dungeon” isn’t that bad, with rats, undead, mist, temples, etc, but the amount of effort you need to get there is just too much for me, much like the original Dwimmermount draft.

This is $6 on DriveThru. The preview is five pages. All it shows you is the massive read-aloud for the introduction/start and the town council, etc. You learn nothing of the actual rooms. Bad preview! No cookie for you!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Tranzar’s Redoubt

Mon, 08/21/2017 - 11:17

By Joe Johnston II
Taskboy Games
Labyrinth Lord
Level 4-6

Every fool knows that a cornered conjurer is a most dangerous foe. But a truly wise wizard will always have a fallback plan to use when victory eludes him. A secret place cached with treasure, filled with monsters and guarded by dweomercraft most subtle is the defeated magician’s best friend. It is also a juicy plum for professional adventurers. Care to take a bite?

This 44 page digest adventure describes a twenty room dungeon in about twenty pages, with the rest being monsters, magic items, preg-gens, etc. It’s mostly a linear dungeon with a few branching rooms. I’d call this a funhouse dungeon, with iconic adventure tropes appearing in many of the rooms. It’s got some layout issues, gets long/redundant in places, and generally has bits and pieces of decent descriptions. If the layout/map/etc issues were resolved then I’d say this is one good edit away from being a pretty decent funhouse adventure.

Fair warning: I have a fondness for the classics. Waterfalls need a cave behind them, etc, and this adventure has that in spades. There’s a room with statues that ask riddles. There’s a dragon on a treasure pile that you can talk to. There are damsels on a rock in an underground lake. There’s an etting in a room with three magic fountains. A large mushroom forms a mouth to issue a warning. At times this is a like a who’s who of classic D&D room types.

The rooms have some decent imagery associated with them. A door with an evil fetish of chicken bones, feathers, and a ruddy brown stain. Nice! Odious vines. Statues illuminated with blue light from within. A statue face on a wall of a desiccated zombie with a mouth distorted into a rictus of hunger. These are pretty good descriptions. They get an image across to the DM immediately and these sorts of descriptions are not uncommon in the adventure. “Large” pods is not very descriptive. A common issue with much adventure writing is resorting to these common adjectives and adverbs. Large and big are both boring words. EVen if you don’t go full on Jabberwocky there’s always a thesaurus.

But these descriptions also tend to be buried in the text. “Stairs descend for about 20’ into a 40’ passageway ending in a door. The door is locked. Normal lock picking rules apply.” I wonder if normal combat rules also apply in combat? And it’s somewhat remiss to not tell us that normal gravity rules apply? It’s IS useful to know the room dimensions, since, you know, they are also right there on the map that we just looked at to get the room numbers, etc. You know, the central piece of information for all DM’s that’s almost always the centerpiece of the reference material they use. Oh, wait …. NOT useful. That’s right. REDUNDANT. It’s this redundancy, on both counts, that drives me crazy, especially with an adventure like this that is close to being acceptable.

The number one rule in adventures, published ones anyway, is that they are technical document, a reference for the DM. The implications of that statement will vary based on the type of adventure what section of the adventure, but it always needs to be on the designer’s mind. For room keys there needs to (ALMOST always) be a focus. What’s the DM need to know first? Usually this is the description; the short and evocative text that shoves an idea seed in to the DM’s head where it can grow and flourish and they can then ad-lib and fill in for the rest of the room. It’s. Not. The. Fucking. Room. Dimensions. First, it’s on the map. The map that’s almost always in front of the DM. No, putting it in the key is not good. More is not better. It distracts from the DMs attention. Suddenly there is trivia, useless information, that I must dig through in order to get to the stuff I NEED to run the room. I’m hot on overloading the map with detail because of this; it’s always there and can support a lot of the mundane needs of the DM without detracting from the evocative part of the room. Give me a terse and evocative room description then another paragraph of a couple of sentences that follows up on it. You don’t need tons of mechanics. You don’t need to spell everything out. You’ve got a DM there. Allude to things. Give the DM room to blossom.

I’m being overly harsh on Joe, the designer. This isn’t garbage, he does have some good descriptions and room ideas (and good magic items, for that matter), it’s just clogged up with the mistakes I’ve seen hundreds of times before. The difference here is that those adventures generally had few redeeming qualities, unlike some of Joes descriptions and room ideas. I feel like Joe is close. Take a room. Work it. Rewrite it. Focus. Have the magic click.

