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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.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Temple of the Blood Moth

Wed, 07/31/2019 - 11:13
By Jacob Butcher Abrasax Press OSR/5e Levels 3-5

A science-fantasy horror dungeon for Old School versions of Dungeons & Dragons. You stare into the face of planetary death. Fight or drown.

What’s that little Timmy? Lassie is trapped in the well? Errr, I mean, people are bitching that a 24 page adventure is $8 without a preview? Well, obviously then, I have no common sense and will buy it.

This 24 page digest-sized adventure details four levels of a cult temple over about six pages, with about 31 rooms total .. and a few extra unnumbered/empty rooms thrown in on the map. Resembling those Psychedelic Fantasy adventures, it is ripe with unique monsters and treasure. Combined with evocative writing, it makes a great OD&D weird-ass adventure … without, I think, going in to gonzo territory. It’s a good adventure.

The writing here is short and bursting with evocative bits. “1: Sun-Lit Chapel. Rows of pews. Tall stained glass windows depict the Sun-God and moths at each stage of their life-cycle. Yarrow Bren the cultist can be found praying to the Blood Moth for power, offering everflowing blood in return.” That is a rock fucking solid description. 1. Sun-Lit Chapel. Not Room 1. Not Room 1 Chapel. It gives the room a name, Chapel, and then also adds a descriptor word to it, Sun-Lit. Thus, immediately, we get the sense of this room. It doesn’t do this consistently, for every  Feeding Pit there are three Courtyards, Shrines, and Stairwells, but when it does it it’s great. Note also the brief flashes of evocative imagery. Rows of pews. Tall stained glass. Combined with the Sun-Lit we get a perfect mental image of the chapel. Sun streaming in through those tall stained glass windows, rows of pews with a solitary figure praying at one end. That is EXACTLY what evocative writing should do. The creature in the room is doing something, praying, with aspects of his personality and additional “action” relayed in his request and offering. This is exactly the sort of writing that I’m looking for. It makes an impact. “Cistern: Unlit torch sconces. Vaulted brick ceilings. Filled to your shins with dark, lukewarm water.” Nice.

And it does it while also being terse. That’s not a requirement, but it IS generally an easier way to make an adventure usable at the table. The longer the writing then the more thought has to go in to editing, layout, and the use of whitespace and organization to make it scannable at the table. Or you can just keep the writing terse. Both work. 

It’s full of creepy imagery, like a stained glass porthole in the floor, heavy leaden glass, almost covered in dirt … and you can see something moving on the other side. Nice. 

Magic treasure is unique. It’s all new and weird … like “pearl snails” that turn blood in to water over an hour. And then there’s more conventional magic treasure also, like arrows and needle knives. But no generic +1 swords, thank Vecna. Imagine that, a designer adding original content to their game. Almost like value .. hmmm.. May be something in that … Anyway, monsters are unique also, which I always like. Keeps the players guessing. I should note that the conversion notes from OSR to 5e are essentially “find a similar monster and stat it that way.” A little loose for many in the 5e crowd, but ok in my book … mostly because I’d just do it on the fly.

Wanderers table has then engaged in some activity and is arranged progressively, with deeper levels getting a d8, d10, d12 wanderer die all on the same table, reusing the lower level entries while adding new entries. I’ve always loved the elegance of that mechanic, when it’s appropriate to use it, like it is here. AT least one of the hooks is ok, with the party sent to find/kill/etc someone in a village … only to find everyone has disappeared. It’s not ground-breaking, but it adds a complication to an otherwise generic quest.

It could be better. Monetary treasure is VERY light for an OSR game. Gold=XP and there ain’t no coin XP to speak of in here, which is a hyperbolic way of saying treasure or the non-magical variety is VERY light indeed. There’s a stinker here and there in the room descriptions. Room 28: Golden Altar is described as “he High Priest performs rituals and sacrifices here in order to progress the eventual coming of the BLOOD MOTH.” Well, ok, that’s a mega-lame description, especially in light of the others present in the adventure. There’s also a place or two where sound or light should have been noted on the map or in other room descriptions. In one area, in particular, a giant larvae bashes itself against the door. That’s something you need to know BEFOE The party reaches the room, to communicate to the party in previous rooms or as they approach. Sometimes its important to know things before people reach an area. That can be done in the text or much more elegantly via the map for sound/light, etc. 

This is a good adventure. Creepy. Evocative. Usable. A great journeyman adventure for whipping out to play. The way EVERY adventure should be.

This is $8 at DriveThru. This appears to be a part of the ZineQuest Kickstarter thing, with the designer having a blog, Flowers for the Titan Corpse. It appears to have some ties to the art side of the RPG world, with a Thank You to the Fall 2018 Simulation Art class. No doubt the designer labours under the impression that people should get paid for their work. Of course, writing is even less appreciated than art, the barrier being far lower. The resulting flooded marketplace makes it challenging to price anything above $0. For self-published work a PWYW structure may be best, reserving payment to work-for-hire. I’d pay $8 for this, knowing what I know now. But a $8 blind buy is a thing indeed, given that at least 99% of everything on DriveThru is crap. I’d guess the price is related to the kickstarter pledges. But, anyway, no preview.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Lost Valley of Kishar

Mon, 07/29/2019 - 11:25
By Gabor Csomos First Hungarian D20 Society OSRIC Levels 6-8

Somewhere, only a few days’ travel from a busy trade route, there lies a valley surrounded by untamed wilderness. It is surrounded by cliffs forming the shape a ring, unnaturally steep and tall, as if they had been wrought by human hand. No one remembers who had originally erected the ruins standing within the valley, and who had nurtured the wondrous tree which had once drawn pilgrims from distant lands. Kishar’s priestesses have been long forgotten – but the tree’s blessed radiance persists. As if under an odd compulsion, all manner of beasts have been drawn to the valley, and in time, there emerged others. Those who came from far beyond human imagination, and were already here before the first priestesses…

This 36 page adventure details a lost valley with about 28 locations laid out in about 22 pages or so. Each of the major points is a little situation to overcome or exploit, with most having a relationship to one or two others. It tries to organize well, considering it’s single column, but some disjointed text causes an occasional forced error, ala older Judges Guild.

Ok, big crater, 8 miles in diameter. Covered in jungle. You’ve got tarzan in there with his winged apes, a tribe of people friendly to him, a tribe of hostile goat people, tombs of ancient heroes, a hag kidnapper, a crashed spaceship being exploited by said hag, a “dead” lich, a neutralish-ish death knight-ish guy, the tree of life, underground tunnels, rivers, Skull Tower, a rampaging monster ala tarrasque, and two T-rexes guarding an entry cave to get in. Oh, and some flying monsters hanging around the edge of the crater to make like rough on folk getting in/out. That’s a fuck ton going on. 

Each is presented in maybe a quarter to a third of a page. A brief description of what’s going on, how they react, what they want, and so on. Just enough to layout the basics of the group with the rest left up to the DM to react to when the party starts to screw around with things/people. It’s a good way to do things in a big sandbox-y like environment. And, like I said, each site generally has some sort of connection to two or three others, getting the party moving around the valley and encountering other groups.

Our wanderers, inside and out, add to the fun. Outside the valley we get a kind of tension building exercise, finding relics of past depredations. Inside the valley are things to attract the party and get them interested in the encounter, sights and sounds of creatures about. 

I need to be a tad delicate with my next criticism, but I’m not going to, instead leaving that to every reader to NOT misinterpret. This is both clearly not a English-As-A-First-Language product AND perfectly good english. Ninety-five percent of the text would be indistinguishable from an English-native text. I admire our non-English friends and their ability to produce works in English better than most English-native works. Further, I love seeing non-North American/British works. I love the different take on things. But … in this case, that extra 5% is a little jarring. It’s not unbearable and not incomprehensible, but it does cause some non-trivial efforts to understand. It’s more ‘unusual phrasing’ than it is “wrong.’ 

In this case, though, the unusual/strained phrasing helps fight against the chosen format. We’ve got a one-column text, which is itself a little straining, and then on top of that a kind of terse description of the area, maybe with a paragraph break or two. As the rooms get to be more complex, and the text grows, that strained phrasing, in places, make the grokking more difficult then I would be comfortable with. I might liken it to an older Judges Guild product, like Dark Tower. You have to fight the text a little to get the big picture of whats going on and that makes immediate understanding suffer. But, in both cases, the content is worth it.

There’s also a misplaced detail or two. I thinking of some tracks that show up in various places, mentioned in the valley introduction and haphazardly referenced in the later text. There’s also a “valley overview” description included in encounter 5 “Vantage Point”, which doesn’t make sense to me why that isn’t possible from other locations around the rim. It’s these little notes and, almost, asides, in which could be moved around or organized a little better.

Still, it’s a pretty good lost valley adventure. Lots going on. The setups are understandable, easy for the DM to grok. They interact with each other. It’s got a lot of tough shit running around to overcome. (And may be a little light on the treasure for a 1E game …) It’s also taken the single-column format about as far as it can go. I don’t think you could make some of the encounters any longer and preserve usability. 

This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is ten pages. The last page shows one of the valley encounters. If you take that, as well as maybe “the ring of rocks” section at the end of preview page eight, then you’ll get an idea of the writing style. I don’t think it can be taken any further.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Acid Metal Howl

Sat, 07/27/2019 - 11:18

By Joseph Lewis

Dungeon Ages Adventures


Levels 5-8

In the deep desert lies the dead city of Yumar, the source of countless bizarre rumors. Was it destroyed by a demonic metal sphere? Did it sink into a pit of acid? Were its people transformed into cursed beasts? Is it ruled by vicious thieves or mad nuns? In fact, the only thing stranger than what happened to Yumar a century ago is what will happen a few days from now…

This 48 page adventure details a lost desert city with about nine-ish adventuring sites, from small to large. It’s laid out and organized well, easy to scan … and has The Sandbox Problem. Still, great for 5e.

48 pages for nine locations seems a bit long, even if some of the locations are little mini-sites. Worry not. The fonts and whitespace are generous with this one. Locations are nicely organized with relevant data grouped together and page breaks used to separate things when appropriate. Laid out in front of you, it’s easy to maneuver through the text and find the information you are looking for, from locations, to motivations and personalities, to area descriptions. From a usability standpoint this does well. I’m not sure the format is one to take as platonic, for usability, nut Joseph had an idea of what he wanted to do for this adventure and the format works with it well. There are many paths to get to usability.

Bullets, whitespace, numbered lists, offset boxes, page and section breaks all play a part. But then … I wouldn’t be Bryce if I were ever happy with something. The adventure falls down some on what I might call cross-references. Usually I use this to refer to literal cross-references. A key containing a little (room #7) or a locked door with a (key: room 5) next to it. If information is LIKELY to be important to the DM then a little pointed to where it is is a nice addition. These sorts of cross-references do occur in at least one part of the adventure (DM text next to a locked door noting the key location) but they could be a little strong in other areas. Further, there’s a need in another way: what people know. There are a few factions running around the ruins. At least two would like you take care of the others. But … it is then natural to ask some questions. You want us to kill/drive off the nuns? Why? What do you know about them? Etc. There’s not much guidance in that area. A cross-reference to the nuns, or a summary of what they know/relate would have helped out there. Nightmares? Sleeping? Where’s that nightmare table again? These are small-ish things but they seperate a really great adventure from merely a good one. 

The major issue with the adventure though, is The Sandbox Problem. IE: why do the players care? In an older D&D it might be just for the loot, for XP. In modern versions though there tend to need to be other motivations to gain XP. The hooks presented lead the party to know ABOUT the city but not to give them motivation to go there, other than pure curiosity. Exploration is valid, if your group is in to that, but rumors of loot, faction motivations that tip the party off to it, and so on, would drive things forward a bit more. The city feels a bit passive because of that. It COULD serve as a site for the DM to insert their own goal, a book, bell, candle or some other mcguffin. But, still, it feels like the factions, while not friends, are more passive. More dynacism to drive things forward toward something would have been appreciated.

Interactivity is good, there are lots to see and do if the party is so motivated. Obvious flesh-to-stone people are depressed, if save, for the same reasons as that TNG cryo-sleep episode. A dancing gecko as treasure? Count me in!

Yeah, I’ve got some complaints. A better “view” of the elevation issues would have been nice. Wanderers seem heavy on slogs up the cliffside to the top by foot or fly spell. But, read-aloud mentions things to follow up on. One of the first is an acrid smell … which you can follow to a location. You can see sites in the distance and trek towards this, this is explicitly mentioned. I love that. At one point you can force your way in to vault via lockpick instead of the keys … which causes a treasure golem to appear. My apprehension at gimping player abilities (lock pick) is not quite as strong at higher levels as stronger divination and bypass magic is available. Or, maybe, it is but there’s example of GOOD challenges vs BAD gimping.

This is a decent adventure. A little focus in the future on evocative descriptions, without growing longer, and some solutions to ever-present Sandbox Motivation issue would knock this over the top. As is, inserting a little player motivation, like a staff they are after, etc, solves the motivation problem. While this may hover between No Regerts and Best, it’s 5e and I’m happy to see a decent 5e product.

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is 25 pages(!) Page 8 has a good “vision” overview and is a good preview, generally, of the formatting that the adventure uses. Overall it’s an excellent preview of what you are buying, from a writing and organization standpoint.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Towering Temple

Wed, 07/24/2019 - 11:11
by Don MacVittie Hellebarde Games Castles & Crusades Levels 2-3

The temple of Anu-Hittain sits atop an unnamed mesa in the desert and welcomes all who visit. But the gates are closed and smoke is pouring from the temple high above. Can you discover what has happened?

This 23 page adventure details a temple with about three levels and about forty rooms … in about nine pages. It’s not terrible. The designer does a decent job with the read-aloud and the DMs text doesn’t generally overstay its welcome. The writing needs to be more evocative and the interactivity tends to the combat side of the house … or things that lead to combat. It reminds me a lot of the mid to late 1e era before the T$R text ran out of control. 

See that cover? It’s got little to do with the adventure; the entrance is at the base of the mesa and there’s no signs that the mesa is a temple except fot the entryway and some glass windows a little ways up. So, bad cover. 

With that out of the way, this isn’t bad. It’s not particularly good either, except in the way it generally keeps itself from being bad. The read-aloud tends to the short side of things. In and out. It also tends to mention features in the room for the party to investigate. A pile of crates mory decayed than the rest, or a pile of jewels in a fountain. This leads the party, naturally, to those locations and the encounter to follow: centipedes or water snakes. This is good. A good encounter is D&D results from a kind of back and forth between the players and the DM. The DM describes someplace generally. The players follow up on the details the DM mentions as the DM mentions moe specifics of the things they follow up on. It’s a social game, a back and forth. A writing style that encourages that sort of player/DM interactivity is to be appreciated. If the read-aloud mentions a body next to a door then the players investigate, notice burn marks, and maybe now know something more about the door. 

It does fall down a bit though in being evocative. Hallways are “long” and marble is “grey” or “white.” That’s not particularly evocative. English is a rich language and substituting other adjectives/adverbs for long, grey, white, large, big, small, etc can bring along an entire host of benefits. Richer words can bring an overloaded context with them, a richer meaning. Scrubbing out the boring words and replacing them, or a word or two extra (no more) more really kick up the read-aloud to another level and make the environments much more evocative.

You can see this in other areas as well. I hesitate to call this dullness, but its a kind of abstraction of detail that leads to a kind of bland flavour. “There are four statues of Doorne” (a desert god) or “there’s a statue of a woman.” These are kind of generic. The players are sure to ask what they look like. Providing two or three extra words for each of those major objects, in order to enrich them, in turn enriches the entire room and brings it more alive for the DM and for the players and they both benefit. The DM now has a richer view of the room and can ad-lib better, while the players have a more memorable experience from the read-aloud and then also from a more inspired DM. 

There’s an aside or two to the DM in the adventure which are appealing. In one case a zombie in the next room can rush to the aid of another room. “Well, rush as fast as a Zombie can.” Likewise, selling a looted idol is referred to as “Faithful of Doorne will not take the theft of this idol well.” These are nice notes that help convey moods and scenes to the DM without a lot of text.

Of course, Room 10 doesn’t tell us that the zombie from room 9 will come in help. That’s in room 9. Which is useless in room 10 because I’m not looking at the text for two rooms at the same time, am I? This is a common mistake that designers make, this kind of idea that the DM is going to hold the entire adventure in their head at once. Or, you need to read through and take notes … in which case why didn’t the designer make things clearer in the first place? 

There are some other gaps here. There’s some flinds you can talk to, but there’s no real notes on what they know or even any overview of the situation (in the beginning of the adventure) for the DM to paraphrase. Again, read and take notes and/or hold it all in your head. The DMs text also can get long in places. It generally does a good job of keeping it short and in using paragraph breaks and whitespace to organize its information well. It falls does though, usually, in trap rooms. It gets a bit pedantic in describing things which turns the DMS text in to a quarter page or more of text. Tighter editing and less prescriptive text would be the key here, perhaps with some use of bolding. 

It can revel a bit much in the history and former uses of places, which is NOT good DM text. It’s doesn’t do this enough to really make it hard to run, and usually only in rooms with nothing else going on. Still, its padding. I’ve included a couple of example of this at the end. They don’t really add anything to the adventure in terms of players interactivity. History and background rarely do. When they do then I’m ok with their inclusion, but otherwise they just tend to distract and make it harder to find the DMs text that you need to run the room.

I sorely wish that the interactivity were a bit better. It feels like most of it is related to combat. An alter, an opened sarcophagus. A disturbed corpse. A giant idol. The amount of screwing around with stuff that leads to something other than combat is rather rare. That leads to situations where the party is loathe to interact, which is ENTIRELY the wrong lesson to teach. Let’s not view this an extremist position, of course interactivity leading to combat is ok. But there needs to be some that doesn’t also. 

So, It’s ok. Not great. More interactivity, pruning back some of that DM text, more evocative writing. All of that would pop it up a notch or two. Still, not bad. But, in 2019, with the embarrassment of riches in adventures, is there room for Not Bad?

This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is great at six pages, showing you about fifteen rooms. You can get an idea of the read-aloud, the nature of it and if its good enough for you. The good and bad things the DMs text does. It’s a good preview.


“It is the custom of this temple that each person, before heading down one of the adjoining halls, wash their feet in this pool. That was before the attack arose.”

“This is the embalming area. This lower level of the temple has most recently been dedicated to caring for the dead, and this room is where bodies were prepared for funeral. Sallim, with the help of his water priests, turned the embalmers’ equipment upon them while they were still alive. Then the priests raised them as Ghouls for reasons that Sallim did not understand.”

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Rising Tides

Mon, 07/22/2019 - 11:14
by Phil Beckwith & Micah Watl Rex Draconic RPG 5e Level 1

This 87 page adventure details around sixteen overland encounters/events in about fifty pages. Purple prose read-aloud combined with bad editing and layout contribute to a meh adventure being untunable in anything other than a mechanical fashion. Which is too bad because it tries to do a few interesting things to help the DM.

The adventure core is straighforward. The party travels north via ship or caravan, in a crew-like fashion, having a couple of encounters. You encounters a raided village and then a village under attack. What falls out of this is emoting similar to a 4e adventure. You have combat encounters, do some skill checks, and talk to a few people. Err … I mean “have role-play encounters.” The emphasis here is not really on the situations presented but rather the mechanics around what is going on. Perform a stealth check to escape the situation! If half the party succeeds then …    They feel like set-piece situations, or maybe “now is the time when you have an adventure” rather than a more nuanced style which presents a situation and lets the party explore it. Oh, sure, there are notes to let the party do that, and the solution guides in each sub-section say something like “or other options the party comes up with”, but the emphasis is on the mechanics. Not that I’m altogether against the basic idea, just the way it’s presented here. A few lines of text, bolded, etc, to hep the DM with situations that arise is a core part of an adventure should do in some cases. But this thing has that same 4e style in doing it that boils it down to the mechanics, and not in a good way. 

I imagine that something like a flowchart was used to develop this adventure. A leads to B or leads to C if they do X. And under each “encounter” there’s a little mini-chart listing the party options and what to do based on the circumstances. In theory that’s not bad. But at some point it is taken to an extreme and it looses its identity outside of what it presents, mechanically, up to and including the encounters themselves. It FEELS like a series of events with a flowchart behind it and constrained options for the party. And that’s not a good thing. Read the read-aloud then select option A, B, or C as your reaction. Then go to the next encounter. A flowchart adventure where the boxes are all event driven. This reduction D&D to the mechanics was one of the major issues I had with 4e adventures. It sucked the very life out of the game. 

So much of this feels like a solo adventure, or a scripted computer RPG. This includes the purple prose that makes up the read-aloud. I was worried that this was just the novel author (this is licensed off of a fantasy novel series) but no, it’s just the the style chosen by this writing team. It feels like “now os the time to read the read-aloud.” And while it offers advice to summarize in your voice if it makes you feel better, it’s also the case the the text is not laid out in any way to make that happen.

Now is the time where I trot out my oft-referenced (by me anyway) appeals to usability. When running a published adventure and you encounter a scene that is two pages long, or more, how do you run that at at the table? Do you pause your game and take five to ten minutes to read it over again? Maybe hoping that you don’t forget anything? You can’t hold it all in your head. This is why I care so much about usability. You pause the game for less than five seconds, grab what you need from the text and keep going. As the text gets longer and longer that becomes more and more difficult to do. Terseness in writing, stripping out the padding, bolding, whitespace, tables, bullets, these are all critically important to drawing the DMs attention to important things in the text, making it easy for them to find what they need and keep going. “Uh, hang on, let me check …” while you hunt through the text to find the thing you’re looking for is no way to run a railroad, so to speak. And this adventure has WAY too much padded text and information coxed in to the free-text paragraphs. It does try to use bolding, whitespace and bullets to help call out important details, but it’s not enough. While THOSE sections are easy to find, it still pads them out with useless, conversational style text. “If the party decides to fight the monster then … ” This all gets in the way and distracts the DM from the really important stuff going on. At one point some read-aloud notes that the party can see people waving at them from the beach … and then hides the peoples fates inside of a paragraph. There’s far far too much “and then happens and then this happens and then this happens”, events takes place in the paragraph text. Note the situation. Give the DM the facts in an easily digestible format and them move on. 

At one point some NPC’s are mentioned, if the party gets hauled off to jail. They have goals, ideas, and backgrounds straight out the PHB, and formatted as such. Long sections of text “Ideal: I am honest to those around me” or “Flaw: I can’t help by drink far too much ….” this isn’t how you do this. Short, terse, easy to digest. Drunkkard. Done. 
It does have a nice little overview map. A little half page map with the sea journey and caravan route outlined, as well as the other parts of the adventure, with the encounters on it, hex distance, travel time, color-coded by which chapter its in and so on. It’s a useful piece to get an idea of how things are to run. 

The writers, I’d guess, are responsible for the purple prose. The editor should have trimmed the fat in the DM text in a MAJOR way. The layout person used one of those atrocious modern formats that makes it impossible to find section breaks, there being section breaks everywhere. Too clever for its own good. I don’t know, maybe the editor felt like they couldn’t push back, or they were just copy-editing. More than anything else the field needs good editors to push back on the overwrought DM text that plagues modern adventures. The delete key can go further, in making an adventure runnable, then any other tool. 

There’s more of this type of text then there is useful information: “The characters have the following choices, though you should reward creativity where it is plausible. They can: ” 

This is $13 at DriveThru. Yes, $13. Maybe it’s the license? Or all that value obtained from outsourced art, layout, editing, maps? Anyway, the preview is 20 pages. Page 11 has that little encounter mini-map that I liked. Page 12-on shows you the actual adventure encounters, with page 18 showing the NPC “bonds, flaws” NPC’s. The last page of the preview is GREAT for getting an idea of the 4e/set-piece style of writing. Read-aloud. Player choices. Combat.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) The Sunken Village of Little Corth

Sat, 07/20/2019 - 11:19
By Dylan Hyatt Self Published 5e Level 2

The PCs travel across a necrotic marsh (the Grey Creeping) to a sunken village where, upon being transported back 2000 years into the past, they must prevent a necromancer freeing Orcus (demon prince of Undeath) from the imprisoning veils of the spirit plane. If only it was as simple as that, for the PCs must also contend with deactivating a giant mechanical orrery, and be sharp enough to realise that the useful items that helped them survive the Grey Creeoing must be found and placed for their ‘future-past’ selves.

This forty page linear adventure has some time travel elements mixed in to its twenty or so linear locations. Tedious read-aloud and lengthy DMs notes do little to mitigate the linear nature. You end up Bill & Ted’ing help for yourself.  Oh, for what might have been …

A zombie shephard and a zombie sheepdog herd zombie sheep at the party in encounter one. This reminds me a lot of a zombie walk, where it seems all zombies were people scuba diving, playing golf or the like. In any event, anything to make monsters less generic is ok in my book. “Zombie” is generic but flesh-eating shepherd and dog/sheep, while a little abrud, fits the bull of non-generic. The skeleton jugglers, fire-breathers and acrobats that show up start to go overboard though in to farce territory.

The art here is nice also. I’m a big big fan of DIY stuff. Sure, pro stuff can be nice, but ANYTHING that’s not generic filler gets my seal of approval. Plus, the idea of a low-barrier-to-entry is appealing to me. Just draw something. And just put down words. You’ll get better and shouldn’t let assholes like me or self-confidence issues be a barrier to creating. I’d like to note, also, that I’m ignoring this advice with regard to my own perfectionism in writing. 

But enough! Let us talk about linear adventures.

I get that people play this way. I find it so hollow. It FEELS like there’s this thing called D&D where people get together with their friends and a linear adventure full of read-aloud and combat and they have a good time. Because it’s a social activity with their friends. That’s what D&D is. To them. And they’re right that there IS a social aspect with their friends that makes D&D fun. But I imagine some overlapping circles right out of set theory. There’s this OTHER thing people call D&D. It contains all of those social/friends aspects. And more. A linear play style, heavy on combat, can fulfill the Just Fucking Around style of play but not the second type. A much more fulfilling type. It’s sometimes briefly glimpsed in the Linear Friend game, and people know it’s magnificent, but it’s not really present in their games. It can’t be, because it requires the interactive play style that just can’t be accomplished with the Linear Friends style. And thus these linear adventures, travelling from a to b to c, will always be at a disadvantage. They might be ok, but it’s hard for me to believe that they will ever be truly great. I’m trying to keep an open mind here, since we can’t Black Swan these puppies. But I’ve got a healthy dose of skepticism. Far better, I would suggest, to write something a bit more open-ended to allow for more opportunities of interactive/player agency D&D. But, of course, most people don’t know what that looks like, having never encountered a product of that type. When all you know of Italian food is Chef Boyardee then it’s no surprise that’s what you crank out.

The read-aloud is an ever present threat, columns and paragraphs droning on and adding nothing substantial to the adventure. Overly long and not really adding anything in the way of either evocative descriptions or meaningful facts … just the usual droning obviousness. 

The DMs text is frightful, with lots of history, asides, and explanations mixed in. This makes it hard to find pertinent information. That most common of DM text problems: confusing trivia with content. Yes, many things COULD be useful to the DM, but liming the writing helps the DM locate information faster during play. Too much text is the most common problem these days. Put it in an appendix if you have to tell me who Horn is or Orcus’ history; that’s not something to put in the main body. One room takes five pages to describe. This is a sure sign that you’ve done something wrong.

The Bill & Ted “give aid to your past lives self” may be hackney but it’s still fun. The time travel elements ARE fun; players love figuring shit out, even simple shit. It works. It’s just surrounded by so much dross as to make the adventure un-runable. I’m not fucking using a highlighter. I’m not fucking taking notes. I’m not going to fight the adventure in order to be able to run it. Es, I’m being hyperbolic for the sake of making the point but the truth is in there: it’s the designers fucking job.

This is $3 at DMSGuild. The preview is nine pages. You get to see the extensive read-aloud, saying nothing, and the two-page zombie attack on pages 5 & 6 of the preview. Page eight of the preview/encounter five gives you a good idea of a typical non-combat encounter and the joy of the DMs text. So, good preview in that respect …


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs


Wed, 07/17/2019 - 11:17
By Greg Gillespie Self-published Labyrinth Lord Levels 1-

Local villagers call for aid! An eerie green light appeared atop the Dwimmerhorn Mountain. The light came from HighFell – the ruins of an ancient wizard school. The infernal blaze grew until a great explosion rocked the mountain. Like a massive floating island, HighFell pulled away from the mountaintop and now slowly drfits across The Great Salt Reach. What happened to HighFell? Why does it float errily across the landscape? Are you brave (or foolish) enough to explore the ruins of HighFell: The drifting Dungeon?

This 248 page “lost valley” adventure location details twenty wizard towers, ten dungeons, and a small overland region in about 120 pages. Lots of interactivity and a mix of every element that D&D contains are surrounded by text that is just a step beyond minimalism. It’s good.

There’s this Land of Wizards on this mountaintop. A bunch of wizard towers, buildings, etc. The wizards generally move on/out and the one day the wizardland rips off the top of the mountain and starts floating through the sky over a little region. When it reaches a certain boundary it teleports back to the far side of the region and drifts over it again. That was awhile ago, now the top of the mountain still floats across the sky, but the plateau is mostly ruins … except for all those wizard towers sticking up …

Got it? Big regional map. Over it a small “lost valley” floats. Your party gets it ass to mars and loots all of the wizard school remains they can. Most of the wizard towers are level 1-3, with some 3-5 and 5-7 thrown in. They tend to have about twenty or so rooms on several basic levels above ground. About half the wizard towers have dungeons under them with about sixty or so rooms. And then the plateau has wandering monsters in its 300’ wide hex-full-of-rando-ruins-in-between-the-wizard-towers. And sometimes instead of teleports to the “upwind” side of the regional map, when it reaches the “downwind” side it will instead teleport in to an elemental plane or a demi-plane for a day or so, mixing up the rando encounters with some of THOSE inhabitants. 

Interactivity is high. These being wizard towers, etc there is a lot of shit to fuck with. Force fields, constructs, levels, and buttons. A corpse on the ground, wiggling a bit? Wonder what’s going on there? And I fucking LOVE IT when the party is presented with things to wonder about, even something as simple as a wiggling corpse on the ground. Things to do beyond hacking! Some light factions with some agendas, especially as higher-level play is reached. Challenges here go up to level 9 or so, I’d guess? 

The overland map is full of landmarks, things to see in the distance to draw your eye towards travel there. There’s a little illustration book with an illustration of each wizards tower WHICH I FUCKING LOVE! Greg usually has some new mechanic/feature for his dungeons. In this one its a bunch of Wizard Hats and and a system for looting books and spell components, with an extensive table of book titles provided to add detail. He’s got a little section covering all of the various ways folks can get up to the floating plateau, from potions, to spells, to mounts, to teleport, etc. This anticipates a need of the DM and takes care of it … providing them the information they need during play. Exactly what a designer should be doing. 

Who’s a jerkfaced jerk? That’s right! Me! And now let the bloodletting and wailing begin!

The hooks and rumors section are mostly perfunctory to get the party TO the region to see the floating place. It doesn’t feel integrated at all, and while a homebase town is provided it, again, doesn’t feel integrated in to the adventure. Sure, there are some ties between the town and plateau, but other data, that the party is likely to want to search for an find answers to, is not really present. The main content is the plateau and the towers/dungeons. 

Cross-references are few and far between and there’s not really a way for the party to NOT get in to trouble with the higher-level towers early on. The lower level ones are generally visible and near the edge, but you could walk in to something dangerous. Which is ok, but putting the level ranges on the Wizard reference sheet would have helped the DM guide the players a bit by dropping hints rather than hiding the level ranges in the main body of text. I just penciled mine in on the map, which does what I need it to do.

Rooms descriptions are a hair above minimal. “The hallway is empty with the exception of some

rubble debris and leaves blown in from outside.” Ok, blowing leaves. I can work with that a little. Another room says “Two partially-destroyed beds and a wooden box sit against the eastern wall. There is nothing of value.” The rooms are easy to scan and run because of this, but also come across as more than slightly generic. Giving each room a title like “Destroyed Bedroom” or “Once opulent bedroom” or something may have helped with this. Further, I noted a lot of “this room was”, “this room has” and so on in the adventure text. It’s like there’s no context assumed. Yeah, it’s a room. This just pads out the text and I think I recognize, in my own writing a weakness in this sort of description. A kind of passivity in the text.

It makes repeated but infrequent references to both Barrowmaze and Arachia for certain monsters and/or rules, so be aware of that. It’s not really anything important that can’t be handwaved though.

Random tables. Weird ass sky-lost-valley adventuring site. Hexes. Towers. Dungeons. Interactivity. Terseness. Some social. Rival parties. Elemental planes. A homebase. New magic items (to go with the boatload of generic book ones) and new monsters. This adventure takes just about every element D&D has that makes it good and exercises it a bit. Better bring a lot of food, torches and hench with you when you make it up top to the plateau … you probably gonna be there a bit and need to manage your resources …

If I were running this I’d make some generous printouts. One for the new monsters. One for the wanderers and demi-plane stuff. Print out the “plateau wind drift” paragraph and attach it to my chart. I don’t see a lot of need to make notes or highlight text, but rather print out stuff already there for “situational” references. I’ll happily add this to my dungeonland campaign, and pay the cash for the PDF. My biggest complaint is that I’d prefer just two-three more words per description, for some evocativeness. This is a great example of how the D&D elements work together to create emergent play in a non-linear fashion. 

This is $35 at DriveThru. That’s for the PDF. There’s no preview and Greg explains why in the DriveThru description. But, still, a link to another preview in the DriveThru description would have been nice. $35 is a bit much for a PDF blind buy. 


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) The Tower of Tharikthiril

Sat, 07/13/2019 - 11:13
By Devin Cutler Self Published 5e Level 3

The evil wizard Tharikthiril was defeated by the dwarves years ago. But why then are the groundlings becoming numerous around his ruined tower? And what are those strange lights seen in the distance coming from the direction of his tower? Has the wizard somehow cheated death and risen again?

This 31 page adventure describes an evil wizards (former) tower with about fifty rooms described in fourteen pages. It can get lengthy at times, in DM text and read-aloud, but tends to keep things reasonable. What is suffers from, more than anything, is being boring. It tries, but beyond monsters and lengthy traps it has little to offer. 

This wizards tower, errr, former wizards tower, has a large ground floor of 33 locations and then a couple of very small tower levels and a couple of very small dungeon levels. Running around inside are some vermin, goblins and corrupted dwarf-mutations, and an evil wizard with a few abominations. 

Traps are sprinkled throughout, each taking up far more space than they should with multiple skill/stat checks referenced. There’s a few attempts at a weird effect or two in a couple of the rooms.

Unlike most adventures, this thing takes a good running start at an evocative writing style. One room has it’s corner collapsed with rubble strewn down the mountainside. A mosaic purposefully pried up in one hallway. A room choked with stone from the ceiling, mud, water, dung, all forming a thick goop with the skeleton of a small humanoid lying atop it, gibbets of meat still on its bones. We can argue about the use of small and goop, but gibbets of meat still upon its bones, and the image of the skeleton in the much room, if a good one. It’s a nice lure to bring the party in. In general the adventure does a pretty good job of getting in and out with its read-aloud while providing the correct degree of specificity to be evocative when mixed with its colorful use of adjectives and adverbs. It’s not exactly The Best but it is CLEARLY a cut above the fact based descriptions that permeate adventures. A little scrubbing or agonizing editing and it could have possibly been really a standout in that area.

It does fall down on interactivity though. The adventure interprets this as monsters and traps and therefore it falls in to a rut of combat and traps. There ARE a few rooms where you can speak to a demon lord via a circle, and so on, but, especially on the homes main floor, it needs some more interactivity. For every small skeleton luring you in to combat there are 12 rooms that are far FAR more mundane. It doesn’t have to be a funhouse but interactivity needs to be more than combat and traps. Especially when those traps are nearly never telegraphed. Bad!

And then it goes and gives a full page of read-aloud monologue at the start, as a hook. Or gives you a page of text for a room with a quasit in it. These are extreme examples, but its clear that restraint failed in several other rooms as well. Long read and short DM text is usually a key that something fucked up. Short initial read-aloud, and an exploding format of the DM providing more and more detail as the players investigate would resolve this. Experiences are consistent, at least initial ones, with the DM consulting for more as needed. 

It’s also clear that, for most of the adventure, an order of battle is missing. With a couple of groups of at least semi-intelligent humanoids I would expect a few notes on how they respond to intruders or summon help, etc. 

And then for every good room description we get history and backstory embedded in the DM text, adding noting to the adventure but getting in the way.

Not doing much good. Dipping in to the bad on occasion but not living there. Is that enough to recommend an adventure? No, but it’s enough to not hate it. For its faults, this thing is better than most published 5e adventures. What’s heartening is that I think usability and interactivity are more easily learned than evocative writing. It’s possible that this designer may get things together and figure out the interactivity and usability elements while kicking up their evocative writing another notch. There’s just too much decent content available go lower than “Decent.”

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a suggested price of $2. The preview is quite poor, showing you that page long read-aloud in the hook and nothing of the actual rooms/encounters. Thus you have little idea of what to expect when you buy the thing. 


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Bone Marshes

Wed, 07/10/2019 - 11:11
By David Schriduan Technical Grimoire Games Knave

We need your help! The marshes are burning, and we don’t know why!

This 48 page hexcrawl has 25 hexes. [Hex size defined as “four hours to cross] It falls in to the “Real deal” category of adventures. Not mini-dungeon, but fully formed with lots going on. It makes some non-intuitive choices but it’s easy enough to use once you’ve got the hang of it. Chok full of adventure.

You find some magic flyers saying the swamps are on fire and some mage needs help. The mage has a mission for you: charting a path through the swamp for her supply caravan to reach her base. After that she another mission, and then another. These come with handy dandy tracking sheets and notes on modifications on how to turn each in to one-shot. The above references two themes: an impishness and a nod to usability. 

There’s a tone present which isn’t gonzo and isn’t deadly serious 1e AD&D and isn’t humor. It’s a slightly bizarre character thing, drifting toward ren-faire but never actually getting close. There’s some tech present in the swamp, at the heart of mystery in fact, but its not a gonzo adventure. It’s more subtle. There’s no real humor, but there are non-serious moments. These are almost entirely in the form of the NPC’s. They are not humorous, but they do have strong character. A guy who like to see things burn. Sages who like their comfort. And the primary quest-giver, a mage with a lot of money, not much sense, a childlike wonder, and who is looking to make a name for herself. Further in the swamp are memgomanicial bandit kings and some swamp-creatures with a trial separation going on. They don’t go over the top, or least not enough to make the adventure a farce. They do provide strong elements to hang your DM hat on and provide engaging play for the party. Which is what it’s about.

There’s also an emphasis on usability. I noted the handouts for the three missions, which double as a kind of note-pad, etc for the party. The character sheets also have some nods to usability for a “you got mud on you” mechanic. The hexes are noted in a format to help aid the DM, as is some underground/flooded tunnel notes. The descriptions make good use of bolding and summaries, whitespace, bullets, and terse evocative setting descriptions. It’s clear that usability was a major design consideration, and it pays off.

There’s a lot to do and interact with in the swamp. Fighting, fire fighting, NPC’s to talk to do, schemes to plot, places to explore and so on. It’s a small hex crawl done right. There’s some over-arching goals for the party and a canvas full of things waiting to happen for the adventure to develop as the party tries to achieve their goals. It’s a great example of both plot and sandbox mixing in the correct proportions to achieve some directed purpose without dictating which way things should go. 

And it’s not without its flaws. For all its attempts at usability a few fall short. 

The adventure makes an effort at cross-references, they appear in more than a few places. It also doesn’t always use time when it should. There are five gizmos scattered about the swamp that play a major part in the adventure … but there’s no unified place where they are all mentioned. Other elements, mentioned in passing as goals or so on, also do not get a cross-reference. Where was that swamp-throne again? 

The swamp map is a little non-intuitive as well, at first glance. The hexes are numbered A through R. Then the hex descriptions start. It took me more than a few minutes to recognize that the hexes were keyed by the encounter name. “Archies Camp” is hex A. “Queens House” is hex Q, and so on. I get it, once I figured it out, but I’m still not sure it makes the layout/design more intuitive. It also moves from one area to the next a little more fluidly then is helpful. In particular the indoor and underground sections for the main encounter areas end up being less intuitive then they could be if done in a more traditional format.It’s not BAD, exactly, but it does require more work than usual to figure out how things relate to each other.

Finally, there’s the fire aspect. This is the pretext for the entire adventure: the swamp is on fire and the mage wants to put it out. Mechanically, this is covered. There are rules for fire fighting, damage and the like. Easy to find, laid out, and understandable. Then there are tactical level fire issues: many random encounters and a few fixed ones have fire elements to them. Hexes tell yo uwhat they look like before and fires in them. But it feels like there’s a gap when it comes to, oh, let’s call is Strategic fire management. Let’s start with something very basic: where are the fires? Having spent a couple of hours with this adventure I can only tell you one hex. If you levitate up, or fly, or somehow get high up and look out … where are the fires? Where is the smoke coming from? There’s not help in this area. [Further, in retrospect, I don’t think fires exist, except in isolated circumstances and that one hex. I think they mostly come up through play and random encounters. The feeling of “smoke and small fires everywhere” doesn’t really come through for me. This may be a play thing though.]

But, these are minor nits and generally easily addressed. Monsters are freaky and get good descriptions. Hex/item descriptions are evocative and terse and the text easy to scan. It’s just how it all fits together that could be better. Still, easily one of the best. A “real” adventure, and there’s not many of those out there,

This is $10 at DriveThru, and worth it. The preview is fifteen pages. You get to see a DM overview of one of the “plot quests”, laid out nicely. You also get some bestiary pages, showing off their descriptions and freakiness. Preview page 10 and onward shows you sample hex encounter descriptions, with wanderers and the main layout/descriptions for hexes. It’s a good preview. 


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Deception at Undervine

Mon, 07/08/2019 - 11:12
By Perry McKinley Self Published 5e Levels 1-4

The PCs will need to investigate the town of Undervine, carefully examining the various personalities there. They will travel to the Muckfoot Bog, the Shadytree Woods, and the nearby Caverns of Undervine. the players will face obstacles and enemies that will challenge their very resolve, until they discover the true evil behind the murders at Undervine.

This seventeen page adventure details a ten location town, a sixteen location manor, and a 6 location cave. You wander about and poke your noses around and kill some shit. There’s a lot of explaining, history, backstory, and read-aloud … very little of which contributes to the adventure. It’s almost certainly completely mis-labeled in terms of level. It’s a mess. And this review is going to be a mess also. Because Reasons.

Yeah, ok, I fucked up. I saw the cover and “Forgotten Realms” and thought I was buying OSR. It’s DMSGuild so it’s 5e. Not that there are any stats provided in the adventure. Not that it matter anyway; the opponents include a Gibbering Mouther, three wights, a basilisk, and an ancient legendary werewolf. At level one? Yes, at level one. I tend to give encounter balance a pass in many of my reviews. A little plus/minus here or there doesn’t matter. Running away is a thing, as is Combat as War. But in a plot-heavy adventure, or linear one, then my eyebrows raise a little. If you HAVE to do an encounter then things need to a little more in line. I guess “have to do” is all relative anyway, you can always just leave the town to its fate. Still, man, 3 wights? A Werewolf? A fucking basilisk? The power curve on 5e changed, but this is silly!

This thing engages in Why Bother syndrome. This is when the designer tells the DM that they can do whatever they want. This does that over and over again. On the way to the town in question “The DM can decide whether to challenge the PCs with an encounter, pass, or roll on the encounter table below.” Or, maybe you’d like some “Once the party moves on, the DM will need to decide if the story has progressed enough for the final conflict with the Werewolf.” Oh, joy. So things just happen because the DM wills it for the sake of the plot and story. This is BAD FUCKING DESIGN. Look, to a certain extent this shit happens in every D&D adventure and in every D&D game. Yeah, the DM drives things from a certain point of view. But in good design its in reaction to the players characters and their actions. In bad D&D it’s because the plot demands it or through DM fiat. Toss an extra clue in somewhere, or clarify things when the players misunderstand or are talking themselves in to a corner? Ok, no problem. Throwing baddies at the party until they reach ability exhaustion for the sake of the plot? That’s bad design. We’re paying for content, well written and designed content. 

The usual long read-aloud is present. I roll my eyes every time. There are walls of DM text with little breaks, dictating the history of rooms, reasons why X is Y, and so on. Bob used to take his meals in this room but he hasn’t been going down to eat lately, having lost his appetite. Uh. Ok.So? Is that meaningful to the adventure in ANY way? No? THEN WHY THE FUCK DID YOU WRITE THE WORDS?

Perhaps my favorite part is the hook at the beginning. A storyteller in an inn relates the tale of the town. He won’t tell the party his name. Outside, if followed, he disappears in a fog. He can’t be fought or killed. He’s some kind of ghost thing for absolutely no reason at all. He just is. If it were a storyteller named Bob that you could stab, would it make any difference? Does the presence of short little DungeonMaster in his red robes add anything to this adventure?  Or is it just more of the DM fucking with the players for no reason at all?

On the plus side the Lynch brothers (the wights) were hung in the village and there’s a frozen fountain the village, covered in snow. Cleaning off the snow reveals a body frozen in the water. That’s nice imagery, and easily the best idea in the entire adventure.

This is Pay What You Want at DMSGuild, with a suggested price of $2. The preview is six pages. It is an accurate and true representation of the adventure in all its glory. From the writing, the read-aloud, and DM text to the muddled confusion of how everything works together. 


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Belmey

Sat, 07/06/2019 - 11:16
By Michael LaBossiere Self Published 5e Levels 1-4

War is coming. Two nations have set aside their differences to fulfil their historical ambition: to reclaim a province lost long ago. As with any war, arms and armor are needed and who better to claim a long-lost armory stocked with Imperial equipment than the bold adventurers? Complicating the situation is the fact that the old armory is located near the ruins of the summer estate of Count Bekus, a necromancer who was killed, beheaded, burned and interred in a special vault so that he would not plague the world again.

This 37 page adventure details the exploration of a small ruined estate with about 21 locations. It’s abstracted to the point of almost being an adventure outline. Interactivity is generally limited to combat, and the writing is dull with meandering DM text. 

Today I’m going to talk about direct and indirect illocutionary forces with regard to adventure design. Nah, I’m just fucking with you;, it’s The Cave, as per usual. Also, I’m supposed to be nicer in these weekend reviews since A) they tend to suck more and B) the designers tend to be full of enthusiasm from their 5-star drivethru reviews. That means I’ll cut out the The cave bullshit. Yes, that was all for your benefit. Go figure.

Let’s talk good things first. Note that the folk killed, beheaded, burned, and then interred the remains in a special sealed vault. Nice! The local lords generally don’t do enough patrolling of old ruins or tearing them down and digging them up/salting the earth. Just loke town councils INSIST on sewer systems. It’s good to see the local folk dealing with the necromancer effectively. Once the bad guy goes down, keep hacking and burn the body. Fire is man’s oldest friend, use it! 

This blow-off comment about a line of flavour text in the into blurb concludes my discussion of the adventures good points. 

I’m sure the designer here was, as is  generally the case, excited about this effort. Enthusiasm does not a good adventure make. My belief is that designers don’t know what a good adventure looks like, a good published adventure anyway. They are flooded with bad examples, from WOTC, from PAIZO, through the marketplaces. These drown out any good examples that may be hiding. If everything gets 5-stars then how are you know what is good and not good? These people face an impossible challenge. Further, attempts to divine what makes an adventure good are marred by all of the bad advice. Be it well-meaning fuckwits on forums or freelance writers with a deadline, there’s almost nothing worthwhile. Well, almost nothing. Listen to voice saying Follow Me …

Evocative writing is hard. Interactivity, beyond combat, is not straightforward. (See, that’s me being nice.) That leaves us with Usability — Ye Olde Informatione Transfere. This is the basic point that the VAST majority of designers get wrong … before they even get to evocative writing or interactivity. They don’t know how to write an adventure so it can be used at the table. This is, at its most fundamental form, the purpose of an adventure. The DM uses the adventure at the table to run it for the players. The adventures primary purpose is that. The writing, layout, and so forth MUST be oriented towards that. And the vast majority of adventures don’t do that.

In this adventure that applies most directly to the hook. Bob the half-orc has a mission for you and his bard buddy has some information. This is all related in a page of information formatted as paragraphs. This is poor design. For this one scene you have to an entire page of words in your head. That’s foolish, right? You can’t remember that much. You’re gonna want to refer back to the text during play. This means scanning the text to find the thing you want. And yet the information is presented as a great text block with just a  few paragraph breaks. Further, it’s generally formatted in PLOT style. First this happens then this then this then this. This is TERRIBLE. I often talk about bolding, whitspace, offset boxes, and bullets. I’m noting specific techniques toward a greater goal: Helping the DM run this section. The players want to know something and/or you need to respond. You glance down at the page. Can you locate the information you need in less than 3 seconds? [Whatever. An ‘instant’ amount of time that doesn’t delay the game and break flow.] The formatting and organization is critical to this … and its missing here. 

Usually that’s a problem with rooms also. Over described and too prescriptive are the usual sins. This, though, is different. It feels like the encounters are more 4e. You get a large number of locations, lets say, 12, in the upper ruins. Really ruins, just some wall remnants. The keyed encounters takes … I don’t know, one column for 9 rooms … most of which is taken up by one room. Locations 4-8 are noted as “The once fine hamber hall and entrance are now but ruins.” How can this be?!?! Because there’s a little section before/after noting that there is at least one zombie in rooms 6,7,8,&9. (That’s you level scaling for you. Remember, this is plot D&D where the DM fudges everything and player agency is therefore nearly non-existent.) “Put in some stirges if you want.” Or, maybe, buy a well-crafted adventure if I want? Oops , sorry, I’m being nice today.

Anyway, it almost an outline, or 4e style. Here’s a bit fucking map with a lots of rooms. There’s an ooze in it roaming around. GO! It sets up a situation. IN some respects, this is a good concept, that IS how D&D should be. But it feels less like adventure and wonder and Free Play  then it does “Here’s a TACTICAL situation. GO!” Hence the 4e comparison. 

Column long stat blocks. A level range in the blurb that’s different than the one in the adventure. Which is all meaningless anyway since it’s all fudged with numerous implicit and explicit fudging advice to the DM. “Ghoul miners dug this tunnel.” Why do we need to know that? It doesn’t add anything to PLAYERS experience since it’s just DM knowledge. That’s bad. You’re wasting words. Words are supposed to help the DM with PLAYER action. I’m being hyperbolic here, since there’s room for a little of this, but, in general, words have to have GAMEABLE meaning … why is this relevant to the players? “This temple was constructed in order to conceal his true faith.” Well, maybe, but why does that matter? Constructs, who the party will never hear, mutter ”oh my look at the mess.” Sure, every once in awhile you can slip in something for the DM, but it doesn’t come off like that in this adventure. 

This is Pay What You Want at DMSGuild, with a suggested price of $6. There’s no preview. Put in a fucking preview so we know in advance what we’re buying! Yeah, it’s a PWYW, so the entire thing is a preview. I think I’m terrified that some precedent is going to set and we’ll start down the slope of the form changing and thus all the shadows following suit. Ha! Did it again!


I leave you with this, a portion of a (potential) PC backstory, between the PC and someone who will eventually become the guard captain who gives the party the quest. 

“Being at the front of the wagon, you could see the two orcs driving it. One looked back into the wagon, holding a crossbow at the ready. He was splattered with blood and seemed eager to spill more. The other orc looked different, quite like a human and there was something softer about his eyes. As he kept looking back at you and the others, even your young eyes could see the struggle going on in his soul.

As the wagon left the village, he let out a terrible howl and swung his axe clean through his fellow’s neck, showering you with blood. He turned and said “I can’t let you go through what my mother did. I’m going to save you all. Or we will die together! Hang on!” You were surprised you could understand him, then you realized he was speaking common.”

How many innocent people did he kill? How many fields burned? Plagues delivered? Atrocities committed? But, saving one child absolves him of his sins? Nah, I’m just fucking around. But, Tonal Mismatch much?

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wyvernseeker Rock

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 11:11
By RP Davis Aegis Studios O&O/BX Levels 2-5

A long age ago, beyond mortal memory, a forgotten people built a watching post and refuge atop and within Wyvernseeker Rock. A hundred years ago, an adventurer named Olaf Wyvernseeker claimed the Rock for his own and set out with companions to clear the lands thereabouts. They were never heard from again. The upper chambers of the Rock are a convenient lair for a Giant Rhadogessa and its spider servants. Still, it’s got to be safer than climbing the cliff. Right?

This six page side-treckish adventure has five linear rooms. It has some decently evocative text, but misses on several aspects, like stat check puzzles. It’s ok for what it is, but nothing I would seek out.

This is a short side-trek/obstacle “adventure.” While following a stream through the forest you come out to find a sheer cliff wall, with a waterfall. Next to it is a small cave with a weird arch entrance. Go through the arch, up the stairs, through the five rooms, and come out on top of the cliff. Sadly, that statue from the cover doesn’t make an appearance.

The text in this isn’t too bad, at least the descriptive text. “Hewn into the face of the cliff is an arch, around which are carved mystical runes too weathered to decipher. Through the arch is a cave. Niches line the walls of the cave, each just large enough to contain a humanoid skull.” That’s not too bad. Short, a little evocative with hewn, niches, weathered, etc. Likewise room two says “Thick dust carpets the corridors. Clearly no one has walked here in centuries. Tiled mosaics of water creatures riding waves line all the walls.” I could do without the “no one has walked here” stuff, but thick carpet of dust and tiled mosaics give a decent touch to the description. It abstracts at times, like “ornamental pool” and so on (a few more/different words would have been a better description) but the text, at least the descriptive test, doesn’t overstay its welcome. And it’s not bad read-aloud, or read-aloud at all. 

It starts to fall down in some of the mechanics. That arch over the cave entrance, and another one, is an ability check puzzle. Meaning that you can’t decipher it through actual play, you have to roll a stat check to bypass. Three times. Three successes and you decipher all of the runes (again, abstracted) and you can pass. Fail a check and take some static damage. That sort of stuff encourages mix/max play, where the challenge becomes building a character within the rules rather than player challenge. If you want a stat check to help decipher the puzzle then that’s ok in my book, by making the challenge ONLY about ie rolling and character optimization during build encourages the wrong type of play. You do get a skeleton next to the puzzle, to hint the trap is there. That’s always good. I even liked the description: “Huddled against the base of the door is the skeletal remains of a Wild Folk clutching a spear.” Hudled, remains, clutching a spear. Not great, but good enough.

The map is a small Dyson one, as I alluded to in the “five rooms” note. And it’s not numbered. I get it, the map/adventure is linear and therefore this doesn’t HAVE to be a deal breaker. I don’t hang on Dyson’s every word, but I hazard a guess that he’s not going to loose his shit because you added room numbers to his map. Anything more than two-ish rooms probably should have room numbers. I hate having to figure this shit out during play. “Which room was this again? Let me count …”

It’s a short adventure, the main DM text hangs around a little long, but the descriptions are decent. The puzzles are too stat-based. It’s short. The concept here is a decent one; a little rework from the designer/editor and it could have made it to No Regerts.

This is $1 at DriveThru. And alas, there is no preview. Stick in a preview!


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

In the Company of Thieves

Mon, 07/01/2019 - 11:11
By Aaron Lopez Aegis Studios O&O/BX Levels 2-3

Outside the city of Luminere lies the town of Crescent Falls, a medium-sized village of 500 residents. Crescent Falls has been relatively quiet until recently. Several rural farmsteads have had their entire family go missing leaving local authorities stymied. The small garrison of the town is already overloaded as most of the soldiers and town guard has been called to aid with a harvest festival in Luminere. The town watch only has three members left to keep the peace, so they have called on assistance from adventurers to get to the bottom of the mystery.

This nine page adventure is a straight-forward hack of a small wererat lair with five rooms. The text is the usual muddled mess. 

The exploration of O&O from Aegis Studies continues. I will say that Aegis has done a great job of getting a wide variety of designers to write adventures; I don’t think I’ve seen a repeat designer yet. As long as that continues then I’ll continue to review the new designers content.

Rather than presenting facts that the DM can work with, the adventure is formatted in “paragraph” form, which tries, in its own way, to tell a story. This starts with the hook. You get the usual read-aloud with the sheriff telling you whats up and then long paragraphs of when the party does this then this other thing happens, usually someone telling the party something. This makes it hard to scan the text during play. You have to dig through the paragraphs to find the information you want. It’s not that paragraphs are, in and of themselves bad, but the length of them, combined with the lack of whitespace/breaks, makes it hard to scan for information. Better formatting in the way of more whitespace, offsets, or bullets would have helped this a lot. 

I know I harp on this a lot, but it’s an important point. I HATE digging through text to find information during play. Rather than present a situation, like some facts about the boy, in his own section, instead it all gets buried in the text in one place and you have to take some pauses to read the entire thing … and hope you didn’t miss anything buried in a different section. The adventure must first and foremost be usable by the DM at the table. It’s an immediate turn off when its hard to use. More than my own personal preference, I think its one of the major design flaws in almost every adventure. It’s like people have forgotten how these things are used. I’m sure it has something to do with the designers innate knowledge; they KNOW what they wrote and how its supposed to work, so they are not having to refer to the text. The rest of us, though, have to rely on it. 

It doesn’t help that the adventure is behind a stat check. Yes, the dreaded Roll To Continue the Adventure appears. To find the lair you have to succeed in a stat check to track the wererats back. Yes, it’s also a roll that everyone is going to fudge when the party doesn’t make it, so why does it exist in the first place? An additional challenge, or boon, makes much more sense in these situations.

I continue to be aghast at the mechanics of these O&O adventures. I don’t get the system (which maybe means I should buy the book and check it out.) 3HD wererats have 19 HP. I guess maybe this is on a d8 instead of a d6? Then again, the adventure is full of wererats, which I’m pretty sure still take magic weapons to hit. At level 2. Combined with this being a straight forward hack with almost nothing else going on, I have to wonder how many people play old school D&D like this? Just room after room full of things to cut down with nothing much else going down? I like killing monsters also, but the charm of old school is sometimes twisted in to that being the ONLY thing going on in an adventure, and that sort of grinding combat is something I would expect from 3e, 4e, or something like Warhammer minis at a con. 

The cave is dim because foliage grows up outside. The rats have dug a trench from a river in order to get fresh water. There’s so much justifying, in just about every room. “This thing is this way because they did Y.” Is this really necessary for most of this stuff? No. It’s a trench with fresh water. Why does it, and everything else, need a backstory and justifying? It’s just padding that gets in the way of the adventure and, of course, makes it harder to scan and use during play.

There’s a tapestry of exceptional quality, with no further details. You have to roll on the treasure tables for the loot the wererats have. A few words more should have been spared for some detail on the tapestry and it makes no sense to tell the DM to roll for treasure. Isn’t it the designers job to create specificity for us, to inspire us to greatness? 

Just another mess of a hack adventure.

This is $1 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages. You can see the intro/hook text in paragraph form, the roll to continue,  and the first part of the first room. All on the last page of the preview. It gives you an excellent idea of the writing style you are to encounter, even though I would have preferred to see an entire room in the preview.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Waking the Wizard

Sat, 06/29/2019 - 11:14
By Robert L Rath RATHSQUATCH Publishing 5e Levels 1-4

The morning dew hasn’t even had a chance to evaporate when the carrier rides in. His flowing shirt decorated cart, and a tabard adorned with a lion within a purple diamond tells you that this individual brings a message directly from the capital city. In a village this small, it doesn’t take long for word to travel. The council is summoned, messages delivered and decisions made before the sun even reaches mid-day. What is it that has sent this little village into a scramble? A letter from the King. But what role do they play?

This 121 page adventure features a couple of sub-plots on the journey to explore s wizards house. It also appears to have gone down the “bad adventure” checklist, ensuring that just about every mistake possible is made. It’s an unusable mess.

Let’s cover the good first, and yes it does do something good. As a starting adventure it covers each of the potential 5e backgrounds and has a little hook/background that integrates with the generic PHB background. Local hero, spy, etc, they all get a little section on how that characters background fits in to their life in the starting village and how it drags them in to the adventure at hand. I think i’ve seen maybe one other starting 5e adventure do that; it was a good idea then and it’s a good idea now.

Of course, it absolutely ruined during the implementation. It’s presented almost as read-aloud for the PC, rather than notes for the DM to relate.  You are angry. You feel X, Y, or Z. It’s the worst type of background information, telling the players who they will be playing, ruining whatever ideas they already had for their character. Yeah, in a con game or a one-shot, sure, it helps get things going.

This ham-handed stomping on player agency continues throughout. Mountains of read-aloud (mountains and MOUNTAINS of it) do a great job of relating the parties feelings and what they do. You sit down on some hay bales. You’re disgusted. You wonder. It’s this garbage failed novelization shit that pops up again and again. It’s trying desperately to set a mood and its attempting it in the worst way possible: by forcing the players. Instead it should be presenting evocative descriptions that instill the mood. Is it better to say “yo ufeel tense as you wait” or is it better to presents descriptions that create a mood that get the players thinking they feel tense? Obviously, the second. And that’s something that this adventure does over and over and over and over and over again. And by “does” I mean “does not do.” It’s not quite a puppet adventure, but its close enough to make me roll my eyes on at least half the (very numerous) read-aloud.

Every description is too long. For every business in the villages. For every encounter. For every keyed encounter. There’s too much read-aloud. The read-aloud is bad. There’s too much DM text. The DM text is bad. Oh, oh, I’ll include a section at the end, for a kitchen. I fucking lvoe bad kitchen encounters. I should write a book of collected bad kitchen encounters in RPG’s. It would be magnificent.

It’s trying to include some sub-plots on the way to the wizards house, and even inside the house, but the writing is utterly incomprehensible for play at the table. Long paragraphs relating exactly And then and then and then and then and then. Details embedded in paragraphs, long NPC motivation paragraphs that hide the information you need to actually run the NPC at the table.

Area 16: The Kitchen

[read aloud]The southwest corner of this room sports two cooking pits, which don’t appear to have been used in quite some time. Each pit is large enough to cook a medium-sized animal, with a three-foot stone ledge built around it to keep the meat within. The pits are filled with ash and charred remains. A chimney leads up from here, but it is much too small to investigate.

Long tables line each wall while bowls, cups, and moldering food sit upon them. This only fuels the rancid smell within the room, although it was hard to place at first. The cheese upon one of the tables looks especially bad, with a fuzzy growth upon it. Finally cooking utensils hang from the ceiling.[/read-aloud]

This is the stronghold’s kitchen area, but it hasn’t been used in quite some time.

There are two doors leading into this room.

The west entry is a Simple Wooden Door (10 hp immunity to piercing damage) which slides upward and is unlocked.

The East Entry is a Strong Wooden Door which is locked (DC 15 to open, DC 20 strength check to break; 20 hp to smash but has immunity to piercing damage

And that is our kitchen. Two paragraphs of read-aloud garbage that amounts to nothing followed by some door stats. It’s evocativeness is matched only by its interactivity.

This looks like a home game/campaign conversion, with all those loving details thrown in. I have no doubt this was someones labour of love. It’s just that the designer had no idea how to translate that in to an effective written form. No doubt they took as an example other written adventures for 5e, which were themselves terrible. And thus the cycle of bad 5e adventures continue. No doubt the 5-star reviews are already pouring in. I wish that designers had more guidance on how to write/present their adventures. We’d all be happier. I wonder how much blame goes to editors, who SHOULD know better, and how much goes to a designer who won’t listen? I’m not saying that’s the case here, but an editor who is just a copy-editor is no editor at all.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages. You get to see the players background integration text that I was fond of in concept and hated as it was implemented. You also get to see some read-aloud and DM text, which should serve as fair warning as to what to expect in the rest of the adventure.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

From the Mouth of Babes

Wed, 06/26/2019 - 11:15
By Ken Carcas Aegis Studios B/X Level 2-3

A dirty pair of hungry goblin children wander upon the party on the wilderness side of The Untamed Gauntlet. Through difficult communication, the party manages to find out that something bad happened to their clan. The children, still unaware of the villainous nature of man to goblin, attempt to convince their newfound ’friends’ to come and help. Leading the party back to the lair, they are eventually confronted with the fact that the clans own hunting wolves are responsible for the clan’s demise. To make matters worse, it appears the crazed nature of the wolves, due to the arcane effects of the poison has transformed the once ordinary wolves into poison wielding beasts in their own right. Will the party overcome these freaks of nature and their poison attacks, and what will become of the goblin children themselves?

Nothing to see here, move along.

This sixteen page adventure features a five room linear dungeon. With encounters spanning a page or more, the backstory and irrelevant detail is strong with this one.

The exploration of Aegis Studios carpet-bombing of content continues, and probably will as long as different designers keep producing content for it. I think this is designer number six under the Aegis banner? Aegis certainly came on strong with O&O content.

The hook encounter is a page long. It involves two goblin children coming out of the forest, hungry, asking the party for help. This should have been the first warning … a full page for this is long, with separate read-alouds for day and night. To its credit it does present a second hook, for when the party kills the kids; a diseased wolf shows up and you can track it back to the same caves.

Otherwise …

To find the goblin cave you need to make a wisdom check. If you fail you can try again next hour. Each hour you get a +1 bonus. There are no wanderers, so it’s just pointless dice rolling.

The encounters are between a column and a page and half long. Two giants rats? That’s a column of text. Three goblins, that’s a page and half because of all the backstory they could relate to you. An empty room is a quarter page. Two wolves is a page long.  This is all textbook padding through history and other detail that’s irrelevant to the game at hand. “The remaining goblins from Area 2 have recently killed a couple of giant rats that ventured into their lair obviously looking for an easy meal. The goblins managed to kill both but only managed to drag one back to Area 2 before the Venom Wolves from below ventured up to see what the noise was all about. It is unknown why they chose to leave the remaining dead giant rat where it was and not claim it as a meal.” In the end I sigh, roll my eyes, and thank Vecna I never have to try to run this at the table. There’s just way too much shit for each room to be able to scan it and run it easily. Padding, filler, poorly organized … it’s words for the sake of words. I wonder if Travis pays per word?

The female goblins are listed with HD:1-1. They have 14HP, 12HP, and 8HP. Is this on a d20? Maybe it’s just me, but something seems off to me …

This is $2 at DriveThru, where Featured Reviewer Megan R. gives it five stars. A quick check of her last sixty reviews shows one three star review (for a Delta Green DM screen) a couple of four stars and mostly five star reviews. This is the world we live in.

Anyway, the preview is four pages. The last page shows the Wisdom Check for the cave, the first room, and the start of the (1.5 page) second room. Room one is a good example of what to expect, only much much much more so, in terms of padding.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Vobleavira Haven Complex

Mon, 06/24/2019 - 11:13
By Vance Atkins Leicester's Rambles B/X "Low Level mooks"

… So we have a cleric and thief who found themselves allied in adventures, found their own subterranean outpost, and created a space that reflects their two characters’ personalities. …

This 21 page single-column adventure features a dungeon with 24 rooms and FOUR room with creature encounters! Yet Another Generic Adventure, with a focus on irrelevant background information.

Background information drives me nuts. Specifically, background information that does not contribute to the adventure. ESPECIALLY in an adventure that desperately needs more to it. Designers seem to confuse more words, or background detail, for gameable content. “More is better”, Pay Per Word, failed novelist syndrome … for whatever reason the inclusion of a bunch of garbage that in no way contributes to an adventure gets under my skin. It’s trivia. And it gets in the way of actually useful information, making it all the more difficult to scan room text and therefore run the adventure.

You wanna throw off a phrase here or there in an adventure that otherwise focuses on gameable detail? That’s fine. An occasional sly remark to the DM? Sure. A section on legend lore in a higher level adventure? Ok.

When the adventure is desperate for specificity, gameable content, detail that adds to an evocative nature, or interactivity, and then you include motivations for someone 300 hundred years dead and is Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Adventure … this is when the frustratoion builds up inside of me.

  1. Guardroom – Formerly a guard post and small barrack … the room has been stripped of most useful items.
  2. Barracks – A barracks room, the room has been similarly raided.
  3. The tunnel is one of several in the complex, designed by Dufay to quickly move forces for flanking in the event of an incursion, for storage, or as escape passages.
  4. Storeroom – This room held an overflow of supplies for the kitchen and elsewhere.
  5. Kochi’s piety would not allow him to display presentations of the group’s actions, but he did allow symbolic representations. He also allowed a modest display of captured trophies,

In each of those cases, above, you can see an emphasis on the past. A past that will NOT be interacting with the party in this adventure. The guardroom text starts by telling us its a guardroom, and then explains that it used to be a guardroom. Just as he barracks does. Just as the storeroom does. In all four cases we get some history in the form of “used to be”, none of which impacts the party, today. We know the room is a former barracks [guardroom/storeroom], that’s the room title. The guardroom has a peerhole and a couple of monsters poking around in the rubble, with a small chance of them using the peehole. The door is ron-bound with a peephole, just like every other door in the complex, or so the general dungeon overview tells us, but it has to be repeated here, in this room description. This all detracts from the room proper, the monsters poking about and the peephole. It hides it from the DM when they scan the text and, other information could have been included to make the room far more evocative, or even interactive, than it is. I’m not making the case that every room needs to be a set-piece, but that the focus of the writing needs to be evocative descriptions, scannability and, maybe, some interactivity.

Instead we’re told that the guard room used to be a guard room and that in the dungeon of iron-bound doors that this room has an iron-bound door. The emphasis is, over and over again, in the wrong place.

Unless I missed something, four rooms have monsters in them. 2 giants centipedes, a room with skeletons, and two rooms with a couple of hob/s/gobs each. This is not a jam-packed exciting place to visit, full of the wonder and mystery of D&D.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $1. The preview is five pages. You Get to see the map, which is decent for the size, as well as a boring rumor table, a boring wandering monster table, and some generic background information. A better preview would have included a couple of rooms also.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Cave of the Bone Dwellers

Sat, 06/22/2019 - 11:16
By Joel Logan A Hole in the Ground Terrain & Games 5e Level 1

The players are asked to investigate the cause of merchant caravans in the region disappearing. The adventure begins at the Blue Crab Inn in the small village of Holly Springs. The players adventure next into the wilderness where they soon discover the source at a cave. Inside the cave the players face many tough challenges, have the opportunity to find treasure, and are forever linked to the Tarmalon Galactic Museum.

This 43 page adventure details a cave system with eighteen rooms over about 28 pages. And some museum thing.? It looks like it’s licensed IP from legacy of the Ancients, some kind of computer game? The DM text is some of the most irrelevant I’ve ever seen.

How doth thought sin? Let me count the ways …

The level doesn’t appear in the adventure description, only on the cover. Meaning I have to click the cover picture on DriveThru and hope it’s there. Fail.

NPC’s get about a column each in 5e format. Appearance, Voice, Wants, Morality, Intelligence, Status, paragraph. Better, I think, to put together a sentence or two and then move on with life? Then they would all fit on the same page. Mindlessly following a script (or format) is never a good thing.

There are a fuck ton of town and regional maps. None of which really matter to the adventure. Yeah, you’re in a town and yeah, you travel to a caravan ambush site but the number and degree of maps seems out of proportion. There’s like ten, between the extra supplement and the ones in the adventure.

Sure daring town locations as … “9. Warehouse – Holly Springs contains several warehouses. The ware- houses are large wooden structures used seasonally throughout the year to store livestock, food, and oth- er goods coming and going from and to Holly Springs. “ Why was this included?

Or perhaps the same blacksmith seen in every adventure ever … “4. Blacksmith – Jasper is a very skilled blacksmith and until lately made a very good living. In addition to agricultural tools and services Jasper is a master weaponsmith and also makes an occasional piece of armor or re- pairs for Frederick’s Armor Shop.” These are the sorts of town locations provided, the same generic ones found in every town. The words are meaningless, they add nothing. Generic fantasy blacksmith” would have done.

The following are the items that Lillyanna sells that the players may be interested in:” Seriously? No? Then how about …

If the players choose to speak with him at the Blue Crab Inn they will learn the following:” This happens over and over again. THE NEXT PARAGRAPH WILL HAVE INFORMATION FOR THE DM TO READ TO THE PARTY.

“ The fishing and bait shop is exactly what it sounds like. Players can buy fishing supplies, bait, and also fresh fish and seafood.”

Civilized lands, lush farm country. Monsters are very dangerous and appear in 6 out of 7 wandering monster rolls.

I assume the Galactic Museum is something from the computer game? There’s a map, but not details on any of the exhibits noted on the map?

“The players may be very crafty and attempt to setup a scene to ambush whoever is attacking the caravans. The bone dwellers are watching the area and will attack the players late in the night.” Though shalt not avoid the plot.

Gonna track the ambushing monsters? All that detail, provided, is irrelevant since you just find their lair anyway.

“GM Notes: These stairs were built long ago when the caves were inhabited by humans taking refuge here during turbulent times.”

“This should prove to be a hard encounter since …”

“Over the years the tendro snapper has accumulated a small treasure hoard which is scattered amongst the bones and debris on the land inside of 3B2.”

“3B5 Bone Dweller Village – This room of the cave serves as a village for the bone dwellers.”

“The females of the tribe are also forced to do the cooking of meat for the tribe and many of the menial tasks such as gathering water and the mending of tents and clothes.”

“This passage isn’t used near as much as the passage at 3B7 due to the tendro snapper at 3B2 and 3B3. This passage is likely the one players will use to es- cape if they were captured or to delve further into the dungeon to find Elliot’s brother Bartholomew.”

Have I made my point? 1. EMPTY ROOM – THIS ROOM IS EMPTY. 2. ORC VILLAGE – THIS IS THE ORC VILLAGE. It’s like a greatest hits of padding the adventure without really saying ANYTHING at all.

But … it does provide some monsters reference sheets. Ne per page, but whatever, they are included. It also tries to use a bullet point format to convey conversational information an NPC can relate to the party. Most of it is stupid, dumb, and padding, and detracts from the more important information, but, hey, the designer tried.

There’s also a nice little bit where the party can overhear that boys ran away from a ghost ona beached ship, near the village. There really IS a spectre on the boat! It’s not exactly handled well, at all, but the rando idea/rumor is cool

Thus ends my review/non-review of Cave of the Bone Dwellers. The adventure with the most useless DM’s text I’ve ever seen.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is eight pages. It shows you the NPC’s in the taven and their bullet point layout, and some of the town location descriptions. Judge it for yourself and know that the town is one of the highlights of the adventure.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs