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(5e) The Mad Mage of Xen’drik

Sat, 12/29/2018 - 13:44

By Travis Legge

  • Self Published
  • 5e
  • Tier 2

Deep in the jungles of Xen’drik, embedded in the side of a mountain stands the tower of the Mad Mage Xeffon. Though his various servants can be found flowing in and out of the tower on a daily basis, the elusive wizard has not been seen in many years. Some say he no longer lives, while others postulate that he is locked up in his laboratory, tinkering with magics that could alter the face of Eberron!

This eighteen page adventure is in an eight level wizards tower with seventeen rooms. It is the usual drivil that one comes to expect of the D&D marketplace, bereft of value. I guess I deserve it for looking outside the Adept box.

Imagine my surprise in buying an adventure and finding this tasty tidbit: “This is not an adventure. It’s barely a supplement. Really, it is a toolkit which I built to use on my stream and I am sharing now with you.” Then why is it in the adventure section? Why isn’t it in the “fluff supplement” section? Because it won’t sell as well? Because people won’t mistakenly buy it then? Regardless of Bryce puffery, it IS an adventure. Travis, it appears, thinks he needs a plot to have an adventure. Adventure Location is fine, and most times tacking on a fetch quest plot makes the thing worse instead of better.

Anyway …

The map is garbage. I had to blow it up to twice normal size to make it even partially legible. Maps are not art, they are play aids. They can be pretty, but not at the expense of legibility. Screwy number fonts and a greyscale map that’s too tiny to read/use/interpret does not help the DM run the adventure.

The blurb mentions “flowing inside and out of the tower” which implies an outdoor portion, but that’s not there. This is JUST a description of the towers eight floors. The only view in to the area around the tower is the picture of it on the map. There IS no surrounding context. It’s just eight levels of a tower. Not even a description of the outside of the tower. Barely a supplement indeed!

The rooms, proper, are boring and disorganized. A neat barracks room stuffed full of lizard-people. Well-kept rooms with beds made and personal items in footlockers … is that how you picture a kobold lair? I recall making a similar complaint in some official WOTC drow barracks. Either make the kobolds kobold like or put in humans. You dilute the meaning of kobold when they are used as a substitute for human foes. Oh, you were just building an encounter and wanted something of the appropriate hit die? That’s a terrible idea and also explains why this adventure is so generic and bland. There’s almost nothing wizard-like in this tower. It’s all boring blandness. And what there is is described in a manner that makes you fall asleep. Not evocative writing at all. There’s no burning passion behind wanting to run this, based on the writing.

The room organization suffers also. There’s a writing style were you put an overview first and follow up with more detail. There’s another style where you give no thought to how the DM needs the information and just throw all the words you can think of down on the page and expect the DM to read and memorize the entire adventure for immediate recall. You can guess where this one falls …

A very basic example is the first floor. The description goes: “This floor is used as the latrine for every inhabitant of the tower, including the ogres. The sewage covers the entire floor, roughly four feet deep. There is a potpourri odor thanks to a minor illusion on the area, but it barely penetrates the sewage stench. The room is dimly lit due to several dancing lights throughout the area.” Note the first sentence. It explains the floor, providing justification for what follows. It’s not needed, at least not as the first sentence. Far more important are the next three. The floor is flooded, it smells, and there are lights. THAT’S what the party is looking to know right off the bat, and therefore what the DM needs immediately. This is a great example because it’s easily understood and a terrible example because it IS just one sentence.

Transitioning though, to room seven as an example, yields more fruit. Paragraph one: you see light and here’s a bunch of mechanics. Paragraph two, there are are some big rocks in a circle and here’s some mechanics. Paragraph three, there’s three monsters in the room and here’s some mechanics. The DM needs to read three paragraphs in order to present the room to the party the first time. No. A well written room allow the DM to glance down and in half a second relate the room to the party.

There are a heavenly host of other issues. Treasure is abstracted away, destroying yet more wonder to the game. The history of rooms are in their descriptions sometimes, providing nothing but padding.

Just another adventure by someone who doesn’t know how to write an adventure. I always applaud people’s effort to publish, I just wish they took more time to understand how to do it instead of leaving it to the rest of us to pick up the $2 bag.

This is $2 at DMSGuild. The preview is six pages and shows you the first ten or so rooms. That’s a good preview, doing what a preview should do, letting you know in advance of what you are buying. Check out Floor one and room seven for the examples I provided of misorganized text.

https://www.dmsguild.com/product/260992/The-Mad-Mage-of-Xendrik

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dead Planet

Wed, 12/26/2018 - 12:19

By Donn Stroud, FM Geist, Sean McCoy
Tuesday Knight Games
Mothership

There is a planet that no ship escapes. A place where death calls like a beacon amongst the waves of the living. This is the DEAD PLANET.

This 52 page adventure for spaceman games presents a small series of “one page” dungeons, ala Stonehell, all related to a theme: being trapped in orbit around a certain planet. Colorful and evocative, runnable, with a hefty portion of the writing directed at actual play, it walks the line of performance art without getting too much up its own ass so as to be unrunnable. I often say that sci-fi is my favorite but I don’t know how to run it. I can run this.

Well hell, I don’t know where to start. This thing uses the same format as Stonehell, or The Fall of Whitecliff. There’s a general description of an area, heavy on text, that supplements a “one page dungeon.” The idea is that you read the background text and then you can run that portion of the adventure from the one page. The extra text is inspiration, background, things half-remembered and maybe a back reference for when you are running the one-pager. Stonehell did this in a format that was quite regimented and therefore easy to follow. Whitecliff did this in a more loose format, formatting things depending on the circumstances of the one-pager, social, dungeon, etc. This thing walks to the line of usability/performance art, looks down at, and does a jig on it with its tongue hanging out waggling, eyes all googley, while flipping the world off with both hands. It’s gets about as close as you can to the usability/art line. Garish colors, different fonts, immersive quotes, page backgrounds … it reminds me of Black Sun Deathcrawl or #WeAllLiveOnPunjar in places. But, at its heart, it’s using the Stonehell format. Buying in to that, as I did in my Stonehell & Whitecliff reviews, means accepting the overview text and its relationship to the adventure at the table.

So, your ship gets sucked to this system and can’t jump out. There’s this planet, a moon, and a FUCKTON of derelict ships in orbit. That means there’s a section that describes the nearest derelict ship, a derelict ship generator system, a couple of one pagers about the moon, and a couple of one-pages describing the planet, including a kind of hex crawl.

This seems the correct place to mention a cult of survivors on the moon, cannibals, who ritually cul off parts of themselves for social status to feed the tribe, who also have a giant ship harpoon that shoot at ships to drag them down the moon. So, yeah, that’s kind of tone this thing has.

It does a lot right in terms of presenting information to the DM. Monsters generally lead their descriptions with the most important bits. Here’s a Glow Skull: “Brittle hyaline globes filled with phosphorescent liquid. Inside the globe, an internal skull can be seen moving within the green glow of the liquid.” That’s the first two of three sentences. It’s exactly what you need, as a DM, in order to run them.

SImilarly, the adventure provides the resources the DM needs when and where they need it. On the moon crawl there’s a short section called “how far can you walk?” There’s a timeline next to the section where the party has options on how to proceed. Huts on a plan? There a little table called “I search the bone hut.” How about that cannibal base? There’s a table focused on looting it. There’s a nice NPC summary sheet, with their quirks and goals easily seen, and thus easy for the DM to roleplay them. The emphasis on interactivity with the party, and resources to support that, is quite high. It’s almost like they thought about it and had that in mind when writing/designing/laying it out.

Did I mention the cross-references? Extensive page references exist in this. If it mentions another location, or person, or something then it also puts the page number next to it so you know where to go look for more info. That’s VERY good. In fact, one of the first such sections is “how do we get out of this system?” along with page references to the ways mentioned. Players love using scanners and sensors. The descriptions tell you what they say!

On that point, they don’t REALLY tell you what to say, the text in the sensors section gives you a general overview, allowing the DM to fill in what the characters actually get. Rather than prescriptive, it allows the DM to riff, with all the good that implies.

I like an adventure with some social elements. Hacking things is boring and its much more fun to talk to someone before you cut them down. This has that. Citing, again, the cannibal moonbase, they talk to you and ask you to surrender. Doing so brings a whole fuckton of interaction possibilities on the base. And … FACTION PLAY! That’s right, talking means you find different people with different goals and can support one side versus another and so on. This offers SO much more richer gameplay than just rolling to hit.

It’s open ended, non-linear, and fuck ton of good times.

Which is not to say it’s perfect. Like I said, it fucks with the Art School line a little much. I’m not willing to say it strays over, but it does it enough that I raise an eyebrow and I’m certain its going to be a bit much for some folk.

Likewise not every descriptions is a good one, leading with the most important stuff. Not every monster leads with the description, some rooms lead with a history, and a decent portion of other things are NOT oriented toward actual play. This is generally around the random tables used for treasure and ship generation, but not always.

This is $8 at DriveThru. The preview shows you the first “one page” dungeon, (a derelict ship, the closest one) proper, as well as the derelict ship generator. It may have been better to show the support pages for the dungeon in question, so as to get a better idea of how the various pages and sections work together, instead of half of one section and a general rando table.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/249108/Mothership-Dead-Planet

The print copy is $15 at:
https://www.exaltedfuneral.com/collections/rpg/products/dead-planet

Oh, and I don’t know how I missed this my entire life [Ed: i do Bryce. You don’t pay the fuck attention.], but there’s this website called ExhaltedFuneral.com that sells print copies of this, and like a hundred other kick ass RPG things. This has GOT to be related to one of those metal-head DCC guys/artists.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Worldsend

Mon, 12/24/2018 - 13:36
EPSON MFP imag
  • By Keith Salamunia
  • Pinupsbyindi
  • OSR
  • Levels 1-5

… the adventurers are hired by a mysterious benefactor to aquire parts in a remote region, that ultimately leads to a seige to hold off an army of the undead.

Well, this is a thing.

This 24 page adventure contains a series of nine related one page dungeons. You collect some objects for your patron, and then defending a city from an undead army. The dungeons are linear and not written very well, but the art is nice. That makes sense because I’m pretty sure the designer is an artist.Any, the entre things is handwritten so … art was placed over usability.

Rule 1: It’s gotta be usable at the table. The font used in this is either a handwriting font or its actually handwritten. Either way, usability suffers. If I have to fight the text to get the adventure out then, well, I’m not gonna fight the text, I’m going to move on to something else. I get it. Artist. The One Page contests are full of artists. Cartographers are, on rpggeek, classified as artists. Great! Form + Function, right? (or so says Helmut, the proprietor of the Form+Function furniture store where I shop) Except when it doesn’t work, and it doesn’t work here. Hero needs to remember to keep his head down and designers need to remember that legibility is important.

The maps are linear with about six to eight rooms each. Do I need to explain why linear maps are bad? It doesn’t since the entire adventure is linear. Do adventure one. Then two. Then three. Keep going. No freedom. No original thought. For your convenience, consumption has been standardized.

The writing is the usual stream of consciousness stuff that one expects from the majority of products, with little thought given to organization or editing. Focusing in on the first dungeon, we get such gems as: “Family crypt full of coffins. When door is open Zombies will arise. If they are defeated a modest amount of treasure is in the coffins.” Note the multiple if/then statements. The back of my noggy noggy brain (all gone for beer and tobacco) is working on a theory that this and the linear nature or the dungeons and adventure as a whole is related to the same thing. A must happen before B. That is how adventures work, right? That shows up in map, the adventure plot, and the motivation for zombies and quantum nature of their treasure. I put three things to you, gentle reader. First, the quantum shit annoys me. Second, it is related to the original sin of linear plots. Third, it is sloppy writing that pads out the descriptions with filler words, clogging it up like an Elvis colon full of fried peanut butter and barbiturates. There IS treasure in the coffins. The zombies animate when the coffins are fucked with. The world exists outside the actions of the party.

Room four, in the same dungeon, is … something? “After unlocking The door ‘n, playas find an old coatroom.” First, quantum and padded again. Second, WHAT?!?! Playas? ‘N? WTF is that shit. It does continue with with one of the better room descriptions: A couple of old coats hang on hooks, the wallpaper is peeling, and everything smells damp. Tree roots are growing through the raimenents(? sp?) of the destroyed bathrooms. I don’t know why bathrooms are related to coat closets, but, whatever.

Room eleven tells us that a guard chamber contains old beds for warriors. Two ghouls still guard the room even in death. Nothing usable is in the room, except for a small bag of coin under the bed. So … the first clause is irrelevant, just say there’s a bag of coin under the bed. Again, padded, and another example of a writing style that is loose and not thought out or edited.  

The final room has the ghost of Lady Eris, a spellbook, a ruined philosopher’s stone, and a Deck of Many Things. A) NICE FUCKING JOB! Decks are wonderful and more designers should put fucked up magic items in adventures, no matter the level. The Deck represents everything wonderful about D&D. Free Will, good and bad effects, pushing your luck. Second, the goal of the adventure is to retrieve the Heart of Eris. I thought it was a gem, but I can find no reference to it, except in art which shows a red rock. I guess, though, it’s the heart of the ghost? Not clear. And Not Clear is Not Good Design.

The other dungeons are similar, and range from actual dungeoncrawls, like a tomb, to a wilderness, town, or castle defense section.

You got your art in my peanut butter. Normally I wouldn’t care, but, in this case, the test sucks. Mostly not particularly evocative, illegible, and unclear.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $1. The preview is six pages. It shows the art style, and page four show you the first dungeon (which is why I concentrated on it in my review.) It’s representative of the dungeons, but, again, there are more event-drive “one pagers” as well.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/259920/Worldsend

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

WFRP – If Looks Could Kill

Sat, 12/22/2018 - 12:14


by Andy Law, Dave Allen, Ben Scerri
Cubicle 7
WFRP
Beginning Players

Legends claim the Beast of Ortschlamm stalked the marshes near Ubersreik for centuries. But few believe it… When the adventurers agree to help Rutger Reuter, a charismatic, young merchant from Ubersreik, little do they realise what’s in store. What starts as a simple job guarding building supplies, soon turns to tragedy, horror, and murder. The Characters will not only need their wits about them to negotiate the double-dealing camp of Reuter and his business partners, but also the Beast they have unwittingly stirred…

This 28 page introductory adventure has the party as camp guards during a mill construction. A couple of good design ideas do nothing for an adventure that is meant to be read instead of played. Even among bloat/obfuscation adventures this one ranks high.

You start on a river barge and meet the dude that hired you. The barge overturns and a giant fish attacks. You go to a construction camp, meet the two other co-partners in the venture, and are asked to dig up some standing stones. The dude turns up dead and you’re tasked with following monster tracks in to the swamp. There you meet three villagers who killed the dude & faked a monster attack … being attacked by a real basilisk. Coming back to camp one of the co-partners has stolen the paybox and the other was behind hiring the crooked villagers to kill the dude. IE: two fights and a little roleplay.

This is published in the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying Product Identity Style. Which means a shitty font that’s too small and lots of italics for read-aloud. I can do without the font with legibility issues, the tony font, and the italics. All three make you feel like you are fighting the adventure to pull content out of it.

This is exacerbated by the FUCKING AWFUL organization of the text. Long paragraphs with details buried in them and seemingly endless number of them. It is CLEARLY laid out to be read and not to be used at the table. Bullets, whitespace, headers, organization, things to draw the DM’s attention to them while scanning … all are missing. It’s just one big text blob.

The NPC are organized like shit, two pages for the opening scene with your new employer, the co=partners mixed in later in their own shitty long text paragraphs. It is, essentially, a linear adventure with a couple of roleplay scenes separated by a couple of combat scenes. I don’t find that format particularly compelling and wish it would have taken a more open ended approach

It does do a decent job of presenting some dialog in the NPC’s voices, although better NOC formatting would have made this much more additive to their personalities.

It also does something pretty interesting with a skill check to find some treasure. An astounding success gets you the treasure. All other successes get you the treasure also, but with increasing difficulties. This ranges from rumors around the camp, or a pickpocket, or your employer showing up and watching you like a hawk. Turning the roll in to an opportunity to roleplay and add roleplay complications is quite good design.

It’s too bad this is so shittily organized/written to be read instead of played. The double/triple cross stuff with the partners is interesting, as is the digging up of the standing stone and some of the roleplay possibilities with the workers, the swamp villager crooks, etc. While a small and simple adventure those elements really elevate it. It’s just SOOOOO hard to wade through the text. At this point the product identity is just mimicking shitty cost-based choices form the 80’s and is not a detriment to the line.

This is free on DriveThru. The preview is four pages. The last page is the best example of whats to come. The italics, wall of text, etc.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/259270/WFRP-Ubersreik-Adventures–If-Looks-Could-Kill

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Cess Pit of the Bogg-Mother

Mon, 12/17/2018 - 12:12


By Jeff Dee
UNIGames
AD&D
Level 1-3

What strange being has taken up residence in the long-ruined swamp-circled castle, and what is its connection to the increase of Orc raids in the region?

This eleven page adventure uses three pages, plus map, to detail a small seventeen room underground dungeon. The descriptions tend to the vanilla+ side of the spectrum, with things little too journeyman for me.

It is always with some trepidation that I review things by folks from the early days. It has been my general impression that they tend to copy their earlier styles, for better or worse. The nostalgia that clouds our memories, combined with the many uplifts in formatting and presentation, can lead to, uh, misaligned expectations. Jeff’s sins are not as major as some of his peers.

There is an odd division here between vanilla and what “cess-pit of the bog mother” would imply. Imagine in your mind those scenes from Aliens that depicted the slime tunnels at the bottom of the complex, full of victims, etc. If you had seen the movie and heard me describe it to someone as “alien slime tunnels” would you be disappointed with my description? The content of this adventure has potential but the writing is weak.

Muddy, tree roots from the ceiling, pools of water, trails of slime … these are some of the elements of the adventure. But it comes across in the writing as: “This is an empty, muddy earthen cave. There are several pools of muddy water on the floor. Roots dangle down from the ceiling.” Okkkkkk…. So, yes, that’s all true. But it is much more fact based than impression based, I might say. It certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome, but it’s also not particularly evocative. When I say vanilla+, it’s what I’m referring to. The writing is generally solid, but not very interesting.

I might also cite a couple of editing issues. Note how that room description beings. “This is an …” A LOT of ofthe room descriptions begin that way. It’s pointing your finger at someone and naming it, instead of using it as some kind of implied potential energy. There’s a lot of “appears to be” and other little “weasel words” that steal the energy from the text and the writing.

Room six, in particular, has issues. This is the big baddies room. Almost a page long, the description is all over the place. I’ve talked about this before, but ONE of the better ways to write a room description is to start with a very general overview of what the players see/experience when they enter the room. That’s the very first thing the DM is going to need when running the room, so by putting it as the first thing in the description you give a nice little overvview for the DM. While the players are reacting to that First Post, the DM can be glanceing down at the follow-on details, perhaps organized with whitespace/paragraph, etc, around the major room elements. But in this room its all over place. You have to read the entire thing to get a sense of what is going on and then process it and then relate first impressions to the players. Uncool for a page long description. The adventures lack of bolding, or even much formatting beyond the paragraph break, is not a positive either. Again, a focus on helping the DM is missing.

There are other small things that set me off. The hag baddie creating healing stuff from a swamp herb … but its only usable if your evil. This is usually seen in the form of an artifact that is only usable by evil folks, but the entire “you can’t but they can” shit is lame. And then other weirdo things like a lack of tracks in the ruins above the dungeon etc. It’s just not very deep in a lot of places that are not specifically “slime monsters.”

The map, though, is fine for being a small one. Not really. It does a good job of showing detail in it and overloads the map with information for the DM. For a small map it’s pretty interesting with its features and loops, etc.

Is this BAD? No. Is it GOOD? No.

This is $2.50 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages. Only the last page gives you an idea of the writing, and that’s for the wilderness area.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/119609/JD1-CessPit-of-the-BogMother

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Frandor’s Keep

Wed, 12/12/2018 - 12:19


By David S. Kenzer, Steve Johansson, Jolly R. Blackburn, Mark Plemmons, Benjamin Sharef
Kenzer & Co
Hackmaster BASIC
Levels 1-5

Holding its lonely vigil high in the rocky hinterlands, on the furthest reaches of civilization, sits the military outpost known as Frandor’s Keep. Perhaps you come to the Keep as soldier, merchant, bounty hunter or wanderer, or merely to seek payment for a debt owed (continuing the adventure begun in White Palette, Ivory Horns). No matter, for you are here now, in a wilderness teeming with strange creatures and fraught with danger — the perfect forge for you to hammer your career upon.

This 160 page book is about half starting settlement/regions and about half adventures. Another Keep on the Borderlands, it expands the keep and town and mini-adventures in them/around them, as well as providing several larger Things To Do in the area. The town/keep/region is interesting, the background boring, the mini-adventures nicely done, and the main adventures suck.

The first chunk of this book, about half, describes the regional around the Keep, the town outside and Keep proper. IE: the starting base. The next chunk, about a chapter, outlines (at about a page each) some of the hooks mentioned in the region/town/keep as little mini-adventures/things to follow up on. The final large chunk of the book, again about half, describes some the adventuring locales in the region. The first two sections, though chapter eight (of eleven+appendix) are really quite interesting. It’s focused like a laser on being a starting location. The regiona, town, keep, NPC’s and little side-quests are all well done and relate to interactivity with the players.

SKipping past the background information gets us to the regional information. It is from that point on that the quality level stays high, until the main adventures are reached. It’s all pretty fucking focused. There’s a gembuyer in town. Turns out she’s just an apprentice to the main gembuyer in the keep and she only handles the small stuff. Oh, and she gets a payoff form the thieves to let them know who’s carrying. We’re looking at three focuses, all on the players. You can sell her stuff. She can introduce you in to the keep. And finally she provides a pretext for the thieves to hit the party and some follow up as the party tracks back to her. Focused. On. Play.

To be sure, it gets caught up in its own bullshit a little too much. Background, past lives story, etc, all go on a little too long for each entry. A little bit of the past is enough for the party asking around, we don’t need more unless it impacts play.

It’s hyperlinked and indexed well, providing references to find more information. It FEELS like a living and breathing place, with people having interactions at more than one locale, and being connected to others in different locations. There’s even tips in how to mix in some mundane shit to make it seem even MORE alive, like soldier patrols, woodcutters, and the like on the roads/wilderness. And, there’s an NPC reference chart! Hooray! It needs some personality on it, but it tries. And wandering encounters are doing things! And there are a FUCK ton of rumors, indexed, with context in different situations, all in voice. My Hero!

The last good chapter has a list of minor little adventures and subplots that were mentioned in the main town/region/keep text. Collected in one place, some expanded upon to a page or so outline, describing what’s going on, whos involved, etc, it’s a good way to handle those little side-quest thingies that come up in any large place.

There’s a lot here to steal. It’s a good read, and provides the sort of rich environment, the interconnectedness, that you need in a good town. I also mourn for the person trying to use this. It DOES go on too long with bullshit backstory. This is the sort of place you have to read a dozen times until you KNOW it, as if you created the content yourself. It’s rewarding as all fuck, but shows its age (2009.) It’s remarkable for it DOES provide, as a play aid from 2009, but this is not going to be an easy to use town. I’d love to see it republished using a more focused approach to play at the table.

And then the adventures start. The main adventures. Ug. Long LONG read-aloud text, long rambling room descriptions. Writing that tends to the boring side of the spectrum. Again, the interconnected nature of the things in the adventures are nice, and there’s a certain relatability to things, even a goblin lair, that is a nice realism, but jesus fuck, wading through that text is NOT worth it. A column to almost a page per room is NOT worth it. The challenge is to provide a rich environment while still remaining easy to use ta the table. This doesn’t meet that criteria.

You know, this reminds me, in a way, of the material in the big Rappen book that dealt with the environs outside the dungeon. There was a lot, and some of it quite rich.

Someone asked so I reviewed this. It places me in an interesting position. I don’t review regional/sourcebook type stuff. It’s all fluff and how much fluff appeals to you is a matter of personal taste. A starting base, though, is something else. I was genuinely excited as I read the town/base portions of this and day dreamt of how to incorporate it in to some of the games I am running. Likewise the ad-hoc and small adventures … while lamenting the quality of the main adventures. The first section is a fun read, in the way I imagine some people only read those Adventure Path things. But, its gotta be usable. And it ain’t.

This is $15 at DriveThru. The only preview is one of those “quick” ones, that don’t show you anything but an eagles eye view of the layout. IE: worthless.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/116018/Frandors-Keep

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Life & Death

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 12:15


By Newt Newport
D101 Games
Crypts & Things
Low levels

Miraz the Golden sees itself as the inheritor of the old Lion Empire. It is an oppressive military police state which seeks to dominate its neighbours. Some say the wrath of the gods has been brought down because of its hubris and a plague currently strikes it. Its Tyrant looks on from his remote palace, as the victims of the disease shuffle around the streets as newly-risen zombies. While his heirs fight amongst themselves to see who will succeed their father, once he is toppled by the rebellion that is fermenting in the streets. Into this madness step the beginning adventurers, out to make a fortune and a name for themselves.

This 66 page book has three adventures and small fifteen page setting overview. Charming and full of genuine writing, evocative and non-linear yet clear of intent, it strikes to heart of what good D&D is. It also makes you fight it at times to get the content out; not all layout choices are equal.

Folks talk about toolboxes sometimes. Generally that means a bunch of tables and not what I could call an adventure. Sometimes It’s used to refer to things like the old MERP modules. There is something in between the MERP adventures and “normal” adventures and man, does it ever fucking resonate when you hit it. Sandbox is overused. It’s clear from the adventure what is going on and how the players would most likely interact with it, but its not exactly written to that end. Scourge of the Demon Wolf did this, and do did that Garden of the Hag Queen adventure, if I recall correctly. And this/these three adventures do it.

I can’t really put my finger on it, on the writing that enables it. It’s clear when you see it but its not exactly clear to me how its achieved. (Well, at least in the 30 seconds I think about such things,) But man, it’s the RIGHT way to write an adventure like these, that’s for sure. Shit is going on, judgements are not passed, it plays on the players expectations and gives them opportunities. It doesn’t deal with every contingency, but it also doesn’t pander to standard D&D. In addition, there’s something relatable about these things. In spite of the mythic/supernatural/magical circumstance, it FEELs like the real world. Maybe because it’s full of shades of grey and ambiguity … while not giving in to the “fuck over the players” style.

The opening adventure is a decent enough example of a couple of things the adventure does well. When I saw the adventure opened with a page of italicized read-aloud I thought “huh, I seem to to recall that other C&T adventure was good …” It’s introductory, and the party stumble upon a man in the marketplace, colorfully dressed, giving a recruitment speech for the Guild of Treasure Seekers. Break free of your mundane lives, gold, jewels, exotic treasures, travel and far away lands, don’t crawl in the dust and have your parents sell you in to marriage. We are a brotherhood, etc. Free bowl of soup when you join up! Oh, my heartstrings! A literal call to adventure, tt’s a pretext for all those players that seem to need one, and there are about a dozen different ones buried in the speech. It’s does this with a playful wink and a nudge. We’re all playing D&D tonight. Further, the guild is an interesting design choice. I’m usually not down with adventurers guild, but this one is a little different. It’s loose with requirements, gives the folks benefits, like food and lodging, provides the occasional pretext, AND DOESNT BACKSTAB THE PARTY. It also gives the DM a couple of tools, like magic portals, etc, to get the party moving across the game world and interacting with stuff. And then there is a the subplot of the guild hierarchy … but even then it’s not really a backstab. It’s all relatable, to both the party and to the DM as a tool to use, and appeals. It reinforces an Us vs Them thing that leaving your farm life behind generates. There is a bond, instantly forged and not saccharin or forced. And did I mention tha barker starts yelling with the Roll Up! Roll Up! D&D should be fun without a direct appeal to comedy, and this does that.

The NPC’s, which includes the monsters, are all well written. They have goals and motivations and nice little lines about how they all interact with the party. And it does this without overstaying their welcome with mountains of text. There’s also some decent use of bullets and formatting, in places.

The writing is, in general, evocative. Pulsating red star outlines on floors and the like. The scenes and … scenarios? That make up the adventure, the vignettes, events, opportunities, etc, are all … interactive, I guess I would say. And in a way that makes sense. Steal the magic family heirloom and the people in the family react in various ways, all of which should be expected. It makes sense, without feeling punitive.

At one point there’s a captive undead king chained up on a throne. He can turn some villagers from zombies back in to humans. That’s not EXACTLY the goal of the adventure, after all, you’re treasure hunters. But you met the wailing village women … and it does seem like the right thing to do … well, except he wants you to free him in return. And you know, the undead feel relatable, and horrific, the way they did in those Jarl adventures, but even more so. Man, I just love this shit, the relatable stuff and the grey zone of adventuring … without really judgement of the choices of the party makes … just reactions to the choices.

But, it’s not getting a Best Of from me.

For I am an asshole, whose standards are far too high for his own mental good.

The adventure makes use of italics for read-aloud.Combined with the smaller font it’s not exactly screaming “easy to read.” More importantly, though, it makes some quite questionable formatting/layout decisions. Well, more than italics and small fonts. The use of white space and bullets is not really great (yes, I know I mentioned that above as a positive, fuck off.) It doesn’t go far enough. The NPC’s & monsters are in a quite the loosy goosy format that could be tightened up quite a bit, would would help clarity also. It looks like it’s using different font sizes to denote section headings/changes and that DOES NOT work at all. The ability for the DM to place parts of the adventures in to context, to know what they need to know right now, and later, is important, and the small changes in the font used to denote this WAS NOT a good idea. I’m not sure if I’m gonna call this “organization” or what, but there is a tendency for things to kind of run together, sections that is, or, at least, to THINK they are running together while reading it.

It’s frustrating and non-intuitive. And good content that is frustrating and non-intuitive gets No Regerts.

This is $20 at DriveThru. Yeah. $20. The reviewer in me, who buys crap three times a week and gets ripped off, sneers at the $20. But, I also always say that I’ll pay big bucks for good adventures. The preview is six pages long and doesn’t show you anything of the adventures so you don’t really know what you’re getting. Bad Preview! Bad!
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/216476/Life-and-Death-Zarth-Edition

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) The Priest, The Witch, and the Lost Temple

Sat, 12/08/2018 - 12:18


By David McDonough
Self Published
5e
Levels 2-3

The town of Whitehaven is beset with undead. The townsfolk are quick to blame the so-called Witch of Whitehaven, who lives nearby with her partner in the Surbrin Hills. Yet a more insidious evil lurks in the midst of town, cloaked in a holy man’s robes. And far underground, an ancient evil artifact stirs. The town is in need of heroes. Will you answer the call?

This forty page adventure details a baddy in a town becoming one with evil, blah blah blah, and some blame shifting to the local witch. It’s trying. It’s got some decent ideas and tries to implement good design. The major, major sin in this is the complete inability to understand the purpose of what an adventure is … exemplified through levels of useless verbosity in descriptions and backstory that match Dungeon magazine. What decent ideas there are is not worth the effort to dig them out.

David, I’m going to address you directly. I don’t know if you’re ever going to see this. I don’t really care if you do or don’t. This blog is entirely for my own benefit, but I’m a hypocrite, and in my arrogance I’m going to just assume you’re going to see this. You don’t deserve what I’m going to say, no one does, really. But I note that you’ve also been told, repeatedly, that this is an awesome adventure and been given five stars over and over again. Those people have done you a disservice. The culture in online D&D circles is to love everything and give everything five stars. I’m going to appeal to the academic in you to recognize the truth in what I’m saying. (Although, I see you mention “policy” as well, which leaves me disheartened on your background …) You have some ok principals that you follow in design, but you have no idea how to actually write an adventure. Work on that. But you tried, and the good things you did have me making a stronger effort than usual to explain what you did wrong, for the two thousandth time.

Let’s first cover a few of the better things David does that, frankly, surprised me.

There’s an evil artifact in this adventure, the Orb of Undeath, used by the baddie. Generally the Black Falcon Idol of Doom is only usable by the bad guy, melt when he dies, kills the user instantly, turns you to evil immediately, etc. In other words, the designer shoves in a mechanical bonus for the baddie and then doesn’t allow the party to have the item. That’s crap design. In this case though the item is left for the party. There’s some DC20 8d6 damage nonsense throw in, but it’s not outright banned from usage. That’s good. The party SHOULD get unique magic items, artifacts SHOULD be given to them, and when you toss in “its evil” or something else like it then you also give a little nod to the roleplaying aspects of the game. It’s MORE than just a mechanical bonus/effect at that point. The game is magic. The game is mystery. The game is wonderous. Mechanical shit is none of that. The appendix description is a little heavy on backstory and mechanics needing more in the way of evocativeness than the mechanics. It also does no favors by making the intelligent item cold, unfeeling, and bereft of humor. Since it communicates it could use a personality that is more than a lack of personality. Again, it’s a wondrous item and should come across as such.

There’s also a tendency to give advice on how things can go wrong. If the party doesn’t find the lever then you can do this other to make the adventure go forward. This happens in several places. First, it’s nice for a designer to note how things can and do go wrong when the irresistible force of the party slams in to an adventure and offer assistance to keeping things moving along. It’s gets to my core conceit: the adventure should be a tool to helping a DM run it at the table. So, Good Job! But, I have to ask, why put those roadblocks in at all? Or, rather, perhaps we can divide it in to two piles. Things can and do change when the party hits the adventure and advice on that is good. But in other places DC checks are placed as obstacles to continuing the adventure. I call this Roll To Continue Playing D&D. If the adventure depends on the party making a DC5 skill check then why is in there to begin with? In the first encounter we roll to find blood tracks, etc to track down some farmers. If this fails then you hear the farmers cry out for help. Woah! Why the fuck am I rolling the dice in the first place then? Or, putting the secret room behind a hidden level … and putting an imp in the adventure that leads the party to it if they fail to find it.

There’s also a good scene or two. At one point you catch two witches in the process of interrogating a demon in a circle. Fun! There’s some hackney shit should “forgiving” if you attack one of them, but, still, the setup is good. There’s also a nice bit where the townfolk rebel against the evil in their midst while the party is out fucking around in the woods with the witches. I can’t say enough how refreshing it is to see that. There’s some buildings on fire, some blood, people hold up in homes, attacking zombies, all its missing are a couple of bodies swinging from lampposts. It’s nice to see villagers not fuckwits for once AND that the game world has shit going on in it outside of the parties actions (or, maybe, as a result of the parties actions.) I note, also, that this gets to Rients assertion that gameworlds should be shaken up. It’s written like crap, but the core sentiment of this little section is a good one. There’s also a nice little bit of advice on what happens is a bad guy escapes, the consequences of that.

Now, on to the shitshow …

What is the purpose of an adventure? It is to help the DM run it at the table. That’s it. AT. THE. TABLE. All those people commenting on the rich backstory, etc, are fuckwits. Why? Because that does not contribute to running it at the table. In fact, it makes it HARDER to run at the table. When the party goes through a door in to a new room that DM gets to glance down at the adventure for a fraction of a second, grok the nature of it, and then communicate it to the party. Everything the adventure does needs to contribute to that. While the party is reacting the DM has a little more time to glance down and take in some more information. If you have to stop and read a page, or a column or information then the adventure has failed. [Aside: you can also write “sticky.” This is fucking hard. Google: Old Bay, the elderly hill giant who retired to eat giant crabs.] You have been infected by people changing what the concept of normal is. First, this the professionals, who write based on pay per word. All they care about is taking one idea and strapping enough words on to it to get paid. Second, there are failed novelists who write adventures with rich backstory, with no intent of running at the table, and companies who cynically pander to this market knowing that most adventures will never get run so why not cater to the larger market of people who only read adventure … and to whom this endless backstory/motivation shit appeals to. Finally, people have grown up on this shit and think that’s how you write an adventure. They know no better, It’s the normal way. IT’S FUCKING NOT. Fucking publishers.

Motivations, backstory, justifications, if you have to have them then stick the shit in an appendix. Then the fuckwits get their nonsense and you get to the keep the core of the adventure focused on its purpose: helping the dm run it at the table. When you bury important details in columns-long text you are not helping the DM run the adventure. On page seven important towny flavor stuff (wary/excited about strangers) is buried in otherwise garbage shit that is irrelevant. (Meaning, someone will justify it as tangentially relevant.) NPC’s with a column long description on how to roleplay them? No thanks. You get a sentence each, at most, for description and personality, and then you bullet point or use whitespace to effect to make it trivial for the DM to locate what they relate. Backstory and motivations in the main text? NO. Only what you need to run the adventure RIGHT THEN goes in the main text. What is relevant, IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY RELEVANT to the parties interaction? [Aside: Pedants like to take this to the logical extreme and say that’s my position. A special note to them: Fuck Off.]

Note location W3, The Tower, a location in town. The Name is “the Tower.” Then there’s a bunch of read-aloud. THEN you get a paragraph of DM’s notes telling you what the purpose is. How the fuck does that help me locate the mayors office when I’m running this thing? Seriously? Reading ALL of that? If I hand this to someone blind and say “tell me where the mayors office is in the first section” then thats a much more realistic simulation of running it at the table.

And, speaking of read-aloud … yes, there’s too much. You get three sentences. Maybe two. That’s it. There’s a study. WOTC wrote about it. People don’t pay attention after that (at the table, that is.) Bullet points. Improvise. Creative a terse and evocative description for the DM. The DM is the MOST powerful tool a designer has. Terse writing/organization contributes to running it at the table. EVOCATIVE writing leverages the DM’s brain to fill in the void left by the terseness and is MORE effective at creating atmosphere than ANY length of verbose writing. If you can jab a FLAVOR in to the DM’s brain then they can extrapolate indefinitely. Ug, and the FEELS. You don’t get to write read-aloud telling the party what they do/feel. “As you walk cautiously …” no. They didn’t walk cautiously. They ran willy nilly. But your fucking read-aloud doesn’t jive with that. Do you get it? “As torches spark to life.” No. We all have darkvision. We used continual light spells. We burned the place down.

And, of course, we have to suffer through mundane room descriptions. “There’s a side table in the dining room.” Well, whoop de doo! That’s certainly added a lot to the adventure! Seriously, what’s the point of this? To tell us what a dining room looks like? It’s fucking dining room, we know what a dining room looks like. Concentrate on the aspects of the room that are important.

Oh, what else? A thousand things. The hooks are all mission assignments. Those are boring. That’s an appeal to “do you want to play tonight or not?” D&D. It’s the most throwaway form of a hook. You practically have to beat two farmers to get the first part of the adventure. They are sent for help and yet you need to beg and plead and to be allowed to help them. I fucking HATE adventures that make you fight for the hook. Obviously, the bad guy is actually good and the good guy actually bad. Duh. This is so obvious I almost didn’t mention it. The first whiff of this is in an inn and its immediately obvious, so much so that I’d just stab the baddie in the throat right there … which to its credit the adventure addresses later on in some advice. But, still, wouldn’t it be refreshing if the wise woman was actually the bad guy?

Oh, the LG honorable ghost knight doesn’t have the heart to protect the party from the evil shadows attacking them since they were his followers once. Geee, LG much? The undead attack stuff is not handled well, there’s not much build up to it, no tension. A will O the Wisp is just presented as another thing to hack down, ignoring thousands of years of it luring people to their doom. (My favorite one imitated the scent of gold … in a game where dwarves could smell gold.) Important facts, such as things in the village like rescusing people, should have been presented in an overview section, etc, to introduce how the village was meant to work, etc. Same for the wilderness section, which just has section headings.

You can write adventures to make money. You can write adventures that are actually this kind of novel-thing that most fall in to. Or you can write adventures meant to be run ta the table. If you’re gonna do that then THINK. Question the core assumptions that have led you to think that more is better.

This is $3 at DriveThru. The previs is twelve pages! Nice! Pages five and six show you begging farmers to be allowed to play D&D tonight. Page seven shows you a VERY long inn entry that fails at transferring information to the DM efficiently and effectively … as well as Ye Olde Mayor’s Tower … that you have no way of knowing without digging in. The last page of the preview shows you some of the developments/advice for the unexpected. Overall, a good preview, with the writing typical of what you should expect to see in the rest of the adventure …
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/257361/The-Priest-the-Witch-and-the-Lost-Temple-An-Adventure

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Pollute the Elfen Memory Water

Wed, 12/05/2018 - 12:16

By Michael Raston
Gorgzu Games
OSR
Level … 4?

Dude from Lizardmandiaries wrote Tower of the Weretoads and I liked it, so I’m taking a chance on something that seems Eberron-like … also, I need to apologize to a guy who loves Eberron, so this is part of that. So … yeah. This is pretty fucked up right here.

This nineteen page adventure details a small building in a town suburb that the party is tasked with infiltrating to corrupt a shipment of water. It’s evocative, terse, well-organized AND BAT SHIT FUCKING CRAZY. Danger Wil Robinson; Bryce likes Gonzo!

Eberron, fantasy-punk, Misty Isles of the Eid Fantasy2/Madlands … anywhere you can have some corrupt elves and/or a a fucked up city (Drow or demon city, anyone?) you can put this thing in.

I don’t even know how to begin. Your client is “Equis Jud, makers of fine magical robes and assorted garments. They work aboard a converted prison hulk, a monstrosity of wrought iron. It churns along The White River, polluting it with magical effluent.” The Equis is a guild/business which … “Equis Jud is composed entirely of eymen, brittle, fragile people – vaguely humanoid but having heads of pure round eyeball orbs. They are always heavily armoured, wearing long full body chain suits and thick ornate helmets to cover their delicate all seeing heads. Communication is conducted through lip shaped amulets that speak on behalf of the eymen.” You’re given some vials to corrupt the water shipment, they are “will supply the party with a small bottle of red liquid in a bull shaped glass bottle. The eyes are tiny green gems.” The elven memory water jars (the things to be corrupted) are “Memory Water Jar: A glass container, about half the size of a barrel, filled with milky water. A braid of writhing pink tendrils stoppers the container while dipping into the liquid and splaying out the top.” AND THATS ALL ON THE FIRST FUCKING PAGE.

Ignoring, if you can, the more gonzo elements, and focus on how the writing cements images in your mind. The memory water. It’s not just a barrel, it’s a glass jar HALF the size of a barrel. Milky water. And that’s all before the tentacle stopper is reached. These are quick little elements that go just a little bit extra. We’re not dealing with your standard barrell. This is more. This is different. All of that is signaled through the description. It’s short. It stands out to the DM and the players. The ship “pollutes with magical effluent.” That’s so much more interesting than a boat on a river. All ships pollute, but by calling attention to it it really raises the bar of the description. The ship is not big, or large, or even huge, it’s a hulk, a monstrosity. This is the power of the language to go beyond the generic and in to the evocative to cement imagery and overload the description. If all you’ve taken from that is “Bryce likes gonzo” then you are a fool. Generic != Vanilla. This sort of writing is EXACTLY the sort of stuff I want to pay for. THIS is adding value.

The factory sits in a suburb, a little map of about thirty locations. Each one get a one or two sentence description. First, good inclusion of the neighborhood. This is a kind of caper mission, and the neighboring locations are always important for that sort of thing. Second, the locations don’t overstay their welcome. Location is 1 “Manbat infestation crawling along the ceiling of a semi flooded hovel, additional cockroach crab infestation in black filthy water.” Well, there’s something you don’t see in many adventures. Not your style? How about a merchant then? “Oam Mu, Black eyes, wears cloak of birds, untold cages of catlike animals available for purchase. Convinced Jzzkk the scrabmen running the eatery (22) is stealing, cooking and eating his cats. Willing to pay for him to be killed.” These are GUD. Again, don’t focus on the gonzo. They are short and yet they communicate everything you need to run them. There’s something of a physical or quirk to roleplay the NPC, and something to interact with when the party shows up. It’s focused on play. Some of them involve other locations, giving the play more life, a connectedness, than it would otherwise have. All in about a page and a half.

The rooms, proper, of the factory, give a one line description and then bullet point out the rest. Room five tells us:
5. Frigid and icy. Vegetation here is dead and withered. Blocks of ice stacked against wall.
* Pink tendril worms frozen in blocks of ice.
* Some blocks have melted and pink tendril worms either wriggle slowly half frozen or plop onto the frigid ground.

Note how it moves the from the general description, as the first line, to the additional lines providing more info if the party looks closer. The wanderer table has them engaged in some activity. The rando flowers on the wall get a little rando table. The monsters have short descriptions, with goals and motivations clear and terse, the writing focused on party interactivity.

I might note that the map is a bit crude, and could use a little more detail. One point of the roof is caved in. Imagine the party in the sky looking down and asking what they see and the DM digging through the adventure keys, reading each one, trying to figure out what to tell them. By putting major details on the map you know what to look at in the keys and focus on.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a currently suggested price of $1. There’s no preview. AND NO SUGGESTED LEVEL. Grrrr…. Hey, how about throwing the consumer a bone?
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/256196/Pollute-the-Elfen-Memory-Water

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Arrival at Fort Perilous

Mon, 12/03/2018 - 12:15


By John Leeper
Grey Goblin Games
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 1-3

On the border between wilderness and civilization, Fort Perilous stands, keeping watch and holding the forces of Chaos at bay. Your heroes find themselves in the fort, drawn into the battles between civilization and monsters, between Law and Chaos.

This thirty page adventure describes a home base/fort, the region, and three dungeons with about seventy rooms between them. It’s ok, but tends to the UNREMARKABLE side of the evocativeness spectrum, with it being just a hair more than minimalist in its descriptions.

The fort/home base takes about three pages to describe: one for the map, one for the buildings, and one for the NPC’s. That’s pretty fucking terse. It doesn’t fuck around … either good or bad. The fort locations are all generic, in content if not in attempt. An armory, where things can be bought, sold and repaired. Ok. A church of law, with “five clerics” that provide healing. A paragraph for each of ten locations is about a paragraph too much for each location, as written. It could use a little more that’s not “the usual borderlands fort.”

The NPC’s fare a little better, with a state block, physical appearance and a personality that provides enough to run them but doesn’t overstay its welcome. The chief wizard looks like a bank clerk, is crotchety and grumpy, but interested in magic and arcane topics. That’ll do. A little bolding of important words, over the two pages of NPC’s, would have done wonders to help the DM pick out the keywords while scanning the text.

The region has about sixteen or so locations not fully detailed, each with a short paragraph giving the DM the barest of outlines. It’s enough to fill in the blanks and provide an occasional bit of an idea to help the DM kick off further adventures.

The three dungeons are the star of show here, or are meant to be. They feature orcs, hobgoblins, and gnolls, with a few other things thrown in to keep things lively.

It’s boring.

Look, I know people like to misinterpret what I say. It helps them carve out a niche for their own ideologies. It’s the whole generic/vanilla thing again. Generic Bad while Vanilla can be good. The adventure doesn’t have to be full of explosions. It doesn’t have to be gonzo. I doesn’t need any of that shit … but it does have to have SOMETHING. Let’s boil this right down to the core: if a typical room is “3 orcs” is that a good room? No, it’s not. It’s Vampire Palace level descriptions in 2018. If you’re putting that shit in then you’re engaged in some kind of performance art or making some kind of point. I don’t need a point made. I need some fucking content that helps me run the fucking adventure. Now, that’s a rather extreme example, but let’s look at a description from this adventure:

“Larder: This room has 2 orcs and 1 orc leader. The normal orcs have shields and hand axes. The leader has a shield and longsword. Hanging from the ceiling are a variety of dead animals, including deer, half a cow, rabbits and birds.”

This is just one step beyond the minimal keying. The only additional detail is the dead animals, and, while an attempt, is not the soul of evocativeness. The entire adventure is like this. I appreciate the attempt at terse writing, but not to the extent it is in this adventure. The adventure needs to have something to hang its hat on, or, more correctly, for the DM to hang their hat on. There should be SOMETHING for the DM to riff off of. Without it you’ve got what is essentially a minimally keyed adventure and I’m not fucking paying for that. That’s not adding value. If a random monster generator online can generate your dungeon then why are you charging for it?

The answer is not the minimally keyed dungeon. The answer is not the expanded minimalism of describing the mundane contents of rooms. The answer is not the endless room descriptions that plague other products, clogging them up like a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich. (Mmmm. 60 pounds of impacted fecal colon sandwich …) There’s a middle fucking ground. Terse, but evocative. Something for the DM to use without sending them in a Joyce-like pit of text.

This ain’t it.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The only preview is that shitty “quick” one they offer and it doesn’t even work.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/258956/FP1-Arrival-at-Fort-Perilous

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) World’s End Masque & Ball

Sat, 12/01/2018 - 12:04


By Luke Pullen
Black Lamp Games
5e
Level 1 pregens

Some say the world is ending. At the muddy end of a fruitless harvest, famine and plague stalk the land. The armies of darkness gather on the horizon. And tonight is the night of a lunar eclipse, the time when the astrologers predict a world-devouring evil will be born. For one group of decadent aristocrats, there is clearly only one possible course of action: lock themselves inside a castle, throw a masquerade, get loaded, and dabble in black magic. For a group of desperate adventurers, the masquerade is a chance to set things right. But on a night like this, they may get more than they bargained for…

This is a twenty page one-shot social adventure set during a masquerade ball. While it uses 5e, it could easily be adapted to just about any setting or ruleset. It needs just one more good PUSH to get it out of the mediocrity gate and in to the Good category.

This is more of an outline of an adventure … which works quite well for a kind of open-ended social setting. You get a one-page summary list of about twenty NPC’s, with a quirk, a goal, and an opening line of dialog to set the scene. You get a one page map of the castle with about twenty rooms and just over a page of description for those twenty rooms. You get a short timeline, of four hours, with what happens at each of those four hourly marks. And then you get some pregens, each of which has a goal to accomplish. This is all presented in a pretty compact way.

Thus the adventure is very open ended. It’s the DM responding to the party members as they attempt to achieve their characters goals, while using the NPC and castle map resources, as well as the events, to spice up the adventure and respond.

The NPC resources provided are pretty good. FOr example, a guy in a goat mask has the opening line “Why, aren’t you pretty?”, who’s named Kazimir, is a courtier, and wants to climb the social/power ladder. It’s a terse set of qualities that you can use together riff off of to provide the flavor you need.

Likewise the room descriptions. Room six is a “Boudoir” with a two bullet point description: “Women’s’ rooms. Baroness Koranye and Marchioness Ungern drink wine and chat quietly while looking out the window. They have much to say. Intruders are welcomed.” -and, as a kind of dialog- “I had the strangest dream. There was this egg—this great egg, cold and white like marble, at the bottom of the black lake. And then it was here. Really here! I touched it—it was cold. So cold. The egg can touch you back—did you know that?” It has something going on that the party can interact with. It deals with the “intruders” aspect, and it has a little bit of dialog to give the DM the flavor of the encounter/conversation … that’s also relevant to the various party member goals.

It does have me questioning, though, some of the decisions made. First, the party doesn’t know each other. I’ve seen this be disastrous in many a con game, from time wasting, and bored players waiting their turn to conflict. (Intra-party conflict is a big nono in Bryce games. It’s one of my most important table rules: you need to work together.)

The pregens are also a little lacking in the motivation department. “Find your lover and get them out alive.” is one of them. I feel like there was something missing about “tell the DM who your lover is and how they went missing”, either as explicit instructions for the DM/player or as an embedded backstory for that PC. Most of the party is like that. A couple more words would have solved that.

Weather it works or not, as an adventure, I don’t know. A lot depends on the DM. A lot ALWAYS depends on the DM, in every adventure. This is so true that I explicitly ignore it in my adventures, concentrating on “helping the DM run it.” I FEEL like there’s just a little bit more missing from it. A little more in the way of events, conversation, NPC’s based around the party motivations. As is it feels a little TOO open ended.

This is free on DriveThru. The preview is four pages and shows you nothing at all of the adventure. Then again, it’s free.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/257611/Worlds-End-Masque–Ball

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Bogey of Brindle

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 12:14


By Lloyd Metcalf
Fail Squad Games
OSRIC
Level 2-3

The celebration of Firstfeast is upon the good folk of Westwego, and just as the smell of cakes and pies are warming up, you find yourselves among the bootlegging goblins of Brindle. Can you save Westwego? What about the celebration? What about the hooch!?

This 38 page adventure features a nineteen room dungeon full of kobolds and a small amount of outside the dungeon play. The dungeon environment is nicely varied and it feels like some effort was put in to creating encounters that would not just be “empty room with a monster in it to stab.” The read-aloud is clumsy and the room descriptions drag out for too long but the core elements are solid. It looks like the designer picked up some bad habits that need broken, but otherwise has good ideas.

It feels like the designer thought about each room for five minutes longer than usual, and that shows in the payoff. Everything in this is at least a bit above average (ie: crap) and most quite a bit. The hook included. The village religious feastday is approaching, but the tobacco and booze has not arrived from a nearby village. The pious church hates the sin of the booze & smoking, etc, but they LUV the taxes it generates, so they get the party to try and find the shipment/go to the nearby village. How’s that for a hook? It’s fun, embraces a little bit of medievalism (the feastday, the church) and also the hypocrisy. Further, it covers what happens if the hook is refused … the nearby village shows up and camps outside Westwego, hoping for additional protection from the bogeys that plague them. A hook refused, and offered again! Nice job on this. It drones on WAY too long for what you get/need, but it also illustrates how the adventure takes just an extra step … which turns it from generic to interesting.

The rooms of the dungeon, proper, also do this. The entrance cave has an ice cold stream (with some small rules for hypothermia) running out of it. It ends in a whirlpool, a passage on the other side. There’s a concealed passage under whirlpool (Yeah! Concealed! I love it when designers put something JUST around a corner. It rewards non-jaded play) that leads to the main cave lair. That passage on the other side has a natural pool in it … and piercers on the ceiling. It fits. It works. The pool/water is a distraction. The piercers fit naturally. The entire three room entrance areas FEELS right. Natural, mysterious. Things fall off from this high point as the kobold lair, proper, is reached, but it still maintains its above average effort.

I can pick this one apart on a hundred different points. The neighboring village is a goblin village. I’m not sure why this is. Making them goblins instead of humans doesn’t seem to add anything to the adventure and, as always, I think misuse of humanoids detracts from the overall impact humanoids can have on the party. They are also presented as comical. The same weird-ass New Jersey mob dialect that comic humanoids ALWAYS get, as well as comic antics. Again, I don’t get it. What’s wrong with stupid humans? This whole style is a turnoff to me, although I recognize its more of a personal preference thing.

There’s also some references to “throwing traps at the party” in the overland portion. I HATE this shit. It seems to break the player/DM contract and there’s an element of “guiding the story” inherent to it that I VEHEMENTLY disagree with. I’m ok with “1 in 6 chance per turn of a trap” but not “throw traps at the party until you feel like not doing it anymore.” Go figure. Or kobolds with perfect party knowledge who always attack under the cover of darkness in ambush while the party is resting. Yes, it makes sense … but the party should also be getting a detection bone thrown at them, at a minimum.

And there’s the emphasis on dimensions in the read-aloud, a pet peeve of mine. Telling us that a room is 20×20 and that a 15’ section of the floor is covered in pipeweed breaks immersion. COmmunicate the feel of the room and then RESPOND to the party when they ask how big a section is covered by pipeweed. “You walk it out, it’s about 15’ square.” There’s a back and forth between the DM and party that is a critical part of play, which when combined with the fact-based dimension read-aloud makes me down on dimensions and precision in read-aloud. The game should be about mystery and the unknown, not a flood of perfect knowledge.

The little vignettes go on a little too long, and most of the villagers could use a one or two line interesting tidbit to augment them, but, it’s not a bad adventure. It’s just not a good one either.

This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is worthless, at three pages, showing you absolutely nothing but the table of contents.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/256996/Bogey-of-Brindle–1E-OSRIC

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dead God Excavation

Mon, 11/26/2018 - 12:16


Venger As’Nas Satanis
Kort’thalis Publishing
Crimson Dragon Slayer
Levels 1-3

A fifteen page non-adventure calling itself an adventure. One door, one room, a couple of NPC’s to interacts with. Didn’t Venger write a “How to write adventures” book? Yes, yes he did. Exhibits A & B in the buying things from DriveThru. Really, the jokes on me. His pitch for a review was more manipulative than his usual “PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE REVIEW MY ADVENTURE PLEASE.” I knew it was a front and did it anyway. I just didn’t realize how bad it was.

So, yeah, it’s an archeology thing. Nobles and laborers are gathered around a recently unearthed big iron door. Carnivals, circuses, archeology expeditions, museums, post offices, DMV’s, sewers … it’s like the imaginations of the designers are bankrupt. I’m waiting for the circus archeology (or archeology circus?) adventure.

Which is not to say that the core social aspects of the nobles, sages, laborers, priest and sorcerer NPCs is bad. Quite the contrary, a group of fuckwith NPC’s each with different motivations hanging around the party while they do something dangerous tugs at my DM heartstrings. It brings the roleplay and involves a kind of push your luck mechanism with how much shit the party is going to take and/or how they are going to use the resources that a few extra bodies provide … Or, it COULD do that, if it were written well. Venger tries. You get that he’s trying to set this up with a bunch of different NPC’s hanging around, offering advice, getting in to trouble, etc. That is, if you squirt pretty hard and you see that. It comes across on a couple of pages, about a paragraph or so per NPC ending with a one line motivation. I’m going to address Venger directly now: Hey, dipshit, I know you read these reviews. Stop making the same mistakes over and over again. Put in a fucking summary sheet for the NPC’s. Stick in the name and a couple of words for motivation, characteristic, etc. That way I don’t have to keep turning back to the NPC pages and digging through the stupid text to find something worthy for them to say/do. See, if it were all on one page then I could attach it to my DM screen and look at it on the fly and see everyone in one glance and get some real nice interaction shit going on. And while I’m at it, if the NPC’s are supposed to be a big part of the adventure then give them a couple of things to do. Have the laborers smuggle in a couple of liquor bottles, or play the lotto, or a full tea service for the nobles or some such. You don’t need to drag it out, four or five words per. But its your job to help prompt the DM to action, giving them tools to work with. “Bob is a jackass.” is a little too open ended. Sure, it works, but if he’s a face talker with odious body scent/personal habits .. AND useful, all the better.

Ok, so, there’s this door. You open the door and there’s a room beyond with a dead god in it and a couple of other things to fuck around with. That’s it, that’s the adventure. Oh, and every fifteen minutes you take 1d6 damage from acid drips from the ceiling. And every fifteen minutes you have a 50% chance of just dying from some d6 table. That’s fun, right? Actually, I don’t mind the acid drips; it’s minor and encourages the party to find a way around it. The whole “evil effects while in the tomb” table, though, needs to go. It discourages exploration and interaction. Not cool. I get it, dangerous environment. But NOT exploring an erupting volcano is not fun.

Venger also puts shit in the wrong order. E’s got such a hard on for describing the dead god, and its effects, that he puts the room description elements FAR down in the adventure. Hey, first n the description is what the party see/encounters first. Then you expand it later on. You put what the DM needs first as the first thing the DM sees. Otherwise I have to read a page of text before I run the room. I’m not reading a page of your text at the table.

And what’s with the names dude? Miss Forgotten Realms much? Voss’th Ekk, Chanz Kol, grok-nods, Zirnakanan. I guess Forgotten Realms isn’t the only place where random letter generators are used for names. Next time try some names WITHOUT apostrophes in them?

He’s got some decent alien/demon magic items and At one point, when characters open a book, a woman screams at the same time … because she thought she saw a spider. Nice. That’s the kind of local colour I like to see.

Didn’t I like a Venger product in the past? Islands of Purple, maybe? Dude, what happened? Is this a money play or something else?

Get it together man. This thing needed a fuck ton more editing to tighten it up and expand it a bit.

This is $2.50 at DriveThru. The beginning of the preview shows your the NPC’s. They are not bad, they just need the summary sheet and a couple of prompts for causing trouble. The end of the preview shows you the “random death and damage” shit from when you are in the tomb. The middle shows you the, essentially, preprogrammed events at the start of the start when the party arrives. Sage touches tomb, gets headache, sorcerer shows up and warns everyone off, etc.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/232344/Dead-God-Excavation

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) The Worthless Shrines – Part 2

Sat, 11/24/2018 - 12:14


By Daniel Casey
Self-Published
5e
Levels 3-6

A promise from a mysterious mage, to grant any Wish if they discover the mysteries of long forgotten civilization, sends a party of adventurers into the far north…

What goes for ten dollars?
Well, whaddya want for ten dollars?
I want something different, I want something special.
Oh no, honey, not for ten bucks.

This 36 page adventure depresses me. It’s a linear plot-based thing, full of forced combats and do-nothing skill checks. Yeah, I bought it because of the cover, but I’m a stupid sucker for marketing and can’t ever learn my lesson.

First the goo, and it comes in two parts. The hook here is that you’re hired by a wizard professor to research/explore some mounds, with a Wish spell for each as a reward. Woah! That’ll make me sit up and take notice. post-oD&D doesn’t give out enough wishes. Neutral D&D means killing players, far more often than happens these days. But it also means resurrects, geas, and wish spells should be more common. Professor Dipshit is a moron, wanting to gain knowledge to rise on the colleges ranks … which appeals to me as an academic and as a guy who plays a lot of wizards makes me think “if you can cast five wish spells in a row, why not just wish yourself some knowledge/tenure?” Premise aside, the rewards are great. It’s the kind of hook that motivates the players rather than the characters, and those are the best kinds.

The magical treasure is also above average. Shambling Mound tap roots, a coutl feather, a faerie dragon wing cloak … they are mechanical, with advantages on saves and so on, but they also don’t drone on with multiple paragraphs of text describing them; one or two sentences and they are done. There’s an emphasis on monster parts, which both appeals to me and makes me wonder how many players still mine them? I suspect they will need some prompting.

Nothing else positive to say.

There are no maps. The directions and descriptions are all embedded in the text. This is shitty. A map is a wonderful thing, even a diagram/drawing would have oriented the DM better. As is, you have the text to find information. Here’s two examples of how the text attempts to provide a map: “Entering the mound, the party will immediately see several chambers branching off the central hall that meanders the length of the barrow.” and “The left chamber has two stone platforms upon each is a well- wrapped, ancient looking corpse.” Dude, just a picture with a pencil and include it. That would have much much clearer.

Which leads me to the next point: it’s ALL stream of consciousness plot based. You go from point a to point b to point c, being led by your nose, with the text not even provisioning much separation. It’s all just this happens then this happens then this happens then this happens then this happens. This is the hallmark of the DM TELLING A STORY style. AKA: one of the worst sins possible in adventure design. More so than most plot-based adventures, the text is a mess of stream of consciousness, making it hard to follow. It’s not organized AT ALL.

Finally, what would a shitty adventure be without meaningless skill checks? Not as shitty, self-evidently! Make a DC12 check to notice the path is getting overgrown, even though it becomes impossible to move through. Make a DC12 to follow a bears path .. or don’t find the pool of water you’re looking for. Make a DC15 to notice that …” they will realize the bear hadn’t just fought them making its way to the pond and that the plants around them are corrupted.” Actually, I have no idea what that text is trying to say/do. A satyr (who runs the bar in town; magical ren-faire much? I thought the world was supposed to be full of wonder. Next thing you know Drow will sleep on pallets and wool blankets) digs up an egg and you need a DC15 for him to explain what it is. What happens elsewise? Who knows! The adventure doesn’t continue!

It’s all confusing and not through out AT ALL. The satyr digs up the egg, but then it somehow becomes party treasure. What? SO he placed a shambling mound to guard it and then just gives it to the party, I guess. Oh, and there’s a magical couatl grove somewhere next to town, where the next part of the adventure takes place. But the Kenku village the town lawman is worried about gets no more mention. WTF man? PROVE RESOURCES TO THE DM. It’s the first rule of adventure design: help the DM run it.

I could bitch about a thousand small things, like including full stat blocks for NPC’s the party will probably not stab while choosing to bury their personalities in the text. Orient the adventure to the DM. If they are unlike to stab it then put it in an appendix, or summarize it, and put the fucking personality in the stat block so it stands out to the DM.

“4 will o’the wisps attack.” Really? That’s what it come to? A will o’the wisp is just a monster to hack down? There’s no soul. No leading them to the quicksand, or the dwarf smelling gold (one of my personal favorite will o’ moments I’ve seen.) or ANYTHING romantic or adventurous, just something else to stab.

Let me suggest that “kill the monsters and take their stuff” is a much more fitting tagline for modern D&D than it is for older styles of play. Older D&D embodies a spirit of romanticism that Blue Rose can only dream of in tortured opium visions.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a current suggested price of $1. There’s no preview, otherwise you’d never but it. Worthless indeed.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/257474/The-Worthless-Shrines-Part-2-A-Red-Banks-Adventure?src=newest&filters=45326_2110_0_0_0

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

D.A.M.N. Magazine – Sprint/Summer 2018 – Demon Serpent of Balmosphos

Wed, 11/21/2018 - 12:24


The Demon Serpent of Balmorphos, daniel j bishop
Daniel J Bishop
DCC
Low Levels

Derp! I bought a 116 page DCC magazine. Un-derp! It’s pretty interesting. I also have a headache this morning.

DCC magazine with the usual set of DCC magazine things, like patrons and a bestiary. It’s also got three adventures in it. One is quite short, and I shall not mention it again. A second, “Cannibal Tiger Women of Tsaru” is about fifty pages and involves several groups and areas, making it almost a hex crawl without hexes. (Great art though!) Dense, I’m not going to cover it. The third (which is the first in the issue) is the first part of a megadungeon.

“Demon Serpent of Balmosphos”, by Daniel Bishop, is a forty five room dungeon with two levels and four theming areas ,in about thirty pages. It pushes my buttons in read-aloud, italics, and verbosity, but never goes off the deep end. Usually. What it does have is that DCC charm, which is kind of like a good OD&D thing turned up to 11.

Daniel does a good job with sprinkling the text with little tidbits that make the dungeon come alive. Early on you find a boot … that still has a rotting left foot in it. Little bits like that are scattered throughout the rooms. They don’t quite fall in to the trivia category because they do such a good job in setting mood and conveying it to the party.

The read aloud runs from about three to six sentences, in italics. I don’t like long sections of italics, I think it’s hard to read. I don’t like hard to read. My eyes glaze over. This read aloud almost always starts te same way: with a sentence on dimensions. “The door opens into a dusty space some 30 feet wide and 40 feet deep, vaulted to a height of 12 feet.” Yes, it completionist, since the read-aloud is meant to read to the party, but it has NEVER made sense to me to put that shit in the text. You’ve got a map, right? Anyway, the read-aloud, except for those points, is not too bad. Toom two tells us “Jumbles of bones and cast-off bits of detritus lie in the corners of this area. The uneven flagstones sag in the middle of the floor, as though from subsidence in the depths. You can hear the distant trickle of water from somewhere deep underground. The whole area smells of dry reptile musk, rotting meat, and sulfur.” That’s pretty good. Smells, sounds, good use of adjectives. It absolutely creates a good mental picture and that’s what I’m looking for in a room description.

The DM text then follows, and uses paragraph breaks and whitespace to good effect. Each thing mentioned in the read-aloud generally gets its own paragraph. That makes it easy to scan to find things to follow up on as the players explore. IE: it’s helping the DM run the adventure, which is what its supposed to do.

Treasure and monsters are exactly what you expect of DCC: good. There’s this magic ring that may cause a devil to show up to retrieve it t some point in the future. Further, if you kill the devil, you get a respite for awhile while the bureaucracy of hell catches up. Hey! You just got some roleplaying notes for said devil! Perfect. Monsters also get some good descriptions. “The Balmorphos Serpent is a 50-foot long viper with hard brass scales and a head shaped like a blunt arrowhead. Its eyes glow red in the darkness. It smells of reptile musk, but its hissing breath reeks of sulfur (not unlike the smell of a struck match or rotting eggs) … transparent green venom drips from its fangs.” Great imagery, lots of USEFUL detail, meaning its oriented towards what the party will interact with and see/smell, rather than trivia on its background, etc. Bonus points: when you kill it a demon crawls out its mouth, getting larger. Then it bitches about missing it’s little lemurs first day of school before it goes home. Nice.

Which is a good transition in to the encounters proper. Written in a neutral format, not gimping players, things to talk to that don’t always attack and some semblance, because of the four themed areas, of factions. Daniel puts in some good advice for the DM here and there, mentioning things like how to remove giant snake skin and some hints about boiling water damage in a stream before the entire 10d6 damage is received by people who ignore the initial signs.

DCC adventures can be a bit linear, but this one, with 3.5 roots, is not. What it does lack, though, is a little attention to the warriors. DCC rooms needs a little bit more in them so warriors can perform Might Deeds. No chandeliers and barren rooms can make things hard on the warriors. Not every room needs to be a parkour playground, but more attention to this area would have been good.

Even with my read-aloud bitching I’m happy to pay for just this adventure.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview just shows you editorial and interview shit, and not any of the adventure text. BAD DCC WRITERS! YOUR PATRON IS DISPLEASED.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/248505/DAMN-Magazine–Spring-Summer-2018–Fisher-Cover

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Tomb of Harven Half-Skull

Mon, 11/19/2018 - 12:22


By Joseph Bloch
BRW Games
AD&D
Levels 3-4

A hundred years ago, the pirate king Harven Half-Skull was buried with his ill-gotten booty in a secret tomb. Your band of adventurers have a map that claims to show the final resting place of the pirate king, and you’re off to claim his loot. But the dead do not rest easy…

This ten page tomb dungeon has twenty two rooms in three pages, and features undead and water themes, it being the tomb off a pirate king. Workmanlike in its design and presentation, it does a good job of emulating the style of the early AD&D adventures: short rooms with not much fucking around in the writing.

The pyramid tomb is a favorite of designers. Except this time it’s not a pyramid but a sea cave And it’s not egyptian but a pirate. But, still, tomb with undead, traps and some loot.

This adventure emulates the style of the older AD&D adventure, G1, S1, and so on. The descriptions are workmanlike and to the point. The rooms are not too complicated, te writing not that inspired, and everything with a briske style.Room six tells us “There is a colony of green slime on the ceiling at this point.” and that’s it. The underground river tells us that “This is a fresh-water river that flows into the sea a half-mile northeast of the tomb. Except in areas #7, #10, and #16-19, there is no air above the surface; the river completely fills the tunnels. It has a slow current moving from the southwest to the northeast.” I don’t know how to label this style. It’s not exactly fact-based, I tend to use that (negatively) for styles that emphasize things like “the statue sits on a dias 6.3cm high with a diameter of 2.6 meters.” It’s not expanded minimalism either; that’s reserved for people who offer too many mundane details in their room descriptions. This is, insead, a kind of, oh, I don’t know, baseline room description? It tends to the terse style, concentrates on what you need to run the room, mostly, and doesn’t tend to embellish much at all.

It is that lack of embellishment that I have problems with. Adventure writing is such a tightrope. There are so many ways to go wrong. The adventure does nothing wrong (mostly). It also does nothing to recommend itself. This style, and thus this adventure, does nothing to make me want to run it. It comes off ass … dry? Dry isn’t right, that’s a different design sin. I just don’t care about it. This is clearly not a disaster, I don’t feel cheated (as I usually do when I’m spouting profanity.) My expectations have not been crushed. I just don’t care about running this. I know there’s a segment out there that worships early T$R adventures and like this style. I don’t get it. It seems like nostalgia worship to me. I don’t need laser pistols, gonzo elements or grim dark to make me like something, but you gotta have SOMETHING … and that’s what this lacks. Something to make you want to run it.

I can quibble with some of the choices made. That green slime encounter is nothing special AT ALL. I’d like to see it kicked up a bit, a little more evocative, better word choices. Certain rooms (Fresco Room, I’m looking at you. You too Shrine Room) could use another pass at the editing to tighten up the descriptions. They either get too wordy or they don’t put the most important things near the top of the description. [Things the DM needs first go high in the description and expanded details go lower.] I don’t see an editor attached. If that’s the case then Joe did a decent job by himself, and clearly has some vision of what he wants, but lacks the outside eyeballs and detachment that a good editor can provide. Not that there are many good editors, so I’m speaking academically of course.

It’s pretty clear Joe understands how certain D&D elements work. There is a chamber you can only get to by following the (completely submerged) underground river … with a shelf high up with a body and a magic item. In another area there are keys hanging underneath a bridge the party crosses over. Rewarding exploration and people that go a little bit farther is good design. Likewise, he’s got a golden crown with jewels with magic powers … and has an EGO/is intelligent … and a bit evil. This is a great item. First, it;s the kind of thing that the part will keep and adds to the fun of future adventures as someone wears it around all the time, in town, in the tavern etc. Second, it’s intelligent, which again gives you more hooks in the future to play with. Third, its evil and so the party has some FUN moral issues to sort out. Arguing about orc babies is not fun. What to do with a SLIGHTLY evil magic item IS fun. Or maybe that’s just my obsession is the Eye and Hand.

I will say that there is something weird going on with the undead; I don’t think they are a challenge? This is for Adventures Dark and Deep, which I’m going to assume is an AD&D clone and follows AD&D turning. This is also for levels 3-4 … and has more than a few challenges with skeletons in it. Don’t they turn on like a … 4 or something, or auto-turn? That’s not really an encounter at all … but maybe its supposed to be that way? Turning undead in D&D doesn’t work, I think. Even at low levels skeletons are not a threat if you have a cleric. That’s too bad. They are a classic monster and deserve more love. Even Gygax knew they were broken, with his +1 amulets in the Borderlands.

Anyway, hey Joe, time to return from your vaudeville show. Now that you can emulate old D&D you might try kicking things up a bit. Kick up those rooms descriptions a notch or two. No need for more words, generally, just better word choice. That green slime encounter, for example. A little more evocative to make people excited to run it .. .by which I mean putting a strong image in to their heads.

This is $2.50 at DriveThru. The preview is one page and show you the first eight or so rooms. Which is exactly what a preview SHOULD do, giving you the ability to understand what you’re actually buying. You can check out the Fresco room, room three, to see what I mean about the need to tighten up the writing in places, and the rest of the rooms show the workmanlike writing style.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/257274/The-Tomb-of-Harven-HalfSkull

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) The Burning Goblins

Sat, 11/17/2018 - 12:21


By Mark Bowen
Blue Sword Games
5e
Level 1

he most recent raid by The Burning Ones goblin tribe has left the village of Greendale in a state of uproar. The miller’s daughter has been kidnapped and the mayor has put out a call for adventurers to hunt down the goblins and find the missing girl. But is there more to these raids than meets the eye? Why are the goblins burnt and timid? Only a strong band of heroes will be able to find the answers and save the girl from a gruesome death.

Why me?

This is a fourteen page adventure in a goblin lair with a dragon in it. Massive reaD-aloud, lame treasure, “maps as art” …is this really mainstream D&D?

The party is dumped in to the adventure, rescuing the millers daughter from the tribe of goblins that raided the nearby village. I guess the local manorial lord is absent again or can’t be bothered, so the mayor has the party dp the job. Seriously, what’s the point of taxes? It being local elections, let me note that the job of the mayor is to fill the potholes, remove the snow, time the traffic lights, and keep goblins from abducting important peoples daughters. I’m absolutely certain is a chaotic good act for the party to depose the mayor and collect taxes themselves. They can’t be any worse than this guy … who doesn’t actually exist except as an abstract concept in the column long read-aloud.

Well, there is an option for having the party hang out in town. You have to succeed in a skill check to have the townfolk tell you anything. a) this is stupid because the party are helping the townfolk. b) this is stupid because what are you supposed to do if they fail the roll? Oh, you’ll just fudge it and tell the party anyway? THEN WHY NOT DO THAT IN THE FIRST FUCKING PLACE?!?!?! It’s like the designers don’t actually think about or run their own adventures.

Back to Ye Olde Reade Aloude. People don’t listen to read aloud. WOTC even write an article about it. Two to three sentences is all you get then people stop paying attention. And yet, adventure after adventure does it. Why? Because they learned that it’s the”right/” way to things from others … including official product. Hey, Mearls, how about fixing this? Don’t Adept anything that uses more than three sentences of read aloud. Then people will learn new behaviours and I’ll have to find a new reason to drink. Like the crushing realization that life is meaningless. I think that’s traditional, anyway.

So … the goblins live in a cave. The cave is a linear map with six rooms. That’s fun, right!!! Linear! Six rooms! Oh, and there’s no grid, it’s just a “pretty” art piece. I say pretty because its not. Seriously, what was the point of the map? You know … the fucking pit trap isn’t even on the map. That’s right, the big old X is missing from the map. Who the fuck doesn’t put the pit trap on the map? Someone with little concern/knowledge of how to help the DM at the table, that’s who.

The tunnel with little no value items in it has a magnifying glass, a greatclub, and healing potions. Uh huh.

Who wants to guess how many goblins are n the goblin tribes lair cave complex? No, zero is wrong. It has four. Three at the entrance and one old frail goblin inside. That’s it. That’s a goblin lair. Those are the goblins that raided the village and everyone is in fear of.

Oh, the cave does have their leader in it, a dragon. Yes, a large dragon. That’s the goblin leader. He’s in the cave.

I’ve seen this in other modern adventures and have not commented … whats with slapping high level monsters on low level adventurers? Trolls at first level, etc. When do people fight skeletons? Is harryhausen dead? Why are you putting a fucking dragon in a level one adventure? Why not just put asmodeus in and call it a day? Is it the 5e power curve? I don’t get it. What happened to stirge and fire beetles? No, I’m not being old, I’m talking about power curves and character growth. Oh, and the dragon knocks people unconscious. WTF man?

Yes, you CAN sell out the villagers and offer the dragon tribute, and even gain the dragon as an ally in the future. THAT is genuinely a good thing.

Perhaps my greatest disappointment in this adventure, which is full of them, is a certain magic item. The only one worth mentioning. A disk, with writing in infernal, on how to soul bind to create soldiers for the “Grand Army.” And that’s it. It’s not actually a magic item or has value. The dragon knd of wants it, if it knows the party has it. That’s it. Man, what a lost opportunity. Let the fucking make some zombies man! Or grow some! What fun!

Just another adventure from someone who didn’t actually think any about their adventure.

This is free at DriveThru. As such I’m too lazy to talk about the preview.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/156433/The-Burning-Goblins-Old-Version

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Campfire Tale

Wed, 11/14/2018 - 12:17


By Mark Craddock
Cross Planes Games Studio
Black Hack/Labyrinth Lord
Levels 1-3

Uh ….

This eleven page “adventure’ details one encounter, a forest clearing. I think not.This review is going to suck because there’s nothing in this “adventure” to review.

The publishers blurb says “introductory adventure” and “levels one through three.” In this case “adventure” means one forest clearing that a naga attacks in to while the party is camping. Then a hag shows up to attack also. The end.

Yeah. Level one. A naga AND a hag. 3HD and 4HD. There’s this certain aesthetic in old school play that overpowered encounters are ok, and I agree with that. The deal, though, is that the players have a choice to engage or not. Your first adventure. You are camping in the forest, 5 minutes after creating characters. Then a 3HD naga crashes in. Uh … uncool. And then a 4HD hag shows up to kill whoever is left. That’s decidedly NOT old school play.

And then it does this weird “roll to continue the game” thing. You have to make these investigate rolls … for basic information. And if you miss it, well … nothing happens? You have to make a roll to notice a thick fog rolling in? And a crescent moon, and the fog, and … it just makes no sense.

Side Trek adventure from Dungeon Magazine, crappy though they were, generally had more going on than this ENCOUNTER doe. Not a fucking adventure. ENCOUNTER. I could never have the audacity to publish something like this. Which is why I’m a middle class wage slave.

This is $1.50 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages. You get to see everything but the hag battle at the end.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/257669/Campfire-Tale-for-The-Black-Hack-and-Labyrinth-Lord

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Castle that Fell from the Sky

Mon, 11/12/2018 - 12:19


Steve Robertson & Jimm Johnson
Self Published
OSR
Levels 3-5

Even in the far gulfs of space, the struggle of Law against Chaos, Good versus Evil is eternal. But wherever evil is not extinguished, it will revive to exact vengeance on those who would keep it at bay… …On the fringes of the realm, where civilization wanes and adventures begin, rumors are whispered of a castle that fell from the sky. Some say it has poisoned the land where it fell and nought but death can be within its walls. Some say creatures, foul and dangerous, have gathered at the dark fortress. But others, the treasure seekers and thieves who haunt the local taverns, scoff at such dire warnings and view them only as a thin ploy to keep adventurers from winning the vast treasure that surely waits within. To your ears have come these very rumors— and more: you have learned the location of the fallen sky-castle!

This fifty-two page adventure contains a multi-level funhouse dungeon with about forty rooms. A good mix of OD&D elements, it manages to mix a more light-hearted style in without it becoming silly. Classic elements abound. Both in style and in presentation to the DM, it reaches acceptable levels. Since my standards are stooopid high, this is a compliment.

Being OD&D-like there are lots of new creatures and treasures. The guards that have fish-heads can blow giant bubbles that, if they touch a magic user, deletes a rando spell from memory. Giant mosquitoes roam. A snake with a single cyclops eye. Note how familiar the creatures are. It’s a normal thing, just twisted a little bit. Freaky enough, or more, because you KNOW it’s not right, as a player. That fucking snake has one eye man … I ain’t going over there! Treasure tends to be similarly unique. We can extrapolate this in to “the OD&D style.” It’s not all over the top nuttiness, in creatures, treasure, or room encounters. There’s something familiar about them. It’s a basic thing, pushed and twisted just a little bit. Familiar enough to have some recognition but it’s that extra little twist that pushes you in to freak out/caution territory. It’s a great vibe and totally by bag baby.

Speaking of rom encounters, let’s look at one of them:
“TOAD IDOL: Against the east wall is an onyx toad idol with a sinister grin and a single ruby eye. The ruby is a deep blood red and has a strange gleam. It is cursed. If anyone removes the ruby, the stars of the sky appear on the ceiling and slowly descend upon the thief, covering him in a green-black shimmer. That character is now cursed, and all rolls will be considered a 1 until the ruby is returned.”

Pretty terse. Not the most evocative, but blood-red and gleams and green-black shiffers are a cut above the descriptions most adventures have. It’s a pretty basic setup: the cursed eye-treasure statue. It’s the onyx toad and stars appearing that really push this up in to great territory. And yet .. it’s so simple, isn’t it?
So far it’s a pretty standard adventure. Put the first room has a big red button with a sign that says “do not push the button.” And there’s a leprechaun-like creature called Barbar Jinx that can show up when you say his name three times aloud and uses “meesa” and “yousa.” There are other examples as well. This is really the tonal part that completes the definition of funhouse: a couple of pop culture things tossed in has always been a hallmark of the style. I kind of enjoy the fucking around nature and having a good time, but I recognize that as a tonal thing not everyone wants.

There is, of course, room for improvement. There are great summary sheets, but a little bit more of them, like having the wanderers doing something, would have been good. It also seems like there’s just a little bit more missing from a lot of encounters.

How much instruction/guidance to the DM are you looking for? The modern trend of “all DM’s are idiots and I must spell out everything” is something I abhor. On the other end of the spectrum is no advice to the DM at all. Just let the DM run it however they want.

Note the toad room from earlier. No treasure value for the gem, and no mention of a save for the curse. There’s another room that has a brazier in the center that “fills the room with fire” when the opposite door is opened, 1d6 per turn. Is there a save? Instant or slow enough that, say, you could get one turn to run out of the now opened door to save yourself if thats the first thing you tell the DM? It’s ALL up to the DM to interpret and run.

I get the style, and it’s fine; I’d much rather this style than the “explain everything” style. I get excited when I run the game, so little cue’s to help me not forget things does a wonder. Just putting “[sv]” would be enough. Or “(10,000gp)” or “instantly” vs “slowly” would help me out.

This is in digest format and in single column … one of the few ways that single column is acceptable to use.

It’s a good adventure and I’d have no issues with running for folks.

This is on Lulu for $6. Lulu previews require flash. I don’t do flash.
http://www.lulu.com/shop/steve-robertson-and-jimm-johnson/the-castle-that-fell-from-the-sky/ebook/product-23854671.html

By the time you read this I’m fucking around in Central America for a month. Every review after this one, for the next month, means I was a good boy and wrote ahead. We shall see …

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) The Deadly Den of the Wanton Wolf

Sat, 11/10/2018 - 12:12


By Talbot S. Raiche
Self Published
5e
Level 3

The people of Yarlstone are afraid to go into the woods at night. It started with an increase in poaching, but soon merchants and guardsmen were found dragged from the trails and torn apart. A bounty has been placed on those responsible, but who is brave enough to investigate the howling that comes with the full moon?

This twelve page adventure features a small cave system of eighteen rooms with a werewolf in them. Terse and largely evocative room descriptions are a highlight, but slavish devotion to regimented formatting brings the product down, as does the lack of supporting material for creatures and setting.

5e and twelve pages would normally mean a shit product that describes three encounters, maybe … at least that’s what I’ve come to expect. When I saw this was single column I was looking forward to a total shit show, but I was pleasantly surprised. Instead of a shit show rip off product (ie: three encounters or less) it is instead someone with a vision who needs some help improving.

The rooms (in an old cabin) have descriptions like “Living Room: Dim. Creaky floors. Dusty tables and chairs, Cold Hearth. Old rugs.” or “Closet: Dark, Musty, Moths, Worn cloaks on wooden pegs.” That’s pretty good! It DOES create a great atmosphere that a DM can then fill in and riff upon. That’s what a DM needs, just enough to get an idea in to their head, then they can expand upon it as the players explore and ask questions. You grok the place, and because of that you have infinite power over it to convey the vibe to the players. It’s easy to scan at the table and does what it needs to do. I like the style, a lot. It’s not the ONLY way to achieve the evocative & terse thing I look for, but it is one of the simplest to understand and mimic for n00b writers, I think. The room names could have been overloaded some “Decrepit Living Room” or “Musty Closet”, for example, but hey, that’s nitpicking.

And …. I’m done being nice. The rest of this adventure barely exists. It is, essentially, minimally keyed. Rooms have “5 cultists + 3 wolves” or “2 black bears.” Treasure is boring old book stuff. There’s no real reason behind things. There’s some pretext about the werewolf being a bandit, and a wolf cult, all relayed through backstory, but the adventure keys proper are as close to minimal as you can get. Take Palace of the Vampire Queen and add those atmosphere descriptions and you’ve got this adventure. The creatures and environs come off as cold and mechanical. The creatures need to be doing something. The traps need a bit of life. There’s tis devotion to the rigor of formatting that’s weird. Rooms have a section stating “Doors: Slatted wood fencing – locked.” And then, each on a newline, “Pick: DC 14 Dexterity Check” “Force: DC14 Strength Check” and “Break: AC15, HP27.” Ok, get it. I get what you’re trying to do. But it comes off as rigid and mechanical and lifeless … and also takes up too much space. Imageine putting it all one one line, with bolding, underlines, italics, bullets, etc. Same impact to support the DM’s scanning and more fluid.

Further, imagine the doors, traps, treasure, and monsters were given the same treatment as the room atmosphere. Just one sentence of atmosphere each. There’s not village, or wilderness, but imagine that a village was listed, with the same one or two sentence atmosphere, along with, say, three NPC’s given the same treatment. And a little wilderness section of the same. As is, the hooks are essentially non-existent, just that there is this bandit cult leader and he lives in the woods and the nobles don’t like poachers. But give that the same atmosphere treatment? And those wandering monsters? Same thing. Instead of “1-2 black bears” how about instead “1-2 black bears, foraging, wounded, starving” or something like that? Then you’ve given the DM just a little more to work with.

Also, would it kill you to put in a one page summary of monster stats? You use the same thing over and over again … why not fill one page with their stats. Just a summary, so the non-pedants among us can run the monsters from it?

Finally, a note on formatting. Yeah, it’s part of the Notebook Dungeon series and you put it on a background that looks like a legal pad, single column. First, don’t use single column. It sucks for communicating information. I know it’s fucking easy, but its been well established that double column is better for information transfer. Easier to scan up and down than left to right. Yes, I promise, some google searches will turn up the lit. Second, the legal yellow and lines don’t improve the legibility of the adventure, they detract from it. It gets in your eyes way, especially the lines. Don’t do that. (Just like you should not have large sections of italics. Its hard to read.)

Nice idea for the rooms, but it went too far minimal.

This is $2 at DriveThru. Alas, there is no preview.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/255121/ND12-The-Deadly-Den-of-the-Wanton-Wolf?filters=45326_2110_0_0_0

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

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