I’m also more than a little annoyed that the map is split over two pages in the (middle) of the book. I don’t know, I guess it’s digest sized and that takes some allowance, but I find those hard to read, and reference in play, and print out/photocopy for my DM screen. No, I don’t have solution. I’m just a jerk that way.

This is $2 on DriveThru. The preview is six pages, but it’s all intro stuff. I wish these previews would more often show you an example of the technical writing.

Finally, there’s a thread over at RPGGEEK where they are building a community dungeon. I’ve been critiquing their rooms. One of them, username=PurpleBrocoli, had a kind of meandering writing style that they cleaned up quite a bit and turned in something that meets my approval. Several others are rewriting their rooms also, and I do in to detail on most of the rooms, noting the trivia and so on.

Fuck if I know how to direct link to Purple rooms …

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dungeon Magazine #148

Sat, 08/19/2017 - 11:15

The Automatic Hound
By James L. Sutter
Level 4

A beast stalks a village. Killing it just causes it to return the next night. The party has to figure out that the body of a recently dead boy needs to be returned to some standing stones in order to get rid of the beast. The townfolk and churchman won’t want the corpse of the mayors son engaged in some pagan standing stone ritual. The complications of the resisting town, differing and conflicting motivations, could almost make this a Zzarchov Kowolski adventure … if he were illiterate and knew nothing about writing an RPG. The adventure is more like a twelve page outline. There’s very little specific support for the DM, except a six room rooms with lots of room descriptions that don’t matter. The hiring, the investigation, the monster hunt through the village, the troubles with the villagers in returning the body … none of it is supported. It’s just an outline, that should be six bullet points long, expanded endless to twelve pages without actually providing any actual real support for the DM. That’s too bad because if it WERE there then it would be a complex social adventure, with an almost LotFP potential ending.

In the Shadows of Spinecastle
By Stephen Greer & Gary Holian
Level 9

Count Doku wants you to go to an evil town and find his missing spy and/or recover his intelligence information. You go to a bar and get attacked. You go to a house and get attacked. You go to an eight room linear dungeon. End. It’s just set-piece combats linked with the barest pretext of non-combat. Utter garbage. I’d wipe my ass with it but I got a bidet for Christmas.

Wells of Darkness
By Eric L. Boyd
Level 18

Typical computer rpg adventure. Go to market in abyss to get info. Get attacked. Go to palace and talk to demon to get information. Go to prison. Go elsewhere to free prisoner. Have big fight at the end. It’s ponderous, full of the minutia of backstory … I don’t see how ANY person could possibly run this adventure.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

A Forgotten Evil

Wed, 08/16/2017 - 11:18

By Alex D. Karaczun
Mischief, Inc
Levels 1-3

In ages past, nations fought great wars with the aid of powers from fiendish allies. Much has been forgotten since then, but sometimes that which is forgotten can be the greatest danger of all. Goblins are raiding the small villages near Caer Carega. Is it just the depredations of a few desperate tribes, or is there something more sinister behind the night raids?

This forty page adventure details a three level dungeon with about forty rooms, as well as a small overland adventure. Goblins have been raiding and the party is sent to find & kill them, ending up in their base; the tower. Inside is a “goblins have taken over a ruin” dungeon, stuffed full of magic and monsters. Long & meaningless descriptions that seem like filler are the highlights of this and, frankly, I’m struggling to find this adventure brings to a table. It’s just Yet Another Goblin Lair adventure.

You’re hired to go find and destroy some raiding goblins, while the regions own militia pull back to protect the villages and homesteads from the raids, which at least makes sense. The party is sent out in to the wilderness to find the goblins with no hints, NPC’s to talk to, or any supporting information even about which way the goblins come from. They wander the wilderness, use the wandering monster chart, until the DM drops a hint and they find a ruined tower wherein the goblins lair. I’m not a fan of most of this adventure, but this really stands out to me. It’s all abstracted away with no support for the DM to run a meaningful encounter in getting hired or asking about. No ruined villages or homesteads or any resources if the party asks about … which they are sure to do.

