Ten Foot Pole

Subscribe to Ten Foot Pole feed Ten Foot Pole
I bought this stuff and read it so you don't have to.
Updated: 1 month 3 days ago

(5e) Escape from Wheloon

Sat, 09/29/2018 - 11:12


By Alan Patrick
Self Published
5e
Levels 1-4

The walled city of Wheloon holds the criminal population of Cormyr. The residents
of that place are bound to it forever and cut off from the outside world. Inside, plans
are made and malcontents pool their resources – and outside, forces influence the
innocent to ensure that a dire plot can be realized without interference from the
knights and mages that guard the realm. Now you’re here with no memory of what
brought you to Wheloon, and all you can think of is finding out why!

This twenty one page town adventure sets new lows in adventure design. At the same time both railroady, taking away player action, and plot-based but with no fucking plot points. The usual issues with organizing the town incorrectly and useless detail. Lipstick on a pig indeed!

This is an Adept level DMSGuild adventure, an endorsement from WOTC of quality.

You wake up in town with no memories. You wander around, almost literally. Four scripted events happen. You somehow figure out how to get in to a smithy and have a fight. Done.

There’s nothing wrong with scripted events. They can add flavor to an adventure. There’s nothing wrong with THESE scripted events, at least in theory. In practice, just about every bad design decision that could be made WAS made. They are generally aimed at one of the members of the party and at the end of it you regain some memories and get awarded second level. Yeah, ok, I’m not going to quibble with that. But … in the very first one the PC has to make a DC 14 animal handling check. If they succeed they get the level award. All of the others just award the level. So, if, out of the blue, the party member decides to do an animal handling on a attack dog they MIGHT get a second level. I don’t mind this as a true award, but its written so you get some memories back if you do it, as well as the second level that everyone else is going to get. It’s bad design.

And in another some rando guide just has rumor dialog out of the blue. It’s just inserted and stuck in to the encounter. No intro. No NPC name. It’s a guide for fucks sake! But it’s written like … I don’t know. First it’s written as a guide. Then there’s this rando rumor dialog. Then there’s this implication that the guide just runs off. It like someone yanked out random sentences or paragraphs and those explain what’s going on.

And the railroading! It starts immediately. The DM’s announces that one of the PC”s has found the parities gear in one of the chests in the decrepit room they wake up in. WTF? Hey, that’s the parties fucking decision! Fuck the story your telling! It belongs to the players not the DM. And then when you walk outside you’re just told you’re in the city of Wheloon? And then you get to all make a CHR check and if you succeed you can bribe the guards. Again, WTF? Why the fuck are you dictating the hows and why of the parties interaction with their environment? Persuade, bribe, intimidate, there’s an near infinite number of choices … but the DC check is written out of the blue.

This happens over and over again. It’s like You’re sitting in an inn and the DM calls out “ok, everyone make a Arana check! Those of you who succeed channel the elder force and gain a level!” Wait, what? Why the fuck are we rolling? Shouldn’t the party ACT and then ROLL for success? (And that’s not even taking in to account the OD&D method of trying to succeed WITHOUT rolling.) The whole “ok, every roll for [esoteric skill] and lets act like you just used it” is nonsense, and happens repeatedly. It makes no fucking sense. In another place an NPC puts a ring on a party members finger, and then later takes it off. Uh, no, thank you very fucking much. How about you just roleplay my entire PC for me? How about you just roll a d6 at the start of the fucking night and on a 1-5 we win and on a 6 you roll again? YOU DONT TAKE AWAY THE PARTIES FREE WILL. Even for something that trivial. “Any character may attempt a wisdom check” … but why the fuck would they? You have to give the party some cue to interact. It’s like there’s no fucking roleplaying anymore.

Further, there’s no plot seeds, as far as I can tell. I guess you are supposed to remember something (when you roll a 1 on a d20, how many fucking times are you rolling the dice in this thing?) Somehow you’re supposed to figure out you go to this pond. And somehow you’re supposed to figure out you need a certain key. And somehow you need to figure out that the key is placed on a stone at the pond. There’s exactly one clue, I think, in a huge town map, that the pond is important. Third, the key you need is in building 8 with some duergar, according to the pond entry. Entry 8, though, a porter, has no mention or duergar OR the key. How the fuck did that make it by the editor? Oh, wait no, one of the scripted encounters is supposed to be there and IT has the duergar and THEY have the key. So, you mean, you meant the scripted encounter and NOT the fucking porter?

The town entries are numbered and there are 25 or so. Really? That’s the plan? That may be the shittiest way possible to organize a town. Yes, I know everyone does it that way, mom, bridge. What’s the plan with this? That somehow someone is going to want to go building 15, out of the blue? [Aside: entry #15 is labeled “Hawkmaster, a falconry.] Maybe they are looking for a falconry, and you should label it “Falconry?” Maybe you should arrange them alphabetically, by usage type? Are the party likely to go to the Bleue Beard Inn or are they likely to go to the Purple Dragon Knight HQ … which is in the inn? And the sites are almost all chosen at random … there’s no real rhyme or reason to most of them being included in the adventure. I mean, the mill? Seriously? Why the fuck would the party go there? What makes you want to include that entry over, say, the scribe?

Ok, a few good things. The big bad guy is rumored to be morbidly obese and cause people’s eyeballs to explode. THAT’S good detail. And the old mill, while useless, is rumored to grind other things at night … THATS a good bit of forboding. That’s about it. Most of the detail given, and the town entries are written in a useless meandering style. Trivia. “The identity of Lord Sarp has been lost to the decades” Perfect. Why the fuck does the party care about that? “Situated at the western end of the ferry that brings the convicted into Wheloon, the Wyvern Watch Inn serves as the receiving house for all new residents.” I FUCKING HATE THE SIBBY!

This morning while watching the Conan cartoon the voiceover said Conan battled the cruel wizard Wrath-Anon. I turned to The pretty Girl and said “don’t they mean: Warth-Anon, the wizard who sometimes does cruel things?” The designer and editor (copyeditor?) may not be bad people, but this effort is bad. VERY bad. You can tell what they wanted to do, but they fail at nearly every aspect of it.

The goal is to write something for the DM running it at the table. Terse, evocative, organized. This things needs ALOT of work to get there.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages and utterly useless, showing you nothing of the adventure or the writing.
https://www.dmsguild.com/product/251922/Escape-from-Wheloon

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Mim’s Recreation Garden

Wed, 09/26/2018 - 11:14


By herror
Rowdy Kobold
OSR
Levels 1-3

The Garden is some sort of self-preserving magical botanical zoo, an attempt at avantgarde entertainment for kids – it never opened to the public, but it still works.

This twenty page adventure describes a fourteen room dungeon right out Adventure Time. Candy colored weirdness closer to Willy Wonka than the Silmarillion, it presents an interesting environment to adventure in. It’s also gota touch of the “adventure as a walk-though museum”, ala Ed Greenwood, can be confusing to decipher, and maddinley abstrated. It’s hard to recommend because of that, but it sure is interesting as all fuck.

We’ve got a wizard’s lair here, and this time a wizard interested in plants. It’s laid out in a bunch of rooms that are more garden like than dungeon like. Inside we’ve got a bunch of happy singing tree people, bumble bee people, fungus men, and so on. It’s not quite cartoonish, but does lean that way more than it does to those mean old vegapygmies of S3. That means it’s the new fresh material that was common to Psychedelic Fantasies and OD&D in general.

The common elements of “things to fuck with” is present also. The seasons can change in the rooms and/or dungeon and that impacts the things around it. Several rooms have crystals, or other things, to play with. Interactivity is a key aspect to dungeon exploring and this brings that. Doors triggered on specifical elements, and tunnels in the walls that lead to strange new, and/pr random rooms, also help bring in an element of the weird and unknown. I’m such a fan of these additional elements being tacked on. The rooms feel stuffed.

But they are actually pretty simple. Two or three bullet points generally describe the rooms, with certain exceptions being made for those long rando tables. It’s pretty easy to scan and figure out the specifics of the room. The map also helps here, color coded for floor condition (mud, wet, slime, etc) and light elements in the room.

But …

There is a fuck ton going on in this and its also hard to keep track of. While the rooms are easy to scan they also rely, heavily, on overloaded information presented in the general information before the keys begin. The slimes, fungus, seasons, trees, light, wet … it’s all a little hard to keep track of what SHOULD be going on. The single column format doesn’t ease comprehension, but I think the major problem is … English, and/or the lack therefore. I really like adventures from our foreign friends. Their takes on fantasy, influenced by their own unique cultural experiences, can lead to a freshness that still resonates like my own Brave Little Tailor upbringing. It’s generally easy to ignore or forgive any awkwardness in the language, from translation from French, Dutch, Spanish, or Hungarian. In this case though I feel like the language barrier may have contributed to the confusion. It’s not so much awkward word choices or grammar, but rather a certain … organization? I know that organization is not necessarily unique to different languages, but it FEELS like the summaries/organization of the general information was hampered by the language barrier. There’s nothing really I can point to, it just feels that way. In any event, its the organization of the general information, and the awkwardness of it, that’s an issue.

The entire thing has a touch of the Ed Greenwood Museum tour to it as well. There’s not really enough … motivation? in it. Everyone is just a little too friendly. It’s like setting a D&D adventure in a grade school … visit the classrooms and see the differences … but what do you DO? Garden of the Hag Queen had a bit of opposition to it that this just doesn’t seem to have. Long-time readers will know that I like talking to creatures in dungeons, and I like a “neutral” dungeon environment … but there has to be SOME kind of potential energy in the dungeon to drive things, and this feels weak in that area.

It can also get abstracted. “This is the treasure room, with a big pile of treasure in the middle.” Uh … great? OSR adventures also are generally aimed at Gold=XP games, and this is light in that area.

And, one more nit. Room One says “Two homunculi (programmed to “protect goblins”) wait at the bottom of the staircase, which has been covered with lard and caltrops.” I’d turn that around. The stairs are coated with lard and caltrops and two hom are at the bottom. The first thing the party will encounter is the stairs, and that should be the first thing the DM comes across in the sentence.

This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages and doesn’t really show you much. You get to the dungeon map (star shaped, with colod coding) and the wandering table, which DOES give a decent vibe for the types of encounters in the dungeon.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/252506/Mims-Recreational-Garden

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Vampire’s Tomb

Mon, 09/24/2018 - 11:12


By William Cord
Stronghold press Games
Generic/Universal

Uh ….

This four page adventure uses two pages to describe a seven room tomb, with the other two being title pages. Given how shitty I feel for paying $1 for it, I’m going to go in overdrive.

Room 1 starts with “”This area feels decrepit.” That, good sir, is a conclusion. The writing should not present conclusions. It should not tell the players what they are feeling, directly. The environment presented should make the DM feel like it is decrepit. Next up is “moss grows on the walls and the stonework is patchy.” That’s good, it generates that decrepit vibe were looking for. It then continues that there are emblems on the door that our players likely cannot recognize. Well, again, that’s shitty writing. Let’s just say it was the noble heraldry of House Darocar, and let the DM determine if the players recognize it. Instead of telling us that the players likely don’t recognize it, you could have described it. I don’t know, two red eyes on a black field or something with blood running from the eyes. That’s a bit foreboding. Finally, it tells us that there may be some thrall bandits in the room passing through. That’s ok. Calling them thralls is nice, it lends an air of how to roleplay them.

Room 2 tells us that its used as barracks for bandits turned thralls that the vampire is using as his personal slaves. Yes … that IS the definition of thrall when vampires are concerned. Better to use that text to tell us something else. Then it tells us that they act as guards and go on raids for victims and treasure for the Vampire. Yes, again, that is the definition of a bandit thrall. Again, stop repeating yourself. The stone wall is hard (a stone wall is made of stone usually a foot thick and about ten feet high.) It ends telling us that it has two sleeping thralls. Great. Maybe a personality, or what they know, or an tell the party? No? Right, all out of words, having used them all up telling us what a thrall is.

Room 3 has … ah fuck, I can’t do this anymore. There’s nothing to this adventure. Just lots of generic text defining what words mean. The last room has a vampire, which has no personality, stats, or anything else. I really can’t emphasize enough how hollow this is. Room 6, dining room, there is where people eat. Room 7 kitchen. This is where food is prepared. ARG!!!!!

I weep for the future. I feel like a grumpy old man, waving my fist at the sky. But, fuck, man, this is BAD.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a current suggested price of $1. Which is too much. There’s no preview. Which is wise.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/251297/The-Vampires-Tomb

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Phaunt’s Tower

Mon, 09/17/2018 - 11:17


By Jonathan Hicks
Farsight Games
Swords & Wizardry
Levels 1-3

Welcome to Wherwest! This is a town full of opportunities at every corner, adventure through every door and danger at every turn. Glory and gold awaits! That is, if you can get past your first night here.

This 22 page adventure details a nine room friendly wizards tower that has been invaded by demons. Event based, forced fights, and sloopy text detracts from the attempts to add a little sparkle to the adventure.

Well, there’s some nice wording here and there. Nice imagery (with art attached) of a small fortified village with a tower in the middle, blue light on top, acting as a kind of beacon in the wilderness. After a magical explosion there’s the smell of sulphur and rotting meat wafting through the smoke and fog around the tower.

There’s also a nice scene or three, like … “a badly damaged gelatinous cube sloshing its way down the street, falling apart with great globs splashing onto the ground …” Or people trapped inside that need escorted out. Or a cleric fighting for her life … who heals you if you save her. And … consequences. Going after the cube or saving the people slows you down; it’s a distraction from your main mission: getting to the top of the tower to stop a demon infestation. Getting distracted has consequences: an extra demon added to encounters after that.

This sort of consequence based events appeals to me. Fuck around and it gets harder. Save a villager and it gets a little easier with heals, etc.

What’s less interesting is … well … everything else. 22 pages and nine rooms means issues. In this case, single column, long read-alouds, and extensive DM text, all of which detract from the adventure. “This is the main hall where Phaunt receives guests, petitioners and dignitaries”, begins the description for room one. And then dimensional data. And then a description of a normal room. And THEN a description of the combat with demons in the room. Most important things come first people, and room purposes are not needed, nor are histories or descriptions of typical things.

The DM descriptions are expansive, with a lot of asides “so the party should be able to deal with them [demons] quickly.” says the text, adding nothing to the adventure except a conversational style that clogs things up. Text is wasted describing the detailed mechanics of an archery contest, with no hint of flavour to make it exciting, like onlookers, other contestants, the judge, etc. That’s what will make the context interesting and memorable, not the mechanics.

And, of course, there’s the forced fights. S&W level one. What’s that mean, something like 2hp each? Maybe 3? The party faces forced combat after forced combat. That’s ok though, we’re told repeatedly that if they get in trouble then the DM should send a town guardsman in to help them. Ug.

The main treasure room in the tower exemplifies the adventure. Lot’s of simple book +1 items … that you can’t use because they are locked down by the wizard. What’s the point of it all?

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages and doesn’t show you much. But … that long read-aloud? While nothing else reaches those heights it is a good example, nonetheless, of the style.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/251353/Phaunts-Tower

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Temple of the Nightbringers

Sat, 09/15/2018 - 11:18


By M.T. Black
Self Published
5e
Level 1

A tribe of goblins are raiding travelers on the Long Road, and our heroes decide to help. After a dangerous overland journey, they enter a mysterious abandoned temple where they encounter terrifying monsters, deadly traps, dark magic and a shocking secret. Will they survive the Temple of the Nightbringers?

This eleven page adventure feature a twelve page dungeon and is not a terrible 5e adventure. It’s not particularly good, either. Given the dreadful state of 5e adventures I think you can understand how excited I was to see this one. You should even be able to run it without having read it. I know! It’s like the designer gave a shit!

Dude gets in and get out with his DM text. The innkeeper is Seth Grimhill and he is a bit short tempered. The elven hunter happily tells the party what she knows. There’s enough NPC detail to roleplay them without us having to hear their entire life stories. Thanks. Fucking. God. Further, and get this, elf chick lives with the butchers family and won’t unlock the damn door after nightfall. One sentence. That’s all it fucking takes. One sentence. “If the adventurers try to see her that night, the butcher will tell them to come back the next day and refuse to unlock the door.” That scene builds in your head as you read it. Not a page or a column or a paragraph. A fuckton of designers could learn from this example. Sure, it could be better. The NPC’s could have two aspects, or the butcher a personality, etc, but I’d sure the fuck wish people err on this side of the terseness spectrum; at least it’s still usable as an adventure when they do.

The dungeon shows some similar thought. There’s a bit of read-aloud (more on that later) and then a small DM notes section. If there’s something important then it appears BEFORE The read-aloud. Room noisy? Door spiked shut? That’s the sort of shit you need to know before you get to the read-aloud and it’s actually placed before the read-aloud. It’s as if someone thought “what information will a DM generally need first?” and then they went ahead and put that information first. I know it sounds obvious, but the vast majority of writers don’t do that. The DM text tends to be short as well, just a couple of sentences. PERFECT! Give me the TOOLS to run the room rather than obfuscating the room by hand holding.

As far as the content, proper, it’s trying pretty hard and DOES use several aspects of good encounter design. First, you can talk to a few things. That adds IMMENSELY to adventures. After all, it’s a roleplaying game, and that doesn’t mean we take turns hamming it up. You can always stab something, talk to it first, have some fun. Throw those worgs some wagyu and bribe that bugbear.

There’s also this thing in better dungeons where you can fuck with things. Glowing pool of water … wanna fuck with it? That risk-taking OUTSIDE of combat is one of the hallmarks of good D&D. Yeah, yeah, the dungeons dangerous and bad DM’s put in pit traps, but FUCKINGwith something. That’s tension baby. The players debate. They conspire. They come up with stupid plans. That’s D&D.

There’s also a nice magic item, a mask. Wearing it gives you a +1 bonus to a few things and lets you take a short rest immediately. And the effects last an hour … minus one minute for each time you use it. And it slowly shifts your alignment. That’s a decent magic item. Maybe a little too mechanical, but it is still 5e after all. It’s not just a +1 sword

The read-aloud is also too long. Three sentences, that’s all you get. And putting in the room dimensions and where the doors are is lame. Let the players ask. Remember, that WOTC study showed that no one pays attention after 2-3 sentences.

I also noted that I have a REAL problem with “storyteller” style text. “You know the mud from your boots as your cross the threshold” makes me want to retch in my mouth. The story belongs to the players, just be a neutral judge.

There’s also a level of abstraction I’m uncomfortable with. We’re told that this is a particularly savage goblin tribe. B O R I N G. Details. Heads on pikes and blood angels made of entrails. That’s still short and NOT abstract. Likewise the rumor data is abstracted. The key is to make it flavorful while still being terse. That’s powerful writing. That’s what we should be paying for.

I can quibble with a few more things. ‘How many goblins are there’ is a natural question for the players to ask while investigating, but there’s none of that information provided anywhere by the NPC’s, or easily by the adventure, for the Dm to look up. The ELven Hunters information would be better in bullet form, as the rumor table is. It makes it far easier to find information.

There’s some bullshit skill checks also. DC10 to be let in to town. Some Religion roll to know something is related to some god. Neither of them actually have an impact. The Religion stuff is trivia (and besides, I think the party is told the goddess straight off? Weird that a statue to Shar in the temple of Shar, right?) Who did that/those article on good vs bad skill rolls? Hack n Slash or Finch maybe? It should be required reading for designers AND editors.

Finally, it engages in history in a few places, why zombies are in a room or the EHP backstory. Stick it in an appendix if you must, but keep the damn shit out of the main text where it clogs up running the adventure.

I’d say this one is on the low end of what I might find tolerable. It’s got nothing much special going for it, content wise. It IS one of the few traditionally formatted adventures that you could run 5 minutes after buying. That’s not a trivial accomplishment. Compared to most 5e adventures this thing kicks ass.

This is $2 at DriveThru. Ye Ole Previewe doesn’t seem to work?
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/171272/Temple-of-the-Nightbringers–Adventure

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Cult of the Green orb

Wed, 09/12/2018 - 11:16


By Extildepo
Verisimilitude Society Press
Swords & Wizardry
Level 4-7

It’s a holiday, so Sapporo at 9am instead of “4 cups of coffee by 9am.”

For half a century, life in the mining outpost of Piktown has been peaceful and prosperous until a strange green glow in the nearby mountain range rekindled a frightening legend from the past. Does this recent luminous phenomenon signal the return of the dreaded Cult of the Green Orb? The Overlord has hired you and your fellow adventurers to stop the troubling green glow!

This twenty page adventure describes a thirty room dungeon. Undead, spellcasters, demons, and even a dragon in what one could call a classic mixed dungeon-crawl. A verbose writing style mixes with classic fantasy elements to provide a nostalgic dungeon experience.

Classic experience indeed. The front doors feature a great statue of a dwarf, carved in to the mountain, backlit with green light. They close behind you when you hit a pressure plate. There’s a dragon literally slumbering in the throne room atop a pile of loot. There’s a demon trapped in a summoning circle. These classic elements are combined with popular fiction elements. There’s a troll head that could be out of The Thing, a gollum-like NPC … friendly until he gets his sanity back, and the Locknaar of Heavy Metal fame. And those were just the most obvious. This all combines to create a charming nostalgic feel to the adventure. No gimps or gimmicks, just fuking with demons and dragons, weird green glows, and the like. The map is decent enough to support an exploratory type play.

Alas the writing and formatting is terrible. Paragraphs do a great Wall of Text imitation, making it hard to wade through them. It’s combined with the usual unfocused verbosity. Room 24 is an Apprentices Lab, or so says the room title. Also, the first sentence of the description is “Here is the typical apprentice’s lab.” Okkkk… I think you just said that? Also, then there’s a description that follows that tells us what a typical apprentice lab looks like. Seventy wasted words, followed by a purple velvet bag hidden in a corroded brazier … maybe fifteen useful words. This is the agony of my existence. The NPC’s back in town are another good example. Trading Post dude is boisterous and barrel-chested with a strong black beard. Good imagery, all self-contained in one sentence. And then we learn he’s in his 30’s, young for his job, and took over from his father, Frank, who was killed by a green dragon named Cylith when the NPC was ten. THEN follows a bunch of read-aloud that contains what he knows about the shit in the area/dungeon. This nonsense goes on for two pages. Name, personality feature sentence, a few in-voice bullet points. That’s all you need. The rest of this garbage text is useless and gets in the fucking way of running the adventure and I HATE it when that happens.

This is one of my favorite room descriptions. Not as good as that Dungeon Magazine empty room thing, that’s still the all time best by far, but this one is good also:

“4. Empty Cells: This is where the prisoners of Azul Rik awaited trial. They are all empty and each cell door looks as though it has been forced open. Some shackles are missing or broken off at the chain. A few bones (some goblinoid) litter the cells. This place was once full of long­dead prisoners of the Iron King, but they were raised long ago by the Loknaar for Zed’s army.”

Nothing. Just nothing. There’s always some fuckwit that needs to disagree, so, please, go ahead, tell me why this is a good description. Empty Cells, forced open, broken shackles, indeterminable humanoid bones. And I’m a shitty shitty writer.

This is $4 at DriveThru. There’s no preview?
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/250584/Cult-of-the-Green-Orb

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

AA#40: The Horror of Merehurst

Mon, 09/10/2018 - 11:14


Joseph Browning
Expeditious Retreat Press
OSRIC
Level 1

The island of Merehurst was once a bustling center for trade. But this was not to last, for in one single deadly night sixty years ago all the people and the animals of the town died – collapsing where they stood. The neighboring villagers of Coombe claimed that the miners dug too deeply into Ynyswel and the spirit of the isle was offended. The island gained a fearsome reputation and only the bravest would dare set foot upon its forested grounds. Yesterday strange lights were seen in the sky over the island and Ynyswel started smoking. The villagers can wait no longer. Brave adventurers must be found who are willing to investigate the Isle of Merehurst to either appease or oppose what lies behind the latest mysterious activities.

This seventeen page adventure describe about 45 locations on a small island: an abandoned village, farmstead, and mine. It’s got a creepy ass vibe and does a great job creating an exploratory environment. If his editor had cut half the words instead of over-explaining it would be a great, solid first level adventure. Oh, wait, it looks like he wrote it AND edited it …

THis thing sets itself up as creepy as fuck. The background information is all mysterious. An entire village dying overnight on the island. Strange lights on the island that can be seen from the shore. No word from the loner family living on the island … it’s a nice erie set up. It’s strengthened by a wandering table that has a fair amount of creepy and weird happenings on it to help with the mood. Crawling hands, dripping blood, a flopping fish far from the water. With a decent DM the party will be shitting itself in no time. In this respect the tension built is kind of wasted on the “normal” wanderers, especially the undead. It feels like that would break tension. But that’s an actual play thing ands easily adjusted in play … more of an academic point of debate I guess I’m asserting? Anyway, it’s got a great creepy vibe n the environment and nice encounters to support it like undead children and the like. I seldom mention art, but in this case the undead kids, creeping eyeballs, and “map art” is all top notch and does a wonderful job contributing the overall vibe of the adventure. That’s exactly what art SHOULD do in a product, and does not in most cases.

The encounters are a great mix of the mundane and the dead. There’s a substantial set of ruins in the village and plenty of room for that giant tick in the overgrown collapsed building, as well as the half-dead. There’s even some room to talk to a few things. It’s not packed to the gills with combat with, again, reinforces that creepiness.

The writing is, again, the downside. It’s not overly evocative, for all of the attempts at creepiness. Dripping blood is not quite as good as oozing blood, which is an issue here; it is solidly in the “workmanlike” category of descriptions. A little more time spent agonizing over word choice would have gone a long way here.

As would, as I said earlier, an editor to challenge on the writing. That assumes an editor would, and I don’t think they do much anymore. Copyediting and other simple suggestions? Writers need challenged. Every sentence, if not word, should contribute, and that doesn’t happen here. A storage room description tells us “As the mine expanded more storage was needed and this part of the new stone building was set aside for that purpose.” It is almost NEVER The case that explaining WHY is useful, and that drops even more when you talk about usage and history and “used to be.” That sentence doesn’t help. It doesn’t help me run the room. In fact, it detracts from it. As I look at the entry while running the adventure I have to wade through it before I get to the actual room description that I need to run the room. This adventure does that over and over again. Stirges are nocturnal hunters who travel in to the northeast when the sun descends — —they’ve learned to avoid the ruins of the city as several of them have recently been killed by the various predators within. What’s the point of that? It has no bearing on the room. If the party is here at sunset do you think I’m going to suddenly remember this detail and make the stirge fly out? If you WANT me to do that then you need a section in the front on day/night changes that will prompt me. No, this is more explaining. It’s fleshing out a world in a kind of computer RPG manner. Richly describing things that will almost certainly never happen. If I was playing Fallout and say some batlike oobs fly out of some ruined building at sunset it would get my attention … but, again, that’s not what is happening here.

Treasure does “spill from pouches” at times, but it’s mostly the usual assortment of +1 swords. Again, workmanlike.

This is $14 at DriveThru. The preview doesn’t seem to work?
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/234226/Advanced-Adventures-40-The-Horror-of-Merehurst

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) The Claws of Madness

Sat, 09/08/2018 - 11:16


By Chris van der Linden
LoreSmyth
5E
Level 1

For centuries, Aelmor Monastery near the port town of Sestone was a safe haven for scholars, monks, and pilgrims seeking enlightenment, its renowned library home to an enormous collection of ancient manuscripts, tomes, and peculiar writings. After suffering a devastating attack at the hands of a possessed monastery elder, Aelmor fell into ruin, its troubled past forgotten. When villagers start disappearing and turn up horribly mutated days later, fear takes a grip of Sestone. What sinister forces are at work? And to what end?

This 36 page adventure details an island and dungeon with 46 rooms. It’s slightly better than the usual 5e garbage, as the page count to room number would indicate. It tries for a creepy vibe but, still, it’s nothing more than a sub-par hack with the usual thin plot to drive things.

Generic hooks and the usual setup: disappearances, bodies, etc. Must be coming from that old monastery on the island where bad things happened! Of course it’s an island, that makes it plausible why the villagers haven’t gone there and yet puts the party close enough that at first level they can make it there. Islands in the harbor: the new sewers. Anyway, hooks and plot are for fuckwits and can always be ignored. The real question is: is this thing worth my time to slog through? As is usual, the answer is no.

I wasn’t completely sure of that answer though, at least when I first dug in. The designers appears plagued by a certain rare form of mistakes. He clearly had a vision for this, and a couple of good ideas, but had no idea how to sustain it.

Lets us examine, for example, the opening scene. A sudden commotion in the town square full of people reveals guy with tentacles bursting from him. In most adventures this would be that well-known (and shitty) “start them off with a fight!” advice. But not here. He’s not hostile. You can even help him some and/or ease his suffering. It almost makes sense! He’s a villager, he’s come back to the village for help. Why would he eat his friends?

This was followed up by a keyed map of the village … that is just that, a key and nothing much else. OMG! NOT a long drawn out description of a general store! NOT a long drawn out description of an inn! Just a map and a notation of which building is which, essentially. It’s almost like … like … the designer knows that doesn’t add value!

Then there’s the “gather information” portion of the adventure. It’s one column with some non-odious headings to help you find information. Hmmm. Not exactly terse writing, but, still, it’s only a column.

Then there’s the NPC descriptions. Here’s the one for a guy who’s got some missing shipments: “his short and stout man is a cunning negotiator and expert appraiser, always on the lookout to make a profit. His left eye has been replaced with a sapphire that he usually keeps covered with a fine purple eye patch. When he gets excited about a deal, he cracks his knuckles and stretches his arms out in front of him. His braided brown hair has distinctive dark orange streaks in it.” I could do without that last sentence, and it could be shorter, but, still, the description is focused on meaningful things. Not his life fucking story, but how to roleplay him. Oh course, the next one is full of batshit studpid trivia like “he lost his beloved dog while fishing during a stormy night”, but, still, there are hints in these things that this is not a lost cause.

Then there’s this attempt at a kind of Lovecraftian dread. Whispers in the darkness, a little bit of subtle madness, the tentacle/corruption thing. Notes are scattered throughout to help the DM with this. I don’t think it really conveys the full impact of what he’s going for … but it’s not shit either. That vibe is hard as fuck to achieve, even in a CoC game, and then throw in swords, fireballs, and a “we kill it” attitude and you can get the sense of the challenge. But his heart is in the right place and while not super effective the advice is not shitty either.

So far, things are ok. Not terrible.

Then the actual adventure starts and it goes downhill FAST.

There’s this island, with a monastery and a couple of levels of dungeon under it. It’s just stuffed full of shitty encounters. I hate to sounds like an old grump, but it reminded me of the “If Quake was done today” video. “Shoot enemies to kill them!” as on screen advice. While walking up some stairs on a cliff were confronted with this little gem: “… One of the bandits is on guard duty, scouting the area about 200 feet ahead of their camp. The adventurers can attempt to make a Dexterity (Stealth) check against the scout’s passive Perception to move closer undetected.” Ok, everybody, make a Stealth check. Why? Uh … just do it. It’s this weird game-like vibe. If captured one of the bandits will relate that there’s this mean gnoll thats a tremendous fighter that took out two bandits single-handedly! Do you think bandits refer to themselves that way? As bandits? “Four of our comrades died when we were attacked a day ago by a pack of gnolls.” It’s all awkward.

The place is just stuffed full of meaningless boring old fights. There’s a ghost … that does nothing, tells you nothing, and is meaningless. And then there’s the text padding. There’s a room titled “Catacombs Antechamber” which gets the following description: “A small anteroom serves as the entry into the catacombs. On the left and right, two wooden doors lead into a U-shaped room filled with sarcophagi. A small flight of stairs directly ahead leads down to the Crypt of Anthomodus. A ghostly presence can be felt in this area. See the “Ghostly Presence” sidebar for more information. If the characters investigate the stone door, read:”

So … it’s an antechamber? And the room looks like it does on the map? The only interesting thing is the ghostly presence sentence. Just all padding.

Also, the adventure gets NO bonus points for putting in the Hand of Vecna. Oh, it’s not CALLED the hand, but it’s the hand. Why no points for the hand? Well, because you have to gimp it, of course. Putting it on means you instantly turn CE. Ug! I hate that shit! You want some curse and shit? Fine. But your moralizing with alignment changes are LAME.

Anyway, long boring room descriptions. Long boring read-aloud. Nothing much going on except for some things to hack down. (mostly.)

Just another boring adventure, with a little bit of window dressing and a faint glimmer of hope that the designer can get better.

This is $7 at DriveThru.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/193826/The-Claws-of-Madness-adventure-5e

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Nightstone Keep

Wed, 09/05/2018 - 11:09


By Ed Greenwood
Frog God Games
S&W
Levels 4-6

The characters will be able to explore the ruins of the keep, which have become a plant colony, and attempt to wrest a powerful treasure from the clutches of the araunglyd, a gigantic sentient fungus. The araunglyd will attempt to thwart the players at every turn, using its drone-like minions to harass and hinder them as they go.

This 23 page mess describes a keep with … 10 rooms? It is ABSOLUTELY a fucking mess. I think it might be another Aliens-type adventure, like Arachnophobia by Usherwood. Take Greenwoods expansive writing and combine it with Frogs utter incompetence when it comes to editing and you’ve got a very special product indeed. This thing is like it’s been through 6 passes of a translator, one of which was old english. There’s a fungus monster in the keep … and he’s got some minions? That’s about as much as I can dig up.

I don’t know who’s to blame. I suspect Greenwood for his writing style and no one at Frog pushing back … and then also an “editor’ … who I suspect didn’t read it at all. That’s the only excuse I can think of. I remind you that the Frogs put out an adventure with the wrong cover .. an no one ever seemingly caught it. It’s cra.

It’s got be be pretty fucking egregious for me to say something, and I’m saying something. “… connecting to underground areas in the Mainmain Cellarcellar beneath.” That’s not an infamous Bryce typo. That’s a$8 adventure with an editor attached. That’s not the only example. This shit happens all over the place. The Speartongue monster has “Hit Dice: 32” Not, that’s not a hit point mistake, as in it has 32 HP. It bears no relation to reality. Someone just put in 32.

The fun starts almost immediately. As you approach there are two birds atop the keep that attack you. This is a four paragraph encounter, for some fucking reason. It starts with this little gem “A mated pair of carrion graw nesting atop the keep see any characters approaching. The graw can’t immediately be seen from below, as they lie on its roof with wings spread and heads down, peering out through the gaps where merlons have fallen away. The graws will swoop to attack as soon as any character moves into the open.A mated pair of carrion graw (giant predatory birds) nesting atop the keep see any character character him” That last sentence looks like notes or something, that was expanded in to the text, maybe, that appears before it? It just ends, with the “him”, without punctuation. And the fucking adventure does this all over the place!

And the format Oh boy. It’s not room/key. There’s just a big bold heading, like “Throne Room” … and then four or five paragraphs of text explaining what is going on. Or “Main Cellar” or something like that … with seven paragraphs of text. From that you have to read it all and figure out what is going on. It’s fucking nuts. It’s not even wall of text, its something else. I have no fucking idea what to call it. No one spent ANY time trying to massage this thing in to something useful. It’s like you tries to have James Joyce write the pre-flight checklist for an airliner … sure, it’s kind of neat in a weird way, but its utterly useless for the purpose of which its intended.

This adventure, for 4th-6h level characters in a game where gold=xp, has 25sp and 148gp of treasure, as well as a Gem of Vitality … which heals you for 1d4hp every round and can bring the dead back to life. It has no downsides/curses, etc.

This is $8 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages and only shows you one page of text … the one with the start of the bird encounter on it.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/232207/Quests-of-Doom-4-Nightstone-Keep-Swords-and-Wizardry

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Caverns of Ambuscade

Mon, 09/03/2018 - 11:07


By Davis Chenault
Troll Lord Games
Castles & Crusades
Levels 5-6

The silver mines run deep under the Unterbrook, unearthed by the clever hands of man and dwarf and the wealth has flowed like never before. But such wealth tends to draw unwanted eyes, and such excavations to cross powers best left asleep. Recently, all contact with the mines has been lost and a brooding silence settled upon the Unterbrook. Even the goblins shun the region. Plunge beneath the mountain’s roots and learn the mystery of the silvered caverns.

This 24 page adventure describes a mine with two levels and 24 rooms. It’s a Tuckers Kobolds kind of scenario, with ambushes and masses of low-HD opponents. In other news, I continue to have no patience for verbose, unfocused writing.

The Trolls may own the printing press, but its an editor that they need. Column long rooms, four paragraphs for an empty room. My intolerance for obfuscation seems to be growing. Building two in a old watch tower. It gets a paragraph of read aloud and then three more of additional information. There is a body in it, long decayed and picked clean by buzzards so you can’t tell what it was. But … we do know it was on guard duty and was killed by snakebite. Well, the DM knows this, the players have no way of knowing. What’s the point of this? The history of every rock and patch of lichen? The room has a cast iron stove in it, connected to a flue that juts out of the roof, with kindling in the room, and salt residue. It’s literal fucking trivia. The adventure does this sort of shit over and over again. It is COMPELLED to tell us the history of every little item encountered, as if it fucking mattered. You know what matters? Running the fucking game. You know what matters? Things the players will interact. Actual items related to actual play. The inability for writers to recognize this is one of the most frustrating experiences you can have. To see something this obvious, that happens over and over and over again. No Exit indeed.

How about a list of normal supplies? Want to know what’s in a room? How about a kitchen? A mining supply room in a mine? Have no worries, Davis is here to save you! Exhaustive lists of mundane room contents are included almost everywhere! Now you too can know what’s in a pantry! Joy! And to think, you’ve lived your whole life knowing this without the padded text of this adventure.

This is bad writing. It’s bad design. It’s some misguided appeal to realism. It has no place in the adventure. It’s only useful if it adds value to the actual play.

And this is to the detriment of the actual play value of the adventure. At one point there’s a steep stair over a chasm. A chasm that doesn’t show up on the map. It’s exceptionally confusing trying to figure out what is going on. Ledge … what ledge? Chute? Chasm? None of it is obvious AT ALL.

I leave you with two choice examples of text from the adventure. The first rivals Forgotten Realms for being incomprehensible. The second describes another point of trivia that has no bearing on the adventure.

Unbeknownst to the Leonhirdz, the mining operation alerted a Therafak (see New Monsters) living nearby. The Therafak bided its time and awaited an opportunity to do something. With the war in the south brewing, the Moorzeepin informed members of the Magdole Gang of the operation and they in turn informed a raiding party of Zjerd that had begun operating in that region of the Unterdrook. A Zjerd war

The kzarkim used several trullmirst to dig out holes in the walls leading from Room 2 to Room 4. They then stacked the planks and lumber over the holes in Room 2 so that they were not readily apparent. The idea was that, if anyone enters the mines and goes up to Room 3, the kzarkim can sneak out of the holes in here and ambush them.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. The last couple give you a good example of meandering writing style compelled to explain everything.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/240691/Castles–Crusades–Caverns-of-Ambuscadia

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Beneath the Ruins of Firestone Keep

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 11:15

By M. T. Black, GM Lent, Dave Zajac
Self Published
5e
Levels 1-3

Lord Blackmoor’s son has been kidnapped, and is being held in the crypts beneath an ancient fortress. Can our heroes rescue the boy before he is sacrificed in a diabolical ceremony?

This twenty six page adventure has a twenty five room dungeon crawl. Long read-aloud, lots of explaining and justifications for things pad out what would be normal crawl.

There are four chapters here, where chapter one is “hook, two is “wilderness journey” (IE: two linear encounters”), three is the dungeon and four is the NPC betrayal. As soon as I read the hook I knew the lords sister was the baddy and, sure enough, she turns out to tbe the baddy. Shoulda just killed her to start with.

Anway, Lord Who Cares’
Son has been kidnapped and he wants the party to go get him. He knows the kobolds did it and that they lair in a ruin nearby. In my opinion, he’s getting what he deserves for not slaughtering the kobolds earlier, but whatever. He loves his son so much that he can’t be bothered to send his six guards with the party. “They can’t be spared.” Uh huh. It’s this kind of shit that breaks the suspension of disbelief. “Sure, whatever, I guess we have to if we want to play D&D tonight.” Just give the due no guards, or let the party have them if they are smart enough to ask, or something else. Why fuck around with saying no? I’ll tell you why, because the designer said so, that’s why!

A pit trap takes two paragraphs to describe. Remember pit traps? They used to be drawn on the map as an X with no text in the adventure? Not anymore. Some rooms take over a page to describe. Read-aloud overstays its welcome … while simultaneously saying nothing. “There are two doors, one open and one shut.” I FRIGGING HATE THE SIBBY!!

One of the chief sins herein is engaging in explaining and justifying. “He was a necromancer, which accounts for the high amount of necrotic energy in the crypts.” That’s FUCKING irrelevant It doesn’t matter if it has no impact on the adventure. What’s the explanation for? WHO’S the explanation for? It has no impact on play. The adventure engages in this activity over and over again, justifying shit, noting trivia. Make a DC15 Religion check to know the frescos re related to Bane, god of War … which is nothing but trivia. At one point there’s read-aloud that says something like “as if it were clawing its way out of a nightmare.” No. Just No. Failed Novelist Syndrome. Or how about conditional descriptions? IF the party triggers the tripwire THEN the kobolds will … Again, no, No, NO! This sort of phrasing drives me insane. It’s nothing but padding.

The map is ok. It’s a bit larger DYson map than usual, and has some loops and passages running under others. It’s not an ANTI_exploration map and is good enough for the tactics and mystery needed for a dungeoncrawl map. The magic items are generally boring, with the exception of an item or two, like a faulty mirror of scrying and a magic glaive that gives you advantage on intimidates and has a nice glowing jewel and makes cool sounds when wielded. IE: its a magic item and not just a mechanical bonus.

This is $3 at DriveThru.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/205741/Beneath-the-Ruins-of-Firestone-Keep–Adventure

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Hexplore: Borderlands

Wed, 08/29/2018 - 11:18


Courtney Campbell
Self Published
OSR

Discover the hidden wilderness game in Dungeons and Dragons! It will bring the actual experience of discovery to your players faces. They will be excited to explore a strange fantasy world!

This eighteen page hex toolkit is something new under the sun. Maybe? I bought it expecting something like Wilderlands. I got something ELSE hex related: a domain play product. Those things are rare as fuck, henc this review of a non-adventure

Pre-1e D&D is a masterpiece of design. You can see how it evolved. Ear worms for people listening at doors. ESP to stop those fucking prisoners from betraying you. Resource play. The spell ist, in particular, doctates the play style. (along with gold=xp.) High level adventures don’t typically work because they are not SUPPOSED to work. By the time you’re high level you should be moving on to other things … doman play.

The first page of the product does a great job explaining its role in the world. Early D&D had a high-level play style where you went in to a hex, with your retainers, men-at-arms, etc, and cleared it of creatures. You set up some points of lights, got some settlers, and taxed the fuckers. TaDa! High level play.

This thing supports that play style. It’s a one-hex overview. That one hex is broken down in to some nini-hexes with features in them. There’s a couple of medium adventuring locations, a demi-human tribe, three lairs, four landmarks,, rumors, and a wandering monster table. Everything has a kind of relation to the description style from Wilderlands. This landmark is the house of an albino woodsman with mongolisn and is a superior warrior. This one is an abandoned herb garden, or a ruined tower, or a talking bird. The lairs are a sunken ship, hill caves and a basalt obelisk. The medium sites are a towerful of bards, a bandit camp, and a volcano with a lost world inside. All have nice little pictures meant to be inspiring. The Medium sites have some floorplans with a true minimal key. “9. Thone. Table.” or “12. Bodies on floor. 2d12 zombies.” The lairs just have a big “notes” section for you to jot things down on.

Nothing here is really put together, or interrelated. That’s all up to the DM. There may be a sentence or two of description of the general area/lair/etc description, but then it’s just he minimal key and picture to inspire you to create something. Sit down for an hour, think, jot notes, and have a big hex for people to clear … up to and including ye old 110 bandits.

It’s an interesting concept. There’s no scale to the maps, so I assume it standard hex sizes. Would it kill ya to put that on the map Courtney? Anyway, I’m not sure how to evaluate it. It’s trying to be useful to a style of play doesn’t really have many supplements for it, so its hard for me to judge … and I LUV judging things. It’s a toolkit, not an adventure. It’s a toolkit for something that I don’t think has any other examples. If you take Wilderlands as your guide, then this supports the DM well. You, the DM, will need to flesh this out just as you would a Wilderlands hex. Riff on thing much more than a standard adventure.

This is $4 at DriveThru.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/247916/Hexplore-Borderlands

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Darkmoore Adventure Modules

Mon, 08/27/2018 - 11:13


Steve Jensen
Archaic Adventures
OSR
Level 1

The infamous DarkMoore Inn is closed! It appears the entire staff has been kidnapped, with nothing more than a ransom note demanding gold as the only clue. Despite these dire circumstances King Alangar never goes down without a fight and has placed his trust in his newly appointed Captain of the Guard Thaddeus Ugelcort. Thadeus has set up shop around a corner table at the Iron Dragon Inn where he coordinates the business of the day in the King’s absence. Thaddeus believes the hostages will be found by following up on every rumor, examining every rat-hole, and scavenging the entire countryside. The word is out, all you do is show up and talk to Thaddeus and get paid when you complete each task….what are you waiting for?

This 59 page adventure contains 10 “errands” for the party to undertake, all tied around the plot of the missing employees of an inn. The charm of pre-standardized D&D is impacted greatly by the linear nature.

You go to an inn. Captain of the Guard recites a monologue, assigning you a mission/task. You go do it, earning story XP. Repeat. Single column layout. Paragraphs of read-aloud. The village has a giant castle, two inns and one general store … that sells magic items. The king lives in the castle, in the village with one shop, and is trying to raise the ransom for the innkeeper. It all makes absolutely no sense … unless you imagine it was written by someone in jr high who started playing D&D two weeks ago. THEN it makes perfect sense …

Frogmen attack in the swamp. A weird obelisk raises the dead. A demon on chicken legs appears. An idol summons rattlesnakes to attack. I am FASCINATED by non-standard D&D. Those Unbalanced Dice adventures. OD&D stuff. Even the Fight On! #2/Upper Caves things I love … all have a certain non-de-rigueur element to them that emphasizes imagination over book learning. And I fucking love it.

But man … forced combats. One fight involves a lot of backstabs for your level one characters. Story awards instead of gold/monster XP. Instructions to make everyone level two if they are not .. or bump them from level three to four is they are close. The single column and … stream of consciousness? Event-based? Linear time based? “And then happens and then this happens and then this happens” based writing style is hard as hell to follow as the adventure wears on.

This is PWYW on DriveThru, with a suggested price of $7.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/248658/DarkMoore-Adventure-Modules

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Orcs in Tarodun’s Tomb

Sat, 08/25/2018 - 11:18


By Kiel Chenier
Zero/Barrier Productions
5e
Levels 1-2

A sepulchral tomb.
Magical tricks and traps.
Brutish orcs guarding a vast underground treasure.

This eighteen page adventure deals with a small eight room tomb that has been invaded by orcs. Compared to other 5 adventures, it’s a masterpiece. Compared to anything actually good, it’s constrained. It does some nice things with layout, but it comes off as dull and uninteresting, with a “find the red key for the red door” fetch quest to finish things off.

The rooms take up about one column per. First comes a little mini-map of the room, and then a bullet point format of the room features. All in a generous easy-on-the-eyes font. I like the bullet point style chosen. Combined with the bolding used it makes it easy to scan and absorb the different aspects to the encounters. Keil has chosen a good format for presenting information. It’s not the only way to do things, but it does work. He’s also got a little bit of order of battle information.

Ok. Nice guy Bryce is done.

The map is constraining & simple. I don’t think the map insets work for this. The descriptions are not quite evocative. There’s not much to fuck with. A prisoner betrays you. Useless information abounds. It’s just not that interesting.

I’ve said in the past that I don’t like Dyson’s maps. I think, though, that it may be I don’t like MOST of his maps. It seems like most adventures that I see that use his maps tend to use the smaller maps. Smaller maps are just not that interesting. There’s not enough space for something to go on. It doesn’t have room to breathe. I recall seeing a couple of larger maps that were ok, but I just don’t think it’s possible to have a good exploration map with eight rooms. I guess that’s not Dyson’s fault, t’s more the people who choose to write an eight room adventure. And for no reason whatsoever let me name drop now. Kiel.

I don’t find the descriptions evocative at all. Just more like facts. “A holy room devoted to the preparation of bodies for the afterlife. Long tables line the walls, covered in an assortment of embalming tools, and full and empty urns.” Or how about “The stone walls and ceiling are painted with detailed frescoes of the elven afterlife, showing the souls of elves rising from their bodies towards the ceiling.” Note, that if an elf sees that last room then they have to make a save or be overcome by the frescoes majesty. That’s a nice effect, but it doesn’t match the boring ass description.

It also engages in the a little bit of extraneous tables & information. It gives names to all of the corpses in one tomb, that has no impact on the game. It’s got a rando orc name generator … because somehow that’s going to be important to the adventure? They attack immediately in, I think, every case?

And of course, the prisoner you rescue turns on you. At this point I just kill all prisoners. It’s easier. I don’t recall the last time I saw prisoners NOT turn on PC’s. That should be the new trope, helpful prisoners.

And there’s no magical treasure? What’s up with that? This dude was an ancient elven hero. And his “hoard” is 200gp in a chest, some small silver statues, a picture, and a couple of books. Nice hoard? More like “stash in my mattress” maybe?

Let’s talk 5e. Compared to just about every other 5e adventure on earth, this thing is magnificent. It’s clear and gets in and out fast. But that’s more commentary of the state of the 5e dreck.

There’s just not much going on here. The map doesn’t allow for it. The room count doesn’t allow for it. The encounters that do exist are pretty simple and straightforward. Yeah, at one point a dead due bangs on the inside of his coffin and asks to be let out. That’s about the only standout.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages and shows you next to nothing. You do get to see the hooks on the last page. The first one, with the elf prince trapped in his castle, could be nice if expanded upon.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/248046/Orcs-in-Taroduns-Tomb-5e

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Crypt of the Dog Witch

Wed, 08/22/2018 - 11:19


By Thom Wilson
ThrowiGames
B/X
Levels 1-2

The god Lupaarus has returned to the peaceful land of Otium, bringing hordes of canine creatures down on the unprepared farmers and unprotected lands. The key to stopping the onslaught is for brave heroes to find the five artifacts of Lupaarus before his minions do—the first of which is guarded by the Dog Witch! Can the adventurers make it to the crypt before their foes?

This sixteen page adventure describes a nineteen room crypt full of undead. Unfocused text and uninteresting encounters combine to form a rather forgettable start to the five adventure arc that this is the first of.

“Roll as often as you want for wanderers.” Why does that phrase piss me off so much? I think maybe it betrays a style of play that does not have a neutral DM.I expect the DM to be an impartial arbiter of the game world … while working to ensure I have fun. To that end I expect them to set up the world rules ands then follow them. Wanderers on a 1d6 every day, or three times a day, or 12 times a day, sets up a system that the DM follows. It’s random, and from such things good times are had as the DM and players experience the game world together, it’s ups and downs. But “roll when you want” betrays a different style. One in which the DM controls the world. They are not the JUDGE of the actions but rather the instigator of the actions. To that belongs the realm of the adversarial DM … something I LOATHE beyond words. (and it could be 4e’s focus on tactical mini’s play is adversarial, and thus a reason I hate 4e.)

Anyway, in a call back to B2, a certain keep in a borderlands area is suffering increasing raids by dog-like creatures. Portents of the doom of an evil dog god returning. The party is sent out to recover the first of five magical gem thingies so the world of man can dismiss the dog deity. The first is twelve days away, in a temple/crypt. The background is mostly abstracted, but the “pseudo-invasion” thing is something interesting that I like in those scandinavian the Dragon” adventures and I like it here, abstracted to hell and back or no. It’s an interesting thing to chuck in to a beginning campaign and help provides a lot of pretext for monsters, troops, etc.

The map here is not so bad. Nineteen rooms is larger than most and several of the areas have smaller loops in them. There’s also a nice bit or two in the encounters, with a red font dripping healing liquid and so on. There are also some Dm Tips scattered throughout. These generally convey the intent of the encounter/thing, That’s nice … almost an explanation of why it is like it is, or what the designer is trying to do with the encounter. Of course, it could also be written better … This concludes “positive Bryce.”

I found the adventure boring. It’s mostly just another site stuffed full of boring undead who attack. Six skeletons who attack. Thouls who attack. Ghoul who attacks. This is combined with a relatively boring adventuring environment. The high priest was trapped in his bedroom for ever and turned in to a ghoul. But that’s it. There’s no flavor beyond that. No insane scribblings, or torn up room. Just that he was trapped in his bedroom and turned in to a ghoul. BORING. Likewise skeletons rise up and attack. The rooms are devoid of joy.

Not to mention its padded out. The text for the ghoul room is:
The former high priest, second-in- command to the priestess, remained behind to help protect the crypt from looters. Unfortunately, he has been trapped in his bedchambers the entire time, becoming a long ago. …A residual spell—cast by the priest before he died—still hangs on the foul creature …

Note the embedded background and the explanation for WHY something is. Removing that gives you enough room to add some colour to the room. Which it, and the rest of the rooms, sorely need.

Undead are sometimes found outside of the room they are in … but by the time you read the room the party is already there, meaning no chance they were outside,. Unless you read ahead with your precog. Or note it on the map while using our highlighter? Or, maybe the designer puts that on map FOR YOU? Alas, no. *YAWN* Room three, a storeroom, tells us that “Food and supplies were once stocked behind this locked door. The charac- ters will find most everything deterio- rated or rotted.” Great, two sentences when you could have told us that with the room title.ARG! But, hey, at least there are +1 weapons to be found …

This is $1 at DriveThru. The preview is sixteen pages. I encourage you to review room one on document page three, or room eight, on page six, and supply your own critique.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/249374/OT1–Crypt-of-the-Dog-Witch

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Forbidden Barrow

Mon, 08/20/2018 - 13:03


By Nickolas Brown
Five Cataclysms
OSR
Level 1-3

This is a Forbidden Barrow, where a corrupt, assassinated King and his aides are entombed, sealed off such that the world may forget them.

(It’s it 9am and I am drinking single malt, but I also seem to be making more mistakes than usual this morning. My apologies.)

This fourteen page adventure describes a tomb complex with about 25 rooms. Single-column, it gets a little hack-y towards the end. In spite of that it shows promise. Thought was given to formatting (in spit of the single column) and it does nice things with both the description and the monsters. I’d say it’s a fairly standard tomb explore, better than 90% of those written. Dude has potential.

What if you were competent, but just didn’t care … or maybe you got stuck on a problem (like … how to layout two-column.) That’s this adventure. It’s single column formatting is frustrating, but the rest of it is at least at a talented amateur level of quality. Not outstanding, but clearly better than the masses of dreck pumped out. The descriptions are one of two sentences, with a word of two bolded in them. The bolding is also a heading for follow-up information. Thus we get a very short, potentially evocative, description that has bolded references to follow-up text for the DM. This is a pretty good format. It’s easy to scan and locate information, because pf the bolding and the paragraph separation, while putting first things first. IE: the information the DM immediately needs. IE: the description. The room one description is:
01: A decrepit stairway winds downwards about 100’. The stairs are as stone slabs set into the walls, many of them crumbling or broken away. If you’re not careful, you could lose your footing.

The next heading, separated by a line of whitespace, is …
“Careful – (It takes a full turn to …”

Thus we get a short little description first, the first thing the DM needs for the room, in this case. Then a pointer to follow-up information.

The descriptions could be a little stronger. There is clearly an attempt to do something interesting, but I think it falls down and/or is not as strong as it could be. Once you’ve got a decent draft it can be rough to go back and spend 15-30 minutes on each room description, but it can really pay off. It’s the kind of perfectionism that bumps an ok description in to a great evocative one. In this case, tnone-careful people can fall down the stairs, taking from 1d6 to 10d6 damage … maybe warranting a few different word choices up front to better communicate the nature of the stairs.

I like the monsters in this, or some of them at least. A gibbering ghost, an acidic convulsing mound of skeletons. Someone tried a bit harder than usual. New creatures put the fear of the unknown in to the players, and in a gold=xp/exploration game that’s a key element. Then again “an armed and armored wight with a greatsword!” is not the soul of evocative writing, nor is “charred skeleton.” A word or two extra, with better word choice, again would have added a lot. There’s also some unusual attack modes, like a skeleton that writes in a book and the party takes the damage he describes. Nifty.

The encounters are above average, for the most part. It’s range of the old tropes and a few new things. The crumbling bridge is a classic, and I seem to never get tired of it. (Nor to players? I don’t know why.) As the tombs of the evil bads, propre, are reached it does degenerate a bit in to a hack-a-thon. A couple attack immediately, others have to clamber up. This is in contrast to the beginning sections where the party usually has to fuck with something before they stir up the undead. It IS the big bad though, so, perhaps we can be forgiven. The skeleton forces do get a little same-y after awhile, even though they all tend to have unique powers. “Another skeleton?”

This does raise an interesting point: how to judge an attack on a pre-animated undead. You know the mummy is gonna rise/the skeleton guard will animate. You launch a premeditated attack. How to adjudicate it? I tend to allow the party to disrupt the undead ahead of time,

It’s a decent little adventure if you are looking for something mostly straightforward and simple but with creatures that are non-standard. A little work on the writing to make it more evocative and the single-column nature would make it better. Throwing in more twists and a slightly more neutral adventuring environment (which I think speaks to creativity and a different mindset) would have made it even better. Still in all, better than most.

This is $2 at DriveThru. Alas, there is no preview. Bad publisher! No cookie for you!
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/248651/The-Forbidden-Barrow

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(Pathfinder) Haunting of Harrowstone

Sat, 08/18/2018 - 12:12


By: Michael Kortes
Paizo
Pathfinder
Level 1

When Harrowstone Prison burned to the ground, prisoners, guards, and a host of vicious madmen met a terrifying end. In the years since, the nearby town of Ravengro has shunned the fire-scarred ruins, telling tales of unquiet spirits that wander abandoned cellblocks. But when a mysterious evil disturbs Harrowstone’s tenuous spiritual balance, a ghostly prison riot commences that threatens to consume the nearby village in madness and flames. Can the adventurers discover the secrets of Harrowstone and quell a rebellion of the dead? Or will they be the spirit-prison’s next inmates?

This is a ONE HUNDRED page adventure that describes a forty-ish room multi-level ruined prison full of ghosts, along with the nearby town and a few downtime events. The encounters are interesting and it has a ghostly vibe somewhere between The Haunted Mansion and creepy-as-fuck Inn of Lost Heroes … which makes it a better ghost adventure than most. The atmosphere and encounters are ruined, though, by the UTTERLY incomprehensible wall of text issues and lack of any sensible formatting. Rewritten in 20 pages this would be pretty decent but as is I don’t even think a highlighter could make it runnable.

I’m reviewing this old Pathfinder adventure from 2011 because my son is running it for his friends. He starts Purdue in a week and I’ll miss him, weakening my resolve when he suggested I review it.

“Welcome to You Are Doom” says Killface, the introductory chapter header. The first hint of trouble is when the writer poses the question “Can a hoor adventure also be a PATHFINDER adventure?” If you have to ask the question then you know what’s to come … trouble. And trouble it is, in the form of “let me explain EVERYTHING to you.”

This thing is one hundred pages long. The appendix starts on page 65, with the ten pages before that being the town. The dungeon starts on page 28, once the events, preamble,hook are done. That leaves about thirty five pages for forty rooms. Why use one word when eighteen will do? Why format your adventure using bullets, tabs, whitespace and bolding when instead you can bury the important bits inside all of those extra words? I’ll dump in a couple of example in the end, but it’s same history, padding, and other nonsense that most adventures fall into, making it unusable at the table.

What’s a shame here is that there is some good content buried in the muck. The town text is padded out to all hell and back, but mixed in there is GOLD. The mangy stray dog that is the town’s mascot. The chili cook-off/peasant wedding community center (bingo anyone?) But all of that is mixed in a lot of garbage. The town square has a gazebo and the dog and takes two long paragraphs to describe. Likewise the notice boards take about the same amount of space, if not more, and that’s without telling you what the notices are! The fucking general store takes the amount of space to say they don’t sell weapons or armor. FOCUS. Yes, a tidbit of detail is great if it helps makes the place memorable to the PC’s or impacts gameplay, but that’s a fucking TIDBIT, not a paragraph.

Oops, off track. Nice magic items like a Ouiji board, are ruined by a half column of text to describe them. A ghost has two pages of backstory inserted in to the main text. The opening dialogue punishes you for listening to it. You actually NEED to interrupt. How many times has a bad DM said to me “let me finish the dialogue”? ENough for me that I just let them finish it. It’s like asking people for attack rolls and then punishing them for doing it.

The opening scene is a great example of the agony of this adventure. You’re pallbearers carrying a casket. Locals show up to start trouble. If you put the casket down the dialogue ends and combat starts. There’s are chances to drop the coffin, spilling the body (Yeah! Cool!) The locals attack with weapons … but to subdue. Killing them REALLY fucks you over in town. They steal the body if you drop the casket. (Nice!) All of the cool things are ruined by punishing the PC’s for the set up the designer is giving them. “READ MY MIND” he seems to be saying. That’s not good design. Columns of read-aloud, mountains of DM text unorganized, shitty design … it all hides a potential combat while carrying a casket, dropping the body and the locals running away with it. That’s GOLD. But it has to be ruined. By “Pathfinder shit.”

I love the ghosts in this. I love the weird shit they do. The Splatter Man is a great enemy and he’s even foreshadowed by some of the very creepy events that go on in town during downtime. There’s even a nod to investigation with a page devoted to finding out more by asking around, making skill checks, etc.

Here’s the text of one of the rooms:
The guards used this large room as a holding pen whenever new prisoners arrived at Harrowstone. Here, the guards searched the prisoners for hidden items and dressed them in their new clothes, all while a guard sergeant carefully explained Harrowstone’s rules to the new “guests.” Once this procedure was complete, the guards led the prisoners one by one to area S6 to be branded, and thence on to their cells.

Creature: Psychic echoes of shame and anger fill this room—as the PCs enter, have them make Perception checks. Whoever rolls the highest hears a faint sobbing and the clanking rattle of chains, while at the same time being filled with a momentary sensation of hopelessness and the strange feeling of heavy manacles clamping over her wrists. These sensations pass quickly, but as soon as they do, the spirits of the prison cause a set of manacle chains to rise up, animate, and attack. Although there are several sets of old manacles scattered through this room, only one set rises as an animated object.

Note the first paragraph is all bullshit. It adds NOTHING to the adventure. The second is poorly written and padded to fuck and back but delivers a nice creepy little encounter with animated shackles THAT MAKE SENSE.

That’s a fairly typical description, lots of useless stuff hiding something a little above average. Was is bad before it was submitted? Did Paizo ruin it? Was Pay Per Word the cause?

The PDF is $14 at Paizo. I guess they need the padding to justify the price? I don’t see a preview available.
http://paizo.com/products/btpy8g7a

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Undead Island

Wed, 08/15/2018 - 11:07


By Jamie Pierson
Cyclops Games
Swords & Wizardry
Levels 1-3

Will the heroes have what it takes to head to the island that has been given the name “Undead Island”? Will they be brave enough to handle what challenges come before them? Find out in this adventure!

This twenty page single-column adventure features a six room dungeon. The designer doesn’t understand how to write an adventure or what Swords & Wizardry is.

Sunday evening ennui? Post-convention blues? Lets fight that by getting a Swords & Wizardry adventure! Oh … wait …. It turns out my life is a living hell.

There’s supposed to be this small town, they want you to go kill the undead on a nearby island. You wander the island, find a dungeon, adventure inside, and kill the big bad.

The town doesn’t really exist. Port town, rough docks, one inn. Those are your details … GO! Oh, wait, no, there are shitty NPC descriptions. (Most) NPC descriptions needs to do two things: have one small memorable thing about them and drive the adventure forward. If they don’t drive the adventure then they shouldn’t be described. If it’s more than one thing, and that thing isn’t immediately apparent, it (usually) shouldn’t be in the adventure. We don’t need to know the tavern keepers maiden name. Or how she got her name. Or any fuckign thing else. Anything more is some mastabatory failed novilist bullshit. Such as this gem:
Helga Gemeyes: Helga Gemeyes (formally Irontoe) was given her new last name from the locals because her deep blue eyes remind everyone of gems. A lovable lass, but takes no gruff from nobody! She owns and operates The Sea Maidens Tail all on her own. She has a reputation for being easy on the eyes (for a dwarf) and rough on the wicked. If she doesn’t like the way you’re acting in her establishment, you can expect to be thrown out by Helga herself!

The island is a hex crawl. Well, rather, we’re told to treat it like a hex crawl. There’s no map and we’re told “For this section of the adventure, you can just simply treat it as a hex crawl until you feel it is time for the characters to reach the destination.” No.

That’s not how older styles of D&D work. A forced fight on the dicks. Forced fights in the dungeons. “Throw monsters at them.” No. Not in S&W.

I understand people differ with me on this point. If you publish a Fiasco playset and label is “5e D&D!” then I don’t think you’ve published 5e adventure. If you publish a Boot Hill adventure and all of the stats use traveller and its in space and it has nothing to do with a western, or even the themes used in westerns, then it’s not a Boot Hill adventure. “But, it’s a fantasy adventure and everything is stat’d for S&W!” Yeah, I agree, it’s closer to the line. But … forced fights are not S&W. No treasure to speak of are not a Gold=XP game. Linear dungeon. This all reflects, on a basic level, a lack of understanding of the play style that S&W is.

Or how to write. At one point we’re told that a stone circle “has never been known to be here before.” Who knows that? The characters are from out of town. There are no NPC’s with them. What’s the point? Or, this little gem of a read-aloud:
“The door creaks as you pull it open from the strange stone floor. A wave of heat rushes past you, making you sweat and your eyes narrow. As you descend a stairway, the heat increases drastically. What have you gotten yourselves in to?”

Nope. You don’t write read-aloud like that. You neither dictate actions or what they think/feel. In one room there’s a box with a key in it that you need. You don’t know what the box contains or that you need it. But there’s a 5HD mummy in the room. I guess you are supposed to grab the box and run out. But how do you decide to do this? By magically knowing whats in the box?

This is as bad, if not worse, than the usual 5e dreck.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages and shows you nothing.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/248543/Undead-Island

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Giantslayer

Sat, 08/11/2018 - 11:20


By M. T. Black & Richard Jansen-Parkes
Self Published
5e
Levels 1-2

Yegor Bonecruncher is the most ferocious hill giant in the land. When he begins terrorising the small village of Frickley, the inhabitants have only one hope – the legendary warrior, Jahia Giantslayer. The PCs undertake a dangerous trek through the High Forest to find her, battling wild fey magic all the way. But can Jahia live up to her own legend?

This fourteen page adventure features the party taking a (very short) wilderness journey to find a retired adventurer, in order to fight a hill giant.You get two or three fights, plus the hill giant fight, in addition to a couple of persuade rolls. It’s (generally) not offensive. The publishers blurb notes that the designer is critically acclaimed. That’s one strike against it out of the gate.

Rather than focusing on the absurd power creep in 5e, I will instead note that a portion of this adventure focuses on getting the villagers to stay and fight instead of running away. Abstracted, the giant will start down 36HP if they do, and then their arrows will do 15 points a round to him. (I guess no firing in to melee penalties in 5e?) Getting the farmers to stay knocks the giant down 30 hp and getting the hunters to stay knocks him down by about 15 points a round. Best case, that leaves him about 30 hp to go. No unreasonable for a party of 1’s, especially if the retired adventurer is recruited, since she absorbs one giant attack a round for four rounds and does a further 15 points a round to him. This reveals two things. First, this is really a social adventure. Recruiting the farmers and hunters, as well as the adventurer, is critical to the success of the adventure. There are some throw-away words to getting the villagers to help, but I felt that the text could have been clearer on this point … the party needs to understand the importance of getting them to help, otherwise they can’t make meaningful decisions about it. Yes, it IS mentioned, but it feels abstracted when first brought up. Second, it harkens back to the time when you bought hirelings and henchmen with you to the dungeon. Getting a big ass group together to fight the monsters does more damage to them and makes it less likely YOU will be targeted. No one ever brings enough people with them, and abstracted hirelinelig/henchmen in combat rules should be a thing.

Suggested hooks are: your father dies and you go back home to your village. Ug. All adventurers are orphans for a reason, so the DM can’t fuck with their families. This is a perfect example of bad hook writing. Multiple half-column read-alouds make me grown out loud on the quality of the writing. Overwrought. “… where farmers and hunters share gossip over a flagon or two or ale and the odd bowl of mutton stew.” It’s a fucking generic fantasy inn. You’ve done nothing to it to make it interesting. Just say its a fucking inn and don’t make us wade through the failed novelist text. And you know, there’s nothing like intro read-aloud text that has the words “Suddenly you hear shouts up ahead …” Every. Fucking. Time. It’s like there’s a template these people use called “Bad 5e Adventure Writing.”

Beyond all of this garbage is some dubious advice out roleplaying. Yes, it does mention that you should have the players roleplay their persuade attempts instead of just rolling the die. I fondly recall DM’s a 4e con game once where, when I asked this, one of the players said ‘Ug, your one of THOSE dm’s …” Yes, I am; we’re playing D&D and not Warhammer minis. In spite of this advice, though, the designer then goes about fucking things up. You MUST persuade. You can’t bribe, or intimidate, or do other things. Those are all auto-fails. Bull. Shit. First, I’m not sure its ever ok to have hidden rules. “Haha! Jokes on you! I had hidden rules and you fail now because you didn’t read my mind!” But, more than that, Fuck you for deciding in advance how the party has to play this out. Let me intimidate or bribe people. What fucking difference does it make? It’s not your fucking story, it’s the players. If they want to bribe people then who cares? Just tell them the farmer is very proud, give them disadvantage maybe, or adjust the combat potential at the end with some morale pretext.

But, all is not bleak. The main NPC”s have some summary boxes that are easy to find. WAY too long, but still, I appreciate the effort. Less text than a half-column each would have made it easier to roleplay the major players all at once and keep track of them. So, hearts in the right place, just totally fucked by implementation. There are nice notes though, like a farmer embellishing a story and his brother vouching for him that give the DM good cues on adding flavor to the otherwise boring overwrought text. Likewise an encounter or two have some interesting things going on, like a harpy luring the party up a boulder to fall to their deaths.

The hook doesn’t really finish till page six (unless you count the village asd the adventure, which you could, given the persuade rolls.) There’s only a couple of wilderness encounters, since the hermits hut for the adventurer is only a couple of hours away. Those tend to be half page affairs, for simple things like “a fallen log” or “crossing a river on slippery stones.”

This is, essentially, an adventure written for ten years olds. It’s not meant to be, but its so simplistic to give that effect. I don’t mind basic, and its short and simple enough that you can almost keep the entire thing in your head … for better or worse.

This isn’t a terrible adventure. Most of the bullshit can be ignored. Some additional text to liven up the final fight would have been a good addition, but, whatever. It’s $2 and its not the great steaming pile of shit most 5e adventures seem to be.

This is $2 at DMsguild. The preview is only two pages long. You get to see the long read-aloud as well as the “start the adventurers off immediately with a fight!” bullshit and how its implemented THIS time.
http://www.dmsguild.com/product/195471/Giantslayer–Adventure

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(DCC) Unseen Vaults of the Optic Experiment

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 11:15

By Johan Noor
Stockholm Kartel
LotFP
Level 3

Gruzx the Ever Watching – the infamous villain of the lands – has vanished. Howls and cries seem to come from the old tomb. And now everyone is complaining about bad eyesight? Best tie your shoes and grab your sword, for things are about to get messy!

This twenty page adventure features an eleven room dungeon straight out of the Weird Fantasy genre. More DCC-ish than LotFP torture, it has shapeless monsters, interdimensional beings, and spooky ghosts. Terse and evocative, it only sometimes engages in text padding. It’s a nice little dungeon.

The conceit here is that the baddies are researching true vision, so everything is a little off, visually. Blurry and so on, which allows for your other senses to kick in. This allows for a very read-aloud that is just an impression. Here’s one: “Cold metal, dust and sound of chains, stench of a sweaty fat man. Mad howls.” That, my friends, is the room with The Evil One in it. You know, He Must Not Be Named, etc? It’s a cute twist and a way to reference a former baddie in the campaign/world.

Further, he’d really like to be freed and could reward you. Also, the baddies need help with their True Sight and would be happy to reward you for that. Also, there’s a vampire ghost who could probably set up up with a nice keep in the ghoul lands. Also the spirits of the people in the tomb (this is a former tomb complex) are pissed at all the intrusions and may team up with you. It’s not exactly factions, and it would be hard to call any of them “good” or “not hostile”, but there are certainly opportunities to talk to just about everything in the adventure that has a brain. I SO get off on this shit. Adventures are SO much more interesting when you can talk to a creature. Sure, go ahead and stab it because its evil or you want the treasure, but talking adds delicious temptation and if that’s not the soul of DM pleasure then I don’t know what is.

The map is ok. Simple, but with notations on it. There are two versions and, IMO, the art heavy one is better than the computer generated one. Both have quite clear text and notations on them to give the DM hints of what’s to come . I really appreciate this, it helps with look-ahead environmental stuff, like sounds, light, etc.

The writing is pretty short and easy to read and scan. It DOES engage in fapping about though. Histories and purposes that get in the way. Here’s the intro to room one: “When the Freak Freaks turned the old tomb into their laboratory, the dead spirits were enraged and confused.
All their frustration and despair merged to form a shapeless, ghastly being – an emotion brought to unlife: Despair in ghostly form.” Or a section describing what the freaks do with their barrels full of vampire ashes. We don’t really need that shit.

It also engages in a secret door description fetish. I usually see this sort of thing with traps. Someone thinks they need to exhaustively describe how the trap works, and goes on for paragraphs doing so. Secret Door Fetish is a related DSM, but focuses on how to open the secret door. I don’t mind a little detail, a curtain, a paper-mache wall, etc. But let’s not go overboard. Hearing a click in another room, or down the hall, is a nice effect but … “Push one of the many stones in the northern wall, followed by pressing another stone only a meter away. An audible Click! is heard. You can now push the secret door on the southern wall – a heavy, cumber­some slab of stone …” goes a little too far for my tastes.

The treasure can bring the freaky, like a skull that can scout ahead for you, but lies frequently. (Mort?)

It’s a decent little adventure. A little short for my tastes.

This is $5 at Lulu. It being Lulu, there is. Of course, no preview.
http://www.lulu.com/shop/johan-nohr/the-unseen-vaults-of-the-optic-experiment/paperback/product-23633723.html

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Pages