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Updated: 23 hours 34 min ago

Fever Swamp

Mon, 10/30/2017 - 11:19

By Luke Gearing
Melsonian Arts Council
LotFP/All D&D
Level ?

The air is moist. The moisture mixes with your sweat — the heat is relentless. The drone of insects gives you headaches, and the fever from the infected wounds has left you delirious. Your raft is damaged, and there are spirits in the trees. … You’ve only been here for three days.

This is a 32 page (half appendices) hex crawl in a swamp with about fourteen encounters. It’s evocative and creative and FEELS like a swamp adventure. Well organized and almost dream-like, it presents a weird vision of a swamp in which nearly every aspect feels right. A few encounters suffer from their brevity and a devotion to format, but otherwise this is full of stuff you can work with. It’s more like an actual “module”, a place that simply exists without plot that the DM can twist to their will.

The swamp is 8×12 hexes each 18 miles wide, with fourteen encounters and a robust wanderers table to keep things moving. The hooks are covered in one paragraph and are a little better than most. In particular, there’s someone in the swamp, a scholar, with a bounty on his head. Searching the swamp for him gets the party moving in and through it and discovering other objects. There’s also an oracle, which I’ve always found great for command words for wands, where’s the hand of vecna, etc.

The cover pretty accurately depicts the swamp. There’s an oracular succubus (more like an invisible nymph, I’d say) , a suicidal swamp witch, scumboggle hives, stilt walkers, candle thieves, and so on. This thing is hitting on all cylinders when it comes to interesting and evocative encounter names. The candlthieves are the spirits of lost children desperate for a light to lead them home, pacified with sweet treats. They steal lights and try not to fight. Sweet! The head of the Ghost Olm (?!) can be worn and used to lie once to any entity which will always believe the lie no matter the evidence. A) Nice thing to go looking for and B) Sweet ass magic item!) It does this over and over and over again. The swamp witch is kind of fused to a tree, and begs for death, guarded by demon familiars who want to keep her alive … but she knows everything about the swamp and will trade the info for death. These are all strong, strong ideas.

It can also be inconsistent in places. There’s an encounter with “Hunger, the Crocodile” that has had a spirit fused with it. It’s just a giant croc though, nothing special about the encounter at all. That feels out of place given the gameable extras that most encounters have. There’s also a few encounters that feel too short. There’s a small village, up on stilts, that is less than half a page (not counting NPC’s) and that’s digest pages at that. Likewise a fallen monastery is half a digest page … though there’s a huge fungus colony in the flooded catacombs. Both places are a little too large for the more … abstracted? encounter descriptions that they get. The format works great, except when too short or the encounter too ‘big’.

And the village … I don’t know. The NPC’s feel a little disconnected from it. More like disconnected pieces than a whole. The NPC motivations feel a bit more abstracted; making them more action oriented, toward the party, would have helped here a lot. This strengthens the theme of the larger, more complex areas being the weaker areas and/or being hampered by the half-page-ish encounter. (There’s a dungeon that spans several pages that doesn’t have this problem though. I suspect it’s because it spans several pages.)

Still, it does a good job. It cross-references the rumor table with the focus of the rumor, letting you fill in details. It’s easy to scan almost all of the encounters. It has a great short paragraph on describing the misery of the swamp. The swamp people are organized in to small tribes and it has a very evocative table on making them weird. Almost like shudder mountain for swamp … if a little weirder.

This is $8 on DriveThru. You can see good examples of cross-references in the text and rumor table on page two of the preview, with a great overview of swamp misery on pages three as well as those great wandering monster encounter names.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Forbidden Caverns of Archaia

Wed, 10/25/2017 - 11:18

by Greg “I wrote Barrowmaze” Gillespie
Labyrinth Lord
Level 1-

The lost city of Archaia – an ancient ruin sunken into the earth – lies deep in the badlands. In recent years, caravans from Eastdale have come under attack from orcs, goblins, and worse. Some say these blood-thirsty warbands have made lairs in the deep caves and ruins. Sill others say the ancient halls are filled with magnificent treasures left by the Archaians. Are you brave (or foolish) enough to delve The Forbidden Caverns of Archaia?

This is a 300 page megadungeon, in the form of a Caves of Chaos style ravine. There are about 150 pages of room keys spanning … 50 dungeon complexes? with about a one hundred page appendix detailing monsters, treasure, etc, and about a forty page introduction descripting the region, main town/villages, wanderers, etc. The closest comparison is B2/Caves of Chaos, if there were three times as many caves, the caves were each three times larger, and the evil temple guys were greatly expanded. Much like Stonehell and Barrowmaze, there are very strong maps supporting the exploratory play and a kind of “Generic D&D with just a little extra” vibe to the place. It’s strongest when being specific and breaking the B2 mold and weakest when it emulates the worst parts of B2 … like generic elements and rooms with only humanoid monsters.

I’m going to compare this adventure, repeatedly, to B2/Caves of Chaos. That’s unfair, because it’s more than that. The near universal familiarity with B2, and similarities to this adventure, will give most readers a firmer understanding of what to expect. These days I tend to concentrate on the good parts of an adventure and then detail the bad parts. In this case I’m going to cover things a little more linearly, as they appear in the adventure.

Which means the regional data and town/village data are the first thing I’m going to cover. There’s a little background data and summary data present, but I’m going to ignore that for now. The first forty pages or so are a combination of regional overview, town/village overview, factions and wandering monsters, and a brief word on hex crawl and some related general “dungeon” features. This part is, frankly, boring. It falls in to a kind of Bog Standard Fantasy description category. The towns, villages, and various regional features get about a paragraph each and nothing really stands out. “This village has fewer religious restrictions than the main town.” and “This village has fewer religious restrictions than than that other one.” A dwarf hold with a few dwarves in it. “Men and dwarves get along in this village in order to support each other.” Nearly all of it is generic almost to the abstract. It’s like the adventures that post food prices in their taverns … the detail that is presented is not engaging. “Bob can make quarrels but prefers not to.” Yes, you can use this. But “Bob is vocal about his loathing of crossbow users, although he serves them.” paints a different picture of the establishment that is easier to wrap your head around during play. There’s a new pantheon of deities presented, but they offer little solid quirks on which to hang your hat, mostly just being retheming of the usual suspects. “The Red Thicket” has a bunch of giant trees that live a long time, giant owls, rumors of treants … if you pause and think for a moment then you’ll get the idea. But the writing is so … bland? that it just doesn’t inspire you and make your mind leap and want to run it. It’s not that it’s bad, or that it’s too terribly long, but it’s just so inoffensive and unspecific that it lacks and evocative power without putting in some decent effort.

This sort of aggressive genericism is something I’ve seen before, particularly with regard to regional data and deities, as it is in this. It has a close step-sibling in the “generic room description” that is frequently found in adventure. The bedroom that tells you it has a bed, and a chest with four socks, two pairs of underwear, two pairs of pants and the bed has sheets and a pillow on it. IE: a normal bedroom. Or IE: a normal harvest god. Or IE: a normal medieval village. We’re not paying for that, but rather the new & noteworthy. Actionable, gameable content that drives play.

This is a good segway in to the content of the actual dungeons. There are a lot, around fifty, I’d say. And the maps are, almost always, quite excellent. Lot’s of variety, good terrain features on the maps, nice layouts that support exploration. There is, however, something missing. Content.

Generalizations are a hell of a thing, but my overall impression was not one of excitement. The first major dungeon is the kobold lair. A small sentry room with two kobolds. A small sentry room with four kobolds. A guardroom for the nearby stairwell (4 kobolds.) A small guard chamber (2 kobolds.) The kobolds have grown a shrieker. Another room is “two kobolds.” Each of those is the actual description of a real room, all from one of the room description pages. This is true minimal keying.

There are bits and pieces of actual content. “A large natural column has been modi ed to include a secret door with a small claustrophobic stairwell down to Level 2 (#11)” and “A human skeleton lay prone on the ground half buried in sand It points towards the northwest.” Those begin to show promise, but again are pretty minimal and, while it’s something to work with, could be much more evocative in the same amount of space.

Stonehell was minimal, but supported by the dungeon overviews, something Archaia notable doesn’t have. Stonehell also filled its rooms full of THINGS and interactivity where Archaia just lists monsters. Even the Castle of the Mad Archmage tried for little vignettes. This is closer to the Mad Demigod’s Castle, or B2 proper. I know there’s a market for this in some circles, but I find that style lacking. Just a little more tweaking and something more evocative could be obtained without really loosing the vibe of it being minimal keyed.

There are other things that tick me off, with some organization choices. The Gem shop has a crier that shouts “Gems for gold!” …but that’s not in the keyed description for the village. Instead that bit of info is found in a separate NPC description late on, for the owner of the business. That makes no sense, it’s counter-intuitive. Likewise in one cave a wyvern mommy comes to aid of her young … but you don’t know that by looking at the room description of the young which occurs before mom’s description. SO you encounter the young first, slaughter them, then you go to mom’s room and the DM reads the description and says “oh shit, I guess she’s not coming to their aid now.” It’s not written with play in mind. There’s a reference someplace else to a staff headpiece being needed … but no reference to where it is. As a player I get the staff, figure out I need the headpiece, go home and cast Legend Lore or find object or something, and then the DM fumbles with the 300-page book for an hour trying to find where the thing is.

It’s a lot more aggressively generic than I would like. Book treasure that could be straight out of B2, a weird long description of one orc tribe, meh NPC descriptions, town & regional & god descriptions, perfunctory hooks, lack of location names on the regional map, forcing double lookups.

But the map DOES have a “Forbidden Zone” on it, and a travel time matrix between location is provided. And there are over 100 great “special” entries on the wanderers table and there is at least some mention of tribal factions … even if I don’t think it’s really enough to generate the goal: gameable situations.

And, in spite of my bitching about cross-references, it DOES have good summaries. The book is summarized, the chapters are summarized … you generally know what something is about and what to expect in a section of text, a critical feat in a 300 page booklet.

I think I’m disappointed with what could have been. A hex crawl through a badland, with tribal lairs and lot of other dungeons is a GREAT idea. The maps are WONDERFUL. Portions of the adventure, like the special wanderers are good. The genericism of the supporting information and the very minimally keying of the encounters is disappointing. Sure, there are exceptions, and in particular the non-humanoid lair dungeons are much better.

It’s still an impressive work and I’m keeping it. I’ll even probably stick it on my list, since I’m fond of megadungeons. But it’s almost certainly on the wrong side of a line for me. Which begs the question why I’m not more down on it given my comments. I don’t know. The premise and maps are VERY good.

The PDF is $35 on DriveThru. I can’t find a preview; I wish there was one for, say, the kobold dungeon, along with the map.

You might be able to poke around on the kickstarter page for more photos and description, but, again, there’s not much description. Although I do think the art piece is pretty indicative of the environment you are getting yourselves in to.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dance of the Medusa

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 11:08

medusa with poison snakes vector in eps10

by Joseph A Mohr
Old School Role Playing
Levels 4-7

In southern Zanzia chaos reigns as a new cult is growing stronger and threatening the powers that be. This cult worships a Snake Godess and her temple is believed to be in the swamps of southern Zanzia. Heros are needed to investigate this cult and temple and put a stop to this threat to the kingdom.

My apologies Joseph Mohr. I just sat in coach on a five hour flight to San Francisco and I feel like I’ve been hit hard lately with unfocused writing.

This temple raid is 31 pages long a describes an evil temple with seventeen rooms on two levels It’s almost entirely a pure hack, although there might be some imposter for at the start to get in. It appears to be boring, large, and uses a writing style that frustrates me to no end. It’s just yet another also-ran obfuscating any good material to come out.

There’s a wand, the description tells us that it appears to be made of stone. A bed appears to be comfortable. A statue appears to that of an adventurer in plate mail. Everything in this adventure Appears To Be. That writing style drives me nuts. It is or it isn’t. These are just weasel words used to pad out an adventure. Unfocused writing. It clogs up the text. It’s the difference between “There is a conformable bed” vs “There is a bed in the room and it appears to be comfortable.” These are miles apart in terms of providing a resource for the DM to use.

The wand “can only be used by magic-users.” Well, yes, that is the normal state of the world. “Listening at the door you hear no sound”. Again, which is what one would expect for an empty room. “There is a door to the west and a passage to the north” … exactly like the map shows. A dresser has normal clothes in it … exactly as one would expect. It has two shirts and one pair of pants and a pair of socks. This is weak writing. Instead of telling us what is new or special or interesting it concentrates on telling us what we would normally expect. Does a room description need to tell us that the sun will rise tomorrow? Does it need to tell us in every empty room that we will hear no sounds when listening at the doors? !!THERES. NO. FUCKING. REASON. FOR. ANY. OF. THIS!! We’re not paying for an adventure in order to be told about the sock & underwear content of drawers, or that there are no orcs, demons, devils, giant rats in the room.

Instead, I went out with a boy who died. Errr, I mean, Instead the descriptions need to concentrate on evocative writing that assist the DM in quickly scanning the text for details ACTUALLY NEEDED during play. You know what’s not evocative? The word “large.” One room, the main temple, has a large alter, a large fountain and a large idol in it. Wonderful. Are they large? Large is boring fucking word. A towering idol, a shadowy alter, a mist-filled fountain, these invoke feelings in the DM which they can then transfer to the players … the goal of evocative room descriptions. (Note, alters should not be vile. Vile is a conclusion. Tell us WHY. Don’t TELL us the alter vile, instead SHOW us why the alter is vile. Fresh babies impaled on candlesticks communicates vile much better than just telling us its vile.)

All of this results in a verbose and boring room text. The aforementioned alter room is one and a half pages long. There’s a column of text to describe a trap where a car falls from the ceiling. A paragraph of text on a needle trap.

“The desk has a drawer to it which is locked and trapped. Should anyone attempt to open the drawer without first unlocking it or removing the trap (or disarming it by pulling the handle and turning it three times clockwise) will be pricked by a poison needle. The person stuck by the needle will need to save versus poison or be paralyzed for ten rounds.”

Again, a long winded winded writing style. The desk is trapped with a poison needle. Save vs paralyzation. Lasts 10 rounds.” Tada!

There is also a room that falls in to a different writing trap. “There is also.” It lists treasure, one item per sentence, and starts each sentence with “there is also. There is a also a jeweled cup work 100gp. There is also a crown worth 10gp. There is also a ….Not to mention the repetition of longer sections of text. We’re told repeatedly that the guard patrols are expecting the king to send someone and thus are super duper alert. We’re told repeatedly (three times, I think) that the blood river is called the blood river because blah blah blah blah blah.

You get a feel for these things after awhile. A long page count with a small number of rooms doesn’t ALWAYS mean an adventure sucks … but it is makes one wary when they see it. The writing style is forgivable since it should improve with time, feedback, and stronger editing. Ideally, this would give the designer more time to concentrate on the actual encounters and constructing more interesting situations and environments.

It’s $3.50 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages but only shows you two pages of actual text, and even that’s general information. Notably, you get to see the first occurrence of the river of blood description, the temple guards, the lich, and what the temple is made of. You’ll get to read those descriptions several more times each before reaching the end.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Lost Colony

Mon, 10/16/2017 - 11:19

By Sean Liddle
Anti-Photon Publishing
System – Unknown
Level – Unknown

You and your friends are in deep trouble. Children of respected knights of the realm, you’ve been slacking away and causing trouble. Thankfully the King and his people respect your families and you haven’t been banished, or worse. Now you must travel down the southern coast to investigate a long standing rumor of a missing shipload of treasure from one hundred years past. You will visit hidden port towns, island enclaves and see sights you’d never see from your boring northern stone city. Pirates, sea monsters, a mystery to solve and wealth to retrieve for your king and country to help fund a coming war against the Drow. It’s time to search for the Lost Colony.

This 43 page adventure involves a sea voyage to various ports while looking for a lost treasure of old. It is linear and almost incoherent in its stream of consciousness style.

There are no stats. There are no credits. There is no game system mentioned. There is no introduction to speak of, other than a “this is the first in a line of adventures and we will expand some areas in others.” Everything is in a single column. A cursive font is used in places, making vast portions nearly unreadable. Other interesting font choices seem to fight the reader to be clear. All of these choices combine to make it VERY hard to read the adventure, let alone use it at the table.

The writing is mostly stream of consciousness. Linear, events, and encounters all mixed together in single paragraphs, without a traditional room/key format. It’s as if this is an outline, or you were sitting in a bar after three drinks and describing an adventure. The first 28 pages are the sea voyage and the various ports visited, rumor tables, and merchants to visit, along with a couple of encounters that the DM can use to “keep the adventurers on their toes.” Like giant Crabs coming out of the water and snagging a womans children. Multiple paragraph read-alouds, you visit three or four cities and then end up in a forest on page 28, ending on page 33 before the maps start. The main encounter, a dwarf vault, is on one page in paragraph/conversational form.

I don’t even know where to start with this. It is as incoherent as it can possible be and still be legible. This needs a formatting, bad, for readability purposes. Once that’s done then the conversational writing style could be addressed.

This is $1.75 at DriveThru. The preview is perfect, showing the first six pages. The cursive font. The long read alouds. The stream of consciousness writing on page five for the events. It’s quite representative for what you are getting. I encourage you to check it out.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dungeon Magazine Summary: Issues 126-150

Sat, 10/14/2017 - 11:13

Again, if I don’t list an issue it’s because there was nothing too notable about it.

Dungeon 128
Shut-In is a delightful little urban adventure. Guarding a little old ladies house, the thing has more atmosphere than, say, every Ravenloft adventure ever, combined. The Swan Street Slicer. Mute halfling. A town working itself in to a frenzy over the escaped murderer. A bitter old woman in a wheelchair. Good stuff. This thing would have me, as a player, bouncing up and down in my chair in anticipation.

Dungeon 129
Murder in Oakbridge is a murder mystery that, while overwrought with text, gets most of the organization right for an adventure of this type.

Dungeon 130
Within the Circle has a nice intro & wilderness section, but fails utterly in the dungeon that’s supposed to be the focus.