The ruined tower has ruined ground floor and then two dungeon levels. The dungeon levels are pretty standard with goblins, a couple of other demi-humans, some undead in old ruined areas, and a few vermin. It’s mostly uninteresting encounters with monsters stuffed in to rooms who react when you open the door, and little else to explore or interact with. The bugbear sleeps in his armor, there’s no real response to an incursion outlined, it all feels like just monsters stuffed in a room with not much tying it together besides “it’s a goblin lair.” It’s best when it is defying this, such as with the young white dragon that lives in the tower and may fly out. But there’s far far too little of this.

The descriptions are long; long read-alouds and long DM text, for meaningless text. Once, after a long read-aloud, there was a DM note, the first sentence, stating “the knives in the description are worthless.” That’s the story of this adventure in a nutshell. The mundane is expanded upon both in the read-aloud and in the DM text. “Characters may enter this room and begin searching it.” Well, that’s great to know, I guess. Can they also breathe in and exhale? It seems petty, but repeated, a hundred times, it gets tiresome. You’re looking for that special spark to make the rooms come alive and instead you get just filler.

The magic items are another example of this. There’s an attempt to provide lore, a background, for, oh, lets say six to eight of them, mostly weapons. I appreciate a little extra in magic items, a terse/nice description, a non-mechanical effect, and so on. But the lore sections for the magic items get themselves bogged down in to backstory that is unlikely to impact play. They are at their best when they say things like “baron butthurt will pay 3x-5x the price to recover this sword” … IE: when they lead to more adventure and drive action. Otherwise it’s just more useless trivia and that shit has a place of about one short sentence for people/places/things.

To top it all off, the disguised bad guy has a ring of mind shielding and needs to get away so the other adventures in the series can go off.

Byrce’s Tip o’the day: It’s always best to just kill all prisoners in a dungeon. Because, you know, THE. EVIL. ONE.

This is a rough adventure, with LOTS of foes, and a lot of magic items to go with them. The room descriptions drag on, describing trivia, and the entire thing lacks a certain focus of purpose, with little interactivity. It’s just another generic goblin lair, this time in a ruined tower.

It’s $10 on DriveThru. The four page preview shows you almost nothing, it being the first four pages of the adventure and all backstory and how to read a stat block. At best, the last page or so describes the generic hiring hook and lack of support for the DM in running the hiring/search.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Atheneum of Yearning

Mon, 08/14/2017 - 11:18

By Oswald
Self Published
Levels 1-3?

The atheneum was a center of learning which became the headquarters of a dangerous cult. Where forgotten ones hoped to be chosen for the pure land. Their rituals went wrong during the city’s raid. Now it’s been forgotten inside its containment cube for 50 years. Until a secret entrance was found in the basement of a nearby house. Only the players have access to this hidden chamber for now.

This nineteen page adventure is a three level tower with about fifty rooms in it. It describes a ruined home/library in a city that has been magically walled off … and now has a tunnel coming in from underneath from a nearby home. Greed, or searching for something specific, the factions and weirdness inside make this like a more active/interactive/action-oriented Tower of the Stargazer.

This is an interesting little adventure, something like a mix between Stargazer and maybe Spire of Iron & Crystal. The default hook is, as described, a loot-the-place-we-just-found-the-way-in adventure. The map here is three levels with various parts of the levels, especially the second, blocked off from other areas because of a collapsed floor. You can see them, both from below and on the the second level, and there are multiple stairs and ways up. This makes the map one of the better ones I’ve seen lately. It offers tantalizing scenes that pull the players in certain directions.

This also allows for faction play, with five being detailed. Where they live, what they want, and how they are related to each other. Billy needs a couple of things, then he can become The Chosen One and kill the Queen in the queen faction. There’s an interconnectedness here that many/most dungeons don’t have and that kicks things up a notch, particularly with the factions and their relationship to each other.

This is complimented by a nice overview of the street the house is on, and a timeline of what happens on the street, all on a small and well laid-out section of a page, almost like bullet points. I can’t compliment the format enough. It covers all sorts of things to make the OUTSIDE portion of the house, as the party retreat and re enter, as much fun as the inside, if not more so. Nosy neighbors, street scenes, gangs moving in; it’s well done and is exactly what you’re hoping to see when you want to make the OUTSIDE of the dungeon lively. It’s enough to get your imagination going and run an entire little vignette, or twele, but doesn’t do it either by droning on or boring you with generic random encounters.

The various encounters in the house range from weird vignettes, like corpses, that set the mood, to encounters that almost have a dream-like feel to them. If you go through a certain secret door, to a secret garden, you meet your mother. You know it’s her, even though she’s wearing a mask. She tells you not to go back through the door, because there are monsters there who killed your father. She can also give you a bonus. There’s a heavy innocence and innocence-lost theme to things. Pans lost boys fifty years later, as children who could have been The Chosen One (ala Potter to CS Lewis) They are weird, not in a gonzo way but in a slightly off kilter melancholy way.

The adventure isn’t perfect and I can point out a couple of flaws. The first is a little petty. The very first words of the first level tell us that every surface of the library walls is covered with shelves and overstuffed with books. This leads to the inevitable questions of “what are their titles and can we systematically loot and sell them?” … neither of which is addressed. A book title generator and/or value/quality system would have hooked in nicely with the timeline and factions, as the players “mine” the books and deal with the factions and the goings on in the tunnel house and the street outside of it. That would have been an excellent tie in.

The designer could also use a little more evocative language and scene setting. “Iron railing connects the pillars.” or “central spiral stairs leads to the middle chamber.” or “Each chamber has a skeleton, stacks of books, a cot, a chamber pot, writing utensils and paper.” These examples are all not at the sterling heights of evocative imagery. It’s important that the text be arranged to make sense to the DM and also to jam a scene in to their head.

This is PWYW on DriveThru, with a suggested price of … $0! That’s right, it’s free! The preview doesn’t work, but, hey, it’s free, and worth checking out. http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/217721/The-Atheneum-of-Yearning

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dungeon Magazine #147

Sat, 08/12/2017 - 11:16

The Aundairian Job
By Craig Shackleton
Level 5

Holy shit! A sandbox! I’m not kidding, a real sandbox! In a late issue dungeon! It’s a bank heist. An exorcist wants a possessed amulet from a bank vault, so he can banish the demon in it, but the bankers have their rules and he ain’t got the password. No one is evil! Try THAT one on for once! There’s a bit of the ol magical society bullshit, with skylights held in place with sovereign glue and permanent whispering wind spell intercom systems. Without that stuff, and changing the place from a bank to “Karl the moneylender” and you’ve have more standard fantasy world adventure. There’s a corrupt clerk you can give you information on the maps, the guard rotations, security procedures, and so on. Then, it’s just game fucking on! Come up with a crazy plan and go to town, the essence of great D&D! It IS laid out incorrectly, using room/key format. This means that the security procedures, like the bears that roam the compound and guard posts, have long descriptions about how they work. Other rooms, like a shower room, have very terse ones. “With a handle that dumps cold water when pulled.” That’s about the most that’s appropriate for a shower room, in a caper adventure. The “big picture” details of the security and procedures should have been pulled out in general sections and then a terse room/key presented, with the two referencing each other. I don’t want to dig for information about the patrolling animals by trying to find the correct room with the info. Put it in “night patrols” section and reference room 4 as their pen, with room 4 referencing the night patrols section, noting it’s the home of the patrolling animals. With a rewrite this could be an ok adventure!

Dread Pagoda of the Inscrutable Ones
By: A shiton of people
Level 10

Part three, the final part of the Seeds of Sehan adventure path. Starts with an auto-ambush, no doubt “to get the players going for the night!” and follows with some yak-folk probably attacking in a forest. Then there’s a thirty room dungeon/pagoda to infiltrate/hack through so you can kill the last remnants of the Sehan entity. It’s all janni and room/key, and not even a brain in a jar can save it. It’s the strongest in the series thanks to its bluff/infiltrate basis, but digging through this to run it and understand what’s going on is a chore.

Into the Maw
By Robert J. Schwald
Level 17

Part none of the twelve part Savage Tide adventure path. You take your boat in to an abyss ocean, to a prison, to do a jail break. With a bullywug lich. All of the prisoners are either hostile or indifferent. That’s right Mr Angel-held-captive-in-an-abyss-prison is, at best, indifferent to the people freeing him. It claims to have factions, but since they all attack it’s really just some theming to the different areas. It’s just a fucking hack.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Ruined Tower Giant

Wed, 08/09/2017 - 11:15

By (Uncredited)
Unbalanced Dice Games
Labyrinth Lord

The party must go to the tower the giant took with him when he ran away. Something is bugging the Duke and his Necromancer thinks it has to do with the tower. The tower must be explored and the purgative put in every room. Will they have an easy time doing this? Of course not. The tower is dangerous but someone else has taken residence up very close to it. Only by entering the tower will they find out who that is…

!!!I DON’T KNOW!!!

This is a 43 page six-level dungeon with about 65 rooms in it. I don’t know how to summarize it. The rooms feel random, but connected by an overall theme. It’s like junior high kid wrote a D&D adventure … and english wasn’t their first language but they were fluent in it but they were raised in a skinner box with only the LabLord rules. It’s all basic and to the point, simplistic almost to the point of being iconic. This is BARE BONES … but not minimally keyed. It’s somehow one step above that.

After I bought this and cracked it I had a sudden realization: I had seen this style before. Looking back it became clear: I had no fucking idea what was up with the previous product I reviewed and I have no idea what is up with this one.

Nearby is part of a tower and attached to it is a giant that has been turned to stone. You’re hired to go put some magic salt in every room in order to put to rest the spirit haunting the Duke every night. The tower has three levels and the giant has been hollowed out in to three levels also. The magic salt thing is an interesting way to get the party in to every room and to explore all levels/rooms. It also has the kind of old timey folklore vibe that I groove on.

The maps are pretty good, with decent looping and variety of design. The treasure seems light with not nearly enough to justify going in to the place. But, really, the “highlight” here are the encounters. One room has two shovels sticking out of the ground, forming a V. WTF is up with that, you ay ask. I have no idea. You know as much as I. It’s the “shovel themed” area, I guess, cause there’s a zombie digging a hole in another room nearby, and another that like to lie in the holes he’s digging to rest. And another room with a bunch of buried bodies in it with a skeletons hand sticking “partway out of the ground.” One room in the giant has some pink fluid oozing out of it, the giant is still alive and begs you to restore him! Another has a giant stone thumb sticking through the towers wall with a magic sword sticking in it. (Sword, is explicitly stated, has no discernable effects.) The rooms go on and on like this. Almost every one is short.

There is some kind of intelligent hand massaging things here, but the entire thing is unlike almost anything I’ve seen before. The encounters are … simple, but with detail like an icepick. It’s almost like a series of minimally keyed rooms, loosely connected, but with detail then added that is EXACTLY what is needed to bump it up a notch in to “terse & interesting” territory. Your mind races with what is going on. Room three on the top level of the tower has No Ceiling, according to room name: “This area no longer have a ceiling. The sky is visible. Anyone who climbs upwards will be standing on top of the tower. From there they can see everything for a long distance.”

This thing is creative. The zombie laying down in the grave it is digging. The giant still living. The fact that the giant (a folklore giant who just wanted something to eat) has RUN AWAY WITH THE TOWER. Almost all of the writing is direct and to the point.

There’s something WRONG with it though, beyond the light to non-existent treasure. The rooms, while lightly themed, generally creative, and connected to each other (recall all the shovel rooms?) are somehow lacking. It doesn’t feel like a cohesive whole.

Imagine I created a random dungeon from a generator. Then I went through and minimally expanded the rooms a bit, and themed them a bit, to turn the randomness in to a decent little room idea. That’s what this thing feels like, this sort of vibe of things being random or unconnected or somehow off center.

It’s hard to recommend this. As minimall keyed things go it’s a decent endeavor with room creativity and variety that’s a cut above. The minimal keying makes it pretty terse and easier to run than most adventures. Combined, they make this better than the dreck of most adventures. It doesn’t all click together though and your happiness with it probably depends on your views of minimally keying.

It’s worth checking out one of these Unbalanced Dice Games adventures, just to get a toehold on the design behind it.

It’s $4 on DriveThru. The preview is six pages and tells you almost nothing about what is inside. The only “real” adventure page is the background, which is not really representative. Which is too bad. I Wish ONE of the real room pages was present in one of these so people would think I’m not crazy as I struggle to describe the style.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

These Violent Delights

Mon, 08/07/2017 - 11:17

By Darvin Martin
The Design Mechanism
Levels 1-2

When the son of an elven noblewoman goes missing, the characters are recruited by the Lady Nuathyn to find him, leading the party from the town of Gramby and into the mysteries of Grune Vel Wood. Is everything as it seems? And how will the characters cope with the moral choices ahead…

This 36 page adventure features a fourteen room dungeon after a small wilderness section. A son is missing and the party hired to find him, only to be faced with a “moral” decision at the end. It has some decently interactive room details but also goes in to to much history and backstory, leading to ¾ column rooms with long paragraphs full of meaningless trivia.

The sins are many, but let’s cover the decent parts first. Imagine the DM saying “the room has a mural on the wall.” What is it, you ask? “A mythic figure, king of the forest, Daren O’Reily, holding the sun in his left hand.” Anything else? You look closer? “The sun is covered in soot.” Something close to this is, I think, a great way to cover room secrets. The DM is providing hints and players picking up on it ask some follow ups and the secret is revealed: placing a fire up against the sun opens a secret door in the wall. This adventure doesn’t lead you to that interaction, that’s up to the DM, but it does provide the environment, in many rooms, that an interaction like this can take place … even if it take four fucking paragraphs to get to it. Secret doors outlined in fire if the players fill a channel with oil; it smells faintly of it. Swirling clouds of dust in rooms, or strange whistling sounds with normal explanations. I’m fond of this sort of secret, and have been since those holes in the wall in the DMG dungeon had bits of wood in them. This adventure provides that in several of the rooms. It’s an exploratory and interactive style of D&D.

There’s another nice social interaction encounter in the adventure which I think is a pretty good way to handle social rolls. While asking questions around town you could fail your roll. This doesn’t mean you don’t get information, but rather SOMETHING HAPPENS. This isn’t a “you get no information” fail, or a “not very good information” fail, but rather a fail that leads to more adventure. In this case, a drunk berserker trades blows with you. Then, if you do well against her, you might be able to recruit her! A die roll doesn’t lead to a boring fail/miss, but rather is used as springboard to MORE. More adventure. More complications … and not necessarily bad!

There’s also about a column of text in the beginning that outlines the NPC as well as the key points and timeline of the adventure. It tells you almost nothing interesting or important about the adventure, but I appreciate the style and I think bullet point style is a great way to present summary information to the DM.

And on the negative side: this adventure should be at least half as many pages as it is, and probably shorter than that. It is FULL of trivia. History. Backstory. Useless words. “The fireplace has ashes and the remains of charred wood it but nothing of interest.”


How about the price of tea in China? That has as much business as being in this adventure as does the empty fireplace description. How about some backstory about a wizard who tried to take over the dungeon and fell in love with a dryad and created some undead to guard some of the rooms? All so you can justify having a couple of skeletons in the fucking dungeon. YOU DONT NEED TO EXPLAIN THIS SHIT. Maybe it happened that way. Maybe the dryad created them. Maybe not. But it’s ONLY fucking relevant if its actually fucking relevant to something that’s going to happen in the adventure. If there’s no way for the players to exploit it, or it doesn’t add to the evocative nature of the description, then leave it the FUCK out! All you are doing is clogging up the fucking text and making it harder to find the information that IS relevant.

Bad read aloud introduction to the town that’s boring & generic. A page and a half meet & greet to get your assignment that falls in to the “exact dialog” trap, telling us our hostess wipes her wipes with a silk handkerchief and says “Thanks you for honoring my summons …” Ahhh, go fuck yourself. That’s the way YOU ran the intro. Your job, as the designer, is to provide the DM enough information to run it, hopefully in an evocative manner, in the shortest way possible. Maybe they will run it the way you did. Maybe not. Make a roll to find the secret grover so you can continue the adventure. Make a roll to find the secret door so the adventure can continue. These are terrible terrible design decisions, not to mention the traces of morality preaching. Leave the bear cubs you find to die in the forest or take them to town to sell? Well, I mean, not if you’re lawful or good, sez the dungeon. I guess logging is officially evil now also? Room dimensions in room descriptions, the list goes on and on.

The big morality play at the end is that the missing son is in love with a dryad, when you track them both down together at the end. Then some half-orcs, hired by the elf noblewoman, show up to kill the dryad. Do you help your explorers retainers, the half-orcs, or the lovers?

This is $3.75 at DriveThru. The preview is the first four pages. It doesn’t really show you anything other than the bullet point summary … which, while a good idea, doesn’t summarize the CORRECT things.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs