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The Dark Tower of Arcma

Mon, 02/19/2018 - 12:14

by Joseph A. Mohr
Expeditious Retreat Press
Levels 6-10

For many years now the locals around the village of Dunmoth have spoken only in whispers about the strange goings on in the Wild Woods around the village. Tales of a dark tower that appears in the night and then disappears again by day have been passed along for generations in the village. Strange creatures have been seen around this tower the like of which have never been seen or even heard of before. Creatures that appear almost to be some kind of monstrous combination of some of the most hideous and horrifying creatures known are claimed to have been seen near this tower. Rumors of the tower’s return have circulated, and a hearty band of adventures has left to explore the dread place. The question remains if they can return, however…

This sixteen page adventure describes a wizards tower with about fifty rooms; four tower levels and three dungeons. The tower levels are just one big open room each but the dungeon levels are small fifteen room-ish affairs. This leans towards funhouse a little, with certain rooms having encounters that make little sense in context, but that probably doesn’t matter; it’s D&D after all. Decent new magic items do not make up for the long paragraph writing style employed. It’s got a bit of the set-piece thing going on (again, the funhouse aspect), but getting past that I’d say the effort lacks a strong edit to impose good style.

The tower appears during the full moon and disappears when the first hint of moon appears in the sky. Inside are … challenges. In one tower level room you have to answer a riddle of a demon appears to attack. Another room is pretty explicit: a skull says something like “who accepts my challenge?” Doing so teleports you to a single combat chamber and you fight a monster. Long ago a player in a game made an adventure I played in. You spun the wheel from the game life and either got a treasure or fought a monster. That was the entirety of the adventure. While I appreciate them making an effort, the Judge in me raises an eyebrow, especially in a commercial product like this one. Surely there are better ways?

Likewise there’s another room where you answer a riddle and in return all of the suits of armor in the big tower room burn to ashes and a magic ring appears. Sooo …. As the owner of the tower I must say that I have chosen a rather strange jewelry box, what with the riddle and the burning down and the devotion of an entire level of my tower to such a lock. Again this points to the funhouse like aspect to the design. Rooms appear not because they make sense, or because they were crafted to work together, but rather because the designer had an idea they wanted to use and just put it in. I think maybe just a LITTLE more pretext is called for … or else go the other direction entirely and make it the Mad Jesters dungeon.

The room descriptions are LONG, three paragraph affairs with little formatting to them or attempts to call out special data via bolding, etc. This forces you to keep your head down, reading the entry and continually look at it. That’s not a DM style I can be supportive of. I want to have my head up, looking at the players, interacting with them, taking quick glances down. This is the “scanning method” that I mention so frequently. Reading the room is for the first time read through 45 minutes before players show up, not for running it at the table. These long writing styles with little formatting do not lend themselves to the scanning style. I don’t know, maybe I’m alone. I don’t see how it’s possible to be an effective DM while continually looking down and reading instead of interacting with the players.

At times we get long descriptions of normal things, like what an alchemist’s lab looks like. These sorts of laundry lists (or maybe Doomsday Book) of room contents are lame and do nothing to support an adventure. If you don’t know what’s in a bedroom or kitchen by now then it’s not the designers job to fix you.

Some of the magic items are just book things, but others are more interesting. A ring of Murder os made of congealed and hardened blood. Cool! Exactly the sort of specificity I am looking for, and it took almost no extra space to describe.

This stands in contrast to the new monsters. I generally like new monsters, they keep the party guessing. It’s also important to write the entries effectivly. The first line of the “Broken Ones” is that “these creatures are the sad objects of Arcmas experimentation.” Should that REALLY be the first sentence? Is that what the DM needs when they flip to this entry after a wanderer is called for? Description first, call out notable features, etc. The bullshit flavor text backstory can be shoved in later on. Further, I don’t thin the entries support the DM well. The Broken Ones are supposed to be human animal hybrids, all different, but that’s all we’re told. No table to help us out, or example given. That’s a MAJOR miss to helping the DM create an evocative atmosphere.

This is $14 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages long and shows you a lot of the adventure style. Levels two and three of the tower appear on page three of the preview and show you the funhouse riddle rooms. Virtually any room in the last half of the preview, the dungeon rooms, will illustrate the longish writing style.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Bandit’s Cave

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 12:15

By Richard Kunz
Legendary Games
Level 1

The people of Corbin Village are hardy folk, familiar with the dangers of the region. But when a band of orcs raids the village, Sheriff McBride realizes she has more troubles than she can handle and calls on a group of heroes to bring the orcs to justice. To complicate matters, the orcs have stolen an item of great historical value from the local sage, and he wants it back. Can the PCs survive the dangers of a nearby marsh and locate the bandits’ hidden lair? If they do, can they take down the orc raiders and recover the sage’s precious statue?

This fifty page completely linear adventure is aimed at n00bs and to be “quick and easy to prepare.” Linear, long read-aloud, too much DM information preventing scanning … all the usual bad choices are employed.

Before I start stabbing this NPC n the throat I’d like to mention a couple of nice things this adventure does. First, there’s a great picture of lizardmen in it. They look more like Gecko-folk, with red skinned heads and a kind of bipedal salamander body. I don’t often mention art, but I think this piece really adds to painting an evocative picture of the creatures. A little non-standard and a different take on them.

Secondly, there’s a bit in the swamp while you are tracking the orcs to their lair. The tracks reveal a mechant being forced along with them. This is a great way to foreshadow and ramp up the tension in an adventure. The party is now aware of a prisoner and will be on the lookout for them. Or, it would be if that were the case. I misread this section the first time around. Turns out there isn’t a captured merchant and they are not a part of the adventure. I can has Sadz.

I continue to be perplexed by these things. Fifty pages, the thing doesn’t really start till page sixteen or so, and the last dozen or so pages are just appendix padding. Is this the evil of Pay Per Word, or just bad lessons learned from WOTZ & Paizo? Whatever the reason, I find the bulk of adventures worthless. I want to say “modern adventures”, meaning Pathfinder & 5e, but in reality the problem plagues most systems … its just REALLY hard to find 5e/Pathfinder stuff that isn’t infected with it.

This could be a textbook example of bad read-aloud. It’s not full of insane 3-page long sections, but more representative of the usual read-aloud dreck. They tend to be long: five paragraphs, a page. That’s bad design choices. Players don’t care. Recall the WOTC article: you get AT MOST three sentences before people stop paying attention.

But wait … there’s more! The read-aloud is used to signal the start of an encounter. “You’re walking through a swamp. A frog jumps in to the water.” High alert! Everyone on their toes! By enforcing a system of encounters starting with read aloud you telegraph encounters starting.

Then there’s the ever present football player r… oops, no, I mean ‘italics.’ Italics is a popular choice for read-aloud, as well a fancy italics font. It is a BANE upon the products. The goal is to make life on the DM easier and a hard to read font, that you then italicize, is not easy to read. It’s hard to read. Put the shit in a shaded box or bold it or something, but the emphasis has to be on making it EASY, not more difficult.

Frequent readers will recall that I demand an adventure be easy to run with little prep. AT first glance, the designers “this is quick & easy to prepare” statement would seem to align. Except their definition is different than mine. I have no idea what their definition is, but it’s not quick & easy. The DM text is LONG. Very long. Encounters can be two to three pages long. This does not lend itself well to scanning at the table. It has a very loose, rather than focused, communication style with lots of padding and non-essential detail. A guy stuck in quicksand has been there awhile, we’re told, and his legs are numb and he can’t get out himself. Well no shit. It’s this sort of thing that adds to the text. It does not add gameable detail. It’s justifying the situation, which the adventure should NEVER do. Or, almost never. Whatever. It’s almost never called for.

But, specificity IS needed. At one point early in the adventure a sage relates that a statue was stolen by raiding orcs. It was created by “people of an ancient civilization.” That’s generic and boring. “It was created by the vile Arc-teryx people, long ago dommed by the sun god” is the sort of specificity that adds color to the adventure. Otherwise it’s clear it just a throw away line, the players will recognize that, and not be as invested.

I want to call out an additional thing that is sticking with me. In the initial encounter, when the orcs attack the village, the read aloud emphasizes a cart stuck in between the village gates, keeping them from closing. But, that’s not the first encounter. Instead the party is forced to some orcs battering away at the weaponsmiths door. Everything about the setup says “Close the gates! Free the wagon!” … but then the adventure forces you a different way. Bad design.

This is supposed to be an adventure for noob players and DM’s, especially younger players. It justifies choices, like its linearity and the linear orc cave at the end, by noting its simpler. Yes. It also forces a scene based system and removes player agency, which is one of the most important aspects of RPG’s. Ask yourself, do you want choices or is the DM telling a story? We’re not playing FIasco or Shab-al-Hiri. The switch to scene-based linear adventures, and DM storytelling, removes an important feature. And you know how I feel when I think I’m being tricked and my expectations are not met.

In the end, this is just another garbage scene-based adventure, impossible to run easily at the table because of the flood of text.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages, which shows you the credit and table of contents and publishers philosophy. IE: nothing of use to help to make a purchasing decision.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Operation Unfathomable

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 12:15

By Jason Sholtis
Hydra Cooperative
Level 1-

BEHOLD!!! the Underworld in all its bewildering majesty as titanic Chaos godlings and their unsavory cults make genocidal war upon one another! EXPLOIT!!! a trail of dead horrors
supplied by the recent, doomed expedition of powerful heroes! SEIZE!!! eldritch artifacts and treasures far above your lowly station! PONDER!!! the mind-bending riddles and inscrutable anomalies of reality itself in an overwhelming cascade of cosmic secrets! THRILL!!!as you throw the gauntlet of your life into the smug face of the unknowable and embark upon this OPERATION UNFATHOMABLE!!!

I’m in LUV! mostly.

Unfair Advantage! Sholtis writes one of my favorite blogs, The Dungeon Dozen. It’s magnificently creative, when he’s not slacking off and not updating it. No pressure, Spudboy. Also, I tend to prefer the more simplistic & free-flowing forms of D&D, and this falls in to that genre.

This 110 page adventure contains 22 encounter areas in the cave world beneath your D&D game. Gonzo, fanciful, hyper-realistic, it is one of the most imaginative, and fun, things you will ever run. It also needs better use of bolding to call out important data and make the encounters more scanable, as well as a legible map. Still, it tends to marry the art to the writing to the layout in a way that very adventures do. IE: the art contributed rather than being filler. Easy to recommend.

The sorcorers-kings son has stolen the null rod from the Tower Impregnable and journeyed underground. The sole survivor of his expedition has returned mad, as has a guard group sent in. Guess what Level 1’s! You’re up!

What follows is a journey through the underdark unlike those seen before. This is firmly in the Weird side of the D&D spectrum, with little magical ren faire or pseudo-medieval to be found. I fucking love this shit. There’s little to no game balance present, it’s the brave little tailors vs The Strange. At heart, a pretty straightforward cave crawl looking for the pretext item, it shouts Come At Me Bro, at every turn, daring the party, over and over again, to engage. Enticing them. Luring them. Magnificent.

Fuck, back to facts. This was the results of a kickstarter, and started out in Knockspell Magazine #5. I reviewed that and loved it. The 22 rooms take up about 25 pages in the adventure, with about three rooms per page, except for the multi-room complexes, like temples. The appendices, taking up the last 25 or so pages, have the creatures and magic items, etc in them. The first fifty pages has a brief overview, the faction overview, and an extensive wandering encounter tables with monsters, strange stuff and so on.

The monsters are unique and magnificent. The magic items have a good mix of “normie” stuff, like potions of invisibility, and unique items. You even start out with some AND ITS NOT ODIOUS! I recall that giving each party member a random item was in vogue for awhile, as a manner in which to encourage creative play. The magic items given out here fit that mold, with a sword that can explode, Staff of the Magi style, offering up plenty of opportunities. The creatures and magic items are perfect, contributing to the overall weird vibe of the adventure and keeping the party on its toes. There’s no half efforts by just using book shit. This is the definition of the added value I’m looking for in an adventure.

I want to call out the art, specifically, also. I don’t usually do that. WIth very few exceptions I find that the art used in adventures are generally not evocative or inspiring. It’s filler. (And before the mob shows up, I’d like to note that I keep & display art while relegating almost all print material to PDF.) I don’t think art is generally used well. This is an exception. Almost every piece contributes directly to the evocative natures of the subject displayed. It helps bring the adventure alive by giving the DM even more inspiration than the printed word, which is what it should do.

Let’s talk NPC’s, including potential enemies encountered. From the pre-gens to the potential rival parties they come alive. The sullen guard sergeant sent with you to show you the way to the caves has already made funeral arrangements for himself. That’s fucking great. That’s a detail you can use. It makes me think he’s dressed in his finest, maybe has a coin in his mouth or has hired mourners. That’s what I’m looking for, detail that I can riff off of. This happens over and over again in this adventure. At one point there’s a terrified wooly neanderthal on a solo spirit quest. He asks questions like “What is good wooly neanderthal?” Perfection Personified.

The entrance to the caves is down a 1000’ ladder in a shaft. That’s a classic “entrance to the mythic underworld” right there. Fuck your 3e/4e/5e/Pathfinder set pieces, the parties gonna remember that ladder and climbing down it is going to set the tone and leave them scared shitless as they wander beyond. EXACTLY what its supposed to do.

Now that we’ve suitably inflated his ego, let’s talk about how Jason fucks up.

The map has a legibility issue. It’s got good terrain and level changes, lots of loops, and nice detail, but almost all of the text on it is impossible for me to read. I can read the numbers, but of all the text on the map, and there is a lot, I can only read “Start Here”, “Vault of Shaggath-Ka“and “Map of the Underworld.” Even if I take my glasses off and get close the text is fuzzy and hard to read. The PDF though DOES have the text hyperlinked, which is a nice touch.

The initial overview sections are organized well and use bolding to great effect to call out important details. It ALMOST disappears once the core of the adventure starts. It’s almost as if several different editors (or writers, whatever) were given different chunks and one person chose to highlight text with bolding while the others did not.

This is an issue because of … the text length. Jason can really get in to his descriptions, they are quite flavorful and easy to riff on, but at the cost of length. Length issues can be mitigated with organization and techniques like bolding. (IE: the highlighter.) The inconsistent nature of the bolding, mostly present in the (very sticky) summary and mostly absent wanderers/encounters, makes these sections more difficult to scan and run than I would be happy with.

Still, “Creative & hard to scan” is better than “boring and hard to scan” and “easy to scan but non -evocative.” I can fix it with a highlighter. I don’t WANT to have to fix it that’s the fucking writers/editors job, but I CAN. Well, I guess I could fix “boring” and “non-evocative” also, but then what the hell am I paying for in the first place?

This is $12 on DriveThru. The last couple of pages of the preview show you some of the weird “wandering stuff” you can encounter, and gives you a good idea of the writing style throughout the encounters.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Beneath the Fallen Tower

Mon, 02/12/2018 - 12:19

By Denis McCarthy
Aegis Studios
S&W Light
Level ???

Fifty years ago, a magician known as Melchior the Despoiler, rumored to be consorting with dark forces near the town of Southfork was investigated by a troop of militia and a priest… all of who returned from his tower as undead attempting to slay their own families. They were defeated, and after a petition for aid, the Duke lent the village his trebuchet and his men leveled the mage’s tower. Shortly before this assault was mounted, Melchior’s apprentice Xander escaped with a few books, a wand and a magical blade. Now that Xander has died. His apprentice, Aurelia, together with her henchmen, have returned to find the master’s library. Unknown to them, goblins have been living in the ruins for 30 years…

This is a 26 page adventure describing a minimally keyed seventeen room dungeon. A healthy introduction to the region takes up the first twelve pages, which along with the single-column format explains the large page count for a minimally keyed product. There’s not really anything to it.

*) This doesn’t have a level listed. I’d guess level two or three. There are a decent numbers of monsters, including wolves and bugbears.

*) The wilderness map is hard to read. I like the charm of hand drawn maps, and would not want to raise the threshold of publishing by insisting on comp-drawn, but the maps HAVE to be legible. The wilderness map in this is barely so. The dungeon map is better, but I still struggle with some notations on the map.

*) Speaking of maps, the dungeon is a simple branching design. Turn right and its the older undead portion. Turn left and it’s the goblin portion. Exploratory Games, like S&W, tend to do better with Exploratory Dungeons, with loops and so on. “Quest maps” are simpler and more suitable for Quest Games. Yes, there’s crossover in the genres; don’t be an ass.

*) The dungeon is supposed to have four entrances, but they are not really noted. There are two stairs, and I think I can tell which is which from the text. I think also I thinkered out entrance three, from we.. Fuck if I can tell where entrance four is. More clarity in this area would have been appreciated.

*) Out in the wilderness the wanderers are sometimes doing something, which I appreciate as a cue to the DM in helping them run the encounter. There is basically one sentence describing things, like bandits acting as toll collectors, of a tinker with dubious goods to sell. This is about the minimum text that I would say “adds to the encounter.”

*) The dungeon is minimally keyed. “Guardroom – 3 goblins and 1 wolf” or “Goblin Quarters – 4 goblins” is generally the extent of the description. This does NOT meet my acceptable level of Value Add. Rolling on the random monster table from the 1e DMG does not qualify. At least have them doing something in the guardroom, or put a big bubbling boiling pot in the quarters.

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is seven pages. Near the end you can see the wilderness map I had issues with, as well as the wilderness wandering monsters, for better & worse.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Lost Hall of Tyr

Sat, 02/10/2018 - 12:19

By Douglas H. Cole
Gaming Ballastic LLC
Levels 4-7

The Hall of Judgment: Here Tyr himself guided human and dwarf in the ways of honor, law, retribution, and justice in war and life. It has been lost for centuries, hidden by the power of Asgard from those without permission to enter. Until now . . .

Well it’s Saturday. Time to review another bad 5e adventure. Joy. Oh wait, it’s not utter dreck!

This 62 page norse-flavored adventure has sixteen or so linear encounters (with a few optional ones), mostly wilderness ones, before one room temple with a demon in it is encountered. The actual linear adventure is only about 16 pages, the rest being the lengthy introduction and the bestiary and battle maps at the end. The writing, while long, tends to be well organized in the individual encounters. But it also tends to make certain assumptions that leaves out critical information, leaving the DM confused with some of the baseline assumptions.

There’s a three page backstory that read like fiction. “Una’s bond with Aeiri strengthened over the distance …” I don’t bitch about this stuff anymore, since I can just skip the “failed novelist” garbage. Well, except when I can’t skip it because the fucking adventure is mixed in to it. What are you supposed to do, with what, and how? Well kids it’s all mixed in to that backstory. NOT. COOL. The adventure needs a short summary so the non-masochists among us can avoid the backstory. We’re on a quest to find the Domstollinn, whatever the fuck that is. I gathered, through the 60 pages, that we’re going to this hall at the behest of some priests and they gave us something to give us some kind of True Seeing kind of power. Summaries are critical to these sorts of adventures. Orient the DM BEFORE they get in to the text so they know what to expect. Yes, if you are an expert you can have it unfold via the text and not do a summary. New Flash: You are not an expert. I accept you’re the hero of your own story, but do the rest of us a favor and put in a summary.

There’s a map of the region. I guess it’s a map, there’s no key. It doesn’t really matter anyway since, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t show where you are going. Or any of the encounters. It’s just a picture of the region without any relevance to the adventure. It’s MORE confusing this way since I spent time studying it, trying to figure out where things were. It was hard, because it turns out they weren’t on the map. At least I don’t think they were?

The first encounter on the way (event based, remember), has a “striking rock format” and three out of place groupings of individual trees. First, let me nit and note that “a striking rock formation” is a garbage description. Striking is a conclusion. Tell us what it looks like and let the players determine it is striking. But, the real issue is the mistletoe. The trick to this encounter is finding the direction of the mistletoe. What mistletoe, you may ask. I don’t know. There is about two pages of info on this encounter and one bullet point, near the end and in the middle of the text says “The three trees, with mistletoe at the tip …” This is TERRIBLE design. When I say it makes certain assumptions, this is what I mean. Clearly, the designer had a vision in their head. They knew three trees had mistletoe and this was a clue. But they have not clued US in to that fact. The adventure does this over and over again.

There are some riddle-like things that are quite difficult. There’s a one word hint, Yggdrasil, that is supposed to clue you in that those trees are the right ones. Later on there’s a different one that says “Willpower through suffering increases joy.” This is your hint that you need to lift a rock and touch a door to open it. Those are both some pretty tenuous hints.

If you can get past the omissions of those base assumptions then the actual text is decently organized,or at least not poorly organized. Whitespace and bolding is used to good effect. There is still A LOT of text for what are simple encounters, but it’s not nearly as bad as the page count would indicate.

The encounters proper range from the riddle-like things I mentioned earlier, to straight up fights (with enemies teleported in to advantageous positions by a fae queen. Ug!) to skill challenges like climbing a cliff or crossing a rope bridge. The temple at the end is one room, with a trapped demon in it. A little anti-climactic after a one-month wilderness journey.

All is not hopeless though. There are some sections on using alternative means to cross the bridge, climb the wall, etc. It’s duel-stat’d for S&W and to the designers credit they seem tp get at least one aspect of old school play: no die roll is needed if the party describes well what they are doing. Die rolling is for looosers who don’t role play. Die rolling means a chance of failure.

This is a good example of the modern method of making an adventure. The Mcguffin is referred to as ‘the Mcguffin’ by the designer. The entire thing is about little set-piece-like events that take place. You have some small freedom in the individual events (unlike many adventures and to this designers credit) but the thing as a whole is just one thing after another with little choice involved. The text is long, but not atrocious by 5e/Pathfinder standards, although it trails by a long shot what I would consider good … although a decent job is done at organizing it. Except for those assumptions that each encounter seems based on. The editing job/proofreading was very poor not to catch that; maybe it was just copyedited?

“Not as bad as the usual 5e fare” isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, but it IS runnable. Kind of. Once you figure out what is going on. That’s a damn sight better than most.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is eight pages long and, to its credit, shows a couple of encounters, including the notorious #2, with the Ash & Mistletoe. It’s on about page five of the preview if you want to check out the weird assumptions made.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Flower Liches of the Dragonboat Festival

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 12:17

By Kabuki Kaiser
Self Published
All Levels 0 1st level, low

When omens portend ill fortune for the city, the priests call upon a Dragonboat Festival: a racing competition gathering swift boatmen from all over the continent. Their ancient chants call forth the powers of the undying, waking the Flower Liches from their distant graves. For a week, the liches roam the city freely, and oversee the race, taking the losing crews as tributes and sacrifices. Once the Dragonboat Festival is finished and the liches disappear, the city’s prosperity is magically replenished, and all the monetary wealth the citizenry had before the festival — player characters included — is doubled.

This 95 page digest adventure describes the events & notable locations in a fanciful asian city in which a festival is occurring. Flavorful, evocative and interesting but not quite all there in meshing all together well. A better D3 than D3, it revels a bit too much in places. You gotta put some work in to get past some of organization choices, but it is almost certainly worth it.

Ok, so a freaky deaky city. Imagine the underground parts of Big Trouble in Little CHina, but a full fledged location/city with normal city life thrown in. Add to that the Dragonboat Festival taking place, a boat race ruled over by actual liches with flower themes. That fair Verona is our setting. On top of that we add a some servants reporting ghosts in their ladies house … until the next day when they laugh it off. Finally, there seems to be an unrelated subplot with a weird suicide. Add to that some weird wandering town encounters and throw in some players character. I like town adventures and I like adventures with a lot going on. This has both.

This thing revels in its encounters and descriptions. “Maids & knaves wearing reggedy outfits” is the description of the servants in a house. “Smiling fat mandarin wearing imposing brocade robes and a tall pointed gold hat.” is that of one of the lords of the manor. The descriptions are short, punchy, and leverage iconic imagery to provide more than the literal text of the words.

And of the encounters, a Penanggalan has been hunted down, its body dead, only its head and entrails floating above the street, dripping acid blood and causing fear like a crazed childs lost balloon. Or drunk officials dropping paperwork or some import. These are wandering tables I can support: just enough extra text, a sentence or two, to add flavor to the encounter. The Penanggalan conjures images of a mob of peasants, scared, ineffective, in the streets, chaos, etc … none of which is mentioned but where my mind wandered given that little bit extra provided.

Animal people, like bullywugs and a bespectacled praying mantis person, add to the exotic vibe. The description of the liches themselves, at the festival conjures a scene of horror and revulsion and wonder. It’s all cranked up to 11. What are the wandering mercenaries armed with? Bohemian Ear Spoons, of course!

There’s a nice little mini-game for the boat races, proper, with directions and advice followed by examples to help sort things out. There are page references in the text, so when the Chancellor is mentioned its followed by a page number to go look them up. There are summaries provided to orient the DM to what’s coming. One creature, when killed, turns in to an obsidian flower that you can then use to summon it to help you, Figurine style. Flower Lices of the Dragon Boat Festival goes that extra little bit and it shows.

You know, I rail about gimping the characters in some reviews. During the race a lich erases spells from the casters mind, and they use a wand of magic detection to take away magic items. I thought “oh boy, here we go! Thanks Kabuki!” But then … “if you smuggle magic past the liches then its considered fair game.” Suddenly this “gimp” is turned on its head. It gets turned in to a “how can we cheat to win and not get caught?” Not a gimp, but a pretext to spur on crazy ideas and plans … that being at the core of some of the finest D&D moments in actual play, I think.

Still, there are a few things that could be done better. The equipment list is a little exhaustive, IMO, taking up three pages. Some of the more exotic fare could be kept but I question the wisdom of including book equipment on the list.

There’s some little effort to create rival teams with character but this is mostly just “they are lizardmen” or “goblins” sort of thing. A team name name and/or a little more in the rivalry department would have punched the the rival teams up a bit.

The location descriptions use an interesting format. There’s a small (but legible) map as well as a minimal key: just the room name and what creatures are there. Then there’s a page or so of text that describes the location and what’s going on in a free form style. It refers back to room numbers, etc, but it’s not in a room/key format, not quite stream of consciousness but more conversational. I’m not sure about this choice. You have to really read and grok the content and I’m more of a scan guy, at the table. It feels like highlighter fodder.

This feeds in to the general text length, which is up there. Big fonts and wide margins make it easy to read, and its organized quote well, so its not quite the chore that 96 pages might otherwise imply.

Finally, while labeled as a sandbox, I think it could use a little more pretext to get things going. You could be in the city to compete in the boat race (for the prizes, as a adventure goal for something else your DM has cooked up), or investigate the house servants. Those are two obvious hooks in the city, beyond “you’re in town and this is going on.” It feels, though, like the servant mystery and the other subplot could use a little more integration. Or maybe I’ve been reviewing too many linear lead-you-by-the-nose adventures.

This is $5 at DriveThru. You’d be a fool to not grab it at this price. The preview shows you the first six pages … probably the least flavorful six pages of the entire adventure.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

White Dragon Run II

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 12:16

By James Boney, Joseph Browning, Joseph A. Mohr
Expeditious Retreat Press
Levels 2-5

Return to the little village of White Dragon Run! At the edge of civilization— the place where monsters are a constant threat and adventurers thrive—reputations are made or broken, and deeds are performed only to be set in verse decades after the real story is long lost. On this thin line between country and chaos lies White Dragon Run, the last stop for the civilized before the well-trodden road becomes the weed-infested trail leading to creatures that would rather fight than herd, fish or farm.

This twenty page adventure describes the small town of White Dragon Run, revisited from the the first supplement of this name, as well as four encounters for the wilderness around the town: a hermit, a humanoid cave, a weird tower, and a Yuan-ti temple. The actual encounter areas only take up about seven pages. The encounters are interesting enough, and provide good variety, but I find the writing skewing to the academic. I’m also more than a little bewildered on how everything fits together. I would say it’s the usual fare from XRP.

There’s a decent size hex map and in the middle of it is the town of White Dragon Run. The town has the notable business and personalities described, much in the way the Keep was; that one on the Borderlands. I find the “keep-style” of towns and villages not very interesting. It’ ends up just being a list of names and stats and prices. Maybe a potential sub-plot like “Bob is an assassin in disguise” or something like that. I can do without the pricing detail; in most cases it just seems like trivia. (Perhaps with the exception of the traditional “our bars speciality in food and/or drink”) But a one or two word personality, and maybe some subplots with the other villagers, would liven things up quite a bit. Grumpy blacksmith or Innkeepers wife in love with the bower; that sort of thing. It adds an element of interactivity that makes the places seem more alive. The rumors are old school as well “There’s an evil snake temple in the hills.” That sort of style. Again, I prefer a little more specificity, something like “Cousin Gary? Haven’t seen him since he went out looking for that old snake temple.” A little more character. Finally, there’s a wanderers table that is not much more than a book standard table and adds little to nothing.

In a surprise, the local lord, while remote and dandy, actually gives a shit and if notified of trouble will send a full troop at fast ride to help the party/town. It’s refreshing to see that; rubbing elbows with the lords is a nice way to transition play around level 5.

The actual adventures vary in size. The hermit is really just an NPC. The humanoid cave four rooms, the tower nine or so, and the Yuan-ti temple about 20. There are pools to drink from, a giant snake idle dripping golden liquid from its fangs, dead NPC’s, riddles, traps, and some terrain features to overcome in the various dungeons. Plus, the tower is OD&D weird, with pulsating hearts and lumpy faux-monster protrusions. I’d say the IDEAS present have enough variety that this feels like a 1e/0e adventure and not just a pure hack-fest.

I will say, though, that the writing is flat. It feels academic, or maybe fact-based. Here’s the bulk of the description of a snake idol room:
SNAKE GOD IDOL: There is a large statue here of the snake god Apep. It depicts a large snake head on the body of a man and its mouth has large fangs from which drip a sweet-smelling, golden liquid. The statue radiates both evil and magical energy.

That’s interesting, but not exactly inspiring. “Large statue”, “large snake head”, “large fangs” … large isn’t exactly the most descriptive word in the most descriptive language on earth. It also has issues with what I might call text padding. Giving a little background section or history, or a sentence clause that is irrelevant. “Otherwise the room is empty.” Does it matter that the room is empty? Is that fact relevant to the players interactivity with the room? I know it seems minor, but these things combine to reduce scannability and therefore usefulness at the table. Instead, focus on the adventure elements and making them evocative.

Finally, I might add that I’m a little perplexed about some of the choices made. The locations provided don’t appear on the hex map. Nothing does, except terrain and the town. I guess you just drop them in? The rumors kind of hint, but it’s entirely up to the DM how to introduce the characters to the snake temple … without the adventure provide much/any help at all. I’d like to see the locations integrated a bit more in to the town or NPC’s. The amount of text taken up by per-terrain wandering tables doesn’t seem to add much over the terrain tables in the standard core books. But, in one room, with orcs behind a 4’ defensive wall on top of a 6’ rise … there’s no words at all about climbing or reaching the top or defensive bonuses or anything like that. I would think that’s exactly the sort of guidance a DM would be looking for at that encounter.

I should note that these comments, as well as several others, all tie back to the purpose of a published adventure: helping the DM run it. I think we can all agree that the content of the adventure is meant to help the DM, the only question is how much/specific should the writer be? At one end you’ve Palace of the Vampire Queen and other minimally keyed adventures, while at the other is the stinking pile that attempts to describe everything in the room and every possible action of the characters and enemies. Generally speaking, the closer the text is to minimal keying then the easier it is to scan at the table, and therefore run. Some formatting mojo can help push that boundary and allow more text. However, the more minimally keyed, and thus easier to scan, the less inspiring it is for DM. There is some sweet spot where the text is minimal and yet still evocative. Where that sweet spot is depends on the “inspiring” part for you. This adventure skews to the Keep/Homlet side of amount of text, with maybe a bit more text than products provided, but still in the same spirit. While ok adventures, especially for their time, I don’t think either was written in a particularly evocative style, and I don’t think this is either.

This is $14 at DriveThru.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Oath of the Frozen King

Sat, 02/03/2018 - 12:13

By Tim Kearney, Matt Click, Michael Barker, & James Kearney
Absolute Tabletop

The only review says this is a ground-breaking product. Let’s find out!

I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind.

Fuck me. It’s an adventure toolkit rather than an adventure. 62 pages. The front half is six locations, six encounters, six NPC’s, and a bunch of tables (include die drops). The idea is that you can kind of mix them all together to get create an adventure. Then the back half of the book has even more tables; a kind of inspiration for further adventures to creature. The “adventure” is actually pretty good, even though it’s going to take work to put it together. The back half inspiration tables are just inspiration tables. They are nice, but I think it’s hard to justify the cost when there a billion online for free. This is a complicated product to review.

I’m going to cover the back half first. There is room in my life for something like this. Something LIKE this, but not this. It’s a bunch of tables that, using, you can generate an adventures, and its various elements, from. For example, the trap section has six tables that you can use to generate a trap. First, what kind of saving throw does it require. It’s its Charisma, then there is some kind of fear to overcome or someone to fool. Then, what are the consequences of the trap. This is what type of damage (cold, acid, fire, etc) and what it does (blind, charm, frighten, stune, prone, etc.) Then there’s the style. A fake trap, leftover creature trap, natural trap, etc. There’s a couple of “severity/damage” tables, purely mechanical. So, rolling we might get INT save, Psychic Damage, Exhaustion, creatures corpse rigged as a trap. What kind of trap does that spark in you? A mind flayers body falls when you fuck with something, his tentacles kering that trigger a psychic blast that exhausts people? Not bad, plus we’ve determined that you can weaponize a dead mind flayer, which I like also! I like this concept and there’s room in my life for it, but I don’t think the print element works well. I might pay $10 for website access for HUNDREDS of table entries for each element. For example, for encounter terrain there are 20 entries and one of them is “floor is littered with skull and bones.” I might instead like to see “X littered with Y.” More variety and possibilities. It’s just an idea generator, after all.

The adventure, proper, is decent. I suspect it’s meant to be an example of how to use the tables, and it has some modular aspects to it that I think make it weak for “on the fly” use. Being modular, you need to do some rolling on tables then then some thinking to put the whole thing together to have it make sense before you run it. Yes, it IS a toolkit, and I guess that’s the difference between that and an “adventure.”

The hook generator, character motivations, and adventure twists, all tables, are pretty decent. But, I really want to touch on the Locations, encounters, and NPC’s. These fit three or so to a page, in a shaded box, and after about two sentences of read-aloud they are presented in bullet point form. A little verbose by good OSR standards but it does a great job in being easy to scan and providing impressions for the DM to work from. “The Altar of Sorrow” has the following read-aloud “A simple slab of rough-hewn stone dominates an alcove in this entrance chamber. A stone stairway leads deeper into the keep.” Short. A little generic, but good enough. The bullets though, in the DM text/bullet points, are pretty good.
A simple stone dais, cluttered with worn copper coins.
Yellowed bones of various shapes, sizes, and sources.
Scraps of parchment with words denouncing the Frozen King and his reign.

There are some sounds and sensations also, which get a little melodramatic, especially given that there are multiple sounds and sensations presented for each room. Pick one and go.
The locations are augmented by the Encounters, which the random element helps you place in the room. Again, about three or so per page and well formatted, using bolding, to help separate information. And, again, too long, dwelling too much on each aspect, but the core concept is a decent one.

Even the setting background is interesting, presented in about one page, in bullet points, detailing the world ala a Campaign Questionqire aka “The powerful wizard in the world is X” It’s not in that format, but give you an idea of the organization. I liked it, and might even pay for a booklet of one page campaign worlds in this format.

I liked just about everything in this, in their component parts. The location and encounter text does get a bit long, beating a dead horse instead of getting and out quick. If the publisher could learn from that then their actual adventures would be pretty good.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview shows you the die drop section and the last two pages of it show you the Midnight-ish campaign world. Alas, nothing of the core table elements or adventure pages though.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Maze of Screaming Silence

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 12:14

By James Thomson
MonkeyGod Enterprises
Levels 3-4

For a thousand years, Yagga-Kong have offered a fabulous reward to anyone who can find their way through the maze. Every generation or so, someone lives to claim it. Will you be the first this century? Then come to the Last Redoubt, where the mountains scrape the dome of the sky and the air makes men bleed from their ears. Come walk the twisted streets of the City of the Damned and brave the depths of the Maze of Screaming Silence.

This is an older, out of print adventure and doesn’t seem available digitally. I don’t normally review out of print products, or older for that matter. It somehow made it on to my list and I stumbled across a copy at Half Price. This isn’t going to be a regular occurrence, although I have promised Kent I would get to The Beholder, eventually.

This one hundred page(!) adventure describes an “evil” town with a few pages devoted to the pretext to going there: the titular maze. It oozes character, revealing in the environment it has created in the way few other products do. The core elements are excellent. It can be evocative in the way few other products can. It also probably has four to five times more text than it should. It wears that onion on its belt because it was the style at the time, but, even given those allowances, it’s hard to get past. It is fairly close to that platonic ideal I have of stumbling on to a classic adventure at the “dead rpg’s” booth at a con.

Evil Iggy, a warlord/raubritter, has a small outpost. Down beneath it is a little town/village that has grown up full of scum and dregs. Every day everyone gathers around the Maze to see who till try it. If you stay in, and survive, you get a bunch of cash. People bet, obviously.

This is a mostly a town adventure with extensive social components. I’m VERY fond of those elements. Town adventures are some of my favorites. Nothing gets the players going like the freewheeling nature of a good town. The Maze is mostly a pretext to get the players in to town and interacting with people. And, of course, to kick off the plotting and scheming that goes with something like “defeat the maze and win a prize.” The whole thing feels like a less mercantile Bartertown/Thunderdome thing. More scummy and knife you in the back than sell your camels.

I find the text, some of it anyway, some of the most evocative I’ve seen. It pulls at every fiber of your being as a DM. You WANT to run the encounters in this thing. At one point there’s a little paragraph that goes something like: “The Oracle presents a fearsome sight, blood pours out of her mouth, eyes and ears, her fingers are torn down to the bone, she laughs and screams “soon!” continuously as she lashes out at all and sundry.” She’s just turned in to a king of zombie, the “kill you and you become a zombie” kind. That kind of strong imagery, or maybe concept, is present over and over again in the adventure. Almost every single encounter/element has that something quite strong on which the DM can hang their work and work with. You WANT to run these and cackle gleefully to yourself on the joy you expect to have. Not the joy of punishing the players, or see their own difficulty, but in the joy of your mind racing with delights and possibilities. It’s a great example of really and truly communicating the vibe of an encounter to the DM. Creepy ways the locals interact with you. Guards that present pidgeon common in a wonderful way. Rumors presented in voice. “Last winter was bad. We had to eal all our dogs.” Yup, thats a bad winter! But anyway, “no there’s no dog fights in the pit … Someone times you can get a pit fight gong between two drunks, but it’s not like betting on dogs.” That’s a fucking rumor. (of the fighting pit and the guy that runs it. I removed that part)

It does a great job of giving advice to the DM via side boxes, and in the main text, aon adding atmosphere. How to communicate the flavor of the locals. Little things to cement the character of the town. It helps the DM communicate the flavor to the players. At one point there’s a ncie page section on various schemes the characters could engage in to acquire the ring the warlord wears. A pretext to drive the action to be sure, but it recognize that, once laid out, its up to the adventure to help the DM understand some of the more common responses and advice them on making them fun.

And the big bad the center of the maze? The beast that everyone fears? It’s a minotaur. Just a minotaur. Not one of those BloodWolf Tainted Exalted Minotaur King things. But it’s referred to as The Beast, not as a minotaur. It’s a great example of making a normal monster from the manual mythic without resorting to bullshit. Fuck yes a 6HD minotaur is a challenge to a party of 3’s and 4’s!

One more thing, at one point the local use their sly humor to get the party to stay in a cursed home. If/when the party survives they are then treated with a newfound respect and deference by the locals. That’s a great touch. Not enough adventures have the locals give the party their due. There are some real mechanical effects in addition to the roleplaying ones. It’s a great technique and one that should be used more.

It is also MIRED in too much text. The hook takes up the first 20 pages (that oracle that eventually goes zombie.) It also involved a dream (ug!) It has almost two pages of read-aloud. If you kill her and the loot the place BEFORE she goes zombie then there’s a little section of advice on how to punish the players by having their characters tortured and killed by the local lord. Being punitive to the players is never good. There’s also a writing style that almost is like a novelization of the adventure. It’s clear someone had a certain set of elements in mind and by god the players and their characters were going to follow that script. “If someone is disrespectful enough to pull back her hood then …”The usual culprits of irrelevant backstory and if/then writing combine with the “novelization” and ham-handed oracle/dream scenes to produce something truly atrocious, and quite out of place compared to the rest of the adventure. “Run this until the players get bored.” Indeed?

The writing is too long throughout the product. For every evocative couple of sentences we also get mountains of text that is not relevant or written a little too clever, irrelevant to the direct play of the characters.

It can also be generic at times. “Before your eyes, and before you can take any action, a man is stabbed to death by another man, who then runs right past your position. There are a few witnesses, but no one does anything about it.” That’s a weird style and uncharacteristic for most of the adventure.

But, still, quite good for the time period in which it was published (2002.) This is that most rare of things: a physical RPG product I’ll be keeping. I’m not sure it can be run well, it’s organized for shit and, like I said, you need a highlighter and a weekend taking notes to get it organized. But what’s inside, at its core, is a magnificent city adventure in hive of scum and villainy. Someone needs to update the writing, editing the fuck out of it and putting in a bit more of a summary for the DM, and publish it anew.

Alas, I can’t tag it The Best. It’s too unwieldy and I’m not selling my standards down the river because it’s a town adventure. But I can recommend that you pick it up if you see a copy.

Read more about it at:

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Spores of the Sad Shroom

Mon, 01/29/2018 - 12:13

By Karl Stjernberg
Self Published

A spore-filled series of caves where everyone is sad, sad, sad!
Console sad fungoids, argue with a gargoyle, risk getting your skin melted off and replaced by a moist, spongy matter! All that and more, in Spores of the Sad Shroom!

This sixteen page adventure details an eleven room dungeon full of mushrooms. Nice detail, terse writing, great treasure, freaky effects all bring the mushroom vibe. It’s just a tad too “system neutral” and a bit short, otherwise it would be a home run.

This thing brings the detail, that’s for sure. Or, rather, it brings the specificity. I’m a strong believer that being specific in your dungeons really cements a scene in the DM’s head and allows them to expand upon it. That allows the designer to communicate far more than the actual text they write. At one point, if you talk back, this could happen: “An angry mushroom-brute takes one gigantic step out of the wall and cracks its knuckles, loudly. It insults trespassers and gut-punches anyone standing up to it.” That’s a good example of being specific. It really cements the entire scene and communicates the flavor. It does it in just two sentences. It doesn’t drone on with details, or text, or meaningless backstory. It’s an icepick to the brain of an idea. This adventure does that over and over again. It’s one of the more terse written written adventures AND one of the most flavorful. In fact, I’d say this is pretty close to perfect as you can get and still use sentences. There may be other formats, like bullet point phrases or “impression words” (used to such great effect in Hyqueous Vaults) that can also be used, but, for sentences, this one is close to the top.

Looking at just the “what happens if you talk back” table, you get anxiously apologizing mushrooms who explode, wailing in emotional pain mushrooms, kill me and eat me mushrooms, the knuckle-cracking mushroom, an especially emo mushroom, and a NPC henchman mushroom that steps out. That’s a great deal of detail, and doesn’t even cover the table at the rear to help with the inevitable “I eat a mushroom” character action.

At one point there’s a river and the text offer three possibilities on where it goes if the characters want to further explore it. All three are magnificent and you could build a lot of fun around them. “The other evil manta rays are jerks!”

The treasure can be great. From mushroom effects to hollow magic swords, gobets to be repaired, fingernails and eyeballs (ala Vecna) it reveals in the OD&D non-standard vibe that I love so much.

No everything hits on all cylinders though. Most of the rumor table is, in contrast to the rest of the adventure, a little generic on detail. “A great evil was sealed down there.” Uh, yeah. Ok. That’s a good example of NOT being specific to the detriment of imagery and helping the DM.

Further, the adventure is almost systemless, needlessly I think. It doesn’t really provide stats for almost anything, except for a couple of new monsters. “Gargoyle” you get to go look up in your own system. Further, there are areas that could be trapped, or, another adventure, have some mechanic associated with them. In one area you pull a sword out of a mushroom and are sprayed with sticky liquid. That’s the extent of the mechanics. “ you are sprayed with sticky liquid.” I really like lightweight mechanics … but I’m colder on “no mechanics at all.” The original mind flayer and his 1d6? That’s fine. Older D&D versions, clone or not, are close enough that this could have been for Labyrinth Lord and it would not have detracted from it.

It’s also short, at eleven rooms. It feels like you just get in to the swing of things and then its over.

All of that old D&D mushroom art, from Sutherland and his ilk, sure seem to have had a disproportionate impact on the OSR. It strikes me that a higher percentage than normal of mushroom adventures are pretty good. Maybe it’s the permission to be more fantastic and less Tolkein?

This is $6.66 at DriveThru. The last two pages are representative of the product. There’s a bit on mushroom commenting on the party … and the repercussions of giving them lip back, as well as the first three or four rooms. It’s a good preview.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(Pathfinder) Teeth of the Storm

Sat, 01/27/2018 - 12:16

By Ron Lundeen
Run Amok Games
Level 1

Late at night, the storm howls and sheets of rain fall. The High Road is supposed to be safe and well-traveled, but this stormy night there has been no one else on the road and no place to stop for shelter. A gruesome scene on a rain-slicked bridge leads to a nighttime race to grant a restless soul peace.

Gah! Freaky fucking cover!

This 38 page “adventure” has eight scenes. You’re trying to track down a local nobles undead kid and put him to rest, complicated by a troll running around. Linear, padded text, too much read aloud, endlessly droning DM text. Also, at least one good bit of imagery, but, like Paperboy, it’s not worth it, kid.

Scene 1: You stumble on the scene of a battle on a bridge, then skeleton attacks. Scene 2: Meet aristo at an inn. Scene 3: Troll attacks. Scene 4: Aristo pleads with party to take over his mission. Scene 5: Chase after the troll. Scene 6: Party kills undead kid. Scene 7: Fight maggots in graveyard. Scene 8: Put kid to rest/fight undead. This takes forty pages because … well … the designer doesn’t know any better? I can only assume they’ve only seen examples of shittily written adventures.

Three sentences. THREE. FUCKING. SENTENCES. That’s how much read aloud you get to put in a time. You put the fucking information in the adventure in such a way that the DM can communicate it AS the NPC. Or in back & forth questioning/responding to the players.

I don’t know what the fuck else to say. The DM text is padded to fuck and back with endless trivia and go-nowhere statement. Hence the forty pages. “The party might be suspicious of the open gate in to the cemetery, particularly is they realize it detects as magic and requires a Will save for some reason. Therefore, the party might instead decide to enter the cemetery by climbing over the fence or obelisk.” This is after a paragraph listing the climb DC’s for the fence & obelisk. “Once inside the party must locate the kids resting place.” Uh huh. You forgot to say they also need to breathe.

The designer doesn’t know how to write an adventure. The ideas aren’t in and of themselves bad, but he presents them in just about the worst way possible. An aristo hunting his undead son, a vindictive troll … the dead of night in a storm .. it’s a good gimmick. At one point skeletons claw their way out of corpses, bursting them, in order to attack. That’s pretty fucking good right there and EXACTLY the sort of imagery I’m looking for in an adventure.

I like the overall idea but it’s close to incomprehensible here, buried in the text the way it is.

This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview doesn’t work. Sucker.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Mystery at Port Greely

Wed, 01/24/2018 - 12:17

By Jeffrey Talanian
North Wind Adventurers
Levels 4-6

Until about three years ago, the peculiar town of Port Greely was renowned as a proli c exporter of crustaceans. en the Greely lobstermen severed all ties with outside partners. Subsequent attempts at renegotiation were shunned. More recently, a small group of Fishmongers’ Guild representatives from the City-State of Khromarium has gone missing in Port Greely, and answers have been less than forthcoming. At present, the Guild seeks answers. It wants to know what became of its representatives, and it wishes to re-establish its lucrative partnership with the Port Greely lobstermen. Your party have been contracted to help resolve e Mystery at Port Greely.

This forty page adventure details a corrupt town and the underground temple of fish-men in charge. It’s a typical Talanian AS&SH adventure, which means strained text at the expense of usability. Jeff’s formatting continues to be an issue also. Both contribute to an adventure hard to get in to. It’s a dungeon with thirteen rooms for christs sake, and takes forty pages to do that.

Hate it or hate it, Talanians got a style. I love to tell my wife that it don’t matter what style you got as long as you’ve got one. I’m wrong/a hypocrite. It does matter. Rule number one of adventure writing is that it is technical writing. The thing has to be useful for running a game at the table. You can also use it to start a fire, line a cage, get inspiration from, or read for fun. But, it has to first be useful at the table.

Talanian uses footnotes. That’s a good example of using formatting to help refer DM’s to other useful information. “Where do I find more information about orcs? Oh yeah, the footnote says page 23!” Perfect!
But most of the adventure text does NOT contribute to usability. Parts of the adventure feel more like an Appendix N novelization of an adventure. One of the first locations is a tavern in town and that vibe is present throughout. The arrangement of the text seems more like novel writing than adventure writing.

Some of this also has to do with the formatting choices made. Page twelve has a description of a room that seems to be all over the place. The formatting, leading sentences, bolding, all seem to contribute to an almost random stream of consciousness description of the room. Scanning it to find something would be a nightmare.

The actual text runs from uninspired to strained. Here’s the description for a giant centipede: “multi-legged, segmented arthropod of 21?2-foot length, feared for its painful, venomous bite. It is but rarely encountered during the day.” Well, ok, yes. Factually true. But it doesn’t really do anything to inspire the DM to action. Further, I would argue that the last sentence is both irrelevant (who the fuck cares? Just modify the damn day/night wanderers table) AND a great example of the strained writing style employed. How about this fine example: “If perchance sorcery or some ability is employed to comprehend their conversation, it seems one fish-man bemoans his ineligibility for certain mating rights; meantime, the others berate the lamenter for a pathetic weakling.” Strained AND am example of if/then writing. One room with barrels of lobster takes what seems like miles of strained text to share an uninspiring vision of the room that could have been done better if it were shorter and used less strained text. “Nine massive marble barrels set in to the floor foam & churn with lobsters.” Done. Talanian tells us, via the last sentence, that these are food for the bob & margaret, the high priests. Joy. So what? Does that have a bearing on the adventure?

Speaking of, the text is loaded with used to be’s. Mixed in to the descriptions is a lot of useless history that will never come up. Island 4 is a great example of this, with the text full of a history lesson. This does not contribute to good scanning of the text.

I could bitch about other things also. The ship’s captain, probably important to the adventure, doesn’t get a personality at all. At one point the party is probably captured, in town, only to be freed by some rebel townfolk. What’s the point of this? It smells like plot. In fact, the entire town section seems weak. It’s supposed to be an Innsmouth-like situation, and at one point they chase and hunt the party in town … but there’s almost no guidance on this or things to spice it up and make it fun. That’s the point of someone else writing it beyond the running dm: to provide the running DM some guidance. Otherwise what value are you adding?

Just Another Innsmouth. And not as good as Scenic Dunnsmouth. Move along. Nothing to see.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages and shows you nothing by a couple of paragraphs of the hook.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Tomb of Gardag the Strange

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 12:15

By Shane Ward
3 Toadstools Publishing
Labyrinth Lord
Level 3

A long time ago lived an evil and very eccentric warlord named Gardag. Over the years he built up a cult following, many flocked to him and worshipped. He sent out his cultists to pillage and burn the surronding lands. Eventually he amased a huge stock pile of treasure.

There is no real indication that Gardag was strange, at all.

This twenty page adventure describes a 24 room tomb. It has a simple branching map and only uses about six pages for the room keys, the rest being pregens and hirelings type info. I find the writing bland, padded, and the formatting choices hard to read.

Issue 1: The DM text is all in italics. I know, I know; it makes me seem like a petty little bitch. But it’s hard to read. I don’t like feeling like I have to fight the adventure in order to run it. Adventures with big blocks of italics or cursive or other hard to read fonts drive me nuts.

Issue 2: The writing is flat. “Large paintings depicting various historical scenes from Gardag’s reign.” That’s boring writing. It doesn’t inspire the DM to want to describe the room well. “The room is ornately decorated with murals depicting Gardag on the walls.” There’s always this element in published adventures that the DM running must bring a part of themselves to it in order to breathe life in to the adventure. We’ll accept that as given. But the role of the adventure designer is to make it easier on the DM. Specificity can help cement an idea in to the DM’s head, where their own imagination can take hold and add and expand it. “Murals of Gardags life” is abstracted. “Murals showing Gardag’s atrocities in the looting of the city of Fazool” is specific. It gives the DM something to work with. And that’s really the point of a good adventure. You can create a minimally keyed thing (and/or maximally describe it) that is easy to use, but the value beyond that comes giving the DM that extra little bit of a helping imagery (without getting long winded.) And in a market overflowing with shit I expect that extra bit. Don’t. Settle.

Beyond that, I think the writing is weak overall. It pads out the text using the usual methods. “This room is 40×40/” Yes. In fact that the map shows that. What’s the point of putting it in the text? “If there are any PC’s that can read elvish then they will read that …” This sort of if/then stuff drives me crazy. The writing is in elvish. Stating its in elvish states a fact. “When the party walks in to the room” is a kind of conversation writing style. It pads out the text and makes it harder to find the information you need.

The rooms are pretty standard. Pit trap. Poison gas trap when you remove a painting from the walls. Skeletons, zombies, more moorlocks. Branching map. Treasure is light, except for a room with ten tapestries each worth 1000gp.
It’s hard to use and it’s not very evocative. It doesn’t make you excited to run it. That doesn’t mean explosions and transformers set pieces. That mean good writing that inspires the DM.

Gardag is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a suggested price of $0. The preview shows you the entire adventure. Yeah Shane!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Hammer Haus

Sat, 01/20/2018 - 12:15

By Seth Kenlon & Klaatu Einzelganger
Mixed Signals
Levels 1-3

Mrs. Wyverstone has a simple job he needs done. She has a home she wants built. The foundation has already been laid, but her building crew has abandoned the job. She needs a crew to go in and finish the job. She says any able-bodied idiot can do it. So why is she hiring adventurers?


This forty page single-column linear adventure details the parties attempts to build a house(!) for an old woman. It is, essentially, just linear event encounters. Single column, a railroad, unorganized, it still manages to not score WORST EVAR by giving the DM some advice. Barely.

Man, where to start? The lady who who owns the tavern is building a house and needs some workers to complete it. She’ll pay you 1000gp, parceled out over the project, to do the job. Inflation seems to have hit Pathfinder pretty hard. I don’t think the size is ever mentioned, but the mason does the walls in one day, by himself, and then does the roof and door in one night, so it must be pretty small. 1000gp for a hovel when you own a tavern is pretty rough! But, enough sillyness!

Encounter one. You hammer in the last few nails to finish the framing. It’s a DC17, with failure meaning it takes five blows to drive the nail. Five hammer dings will summon an angry spirit that attacks. (Seems the build site is on a graveyard …) The spirit isn’t stat’d, instead the DM is given the advice of “use whatever stats are appropriate to the level of the party.” Uh, No. That’s your job, Mr. Designer. I “bought” this adventure because I didn’t have time. It’s your job to provide me the tools I need to run the adventure. Uncool, not stat’ing the thing. Further, the DM is supposed to have a number of undriven nails appropriate to the parties APL. Again, no advice given. YOU DON’T GET TO FUCKING DO THIS. Just stick in a small table telling us how many for what APL. It’s your fucking job as a designer!

Oh, oh, the main villains identity can change! The woman is, of course, and evil witch. Unless the party catches on too fast. Then it’s the mason that’s evil, or … and get this … it’s her husband who’s been gone for six years. Yes, Mr Not-appearing-in-this-adventure and never mentioned before is the bad guy who swoops in at the last moment! Nope. Again, a TERRIBLE design principal. You don’t get to change the ground under the party. You don’t get to run an encounter “until the party is almost defeated.” You set the fucking scene and run it in a neutral manner, with an eye towards fun. The players HAVE to be able be make meaningful decisions and they CAN’T do this with the DM just doing whatever the fuck they want whenever the fuck they want.

The inn’s rates and services are scattered through the adventure. The inn appears at the beginning. And then after day one there’s another little section on the inn and it’s pricing and services. And then at the end of the day two section there’s another little section on additional prices and services. Perfect. Make the DM hunt for information.

At one point the characters fall through the ground in to a little crypt complex. There’s no room/key format, the first couple of rooms are described in one big text block that you have to dig through to figure out what goes with where.

This shitshow does, however, do a few decent things. There’s a flowchart at the beginning to tell you how the adventure works. That’s a good choice for an event based adventure … even if it is unneeded here. It also has a pointer to some free resources, for an inn layout and NPC’s, which is a nice little touch. That’s a good value add. Finally, it offers some advice on the hook. “Building a house may be the least sexy thing your party would choose to do.” No shit. But, it does present some advice to get the party involved, a couple of NPC’s talking about eerie things at the bild site, etc. It’s a nice nod to trying to provide resources for the DM at the table.

I know it’s $0. It’s not worth it. I like the absurdity of the telegraphed villain … because I like shit like that. But the rest of the adventure, man .. .I don’t think I could ever run something like this for people.

This is PWYW at DriveThru, with a suggest price of $0. The preview gives you the entire adventure, since it’s free. Note page 13, which shows the “free text” room descriptions.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Oracle at Gula

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 12:14

By Joseph A. Mohr
Old School Role Playing
Levels 10-13

The King of Zanzia is greatly concerned about the troubles in his land and he summons the greatest adventurers that he can find to take a perilous journey to see the Oracle at the Temple of Gula to find answers to what ails the land.

This thirty page adventure has about sixteen or so rooms in a two level temple in the mountains, with the actual adventure text taking up about nine pages, once you’re past the “getting-there wandering monsters.” You’re trying to get to an oracle to ask some questions. Linear dungeon, straight-up “challenges” and fights in every room, and muddled text results in something atrocious. (Also, I had to spell atrocious three times to get it right.)

Backstory: four or five pages with the hook mixed in. IE: the worst sort of backstory, forcing you to read it so you can run the adventure. King Dipshit think something is up in his kingdom, shit been going down a lot lately, and wants you to go ask the oracle whats up. It’s a two week journey on horseback through the mountains, and you get a decent wandering monster table, with several of the encounters described. I like wanderers that have more than just a name, but the three or four paragraphs that each get here is a bit much. A couple of sentences, to set a scene and get the DM’s juices going, is really all that’s needed. Otherwise you’re facing the same issues that you have in long encounter descriptions: fighting the text to find the important bits. And for all the bullshit you go through you … a 20 acre plot. That’s what, one step above serf?

The maps are small and hard to read. DON’T USE FUCKING A CURSIVE FONT. Don’t use it in on your map and don’t use it in your adventure text. It’s fucking impossible to read. And the grid lines on the map are in a heavy blue, obfuscating the numbers and just lending the entire thing an air of “oh god, why the fuck am I even trying to read this.” Level one is a big open room while level two is COMPLETELY linear. One room after the other connected by a line. Not. Good.
Roome one of the temple complex. The statue blocking the door asks you “What do you seek?” If you answer knowledge it moves. Any other answer has some stone golems animating to attack you. Oh, and if you answer knowledge then then the statue says “then face my challenge to prove your worth” and the same enemies attack. So nothing you do matters.

Walk around a big room, proving your worth, repeatedly, until you face all of the challenges, and then a door appears, allowing access to level two. Level two is a linear map. You go in a room, right a monster, etc, and then go to the next room to repeat. This is not adventuring.

Why you would want to suffer through this is beyond me.

This is $3.50 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages and all you get to see is backstory. Joy.

mother fucker, and now my copy/paste isn’t preserving para breaks between google docs and wordpress. Grrr…..

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Beleaguered Burrow

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:18

By C.T. McGrew
Paper Brain Games
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 1-3

A lonely hill concealing terrible tragedy. Orcs and goblins in a standoff. A monstrous predator.

This twelve page adventure details three interconnecting cave systems featuring an abandoned gnome burrow, an orc outpost, and a goblin lair. There’s some faction play present, and the overall setup has a charming/simple vibe present. The adventure takes a lot of words to describe mundane things in detail, which detracts significantly from its ability to actually BE a charming little adventure.

There’s no real hook, just a throw away line about a poster with rewards for monster heads and to go to a hill a half day away. There’s no read-aloud either, which is a joy after the last few reviews page long monstrosities. There are three cave systems under the hill, all interconnected and all that also have outside entrances. The first was a gnome burrow that was taken over by an owlbear. The second is an orc outpost, with a gnome owlbear survivor tricking them to attack the third caves: the goblins who sent the owlbear to the gnome burrow. Stirge fly out of holes, the owlbear has a rank smell, the goblins caves also have some webbed corridors with a giant black widow or two. (PERFECT! I LUV “real” monsters that are relatable, especially at first level.) You can talk to the orcs, since they have a couple of goals other than “kill everyone they see.” That’s good and can add a depth to the adventure and some interesting situations … which is why the fuck I generally advocate a couple of NPCs in the dungeon. Talk to someone, ally with them, enjoy the roleplaying and the problem solving your new friends can help you with. You can always stab them later.

But, charming though it is, this should really be just a couple of pages, not twelve. It’s not full of appendices and pages of introduction and background, it’s actually just room after room. But .. the rooms are pretty poorly written. It falls in to the common mistake of describing the mundane. The kitchen describes everything you would expect to find in the kitchen. The coat closet describes everything you would find in a coat closet. The bedroom describes a bedroom. And it takes several sentences/a long paragraph to do that. We don’t need that. We all know what a kitchen looks like. The descriptions should instead focus on the “the different”, and in particular, that which is relevant to actual play. The kitchen description, after the long boring normal description, has a second one that has the table smeared with blood and viscera, where the owlbear caught a gnome and ate it. That’s great. The closet has the outfits of a gnome family. It’s good to know there are five and one is a child, but that can be communicated to the DM in a method OTHER than a long drawn-out description of the quantity and length description of each object.

The overall effect is to hide the important information and make the DM hunt for it during play. When if the owlbear at home? I don’t know, let me dig through a bunch of “what happened before” text and then find the “moms at home” data buried at the end …

It doesn’t help, either, that padding words and phrases are used. “Anyone searching will find …” is just padding. It’s an IF/THEN clause. “IF the party searches the room THEN they will find …” That’s all padding. There is a rosewood box hidden under ashes in the fireplace. ?-Period. Describe what IS. This is what good editing should deliver for you.

But, just when you want the detail, it doesn’t exist. “A necklace worth 1000gp” is listed as treasure. That’s a lot of cash. Perhaps we could get JUST a bit more description of that? That’s the kind of thing I mean about the focus of the adventine text being on the actual play elements. That should be a famulous necklace that elicits awe and envy in the PLAYERS … all in less than one sentence. That’s the trick to writing an adventure.

This is $1 at DriveThru. Alas, there is no preview.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) The Halls of Runehammer

Sat, 01/13/2018 - 13:16

By Joel Logan
A Hole in the Ground Terrain & Games
Level 2

Fuck me, man. It’s 95 fucking pages long! Come on, if you’re gonna publish shit at least make it short to reduce the suffering of the fuckwits who end up with it.

This thing is divided up in to eight episodes. Each episode has a couple of sub-parts. The adventure has some nice large mass combats, which I always find satisfying, but that doesn’t keep it from being an UTTER PIECE OF SHIT!

The adventure is episodic with the episode outcomes not being determined by character actions but rather by “when things appear grim.” IE: the adventure is arbitrary; there is no player agency. Your actions do not determine your outcome.

The first episode has you relaxing in a crowded inn. “A well armed and agile skeleton bursts in.” What follows is an endless number of skeletons. The instructions are, literally, to keep pouring them in the inn. Doors, windows, they are coming in. The inn is crowded. The people in the inn have personalities (Great!) and there is a kind of slow desperate retreat upstairs.

This is all pretty good, at least in theory. “Army of the Dead” is a popular trope, but the party almost never faces the full might of the army. Adventures always throw in a couple of skeletons or zombies out in the wilderness. Not this time. The army of the dead is attacking the town and every building in it, and grabbing people and taking them. The entire town, and your puny inn is just one part of it. There’s a shit ton of skeletons that create a desperate vibe and a lot of innocent people, panicking. The people have personalities and that can contribute to the desperate situation inside the inn.

Except the designer fucks up nearly every aspect of it. There’s not just a lot of skeletons, there’s an infinite amount of them. The instructions are to call them off once the situation in the inn gets desperate. Fuck. You. This is a shitty designer attempting to create tension through fiat. That’s not D&D. You set up a situation and let the players handle it. THAT is D&D. The former gives the players no agency, their actions are meaningless. Use your daily or just burn you at-wils, so to speak, it makes no difference.

The personalities of the NPC’s are useless. The blacksmith is gaining a reputation as good and reliable and doesn’t talk much. The Farmer is one of the biggest suppliers of fresh food & meat to the Inn. The waitress is hard worker, one of three bar wenches. And so on and so on. ALl of these have in common a lack of potential energy. The descriptions are generic people descriptions, maybe useful if you were moving to town and talking to the mailman. But that’s not what is going on. It’s a stressful situation in an inn under attack. The personalities need to be oriented toward the action. The farmer tries to save his rutabagas is actionable. The dwarf is lame AND hates the undead. The bar wench freezes or hates the undead. The fucking NPC”s need to have data presented that is relevant to the fucking adventure.

Finally, let’s note that the description tells us that a “well-armed and agile skeleton bursts through the door.” L.A.M.E. Those are conclusions. The read-aloud should present information that lets the players draw conclusions. Describe the weapon. Describe something that makes the players think the skeleton is agile. Give us a nice image of the undead bursting through a door of a cheery inn during a thunderstorm.

And did I mention that this “episode” takes four pages to describe?

This happens over and over again. LONG sections to describe “normal” D&D things. “When things look grim, have the ranger show up to save the party from the wolves and drive them off.” Oh, and the arbitrary shit for the purpose of narrtive? How about:
“For purposes of the game narrative the door can not be opened by any low level spells such as knock or dispel magic. On the other side of the door is a large overwhelming force of the undead.”

Uh, No. It’s the players and their characters journey, not yours.

LONG read-alouds. Longer DM text. Backstory presented through … JOURNAL ENTRIES! Oh joy, just when I thought I was safe.

But some of the scenes are great. Mass combats. A bunch of orphan kids in town after the attack of the army of the dead. There are even some summary sheets for the episodes, which I thought were great. If they were better written you’d be able to skip the massive adventure text.

But NONE of it is worth the downsides. MASSIVE text to wade through for no player agency and a DM-driven “story.”

Fuck. Your. Story.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The last four pages of the preview show you the first episode, the attack on the inn, and show you both the good and the bad.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Shards of Memory

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 12:13

By Mark Hughey
Darker Age Press
Castles & Crusades
Level 3-5

After awakening in an immense cavern amidst the signs of an unearthly struggle– with little clue what happened– the few scattered survivors piece together that they are behind enemy lines, and will need their wits and their swordarms to return to the surface and report what has happened. But along the way, they find that their battle is a small part of a much grander scheme, one that may embroil all of Melcanth in war!

My life is a living hell.

I know, I know. I say that a lot. But man, this kind of stuff …

This 48 page linear adventure has about a dozen dungeon rooms that lead to a small town with about another dozen encounters. The premise is great, but massive Massive MASSIVE read-aloud and wall of text for the DM makes this a “Must Skip.”

The premise is decent. In all the tropes the good guys rush in at the last minute and battle the bad guy and save the world. There’s usually some *boom* with a ring shaped shockwave that fattens everyone, etc. This adventure starts RIGHT THEN. Awake in a cavern signs of evil lights & summoning. Hordes of dead orc & legionnaire bodies … of which you wear the same tunics. You seem to be the only survivors … and have little to no memory of what happened. Pretty sweet start to a campaign. Except this one seems to start at level three to five … but whatever.

The initial read-aloud is a page long. When you find a survivor, his read-aloud is a column long. And that’s before all of his LONG scripted read-aloud answers to the players questions. Half a column seems like the minimum read-aloud length for this adventure, per room. Even the empty rooms, of which most are, get extensive read-alouds. Players don’t like read-aloud. They don’t pay attention. If they tell you otherwise they are lying to you to be polite. I am 100% certain of this. An article by WOTC, observing organized play games, noted that people stopped paying attention after two or three sentences. There’s some kind of control issues, I think, mixed in with this read-aloud. The survivor, when questioned, has a read-aloud for each answer. This is in contrast to a different style, which might be summarizing what they know in a short list of bullets, or a one or two summary note for the DM per question. But, that would allow the DM to deviate from THE STORY and perhaps interject some of their own personality in to the scene .. and thus it cannot happen.

The DM text most often appears as a long paragraph, wall of text style. Important facts appear mixed in to the text, making them hard to find. There’s a weird description style where the scene is set with things “it looks like the campsite was in the process of being abandoned …” and so on … only to have text like “there are four orcs and their leader sifting through …” Well, fuck man! Do ya think you might have moved that up a bit in the text? That would seem to be the most obvious things the characters are going to see when they have a looksee. There’s no effective use of organization to communicate information, only an almost stream of consciousness like flow of words.

And then there’s the description abstraction. You find some refugees, hiding in their house. They have some information. One family tried to stand up to the orc army looters and died in their yard. That’s the text. That’s not what happened. Old man Johnson and his boy stood up to them and saw his wife Marie and their daughter cut down before their eyes before they were gutted. SHOW, don’t tell. Be specific, without being wordy. One is flavorful and effectively communicates a vibe. The other is abstracted garbage.

There is not really anything special about this adventure. The starting dungeon element is completely linear. The town part is a little better, because of the chance of refugees to spice things up, as well as looter stragglers. But You have to wade through the wall of shit text to get there.

This is $7 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages and takes FOREVER to load (Did I mention the download is 100meg?) Your reward is the entire perview being the bullshit pages long backstory.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Reign of Ruin

Mon, 01/08/2018 - 12:14

By Skeeter Green & Richard Moore
Jon Brazer Enterprises
S&W (ha!)
Level 6

Rumors of death move like a plague through the Crannogtowns of the Great Swamp — of ranger patrols mysteriously disappearing on routine scouting missions, of a winged shadow that blots out the midday sun, and of entire villages slaughtered, their homes left burning and the victims’ flesh melted from their bones. All evidence gathered from the sites of these massacres points to the heart of the Great Swamp, where an ancient and primitive tribe of lizardmen have ruled from an abandoned human temple for centuries on end. The Crannogtowns’ protectors, the Stormhammer Rangers, warn that horrid half-dragon monstrosities still stalk the bogs and travelers would do well to stay away from the inner swamp. Yet the killing and the carnage continue, and the people of the Crannogs plead for heroes to aid them now as they did in days long forgotten. Are you up to the challenge?

To paraphrase: Stupid, worthless, no good, goddamn, freeloading son of a bitch. Retarded, big mouth, know-it-all, asshole, jerk. “You forgot ugly, lazy and disrespectful.” Yes, yes I did. Thank you for reminding me.

This 34 page piece of absolute garbage detail a “five level” temple with about twenty rooms where lairs a black dragon. 5e/PF conversion piece of shit, wall of text, combat/set piece fuck fest and historical descriptions all contribute to the most worthless piece of garbage I have reviewed in a long time. Everyone involved should be ashamed. I’m going to try hard to criticize ideas and effort, not the people involved, but fuck, man, how does your life get to the point where you care so little about the crap you put out and attach your name to?

This little thing is a conversion. How do we know that? Well, there are versions available for 5e, Pathfinder, 13th Age and Swords & Wizardry. But, even if you don’t know that, let me suggest that the presence of monster called a “Ixtupi dragonblood brute” is pretty much a dead give away. Conversions don’t have to be bad but almost always are. Different systems tend to have a different vibe to them and its hard to convert that vibe, especially, I would suggest, between something like 13th Age and Swords & Wizardry. There are mechanical aspects as well such as, say, XP. The adventure proudly states that 6 characters should get enough XP to gain two levels, each. A fighter going from level six to eight will require about 100,000xp. For quickness, let’s say it’s 600,000 for a party of six. The dragons hoard contains 10,000gp of treasure, that being the major source of XP for S&W characters. It’s fucking absurd for a S&W character to gain two levels in an adventure. Even simple things like stat conversion can be hard. At one point early on some baddies attack a village. A bunch of 2hd dudes and a couple of 4hd ones. “Its a hard fight” says the adventure, “so four 3hd guards join in to help.” Sixth level S&W characters are badasses. There is a fundamental lack of knowledge about S&W shown, the mistake almost every conversion makes. Skeeter did the conversion while Richard was responsible for the bulk of the crapfest, I believe.

The writing and formatting is fucking atrocious. It starts with a two page backstory. I know I’m being genter about backstory these days but FUCK I hate having this failed novelist shit passed off on me. I don’t know if this is pay per word but it sure as fuck feels that way. Or, worse, maybe a vanity thing with being too attached to your own headspace. Anyway, the sin of backstory is always “Do I have to fucking read your failed novel in order to run this thing?” In this case, yes, you do. The hook is mixed in. The adventure has tendency to suddenly present a place name and start talking about it. You are left wondering how the fuck you got there. Well, gentle reader, it is always the case that it’s mixed in somewhere to the wall of fucking text that comprises the writing. Right in the middle of a page of fucking wall of fucking text will be something saying “the village of Mistleshit is the next target.” It’s just fucking relentless text. Droning on and on. Burying anything of value in it.

Ah, and the read-aloud. LONG read alouds. A quarter of half a page of long drawn out droning boring read-aloud, overwrought prose that is worthy of spoon gagging. THREE FUCKING SENTENCES. That’s what you fucking get. THREE. No one fucking cares beyond that. People don’t pay the fuck attention, and for good fucking reason.

Oh, and our DM text. Full of such wonderful phrases such as “Once a sacred place of worship.” FUCK YOU. HOW THE FUCK DOES THAT CONTRIBUTE TO ACTUAL FUCKING PLAY? ITS FUCKING PADDING YOU GIT! You’re fucking goal is not to paint a fucking picture russian fucking novel style. It’s to help the fucking DM run the game. Bombarding the DM with useless trivia, like “once a sacred place of worship” does not fucking do that. It does the fucking opposite. It clogs up the text and makes it fucking useless to actually find the meaningful text in the fucking adventure.

The fucking maps are impossible to read and find exits, etc. The wanderers are just presented on a table “8 itlixy and 2 sorceresses” Ok. And? Doing what? Friendly? Want to talk? The actual fucking encounters are little more than “Enter room. Fight. Next room.” This is a fucking grind not an adventure.

Look, fuckwitees …er … I mean “individuals who produced a fuckwit product”, I applaud the fact you created and printed something. It sucked ass. People telling you otherwise either have no standards or are being polite to you. This thing sucks shit for a living. Keep writing & creating but, for the love of all that is fucking good in life PLEASE do a MODICUM of research on how to format your shit for better comprehension. Start there, and then we can move on to “actually creating good content for an adventure.”

This utter piece of garbage is $10 on DriveThru. Page four of the preview is a great example of literal wall of text you face as a DM. No formatting to help you out. Bolding, clue outline, whitespace … none of it. Just a wall of fucking text.

I am fortunes fool.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) The Tree of Blight

Sat, 01/06/2018 - 12:14

By Glen Cooper
Dreadful Dungeons
Levels 1-5

Deep in the wilderness, and only a few short hours travel from a remote human settlement; a passing druid tending to the forestry came upon a beautiful glade. In it’s centre a solitary majestic tree topping a lush grassy mound, bearing irresistibly ripe fruit. The druid sat for a moments rest to eat a piece of the fruit, and fell asleep under the shade of its cool leafy canopy.

This is a 22 page adventure that has six pages describing a small nine room complex under an evil tree. It lacks a motivating element and uses a conversation writing style that is heavy on mechanics. An edit, Usul, the likes that even god has never seen, as well as a shift from CONTROL to GUIDANCE for the DM would help make the horror elements stand out more.

Oh, where to start. This was to be a horror adventure, or, at a minimum, a creepy horror elemnt adventure. Most of the hooks are generic throw-away “sent on a mission” or “please help us” nonsense, but the first has a nice little horror theme. You stumble across a deserted camp, it’s overcast and about to storm, and then you hear a scream in the distance. It’s a classic creepy set up. It works well because the text of the hook is short. It’s not full of mechanics or overly wordy, it’s just pure refined theme. The adventure tries to bring the horror in other elements. There’s the big old creepy tree on the hill. Muddy ground, a tangle of roots at your feet and/or hanging down in your face when you get underground. But the impact is lost because the vision is hidden behind a writing style that is … unfocused? unedited? Conversational? Not to the point. And because of that you have to fight the text to get to the creepiness and then its watered down through the effort to uncover it.

This comes from several different sins, almost all a form of padding. The first is drawing conclusions. The read-aloud at one point, in the middle of a paragraph of it, tells us “Centered in the glade is a ghastly sight.” This sentence is a conclusion. You See A Ghastly Sight. This is TELLING the players to be afraid. This is not a good thing. Instead we should be SHOWING the players and, hopefully, we do it in such a manner that they say to themselves “Man, what a ghastly sight! I’m freaked out!” So, sin one, we’re told what to think instead of being shown something for us to draw our own conclusions. To be fair, the text does then describe what we see. Which means that the entire sentence quoted is also redundant. It serves no purpose other than to clog up the text. The read-alouds can get long, also. Our WOTC friends published that famous article noting that no one pays attention after three sentences, and yet we get long sections that take up almost an entire column. Worse, it’s written in a first person style, so there’s a lot of “you push through the roots” and “you see a “ text. I’m NOT a fan of that style of read-aloud, the kind of assumed action dialog.

The DM notes do not fare much better. Long and full of both repetitive elements and overly descriptive mechanics. The “you approach the hill/tree” encounter has four paragraphs. The first two completely duplicate the information on the map, describing where the next room is, textually, and giving dimensions. Almost all of it is unneeded. A pool is described as “… appears to become very swamp-like …” No. It does not “appear.” It is. And swamp-like is more of an overly abstract term. Bog? Peat? Watery with trees sticking out? But, the mechanics are what I really want to focus on. “From either side of the pool or even standing above the mound the entrance door is incredibly well camouflaged.” This is a sentence justifying what is to come in the next one. It’s not really need. “The door is well camouflaged” would do the same thing. But then, you need to be within a maximum of 10 feet and make a DC25 check to find the door, increasing to DC30 with subsequent rolls as disbelief sets in. Thats a lot of words for something very simple. (Plus, its a roll to continue. What happens if we don’t find the door? I guess the adventure is over?) Finally, there’s a lot of if/then statements. IF the adventurers do X THEN this thing happens. Again, that’s just padding begging to be rewritten in a more direct fashion.

[And, as a nitpick, it uses boring words in places. Tall, heavy, long, big … these are all words that should be replaced with more descriptive ones,]

There’s a lot of maps provided, and I especially like the cross-section ones and the way they help communicate the room flow. I wish, though, that more information would have been on them. There’s a column or so o text near the beginning that describes a lot of terrain features, in the rain, in root rooms, etc. Those could have been placed on the map, making them less confusing and easier to find than continually flipping back to the terrain section at the beginning.

I note, also, that the adventure suffers from a “Why do that?” problem. Why go inside the tree? Creepy tree. Creepy setting. Tree clearly evil. Burn/chop it down. Yes, it’s raining. Yes, if you chop it down the evil dudes come out. But, still, seems much safer than going inside. And yet the premise is that the party goes inside. And past a big trapped front door at that. A little more incitement to explore would have been nice to see.

There’s some creepy stuff lurking in this, but its all obfuscated by the over-use of mechanics and padding/ineffective text.

Also, let’s all welcome Glen to the blog. He sent me a note saying how much he was enjoying reading it, and noting he had written this adventure. I repaid his kindness with this review.And here I am claiming that the only meaning to life is our interactions with others. Bah!

This is $2 on dmsguild. The preview shows you some stats and the terrain features … Which makes it seem more like a 4e adventure than a 5e one. Showing the meat of the adventure, so we can get an idea what to expect, would have been better.

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