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Ruins of the Grendleroot – 5e D&D Adventure Review

Sat, 02/15/2020 - 12:11
By Michael E. Shea Sly Flourish 5e Levels 1-5

For a thousand thousand years, an ancient entity has been trapped in the heart of a mountain formed from rock not of this world. Over eons, creatures both monstrous and intelligent have explored the endless tunnels, caverns, and chambers of Blackclaw, answering the call of the mysterious entity buried within it. Over long centuries, hundreds of lairs, cities, keeps, prisons, and tombs were established within the mountain, but even those centuries of exploration did not uncover all its secrets. Then, two centuries ago, the entity now known as the Grendleroot awoke. Indestructible black spires shot through the rock of the mountain like the roots of a deadly weed, shattering civilizations, burying cities, and exposing caverns long lost. Today, adventurers residing in Deepdelver’s Enclave explore these lost ruins once again. They seek fellow adventurers brave enough to answer the call of Blackclaw, and to seek the mysteries of the Grendleroot.

This 172 page book is a collection of ten single-session dungeon adventures (taking up about a hundred and ten pages) set inside of a giant hollowed out mountain, Moria-style.  The adventures are ok, but long read-aloud, abstracted descriptions, and unfocused DM text leads to a product that has ok design but terrible usability. 

So, big hollow mountain full of tunnels, Moria-style, with a rich history. Abandoned due to REASONS. There’s a small village inside in a big chamber, the only settlement, that caters to explorers and serves as homebase. It may cater to explorers, but the party will be going on missions. Mission after mission after mission, instead of exploring. The way the adventures are oriented, the party is really just a set of troubleshooters for the village, dealing with the absurdity that Friend Computer, errr, the villagers, encounter week to week. 

The situations tend to have a slight sense of absurdism to them, just enough to cause the party to do a “Jesus H Fucking Christ … “ as they learn the details. Little Timmy talks to an invisible friend in ancient elvish? Seriously? You thought that was ok? And they disappeared at an ancient temple during Wee Delvers Week? What the fuck is wrong with you people?” Thye absurdism doesn’t go past the set ups, so they work out pretty good. It’s obvious what the adventure is, and slightly amusing without TRYING to be amusing. 

The advenuring environments tend to be small, as you would expect from a two to four hour adventure. Still, not badly done for being small. The first, for example, features a small tower on the outskirts of “town” that only has about six rooms in it … and yet there are three entrances, from the front doors to climbing to the roof to going in through a stream in a cellar. The encounter rooms, also, tend to have several things going on in them, from creatures to things to explore and mess with, in each room. And it tends to do it in a naturalistic way that doesn’t feel forced. Thus the adventuring environment is a rich one to explore. Rewards tend to be nice also, like … that tower in the first adventure! Now you have a home base! And if you rescued someone inside instead of killing them then you might have a caretaker also, grateful for your help in their rescue! And … you might even get a spectre as a butler! Again, rewards to no just hacking him down. And, besides, having a spectral butler is pretty cool. Oh, and a gargoyle doorman. Rich rewards that are not just cash. Thumbs Up!

The setups and situations are nice. But I am not nice.

The adventure is bloated to all fuck all. My position on bloat has softened in recent years. Whereas before I fucking hated it, I now tolerate it as long as it doesn’t get inthe way. I still think there’s some value prop that is miscommunicated in a 200 page adventure that has 150 pages of fluff and fifty of adventure, but, that’s a different problem. The only problem with bloat and backstory is when it gets in the way of running the adventure … as it does here. Now, to be sure, the vast majority of bloat & backstory in this (let’s call it “the setting guide”) is reserved for some chapters that you can easily skip and/or pluck out if they offend thee. And then there’s the embedded backstory in the encounters. This is the real issue with bloat in this, beyond value-prop expectations issues. Background in the encounter gets in the DM’s way of scanning the encounter to run it at the table. Moving it to the end, or beginning, or some other place where the trivia can be ignored and/or referenced at leisure if the way to handle it if the designer believes they simply must include it. 

And then there’s the read-aloud. LONG read-aloud. In italics. In RED italics. My eyes just glaze over at this shit. Long sections of italics, meaning more than a phrase, are functionally illegible. Eyestrain galore! Oh, you can read it, you just don’t want to struggle to. And then, to ALSO put it in a red font? Was the inset box AND the italics not enough to denote it was read-aloud? It also needed a red font to make it even harder to read? WTF Flourish? 

And then there’s the abstraction. Specificity is the soul of narrative. If I rail against bloat I also must rail against abstraction. Targeted specificity is what the word budget SHOULD be spent on. Yet time and again it abstracts. The players recognize carvings of ancient gods. WHICH ancient god? Detharaxis, Reaver of Blood? No, just ancient gods. B O R I N G. Don’t fucking abstract!

The RE is also too expressive. It  gives away all of the details of the rooms too soon.  Writing in read-aloud is described as elvish. Or as religious iconography. Of other details in the read aloud. This helps destroy the back and forth between the players and the DM which is the soul of RPG’s. This interactivity between the DM and their players. There are things carved on it. That leads the players to say “what kind of things.” Or even that there’s just an alter, which causes them to examine it, which causes the DM to mention the writing, which causes them to examine it. Back and forth. But if you put all the fucking details inthe read-aloud then that can’t happen, can it? And the read-aloud is WAAAAAAYYYYY too long. Paragraphs, or columns in some places. Two to three sentences, that’s all you get. 

“Time has not been kind to …” NO! NOT IN THE READ ALOUD! NO FLOWERY SHIT IN THE READ ALOUD! Besides, that’s a conclusion. Don’t put in conclusions. That is, again, an abstraction. Instead write a description (or read-aloud) that makes the players THINK that time has not been kind to this room. SHOW don’t TELL. 

And then there’s the weird absences. If the room has creatures then it’s almost uniformly NOT mentioned in the read aloud, in spite of “is there something about to kill me? Being perhaps the most important thing that the DM can initially mention to the players. It’s fucking weird. Instead it’s all buried deeper down in the DM text. 

Oh, the DM text, terrible in it’s lack of focus. The rooms start with a little brief “important things” keywords, but then those same keywords, the important shit in the room, tends to be buried in the DM text. Room two has statues and mosaics in it, but without bolding in the statues and mosaics paragraphs you’re left to hunt for which Witch is which. Not cool. The DM text is, essentially, completely unfocused. 

I can go on on, covering design decisions, like “how do I know there’s a second path to the temple?” or “You need to use six charges from the wand to solve the adventure but it only has seven charges … why not instead of two encounters each requiring three charges instead they require two, or one? This seems like a design trap and a pushback AGAINST players using the treasure they find … what if the DM has a special use for it somewhere and we need it? Not good D&D. 

So, some journeyman ideas and effort but ruined by being essentially unusable at the table. Let’s hope that improves in the future.

This is $15 at DriveThru. The preview is eleven pages. You get to see the entirety of the first adventure “Starson Tower.” This is great,as it gives an exact idea of the quality of what you are purchasing. Great preview. A brief perusal will also show the red offset long italics read-aloud. Room two is a great example of most of the issues the adventure has with read-aloud and DM text.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Mike’s Dungeons

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 12:11
Geoffrey McKinney Self-published B/X Levels 1-10

I took my DeLorean time machine back to 1983. I saw there four middle-school boys playing Dungeons & Dragons, and Mike was the name of the DM. I managed to steal Mike’s dungeons and bring them back to 2020. I stole them fair and square, and now you can buy them. Mike did all the work, so we can be lazy.

This 158 page adventure describes a 72 level dungeon. It lies somewhere between “minimally keyed” and “just a bit more than minimally keyed.” And I do mean Just A Bit More. Is minimal keying good enough these days?

So …. Good effort. 72 dungeon levels. Hand drawn maps of about a dozen rooms per level. The rooms are all described on one page, in clean easy to read font with margins. The dungeon map is on the other page, making it a “lay open” book affair. I, also, use 3-rings at home, but rings instead of a folder. It’s a good format for actualling running things. You can flip around easily, fold it back to back, lay it open on facing pages, and find the front and back easily for additional quick-access reference material. 

Geoffrey doesn’t do any of that. It’s just a map and a one-page key, per level, with a singal page of DM background information on page one describing how undead turn as two levels harder and how all Chaotics in the temple levels of the dungeon get a 1 point armor class bonus when attacked by Lawfulls. 

The writing style is one that Geoffrey has used before, such as in Isle of the Unknown. It’s minimally keyed, and, while he doesn’t say it, it looks like he’s using the charts from B/X to roll the encounters on, about one per room. Thus the first level has about fourteen rooms and twelve of them have a creature to slay in it. The thirteenth is the entrance cave mouth and the fourteenth a room with a trick. Stuffed full of creatures!

And minimally keyed. Which I seem to think is important since I seem to be beating that point to death in this review, name dropping it all over the place. The encounters on level one include:

2 chaotic warriors in plate mail with shields and swords.  

Giant orange centipedes crawl in and out of a worthless red glass urn, and they will not attack unless disturbed.  

1 giant yellow scorpion cannot move unless the 319 gp scattered on the floor near the scorpion is touched. 

2 gray oozes are in this cold, damp, and humid chamber  

An 11-headed hydra lairs here. Each of its 22 eyes is an amethyst worth 100 gp  

I’m not summarizing; this is all the text there is for those various rooms. I don’t think I’m cherry picking either, this is fairly representative for the vast vast majority of rooms. It’s very similar to Isle of the Unknown. In both cases it looks like a random generator was used to crete a keying and then an adjective was added, usually a color adjective. Yellow scorpion. Orange centipede.

Which is not to say that the entries are all bad. Crawling in and out of a glass urn is not bad, as ia hydra with amethyst eyes. In both cases it engages the risk/reward mechanism of the party, tempting them to recover loot, present with the hydra and not with the urns.   

And to be fair there are sometimes longer entries. But they are not common. Here’s one in which the creatures will talk to you:

The 9 wereboars here are preyed upon by the cyclops (room B). They will seek an alliance against their hated enemy: “Help us kill him, and you can keep all his gold.”

Your experiences here are going to be related to your tolerance of minimally keying. I don’t have any tolerance for it. There are mountains and mountains of random creature generators online these days to roll up your own dungeon. The level theming is pretty non-existent, except for a an Evil Temple theme which runs through some of the levels. (Portions of a dozen or sixteen levels?) It’s just a novelty, like the Habitation of the Stone Giant Lord art project from a few years back. I’m glad he wrote this, it’s fun to see, but that’s all.

This is $4 at DriveThru. The entire thing is available for preview, all 158 pages. Kudos for McKinney for doing this. Every product should be like this, or, close enough to it that you can get a real sense of what you are buying before you pay for it.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Where There’s a Will, OSR Adventure Review

Mon, 02/10/2020 - 12:25
By Jacob W. Michaels Raging Swan Press OSR Level ... ?

Standing on a dingy side street in Low City the Scythe has a reputation as a place for hard drinking and its entertainers. Nights at the Scythe are rarely boring—particularly when the legendary halfling bard, Dricolen Nimblefinger, is playing

Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?

Why yes, El Senor Lydon, Johnny Feelgood, Liz and I do THE THE FUCKING TIME. (Hmmm, looking this up, the lyric is “Johnny Light on.” I think it’s better as “Johnny Lydon.” Kind of a Peaches “My Chrissy behind is fine all of the tie” Chrissy Hynde kind of thing. That fucking earworm has been out of my head for a week now and I just put it back in. Great.)

This thirteen page adventure details … I don’t know … some vignettes in a town? It’s supposed to be a roleplaying adventure, uh, I mean “eventure”, but in reality it’s just some one of those hooks from a “101  hooks for your party!” products that’s been expanded in to thirteen pages. Just the hook. JUST. THE. HOOK.

Town adventures are one of my favorite things and this product line seems to be trying to do two things. First, no combat, andsecpnd  shit that happens in town during downtime, returning,etc. Not bad, especially the second. Shit going on in town helps cement the characters and who they are, with the players flexing themselves a bit and all them zany human relations. Plus, players seems to have more restraint that usual, not ALWAYS picking the “stabby stabby” solution. SO, good ideas! Town! Yeah!

And very VERY poorly executed.

This isn’t an adventure. It’s not even an adventure outline. It is, I don’t know, a hook? Imagine one of those “100 hooks” products and one line in it is “In town, get part of a map to a pirates treasure during a dead pirate captains wake.” That’s this adventure.

You’re in town, somewhere. You hear bells ringing. A notorious pirate captain is dead. You go see his body strung up at a town gate and met some other pirate captains. You go to a bar and the reading of the will, along with other pirates, and a bunch of map pieces get tossed out. That’s your adventure!

And it’s not even properly supported. There are a bunch of tables at the beginning to add local color to the town: rumors, street scenes, gossip and the like. They tend to be well done, although the street scene tables could be more oriented toward the pirate captain being dead instead of the usual “beggar with his bowl” shit. But, that’s the good part. It’s full of things like “the pirate tell tall tales” … without anything to get the DM started. It’s critically important in these situations to give the DM something to work with. Not a novel, a few words, maybe one sentence. Just enough to get going. But this don’t do that. And this happens repeatedly. There are these little two or three sentence paragraph that describe these HUGE scenes, like the stringing up and viewing of the body at the the gates. I finally figured out that these little things ARE the “adventure.” These two or three little sentences in their little scenes scattered around the test are what is supposed to occupy the players and their characters. But it’s unsupported. 

It THINKS it’s supporting them though. We get full write ups on six pirates including their history, and other details that mean little to the adventure. MAYBE, in an ongoing campaign, this kind of extra detail is worthwhile, and this IS meant to be a town thing, so, recurring. And there IS a decadent dive bar full of twisty passages, etc, that is more a “city bar location fluff” than “adventure location.”

So what you’ve got here is a fluff product that says it’s an adventure and is TRYING to be an adventure but succeeds in only being fluff. Don’t get me wrong, I like fluff. Inspiration is good. But it’s not an adventure. 

This is just an outline. And an outline of a hook, at that, that lasts thirteen pages. 


This is $3.50 at DriveThru. To its credit, the preview shows you the entire product. CHeck out page seven of the preview/five of the book. This is the “Traitors Gate” hanging scene. That column of text is all you get (!) to run it. A column should be more than enough … but this column tells you nothing pertinent to running this as a scene/encounter.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) The Song of the Sun Queens

Sat, 02/08/2020 - 12:11
By Shane Ivey Arc Dream Publishing 5e Level 2

The adventurers have journeyed uncounted miles to the vast plains of the Sunlands. A merchant in a faraway city told them that a great treasure rests in an ancient, cursed ruin called Juakufa. Where can the ruin be found? What is the nature of the supposed curse? What dangers lurk along the way? What are the Hyena Giants? And what were the mysterious Not Heres? The adventurers may learn all that from the people who abandoned Juakufa long ago. But first, they must survive being guests of the Sun Queens.

An average rating of 4.5 on DriveThru?!? You just KNOW this one is going to be good!

This forty page adventure uses about twenty pages to describe, I don’t know, six encounters? Maybe? The rest is appendix and pregens. It’s got an Africa theme. It’s a fucking mess of a mess, almost incoherent in how the adventure is laid out.  

So, Africa theme. They ride around zebras. No joke. They hunt ostriches. They all get together to sing and dance for your entertainment. Yes. That’s right. No joke. Also, the friendly queen in the adventure wants to have sex with you since you’re an exotic foreigner. And she claws your back “during an intimate moment.” So, creepy African stereotypes and creepy sex shit. A perfect combo for your lighthearted D&D game. [For what it’s worth the African guy here at work says that the African version of “Everyone in Africa rides zebras” is that the streets are made of gold in the US. Immediately upon residence you become rich.] Ok, weirdo shit out of the way, there’s more than enough disgust with this adventure outside of these elements in order to call it bad, so, non-issue. [Oooo, what if it WAS a really well written adventure/good adventure, but was FULL of creeper stuff? What then? “The Supreme Court does not deal with hypotheticals, Sir!”]]

There’s some “you heard about a ruined city full of treasure” thing, but the adventure starts with the party on the plains of Africa and in the court of these two queens. Kind of. It’s hard to say. It’s ala a mess. There’s some description of the queens and their court and how they hate each other, and then an ostrich hunt. There’s no real “Arrival” or anything. It’s just got background on the “the Sunlands” and then launches in to “The Ostrich hunt” where your on the plains with the queens and a bunch of africans hunting ostriches. It’s jarring. There’s no pretext at all. Just: hey! Here’s scene one of the adventure and it’s not an introduction!” 

Another example of this sort of “things not said” issue follows immediately. The hunt is attacked. Now, the party is out riding zebras catching ostriches or out int the field kind of “beating” to drive them. The hunt is then attacked, the ostriches anyway, but some, I don’t know, bird monster things. But the SCENE is an advisor running up to the queen saying that the hunt has been attacked by some Ghjkdfgdfhgdef. Whatever, some foreign word that the adventure keeps dropping the fuck in because it thinks that I, the DM, wants to keep track of this shit in my head. That shit is for the players, not the DM. Anyway, the dude is yelling that a Ghdkfghdk is attacking the hunt. The hunt that is RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU.  That YOU ARE A PART OF. Do you now see it? The queen responds: “is it a HKDJHDDD?” No, bitch, it’s right there, look! Does it look like a Hhdjfhjdkfd?” Ok, so, not fair to the queen, it’s not her fault, it’s the designer and editors fault. It’s their weird kind of disconnect where it almost seems like two different people worked on this and a third blindly put it together without marrying the two writers content. And the fucking adventure does this REPEATIDLY. It’s a basic continuity issue. 

Good news though, you do get XP is you are good-aligned and save someone in the hunt. Yeah for enforced morality by the DM! I guess if you want to play D&D then you’ll play the fucking game the way this designer wants you to and FUCK YOU PLAYER if you deviate? 

There’s more singing and dancing by the happy africans and then the queen sleeps with the exotic foreigners.

You go visit a few villages. The locals sing and dance for you and tell you that you should leave all your gear with them since you are going to die anyway when you get to the ruined city.

The adventure is linear, with  a brief walk up a mesa, getting attacked by gnolls. Err, giant hyena people. The maps all fucked up and doesn’t show the encounters in the right place, one of them being off to the side. I guess no one cared to fix that mistake? Up top there’s a fortress. I GUESS that’s the ruined city you were looking for? It’s never mentioned that it is? Or that it’s your destination? I thought it was just a side trek, but no, it’s the object of your quest. Inside is a ruined keep with about, I don’t know, 25 rooms? Al are unnumbered, undescribed except for four. Three of those are just some dream sequence stuff where you hear a voice in your head and maybe a will o wisp does a hit and run. The last room has a devil in it for you to kill. Yeah! You freed the land from the curse and laid some ancestors to rest so they can be reincarnated as elephants! You get 120gp in coins and two objects worth a total of 65gp! I guess it was worth that ten day journey to get here. Plus that trip to Africa. How long was that boat journey here, and how much did it cost?

Anticlimactic bullshit, that’s what this is.

This thing has a couple of decent ideas. A ruined land/forbidden zone under a curse is a classic trope. WIll o’the wisps representing the souls of dead people is nice, as is their nature of just being on the outskirts of the scene/vision in the ruined fortress. All but one leave you alone, and he’s a bad guy/traitor, or, was, in real life.  A devil on a throne in the middle of te ruined fortress, sending you dream visions in your head, taunting you, while these dead people wisps float on the periphery, in a ruined and blasted Forbidden Zone? That’s great! 

It’s just terrible as implemented. It’s linear, essentially an empty adventure, ham handed in its culture use, and an INCOHERENT MESS when it comes to scene transitions. And I haven’t even mentioned it’s reliance on the “long text paragraph” to relate information; perhaps the most common sin in all 5e adventures.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages long, but only shows about two pages of text. You do get to see the intro. Literally “you journeyed here and are at the court.” And you get to see the transition to the ostrich hunt. So, VERY representative of the writing you’ll get.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Flying Fortress of the Celestial Order

Wed, 02/05/2020 - 12:11
By Radulf St. Germain Studio St. Germain OSR? Generic? 5e? "Lower Levels"

The  city of  Shallow Bay  is preparing for  the greatest social  event of the year when  an eagerly-expected shipment of ball gowns goes missing. Rumors abound of goblins gathering in large gangs to cut off all commerce to the city. While  all seems like a routine job for adventurers there are hints of some sinister ancient evil pulling the strings in the background. Can the party save the Day of the Revered Ancestors and what will they find as they  become embroiled deeper and deeper into the machinations of the mysterious Celestial Order?

This 29 page adventure has a loose plot to it combined with a sandboxy format. Probably meant  for 5e, it’s presented without stats. Dripping with the kind of flavour I wish all adventures had, this things fatal flaw is its organization, an arrow that has taken down many a sandboxy adventure. I started to ask myself, during this review, “Man, is it worth it to highlight this thing and create some reference sheets?” That’s a good sign.

This thing has style! The city it is set in was founded by a Lich, overthrown many many years ago, with his phylactery rumored to still be around. The hook is a shipment of ball gowns in a caravan that gets raided … what will the local fops wear to the Day of the Revered Ancestors ball? (A little Lexx mixed up in your fantasy, maybe?) The elemental earth cult? It’s not an earth cult. It’s not THE cult of elemental earth. It’s called The Shallow Grave Consortium … and the leader sleeps in a barrow. The local bar, the Drunken Sailor, is known for its knife fights and shady dealings. The local guy who informally heads up the fisherman in town is not opposed to organizing a beating for those who show disrespect. There’s a flying fortress with a giant brass flywheel on it (it’s the air cult, chill out) and it’s been grounded, anchored via … a literal giant anchor with a huge fish … sculpture? swallowing it. And that’s not even described, it’s just shown in a little sketch drawing. Time and time again this thing hits with the sort of specificity that makes an adventure feel ALIVE. Fuck the generic Earth Cults and long live the Shallow Grave Consortium!

Over and over again. The NPC’s are given brief little bursts of flavour that a DM can hang their hat on. The cult leader is highly dramatic and listens to an invisible advisor. The raven spy looks down on beings who cannot fly. (Get it?! Get it?!)  People are described as corpulent, or noble matrons, or the Pointy Hat goblin tribe who wears … Wear huge pointy helmets and sport huge mustaches. They have no real boss.” The flesh golem that shows up is not a Frankenstein’s Monster, or even a Frankensteins Monster monster Frankenstein, but in the form of a giant snake. A noble matron thinks the mayor is a vain idiot. It goes on and on and on. The adventure elements are strong. It’s something that the DM can work with … if it does, at times, trend a bit to the absurdit side of the line, hopping over a time or two but not taking up full residency. 

It’s also trying to help the DM out. There’s a one page cheat sheet that describes the adventure. There’s a flowchart of events, since this is ultimately a sandbox plot of the villains trying to do something more than linear adventure. It even has notes on the flowchart of what happens if the current “activity” is foiled by the party. There’s DM advice in places, like suggesting fires in the windmill used to grind flour may result in an explosion. There’s even a couple of pages of tables at the end full of charts that can be used to create flavourful little houses in town, full of secrets and plots and the like. 

But, it’s TRYING to help the DM, and not actually doing so. The cheat sheet only really makes sense after going through the adventure the first time, so it doesn’t orient as much as summarize. The flowchart may be the best part, but the section headings it refers to could be labeled/organized stronger. For it’s attempts at helping it’s still kind of a glorious mess.

There’s a lot of repetition of information, and meaningless information at that. It’s using a kind of free text/paragraph format, with certain words in italics to draw the eye. That’s not the strongest way to organize, especially given the amount of extraneous text in the adventure. There’s a decent number of NPC’s, and some kind of summary sheet would have useful to help the DM during play. I don’t know how to say this and get it to come across right. The section headings and extraneous text weaken the adventure to the point where it’s kind of hard to figure out how to run it and what’s going on, and that’s with the flowchart and cheatsheet. This is a sandbox sort of issue, in general; finding a way to organize the material for quick reference during play in an unorganized play style is no small feat. 

This thing drips with flavor. It references some princes of the Apocalypse creatures, and is a better PotA chapter than a real PotA chapter. I’m keeping it as “generic” since it’s stateless, and the only stat reference is to reference some 5e monsters in the end in order to localize it. I might suggest the same for some LabLord creatures as well; it would be a helpful touch. Treasure, is, of course, light given the generic/5e flavour.

So is it worth it? Not to me. There’s just a bit too much effort in pulling things together. I will say though that St. Germain has their shit together with respect to flavour and “arc without having a plot.” You might even say there’s a nod to Rients with a flying fortress showing up to raid the town. Some serious work in massaging the text in to a format to make it more easily runnable at the table would marry that to the flavour and make it something decent to run.  I do, though, look forward to seeing future efforts by this designer to see if they can figure things out.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $2. The preview is four pages. It gives you an overview of some of the factions, actors, and locations. For this sort of sanboxy sort of adventure it’s an appropriate preview, showing you the sort of information transfer, flavour, and organization you can expect. Take a look at it and note both the flavour and the extraneous text and how it’s not exactly the best at declaring where you are and what’s important.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

An Easy Task

Mon, 02/03/2020 - 12:11
By FEI Games Inc FEI Games B/X Levels 3-5

A group of minotaurs have moved into the area. A farmer spotted them at the ruins down the road and now the locals want them gone.

I don’t know man. Really, I don’t. I apologize.

This seven page adventure is actually a (very small) one page dungeon with four rooms. It features fourteen minotaurs and fourteen dire wolves. It is minimally keyed ala Palace of the Vampire Queen. Uh, it has 4000cp of treasure. I don’t know what to say. It’s one of the worst?

Seven pages for this. One title page. One page with the adventure on it. One page with the stats for the two monsters. One page to note 4000cp in treasure. Two pages of license and one blank page. I am an optimist. Really, I am. The wurstest pessimists are always the most idealistic optimists. I WANT to believe that a short adventure can be good. There are some! I promise! But not this one.

Ok, a hunter sees some minotaurs at a ruin down the road, goes to the inn, and insists the party take care of it free of charge since they’ve been staying in the area. Of course, they can keep any treasure they find. This is the hook. It appears on the one adventure page. It preceded by a section telling us that the minotaurs have moved in to the ruin because they had good luck with their last raid. I guess that’s the background. The last two sentences is the wilderness adventure: the hunter takes them to the ruin but will not fight. The five-ish sentences that make up those three things take up half the page. The one one page that has the entire adventure. I question if that was the best way to spend the word budget allocated to this title …

It’s minimally keyed. “Room 1) 5 minotaurs.” That’s it. Nothing else. There are four rooms, all minimally keyed. The map is a small plus sign; one central room up high with three other rooms connected to it in the cardinal directions. Each room has a bunch of minotaurs and/or dire wolves in it. There is an order of battle! One of te minotaurs will ring the gong in the central room, summoning all of the minotaurs ot the battle, if, I guess, they didn’t already hear it, being 20’ away from it and all that.

Fourteen 6HD minotaurs at … third level? Fifth Level? And that’s doesn’t even include the fourteen 4HD dire wolves that are also included. A combat. Just a hack. Nothing else to this. 

The treasure is 4000cp. Seriously. And 500sp. A jewelry worth 30gp. 2 potions. “Various mundane items worth 700gp.” Ok, so, realistic, I guess? Oh, oh, and, of course, “the DM can also place any other treasure they would like.” Yeah, no shit? Can I, the DM, also breathe while running this? And speak? Just last night I was just writing an article about this”feature” of adventures. How they put in this “add an encounter of your choice” or “include any treasure you want.” Surprise surprise surprise, I see another example of it this morning. 

What’s the count at? I don’t know.

A one page adventure listing itself at seven pages. Because it is seven pages: one page of adventure and six of fluff. A hack a thon in B/X, where Hack a thons are essentially insta-death, so, no basic understanding of the game system. Also illustrated by having the third to fifth level adventure having fourteen 6HD monsters and fourteen 4 HD monsters. That will, essentialy, attack en masse. Also no understanding of how gold=xp work, since 4000cp ain’t gonna cut it for leveling purposes. That’s where most of the XP comes from in basic and it ain’t present here, especially at this risk level. Minimal keying, bringing nothing to the adventure. A hook relying on the party to be Goodies. A map small enough that order of battle doesn’t matter.

No exploration. No wonder. No joy. This is a 4e adventure pretending to be B/X.

This is $2 on DriveThru. Being one of the worst, it of course has a three star rating on DriveThru. Because reasons. You cannot, in any way shape or form, trust the ratings on Drivethru. There the weirdo page-flip preview instead of a full size one. If you squint hard you can see the map and the minimal keying next to it. That’s the adventure. The entire thing.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) The Secret of Cedar Peak

Sat, 02/01/2020 - 12:16
By Hein Ragas Capybarbarian 5e Level 1

Kingshold is a sleepy garrison town at the edge of the kingdom. Bertu Arnels, the respected herbalist in town, sent out an expedition to Cedar Peak Forest, about a day’s travel across the border, to look for useful herbs. When the expedition does not return, she seeks adventurers to investigate and make the forest safe for herb picking. Will you travel to the base camp, and discover the truth behind the horrifying Secret of Cedar Peak?

This 27 page adventure details a small seven room cave and a couple of outdoor encounters using about eleven pages to do so. Straightforward hack/explore of the usual “figure out what is going on, sneak around, kill shit” variety, it uses a good room format to support its weaker evocative and and interactive elements. Continuity problems stand out. With work this could be on the duller side of “ok.”

There’s this thing I like to call “Pretending to be an adult.” This is where you ape the behaviours you’e seen or heard about, thinking that’s the “right thing to do.” Without understanding though, it appears to be just going through the motions. What if you have good ideas, though, or at least not bad ones? Then it’s surrounded by this ape’ing. And thus, this adventure.

This is not a bad adventure, or a good one for that matter, in its core concepts. The party is hired to find some people who have disappeared, an herbalist expedition. Investigating, they visit a small village, “explore a forest”, find some caves, and kill the thing in the cave. I might call this “the usual layout for a plot based adventure.” Hired, investigate, village, wilderness, lair dungeon. To generalize, interactivity in these affairs is usually limited to a little sneaking around to get in to the dungeon and some roleplay in the village. And thus it is with this adventure as well. The usual beats happen. Interactivity is low, with a little roleplaynig and maybe sneaking up on a guard post being non-hack highlights.This doesn’t have to be a bad thing in the plot-based world. Yes, it’s a bit formulaic, and I’d like to see better, but reality is that most plot-based games and adventures follow this formula. They almost all need to up the interactivity element, but, if they can solve the ease of use problem then you’d have a great sea of Marginally Useful Generic Adventures … instead of  the great sea of crap we have today.

This adventure DOES try to excel and rise above the usual dross, and it largely succeeds. Yes, the villagers are in on it, they are always in on it, but at least these villagers have some self-loathing. And, if confronted by the party, they attack the party. But, it’s not a combat! The advice is to let the party slaughter them as the villagers die to the last. Oh, and what do you do with the three young children left behind? I was surprised, and delighted, to see the designer breaking out of the usual formula. And, if the party comes back to the village after defeating the cave monster (assuming they did not confront the villagers beforehand …) they will either find the village burned down (if they were warned by an escapee) or the villagers will throw a huge party, their relief at the end of The Situation, being palpable. Also, the party gets out of hand, there’s a fire that burns everything down, and the villagers disappear. Weird to end all plots threads on this point, but whatever, they all work as a real conclusion in one way or another. Both the village slaughter and the party/burndown show that a little extra thought has gone in to this adventure. And you can tell. 

The singular enumerated village encounter, with the smith, shows signs of life also. Is reactions make sense. Further, there’s a nice little bit of formatting with bolded heading and short little sentences that relate his responses to common questions. A similar format is followed by the room entries in the dungeon, with a short read-aloud followed by some bolded heading that have more information for certain things on the read-aloud. This sort of formatting makes it easy to locate information, allows for easy scanning, and therefore ease of use at the table. All nicely done. 

There’s some X-card warnings up front, for, I think, a little kid who survived an abduction. His mom might get eaten in front of the party by the cave monster. There are a couple of possible “gruesome” little vignettes with the kids mother/family being eaten. (As an aside, aren’t we ALL responsible for the X card shit, because we didn’t push back on the edgelords hard enough when they did their edgy shit? Or do we blame it on the indie RPG and their Psychological Growth RPG’s?) Again, a nice little element to heighten the horror. SHOW don’t TELL. And this shows. He’s not an evil monster because the villagers, or diary, says so. He’s evil because he calls people “meat” in conversations with them (Objectification! The true definition of evil!) and gruesomely eats still living people. No fucking moral quandryies there. I presume he won’t be arrested with non-lethal combat?

This is not, however, a good adventure. 

Read alouds tends to the dull side with boring words like “large cave” and other such descriptions abounding. There’s a two paragraph section on spotting a wagon. And two paragraphs up front on “roleplaying” that seems to have nothing to do with roleplaying. The start town gets one and half pages of description in spite of it having nothing to distinguish itself from every other generic border town.We do get a paragrapgh, multiple in fact, on the entire life fucking history of the person who hires them, including her life as an apprentice. All of this padding takes seven pages before the hook shows up. IE: it’s padded to all fuck out. 

This also shows up in long DM notes section. Rather than emulating the bolded section heading style, perhaps augmented by bullets, whitespace, tables, etc, it instead relies, as per usual for these sorts of adventures, on the long multi paragraph exposition, a nightmare to dig through at the table. It repeats information, telling us the same information about the “telepathic” monster over and over again. Offering justifications for people’s behaviour, or why cultists believe what they do. This is all padding. 

Worse are the basic editing/continuity issues. The blacksmith can show up one point “with the little girl in tow.” This being the first time the little girl is mentioned, I have to wonder “Huh?” Or Telling the MD that by now the party has had a few encounters with the cultists … when in fact they’ve probably had none at all. Other misses include room descriptions that don’t actually mention what the room is (the Chapel being a major offender here … just mentioning a few details and nothing much chapel like in the RA) or burying monster entries in the DM text instead of the RA. You have to tell the players the obvious/important things first, and ten bloodthirsty cultists seems like an important room detail to me. 

Or maybe not. “The rest of the cultists are found here in this room. “How many is that exactly? We don’t know. The Rest. But there’s no number to begin with. Other examples include the monsters being buried in the last sentence of a text entry, or things like that, things that make the DM hunt for the information instead of ordering the information in a logical manner that’s easy to use at the table. This is not a Nit. These are core usability issues when the text runs long, as it does in this. 

And, ultimately, the party never does really find evidence of the people they sent to go looking for. I guess you can make an assumption, but dropping a few details in a room about bodies or gear would have seemed appropriate. Combine all of this with what is an abstracted “forest/wilderness exploration” section and this is worth a pass. It’s got some ok elements that do try to elevate and show more talent than is usual in these things, but it needs to stop pretending to be grown up and learn how to relate information other than in long-form paragraph form. And write descriptions that are more evocative (while staying terse!) and look for opportunities for more interactivity. 

This is $5 at DriveThru. There’s no preview. Put in a preview! And make it a good one that shows us a bit of the dungeon encounters and a bit of the wilderness ones (if there actually were any instead of a handwave …) a bit of social. Let us know what we are buying!


As an aside. This takes place in a sleepy frontier town. Are there such things? Or are all frontier towns bustling affairs with people going out to homestead and seek their fortunes? And the guards don’t give a shit because it’s outside the border of the kingdom, the kingdom ending, evidently, right outside the gates. A) these people deserve what will inevitably happen to them. You keep problems from becoming End Of The World by taking care of them early. Besides, they threaten your tax base, even if they are outside your border, proper. A border that doesn’t exist since there’s no else who owns the land out there. So why didn’t the lord claim it anyway?

Also, I’d totally have some tourist traps. “Come see the egge of the World!” and a Four Corners type monument. Tours, An official “kingdom border” line. Trinket shops. The whole nine yards. Why yes, I did just take a road trip last weekend in which I passed many roadside attractions, why do you ask?

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

At the High Point Inn

Wed, 01/29/2020 - 12:11
By Bill Reich Self-Published OSR Level 1

This fourteen page adventure is set in an inn. There’s a fight, I think, that happens? In the inn? More than that I’m not sure. I’m not even sure what system this is for. It’s very hard to figure out what is supposed to happen.

As best as I can tell, you go to an inn to stay the night, someone hires you, or tries to, for protection. AT some point during the night three dwarves staying in the inn star a fight. Or kill the guy? Or something? It’s never really stated. This is really as close as the adventure gets: “If Barnart Hartwell is alone in the Taproom, the dwarfs prevent him from sounding an alarm that might warn other inn residents. Barnart may survive an attack by these ruthless, practiced fighters.” So ….

This IS, I think, all there is of the adventure. Arrive at inns common rooms. Maybe get hired. Hear and/or engage in a fight with three dwarves.

And now on to the system. It’s listed as OSR and the cover states OSR/D20 systems. But then it talks about air, body, and power magic. That’s not OSR/d20? And a point of magic protection and two points of undead protection? That’s not D&D? Or d20? Mineral fiber and plat over fiber? Is that some system? It’s got AC, HD, and HP, as well as a single “Save” number. Weapons are d4/d8. Spells include some recognizable ones and “Darkness Globe,” I have no fucking clue what system this is for. Money is in $, 80$ and such. No clue.

The first two or three pages are oriented at the players, I think. I think it might be read-aloud. I think. It’s not formatted like that. But it does use language “Upon entering the taproom you recognize …” and other first person kind of text that seems oriented toward telling the party what they see, feel, think or do. The lack of … understanding? Formatting? Provided to differentiate the text is one problem and text that IS read-aloud that tells the party what they think or feel is another common mistake. There’s also this weird abstraction of detail that’s present. Or time dilation? “Table H is the rowdiest table in the room, what with three dwarfs playing cards and drinking by-the- mug lite. Later, as they switch to a by-the-pitcher dark brew, the table quickly fills with bronze coins. You hope that they are not mean-spirited when drunk.”  Note not only the “You hope …” text but also the “Laster, as they switch to … “ text. Rather than playing EITHER section out in the game both are summarized. The You Hope portion should be something that the players actually feel, rather than being told that they feel. The “Later …” section should come through roleplaying. Instead it’s this weird time compression. And almost all of the first few pages are like this, the text weirdly summarizing things and telling the party what they think … without any regard to the formatting. It’s almost like there should be a boxed about the first two pages of text, to indicate read-aloud.

Later, during the night, “Any PCs in the corridor come to the aid of Hobson and Bifur.” Uh, no I don’t …

There are some timelines present, and some NPC’s, as well as a summary sheet of a BUNCH of NPC’s. I THINK the party is supposed to talk to people and that there are supposed to be differing alliances from the NPC’s and the party talking to them is supposed to do something, like make the fight larger? But that’s conjecture, there’s nothing like that. I’m just guessing because there are a lot of NPC’s presented and some kind of political overview about internal and external dwarf factions. I have no idea about the timeline. Someone takes a bath at 3am? Is that relevant for some reason? The action happens before then, pretty sure, based on the timeline. 

So, the system seems all over th place. The text is all over the place. I’m not sure what’s supposed to happen in this “sandbox” expect for a fight … lethal, non, no clue. It seems like the NPC’s and timeline should interact with everything somehow, but it’s not clear how. 

This is $.5 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. Pages two and three are that weird maybe read-aloud? Page six has an adventure overview section that details the action? I think? Based on this can you run the adventure? Because the other other pages don’t really help much more. At all.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Lizardmen of Illzathatch

Mon, 01/27/2020 - 12:11
By Shane Ward 3Toadstools Labyrinth Lord Level 3

The green dragon Illzathatch has been dispatched by local heroes “The Shields of Atreu”, thus ending his reign of terror across the countryside.  Only one problem remains, the adventuring party left to raid the lair of the dragon, they have not been seen since.

This thirteen page adventure, from 2014,  features a small fourteen room dungeon described in five pages, the rest being advertising, licensing, etc. The map bears little relation to the text, and the encounters a bit sparse. It’s a straightforward dungeon with a few twists but not much that’s memorable.

The dungeon here is pretty straightforward, just a few rooms and just a short description for each, about four per page. The encounters tend toward being interactive, more so than combat anyway. A dwarf drinking, who’s actually someone else. Bandits and lizardmen fighting each other. Other lizardmen, no longer slaves of the slain dragon, gaming and drinking. These are highlights of the adventures; little encounters that are more than just a monster or a trap that springs. This is a strength of the adventure: the encounters, the monster ones anyway, are generally not just hacks.Except when they are, like a giant snake that barely fits in a room that has a chest in it. Obviously a hack, and not much player choice in that, since the party don’t see the chest AND snake. Seeing the chest and CHOOSING to fight the snake to get it is a much different affair than opening a door and having a snake attack the party … and then finding a chest.  Does everyone understand why? In the first case it’s a player choice. The chest is the temptation, the bait, to get the party to engage with someone they know they should not. In the second it’s a “It Attacks when you open the door” case, with the chest then treasure. The first requires a layer choice while the second does not. Certainly, not every encounter needs to involve choice like this, but player choice and interactivity are SUPPOSED to be a hallmark of our hobby. Can anyone argue, without resorting to corner cases, that’s not true?

The map is simple, and a mess. While it has same-level stairs and tunnels that run under/over some of the rooms and hallways (great additions to a map that use it leverage even more interactivity and mystery out of a DM tool) it also bears little relation to the text. Some of the text refers to rooms having doors. Some of the text does not. None of the rooms on the map have doors. The room text describes each room; this room is 20×30, for example. Except on the map it’s not 20×30 it is instead 50×60. Weird features on the map are not explained, hallways that go nowhere or look to go elsewhere. 

There a bit too much emphasis on GotCha! Traps. A trap in the middle of the hallway, tis happens several time. Or, you’re walking down the hallway and the DM asks for magic saves from everyone. First, these arbitrary traps create paranoid players. Instead of playing the game they are busy trying to not get fucked over by the DM. They search every 10 square for a trap, for example. D&D becomes a slow grind instead of being full of wonder. The traps have little in the way telegraphing them, nothing in most cases. Thus it’s completely arbitrary.  Arbitrary is seldom good, especially at this level. Little clues like mentioning dust, cracks on the walls, blood, etc, are a way to the DM to drop hints that are then expanded upon if the party follows up with more examination. Otherwise it’s the old “Yup, you all missed your save, you were disintegrated when you entered the empty room. New characters!” There might be some role for this as the party gets to higher levels and they should be using their spells and research to find out more about the dungeon, but at lower levels especially you might as well just roll a d6 at the start of each adventure for each character and on a one or two they just die. ITS THE SAME THING. It’s arbitrary. It doesn’t matter if it’s a trap they can’t see/don’t have a chance of detecting or a BLATANT roll by the DM, abstracted. Both are equally bad. If you roll a save you detect a strong odor. How about instead the DM somehow mentions an odor that, if followed up on, is chlorine? Interactivity vs arbitrary.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of … $0! The preview is five pages and shows you most of the rooms, so good preview from that standpoint. Note the writing style and in particular the disconnect between the map and the text. 


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Voice in the Machine

Sat, 01/25/2020 - 12:07
By Will Doyle Self Published 5e Level 2

The brokers of Salvation pay good coin for artifacts scavenged from the haunted battlefields of the Mournland. In this nest of cutthroats, daring explorers gather to carve their destinies from the ruins of Cyre. The adventurers head deep into the Mournland to rescue a missing salvage team. In the heat of battle, they unearth a strange device from the ruins: the Oracle of War. This machine knows all the secrets they need to overcome their enemies—if only the adventurers can figure out how to operate it!

This 32 page adventure has the party exploring an old marketplace to rescue another salvage crew. The big payoff, half the adventure, is a handwaved open tactics sandbox. Poorly implemented, as usual, and as usual, you can see where it WANTED to go and those ideas are quite good. I look forward to the day they actually deliver. If it ever comes.

Right off, let me say that this series as won me over to the Eberron setting. I don’t think I ever understood it before but now I see promise. A STALKER (or Stalker) like experience in a post-apoc setting. These are all things that speak to my soul. There’s been this little newspaper handout in each adventure thus far that has some colorful little things in it, adds for leaving your will to the war orphans, notes that the last group to explore was drown in a pool of living mercury … the whole series has these little things it drops in that adds a lot of brief color. It’s doing some other interesting things as well, like placing good effects from mournlands travel hazards in a table with bad effects also. I’m a big fan of mixing in good effects with bad ones on choices the players make: how else will they ever  be convinced to eat the glowing tree fruit if ALL glowing tree fruit fucks them up? It’s mis-implemented here, on a table of “what happens if you fail your survival check”, but, still, their hearts are in the right places.

Speaking of, the thing has a lot of ok ideas that are mis-implemented. It REALLY like to abstract descriptions. “In here, the town’s brokers do business from behind armored counters.” Well, that’s fucking boring. This was a perfect opportunity to describe a Thunderdome like weapons check, or something else, and instead it’s all “behind armoured counters.” B O R I N G. Because it’s an abstracted description. Specificity is the soul of narrative. Instead we get words wasted on “The Salvage Market is a dirt-floored warehouse built from scorched wood planks scavenged from the Mournland. The room reeks of dust, sweat, and oil.” Dirt floored? Great. Scorched wood? Great. Dust, sweat, oil? Great (I maybe would have thrown in “sweltering” also) “scavenged from the Mournland”? Who gives a fuck?Do they have twisted faces and scream? Otherwise who cares? Better to stick in a couple of more words and/ore rewrite the last sentence to describe someone behind an armoured counter. Now, I’m being pretty specific in this one example but the adventure does this abstraction over and over again. “Leaving Salvation, you’re soon swallowed by the fogbanks that encircle the ruined nation of Cyre.” I thought it had a bunch of faces that were screaming and buildings collapsing and other freaky deaky shit? “Fogbank” ain’t that. The writing does this over and over and over again, taking an idea that should be cool and then abstracting it to boring placeholder drivil. 

You travel eighty boring miles in to find the other crew (proving once again why adventurers never have love interests, family, or friends: the DM will use them against you.) Once again THE FANTASTIC is reduced to boring. Once there you see a marketplace where the other crew was and you explore it. You find the crew, they are under siege by a raiding force … and then the raiders allies show up. The party is supposed to use the marketplace things they’ve found/been informed of against the LARGE raider force in order to escape with the other crew.

I have about ten thousand VERY valid critiques of this, the main part of the adventure. 

The map is linear. It’s unclear if it’s buried or not? Or what the roof situation is? This is important because the party will face a VERY large number of raiders and be given advice on how to deal with them, using elements found in the marketplace. But how do you GET to those elements in a linear map? And who the fuck doesn’t use rooftops to travel when you can? What’s interesting is that the adventure DOES provide some DM guidance on several points, like using mending on a torn and faded map that is found. But on other topics, like the roof, and others, its as if there WAS no playtest feedback. How many raiders spill out when they all show up? A dozen? A hundred? This is an obvious question and is left for the DM to dig through to discover. If you have to take notes, or highlights, then the adventure was not written well.

A lookout hides in place and tries to get to their buddies if he sees the party … but there’s no way (linear, remember) for them to do this without the party seeing. An elf hologram has it’s “stuck in a loop” saying related as “stuck in a loop”, destroying the joy by summarizing a conclusion rather than letting the players do so. The marketplace encounters are all a little samey-samey, with animated brooms, animated armor, animated rugs, animated … you get the idea. (And, maintenance bots in the shape of brooms? Unless these are Mickey references I think you can do better than this. Or a fucking suit of armorfor that matter. THEME the monsters. Trashbots, use stats of animated broom, for example. Mannequin, as animated armor, for example. That’s what you’re being paid for, after all. To add color.) 

The last section of the adventure, where the massive raider force shows up, is terrible. It takes up, like a page of text, if you delete the unique magic item (that gives the party advice on how to use the marketplace.) No advice to the DM on how to run this part, which should take up half the time. The most complex part. Where are the raiders. What are they doing. How does the linear map and advice mesh together with the raiders. Where’s the fucking giant hole they smashed in to the wall?  The idea here, using the marketplace against the raiders, is a good one. The cat and mouse, the hidden goals of finding other missing scavengers, roaming raiders. It’s a classic trope. But instead the adventure is padded out with useless repetition and padded entries instead of helping the DM run the more complex part of it. 


This is $5 at DMSGuild. The preview is four pages. It is completely fucking worthless, showing you nothing of what you are buying. It’s all just Adventurers League padding. The preview needs to show us something of what we’re actually buying. An encounter, the encounter writing styles, etc.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Castle Xyntillan review

Wed, 01/22/2020 - 12:11
By Gabor Lux E.M.D.T. S&W Levels 1-6

The immense, rambling complex of Castle Xyntillan has stood in its mountain valley for many years. Built over several generations, it has now been deserted by its former owners, and left to time and the elements. However, that is not the end of the story, for Xyntillan’s fabulous treasures and Machiavellian deathtraps continue to fascinate the fortune-seekers of a dozen lands – and never mind the ghost stories!

Non. Fucking. Stop. Buy more. 

Buy more now. Buy more, and be happy.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree – – Legendary was the Xanadu where Kubla Khan decreed his stately pleasure dome. Today, almost as legendary is Florida’s Xyntillan, world’s largest private pleasure ground. Here, on the mountain valley, a private mountain was commissioned and successfully built. One hundred thousand trees, twenty thousand tons of marble are the ingredients of Xyntillan’s mountain. Contents of Xyntillan’s palace: paintings, pictures, statues, the very stones of many another palace. A collection of everything. So big it can never be catalogued or appraised. Enough for ten museums – the loot of the world. Xyntillan’s livestock: the fowl of the air, the fish of the sea, the beast of the field and jungle. Two of each, the biggest private zoo since Noah. Like the Pharaohs, Xyntillans’s landlords leaves many stones to mark his grave. Since the pyramids, Xyntillan is the costliest monument a man has built to himself…

This 132 page hardback adventure, an homage to Tegal, I don’t know know, fuck it, 350 rooms? In a castle, mansion, just like Tegal. Full of family members, paintings on the walls, a map reminiscent of Tegal … it shows what good writing and design actually ARE. Magnificent in its achievements, Charles Dexter Lux has created something very rare and wonderful. 

Sometimes publishers will respin a classic. They will rewrite Borderlands, or create new levels or caves or areas for it. They will update a classic adventure for fifth edition, or third, or whatever. I always look forward to these. And they all suck, disappointing me to no end. Inevitably the update is to add A LOT more words to existing entries and pad them out with trivia, what the butler ate for supper two weeks ago and the exhaustive contents of the kitchen cabinets. Maybe three paragraphs of tactics for some encounter. 

Xyntillan is not that. Xyntillan is the real deal. 

A respin of the Tegal Manor concept, it takes a sprawling manor home filled with the crazy Tegal/Amber family members that occupy it, as well as their paintings. Tegal fell in to the minimal keying side of the genre, just a step beyond “only a monster listing.” Xyntillan takes inspiration from Tegal and then expands the text to EXACTLY THE RIGHT AMOUNT. Both have a certain OD&D charm to the encounters, with Tegal being so because of the minimalism and Xyntillan having it because Melan understands adventure design and his soul evidently not (yet?) having been crushed by modern life. 

The encounters are reminiscent of Tegal, but not one for one respins. Tegal has a room where a screaming woman runs across a room every four turns. That’s the extent of the entry. Xyntillan has a room where a screaming mortally wounded woman in white runs across the room (33% chance), stumbling before she reaches the NW corner. And this is after a two sentence description of the potting room. And before a few sentences describing what happens when you dig in the NW corner. Evocative of, but expanded to the correct degree.

Expanded to the correct degree? Indeed. We’re looking for an encounter description that inspires the DM, the implants a seed idea in their head that will grow and allow the DM to fully visualize the room and riff on it as they describe and run it for their players. Writing that inspires the DM to greatness. And, writing that does it in a split second. And I mean a second. The DM glances down at the page, takes a second to read the entry, look up and runs the room. A second. Maybe two. The DM’s job is not reading the adventure at the table, it’s interacting with the players. The DM glances at and scans a room entry and then runs it. While the players are fumbling about with that to do, etc, the DM is glancing/scanning a bit more, in another couple of seconds. Not minutes. Not 30 seconds. A few, less than five or so. (I should time this one day …) So the job of the text is to give the DM the mental picture that inspires them to run a magnificent encounter and to do it in mere seconds. Evocative and terse, is generally the technique. 

And Gabor Lux does it magnificently. The text is the correct length. You get the overview of the room. Then you get indents and bullets to highlight important aspects of the room that the players may follow up on. The rooms have titles to orient the DM. Monster stats are brief and at the end of the room for easy reference during play, almost Ready Ref sheet style. (Although, perhaps not quite as stark as the Ref sheets, thankfully.) It’s cross-referenced, so if there’s a quest, or an object of a quest, for example, it tells you where to find more information. Bolding is used appropriately to highlight important features and call the DM’s attention to them, sometimes with further follow up text again, indented, bulleted.) The text manages around eight or so entries to the page, with wide margins, with the generous formatting contributing immensely to usability by the DM at the table. 

Encounters are wonderful. Skeleton guardsmen sing and tall tall tales in their barracks. The kitchen knives fly at the party … once. Statues mock the party, or give them a level boost. An unseen hand stays a killing blow, if the party restores a statue. A body buried under a gazebo on a small hill in the center of a pond. A horseshoe in the stables that, if found, gives you a good luck effect. These are things you fucking expect to happen, which make them wonderful. A horseshoe giving luck? Of course it does! That’s what SHOULD happen when you find a horseshoe. Of course the skeleton guardsmen sing and boast. Of course there are phantom steeds in the stables. Duh? WTF? Aren’t we playing D&D? Of course the iron stove in the kitchen closes, biting you in half, if you look inside. It makes PERFECT sense. Tropes are good for a reason and when done right they really shine, acting as cultural clues to the metagaming player. Which is exactly what the fuck they should be doing in order to stay alive in this place. 

Oh, what else? The wanderers are easy to find, in the back of the book. The little town presented as a home base has EXACTLY enough detail to fulfill its purpose. It’s a home base to make forays from. It details a couple of bars, etc to recruit henchmen and stay at to recover. A cleric to heal. Some secret police. Wait, what?! Yes, a couple of subplots in the town. But no more! It concentrates on the details and flavour that are useful IN PLAY. And only the important stuff that inspires, not boring old lists of prices, etc., or Yet Another Description Of a Jovial Barman. The maps are great, Conley does a great job of making something reminiscent of Tegal but much more useful, with little side notes on the maps about webs in the hallways, lighting, sound, refuse on the floors, etc. A perfect tool to assist in both usability and creating an evocative environment. Treasure is magnificent. Ocacular brains in jars, unique magic swords. A whole host of things both mundane and magic to keep the party busy and for them to leverage. Notes on how the family in the castle react to intruders. It’s all great. And presented in pretty much the perfect amount of detail. And monsters? How about “The Blind Beast of Xyntillian.” That’s fucking right! No generic-o “animated statue” crap in this adventure! I got a name baby! New rules./clarifications are present for morale, hiring, fleeing the dungeon … things very pertinent to actual play. It’s perfect.

There’s an occasional miss. Every once in awhile there’s a bit of information that you wish were present. The most notable, for me, is the roof/window/vista-view situation. Only a sucker goes in through the door. A couple of words on the exterior entrance situation, and overview if you would, would have been nice. And, also, a little description of Xyntillian when seen from approach. This is clearly a tie in to the roof/window/door commentary, giving the party notable landmarks to seek out (a dome, etc) and/or holes to poke their heads in to. “Where are the doors?” the party asks. One can intuit a great deal from the maps, especially major border landmarks like doors and side towers, but the dome, interior towers and courtyards are less clear without intense study … the kind I don’t like to do during play. 

But, magnificent! Ye Olde Kente once said that Thracia was the only adventure you ever needed. He was, I think, correct, at least in general. This however IS the only adventure you ever need. You could run a party through this for YEARS, with more than enough information present to riff on. A perfect OD&D product, with whimsy and wonder without going off in to Funhouse territory. I got this last night, stayed up all night reading and re-reading, write this the next morning, and will be adding it to my “No Prep” Dungeonland game tonight. 

This is good. 

This is available at his storefront: for $40 for a Print+PDF copy. $40 is a FUCKING STEAL! G1, at 8 pages, would be $20 in todays cash. $40 for this this is a BARGAIN! But it also costs $22 to ship to the US so, even at $62 it’s a bargain. (Mother fuck! Seriously? $22 to ship it? I don’t doubt this is the actual cost; my own experiences with international shipping have been price gougy also. You can ship a boatload, literally, of stuff from Asia to the US for nothing but the worldwide national post office conspiracy bends you the fuck over and makes you take it!) 

There’s a sample layout on MEGA, if you want a preview: https://mega.nz/#!dwIkXYiJ!4lZA2ar0h5RhKM7n7Z9U0ACJqPkJStmF0wnCB7U8HYQ

But why not go ahead and just buy it? Because you hate quality? Seriously? You’re on the fence about one of the five best adventures ever written? Why, because it’s $60, shipped? I’ve had lunch for one that is more than $60. It’s not worth a lunch to you? Really?


Gabor Lux also has some philosophical statements about adventuring and how they apply to Xyntillan on his blog. They are useful to understand the concepts behind Xyntillan.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Solar Sanctuary of the Cannibal Corpse

Mon, 01/20/2020 - 12:11
By R.J. Thompson Appendix N Entertainment OSE Levels 1-3

The plague year has been harsh. Countless victims have fallen to this terrible disease. Many commoners with no knowledge of healing have been called to assist the healers as plague doctors, checking on victims and clearing the dead bodies. Yet in this dark time, darker rumors have emerged. In the north country, it is said that those who die of the plague are rising from the grave! Worse, these undead have a taste for human flesh, and seem to spread the disease to those who survive their attacks. Many believe that this new evil marks the place where the plague originated. Do you dare to solve this mystery by entering the Solar Sanctuary of the Cannibal Corpse?

This 44 page adventures features a 23 room dungeon described in twelve pages. It features a Vampire for your Level 1’s to destroy, because nothing means anything anymore. And you get to Save or Die all the time. And it’s full of padding. And is mostly a hack. And is mostly devoid of flavour. And there has to be something better than this as we search for meaning in a world devoid of it. 

Ok, here we go: Village. Bubonic plague. Zombie infestation. Ruined temple nearby. Vampire in it that created the plague. You got the makings of something mighty fine in there! Alas, tis not to be. There’s no real pretext here, you’re in the village, determining that it’s the center of the plague that’s festering in the kingdom. Plus, it seems to have mutated here, creating zombies from the plague victims when they die. It seems, though, to still be a fully functioning village. Any hint of  flavour or local color from it being a plague village or the victim of cannibal zombie attacks is not present at all. It’s just a village. For some reason you to go the ruined temple two hours from town. I’ve looked things over several times and I can’t seem to figure out why the party would learn about or go there. A couple of people know about it, but it’s not clear that they think the plagues comes from there. There’s a rumor or two on the table, but again, not really connected. Just something like “there’s a ruined temple nearby,” In game terms this is probably ok. Like, sledgehammer to the head ok. I mean, everyone knows that’s where to go, but, still, it’s nice to have a pretext for suspension of disbelief. I mean, we could just roll a d6, on a 1-5 you win the adventure and on a 6 you roll again. No, don’t like that? Then perhaps just a few more threads to follow up on in the adventure, please? 

The journey to the temple takes two hours, which of course means two pages for a wandering monster table. For serious? For a 2 hour walk? I get it, they are a staple of adventures, but this seems more like a “just a have an encounter” opportunity. Anyway.

Did I mention the village entries? They are at least 80% worthless trivia. Entry 1, the Stable, tells us a stable boy runs it and then spends multiple paragraphs telling us about the former stable operator and how he is now found in the temple and working for the vampire.  The entries are full of this trivia, hiding the real information that they know about the vampire, the temple, etc. There is the opportunity, though, to acquire a chicken lazer rifle. I kid not. An oracular rooster that shoots sunlight from it’s eyeballs once a day, former rooster of the temple of Helios. It’s dumb as all fuck and I love it! 

Let’s talk plague! Getting bitten by a zombie requires a save or die or you get the plague. Walking through a miasma cloud requires the same. Getting the bubonic plague means you die in 12d6 hours and rise as a zombie. This seems a bit rough to me. Deadly, for sure, and perhaps in a high level adventure I’d be ok with it. But sweet Vecna, you have to give the suckers an even break or they don’t come back to play anymore! 

Ok, so, vampire in the ruined temple. 7HD, full on no joke vampire. Don’t worry, there’s a magic sword called Lightbringer, that’s also in there! It can create Light three times a day. It also has the Undead Bane ability that is described as “acts as a normal sword against all living foes.” Well, yes, that’s what all swords do, right? And Light doesn’t impact vampires … it’s Sunlight … or am I wrong in OSE? Whatever, fuck it, there’s no time for that anyway, you have to roll a d6 every turn to see where the vampire mvoes to in the dungeon. EVERY. TURN. I have a hard time remembering to roll wandering monsters, and I have a turn tracker to help me …

The writing is ineffective and padded out. “4. Stable Boy’s Quarters: !is simple room contains a small foot locker, a rope bed and a chamber pot. Anything of value is long since gone.”

No, not good enough? How about: “7. Commander’s Quarters: These were the quarters of Commander Auron, who now resides in area 22. !e room contains a bed, a desk, a footlocker and a #replace on the northern wall. There is nothing useful to be found in the room, save a …” All of that text to tell us nothing at all. Joy. 

Monsters are, of course, listed in the appendix. Yeah! And they have both too little and too much formatting. Bolding abounds, making it quite difficult to look up the different monster entries. Plus, they run over several pages, with little effort to do a proper layout. Guy Fullerton has a series of excellent articles on adventure layout from his blog that are worth reading on this subject. 

It does have mobs of floating heads that attack you, so, that’s pretty cool. And the core concept? Great as well. It’s just the wrong level, has no detail to speak of to bring the place to life, has too much padding text and too much trivia embedded in it.

Save yourself. Take up knitting. Or write down the numbers of passing trains. There will be more joy.

This is $6 at DriveThru. There’s no preview because, why would there be?


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) The Color of Chaos

Sat, 01/18/2020 - 12:17
By Spencer Crittenden Self-Published 5e Level 2

What power lies behind the mischievous colored constructs marauding the Prang Manor? Find out in this colorful and unique single session adventure module that can be run on its own or added to an ongoing campaign! 

This 28 page adventure takes place in a thirteen room manor home. Two-dimensional crayon monsters are attacking people, traced back to the manor. Decent organization and descriptions are high points, while the tone is going to be the hardest thing to overcome. 

So, right off the bat we have this statement in the adventure from the designer: “… Is meant to bring some light fun without completely upturning the fantasy and suspended disbelief of D&D.” And that is the core issue of the adventure. The adventure revolves around a 2 year old kid who has found some magic crayons. Thus we get scribble monsters in crayon, two-dimensional, and other challenges like drawn gold coins, colored in doorways, crayon-drawn watermelon bombs and the like. Your ability to enjoy this adventure is going to directly relate to your ability to handle those elements and handle something on the silly side on your D&D game. This is too much for me, but maybe you’re different. I will note, however, that the adventure description on DM’s Guild could be more up front on these points. As in: it does not mention them in any way, shape or form. Expectations are everything and if you go in expecting a “normal” adventure only to find this silly one, well, you’re not likely to be a happy consumer. This, ultimately, was the problem with the Great Betrayer: WG7. 

Beyond two-dimensional crayon-monsters drawn by a two year old, there is also the “magical world” tone. The kids parents are stuffy pants arts lovers who ignore and pamper him and have a set of Nystuls Magical Crayons in the attic. (Hmmm, found, perhaps, in the still yet to be delivered Infinite Dungeon … not written by Mike?) There is a Wand of Scrubbing hanging in the kitchen that refreshes three charges a day and is kind of like a magic eraser. Sovereign Glue. EVerything oriented around this kind of setting where magic is common and you use +! Toothpicks at dinner that are then thrown away down your Sphere of Annihilation garbage disposal. Again, another niche setting to contend with. 

Many things I normally take issue with in an adventure are NOT present. Information NPC’s can relate to the party is given in bullet point format, making it easy to find and relate. Monsters have an emphasis on their descriptions, and the descriptions that matter to the party, instead of backstories that will not come up during play. Encounters are well constructed with several elements. One room has statues in it and short rules for shoving them over … and monsters behind them to shove them over on the characters. The manor home gets a short little overview, something for the DM to relate to the party to give them a glimpse of the manor “as a whole” to get them oriented to it and where they should begin investigations. This is a kind of “I’m standing on a hill looking down on a manor, what do I see?” sort of thing that more adventures could do more with. Rooms have hints in descriptions, with one standing out as having black cracks in the walls … which of course have some kind of trap in them. 

There’s also a decent progression in room descriptions, from a general overview for the DM to bolded sections that expand on the information given. THis is a good organization technique, putting what the DM needs first in the first section of txt and making it easy to find follow-up information.

Treasure is pretty good, from the magic crayons (The entire box of which may be overpowered for level two’s) to a magic stirring ladle to a masterwork greatsword with an adamantium hilt like an orchid. There’s an emphasis on the non-standard, on descriptions of effects (like the ladle) instead of mechanics, and in making mundane items, to be looted, in to something that the party may actually keep instead of just selling. Not the best implementation but definitely better than most adventures. 

Interactivity tends to combat and a couple of puzzle/riddles. That could be better, although the encounters are decent and layered. The first is with a candyman who is trying to run away with a gnome merchant. He has some buddies. He can throw a watermelon bomb. Appearing out of the bomb is a tiny man holding a knife and flintlock pistol. When’s the last time an adventure encounter had that many layers? 

There’s also some other issues, beyond tone. Some of the background imagery in the PDF is yellow, which makes the text hard to read. There’s also a time or two where things are missing from the general room overviews. A monster here and in one place the parlor furnishings and and an old chest that comes from out of nowhere. So, a lack of consistency, but these seem like infrequent mistakes, more akin to typos than a fundamental lack of understanding in how to write an adventure. Some of the read-alouds get long and the DM text DOES get long in places. Manageable, though, because so much of it can be ignored, and, as I said, the progression from general to specific and bolding helps organize it.

There’s a reason for this. Spencer, the designer, has a following. I know him from the animated HarmonQuest Tv series, but I take it there was a progenitor series as well, maybe podcasts or youtubes or something? You can think of these as Actual Plays, in the vein of the others like Critical Role, etc. Thus he is bringing to the market a whole slew of people who genuinely have NOT played before and ARE noobs. I’m a bit more tolerant in this situation of text aimed at a new DM, much more so than an esoteric OSR title that will not be seen beyond a few diehards. Still, there are better ways to accomplish the goal of orienting completely new players/DM’s while retaining a format that is easy for them to run. No one needs to be told, on something like eight separate occasions, that the kids parents are wealthy dilettante aristo’s. 

Spencer has one title to his name: this one. Either he is the greatest natural adventure writer ever born or there is an uncredited editor attached. And even if that’s so it’s much better than I would expect even WITH an editor attached. The tonal issue and the longish text put this on the edge of No Regerts. But … if you were looking for a light-hearted one-shot? Absolutely, I’d run this. 

This is $6 at DMsGuild. The preview is six pages. It shows you the bullet point NPC data overviews, the intro read-aloud that I think is a bit long, the longish DM’s text, and the first encounter with the candyman and the watermelon bomb, etc, a couple of room entries, including the statue encounter, and some art that is evocative of the monsters encountered. As such it’s a GREAT preview in that it shows you EXACTLY what to expect from your purchase. More designers/publishers could follow Spencer’s lead.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

It’s Gnoll Time!

Wed, 01/15/2020 - 12:17
by Megan Irving Self Published For every game system ever Level ?

Deep in the forest is a village that has been destroyed by gnolls. Gnolls are corrupted hyena monsters that crave innocent flesh. They eat anyone in their way and spread across the land like a plague, corrupting more hyenas and creating more gnolls as they go. The only way to stop them is to track them down and kill them all. This is your quest.

This twenty page adventure, in zine digest format, details a forest region plagued by a gnoll war band. It has some interesting writing and items and is trying to be a kind of loose framework for an adventure. Alas it was a little too unstructured for me to figure out … which was exacerbated by the issue I had figuring out the order the pages were supposed to be in(!)

Let’s imagine a forest. There’s a smoking ruin of a village in the middle of it. There are locations in the forest (maybe?) and some NPC’s to run in to. Thus the adventure is intended to be a a kind of investigation in to the ruined village (I guess?) and a then some travel in the forest meeting people and, eventually, dealing with the gnolls.

Each page of the digest represents one “idea”/location/NPC. There’s a short little intro text, that reads like read-aloud (IN FUCKING ITALICS! DON”T USE FUCKIGN ITALICS FOR LONG BLOCKS OF FUCKING TEXT! IT”S FUCKING HARD TO READ!) There are short and evocative little snippets of text that introduce the place/person to the party. A stench of rotting flesh. Rattling bones, teeth clattering, or a stretched humanoid form made of shadows with a strange rune on its forehead, drifting between trees and strange obelisks … not bad little snippets of text for introducing something new to the players, two or three sentences, full of flavour. What follows is a little background, goals, etc, some “fronts” (more on that later) and then some notes, like where to find them, how to use them, etc.

There’s a random treasure table, with no real treasure set. A magic cloak: the wearer isn’t easily noticeable even when they should stick out like a sore thumb. A golden tiara, might be magical, or just extremely valuable. Someone’s definitely looking for it.  A magical bow and arrow that fire arrows of pure darkness that can punch through anything, but can only be fired on a moonless night. That’s some fucking PHAT L00T! The magic retains its wonder. 

The NPC’s have goals. The “fronts” for various entries appear to be a kind of timeline of events for them, a progression as they further their own goals while the party is fucking about.

At this point things start to break down.

I will admit that I had a hard time comprehending this adventure. It’s a zine thing where you can print if out and fold it to make a booklet, or read the other version provided on the screen. The screen read seemed … like the pages were out of order? And then the zone, when printed, came out backwards and, again, seemed like the pages were out of order? So, heads up, I dug through it but, ultimately, I’ve decided that my confusion is in some part to the type of product being presented. 

The designers is, I think, trying to do something relatively new. A zine, one page per concept, a kind of framework of an adventure, open ended with the DM to bring themselves but enough structure to provide the grounding needed. That is, I think, the intent. Unrealized.

You can see some of this “looseness” of the framework in the description of that tiera: someone is looking for it. SOMEONE. Likewise the looseness of the loot proper, not given per location but on its own table to fill in the encounters with as they see fit. Further, the random encounters are “a peaceful and beautiful place to rest” or “a feral and aggressive animal that can be calmed and healed with love and kindness.” While these two tables are the extreme, there’s also a kind of looseness, as exemplified by the tables, present in most other areas. Down to the map which is more of a conceptual map, disguised as a real one. In isolation I’m ok with all of these. A conceptual map can be ok. Ideas to sprinkle in the adventure are ok. A little looseness is ok. But when EVERY element is this loose, and combine it with a kind of looseness in the layout/organization of the book itself (which may be my own lack of ability to understand it) then I’m just a confused mess. I can’t figure out how/why/where the graveyard is, in relation to other things, where the gnolls are, where the scavengers are, where the NPC’s are, or anything else. Of everything presented in the adventure the only thing I can truly understand is “The Village” the first/center location, and even then I don’t really understand how it is supposed to work. And the “fronts” that are advancing with time? Either the adventure is too short or there are too many or the wanderer chart is too small or … I don’t know. I get the IDEA but I think it’s implemented in a manner that I might call “unrefined” if I were being generous.It doesn’t work.

And that’s is, essentially, my summary of the adventure as a whole. It’ doesn’t work. I can’t really figure out how its supposed to work. (And after 2000+ reviews I’d like to think I have some comprehension in that area …) Mechanical issues with the layout/printing. The front issue. The kind of aggressive abstraction of conceptual encounters and items … would it hurt to say WHO is after the tiera? That would add color. Or the creature that needs love? Why the emphasis on the conceptual instead of the concrete?

I think I can understand what Megan is going after here. And I think I can see the promise in the concept. And the evocative writing and treasure is good. I think it just needs to be a bit more grounded. More specificity. If I understand the intent correctly then I think the goals can still be accomplished while being more specific in wanderers, magic, encounters … maos. EVerything more … comprehensible, without resorting to something like a more traditional format. I look forward to seeing how this format progresses in the future. And “I look forward to …” are not words I write often. It’s interesting as a design idea and needs some further refinement, if I understand what’s being attempted.

This is $5 on DriveThru. There’s no preview. Ouch! Put in a preview, please? And there’s no level given. And it’s listed for every system under the sun from 0e to 5e, include 4e. This is another clue to that … abstracted framework thingy that is being aimed at.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Dungeon of Kursh Velgont

Mon, 01/13/2020 - 12:24
By Jonathan Hicks Farsight Games S&W No Level Given. Shame on you!

You and your friends are about to embark on a dangerous yet rewarding adventure into the floating dungeons of Kursh Velgont, a powerful but long-dead wizard. The magical dungeons of the wizard have risen from the ground and toppled the abandoned castle that it used to be part of. Right now it is drifting through the air towards Chalisan, and the undead denizens of the dungeon are falling from the rapidly collapsing hunk of earth and corridors and terrorising decent folk! How has the dungeon risen? What power keeps it aloft, and what damage will it do to the lands? The PCs have been commissioned to get into the floating prison and find out why this is happening, and to try and find a way to stop it before it reaches the town of Chalisan and the evil dead are deposited upon it!

This sixteen page adventure, details a seventeen room dungeon that if floating through the sky, dropping undead and dirt and stuff from it as it floats towards a major town. It’s a conversion from Advanced Fighting Fantasy and shows it. A few neato lines of descriptions are scattered throughout, but that can’t stop the disco: long italics read-aloud, and bad design.

How shall I rail against thee? Let me count the ways … 

This is a conversion from AFF. It shows. This is where I now go on and on about the unique flavour in a game system and how most conversions don’t capture that. Let us take a game like Polaris: Chivalric Tragedy at Utmost North. (AKA: The Harry Clark game containing no Harry Clark.) Sad tragedy marked by failure and people saying “but though are but a warrior …” to fail you. Now, let’s take G1/Steading and stat convert it to Polaris. Is it a Polaris adventure? What if I don’t convert it AT ALL and just call G1 a Polaris adventure? What if G1 had no stats, could I call it a Polaris adventure? What if I took an adventure for a game like Polaris or Lacuna, something with esoteric targeted rules and just said “Yeah, It’s an OSR adventure now” … a game whose entire concept was based around player ingenuity, no forced combats, gold giving you XP. That’s what this is. The designer has little understanding of what makes a D&D adventure and has just stat converted the thing from AFF to S&W. The big loot at the end is 200gp in gems. That’s great, right? Let’s see, split five ways … better to stay home and ambush people in the alley and take THEIR stuff for xp. Being a hero don’t pay, at least in XP. And then there are other things, like falling damage. You can fall from the floating dungeon. You take a d6 damage, even though its very high up. Is that how falling damage works in S&W? I don’t think so. Or, maybe, “high up” means 10 feet from the ground?

Nevermind the abstracted treasure in the form of “200gp in gems”. Nevermind that we’re not told how fucking far offt he ground the dungeon floats. A super basic quality. Something everyone wants to ask, I’m sure, as they approach it. “How long are the ropes hanging down from it? How long must we endure undead attacks while we climb?” Or even “how fast is it travelling?” since that’s a main theme of the adventure. Nope, none of that. It’s all fucking abstracted. No brave little tailors here. Look, yeah, I can make it up. But that’s not the point. It’s a pattern. It’s a basic lack of understanding of what to include and not include in an adventure.

What should NOT be included? How about column after column of read-aloud? And it’s in italics, making it super hard to read! And it’s full of bad fiction writing! 

“The lands are rife with danger, but there are plenty of rewards for adventurers willing to take the risks and face the evils that threaten to plunge the lands and lives of decent folk into darkness. Most days pass by without incident and people go about their affairs peacefully, but some days are dangerous and can change lives forever.Today is one of those dangerous days.”

Uh huh. That’s the read-aloud?

It goes on and on with the read-aloud. “Which way do you venture?” the read-aloud tells us. Uh huh. Priorities misplaced. And none of that fucking “its for beginners” shit. We don’t fucking pander. Besides, thats just justifying bad writing, there are better ways to present to n00bs. 

So, mountains of read-aloud. Including a big bad monologue. Joy. A room description of a hallway junction that takes a quarter page .. for nothing more than a hallway junction. 

And then there’s just bad design. There’s enforced morality “no matter how many foes the players defeat they should not receive any XP.” No, that’s not how D&D works. That’s how bullshit enforced morality works. “Once you defeat the monster you notice the large key on its belt.” No, that’s bad design. By making the party notice the key in the outset you make it a temptation. The point becomes getting the key rather than just engaging in another fight, which is how it’s written. AFF or no, a fight for the sake of a fight is bad design. “Don’t be too hard on them this early in the adventure, just have one or two skeletons per player attack the party.” No, that’s not how things work. Again, combat for the sake of combat and an ATTEMPT to have a dramatic moment. Those enforced moments SUCK BALLS. Better are the moments that come from the players own attempts. That’s what you’re writing for. 

The writing is muddled, with various elements all knotted up in the same paragraphs making it hard to find information. It’s conversations “don’t tell the players, but in 6 rounds a numbers of skeletons will come to investigate.”

What’s sad here is that there’s some good imagery. Buried in a column of read-aloud is, in the opener., a woman riding up frantically yelling “Have you seen it?! Have you seen the dungeon?!” That’s a good opened. The lower parts of the ropes leading up to the floating dungeon are slick with blood. Skeleton heads have an inner green glow. There are bloody handprints on doors. That’s all greta. It’s just too little, too far in between, and buried under mountains of useless text and bad design.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages. You don’t get any dungeon rooms, which is bad, but the last two pages DO show you almost two full pages of read-aloud. That’s a pretty good indication of whats to come. Also, THERE’S NO FUCKING LEVEL RANGE GIVEN. *sigh*


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) DDAL-EB-01 The Night Land

Sat, 01/11/2020 - 12:17
By Shawn Merwin Self-published 5e Level 1

The brokers of Salvation pay good coin for artifacts scavenged from the haunted battlefields of the Mournland. In this nest of cutthroats, daring explorers gather to carve their destinies from the ruins of Cyre. They’ll need all the help they can get: it’s no secret that most scavengers don’t survive their first expedition in the Gray.

This 29 page adventure is a collection of three short “one encounter” adventures in sixteen pages. Set in a kind of post-apocalyptic “Bartertown”/salvage-town bordertown, it has you making trips in to a Forbidden Zone to do short missions. Nice concepts with the whole thing, but the actual implementation is boring. There’s little continuity and the “creative” part of evocative writing is missing.

Ok, so, evidently I’m an asshole. All this time I’ve thought of Eberron as a techno- fantasy setting, kind of RenFaire stuff, which has absolutely no appeal to me at all.  Magic railroads and Sphere of Annihilation toilets and the like. But this adventure seems to imply NOT. This is a kind of post-apocalyptic people living in Bartertown kind of vibe going on, or tries to anyway. A less gonzo Rifts or a Gamma World with some magic tossed in? Fuck yeah I’m in! Maybe it’s just this setting and I’ll gouge my eyes out later when magic Zeppelin races appear. Anyway, there’s this underlying vibe of a barely there town and people salvaging things from The Forbidden Zone.

A cloud bank straight out Fury Road, a little ways off from town. Screaming faces and buildings collapsing sometimes appear in the fog. Fuck Yeah! That’s what I want to see! Talk about a transition to the mythic underworld! The description for the threshold is pretty good and gives this great sense of impending danger and YOU ARE ELSEWHERE NOW. The whole town vibe is enhanced by a little newspaper handout with some decently Orwellian writing that again adds to the mood. “Remember: Sheriff is watching. So keep your troubles outside the outpost.” Orwellian inside but a free for all outside! I’m in! And the newspaper announcing 70% of people who go in don’t come back out? Uh huh uh huh. I’m in LUUUUUUV.

Substantial information is conveyed through bullets, with what you can learn from NPC’s being the primary usage of them. Bolding and section headings, indents and a summary table are all present. And, there’s job board handouts in addition to the newspaper. Very nice. And there’s this little NPC, the leader of a fellow salvage gang, with a great little table of how they know you/how you’re connected to you. “Saved from kneecapping” and the like; the table is full of flavour!

And the entire fucking thing is actually implemented lame as all fuck. 

That NPC reference table? Full of the wrong things. Instead of it being a table that helps you run the NPC’s it’s more a writers reference. “Chaotic Good Human Female Artificer.” Great. How about quirks? Goals? A train? Something to help me actually run the NPC? No. For that you need to reference the text and hope that the designer put in a little offset box for that NPC. The table is ineffectual for its intended purpose.

The three “missions” come from the job board in a tavern. There’s really nothing tying the three together at all … which may be ok, I think, if it’s serving as an introduction to the town and the salvage lifestyle. But then THAT becomes the theming and tie to hold them together, and it’s just not there. It feels like three changes of scenery rather than “my life as a salvage worker on the edge.” And that salvage board … a centerpiece of the adventure and the entire town built around salvage? A boring ass bulletin board in a tavern. No mementoes or shrines to the fallen salvagers, no rituals, nothing. This was a SUBSTANTIAL miss in adding to the “Salvage Life 4EVAR” thing that should be going on in this adventure.

Most of the writing it boring. A ghost train comes across as boring. The writing is just not evocative at all. Now, we should all know by now that I’m NOT looking for a lot of text, but I expect the text that IS present it be interesting and describe the scene/thing in a way that makes it comes alive. “The air around you suddenly fills with cracking, ringing noises. Some of the larger black glass shards twitch and fragment, reforming into lizard- like beasts with maws of razor-sharp glass teeth.” B O R I N G. Nice idea, ozone, crackling, maws of obsidian glass … but a “lizard like creature” is boring, as is anything with the fucking word “Suddenly.” This is poor writing. 

More than that though .. The Mournland, inside the fog cloud, is boring. The fog is a barrier. No dust storms. No 70% death rate. No littered landscape. Just more featureless plains. And no wanderers. No hint of danger. I was excited for this shit! “In the morning of the second day of travel …” It’s not even the slow burn of Stalker or Annihilation. Just nothing. No text to speak of and what there is “decrepit wood buildings.”  The whole place comes off as dumb and boring. Just Another Shitty Lame Ass Boring Generic D&D Setting. Go somewhere, have an encounter, mission over.

It tries. With that Mournland text. With a sculpture made out of corpses. But it fails. It feels thrown together and as if not much work in to it beyond a draft. Repetition of text, and not in a Salome way but in a Didn’t Think About It way. Some read-aloud gets long. There’s a section in the beginning, in which bar patrons gets hushed when an old salvager gets on top of a table to speak … a load of nonsense. I’d guess it has to do with the overall plot that will eventually show up in these, but it telegraphed HORRIBLY. Everyone should recognize “yeah, this is the evil cult thing we’ll eventually have to stop,” and, at the same time, it would have been MUCH more effective if introduced as a part of one of the other missions (NO! NOT A FUCKIGN DIARY!) or somehow his exposition had an impact. The hushed voices of the rowdy scavvers? Great! Just anti-climactic as fuck. “Oh, it’s a fucking monologue. Great.”

Missed opportunities include a little construct Dog, which should have been called Timmy, or had a Timmy/well codeword/connotation/theming. And a goblin turned to stone with a ghost train hurtling down on her NEEDS to be her caught in the train tracks. No, I don’t know how it works … that’s the designers job. But fuck me if rescuing people from train tracks isn’t iconic.

And then again that scene shows the problems. The train arrives in five rounds to crush the little girl. How far away are you? Who the fuck knows, we’re never told. And this sort of Missing Information thing, critical information for a scene, is not  uncommon. The overall impact is that the 70% of people who die in the Mournlands do so of boredom. 

It’s so full of promise, you can see it in the edge. But the actual implementation, the writing, the “now the D&D encounter starts” format … it’s kills the thing. It should be enhancing that half-glimped themes and vibes. I’m not sure I’d tout my MFA in Creative Writing if I turned this out.

This is $5 at DmsGuild. The preview is four pages. The last page actually has something for you to look at. You can see a long/useless read-aloud for the tavern and then the little gnomes speech … that has no impact on the adventure. Bad preview. 


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Anthropophagi of Xambaala

Wed, 01/08/2020 - 12:11
By Corey Walden North Wind Adventures AS&SH Levels 1-3

Furtive and odious tales circle through various Hyperborean ports of call. Rumours whisper of an ancient occult city, Xambaala, clinging to the edge of the Zakath Desert. Perhaps the hideous horrors said to assail the city in the darkest hours are exaggerated. Maybe too another explanation can be found for the foreigners who are said to have disappeared to some uncanny fate. But the whispering tongues also hint that gold glints in the shadows of Xambaala, ready to be taken by the bold.

This sixty page adventure details a desert trading city in about twenty pages, a couple of desert locales, and then a seventy-ish room three-level dungeon full of cannibals and snake-men. The primary adventure locale, the three level dungeon, is fairly interesting if a little heavy on the hack & trap side of the interactivity spectrum. While the writing is better than most North Wind adventures it is still burdened by the cramped layout and phrasing that plagues almost all of them. Do you like to READ adventures? Buy this.

It is pure speculation, but I suspect that the hand of Talanian and his editors are HEAVILY involved in the writing of these adventures. So many of them show the same issues that it’s hard to believe that the designers are all engaging in the same ponderous habits. As such the review becomes as much about the production style of North Wind as it does about what the designer has produced. How much is their work and how much is corruption by the snake-men?

What’s the purpose of an adventure? Is it to run a game at the table? That’s my take on them. And therefore I expect the adventure to facilitate that. But it is certainly the case that others, Paizo most notably, have deduced that most adventures purchased are never run. People buy them and read them and that’s the enjoyment they obtain. And thus the publisher is then working at a cross-purpose: to produce adventures that are enjoyable to read … and thus make money therein. They want to make money by writing something that appeals to the reader consumers. I want to have something to help me run it at the table. I guess it’s possible that the two are not mutually exclusive.Like, maybe, a quantum event suddenly turning my keyboard to old platinum is a possibility.  Possible & probable: different definitions. 

And I don’t give a FUCK about the readers. And I especially don’t give a MOTHER FUCK about the publishers who are writing for the readers. Fuck. You. You’re not producing adventures. You’re producing some fan service bullshit. Further, you’re producition of these fucking things is dragging the entire fucking hobby down because you insist of labeling them “adventures.” They are not adventures. Adventures are written to be used at the table. “It COULD be used at the table” is not a viable response. At this point I think it’s safe to say that North Wind is producing adventures meant to be consumed by reading. 

The primary issues, as with ALL North Wind adventures, is the ponderous writing and the layout. The fonts are less legible but evocative of the pulp fiction novels of old. The margins are wide to allow border art … reducing the overall space for text. And the writing is ponderous. “The iron door has yielded to rust and the force of grave robbers.” That’s not technical writing meant to help the DM. That’s fiction writing. “In some areas the exterior plaster still retains its

original decorations of monsters, warlords, and illustrious merchants.” Again, more fiction writing. This is not a phrasing or word choice that enables the running of the adventure. The phrasing and word choice gets in the way. It’s ponderous. You don’t have to appeal to lowest common denominator. That’s not what this is about. You have to target the writing so that it’s easy for a DM to run. Making them fight through illustrious merchants and yielding to rust is not in service to that. That sort of writing is fiction writing. Technical writing, for D&D adventure, is in service, in these examples, of creating an image in the DM’s mind. Yielding to rust and Illustrious merchants doesn’t do that. And no, it’s not just those phrases. It’s the entire sentences. Which are just examples of the problems inherent to ALL of the writing in this adventure.

There ARE bullet point summaries at the start of each room. This DOES help somewhat. There is a style of writing in which general overview concepts, or the room, are introduced and as the players are mucking about deciding what to do, the DM is reading further ahead and/or the follow-up information helps expand on that general overview. The bullets in this adventure serve much the same purpose. They introduce room concepts quickly and then the DM gets to … wade through the ponderous text that follows, digging for more information. There are a lot of decent styles to choose from to help the DM, this is one, and it DOES help. It’s just dragged down by the “DM text” in the usual North Wind style. 

It’s a shame. The core of the adventure isn’t bad. Cannibal slaves  with sharp pointy teeth “Uh, Sir, I recommend that we examine the mouth of each slave and kill all of the ones with pointy teethe.” A cult, duped by snake men. A nice ruined palace to explore. Evil norse dwarves. A toad-woman. It’s all pretty good, in theory. Heavy on the combat, I think (especially for level 1’s)  and on the trap side of interactivity. Some of the treasure is ok: a magic bow very briefly described to be of laminated white wood, or ion stones that “Once the gunk has been cleaned away, the stones will slip out and begin floating around the head of the investigating

Character.” That’s decent imagery, a little wondrous, which is what magic should be.

I don’t know man. I’ve always WANTED to like AS&SH. There are promises made by the setting that are great. But the execution of them is SO bad. I don’t see how this is usable at the table in any way that I would find meaningful to run. (Which is to say: easy.) It’s SO disappointing. And it seems so avoidable. There seems to be such a devotion to the style guide, over usability, and that’s what is making me question the actual intent of North Wind: playability vs just producing things to read. There has got to be some middle ground in which North Wind can still evoke the style they are going for while enhancing playability rather than detracting from it. 

Also, first level my ass. This is a hard ass adventure.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages and shows you nothing of the adventure writing AT ALL. Just a map and the title pages. That’s a bad preview. For it’s faults, North Wind IS professional and I would expect a preview from them, on a $10 product, that actually shows us a few rooms and therefore the writing and content style of the adventure.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Warrens of Zagash

Mon, 01/06/2020 - 12:20
By Keith Sloan XRP OSRIC Levels 6-8

[…] A recently acquired treasure map points to an ancient dwarven tunnel complex. Could this be the place? Are these the dangerous halls that were once the home for a dwarven cult worshipping an entity they called the Earth Dragon?

This sixteen page adventure details a two level dungeon with about a hundred rooms. Themed to “evil dwarf cult” it comes across as stoic and stuffy. Writing is typical for XRP, being denser than it needs to be for whatever reasons. And treasure is generally boring old book stuff, although a dwarven ring of power is present. Weaker than Forgotten Grottoes of the Sea Lords.

Dwarf themed areas have some major hurdles to overcome. Given the stoic stereotype, an area trying to evoke a dwarf theme tends to come across stoic. Imagine, for example, exploring the one hundred room dungeon of the cult of nothing … which contains 99 rooms that are empty and dusty, each in their own way. Maybe the cult of nothing wasn’t a good choice for a dungeon, for while an excellent designer can evoke the cults asthetic it’s not wise to do so since it’s boring as all fuck. While that’s a hyperbolic example, the same issue exists in this adventure.

The chambers come across as empty. The creatures a mix of undead dwarves and “stone guardian” statues with a few others tossed in. A lot of empty rooms with dust. Geometric designs and feelings of uneasiness in a alot of/most temple rooms. So, yes, excellent ability to invoke evil stoic dwarf cult. Maybe not a good choice though. Another room with geometric designs. Hmmm. Another temple room where we feel uneasy. Hmmm.

Combine this with OSRIC being OSRIC. Another _2 dagger. Another potion of x, another +1 sword. Another boring old gold bowl worth x amount. It’s flat. It’s abstracted. It’s generic. Not vanilla. Generic. Is that really a design ethos to embrace? To be generic? Abstracted descriptions? 

This is then combined with the abstracted writing style. GREATER TOMB: This room is filled with 30 low biers each containing the long desiccated body of a dwarf, among the leaders of this cult.” Not exactly awe-inspiring or evocative. Just facts. And then the writing is muddled up with ineffective phrasing and techniques. There’s a lot of “What appears to be …” and “… but it is simply a painting”  (Another person needing Ray’s books on editing) Geometric carving after geometric carving. And I really mean “geometric carving.” That’s the text used. A little more theming would be in order. 

Speaking of. “Stone statue attacks” will be a common DM phrase. Other than that, there are some undead dwarves and just a small smattering of something else. This is the “tomb” problem. Tomb adventures require a tomb layout and some guardians that are, all, essentially the sam. Abandoned dwarf cult halls means some undead dwarves and stone statues and maybe a few vermin with little else. It’s hard to justify more in these circumstances … but the end goal is a fun adventure, right, not an accurate one? Only enough simulation to be in service of fun, not the end all be all?

I will say it’s nice to see a dwarf ring of power, good effects and bad effects both present. There’s also a nice wasting curse that, if you choose to die rather than submit to the god (who’s causing you worship him or else waste away) then you get to heal fully when you would die. That’s good design. Keith can design well, but the writing is flat and the setting boring, with to many stone statues and chilling room effects. Too much abstraction.

I shall also mention my new pet peeve: if you’re going to tell me about constant dungeon effects then it needs to go on the map, or someplace else that it’s always available to me. 

How much of this is Keith’s writing style is Keiths, How much is OSRIC-enforced genericism, How much is the selected locale, and How much is XRP’s style bringing to the table? Yes, it’s 100 room dungeon in the old style. Yes, it has a theme and executes it. But that doesn’t mean it was the right decision.

This is $14 at DriveThru. There’s no preview. Naughty Joe! Go stick in a preview! 


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Blacksmith’s Folly

Sat, 01/04/2020 - 12:11
By Brett Bloczynski Encoded Designs 5e Low levels

… With this hope Marion searched the dusty library in her home and found the long-forgotten diaries of Samuel. Marion learned that Samuel did indeed imprison a Lamplighter with the intention of forcing it to grant him a wish. Unfortunately, the final pages of the journal were blank, and Marion never learned if Samuel got his wish fulfilled. Grief-stricken Marion, however, is certain it happened. It must have happened. She would MAKE it happen… and her daughter would live again.

This twenty digest page city adventure is a short investigation in to a murder and a couple of combats along the way. Simple, but with some unexpected flavor, it does an ok job with a short one-night adventure format. A little more work on it and it could be a decent short little adventure. Also, remember, I like adventures. 

I was predisposed to not like this adventure. It’s got a project manager attached. And two art directors, and someone in charge of development. I see that and I think “ought oh!” Further, it’s about a woman trying to bring her kid back. That’s another warning sign: treating your D&D game with modern morality. What was the child mortality rate back then? Like 30%-50%, I think? Actually, that gives me an idea. People MOB the party for cash and raise dead. The entire campaign. Talk about high level world problems! Actually, that doesn’t sound like fun for more than a session or two. But, anyway, predisposed thanks to the marketing and the ilk to not like it.

But imagine my surprise! The woman “Once the work was done, Marion drugged Horace, chained him to his anvil, and cut off his hands while collecting his blood in a copper

bowl. Horace died as a result of this process.” Well no fucking shit he died! Brutal! That was unexpected! And then the city portion comes in to play “The Griffins were called and, after a hasty investigation, labeled the tragedy as a “robbery gone wrong.” WooHoo! Police procedural callback where they are all incompetent! God I love city adventures!

So, that got me interested in this adventure in a hurry …

In short, you’re at a wake for the dead smith. There are some people to talk to. You investigate his shop, find some clues, go to the womans house, and find her in the basement torturing a lamplighter to get a wish to bring her kid back to life. Along the way are some shadows to fight, attracted to the evil. (The lamplights are some kind of a Charon-like entity/group, I gather. No much info on them, I assume it’s in some setting book. A couple of words on adapting this adventure to a non-lamplighter world, or a bit more info would have useful for those of us blind buying without the setting book.)

The Lamplighter is weird and cool. It’s a mystery Charlie Brown! She’s torturing this THING for a wish. They are some kind of weird hive mind entity that lights the lamps I guess. But the imagery … There’s only one lamp lit on the characters street, in front of the smiths, with a lamplighter solo in front of it/under it. It talks in archaic form. At the end a bunch fo them gather in a circle around the building and take the woman away to deal with. Creepy fucking imagery! Good Job! And an excellent example of why less is more when it comes to mystery. Explaining things ruins the magic. 

The NPC’s in the tavern/wake are presented on pne page per, with personalities and quirks easily summarized at top and clue/info to relate in bullet form. This makes it pretty easy to run them. Likewise the clues in the two other locations (the smithy, womans house) and other important points are also bullet related. 

The shadows, a “normal” book monster, are handled … ok. A little creepy, but it could have been handled better with their sliding under doors, attacks, etc. There’s been a small attempt at more flavour, but more in this area would have really heightened the adventure. 

On the down side …

The location descriptions don’t work well. Yes, the clue data is done well, but the general descriptions, etc. are not done very well. I feel like this a formatting/[resentatin decision, since the floors of the buildings ares summarized. That might be an ok way to do it but I would suggest it wad not done very well. It’s not easy to scan at the table and relate. Somehow concentrating more on the environs and less on the commentary, while keeping the flavour, is needed.

A lot of information is also presented in italics. I like to beat this point to death, but let me try again: large sections of italics are not easy to read. More than a word or two is bad. You need to find another way. Shaded background, something, but don’t use italics for large sections of text: it’s hard to read and makes eyes tired. Some brief research indicates that this is a well known fact in the editing/typeface world. 

It’s also the case that the digest format is a little limiting in this case. One page per NPC in the tavern meet & greet is ok, but the ability to summarize them on a one page would have been even better. Digest is a fine format … but not for all adventures. If you need to REFERENCE things then digest can be challenging and requires some extra effort to help usability at the table.

Finally, and I can’t believe I’m saying this … some of the descriptions are not adequate and don’t have enough detail. Quick! Think of a forge! Because that’s the description of the Forge area of the blacksmiths shop. IE: it’s a forge. That’s about it. Now … how many of you thought about a quenching bucket/tub? I didn’t, and was surprised to find one in the text. Likewise the coals. Yes, in retrospect, once mentioned, they are obvious. But when the party first comes in and I describe it … I didn’t think of either and the text doesn’t mention it … the description overview is non-traditional and therefore leaves that out in it’s more “overview than description” format. Normally, I would suggest that a bedroom or kitchen doesn’t need a contents list. And that remains true. But if an element is a key point of an adventure then it should be mentioned. And both the tub and coals are key points in this. Key elements should be noted previously. 

But, hey, still a workable adventure and much  better than almost every other 5e adventure I’ve seen! Good Job! And I applaud the designer for avoiding the DMs Guild nonsense!

This is $3 at DriveThru.The preview is the first four pages. The last two kind of give you an idea of the organization of the text with bullets, heading, indents and the like. Including a page that shows an encounter would have been much better, but the preview DOES give you an idea of what to expect.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Trials of a Young Wizard

Wed, 01/01/2020 - 12:11
By Simon Miles Dunromin University press OSRIC Level 1

Fresh-faced and more than a little hung-over our newly graduated mage of the great Dunromin College of Magic and his friends step into the tea-room next to the Porter’s Lodge and ask for something for a headache. Within minutes they find themselves accosted by the smiling figure of Malcolm Darkstar, Bursar of the College and owner of the tea-rooms, keen to ask them a favour…

This 48 page book has three adventures: a small kobold lair, a fetch quest in a dead wizards manor home, and a side-quest burning farmstead/argument with a doppleganger spouse. It makes some attempts at verisimilitude but fails in being usable, as it asserts it wants to be. Or even interesting.

Three little adventures for level one’s in OSRIC. There’s not much going on in these. There are, though, a lot of words. There are page long room encounters. There are LOOOOONG sections of read-aloud. There’s an attempt to use bolding to highlight keywords and phrases in the long text but it largely misses its mark, being the wrong words bolded to to get the flavor of an encounter. It largely shows an unfamiliarity with better formatting techniques like bullets and indentations. This isn’t a one-size fits all, an adventure should not be all bullets and indents, but a mix of text, bullets, indents, and bolding usually does a better job than just one of those techniques alone. Further, when bolding and text are used by themselves then it becomes critical to keep the text short, use para breaks appropriately, and bold the right things. And none of that is done here. The net impact is a kind text wall that resists scanning. And if you can’t scan the text easily then you can’t run the adventure easily. 

There’s also this kind of mania for physical descriptions. Read-aloud and DM text both are pretty specific. 8’ high, 4’ wide, 5’ long passage, and so forth. Does that matter to the players? Short and stumpy, or other flavour text, would be better. This mania for EXACT dimensions, especially in read-aloud, drives me nuts. 

Dungeon trappings are buried in text instead of on the (linear) maps. (Well, the kobold map at least is linear.) Embedding the smells and noises on the mpa, for example, keeps them fresh in front of the DM’s eyes, helping them add flavor to the game as they are running it. Remember: the published adventure is supposed to be a play aid for the DM, helping them run it. 

There’s also a weird tone in this. King Modred and Lord Darkstar. The text refers to a bizarre land, and the whole “beginning wizard” thing makes me think of some juvenile audience … but then there’s murdered kids in a house on fire and other darker things. It’s got a weird tone. And almost no loot for a 1e adventure that, by definition, requires hold to get XP to level. There’s some handwaving about doing this on purpose, but by doing so you’re destroying one of the key posts of the game. 

This makes me think, for all the world, that the designer is VERY new to this. They have a vision in their head. It makes sense to them, and they try to put it down on paper. But, that’s not the goal. The goal is to get it in to the running DM’s head so they can run it during actual play. What makes sense to the designer, who is intimately familiar with their own work, doesn’t to someone who has to slog through all of the text text to get out the good bits.

And the good bits are few and far between. This is mostly kobolds and goblins and the like, with snare traps and other relatively boring things. There’s a ncie order of battle for monsters in how they react, but, like everything else, it’s too long and too prescriptive. Evocative is not prescriptive. 

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $4. The preview is the entire thing, at 48 pages. Yeah!  Try pages five, six, and seven as the overland/intro and tell me you can run that easily. Or pages eight, nine and ten for approaching the kobold lair. It’s just little to no organization at all except paragraph this and then paragraph that happens.


Happy Fucking New Year. What a way to start it.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs