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Updated: 3 weeks 3 days ago

The Sunken Temple of Chloren-Var

Mon, 09/30/2019 - 11:07
Peter Racek Wolfhill Entertainment OSR Levels 1-4

Plunged deep beneath forsaken swamplands centuries ago, the Sunken Temple of Chloren-Var now waits to be rediscovered.  Untold fortune, magic, and ancient secrets await those brave enough to enter the Sunken Temple, but only if they can thwart the unrelenting evil which lurks within its dismal halls.

Uh, so, yeah, this is a thing.

This one hundred page adventure features a dungeon with about seventy rooms. MASSIVE amounts of read-aloud lead to an adventure that is nigh incomprehensible. This is then combined with a “generic” system of play, based on D&D, that seems more like a fantasy heartbreaker. Light on treasure, I’m still having a hard time figuring out what is going with it after going through it multiple times.

I don’t know where to start with this. You go to an inn to find no room in it. Then someone gets killed and you get their room. In it you find a hook to the sunken temple. I guess the motivation is redeeming the dead guy by doing what he failed to do in the dungeon? 

What follows is fifty to sixty pages of read-aloud. In italics. I know I’m prone to hyperbole, but I’m not fucking around. It’s about fifty or sixty pages of read-aloud. The vast VAST majority of the text in this is read-aloud. In italics. 

First the italics. It’s hard to read. Italics works fine for a phrase or to call attention to one part of the text but it is TERRIBLE for long stretches of text. It’s hard to read. Box it, shade it, indent it, but don’t italics ong sections of text. It’s a major usability issue.

Of course, then there’s the length of the read-aloud proper. MOUNTAINS of it. There are page long sections of read-aloud. Every room is full of it. It’s unbelievable; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a product like this before … maybe in Sword of the Bastard Elf or Ocean of Lard? But those were Choose Your Own Adventure things … and it feels like even THEY didn’t have this much. 

It’s bad design 101. People don’t listen to read-aloud. I’ll point out again that WOTC study that found that players stop paying attention after two or three sentences of read-aloud. Clearly designers haven’t gotten the message. 

I know the arguments: zero-prep. Easy to run. But man, there’s far, far, easier and better ways to accomplish that. Slapping “Players React” in the middle of a p[age of read-aloud is not the way to immerse folks and have a good game. There’s so much read-aloud, and it forms in to such a wall of text, that’s it hard for the DM to figure out what is going on inside of this place. Further, when the read-aloud TELLS the players what they feel and think, that’s bad read-aloud. There’s no cohesiveness readily apparent to help the DM run this. After a few runs through the text I’m still having trouble figuring out how the place is supposed to operate.

There’s bolding & indents, which shows an attempt to make things more readable. But it doesn’t work well. The room headings are bolded also, so all of the bolding runs together in places giving an even more wall of text vibe. And Wall of Text is a usability issue. A major one.

The system used here is generic, and based on D&D. It feels more like the old Role Aids generic than it does the Eldritch Enterprises generic. I can’t figure out why the choice was made. You didn’t want to include the Labyrinth Lord license? Deeper in to this, there are new systems for fear, lighting (to the extent that its DM advice includes discouraging light spells and the party bringing in torches and oil. Uh … No.) new systems for locks and searching. There’s more than little fantasy heartbreaker going on.

And it’s random, in places, for the sake of being random. Where are the secret rooms? Roll for it! What are some key plot elements? Roll for it! Why is this? It would have been much simpler to just write a standard adventure, I don’t see this sort of randomness complementing the adventure at all. It’s similar, I guess, to the random elements to Ravenloft. 

This is a curiosity only, to see how far read-aloud can be pushed in an adventure. It’s got very low interactivity, with the party fighting skeletons and couple of puzzles. Treasure is very light for a Gold=XP system, as core OSR is. Let’s hope future offerings are better,

This is $6 at Drivethru. The preview is sixteen pages. In spite of this, you’re going to get no sample rooms, so it’s a failure. Scrolling to the end, you do get to see the (VERY long) intro, and all of the read aloud, which IS an excellent indicator of the sorts of room formatting you’re going to get. Look on my Read Aloud ye mighty and despair!


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) A Mishap of Ill Portent

Sat, 09/28/2019 - 11:15
By Travis Legge Self-published 5e Levels 1-3

While the characters shop in the marketplace of a small village, a thunderous boom interrupts the peaceful commerce. A large plume of smoke rises from the outskirts of town, and the locals rightly determine that the source of the blast must be the home of a local wizard named Tsendur. Investigating, the party discovers that something terrible and powerful has been stolen from the old wizard that threatens to unleash the power of a long dead Titan and endanger every life on Ghelspad!

This 25 page adventure features a six room tower, on fire, described in three pages. It probably takes place in less than two minutes. It is more like the inciting event to a new adventure path (which is what it is) than it is an adventure. But at least you gain a level after those 100 seconds! The writing is poor, but it does make good use of fire, exhaustion, and terrain rules to create a little scene that’s different than most.

While in town you hear an explosion and see a small home with attached three-level tower on fire in a major way. Unknown to the party, the wizard on the top floor is trapped and unconscious under rubble and will die in 20 rounds. Thus, the time limit, which the party is unaware of. “That’s Franks house” is, I think, the extent of the urgency conveyed. This amounts to a hidden rule and those are typically not good things in D&D. Knowing there’s someone in the house, trapped, allows for more tension as the party makes decisions balancing risk and reward. It’s a small thing to add someone yelling that they say Frank go in the house, but it’s a key issue. The town guard is, of course, otherwise occupied preventing panic. I get it, but why have a town guard at all then? Just put a little work in to your pretext hook people, it’s worth it.

Likewise the use of skill checks in this adventure is poor. DC 14 to notice figures in inside the house. DC 12 to calm someone … to say they say figures, and so on. It’s rolling dice for the sake of rolling dice, for trivia. “Make a DC 10 check to talk across the room” or “Make a DC 12 to tell the sun is shining.” There’s a right way and a wrong way to do a skill check and this thing is absolutely engaged in the wrong way. (ok, Calming someone might be ok, it’s the “trivia” aspect that gets me, every time.)

There’s not a lot of read-aloud, but what there is has an italics font, never a good idea for long sections of text; it impacts readability. It also refers to the party in third person: “While the structure is largely intact as the characters first come to the scene, the fire is quickly spreading.” Uh, ok, so, no effort at all then? THis lack of effort continue to some of the editing: in one of the rooms it looks like there’s meant to be some zombies, but its never mentioned, just some scaling guidelines to include +1 zombies if the party is tough. So, not an editor but rather a copyeditor? Either the text is missing or its unclear, both jobs for our editor. And a good one would have perhaps pointed out that spending a bunch of your word budget (three pages in 25 …) describing the door situation in EVERY SINGLE ROOM is perhaps duplicating what the map shows? But, that’s an editor and not a copyeditor.

Putting all of this nonsense aside, Travis is trying to create a situation in which there’s a burning building that the party needs to deal with. His support of this is admirable. There are rules for the smoke and terrain. There are smoke inhalation rules handled via the exhaustion levels. There’s locked doors to deal with. There are fire-immune zombies to deal with. And, of course, there’s the trapped wizard. Putting out the fire is also handled, including a bucket brigade.

He’s done a good job by layering things to make the 90 second adventure an interesting little problem to solve. The multiple obstacles, the appeal to common techniques are all good. He’s also got a series of maps showing how the fire spreads minute after minute. Maybe a summary sheet of the rules, in a less verbose context, along with the fire spread map, all on one page, would have been nice. Still, it takes the concept of the “all session long fight” to a place that is WAY more interesting thAn it was in 3e or 4e.

It’s a decent little ENCOUNTER if you can get past the little issues and make the timer better understood. It’s also 25 pages for a single encounter, and the beginning of a new adventure path. I get that people expect a certain page length, but how far can you stretch things? 25 pages at least …

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages and doesn’t show you anything of the adventure, making it absolutely worthless. I don’t care about the fucking art or backstory, I care to get a preview of the content I’m actually buying to use: the encounters. 


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Annihilation Rising

Wed, 09/25/2019 - 11:17
By Lloyd Metcalf Fail Quad Games 1e/5e Level 5

Monsieur Nerluc clings to the local mountainside. Villagers tell frightened children that the monstrous form of earthen stone is just a natural rock formation. It’s a lie they’d like to believe themselves. Monsieur Nerluc is, in fact, the lord of all tarasques, and strange cultists seek to waken him. If they do, his age-old toothache will begin to throb, and he’s going to be horrendously angry.

This sixteen page linear adventure is everything one comes to expect from a 5e adventure and nothing as one would expect from an OSR adventure. A quick 1e conversion cash grab, it’s full of skill checks, inspiration, low treasure and long read-aloud. Joy.

This is a drop-in adventure for use when you need a quick break from your game. Of course, it’s set in the designers home system, Altera, has a strong “French influence”, the setting features ley lines, and there’s supposed to be a bunch of tarrasques, with the one in this adventure being their king. So, you know, seamless drop in to your campaign world! Seamless doesn’t have to be generic but the more idiosyncratic your ideas the less seamless the adventure, obviously. Or, maybe, not obviously, since this adventure goes there.

I use the word “adventure” loosely. There is really no hook to speak of and it’s just some linear encounters after that. After meeting some hippy cultists on the road you go up a mountain trail to tail them, get caught in an avalanche, get a task from some griffons to kill a troll, get carried to the top by them, and fight the head cultist. Dishes Done!

There’s no real hook. There are a few rumors and an actual nice bit of advice to throw in some earthquakes leading up the adventure. I like that advice, the more continuous integration of adventures rather than obvious stand-along adventure modules … but I do note that it runs counter to the advice that this is a side-trek adventure to thrown in when you need a break, etc. But, the main point here is that there is no hook. There’s no reason for the party to follow the cultists they find at all. They seem happy and I guess it’s their talk of waking the tarrasque that is supposed to que the party? Do gooding? It’s VERy tenuous. 

The first cult encounter is another bright spot. Hippy cultists rather than the dark brood that most cultists in fantasy tend to be. Hippies are more like real life … which is scarier and more relatable. I think Hack ‘n Slash did a take on this in Hoard of the Dragon Queen. It was good then and is good now.

Read-aloud is LOOOOONG. The entire thing is low on loot for a 1e Gold=XP adventure. The text continually makes reference to skill checks, inspiration, and other 5e mechanics. Clearly, a 5e adventure that just had stats replaced in order to sell a few 1e copies as a cash grab. I LOATHE the cash grab side of conversions. They seemed to plague the earlier spate of reviews in the early days, as designers just slapped a 1e, OSRIC, or LabLord label on their two encounter Pathfinder linear suck-fest. 

Oh! Oh! And that Avalanche? You either die, get buried alive, or make 3 DEX checks for 6d6 damage each time. And if you fail one you have to make a second check or get thrown off the cliff. Is this adventure serious? 

Clearly, just a quick 5e stat-converted to 1e for cash. And a sucky 5e adventure at that. That avalanche is a doozy! It’s too bad, I was really looking forward to a more historical take on the tarrasque. Serves me right for having expectations. In fact, if I ever rename the blog it’s going to be “Misaligned Expectations” or something like that.

This is $4 at DriveThru. There’s no preview, otherwise you wouldn’t buy it.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(Review) Saving Throw Fanzine

Tue, 09/17/2019 - 13:02

Jim Kramer is the guy behind Usherwood Publishing. Several of his adventures appear on my Best & Regerts list, including Arachnaphobia and most his Bone Hilt campaign series. He does EXCELLENT maps and, doing layout for a living, his layouts are top notch. He’s a behind the scenes guy, doing layout work for many things, including Knockspell and OSRIC. This 64 page fanzine was put together by several folks as a fundraiser to help with expenses after his third(!) brain tumor. I’m going to review the adventures. You should go pick this up because you’re not an asshole. And, also, because the adventures are quite good. Also, there’s a lot of OTHER content in it, beyond the adventures.

Sorcerer’s Stone – by Keith Sloan [No Level Given]

This five page adventure describes a dungeon with about forty rooms. On top of a hill is a ritual site where a cult gathers to … perform rituals and make human sacrifices. Underneath is the dungeon with a couple of evil priests (who think the cultists are amateurs) and a traditional “ogres, spiders, etc” dungeon. The map is good with decent complexity, same level stairs,pits, some water features and the like. Decent loops. Each room gets a bolded room title to orient the DM, a good touch. It is, essentially, a minimally keyed dungeon. “2. GUARD CHAMBER: This old guard chamber is empty.” and “A Carrion Crawler has made its way into this room.” tend to be the extent of the descriptions beyond stats and treasure. This does allow for about 24 rooms per page, but I would have preferred to see four or five more words, or, perhaps different words, in each room description. Instead of a carrion crawler moving in (and, as an aside, a lot of the descriptions are like that “X moved in”) I’d like to see something like a carrion crawler hanging from the ceiling, or munching on a goblin or something. A more active description. The cult activity outside is done well but could be organized better with bullets and bolding, and non-monster interactivity is a bit low. One more pass through to make the rooms active, clean up the outside, and insert a little more interactivity  and this would have been top tier.

Perladon Manor – by Gabor Lux – Levels 3-5

This delightful five page adventure describes fifteen rooms of a ruined manor over three-ish levels. Melan uses a single-column paragraph form, but arranges the sentence/text order well to put First Things First and then expand on them later, with good use of bolding. The encounters are great examples of the non-standardized style of D&D, with stabbing frescoes causing shadows damage, hypnotic patterns caused by magical loadstones, and inscriptions providing hints leading to more adventure. High interactivity and a fantasy vibe that is not constrained by the rulebooks provide a great adventuring adventure in a small page count and room count. 

The Tiled Labyrinth – Guy Fullerton – Levels (It’s got a minotaur)

This two page mini-dungeon is a labyrinth with about fifteen rooms. It provided three maps of the level and a small set of rules (close the incense burner) on changing from one map to another … which basically means the rooms stay the same and the hallways/doors switch layouts. It’s a clever idea for representing a labyrinth layout … minotaurs traditionally have a hard time in D&D having their lairs represented in anything other than “you’re confused at intersections” mechanics. Guys descriptions are good, with the details focused on player-oriented things and activities. Rich soil, copper watering cans, inset stone shelves … Guy slaps in the extra adjective/adverb to spruce up his descriptions well. One of the incense burners is a vented statuette of a heroic man holding decapitated bull head … with a lever to open/close the vents. Plus there’s a red meteoric long sword of sleek, angular design. Sweet! A good, if small, entry from Guy.

Lizard Man Lair – by Steve Smith Levels 5-7

This fourteen page adventure describes an outdoor lizard man lair. It’s complex, in a way these things usually are not. There are multiple factions, other race NPC’s, slaves, animals, varying terrain. Guidelines for several different approaches are offered up. It is, perhaps, more complex than can be handled in two-column magazine format, something that I sometimes thought in Dungeon Magazine. Meaning that it’s deep and complex but that the 2-column format doesn’t work well for this. I’m not saying it CANT, but that it would be a lot of work. As a standalone product it is both of limited scope (one lair) and better suited for a more leisurely layout/format that could be targeted to its complexity and depth. Good ideas in it.

The Mere Beneath by Guy Fullerton, Allan T Grohe jr and Henry Grohe – Level 5

This six page adventure details about 25 locations in a dungeon level with a large water feature. A great adventure in a fanzone full of great adventures. The map is interesting, complex, and offers on-map details to encourage creativity and help the DM. The wanderers are doing things. The creatures in rooms are doing things: bloody-faced from finishing a meal or tearing apart something. Writing is evocative with small little room text written so as to be more than the sum of their parts, inspiring the DM to greatness and to build upon them. Zones and multiple levels themes are well used. Creatures are just a bit from norm with ghouls and ghasts wearing bone masks. It all combines to give that non-standard OD&D vibe that I love so much. I might put this in my Darkness Beneath binder, as a sublevel from the waterfall in the Crabmen level. (And perhaps the level title implies a relationship to Darkness Beneath? The tone matches well.) A solid marriage of usability, interactive, and evocative.

This is $13 at DriveThru. Go get it!


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Village and the Witch

Mon, 09/16/2019 - 11:14

By Davide Pignedoli

Daimon Games


Levels 2-3

This fifteen page supplement has some tables in it that lets the DM generate a witch, a village, and some opposition to the witch in the village, as well as some witch events. It’s not an adventure but rather a situation-builder (in fact, I think the designer uses almost the same words.) I think it’s good at what it does.

I only review adventures … but sometimes I buy the wrong thing, mostly because it’s in the wrong category on DriveThru and I don’t really read the descriptions. And sometimes I’m feeling curious and go for something adjacent. Like this supplement.

A theme I haven’t touched on in awhile is how different adventures have a need for different sorts of organization. Exploratory things, like dungeons and so on, fit the room/key format really well. As free text they work less well. And room/key doesn’t necessarily work well at all in other, non-exploratory situations, like a social adventure. Understanding what sort of adventure is being written, or what a specific portion of the adventure is trying to do, is key to getting the right format … which in turn is key to helping the DM run it, a major goal of the designer.

And that’s what this supplement is doing: it’s providing the DM the tools they need to build a situation in a village that has a witch in it. There are seven or so tables that describe what’s going on in the village, organized via die drop. The die drop helps determines the layout of the village with the results of the dice being the structures and situations involved. Thus we get a little information about the village, the basic layout of the place, major features, the witch details, and who opposes the witch. The tables, taken together, are excellent as inspiration and for building a situation. And that’s what they are trying to do: build a situation. This ain’t Seclusiums “they have green eyes” bullshit. It recognizes the dynamics required to create tension, and therefore adventure. The booklet tells you several times that Things Have Reached A Boiling Point. The tables help with that. The opposition is dynamic on the tables. The witch events are dynamic. The tables are designed to strategically locate open gas barrels in a village where everyone lights their cigarettes with a blowtorch they carry. This is not passive. It’s meant to create a situation FOR PLAY and create a situation it does!

A couple of quirks about the supplement. It doesn’t go out of its way to get the party involved. It’s more like “you see a mob” or a burning building, ro someone complaining, or so on. Thus the hook tends to be curiosity, although the motivations of the witches allies and of the witches opposition may also lead to them trying to get the party involved. It feels natural … but it’s also one of the more … reachiest reaches in using the tables for inspiration. It’ also could have used a summary sheet of the tables. They are spread out over the book, one or two per page. The surrounding fifteen pages of text and art do a good job of adding content to the tables and setting up the appropriate vibe to get the DM in to the mood, as well as providing some examples of how, say, the village priest is an ally to the witch. That’s all great. But, if the core tables were on one page then it would pretty trivial to crank out a village on the fly when the party reaches it. Or even attach it to my DM screen or put it in my binder. Which gives me an idea … what if EVERY village had a witch in it with things boiling over? What fun! 

I don’t have a problem with tables. I love The Dungeon Dozen, the rear of  the 1e DMG is great, and I use tables sometimes to generate ideas for an adventure or a room. The brain tends to work best, IMO, if given a couple of things to work from. “Make a village to adventure in!” is a big ask. But, if you seed the task with a few random rolls, well, the brain is good at making connections between things. This recognizes that and takes advantage of it.

I’d have no problem paying for this as a supplement. It’s not an adventure, so I don’t feel I can slap a Best on it, but it’s certainly worth checking out if you want a village generator that gives you not Tavern Names and General Stores but playable situations.

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages and shows you some intro/framing pages and then all of the core tables for the die drop. You’re seeing the core of the generation in the preview. 


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Spiral Isles

Sat, 09/14/2019 - 11:36
By Jere Hart, Shane Walshe Stygian Studios 5e/OSR Dead PC's

The adventure is designed to give dead characters a chance to return to life, or as the framework for a campaign into the underworld.

This 57 page pointcrawl details an underworld location in which the party can attempt to return to life. It’s large, with locations having as much detail as a Wilderland hexcrawl. Like Wilderlands, the DM needs to bring significant abilities to bear to flesh the locations out. But it DOES provide the sort of unified cohesion that is missing from many hexcrawls. This place is themed and consistent. It’s easy to recommend … if you know what you are getting yourself in to.

There are 21 islands in a little spiral island chain. Each island has three or so locations on it. There are some ferrymen that will follow certain routes between islands, generally each island being connected to three or so other ones in this manner. Oh, and you’re dead and a ghost. If you manage to collect enough lifepoints you can, at the last island, make it through the magic door and come back to life. And there are a lot of other spirits between you and there to beg, borrow, steal, and kill you to take your lifepoints away. And a few to help you.

I always got a bit of a baroque vibe from Blue Medusa. If you lighten up with that vibe a little and combine it with Planescape and Sigil and turn THAT setting down by about a factor of five or ten then you’ll have something akin to what’s going on here. And maybe some Hunger Game Capitol turned down some also. 

You wake up in the middle of an island. It’s PACKED with other souls. Shoulder to shoulder. Too much jostling and the people on the edge fall in to the void, forever lost. If you stand still enough, they say, you will be rescued. One end has a small coral with some mindless people in it. Eventually it fills up and a large Spanish galleon shows up and hauls them away. You can see some ferrymen off shore … you’re told not to trust them. Crowded, crammed in, ignorant, this is how you start. But of course you were adventurers and not like the people on the island. As you work your way up the island chain you encounter thugs, villages, towns, cities, the mob, rebels, rumors, cultists, swindlers, and just about the whole gamut of society. The further you travel, the more lifepoints you must have, the “wealthier” you are, and richier/more cosmopolitan the islands become. The goal is the last island, which has a door you can pass through if you have enough, bringing you back to life. 

Along the way are factions. Thugs. Thug rebels. Rich people galore with their motives. Governors of the regions, organized guard groups, cultists, The Real Rebels, and Mayor, pulling the strings. It is from this, the factions and dynamics, that a significant tension is created. A wants X and B is trying to stop them. Who are you helping? Are you joining a faction? Are you working against another one? Or are you just trying to ignore them all and keep them from manipulating you so you can get your loot and get out. Hey … they all have a lot of loot … (loot being a way to gain lifepoints.)

It’s a city adventure with all of the massive social intricacy and subplots that bring. It’s a hexcrawl/pointcrawl, with the openness that brings. It’s pretty fucking kickass, and reminds me a lot of that Mothership adventure I reviewed recently, Dead Planet.

The ideas presented, the settings and scenarios, are great, with the writing a little flat. It a bit too workmanlike in its descriptions, not trying hard enough to really convey the evocativeness of the situations encountered. That makes it a little harder than I’d prefer to really run with and make my own. Still, it’s got terse writing and it’s easy to grasp the overall situation of the many locations easily. 

There’s a myriad of little mini-systems and other details that pop up, all pretty well handled. At times it does seem like some weird heartbreaker of a system, but it doesn’t go too far overboard. 

I would note, that for a huge expansive setting, the NPC table only has about twenty entries. You’re gonna need to think fast on the fly or do your own NPC table ahead of time in order to come up with the, inevitably numerous, NPC’s the party tries to interact with. Flavour is the name of the game here and some serious margin work to include more on most of the pages would have been a nice touch and an opportunity lost.

It’s a hexcrawl-type product, in hell, that does the planes better than just about any other product, even if it’s not really a planes adventure. If you go in expecting a hexcrawl type product then you should be satisfied. it’s also got a lot more in common with OSR type adventures than it does the bland railroads that seem to dominate 5e. It’s got conversion notes for both 5e & OSR.

This is $10 at DriveThru. There is no preview. Naughty designer! No cookie for you! How are folks supposed to know what they are buying? You can get an idea of the layout, in miniature, from the kickstarter pages but it’s not enough to see the actual content. Major miss.


(And I’m not a gonna mention the fact that the Armory is missing a list, however brief, or its contents … when turning weapons in to mana/lifepoints is one of the major themes of the adventure.)

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Gellarde Barrow

Wed, 09/11/2019 - 11:18

By Michael Moscrip NGR NGR No Level Given

GELLARDE BARROW is a small site based adventure about the joys of robbing from both the living and the dead, wacky hijinx are bound to ensue.

This twelve page adventure details a small barrow tomb with ten rooms in about four pages. Decently interactive with evocative descriptions in places, it does tend to bog down descriptions with minutia. It seems to enjoy testing the limit of how many words you can have in a paragraph and still have it usable. It’s a nice adventure, especially considering it’s a new author, but gets rough to use in places. 

The dungeon is small but has several nice features. The creatures inside ALMOST act like factions. Some bandits. A hippo. Some stone golem-like things, and a root monster. And, of course, the undead. While they are not really factions their own little zones feel unique to them and it FEELS like they have some relationship, no matter how small, to some of the others. This, along with the evocative nature of the text, makes the place seem like it has a lot of depth.

The text descriptions in the various rooms do a good job working together to form a kind of cohesive vibe. The same-level stairs inside are steep . 10’ raise in 5’ of space. That conjures up a certain type of picture in your head. A corridor thick with tree roots, giant trilobites, and the undead rising up THROUGH their stone sarcophagus with an erie green glow. This place does a pretty job of both feeling like an ancient barrow (and I LUV barrow adventure) as well as feeling like a classic dungeon crawl adventure. 

Interactivity is pretty good also. There’s levers to pull, water to raise and lower. Hallways full of tree roots and caskets to break in to. The key here is, I think, the anticipation. There is an element of the unknown. Of barriers and obstacles, things to play with and challenges to overcome. Most adventures just have combat, maybe with a skill check somewhere. This, however, does things right by having a mix of things in the dungeon. It’s SO much more interesting, as a player, to be able to squeal with horror and delight as things are uncovered and your actions have reactions and/or consequences. 

Topping things off is a great magic item: a wooden mallet that lets you hammer two things together. ANY two things. Like nailing an incorporeal ghost to a wall … with suitable example provided in the adventure. The item is described not mechanically, with a skill roll or plus to hit, but rather by what it does: nailing two things together. This is MUCH more mysterious and wondrous, and is the right way to do things with magic items. 

On the down side, the headers used for rooms is some kind of weirdo font, hollow, and not the easiest to read. A little Order of Battle, especially for the bandits, would have been nice also. They are just generic bandits, as described, and could have used a gimmick, like royal tax collectors or orphan fund or something to give me a little extra. 

But, the length of the text itself is the main issue. It’s using a traditional paragraph format but it’s also trying to be smart about it. It bolds the major features and puts the text after those words in order of things that might be important about it. This essentially mirrors a common format I like to encourage beginners to use. It falls down a bit though because of the sheer amount of detail that some of the rooms engage in. If A then B. If B then C. There are hold 1” deep every 3” along the roofline except on alternate Tuesdays. This is getting in to Trap/Door porn, the condition where some designers seem to believe that a two paragraph description of every trap and/or door is needed. There’s also an element of disconnectedness in places; the first room goes through the description of a large chair as the main feature of the room … only to later note that there may be a bandit asleep on the chair. Now both the chair and bandit are bolded, so your eyes will be drawn to it, but somehow this feels wrong and/or confusing.

Speaking of confusing … parts of the dungeon can be flooded. WHICH parts I’m still not sure. There are text descriptions with “the corridor to the best of the room X up to the height of stair Y” and so on. Reading it twice I still don’t get it. A little shading on the map would have done wonders to show the potential for water. Again this looks like a Dyson map and it feels like people just take his maps and don’t alter them much if at all. The map needs a little context, that would have pretty much eliminated my (continuing) confusion.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a suggested price of $3. The preview is four pages and, alas, showing you nothing of the encounters. Bad Zz!


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Halls of the Bonelord

Mon, 09/09/2019 - 11:08
By Alexander Langlet Stealth's Modules & TRPG Content 1e levels 1-3

… Pillage the Halls of the Bonelord, an ancient king who’s name has been lost to time. …

This five page adventure is a dungeon with twenty rooms. Single column, It is one step removed from being minimally keyed. There’s a decently evocative sentence or two here or there, but is short on mundane loot and interactive content.

Well, I say “short on interactive content”, but … to its credit the adventure does not have every monster attack as soon as the party opens the door. There’s snake, shadows and skeletons that only attack when the party fuck with them/their room. In some cases this causes to arise that most delicious of things: zany party plans to get the treasure. A long abandoned alter, covered in dust, obvious loot on it … and a shadow flitting about. Fuck yeah I’m goon try my luck! Or a large snake, coiled around some loot. Or some skeletons guarding a massive set of double doors. This is some fine examples of exploratory D&D play. Pushing your luck is tied to the resource mechanic in Gold=XP systems. And I fucking love temptation (and, as a player FALL FOR IT EVERY SINGLE TIME.) Beyond a few instances though, there’s not much here beyond some combat. And that’s too bad. Interactivity means more than combat and those few examples of pushing your luck are not really enough, I think, to support a twenty room dungeon.

Treasure is low here, there’s not much at all. Which I always find weird in an OSR game. The goal of the game is to get the loot and I think there’s an implicit agreement between the DM and the players that there WILL be loot in the dungeon, especially in a single isolated level like this. If not then the DM will, I think, fall short on players in a classic Gold=XP style. What’s in it for me, as a player, if you remove the gold from gold=XP but keep the system? There is a decent amount of potions and a wand … maybe I’m just discounting the XP from those too much.

The main baddie is a 3HD AC3 skeleton. That’s a fearsome combo for lower level players, but probably ok with some running away. There’s also a room with 60 cubic feet of green slime in it. Yes, CUBIC. A 20×30 room 10’ high filled to the ceiling with green slime. My mind is furiously working out all of the possibilities with that much green slime at my disposal …

There’s a sentence or two that’s a good start to some room descriptions.  “Piles of dry and cracked snakeskin are scattered in this room …” or a dry & dusty room with two skeletons with polearms guarding a set of double doors. A sack is tattered and a bowl engraved with opals. A bock of grey stone with a black cloth draped over it, a silver bowl and fist-sized gem on top and everything covered in dust. It’s not bad. Not enough of the rooms do this and it’s inconsistent in the rooms that do.

The room content is close to being minimally keyed. In one room a couple of kobolds stand guard armed with slings and staves. That’s the extent of the room description … Vampire Queen turned from stat block to sentence.

Low loot, inconsistent description, low-ish interactivity … at least its not padded.

This is $1 at DriveThru. There is no preview. Put a preview in. Even if the adventure costs $1. Even if it’s 2 pages long. Give us a view of what we’re buying!


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) The Right to Arm Bugbears

Sat, 09/07/2019 - 11:17

Curtis Baum

AAW Games


Level 6

Strange humanoids are gathering in the nearby Forest of Mists and have been exploring ancient ruins using maps stolen during the robberies. Can the party stop these creatures before they are able to raise an army of kobolds, gnolls, and bugbears?

This 28 page adventure contains seven encounters. I don’t even know how to summarize it. There’s nothing to it but, essentially, monster stats?

Sometimes I am a loss to convey what an adventure is and this is one of those times. 

Let’s imagine a minimally keyed adventure with seven encounters. “4 orc guards” and “1 bugbear sargeant” for example. To each of those lets’s add some read-aloud. Something like “The bugbear sergeant notices you and says It’s time for weapons practice boys!” But also lets make read-aloud lengthy in places at a couple of paragraphs or more. This is, essentially, the adventure. Yeah, I know, if you abstract enough you could describe many adventures this way. You don’t need to do much abstracting to this, though, to make it happen.

Each scene (since that’s what they are, not encounters), has a little section at the beginning. It describes doors. Lighting. Mood. History. Walls. It’s the same offset format for all locations, covering each of the same topics. It’s as if someone had a form they had to fill out and they just blindly went down the boxes typing things in. Some of the form boxes are clearly supposed to be mechanical. Giving the DC of a door in some sort of fixed format has been popular for awhile, especially in Tactical Miniatures of 4e. And that’s what this feels like. Just a little bit more pasted on, just like 4e adventures/encounters/scenes were, so you could call it something more than a wargame/boardgame. This adventure is just one step removed from the The Fantasy Trip, and it’s not a big step either. There’s a puzzle at some locations to work ot after your fight. You get to roll perception to figure out some guards talking to you are actually Orcs In Disguise! Monsters attack no matter what, even if you give then a 200gp bribe. Just fight your fight and go to the next DM encounter. 

Look, I know D&D covers a wide spectrum. But something has to mean SOMETHING, doesn’t it, in order to have some kind of interactive discussion? The scene setting in this is terrible, perfunctory. It takes 28 pages to describe a couple of combats. This is not the D&D I know and love. I don’t know, I’m glad people feel enabled to write stuff. I just fucking wish they’d take some time and figure out HOW to write stuff. I just can’t go on with this review. THERE’S NOTHING TO THIS FUCKING THING

This nonsense is $7 at DriveThru. The preview is excellent, you can figure out exactly what you’re getting from it. I suggest page two for an excellent look at the “scene overview” form, read-loud, and bold adventure styling. 


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Darkland Moors

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 11:18
By Jeff Dee UNIgames 1e Levels 3-5

A huge, monstrous presence rampages through the farms and villages of Darkland Moors, throwing the locals’ formerly peaceful lives into turmoil. What manner of giant is responsible, where is it taking its captives, and what is their fate? To restore peace, our heroes must scour the misty Moors and track the beast to its lair!

This ten page adventure fits 21 encounters in to four pages. A hexcrawl in search of a marauding giant, it does a decent job with hex rules. The encounters are more of a setup for the DM to fill in with a writing style that is not always consistent in how it conveys information, especially where enemies are involved. I respect the hex crawl stuff and think the format for the hex crawl has possabilities, but the details need work to make it worth something to check out.

This is a hex crawl, searching for a marauding giant in some fog-covered moors. Dee does a good job of summarizing some basic hexcrawl rules.  Movement is covered: 2 per day on foot or 4 by horse. Likewise he covers getting lost in a very simple manner, as well as basic “what you can see in the next hex” landmark details. Concise hexcrawl guidelines have always been lacking, IMO, but this is one of the best summaries of basic hex crawl rules I’ve seen. It’s not worth it just for this but it does show that Dee has pretty good understanding of how things are supposed to work, and the need to transfer that to the audience.

The encounters are presented as general situations which the DM is then left to expand upon. Recall the 21 encounters in four pages? That includes several ruins and village/towns. The ONLY way to do that is to present the general situation to the DM and let the DM fill in the details. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it’s the general manner of all hex crawls. 

The encounters, though, feel flat. The detail is, again, abstracted to a degree that it removes the life from the encounter. I think I can understand the why of this; you can’t fill in the details of these largish locations and still have a decently-sized product. Some of the hexes would easily be their own adventures if expanded upon in this way. 

I would suggest, though, that there is another path. Rather than writing a very generalized and generic abstracted description the encounter/situation could instead be imbued with brief bursts of color. “A local farmer blinded the giant before being eaten.” is one of the sentences. Better, I think, would be some local color for this farmer, his family, or something else. Picking out one thing per encounter, maybe the most significant part of the place, and adding/changing the wording for some better adjectives and adverbs or more color. I’m not arguing for a significant increase in word count but rather a better use of those words, targeting some aspect of the encounter. 

As always I’m looking for something that inspires the DM while they are running the encounter. Something that the DM’s own imagination can build upon and be leveraged by the designer to add more the encounter than what’s written. In this adventure, in particular, the page count could be about the same with some trimming. The map and hex crawl rules note what can be seen from each hex … and then each encounter ALSO notes what can be seen from this hex. Doubling down on the information is quite necessary and the word count could have been used to add some color, some building blocks, to the actual encounters.

The writing also, at times, feels tacked on, especially where enemies are concerned. You’ll get a paragraph description of a place and and then another paragraph description of enemies which can totally change the vibe and what’s going on in the first paragraph. This happens multiple times but the first encounter is a good example. A ruined farmhouse, as if a mighty blow had been dealt to an upper corner. All valuables looted. Just some broken simple furniture inside. And then the next paragraph tells us how 11 large spiders live inside, it’s got a web-festooned interior, and there’s treasure. All of which kind of contradicts a bunch of info in that first paragraph. Or, at a minimum, the first paragraph totally leads you down one path when the second one yanks you back a different direction. It’s almost as if they were written by different people who only knew “ruined farmhouse” and one write an empty farmhouse and one wrote a monster farmhouse and an editor just slapped them together. There’s no cohesiveness at all. 

The hex crawl summary is great. The terseness/length of the situations is about right, I think. The descriptions though are too generic and too disjointed. It needs work.

I also note that this is listed as being for “Advanced rpg games.” Man, T$R really did a number on the old employees. From the Eldritch ENterprises use of generic stats to the dancing around “1e” stuff. These people have WOUNDS.

This is $2.50 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages. Good news, it shows the hexcrawl summary rules! Bad news, it doesn’t show you any of the encounters. A preview really needs to show you a few of the encounters so a potential purchaser can see what they are getting … or not.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Island of Blight

Mon, 09/02/2019 - 11:15
By Thom Wilson Throwi Games 1e/5e Levels 3-5

The Red Priests of the Snake God suffered a crushing blow to their plans when they failed to take the small town of Thuil. Reeling from their defeat, they have returned to the deep jungles of Nolgur-Wul to regroup. The human villages outside the jungles know that it is only a matter of time before the Red Priests and their minions return. Now is the time to take the fight to them, deep within the jungles! The characters are urged to delve into the depths of Nolgur-Wul to track the Red Priests back to their clandestine temple where it is said a serpent queen, maiden of the Snake God himself, leads the growing cult. On the trail of the fleeing Red Priests, the adventurers find that a mysterious blight has recently begun to destroy the western jungles, villages, and all life within. What starts as a quick investigation becomes an unusual and deadly puzzle. More importantly, is this blight the Snake God’s doing or something completely separate?

This 28 page adventure describes a little overland journey and about forty indoor locations in three locations on a small island. Generic writing, generalized abstractions. In short: it’s boring.

Ok, so, there’s a bunch of vegetation dying in an ever increasing area. You find some abandoned villages, maybe. You find an island with some ruined buildings on it. There’s a bunch of notes and zombies scattered around. In the basement in a machine that’s generating the blight and the notes, deciphered correctly, help you set the levers to turn it off.

It’s got some monsters reference sheets. It’s got some cross-references. Ultimately though it’s boring. There’s a kind of generalized abstractaction that ribs the adventure of anything interesting. Instead, there’s an emphasis on history and explaining why the way things are. “This rock is here because someone kicked it down the stairs three hundred years ago.” That sort of thing does not create interesting play opportunities. That sort of thing does not inspire the DM to run a fantastic room or encounter. It’s boring.

“Wonderfully decorated doors lead to areas B8 and B10”, the text tells us. The second part is clearly just telling us what we can see from the map. The first part “wonderfully decorated” is a great example of that abstraction. It’s a conclusion someone might draw rather than what someone might observe. This is TELLING instead of SHOWING. Lapis & amber inlaid bronze doors with minurettes and palms … that’s showing instead of telling. That text inspires the DM and then leverages the DM to add more while the previous text instead burdens the DM to come up with it all from scratch. 

The text must inspire the DM, that’s what I generally mean when I’m talking about evocative text. Text that shows instead of tells. Text that enables the DM to add more rather than requires them to add more.

On top of this the text is padded out with trivia. A secret door is easy to find because it was left partially open when some residents of the temple fled from a blah blah blah. Or, “This escape passage provided Kahleemar with a way to leave his bedchamber quickly or hide from unwanted visitors. The escape tunnel is completely dark” Well that’s all fucking great. By which of course I mean, completely useless at a gaming table. There’s no furniture because cultists stole it. A rich and deep history of a location is not the same as a location that’s evocative, interactive, and easy to use. It’s maddening to see all of the trivia included while being faced with the abstracted descriptions. 

And then the monsters and other important facts are buried deep in room text. First things first: it’s there’s a giant flaming eye of sauron (lower case) in the middle of the fucking room then fucking lead with that in your description. THATS what is going to stand out. Burying it in the second paragraph is dumb. “Oh, uh, sorry gang, there’s actually a giant flaming sauron eye in the room” or a long pregnant pause while you read three paragraphs of room text in order to give a description to the players? Neither you say? Damn fucking right. Obvious things should come first. 

Oh, I could go on and on. Maybe five or six thousand in treasure for a 1e adventure at levels 3-5? This is a do-gooder adventure, light on treasure. The villages you find along the way are boring abstractions. There are lots and lots and LOTS of notes lying around fr the party to find, in order to solve the final puzzle. The titular blighted island has three primary exploration areas on it … and the main one comes before the two minor ones. There’s not real explanation of the slight spread or “the blight line”, crossing over it, etc. Just a note, buried in a later sidebar, on how to apply disease rolls. 

JABA – Just ANother Boring Adventure.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview iw four pages. It shows you four pages of a monster reference sheet. This is a bad preview. Show us some room encounters for Vecna’s sake so we know the quality of the writing we’re fucking buying!


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Descent into Mirefen

Sat, 08/31/2019 - 11:15
By William Murakami-Brundage Menagerie Press 5e Levels 5-7

Within Mirefen’s bog is a ruined temple. This edifice is now home to a tribe of toad folk, who have defiled the holy site with strange effigies to their squat, bestial gods. Can the adventurers wrest magic and treasure from the swamp?

This 44 page adventure details a not-bullywug tribe in some swamp ruins and is a kind of base assault on a 35-ish room area. They’ve got a magic gem and someone with ill-intent wants it. The intent, outline, and framing of this are good with the execution sucking. The usual poor read-aloud and trivia DM text is to blame. There are some nits also but, this ain’t no railroad. 

Toak people in a swamp live in some ruins. In the ruins is also a magic gem that they like a lot. In town you meet a drunk guy in a bar who is supposed to guide a diplomatic mission to the toad-people pretty soon, when the mission arrives in a day or so. The mission wants to bring the toad-people under their allied umbrella and get the gem. Their from a god of strength and war, all Might Makes Right. The guide is LE and it’s pretty strongly implied the mission is also. It’s all “no hesitation in destroying people who disrespect them”, as well as the tribe etc.

The tone is interesting for 5e. Usually it’ raving maniacal evil cultists and the like. You can negotiate with the drunk guy and join up with the mission. And while they have evil alignment it’s not really displayed much more than any PC party would be. “Yeah, we’re going to these ruins full of bullwugs to get a magic gem … they better not try and stop us.” It’s a much better approach and it open up the adventure to a lot more possibilities.

And that’s what I mean by the framing, outline, and intent of the adventure. It takes a more neutral approach to the design. That drunk guy? The LE guide? You can pickpocket him. You can break in to his room at night. You can join up with him, either for realisies or as a deception. The high paladin that leads the mission? Essentially the same thing. She’ll bring the party along as she negotiates … and potentially slaughters, the toad people. And they might even be good allies that don’t backstab the party if the bullywugs ambush the mission. Or you can try and beat the mission to the ruins. And then you could try and fool the toad-people. Open. Ended. It is SO much more fucking refreshing to see an adventure written this way. There are suggestions on how to handle common things that might happen, the various situations, and that’s exactly what an adventure should do: support the DM

So, an adventure written in an open-ended way that doesn’t force the party down a narrow path. Great! There’s even a kind of reaction matrix for the village on what they do when folks attack.

There could be another table, I think, noting day/night cycle movements and so on, to help support a stakeout and stealth mission, but I’ll take what I can.

On the downside, well, there’s a lot. 

Most importantly, the designer doesn’t know how to write an encounter decently. Read-aloud, while generally the correct length (thank Vecna …) is the same boring generic stuff that appears in every adventure. It’s not evocative at all. Although, interesting enough, each major area (the swamp, the ruins, the dungeon) has a little section that describes conditions and those ARE evocative. Rank sweat, herbal smoke and old ale. Yum!

DM text also has the usual issues. It’s conversational, writing in a style that is more at home in a novelization (without the purple prose) then it is to what the DM text should be: a reference document. As always, this makes scanning for information hard.  There’s also a substantial number of suggested skill checks that are essentially meaningless to the adventure. “Make a DC 15 to figure out this meaningless trivia!” 

I might note also that I mentioned a base assault in the intro paragraph. There’s not much weird in this, or things to play with, but there is a lot of combat. It’s not entirely devoid of more interesting options, there’s an alter here or there, but it generally restricts itself to “boring old base” more than crumbling ruins to explore and get in trouble with. Of course, stealth, combat, and talking to the toad-people are all included, but some other things would have been good idea. In particular, a more complex map, for better sneaking/pushing ruins over on people.

The “evil” mission is also a little generic. The members don’t really ge personalities or quirks at all. A few of those, even if just for the leadership, would have made a roleplay with them as allies more interesting. Imagine hooking up with them in town and watching their movements. That’s all for the DM. 

 And it’s gone ape-fucking shit with the name. Sha Halthas, Mirefen, Shigguk village, Dhrnu alliance, Dannt and Besharas. At least it not that 20-sylabyl Forgotten Realms shit or Venger’s can’t-hav’e-to’o-man’y-apostriphe’s. Seriously, make the adventure approachable. 

Finally, just some weird shit left out. The starting town is known for its fine almost-magical horsies that they sell. But there are no horsie details. Uncool dude. There’s also a potential wandering encounter with a black dragon, flying overhead and not fucking with the party unless they fuck with it. My OSR mind immediatly went to “Fuck that magic gem. Let’s follow it to the lair! Dragon Hoard!” Ok, so that last one is not really related to the adventure. 

If the designer can get their writing game pumped up then maybe future projects will be worthwhile. It’s gonna take a lot of a delete key, though, and some agonzining writing.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is ten pages. Good try, but it doesn’t actually show you any of the encounter writing. A decent preview should show some of that. The ninth page does show some of that “atmosphere” text block that I think is a little better than most of the writing.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Corrupted Jungle

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 11:15
By Peter Rudin-Byrgess Self-published Zweihander / ROlemaster

The action starts with the wrecking of the Wight’s Shadow. With the characters washed up on the beach they have many adventures before them and will face many horrors in a strange land of jungle, witchcraft and mutated monsters. … The adventure should cumulate in a confrontation with a Defiler who has returned to her homeland to exact her revenge and destroy her own people who drove her away centuries before.

This fifteen page adventure gives a general overview of three or four locations on an island you’re shipwrecked on. “Abstracted outline with weirdly specific mechanic details” would be how I’d describe it. 

Let’s say I write an adventure. Your ship runs aground on an island, and the crew turn to zombies to attack you. There’s four locations on the island. One is a ruined city full of religious cultists who are friendly but really want you to, voluntarily, sacrifice yourself in the volcano. There’s another set of ruins with some carnivorous apes in it. There’s a third set with an evil necromancer, who is going to wipe out the cultist village. 

That’s it. That’s the adventure content. That’s what you’re getting here, except in 15 pages. There is barely anything more specific than what I write above. Is that an adventure? It’s more of a setup, and certainly could be used like a sandbox, I suppose. But it’s just an outline. Or, even less than outline. 

The rest of the pages are taken up with wall of text descriptions of what happens in each area. The necromancers history takes nearly a column. There’s a bunch of trivia for the carnivorous apes. There’s a detailed description of how the cult leads (willing) sacrifices up to the volcano to sacrifice them … and the skill checks needed to escape. It’s all one great big giant block of text. There MIGHT be paragraph breaks, but everything is left justified so you can’t tell where a paragraph starts, just where the last one ends, I guess? It’s just a continual list of what is, essentially, if/then statements. If the party defeats x then Y. if the apes spot the characters then Z. If you defeat D then J. All back to back in that weird left-justified format.

There no main map, just a text description. You see some paths going in to the jungle, some pyramids and ziggurats over the trees. From this the DM is left to figure out which one is the “Jungle Settlement”, the “Pyramid Settlement” and the “Ziggurat”.  I find this lack of even the most basic cross-referencing maddenning. If you say that there are jungle paths and then the next section is Jungle Settlement, how am I to figure out that A leads to B? Call it Jungle Paths or something else obvious. Or, better fucking yet, use a fucking kay & fucking map! That’s what they exist the fuck to do! 

I can’t fucking stand it when I have to fight the text. When people leave shit out like a map and key. When they seem to be purposefully obtuse. The fucking left-justified wall of text shit. There is no way in hell this was ever given to anyone to look at before publication. … I find it impossible to believe that even the most kind of reviewers would overlook this shit.

This is, inexplicably, $3 on DriveThru. The preview is six pages. The shipwreck is on page four while the cult settlement is on page six. Both to a fine job of exemplifying the “content” you’ll be getting. 


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Darkest Dream

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 11:08
Alphinius Goo Gooey Cube LLC 5e Level 1

The Darkest Dream begins the epic tale of a group of Hanataz youth who are charged with working security for the last Carnivalle of the season. The Hanataz are the Traveling Folk of the world of Zyathé and are an ostracized people due to the many Blood-Touched membevrs of their troupes. But while the Traveling Folk are not welcome in most towns and villages, the shows they put on are enjoyed by many. However, this is no ordinary Carnivalle. Horrid and vile schemes are afoot. An ancient foe plots deadly revenge. A group of organized criminals looks to frame the Hanataz for murder. And, nearby, creatures from the Dark Below plan an attack on the camp. Beyond this, it is Darktide’s Eve, which is a time of fearful and evil portents. Can you and your friends overcome the many dangers set against you, protect the troupe, and solve the mystery of the Darkest Dream? If you don’t. Many will die. Including those you love.

It’s not a railroad, but it’s mostly unusable, or, maybe odious to use. 

At GenCon I stopped by a booth doing 5e Adventures, Gooey, and they were giving out free download coupons for a large boxed set adventure. It turns out that it is free to download for everyone. What caught my attention was the guy pitched it as a play aid to DM’s and usable, making design choices like a lay flat spiral adventure book and so on. And thus, this review.

It comes with a seven page info dump booklet for the players on the background of the setting, their carnival-folk home & setting. A twelve page philosophy/house rules booklet. A 74 page reference book with monster stats, optional encounters and so on. Seventy pages of handouts. An 82 page “items” booklet (representing about 41 cards to hand out), 51 pages of pregens, 22 pages of reward cards (about 11 2-sided cards), a 4-page NPC reference sheet (Yeah!) and the 64 page adventure book. 

You’re part of a travelling carnival group. The junior members of a rather large (by usual RPG conventions) troupe. The adventure is built around the last day of the carnival near a town before the troupe moves on to another site. The parties job is to roam the grounds watching out for trouble. There is essentially one encounter, the last one, where some kids get abducted. The rest of the adventure is wandering around the carnivals fifteen locations, each with a little encounter, and some additional optional encounters thrown in from the DM reference book. Almost like wanderers, but not quite. Thus it’s not REALLY a railroad, but not quite an adventure either. More of an “experience.” This is, I guess, a compliment. At the very least, the adventure structure is not confusing and not a railroad which makes it better than the vast majority of adventures floating around for 5e. 

“Experience” is not my thing. I’m also capable of understanding that other people like other things. I’m going to address the “experience” aspect of the adventure a bit and then move on to more universal themes, like usability, and why this adventure is bad even for those looking for an Experience.

The adventure goes to great lengths to remind you it is epic. And a story. To experience. It is CONSTANT in reminding you of that, as if in justifying itself. I would suggest that this is the wrong approach. The adventure is unlikely to convince the non-story crowd and the story crowd don’t need convinced. It wants to provide you an immersive experience, it says so several times. But what is an experience? If the DM says you’re the Chosen One and you can’t die in the campaign and the DM tells a story, ala Giovanni Chronicles, then did you have an experience? Experiences come through play, it comes through the emergent opportunities that arise during play. There must be SOME pretext and/or structure to frame things but the experience comes through the parties actions during play. It does NOT come from the story the DM is telling. That is weaksauce. And yet, that is the way the vast majority of players have learned to play D&D. The sins of the 90’s continue to haunt us. 

Experiences usually come with plot armor and its present here. The pre-gens are tough. There’s advice on not killing the party (in 5e, imagine …) and instructions to run things tough … but also on how to not kill the party. The contradictions are ripe and they all stem from The Story. 

And yet … this thing doesn’t fuck around in that area. It goes on and on and on about plot, experience, not killing, being tough, and so on. But then the adventure is actually nothing like that. The adventure does that over and over and over again. I read the adventure last, concentrating on the supplemental materials first and, based on the text in those, I was prepared to rip this thing to shreds. Not killing. Plot. Story. Experience. But that’s not actually what the adventure is. It’s fucking around for awhile to root the party in the campaign and then an encounter. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. The booklet tells you that you cant just peruse a Gooey Cube adventure and be ready to run a game. But that’s not true either. This isn’t complex at all. I might suggest that there is one thing missing/keeping you from doing just that: what the locals know. If there were, like, six bullet points on the Old Well and the Sinkhole Ruins, concentrating on what the locals/carnival folk know, then this would be runnable almost out of the box. NPC’s have summaries. The encounters are cross-referenced. It’s fifteen locations, some NPC’s, and some random social-ish encounters. You could probably figure out what the locals know and make notes from the extensive backstory present. But I don’t make notes, that’s the designers job. When the party finds the old well or the sinkhole then they are likely to grab someone and ask questions … consulting twelve pages of backstory scattered around the various books is not going to be a simple task. 

This adventure does a dozen different things wrong. The NPC portraits have full paragraphs on the back instead of being scannable.  Skill rolls are perfunctory or poorly handled … but then again almost every adventure does that and I’m not ready to fight THAT battle yet. A door regens 20hp/round to keep the party from bashing it down cause it’s not story time yet! The lay-flat book does not make up for these. (And, as an aside, just like Ravenloft, this uses gypsies reskinned. I don’t understand why people do that. The adventure does give a one sentence inspired/bigotry note on the credits page, but, still, better I think not to go near the subject at all.) 

But none of this is the major problem with the adventure. The major problem is the complete lack of understanding on how to format an encounter. Ok, ok, combats are cross-referenced to the DM reference booklet so full stats, etc, are not in the main adventure text. That’s a plus. But the rest of the encounters are terrible. Not in their interactive element but in their formatting/presentation.

The read-aloud is long and usually has multiple paragraphs. It can frequently end with “What do you do?” The DM text is is conversational rather than presented in a reference format, making finding things difficult. Section breaks are largely not present in any meaningful way. Read aloud frequently tells you what you think and do. Clearly this is an attempt to provide a richer experience but this technique, in particular, just communicates a railroad novelization. 

Looking at the very first area in the carnival: “Area A – Main Food & Drinks Wagons”, a nice bold section heading. A read-aloud then follows. It says there’s a Wagon of Smile and a Wagon of Tastes and 4-5 people in line and some enticing spicy aroma from Sunnessy’s. The DM text then tells us that the PC’s know they can get something to eat from Sunnessy’s wagon and something to drink by going to the Wagon of Smiles. It then tells us that if the party goes to the back of Leena’s wagon then (mor read-aloud and DM text for her wagon.) 

The issue, here, is the lack of consistency. The adventure is mixing wagon names (taste/smiles) with names (Leena/Sunnessy.) And this is on top of read-aloud which is FAR too long. And the “if you go to Leena wagon” has no section break at all, or subtitle, it just launches in to more read-aloud for her wagon. This the effect is a long multi-page string of text, lengthy sections bolded for read-aloud, and no real ability to quickly locate which sections of text are relevant to the situation the party is in … forcing the DM to waste time and hunt the information down. This is not usability; it’s the opposite.

The adventure is trying desperately to create an immersive experience with ethe read-aloud but it instead comes off forced. Here’s but two sentences in an overly long section: “But of greater interest to you is that she also pours the sweet libations that she and Stoof so expertly dis- till. You can see Leena – her face just above the counter on the wagon-side – grumbling as she pays out to a local for winning an arm-wrestling match.” Clearly more appropriate to a bad fantasy novel than an adventure. The read-aloud is trying present vignettes, little scenes, full of color and life … which run them in three or four paragraph length. This is not the way to accomplish this. At one point, in front of a (seven?) page read-aloud then DM advice is “If yours is the type of group that doesn’t like ‘story time’ …”  No one likes story time. Yes, thats the background data to be handed out beforehand, but, no one likes a three paragraph read-aloud. This is not the way you accomplish the immersive experience.

Trim the read-aloud. A lot. Format the DM sections so information is easier to find. Trim WAY back on the useless DM advice like “you can vary the length of the people standing in line if the party comes back later …” Put in a summary of what the locals know about the area, somewhere. 

Finally, the adventure feels like a series of encounters. Given the locations and the “wandering” encounters, it feels more like little self-contained items. Instead, integrating some of the encounters together in a suggested format would have been a good idea. Hints and foreshadowing. The guy with the eye-patch? Imagine a chart that has little hints and stuff as an aid to the DM, so the party catches sight of things before the main event happens. A sort of timeline of the optional events, or, rather, hints and foreshadows of the optional events, with the location events worked in, to give a more organic feel to the entire adventure.

A timeline isn’t a railroad. It throws out hooks, right and left, giving the party options. It creates a depth to the carnival that individual encounters can never have, no matter how much read-aloud there is. THAT’S what is going to create an immersive experience.  

 I applaud the goal of usability and immersion. Usability is more than a four-page reference sheet with 50 NPC’s on it. Immersion is not read-aloud. Trivial DM asides are not useful information. 

The Darkest Dream – Chapter One of the Red Star Rising Campaign
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Temple of the Harpies

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 11:13
By Morten Greis Aegis Studios B/X Levels 2-3

A small child has been stolen from their parents, and the adventurers must find their way to the temple not just to gain riches and uncover secrets of the past, but also to save the child. During the exploration of the ruin, the characters may unleash an army of undead, whom they must contend with.

This fourteen page adventure describes a ruined midwife temple with twelve rooms in about six pages. Decently organized, evocative writing, interactive … it manages it all before throwing in a bunch of room history to muddy things up. This needed a hard edit and it didn’t get it. Still, it’s ok.

There’s this concept of unique monsters that is not usually touched upon. You’re not fighting A troll, you’re fighting THE troll. It elevates the monster back to mythic status. This adventure has a bit of that going on … you’re fighting the first harpy. In the place where was cursed to be one: the temple to a midwife of which she was in charge. And she now steals babies to turn them in to harpies. That’s a fucking story. It makes sense, and when things makes sense you can build on them. It’s not followed through on much; there’s a village nearby that knows there’s a harpy there, so the whole mythic angle kind of falls off … but still, harpy stealing babies is great.

The adventure pays attention to things the DM needs to know. The entry for “outside the temple” has a little section on what the party finds out if they scope out the ruins for awhile. Perfect! That’s something parties do and the adventure gives you some advice on what they see. Two sentences. It also notes obvious ruins entrances. Again, perfect; that’s the question people ask and the adventure helps the DM answer it. This sort of thing continues in the adventure. One room has notes about attracting the attention of creatures in the next room, with notes about how they react. It’s got a cross-reference to point the DM at the relevant section. 

It’s not that adventures need a “view from outside the ruins” or notes on what the party sees if they stake the place out, or notes on reactions of nearby creatures. Not per se. What’s notable is that IN THESE SITUATIONS IN THIS ADVENTURE the DM could use some extra guidance/help and the designer recognized this and provided it. Yeah, these specific examples are going to fit a lot of adventures, but the general rule is the important one, not the specific one. The creatures that you could conceivable talk to, by parlay or torture, have a little sentence or two on what they know. Again, just what the haggard DM ordered. 

Interactivity is good. Exploring, talking to ghosts, interrogating kobolds. And even, potentially, bargaining with the harpy for the most recently kidnapped baby. Secret doors need things to be opened. A room causes you to cry tears of holy water. You can swamp a statue baby for a real one. For only twelve rooms it’s pretty good.

And the writing it pretty decent also. Leaves blown in to the corners of rooms. A stench of wet dirt. Low mists with gravestones peeking out. “None of the skeletons have any skulls.” It’s primarily from the read-aloud, which is kept short. It feels a little forced at times but I’m going to attribute that to perhaps some second-language issues. (And to be clear, the english here is excellent, perhaps just missing some of the nuance that a REALLY talented writer could bring.) 

The read-aloud generally refers to things in the DM’s text. The DM’s text has paragraph breaks with holding to draw the eye to the appropriate section “The Items on the floor” section has the details on … the items seen on the floor from the read-aloud. The writing does tend to be a bit long but the combination of the read-aloud referring to the bolded section that follow, with the use of whitespace makes it all pretty easy to find what you need in a hurry. 

This is an O&O adventure, which I THINK is based off of B/X. If it’s gold=xp then the gold is a quite light.

I mentioned that the writing can be long. THis is generally because of the rooms history. “Originally this room was a blah blah blah” says the paragraph that drones on for four sentences. I don’t care why the roof is destroyed, be it time or siege. I don’t care that visitors nevers went to this room, only midwives. This doesn’t matter to the adventure. Or, rather, I only care about those details in as much as they relate to the party exploring. Crumbling roofs are great. How they got that way is useless trivia that gets in the way of quickly scanning the text to find what you need to run the room. Unless, of course, it has some bearing on the adventure. Some DIRECT bearing on the adventure. Not a “might be nice” detail. Not a “depth and richness for the DM.” There’s a place for that, but not two cousins removed. 

Decent adventure which would be made better by the delete key. I don’t see an editor listed, but, that probably wouldn’t have made a difference anyway, so oh well.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is only three pages. The last page shows you the “outside” text and the beginning of the first room. The read-aloud is not the bets in the adventure (it’s one of the poorer examples), but the DM text and attention section are good examples of what’s to be found deeper in. Another page of “real” text would have been appreciated.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Chaos Triads

Mon, 08/12/2019 - 11:22
By Steven Marsh Steve Jackson Games The Fantasy Trip "Starting Characters"

A dying heir, an abandoned mine, and a closely-held secret figure into this gamemastered adventure for The Fantasy Trip, as a group of heroes set forth on a mission of mercy. But they are not the first to take on this quest, and the actions of their predecessors will bring them up against the edge of Chaos itself. Can they survive an encounter with the Chaostained?

Hey. a bunch of Fantasy Trip aventures showed up on DriveThru! Let’s review one!

This thirteen page adventure is a linear series of combats divided by a couple of puzzles for eleven-ish encounters total. It shows signs of life during the alloted “roleplay” sections but its clear this is a tactical minis combat game with some bits around it. And a badly formatted one at that. Surprise.

The little prince has a poison dart in his neck, full of chaos magick, that can’t be removed. Granny wants you to get the Chaos Orb from a nearby mine; it will draw out the chaos from the dart and make it safe to remove. You’re adventuring company number three to take up the task …

Not a bad hook. Certainly with slightly more nuance and realistic motivations than most. And that’s a theme with this adventure, it generally makes a bit of an appeal that’s just a bit more than usual. Grannys advisors privately tell you they don’t expect you to succeed, but enough of an effort must be made to make her mourning easier. The second adventuring party is a scan, taking the money, running, and turning back to their usual banditry ways. Just a little bit more makes the usual fantasy throw-away tropes just a little more interesting for the party to play with. 

The Chaos monsters in the adventure gets some good random effects; one good and one bad each. They attract objects so missile weapons are easier to hit this one, and that one can rewind time. In addition there’s some decent examples of freaky behavior as the party gets closer to the orb, birds flying without flapping their wings and a list of other effects. This gets to the matter of making things interesting for the party and supporting the DM. Not just “weird things happen” but also a short list to use or inspire the DM to greater heights. Which is what the adventure should be doing.

It’s also just a linear combat adventure with little thought to the DM actually running it.

For all the world this reminds e of a 4e adventure. Or, maybe, one of those Starfleet Battles Campaigns. A bunch of tactical mini’s combat strung together with some pretext in between them. I know little of Fantast Trip, It’s clear that hex-based tactics is a big part of it. Enter room. Monster. Some other weird combat effect (ala 4e complications) and then combat.

In between this are a couple of room that could be considered puzzles. A room fills with water, or a robot-man guardian asks a riddle. Or a LARGE number of rats run past you … not attacking. But it feels weird. It feels like “THIS. IS. THE. COMBAT. ROOM. LET. US. HAVE. COMBAT.” The puzzles, weird shit are better, but it feels obvious what;s a puzzle and whats combat. And that’s never good.

SJ Games has done no favors in the editing department. Long sections of text rarely broken up with bullets, bolding, and other techniques to draw the eyes. The rumors section is all written in paragraph form, making glancing and absorbing difficult. And the actual encounters … Five paragraphs for some rats running past you. The second room has twelve paragraphs. This thing is bloated to all fuck, strecthing out what would normally be a quite short adventure indeed. The bloat makes it hard to find things. 

This resembles more of a funhouse dungeon: some 4e tactics rooms spaced out by some puzzle rooms. There’s a bear in one room … because bear. 

 This is $5 at DriveThru. There is no preview. Hey! Big timey publisher! How about throwing the consumer a bone and putting in a preview so we get a chance to see a bit of what we’re buying before we throw away our money?


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Wizard’s Marbles

Sat, 08/10/2019 - 11:42
By Danita  Rambo A Dash of Adventure 5e Level 5

A story of forgetfulness and secrets for 4-6 adventure-seeking characters at 5th level. This self-contained story runs around 3 to 5 hours.

It’s been awhile since I trotted out The Worst EVAR tag, hasn’t it? I guess, all things considered, I get what I deserve. I mean, I throw myself in to these things without any consideration for the signs. Look at that mights description. All of two sentences. (But at least Danita but the level range in there, something that a lot of people, strangely, do not do.) Two reviewsa three-star and a two star. What the fuck does it take to get a three star review on DriveThru? EVERYTHING gets five fucking stars on that site. Well, except, what, Mines, Claws, Princesses? Didn’t that get a shitty review or two? So, see, there’s precedent; asshat fuckwits give good things lowball ratings on DriveThru … so this could be a case of that. Except it’s not. Sometimes a cigar is a cigar. 

This twenty page adventure has four rooms/scenes. In lear order, of course, because story and plot are everything. 

Except …. When is a twenty page adventure not a twenty page adventure? Well, there’s the cover and title page, so that’s now eighteen pages. And the last six pages are absolutely blank. Completely. We’re now at twelve pages. Then there’s the two page irrelevant backstory. That’s ten pages left. Then there’s that two page appendix and a one page journal entry at the back. That’s seven pages. Then there’s one page on how to run the adventure, so now we’re at six pages of content for four rooms. Better than twenty pages for four rooms I guess. Fucking shit is misleading as all fuck. Steading was what, eight pages? For a bazillion encounters WITH an embedded story?

How do you feel about read aloud? How do you feel about A PAGE of read aloud? It describes you approaching a wizards tower, going in, up the stars and in to another room. How’s that for player agency? Not even a pretext of player agency here, just DM plot. At the end of the page long read-aloud you’re told that players can use a Detect Magic spell to see a glow as from the school of transmutation. It’s meaningless, of course, and has no impact on the adventure at ALL, so of fucking course we have to be told about it.

Fucking trivia. This thing is FULL of trivia. Room contents exhaustively catalogued and described. Does it matter? Will the party interact with it in a key way in the adventure? No? THEN DON.T PUT THE FUCKING DETAILS IN. Imagine an encounter in a kitchen. Do you, as the designer, need to put in every detail of the kitchen and exhaustive list all of the contents? No. We all know what a kitchen is. We can make shit up and fill in. That’s one of the jobs of the DM. And more is not better. It’s less. It detracts from the DM’s ability to find the PERTINENT information in the adventure rather than the trivia in the adventure. Scannability at the table is a critical criteria and these trivia details only detract from that.

There’s Roll to Continue moments, where you can’t continue the adventure without making skill checks. This is dumb. Every DM ends up fudging these rolls so the adventure can go on, so, why put them in? Are we just not expected to do anything? It’s far better to have consequences as a part of a roll, rather than making them a block, or, even better than that DONT HAVE A FUCKING ROLL. Why are they rolling? Because that’s what you do in D&D, roll dice?  Because that’s the convention you’ve learned? The BAD convention you’ve learned? 

There’s a riddle presented that’s never explained. One NPC says “idhssattiea” to another. It’s a key point in the adventure. It’s never explained. I still have no idea. 

In every scene, because that’s what this, a scene based plot fest, you get a little thing like that. Solve the riddle. Get multiple chances. If you do you get a marble. If you don’t you don’t get the marble. In both cases, you go to the next scene. Finally, at the end, you fight a mind worm (It’s all fake! You’re in someone’s memories. Yeah you! You’re impotent to impact certain things! Fun!) 

“Once you feel the party has asked enough or gotten enough background out of the room, then continue on. A glowing archway opens and you see a black space…” That’s not design. 

This adventure is crap. It’s also a classic case of good intentions not playing out. People don’t set out to write bad things. They have, I’m sure, an exciting idea floating around in their head. But it doesn’t come out right. Can you just write, stream of consciously, throwing words down on a page with little order or thought and have a good adventure? Fuck no. And it doesn’t help that the vast majority of examples people have to turn to are shitty as all fuck. Usable/Scannable at the table. Evocative Writing. Interactivity. How many adventures, the 70’s till now, manage to use push those three sliders far enough to the Good side to produce a decent adventure? And people are supposed to know what Good is, to emulate, when the big publishers just don’t give a fuck and toss out more dreck for the masses to gobble up?

A template with colorful borders and nice cover do not an adventure make. I’ll take a single column black on white adventure with some usability over gloss any day. Concentrate on the writing. On the usability. On the interactivity. Put all of your effort there. Then spend a minuscule amount of time on the gloss. Once you’ve got the basics down you can expand and make your gloss better.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $3. The preview is six pages. The last page shows you the first room and is EXCELLENT indication of what’s to come. 


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Shrine of the Wolf Maidens

Wed, 08/07/2019 - 11:24
By Catherine Evans Aegis Studios B/X Levels 2-3

An adventurer named Jorasco Vinn was commissioned by Madeina Ilrekar, a prosperous merchant from the town of Dela’s Tor, to explore a certain area of the Untamed Gauntlet for signs of precious metals worth mining. All he found was an old shrine to a minor local deity whose name is long forgotten. Now Madeina’s daughter Silvega has gone missing and there is no sign of Jorasco. Madeina has put two and two together and made five: she believes he has kidnapped Silvega and stolen her away to this ancient shrine… where human sacrifice was routinely practiced.

This ten page adventure, with about four actual content pages, details about six linear encounter areas in a small shrine. It’s ok, nothing special. 

There’s just not much here to review. Six-ish encounters is not much at all. Meet some centaurs in the woods and talk to them. Then go through a linear five room shrine dungeon and fight some wolves and then a proto-werewolf. 

Read aloud is about four sentences per encounter. Your quest-giver has her information laid out in bullet points. The dungeon is linear and the two combats are, obviously, forced. Usually not a good thing in an OSR adventure. 

I like the O&L setting of writs of exploration and reconquering the frontier … but that’s a setting thing. 

There’s a random trap in a hallway and I’m almost never fond of that. “If the thief detects traps …” I think this slows down play. Either the thief is continually checking/rolling/asking or they will be after a rando hallway trap. The thief mechanics for hallway traps just don’t work.

I will say, though, that’s a cypher puzzle that done well. It’s just a simple letter substitution, but it’s left to the players, with a good hint, to solve as opposed to their characters. Stuck? Some int/skill checks will have the DM giving you some hints at certain levels. Don’t want to bother? Bashing the door down is covered as an option. Can’t succeed on your bash? Then the DM is instructed to just provide some damage as the door falls down to the parties attempts. THis isn’t the same old roll to continue the adventure nonsense. It’s a player puzzle, which is great, with options to bypass it, which is also great. It goes on a little long, but clearly shows a greater knowledge of design.

Can you have a B/X dungeon with five rooms? I guess so. But then it feels more like a “plot” adventure from 3e/5e. Linear. Forced fights. But then the chosen format would get long, at almost a page per room any real length would be hard to manage. 

I guess a “its ok” means I don’t hate it, but there’s just not much to it. 

This is $2 on DriveThru. The preview is three pages. The last page shows you the (probable) non-combat centaur encounter. Longish, but ok I guess?


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Banshee’s Tower

Mon, 08/05/2019 - 11:28
By Joseph Mohr Old School Roleplaying OSRIC Levels 6-8

Travelers have complained recently about hearing strange noises and seeing strange things at an abandoned elven tower on the outskirts of the great forest. Some of these travelers have even reported deaths among their companions from mere firght at what they have seen or heard at the tower. Legends about this tower are that it once belonged to a banished elven princess. The elves of the woods sieged this tower several hundred years ago. Few humans remember the reasons why, But a few bards mention a legendary harp made of solid gold once owned by the princess. And it is said to have incredible magical powers…..

This thirty page single-column adventure details a ruined tower & dungeon with about 27 rooms scattered over four levels. Minimally keyed but with extensive, non-intentional, padding, it had my teeth grinding the entire time. 

One of my first college classes was a public speaking one. They used the gimmick of recording your talk for you to review later. Once I heard all of my Ummm, Ahhh, You Know pauses I was fixed for life; I almost never do that anymore in any form of speaking. I’m going to do something similar to that in this review.

“2. Guard Post

This was once a guard post. Men were stationed here to guard the room. They guarded it well. There is refuse from the guards beds on the floor. The guards items no longer remain but the guards do. 12 Wights (former guards)”

Ok, got it? Repetition. Yeahs, it’s also a terrible description with the past referenced, trivia and puts the most obvious things at the end. Hopefully you now cannot unsee these things. Now let’s look at a more subtle example from this adventure. 

“16. Guard Post

This was once a guard post and barracks. Bedding is strewn about the place and water has pooled up in the southern portion of the room. The most trusted and loyal of Shandalar Raloqen’s soldiers are still guarding this room.”

No? Not convinced? How about the potomac example of a bad room description, from that Dungeon Magazine adventure. Remember it? A long room description describing the contents in all its glory, only to end with “but that was all looted long ago and none of it remains.” 

And from the adventure “This room was once the armory for the tower. This area clearly saw some battle as a large section of the north wall has been caved in. The source of this collapse is still found in the room. A large boulder once fired by a trebuchet sits in the center of the floor.

This area has many thick webs all across the room. Glints of metal can be seen from racks along the south wall.”

This thing does this over and over and over and over again. It feels like every single room is in this form. This was X. But it now Y. And this things in the room was once A. It is now B.

“Where a gate house once stood there is nothing but emptiness. The two structures beside the opening clearly were designed to threaten anyone entering from this point. There are arrow slits still visible from both sides of this entrance. The gates have rotted away. The roof above this area has fallen in. Bits of rubble scattered in this area suggest that this was once a well guarded part of the fortress.”

“Defenders of the tower used this fortified area to fire arrows at attackers. Arrow slits point in three directions. Now all that remains here are arrowheads stacked near the wall. These were once attached to arrows and were in barrels for the defenders use. Those wooden arrows and barrels have disappeared over time but the arrowheads remain.”

These things are empty. They are nothing. Nothing but padding around rubble. 

There’s a statue. It’s noted as not having any magical properties. Well of fucking course not. That’s the usual state of the fucking world. No, wait, I’m upset. I’m upset that all of those arrowheads, rubble, boulders, rotter gates and so on ALSO don’t tell me that they have no magical properties. Do they or don’t they?

Dead Elf Chick/Banshee’s name is/was Shandalar Raloqen. That name appears no less than than 35 times in 30 pages and twenty times in the 27 rooms of the dungeon. “This was Shandalar Raloqen’s cup. Shandalar Raloqen drank from it. Because Shandalar Raloqen needed water to live.” No, that’s not in the text, but it COULD be. 

This is padded all to hell and is a perfect example of why one needs an editor. But then again, everyone here knows that, having long suffered my “I don’t give a fuck” typo style

On the plus side there’s a curse scroll that turns you in to a puddle of water and you drain away in the floor cracks. Dig it! Also, it’s on Shandalar Raloqen desk, next to a Candle of Insanity. Why did she, in life, keep that on her desk? Meh. Also, I wonder if that desk is magical …

Ultra minimally keyed and padded, unintentionally I think, out to fill word count and page count.

This is Pay What You Want on DriveThru with a suggested price of $2.50. The preview is six pages long and shows you nothing of the adventure except a wandering monster chart (full of bats & rats! For levels 6-8! Simulation is boring) and the lame-o backstory of Shandalar Raloqen.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Everyone Plows the Graveyard Farm

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 11:20
By Remley Farr Self-Published 5e Levels 1-3

Giant bugs have ravaged the farming town of Castillo, and as society crumbles, warring factions rise from the rubble. Can the PC’s navigate this new society well enough to find an altruistic solution, or will they choose a side and determine who will rule the dead-littered town?

This 42 page sandbox adventure details the situation in a small rural community, around ten major locations, beset by trouble and warring factions. The situation is great. It’s put together well in a neutral sandbox manner and does a great job outlining the various factions and locations, supporting it all with good tables. It lacks a bit of independent action by the factions, but is otherwise a good adventure.

42 pages, at triple column, with at least thirty detailing actual locales, etc? Only the last ten pages left to monsters, tables, etc? This thing is STUFFED FULL and I love it. I don’t even know where to begin. Giant bugs overrunning a small rural community. Asshole taking advantage of the economic trouble by buying up land and becoming that is almost a bandit king over town and the surrounding community. Insular halfling-led island that resembles a fortified town from The Walking Dead. A doomsday cult out in the open running around burning shit down and recruiting troubled folk down on their luck. Big game hunters from distant lands, here to hunt eh giant bugs. With some getting hired out from time to time for protection, etc work. A GIANT ant colony with an intelligent queen. A colossal behemoth of a scorpion beyond the parties abilities. A couple of loners hanging out by themselves, all with major personality issues. This thing has a SHIT TON going on. It’s a great way to deal with a sandbox … lots going on, a field full of open gas tanks with the party there setting off fireworks in the middle of it. What I’m saying is that this has enough for a DM to work with. That’s rare. Usually there’s just one or two things on in an adventure. A good sandbox though generally has A LOT going on. And this is a good sandbox.

A couple of the hooks are more than the usual fare … and come straight out of a Segio Leone western, with the party getting hired by one of the factions to do something for them, getting caught up in what’s going on. The slumlord is even called Don Diego. 

We get a nice faction overview laid out on a few pages, one per column, with art, a little write-up, and then a section on likes, dislikes, goals and the like that’s organized, bolded, and easy readable at a glance. Perfect for a DM at the table. Maybe a one-page summary would have been nice, with everything on one page, but it’s good enough. They are all colorful and therefore memorable, which means well done.

The central mechanism is a one page regional map. It has each of the major locations on it, which roughly correspond to one per faction … about ten in all … some actual factions and some just loose individuals with their own goals, etc. There’s a little text bubble on the map that gives about a one sentence description of the place. It works well. In fact, I REALLY love the map as the kind of central index of the adventure, the one thing at the center of all of the organization, and the text bubbles help a lot with that. I will note, though, that the map is crying out for some color. Something Harn-like, or a little lighter, showing elevations, waterways, etc would really bring it to life. It could also use some page references in those text bubbles … which page of the adventure has the details of that site. It’s not a deal-breaker, for other reasons, but it would have been a nice touch.

Each of the sites is contained on ABOUT one page, maybe a few more for some of the very major locations. Good section heading breaks combined with generally short text and bolding makes it easy to scan. It’s basically an outline of a location, with a little map, major features, things going on and so on. From that, almost note-like format, the DM runs the location/situation. It works really well for an adventure like this.

There’s some great tables for generating a servant or mercenary. Wandering monsters/encounters are up to something. There are some cross-references present. Support for generating random farmhouses and what happened there/their occupants. It really supports the DM well. 

I’d say there are three things in the adventure that don’t work well. The first is the lack of a … zoom out? Each section/locale needs just one more little paragraph describing how things work together. Maybe two sentences more. Watermill’s survivalist outpost at night, lit by their frequent fires, and so on. An initial paragraph that maybe references the other bolded sections for more detail.

Zooming out even further the same could be said for the entire adventure. Each of the locales feels static. What’s its missing is a timeline of events. The wanderers tables, etc give a little burst of energy to various things, but it doesn’t feel holistic. While the factions have goals, etc, they don’t materialize in terms of actions. A general outline of some daily things to stir things up and keep them moving would have helped a lot with this. While the adventure notes “warring factions” that doesn’t really come across. It doesn’t need to go full on Mortiston on it, but a little would help a lot.

The weirdest thing is maybe the slumlords mansion. It’s room/key format, with 31 or so room on a couple of levels. It also lacks a guard schedule, or a kind of overview, events, etc that would add some life to it. It’s a mix of “assaulting the mansion” oriented text and of “interacting with the folk inside” text. Maybe that the Fistfull of Dollars things, where the location gets used for both. It’s a little TOO open-ended though. 

But, that doesn’t make this not one of The Best, cause it is. 

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is eight pages. You get to see the faction text, the one page regional overview, and one of the random tables, a random farmhouse generator. That first page of text “Page 1” could be thought of representative of the entire text. Note how it covers many topics in one page, high level but still focused on adventure.


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