Dungeon 133
Ill Made Graves has a viking theme and “feels” right. Lots of callbacks to classic tropes, like chucking things in lava crows, shattered remains of a dead kings magic sword …

Dungeon 134
Home Under the Range is a farce about herding giant beetles, cattle-style, through the underdark. Linear set pieces, but short and allows for stupid plans to be designed and executed.

Dungeon 136
Both Tensions Rising and And Madness Followed have good things to reccomend them, from factions to sandbox play, but ruin it with WAY too much text. More than usual. Which is saying something.

Dungeon 139
Urban Decay has a gritty vibe going on with meat pies made of rats. It’s event/lair based but has some nice gritty urban imagery.

Dungeon 140
The Fall of Graymalkin Academy is kind of like the Battle of Hogwarts, with factions. Nice magic school vibe, but could be rewritten to provide a more evocative atmosphere.

Dungeon 142
I was fond of Masque of Dreams, a ball that gets attacked, but it needs more structure to make it worthwhile.

If you like set-pieces then Here There Be Monsters has some good classic trope ones. It’s linear as all hell, but good for that.

Dungeon 144
Lightless Depths had a great alternative underdark thing going on, but was IMPOSSIBLY long otherwise.

Dungeon 145
The Distraction wants to be a sandbox but fails in almost every way.

Dungeon 146
Escape the Meenlock Prison is only interesting in that is crosses a line, morally. You’re hired to go to a black prison and escort two prisoners to another location. Weird.

Dungeon 147
The Aundairian Job is a sandbox bank heist. It’s a little moderny for my tastes, but that can be handled with some on the fly retheming.

Dungeon 148
Automatic Hound has a nice meta thing going with villagers and roleplaying. Too long, but done right this could be a great difficult social adventure with an almost LotFP ending.

Dungeon 149
The concept in War of the Wielded is nice: it takes intelligent swords to their logical extreme. Linear, but factions of intelligent swords engaged in a centuries long war with wielders as pawns is a great idea.

Twisted Night has some good imagery and a nice horror vibe. Needs a rework to make it coherent.

Dungeon 150
Kill Bargle is a nice exploration dungeon, which makes sense because it’s essentially a dungeon taken from the early days of D&D.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Tomb at the Dragon’s Spine

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 11:16

By Scott Taylor
Art of the Genre
Levels 1-3

While crossing the deadly ‘Dragon’s Spine’ of the island’s interior, the party encounters a darkness at the heights. Within the ancient stones the tomb of one of the last sea dwarf master masons rests. Has the corruption of the island reached the tomb? Only exploration will reveal the truth, and the treasure.

This nine page dwarf tomb has twelve rooms in simple layout. There’s some effort to create an evocative atmosphere that doesn’t quite reach my, quite high, expectations. There’s also some above average effort to have unique treasure. This could be quite a bit shorter, with good editing. It’s not a throw-away but also doesn’t really strike hot. It would probably be fine for most people, if a little staid.

I want to talk some about the atmosphere the adventure is trying to create. Here’s some intro text, describing the mountain area where the tomb resides:
“There is a presence here, not something palpable, but an ancient aftereffect that pervades the very stonework of the hills. Crumbling stairs, moss- covered arches, and cleverly disguised passes around perilous rock faces and towering waterfalls seem to greet you at every turn. One thing is clear, whoever created this pass knew the subtleties of stone and kept their secrets well.”

You can clearly see where the designer is trying to go. I’d divide the description to two parts: impressions and conclusions. The first and last sentence fall in to the conclusions while the middle falls, for the most part, in to the description category. It’s that middle section that I like the most. Adventures are, I think, more successful when they concentrate on the impressions rather than the feelings. A good impression/description will create and communicate the feeling, without having to resort to saying it outright. Those bookend sentences almost fall in to the trap of starting with “You feel …” and I think that’s weak writing. Crumbling steps, moss-covered arches, hidden passes … those help communicate the conclusions.

Another example:
“Frost holds heavy to the dark earth along the bluffs to the east. There, amid a collection of tumbledown stone, the remains of several ancient plinths stand at odd angles. Somewhere beyond, a darkness lurks in the mists that collect amongst the stone.” Again, conclusions bookend a pretty strong impression. The first and last are, perhaps, trying too hard. I love the tumbledown stone and fallen plinths.Frost and mist can work well, along with the inky black opening, but the overly poetic language gets in the way of those impressions.

One chamber has pinprick holes in the ceiling letting in light, which is great imagery, but is surrounded by the drudgery of dimensions and the mundane. “A large forge, cold from ages of disuse … again, trying too hard. The adventure is best when giving those impressions and letting the mundane fall by the wayside.

Most of the rooms fall in to a page of bolded/read-aloud and then a couple of paragraphs of DM notes. The bolded read-aloud has the filler text, as does the DM notes. It flirts in to the realm of the conversational. “The trap cannot be disarmed but can be avoided” is the sort of detail that acts as filler, mundane details not needed that hides the better DM notes and evocative text.

The encounters proper are ok. There’s a trick or two, such as a stat-raising/lowering fountain. SOME of the treasure is good, like a lantern that doesn’t go out when submerged or a jade necklace that allows dimension door once a day. Then it falls down with simple things like +1 mace or +1 chainmail.

It’s a small simple tomb that’s supposed to be evocative and communicate a scary/abandoned vibe. The extra text detracts from that, impeding scanning and making one fight for the good bits.

It’s $2 on Drive Thru. The preview is six pages and shows you almost all of the tomb text. You can see good example of the text in rooms four and five.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Temple of Drawoh Rock

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 11:14

By CS Barnhart
Mad Martian Games
Level 1

The Temple of Drawoh Rock is an adventure module for 1st level characters exploring the Ice Kingdoms. As warriors of Thane Ornulf the characters will sail the Atalac Sea, explore the Gate Isles, and raid the Monastery of Jove. But what starts out as a simple plan to rob some peaceful monks turns into a harrowing adventure as the adventurers cross paths with the machinations of a deadly sorcerer.

This is a sixteen page viking themed adventure about a raid on a monastery. The monastery is relatively small, at 11 rooms, but there is a sea voyage. It flirts with providing an evocative atmosphere, but ultimately fails to deliver on an evocative environment

This flirts with a viking theme. You’re all drafted to join your first raid , pretending to be a different viking group. There’s a sea voyage and then you end up at the island only to find the monastery empty, obviously having been raided recently. What follow is a slow forlorn explore with a slightly creepy vibe and a few monsters bursting out. There may be something like eleven rooms total and four or five monster encounters, mostly with ghoul-like monks.

The ship voyage has a nice wandering/events table with things like rocks with visible pearls … guarded by mermaids. Storm effects, and so on. The monastery text, while long-ish and unfocused, does present a kind of creepy ass vibe

You have to work for it though. The monastery isle is explained in the text, but a little simple overview map would have done wonders for it. There’s no shipmates presented, and only a throwaway reference, in about 3 words buried in text, of the leader of the expedition. But we do get a long paragraph describing the layout of the monastery … which is just describing what is on the map right above it. “At the far end is the alter (a) and to the north (b) and south (c) are two wings.” It goes on and on instead of concentrating on an evocative atmosphere. There’s a lot of art and large text … I’d estimate that only two or maybe three pages are the adventure proper.

This needs slightly more detail for the ship crew and leader, and a paring down of the text about the raid, the background, the boring minutia of the room descriptions. The treasure is generic. Religous artifacts, scraping away gold … there’s no specificity. I’m not looking for paragraphs, or even sentences, but SOMETHING is needed.

I’m being a little harsh on this. Most rooms are a paragraph or so, and it DOES provide a nice creepy vibe. It also feels overly sparse for the amount of text there is. One of the rooms is:

Much like the north wing, the south wing is a ten foot deep and twenty foot wide area that branches out from the nave. This area is the choir and has been built for acoustics. From this point, singing echoes throughout the nave and monastery as a whole.”

I think I’m turned off by the sparseness of the voyage/crew/island and the large amount of art … it feels like the things is SERIOUSLY padded out to make it to sixteen pages. That and the relatively abstracted treasure. But then it does things like say that if you scrape the gold off the altar then the potions and scrolls inside the temple don’t work for you … you’ve angered the god of the temple. That’s great stuff. And the bad guy sorcerer is nowhere to be seen,

This feels like a good adventure plagued by the need for a little more support in the crew and leader, and some better treasure. It also feels … incomplete. Anti-climactic, I guess. I’m not looking for a boss fight but it somehow feels unsatisfying. Maybe it’s the low treasure? I don’t know. It’s quiet, which is ok, but feels too sparse for what it is. I’m intrigued by it.

I don’t know. This review sucks.

It’s PWYW at DriveThru, currently at a suggested $1. The preview is seven pages and show you the wandering table, at the end, which I think it well done, as well as the long-ish intro. It does give a good viking vibe … but goes on and glosses over ship life too much.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dungeon Magazine Summary: Issues 101-125

Sat, 10/07/2017 - 11:13

A reminder: if I don’t list an issue then it doesn’t have enough redeeming qualities for me to mention it. I didn’t accidentally skip them.

Dungeon 104
Dragon Hunters has some nice faction play in it and perhaps some murky morality (in a fun way, not a punitive way) that need some work to get some good use out of it. Quite above average for Dungeon.

Dungeon 105
Racing the Snake is NOT what I am looking for in an adventure, but if you want linear set pieces then you could do A LOT worse than this one.

Dungeon 112
Maure Castle, updated to the new rules. The layout is terrible and Kuntz needs an editor with a spine. It’s also classic D&D exploration, which is quite rare.

Dungeon 114
Mad God’s Key is a plot based adventure AND it doesn’t suck AND it’s in Dungeon! Very flavorful and good imagery throughout and worth digging through the text.

Dungeon 115
Raiders of the Black Ice has a great variety of encounters and good winter vibe.

Dungeon 117
Touch of the Abyss and Fallen Angel both have some high points, but both suffer one or two good ideas that are not followed through on.

Dungeon 118
Unfamiliar Ground is a linear crawl, but its has some good weird stuff and order of battle for enemies.

Dungeon 121
Fiend’s Embrace features a ruined castle in a cold swamp and is quite a bit more evocative than most Dungeon adventures.

Dungeon 122
Fiendish Footprints has some linear elements, but also has a multi-entrance dungeon and interesting scenes/encounters in that linear environment.

Dungeon 124
More Maure Castle, with the usual Kuntz faults. But the “highlight” is The Whispering Cairn, the AGe of Worms kickoff. Not a bad little dungeon, for a plot thing.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Wicked Woeful Web

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 11:17

By Thom Wilson
Swords & Wizardry
Levels 1-2

The monks of Esherten have always used trained spiders to protect their crops from the nearby giant fly hives. That was until several days ago, when the always obedient arachnids left the small settlement and disappeared into the Woeful Forest. The giant flies, attracted to the Flame Flower nectar grown in the village, have found the crop unprotected. Monks and villagers are growing weary from their constant battle with the insects. They need help! Who can help them bring back their trained guards?

This is a seventeen page adventure fighting giant flies and spiders. There is some fine imagery in this that really sparks the imagination. Then there’s the other 99.9% of the text which is unfocused and hides the evocative bits, turning a nine room adventure in to seventeen pages.

A village grows a rare flower and nearby monks raise giant spiders to protect the crops from giant flies that like to feed on/destroy them. But the spiders have recently disappeared, migrating to a nearby forest. The primary adventure is a four room cave with a giant evil spider in it. The secondary adventure is a giant fly lair with five rooms.

There great imagery in this. Massive tiny spider migrations, as the evil spider calls them to her, ala Harry potter. You notice, by sense and/or smell something foul and ancient within a cave. Tiny spiders swarm over the remains of a fallen dear. Hundreds of deformed egg sacks hang from the ceiling and cling to the wall of a chamber. Very nice! It implants a strong mental image in your head and allows your brain to fill in the blanks, exactly the sort of evocative writing we’re looking for. But that’s generally one sentence in a column of text. Otherwise the writing is long and generally unfocused … hence the column of text per room. It’s padded out with trivia and detail that is not likely to come up in the adventure.

Then it leaves out things. Room c2 has spiders in it. The text says they will will attack. Unless they are the spiders from the monastery in which case they won’t attack. Are they spiders from the monastery? Are they mixed? No idea. And then the treasure … most of the mundane treasure is just generic coins and the magic treasure is “Dagger of Sharpness, +1 damage.” Lacking detail where it needs it and full of detail where it doesn’t.

Sometimes I find no redeeming qualities in an adventure and, after a couple from the same publisher, write them off and avoid that stuff for a couple of years. This does not fall in to that category; the imagery in this is quite good in places. What it needs is A LOT more thought on the writing, a focus on the purpose of the writing and how it relates to the room. That’s a “second draft” topic in my mind, and fixable and more easily learned than other adventure issues.

This is $1.50 on DriveThru. There’s no preview.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Nothing To See Here

Mon, 10/02/2017 - 11:16

By Christopher Clark
Inner City Game Design

While you were away, things did not go according to plan. Someone ran up a whole bunch of debts in your name. Someone made a lot of promises and commitments on your behalf. Someone even signed you up for some sort of inn time-sharing scheme. Someone was not very nice; not nice at all. But they looked like you, sounded like you and got you into more than a lot of trouble. Perhaps you’ll show them the meaning of the word trouble, once you find them.

This 37 page adventure has three locales, two of which are likely to be visited. It is the very definition of ‘terrible generic stat’d adventure’, with all that implies, such as long ponderous text. There’s a Tunnels & Trolls kind of very simplistic thing going on where you go somewhere, like a health spa, kill “barbarians” in dressed in suits, and then move on. It’s not the humor, which I usually hate, it’s light enough here to be ignored. But the text, oh my god, the TEXT! I knew it! I know it! This is the same terrible style & formatting used in Eldritch Enterprises products! I knew I’d seen it before!

You’re in a forest and see Wanted signs with your faces on it. You’re wanted for a variety of crimes, like theft, etc. If you camp for the night you’re attacked by some barbarians. If you don’t camp and instead move on you’re attacked by the same barbarians. They are collecting on a bar tab you are accused of skipping out on. When you kill them you find a flyer that leads you to location two. This is the adventure in a nutshell. Some guys attack you, no matter what you do, with a little light farce attached, and you get a clue for the next location where the same thing happens again. Eventually you find a cave with some shape-changing fey that like to mimic people and cause trouble for them. You, of course, kill them.

Lots of read-aloud. Lots of DM text. All of the stats are in that cumbersome generic weirdo format that hasn’t been used since sue-happy T$R days. There’s no real orientation, leaving you wondering all the time what’s supposed to happening, or could happen. “Once any character announces he would like to try to catch a fish from the lake, The Count leads them there …” It’s ALL like that … you have to be INTIMATELY familiar with the byzantine structure to know where to go and what to do and what’s available.

I’ve seen a lot of bad adventures, so I’m not going to say this is the worse formatting/structure ever … but it is certainly in the same ballpark.

This is $15 on DriveThru. The preview shows you a few pages of the most comprehensible part of the adventure: the confrontation with the evil fey in their cave. It’s a paragon of virtue in layout and design compared to what’s come before.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dungeon Magazine Summary: Issues 76-100

Sat, 09/30/2017 - 11:13

Dungeon 76
Fruit of the Vine featured a house overrun by a vine creeper. The core of the encounters were good but WAAAYYYY too much text.

Some folks like Mertymane’s Road. I found the terrain and weather effects tedious and unfun, and others thought they were great.

Dungeon 77
Visiting Tylwyh is a low key but fanciful affair that’s quite charming. Nicely evocative descriptions … and a lot of text that is not.

Feast of Flesh has great Aliens vibe with creatures burrowing up in to a village. Needs a few events, but a decent side trek.

Dungeon 78
Peer Amid the Waters is an actually GOOD adventure, and not even by Dungeon standards! An underwater mystery that DOESN’T suck, isn’t DM torture porn, and is full of mystery and wonder!

Dungeon 79
Keep for Sale is a nice little adventure with overland and dungeon adventures, factions, and a lot to interact with. Charming with a lot of possibilities.

The Best Laid Plans, a side-trek, gets an award of special merit for being, I think, the only side trek adventure in Dungeon magazine that actually fulfills the mission of a side-trek.

Dungeon 80
Trouble with Trillochs has a lair and environment that feels more alien than most dungeon. Not great, but better than usual.

The Scar was a dungeon built in the magazines Dungeoncraft articles. Better than most, but still wordy.

Dungeon 81
A Race against Time is an urban adventure with convoluted setup that tests disbelief. But it’s full of chaos and is a little silly. A personal favorite, even if it is convoluted. Goes to show what a hypocrite I am.

Astar’s Temple is has a nice layout for exploring a dungeon room variety in the encounters.

Dungeon 82
Eye for an Eye is great photocopy/highlighter fodder, with depth not usually found in low level adventures.

Dungeon 83
Depths of Rage was a favorite from when I was young. A goblin cave with lots of the cave features and height changes, that then undergoes an earthquake when you’re inside, making it harder to get out/different challenges. Me Still Like.

Dungeon 84
The Harrowing is, I think, the first of the linear combat-fest adventures in Dungeon. So, special award for ruining D&D, Monte.

The Dyng of the Light has a great background/complications/map/variety and vampires to boot! I like this, but it seems impossible to run without a rewrite.

Armistice has the party playing peacemaker in a valley full of factions and is quite sandboxy. Needs more specifics in a couple of area, more flavor.

Dungeon 85
I go back & forth on Ever Changing Fortunes. Lots of nice bits buried in the bloat of a monster zoo dungeon.

Dungeon 87
Raider of Galath’s Roost has a great first half and then one of the worst wall of text problems I’ve ever seen in the second half.

Dungeon 88
Thirds of Purloined Vellum was a decent investigation adventure in a city with good organization and street life encounters.

Make it Big was a small side-trek where the party is blackmailed in to servitude by some hill giants. Nice premise and good details in places. Not stellar, but good by Dungeon standards.

Dungeon 90
Elfwhisperer, padded beyond belief, has good imagery and motivations while searching the woods for bandits and encountering cursed elves.

Totentanz has a nice folklore vibe and haunted forest thing going on … until it falls down by becoming a boring wizards keep.

Dungeon 94
Worms in the Exchequer is TERRIBLE … but it is complete farce. Does a good job of setting a farcical tone … and then ruins it with the adventure.

Dungeon 95
The Witch of Serpent’s Bridge is workmanlike, not being loathsome or particularly standout. It needs just a little bit more to push it in to good territory.

Dungeon 96
Pandemonium in the Veins is worth the trouble, i think, to dig through. Player driven, events, lots going on. Some gimpy shit also, but that can be worked out.

Dungeon 97
Heart of the Iron God needs more color and a mad prune down, but provides a nice environment, an assault on a moving giant iron golem, and does a lot right.

Demonblade had some good imagery in the investigation of a slaughtered village, but then sucked when it got to the meat of the adventure in part two.

Dungeon 99
Fish Story has some social elements to it, but isn’t quite a faction adventure. Finding something to like in these issues near ‘100’ has been difficult.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dark Times in Brighton

Wed, 09/27/2017 - 11:22

By Bill Logan
DwD Studios
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 1-2

Townsfolk are disappearing from the surrounding countryside. Goblins are on the march once more. If that wasn’t enough, a terrible blighting disease has infected the waters and not even the curative magics of the Temple of the Winds can thwart it. This is indeed a very dark time for Brighton.

This 54 page adventure details a 21 room goblin lair in an old dwarven hall, along with town nearby. Nice motivations/background and DM advice lead to a journeyman effort with the encounters and the writing being LONG. Too long & focused for me.

The town patrol wandered too far and found a goblin lair. Some killed, some captured, some escaped, the survivors come back, and have brought a disease. A rescue patrol didn’t return at all. Riders have been sent out seeking help. The first group to respond were greedy and disruptable. Your party is the second. That’s the background, which is actually pretty good. It also sets up the action for an evil NPC party hanging around, their rumors, and eventually encountering them in addition to the goblin band in its hold.

The adventure has a a bit of “young adults/children” bend to it, with situations that are clear moral choices and allows kids to be the heroes they know from the tropes they’ve seen. I generally abhor the morality of adventures, but I can certainly see a place for it in adventures for certain audiences. Further, the adventure does a decent job of providing DM notes in sidebars, to explain what it’s doing things and how to modify the adventure … like making it less kid friendly. “The party might decline because the village has plague, if so you could try …” is good DM advice.

The village has some nice rumors and a number of small (VERY small) side quests, and there’s a short wandering table in the wilderness to get to the goblin lair. The rumors could be better, but they do deal with actual information in the adventure. The encounters in the lair fall in to the pretty standard territory. It’s more than “goblin guardroom with 4 goblins.” There’s an evil temple, a throne rooms, guard rooms, slave pens, torture chamber, and all that you would expect. There’s also just a LITTLE bit more. The goblin guards are bullying another goblin … whoc them helps you if you save him, telling you where some traps and treasure are. That’s a good example of both the moral bend (I’m sure the kid players would stand up to bullies) as well as providing more dynamism to the encounter and NPCs to interact with the dungeon, and this dungeon hits that multiple times. Good journeyman-level encounters.

Where it fails is in the wordsmithing. While the ideas are decent the communication style is LONG. And a little bland. The initial read-aloud is about a page long. The town building descriptions are full of trivia that clog up the descriptions without being directed toward actual play. History, descriptions, unfocused writing … they turn the town entries in to a wall of text in which nothing stands out and anything that DOES impact play is hidden. This continues in to the dungeon room descriptions, with long read-alouds that are not particularly evocative and then lots of DM text, turning each room in to almost a column of text.

Interesting, because it DOES do good things in places with formatting/style. That long intro text I mentioned? It’s followed by a couple of bullet points with the key facts for DM’s that want terse facts to run it THEIR way. PERFECT. It also does a great job of selecting a format for the monsters that makes it easy to see their stats. A little lengthy, but its clear that some attention was paid to that. The random DM advice note boxes that appear in the text are another example … someone thought about things and found a way to address it. But the MAIN text. The actual text, is unfocused and doesn’t appear to have the same attention paid to it. It’s hard to scan, it’s conversational, difficult to run at the table. You need to be able to scan the text quickly, requiring focused writing with evocative descriptions rather than trivia.

The encounters are ok, but the writing & formatting are not up to snuff. Bill’s work is not beyond hope if he improves his writing.

This is $13 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages long and is all “overview” and DM reference, not really a view in to the encounters or descriptions at all.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Discord at the Docks

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 11:19

By Frank Schmidt
Adventures in Filbar
Levels 1-3

The adventure begins as your ship docks in Phoenix and you and your group debark. …The PCs were on a delivery mission but mistook a subject on the dock as the intended recipient. The true owner is not pleased at the foul up and demands the party fix it IMMEDIATELY.

I accidentally bought this piece of garbage, not realizing it was a part of the Adventures in Filbar line. (I know, I know, how could I NOT realize it?) I previously reviewed a 5e AiF product, finding it linear with no ability for the party to make decisions. This one is the same. This may be the worst series of adventures ever written. It’s coherent, it just makes NO pretense of giving the party any control over their adventure. Anyway, it’s fourteen pages and deals with a linear etch quest on the docks.

The opening intro/scene tells you all you need to know. In a monologue you arrive, by ship, on some docks, in order to deliver a package you’ve been paid for. You hand it off to a guy on the docks. And thus you start the adventure … with read-aloud telling you that you handed off the package. To the wrong man, it turns out. We’re told, in the next read-aloud, where they are confronted by their REAL contact: “While the PCs may have felt they were successful initially, the contact with Costas should cause them great consternation.”

Does anyone like this? Failing off screen? Being forced in to actions? “You see a cave full of orcs. You run in and strip naked while cussing them out in orcish; what do you do now?” I’ll tell you what I do. I leave.

At GenCon this year I was in a game, a heartbreaker, in which the DM did flashbacks. He explained “players didn’t like it when I described what their characters did, they called it a railroad. But they seem much more accepting of flashbacks. They are the same, so I don’t see why they care …” I kept my fucking mouth shut. That poor fucking dude didn’t need to know what a tool he was.

Here’s another gem from the adventure: “If the PCs fail to role play a convincing argument for the mistake the captain will intercede and point out that the PCs will go retrieve the package immediately.” If you don’t take the hook then the sea captain steps in and sets the hook for you.

At one point the read-aloud describes you going in to a tavern, so you can have a bar fight. It doesn’t present an opportunity for you to go in. It’s not hiding info in there for you to seek out. It just says that you go in. So the designer can have a bar fight.

You’re confronted by a tax collector. When you get off the ship. If you resist guards suddenly show up. They have 27hp each. Another guy, and enemy, in the adventure has 44hp. AC 14. And yet this claims to be a 1e adventure. It’s clear that this is some 5e garbage with a 1e label stuck on it.

The actual adventure is just a fetch quest.Bob have it to Tom. Go “find” Tom (ie: advance to next scene.) Tom gave it to Ed, advance to next scene with Ed.

I’ve got a very special list I keep. It contains the names of publishers I don’t buy from. To get on it there must be a clear indication that the situation is hopeless. It’s pointless to review more, an exercise in masochism. Filbar EASILY makes that list. It IS coherent, it just fails in every other way to present an adventuring environment.

It’s $2 on DriveThru. The preview is two pages and you get to see the railroad intro and the railroad hook.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dungeon Magazine Summary: Issues 51-75

Sat, 09/23/2017 - 11:12

It should be noted that even the decent/good adventures have The Usual Dungeon problems.

Dungeon 51
Nbod’s Room is an interesting little piece. Describing a haunted room in an inn, it’s actually a locale for the party to visit over and over again, teasing out the secrets of the various magic items in the room, mostly teleporters that take you to different adventure locales.

Ailamere’s Lair was a Dragon adventure that was zoomed out to include elements about the dragon and his environment not usually found in a Kill The Dragon adventure.

Dungeon 53
Clarshh’s Sepulchre is a little adventure with a nice village and a decent exploration elements. Clues, a social element, it’s not so bad by Dungeon standards.

Steelheart does a good job of going just a little bit more on each encounter to turn them from perfunctory things in to something that feels a little more realistic.

Dungeon 54
Unhallowed Ground is a Name of the Rose knockoff. It needs work, but the monks come off as human and the core structure is good.

Redcap’s Revenge felt forced and blunt in places, but is one of those adventures that, with a rewrite, could turn in to something better.

Dungeon 55
Umbra, a Sigal adventure, is linear as fuck. As a con game, edited down to be comprehensible, it could be a fine time, if you wanted a linear adventure

Dungeon 56
Janx’s Jinx is a nice low-key adventure with strong social elements. It feels very real, and very human.

Dungeon 57
Cloaked in Fear is a little side-trek with a lot of good frightened villager stuff going on in it. DM torture porn, but a guilty pleasure.

Dungeon 58
The Baron’s Eyrie is a Ravelnloft with nice imagery and is quite tight, but Dungeon standards. Factions, maps, it’s a decent all around adventure.

Dungeon 59
The Mother’s CUrse ia hag adventure that FEELS like a hag adventure; quite the rare thing. Good atmosphere & complications in need of a MASSIVE edit.

Dungeon 62
Rat Trap had potential, even though it featured wererats in a city. A good core concept not taken advantage of.

Dungeon 65
Knight of the Scarlet Sword has a lot going on at the same time, which is always a plus in an adventure. Sandboxy with a suggested timeline.

Unkindness of Ravens is top notch. It’s got great atmosphere, a “fantasy but not D&D” vibe, timeline, a little bit of Nancy Drew or Scooby Doo thing going on. Great adventure.

Dungeon 66
Enormously Inconvenient has a lot of giant animal tropes in it as well as a decent wilderness map. Inoffensive … an accomplishment for Dungeon.

Dungeon 67
Witches’ Brew has a richness of style and atmosphere that’s rare. Needs a MASSIVE edit to cut it down.

Eye of the Storm is a side trek that’s just pure chaos … AND I FUCKING LOVE CHAOS! Just a series of complications to take care of, but the potential here is wonderful, given the … madcap? Nature of the village.

Falls Run, for Masque of the Red Death, channels Call of Cthulhu quite hard and does a decent job, railroad or no.

Dungeon 68
The Trouble with In-Laws is that rare adventure that is organized well but falls flat in the imagination category. One dimensional and lacking flavor.

Merkin’s Magic is notable because of the lack of a Tolkien vibe in it. It’s like fantasy from the 60’s or 70’s, out of time.

Dungeon 70
Homunculus Stew has a nice folklore vibe going on, even if it is three encounters long.

Ssscaly Thingsss has great swamp atmosphere and A LOT going on at the same time. Head & shoulders above most of Dungeon.

Kingdom of the Ghouls is widely acknowledged as a great adventure, and I agree. Social elements, good atmosphere, and an underdark that doesn’t feel generic.

Dungeon 71
Wildspawn and Priestly Secrets both have some qualities that I can appreciate, but deep flaws that require a lot of work to get past.

Dungeon 72
No Stone Unturned continues Peter Spahns generally high level of writing. A good variety of situations with very real motivations.

Plundering Poppof is a B&E job in a wizards home Good atmosphere.

Dungeon 73
Quoitine Quest is a quiet little adventure with a good amount of interesting roleplaying offered.

Dungeon 74
Scourge of Scalabar is full of gnomes, gunpowder, and submarines, WHICH I LOATHE, but leaves things mostly open for the party to explore solutions.

Vale of Weeping WIllows has a nice eerie vibe, even if it is just a side trek.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Submerged Spire of Sarpedon the Shaper

Wed, 09/20/2017 - 11:20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Towers of the Weretoads

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 11:19

By Michael Raston
Gorgzu Games
Labyrinth Lord
Level 1?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dungeon Magazine Summary: Issues 26-50

Sat, 09/16/2017 - 11:15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goblin Fever had a nice idea but ruined it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Blood Pharaoh

Wed, 09/13/2017 - 11:15

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

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

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

This adventure has some SERIOUS issues with making sense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Dragon’s Heart

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 11:12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dungeon Magazine Summary: Issues 1 through 25

Sat, 09/09/2017 - 11:19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs