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Night of Blood and Teeth

Sat, 12/04/2021 - 12:10
By Shane Lacey Hensley Pinnacle Entertainment Savage Worlds

It begins with a shipwreck on a cold, gray night in Lankhmar. The Temple of the Shark God has come to Lankhmar. They teach “the Way of Predation,” an extreme version of survival of the fittest. The city begins to take their message to heart. Tempers rise. Violence flares. And the city burns. Is the cult the cause of the troubles? Or is there something more ancient, more powerful at work? Your scoundrels, rogues, and heroes must find out before everything they know vanishes in…A Night of Blood and Teeth!

*Withering Sigh* Someone asked for this. I agreed, based on my recent good experience with Lankhmar. Then I realiazed it wasn’t DCC Lankhmar.

This 32 page adventure has five scenes in Lankhmar. It is boring. Lankhmar is boring. Mostly because the designer doesn’t really understand Lankhmar, even though they state in several times things that imply they do. As if the designer knows what they should do but are unable to do it.

Ok, so, shark cult brings a talisman to Lankhmar that brings bad luck. Scene 1: There’s a shipwreck. Scene 2: Some vignettes around town. Scene 3: Save the Beggar King Scene 4: Steal talisman from Shark Temple. Scene 5: Take a boat ride. Scene 3 is completely useless. The party is hired by the thieves guild to go save the beggar king from a mob that the shark cult has instigated. There is no real meaning to this encounter. It serves no purpose. It does not advance the adventure. Failing it does not throw up obstacles. It just wastes time. Scene 5 you take a boat ride to drop the talisman in to the sea. Of course, the shark cult arrives JUST. IN> TIME. as you perform the ritual. There’s no real reason for the party to go on the boat ride; you’re on some anti-shark cult ladies boat and shes the one doing the ritual. It’s a fucking meaningless scene that exists only to have a big final battle. Scene 1 has the party “saving” the survivors of a ship wreck. The hook is that some people come in to your bar, you learn of the shipwreck that is happening right now, and that they were merchants with a lot of gold. Thus you could be heroes that save people or just want to loot the still breathing bodies. This is the best you’re going to get in this adventure for Lankhmar attitude. “You could be a hero or for more larcenous, you could steal from the survivors as they fight the waves while drowning.” The rest of the shit is all do-gooder stuff. One of my favs is the beggar king thing; if you refuse to be hired then the DM is encourag to have the party at least go out to watch what is going on for this meaningless thing.

There’s no grit. There’s no dirt. There’s no squalor. There’s no larcenous thieves. Tis could just as well be written for a 5e game … and, I guess, that’s kind of what Savage Worlds is anyway, a popcorn reality, so, you know … why the fuck would you play this when there are other Lankhmar adaptions available?

It’s full of column long read-aloud in italics to convey information. Long italics sucks shit and is hard to read and no house style should contain it in 2021. Likewise, no long sections of monologue to convey information. You write the fucking adventure so it comes out over time. This is basic, basic design shit. And yet here we see Yet Another Publisher engaging in it. Fuck your editors and Fuck your house style. Make a fucking effort.

Mixed in to the long paragrapgh style encounter descriptions are, of, lets, see, a quarter page of backstory, in random places? Like, how does that advance the plot? How is that backstory actionable or leads to gaming moments? Oh, it doesn’t? THEN WHY THE FUCK IS IT IN THERE?! To meet pay per word requirements, no doubt. Look, I don’t know that’s true, but it is generally true in the industry, so, yeah, lets be evil and slap it on here also.

I don’t know. The temple raid is nor interesting. It gives the DM several options. A straight up fight, sneaking in, dressing up as acolytes, etc. But then it doesn’t really support those styles at all. It just says you can do it and goes in to the (boring and long) room keys. 

There is essentially no thought given to running this at the table; how the DM would use it, making it easy to scan and so on. I guess that’s not a surprise. Are there ANY major publishers that do this? I mean, basically, once you publish an RPG and it has ANY popularity at all then all you have to do is shovel out adventures and people will buy them. Why invest in making them good, or easy to use/run?

Why do you even license something like Lankhmar for Savage Worlds? I guess I know, money. I’m not even sure market demand counts here, unless it is induced. 

This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. The last three show you the start of the first scene. Enjoy that shit. It’s the highlight of the adventure.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Slime Cave of Norwal

Wed, 12/01/2021 - 12:11
By James Introcaso, Sean Van Damme, Jeff Stevens Self Published Zweihander Basic Tier

Anthla Tremal leads the Cult of Slugidor, the ancient deity of oozes. She brought the cult to the caves five days ago after learning Orthive’s tower was destroyed when the now-deceased wizard tried to summon Slugidor. The cult found the basement of Orthive’s tower connected to the caves and captured and questioned Orthive’s ghost. According to Orthive, the cult needs a “worthy sacrifice” to offer the demon lord. Anthla sends the minor oozes created in the slime to terrorize the people of Norwal, hoping heroes track the monsters back to Slime Cave…12p 6r

This twelve page study in depression describes a cave complex with six rooms and a few slime monsters in it. What do you actually expect to get from a review from a low effort adventure? Joy? Meaning? What even does happiness mean?

So far everything written for Zweihander is crap, right? Or did I miss something?

I guess Zweihander remains the hotness in the mainstream OSR world, with the market continuing to be spammed with adventures. This one was a 5e adventure converted to Zweihander. So, you know, one of the worst things in the world: a conversion. The grim & perilous world of Zweihander is about to meet its greatest foe: the magical ren faire of 5e! Yeah, so, tonally, this thing has issues. It’s the gump drop fairy world of 5e, with candy colored art, rather than the grimdark of Zweihander. Conversion, conversion, conversion. Yes, you can use any system, but, certain systems have certain vibes and a raw conversion, in my experience, seldom manages to convey the vibe of the game. All they are doing is slapping some new stats on monsters, converting skill checks if you’re very lucky, and that’s usually it. Low effort conversion to take advantage of the hotness. LAME

So, a village of 200 people supports a tourist industry to the local ruined tower and caves full of slime. 200 people. Tourist industry. With a spa. And a gift shop. And an inn that serves extra oozy eggs and slime pea soup. Ok, so, I have to admit, I like the food, and the slime spa treatment iea, but only in a farcical “lets push this fucking thing to its fucking limits.” But, this plays with the suspension of disbelief. As does the hook of all of the local militia having being killed by slime oh please might you do something? I’ll maybe give you a magic shield, and, if you bargain more, I’ll throw in a slime bath treatment at the spa. Seriously? This is the grim dark that Zweihander promised me? I’ll all for farce in a game, but there has to be some core of realism. The world the players are in MUST be the straight man. It must SEEM normal, until the party shows up and starts to fuck things up. 

So, there’s a cult, because mental illness, anti-science (alchemists) and cult religions are the three acceptable bad guys these days. Not that I have a problem with that, but, its fucking over-used. Everything is a fucking cult these days. Come up with a decent fucking spin on a cult maybe? Remember the throwaway cult in Hoard of Tiamat, and the Hack & Slash remix of chapter 2? THATS a fucking cult. This is just a fucking low effort throwaway. Anyway, the cult is in the caves, blah blah blah, they need to lure heroes to cave to sacrifice them to summon their slime god. Lure. Heroes. Yes, another fucking low effort idea. I can’t come up with any reason why they are in the caves and/or pretext for things so I’m just going to say that they want to lure heroes in and sacrifice them. Jesus. How about a skill gauntlet while you’re at it, just to “test” them? No? That would be effort? Ok. So, cult luring heroes to the cave.

You have to track the oozes that raid the town. I have no idea why you have to do this. It seems obvious that the ruined tower, and slime cave underneath, are the place to go. But, anyway, you track the oozes. If you make your roll you track them to the slime cave. If you fail your roll you track them to the slime cave and get attacked by four of them. So as to encourage mix/max’ing of characters. Inside the cave are six rooms.

Let’s see … “get attacked by an ooze” seems to the major theme here, surprisingly. After fighting oozes in cave one, cultists come rushing out, (their names are in room two, obviously) to pretend to be adventurers and lead the party to the finale trap room. Oh, and a “shimmering ooze” attacks the party, I guess maybe when they cross a slime river? It’s just a one sentence thing. Which, I can appreciate form a terseness standpoint but has absolutely no flavour at all. 

Another room has an ochre jelly in it, standing behind a slime river and in front of a chest. The chest is trapped, setting it off pushes you in to the ochre jelly. Why you left an ochre jelly in the room is beyond me, as is why the thing didn’t attack you before you opened the chest. 

Oh, there’s a ghost. The cult trapped a ghost in a giant alien-like pod transparent bell jar. He’s a scared ghost though, and doesn’t fight ot help you. Except by prodiving monologue to explain everything that is going on in the adventure. Because that’s the only way to convey information, beyond a journal/diary, in a shitty adventure. 

I guess, the only good part of the adventure is that if the party fails then the cutists summon their slime god and it devours the entire world. So, you know, time to switch games. THAT’S a good thing!

Low effort ideas. Low effort interactivity. Conversion job. Nothing to see here, move along!

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is eight pages. Good enough to make a purchasing decision. That, to be clear, should be “NEVER.”


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Brewkessel Level 1

Mon, 11/29/2021 - 12:11
By Tom Holmgren OSE Level 1?

Once upon a time, there was a wonderful school of spellcraft and sorcery called Brewkessel. 62 years ago it vanished in a flash of red lightning, taking with it some of the best and brightest names in magic. All that was left behind was a deep, smoking hole. Was it the result of a spell gone wrong? Had the gods finally rained down judgement on their vile witchcraft? No one could say for sure. In fear of repeating Brewkessel’s unknown mistake, one by one the other schools locked their doors. Brewkessel reappeared 7 months ago.

This 66 digest page “zine” uses about 36 pages to describe about 31 rooms on the first level of Hogwarts castle. A fucked up Hogwarts castle. It’s got a consistent vibe (fucked up Hogwarts) and does a relatively good job of supporting the DM, supplementing its excellent formatting and interactivity. Descriptions could use some work, but, hey, whatever. It’s pretty good. 

This mania for calling everything a zine needs to end. It’s a fucking module. Was G1, G2, and G3 three individual zines? No? They were modules? Fuck yes they were. And this is level one of a megadungeon, along with some supporting information on the village outside of hogwarts. The village inn, a bit on the outside grounds, the witch who guards the entrance and so forth. It being a digest, about one to two rooms are on each page, usually along with a nice little minimap showing their relation to each other. 

Ok, so, fucked up Hogwarts. That’s what you need to know. That, more than anything else, is going to be the deciding factor if you want this adventure. The tone. The party WILL recognize aspects of Hogwarts. Four houses. The great hall. Rowing across the lake perhaps. Paintings that talk. The owlery. But then, it’s going to be slightly twisted. A kind of Bioshock/City of Rapture version of Hogwarts. It is still KIND of functioning as a home for some powerful wizards & witches, but … things are a little rough inside and the occupants and magics a bit corrupted. 

You see, the castle was transported to Yuggoth and a lot of people got brain parasites. They settled on the land, learned to adapt, and had a couple of coup’s. Then someone brought the castle back. So, you’ve survived on an alien planet for 65 years, being a bit flexible to survive. That kind of warped. It comes off a lot, in many ways, like Castle Xyntillian, but with a Hogwarts vibe. Both, kind of functioning as their intended purpose … but both corrupted and having a very dangerous disposition. If you want that vibe then this adventure, or at least this level of this adventure, is for you.

Before reaching the castle keys we get a short rumor table and a few businesses in Hogsmead. Those are focused, all three on one page, with the content tending to less is more. A line about the proprietor and maybe what the party can get there. It’s focused on supporting the party through the dungeon rather some kind of a “day in the life of a rustic village” nonsense that all too frequently appears in print. We get a short little “by land or by lake” to the castle, along with wanderers, and a few rival adventuring parties. A wandering monster table for the castle with a paragraph or so for each entry, describing the monster (if there is one) and giving a little push to run the encounter in an interesting way. Exactly what it should be.

And then we reach RIGHT outside the castle. The map depicts a greenhouse, or, at least, the former site of one. And the whomping willow and the forbidden forest, all of which get no description at all. (Perhaps in a future volume?) What we do get, though, are the groundskeepers. When the castle returned a former student and now high level witch showed up to run the entrance, charging people to get in/out, having contracts to sign and casting spells for fee. She’s supported by a large group of animal headed mercenaries … with a variety of possibilities, from mundane to FUCKED UP, as to why they have animal heads and why they support the witch. This harkens back to the old days of groups of thieves hitting the party on the way to/from the dungeon, taking some loot … serving the purpose that the gate guards and tax collectors sometimes do. It’s a nice touch and she adds a lot to the vibe as well as providing some practicalities like Remove Disease and Identify, as well as some mini-quests like finding keys, etc. I should note that there are also a few hooks provided, with one of my favorite being “whenever your blood is spilled, it runs uphill toward the castle”, with a close second being a hideous oracle predicting your death in the castle. Uh, duh, of course I want to go there then! 

Formatting emulates the Necrotic Gnome style of conveying information with bullets, with strategic bolding and cross-references. It’s clean and easy to scan.

Interactivity is great, with curses, boones, banes, potential allies and neutral parties scattered everywhere. Just about every room has some kind of thing going on, which, while not exactly true, even the “empty” rooms feel like you’re someplace worth looking in to. But, how about that painting with a vampire on it. She’d dearly like for you to find the key to the collar she wears … she’s so … thirsty. And in return she feeds you information, helps as much s a painting can … and giving her the key has “consequences for other paintings on this level.”  That’s enough detail for the DM to riff off of without needing to go in to exacerbating detail.

Owlgirl lives in the rookery, once an own, now a girl/owl hybrid. ALl she knows is the rookery, but will grow in to someone else if shes exposed to the wide world beyond … which she is curious about. A classic trope, and combined with the owlery and the owls, a perfect thing for the party to take advantage of. And take advantage they will need. The letter room, near the owlery, has an 8HD mail golem in it. There is no issue here with finding encounters beyond that of the party. They abound. Including the high level staff, who, at least on this level, mostly want to be left to their own devices. Their own Tallulah Bankhead hedonistic devices. 

I could take exception with some the language used to create an evocative environment. Certainly the mini-maps, in an iso-metric view, help, and the bulleted items do a decent job. But the overall nature of the room is, I think, lost a bit. The carpentry shop tells us about scattered rusty woodworking tools, unpleasantly siggy wooden planks and a crude carving. Thats a little lifeless, noting the individual elements present in the room but not the overall vibe of the room, proper. Most of the rooms fall in to this syndrome. A few, though, do not, like room two, the courtyard, which describes overgrown grass, dead in patches with three dead black wood trees spotted with red growths … and a three tier fountain of white stone in the middle, with flowing water, something painted on it, crudely. That’s two bullets, the foliage and fountain, that when taken together in a description provide a good overall feeling of the room. That is missing from most of the entries. This is one of the limits of the Necrotic format, the difficulty in providing an overall feeling. Or, perhaps, the need to ensure that the individual elements add up to that overall feeling. 

Beyond this, you get the usual issues with a single level of megadungeon. What are the connections? How does everything fit together? What do people know about things deeper in? If you are going to accept a level by level design then you must also accept the issues with this. And also, that future levels may be slow, or never, show up

Still, this is a very worthwhile addition to a game. It’s the best Hogwarts I’ve seen. It captures the spirit of Hogwarts, and warped nature turning it in to an adventuring locale … without it being too cutesy or bizarre for the sake of bizarre. It’s a fine line to walk and the designer does a good job. I hope to see more entries. 

This is $9 at itch. The product page has a good preview of the room page layout and so on, and how the designers on personal art compliments the vibe. Nice job.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

What Nightmares May Come

Sat, 11/27/2021 - 12:32
By Andrew Foster Self Published City of Mist

An aging catholic exorcist and assessor needs the crew’s help in banishing the alleged evil spirits surrounding a young boy. What kind of terror could bring a once steadfast priest to the breaking point ? Could a mere child really be the harbinger of something evil or is something else at play? Whatever it is, it’s quickly spreading to the nearby neighbors who are being plagued by the all too real events colored by death and terror. If that wasn’t enough, people are starting to believe the rumors about a previously captured serial killer who is on the loose again. Will the crew be able to save the residents of the 36th Street Apartments in time before their own living nightmares consume them?

This 25 page adventure is the usual spooky dream time investigation adventure of a modern horror nature. It has nice touches here and there and, surprisingly, doesn’t reach TOO far in to the pretension that the marketing hints at. It also has no idea how to support the DM. Or write read-aloud. Or format a section for scanning. And, I take offence at the subject matter.

This adventure centers around a kid who is the living manifestation of The Spirit Of All Life, the aboriginal creator who also created the dreaming. Or is the dreaming? I don’t pretend to understand. All I know is that a white kid is the aboriginal creator. Can you do this in a home game? Sure. Should you shit all over gypsies in a published adventure? Probably not. It’s in bad taste and things suitable for a home game are not always suitable for a published adventure. 

So, I don’t know where to start with this. I bought it explicitly because it looked like pretentious edge lord shit. Read that marketing blurb again. “What kind of terror could …” and, the best of all, the last two lines of the other marketing blurb are “… ultimately come face to face with their own demons, and hopefully find the wisdom to help a hurt soul come to terms with their grief.

“ Uh huh. Grief? Uh huh. The characters own demons? Uh huh uh huh. Fucking masterful pretention that is. How could this adventure be anything other than the full on catharsis that we all seek from a tuesday night of gaming with beer and pretzels!? Finally, my deep held truma regarding the search for meaning in a world inherently devoid of it shall be resolved and no longer will all love me and despair but I shall remain Galadriel. Or, I’m gonna have some more Campairi and roll my eyes. 

So this kids mother dies. He starts making people have nightmares, including a priest who comes to exorcise him, a psychiatrist who examines him, and basically everyone in his apartment complex. The party enters at the behest of the priest, does some basic investigation of the priest, psych, and the apartment complex. They go to the kids apartment, find a THING has happened, and go to the roof to find the kid pulling the entire complex in to the dreamtime. The only real conflict here is with shadow monster things from the dreamtime. This seems lame to me, much in the same way that I bitch about designers using humanoids too much in fantasy adventures. When every threat is supernatural the tone of the game changes and becomes substantially less visceral, with, I believe, less perceived threat of the players characters. The fantastic made mundane. 

It’s a pretty standard adventure of this type. You get a call from the priest. Go to the church and fight nightmare monsters. Investigate. Go to the next place in the chain, the psych’s office. Fight nightmare monsters and investigate. Go to the apartment complex and investigate and fight nightmare monsters. Find the kids apartment and have the “emotional” ending. 95% of all modern adventures go this way, be it the modern genre of the post-90’s time frame. They both do it. You know, the plot thing.

I’m going to cover a few interesting things about this. First, the monsters/people, etc have a few bullet points in them to help run them, atmospherically. One of them “Creeps along the walls silently like a fluid shadow”, or “Whispering and snickering near you” or “Bang and scrap at the doorway where Father Stone has barricaded himself in” or “Dissipate right in front of your eyes with a terrible screeching noise.” I talk frequently about specificity and in supporting the DM with some advice. These are excellent examples of what I’m talking about. It’s specific examples that the DM can either include directly or riff off of, instead of generalized advice. It’s not text heavy, or dragging on for paragraphs. It’s bulleted for easy reference. It’s exactly how the DM should be supported for a shadow nightmare monster might act and/or interact with the party. 

It also doers this interesting thing, in one place, that tells the DM “Hey, if you want a quicker pace to the game then skip this next section and if you want a slower pace then use it.” That’s interesting advice, especially in one of these plot/investigation things, and something that I don’t think you ever, but rarely, see an adventure do. It’s totally misplaced in this adventure and has you skip some quite evocative content, but, hey, nice idea anyway.

FInally, the designer does have a certain penchant for writing a cliff hanger line of dialog. The hook has a priest calling you late at night and whispering in to the phone in a terrified voice before screaming “I will cast you out and send you back to hell!” Sweet! That’ll wake you up in the morning! As you approach the church, the read-aloud there ends with you hearing a scream coming from within “You have no power in the house of the Lord! Unclean spirit, I cast you out and back to hell!” Uh … fuck yeah! That’s how you write a cut! None of this “What do you do?” interrogatory bullshit. 

Ok. I did my good deed for the day and noted a few non-shitty things. Time to Burn it down. Burn it down baby burn it burn it down!

The read-aloud happens as you transition to each new scene location. It is terrible. Dreadfully pretentious. I guess, I could see how it could be ok in a kind of noir-like voiceover. “The silhouetted gothic form of the River- side Cathedral, with its vaulted but- tresses and harsh pointed arches cutting through the thick misty fog looms over you, stopping you in your tracks. Is it awe, reverence or fear?” or “The palpable hopeless- ness reminds you of one of the City’s harshest truths…“Everyone is just a step away from disaster.”” Classic examples of telling instead of showing. You want the party to feel this way, and it’s up to you, as the designer, to write content that gets them to feel this way. I am not so jaded as I let on that I cannot be moved. But, if you TELL me to fell someway them I’m just going to roll my eyes and say fuck you, at least internally, and fuck with the game. You gotta communicate this shit by showing. What can you describe that makes me THINK “a step away from disaster?” Write that. 

The designer also leaves shit out. A LOT of shit. They center certain pieces of information as being important to the story and then never mention it again, at least not in a way that is useful for the the DM. A serial killer, back on the loose again? Let’s not mention ANYTHING about him other than give him a stat block for his nightmare version. What the fuck do you do if the party starts to investigate the killer? Asks questions about them? Nothing. Well, “make some shit up”, of course. But, the designer should be supporting the DM in this. Thisa happens time and again in the adventure. The priest is troubled by a past exorcism that went wrong. The demon in the church taunts him about this. The party is sure to ask him about it. But, nothing is provided. Sure, it’s all misleading content, but, fuck, if you’re going to introduce something like this then give it a few sentences to support the DM as the party inevitable follo wup on this lead.

Scenes are also incompletely described. You see a doctor sitting in her chair in one intro paragraph. There’s no fucknig mention of the giant pools of blood that surround her, since she slit her fucking wrists. Or, in another, of a body hanging out the window of the apartment complex that you can presumably see from the street, or the piles of people mulling around in the courtyard. No, you must reach those other locations before those details are shared. And yet, those clues, mentioned before then, lead the party to those scenes. If you open a door to a 20-x20 room with a fucking giant dragon in it then you mentioned the fucking dragon inthe read-aloud. Prominanalty. You don’t leave the giant pools of blood as a follow-up detail. This is not the over-explaining that I blast readaloud for. 

I could go on an on on this adventure. I’m particularly disappointed by the lack of dreamtime support, and annoyed at the direct question “whats your worst nightmare” that is asked for the players characters so it can manifest. This is SOOOOO overfuckingused and always not supproted … just as it is here. And the final “battle”/scene on the rooftop is essentially not supported at all …e xcept for a entire page of stat block for the kid. Who the fuck can wade through that during a game while running it? Nothing evocative, nothing to guide. 

A locked door mystery without mentioning the door being locked. 

This is $7 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages. You can get a decent idea of the writing style from it. It’s a good preview. 


I recommend watching from 30 second onward. I love how the stenographer is diligently recording the chanting.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Date of Expiration

Wed, 11/24/2021 - 12:11
By Graphite Prime Graphite Prime Studios AD&D Levels 4-7

You have never seen a dungeon like this before! What happens when crazed mechanical beings from the future arrive on your fantasy world?

This 108 page adventure uses about sixty or so pages to describe a futuristic hellhole of a tower with about 45 rooms. Uninteresting descriptive/layout format complements the nature of the site and while descriptive text is low word count, it complements the art well. 

Occasionally someone with attempt to write an adventure on a trash world. You know, the entire planet is a dumping ground and there are weird holes and tunnels everywhere littered with refuse, made up of refuse. Or, there was HoL, proper, or every those tunnel scenes of sewers in The Matrix or the alien warrens in Aliens. You get this idea of a chaotic area that you are picking your way through, uncertain exactly what is going on, surrounded by an alien environment. I’ve never seen this described very well. It seems to be a relatively popular area to explore, but the nature of the environment makes it difficult to convey the vibe in anything other than a visual format. Hence the HR Geiger stuff, the Matrix tunnels, and so on, doing so well to inspire. This adventure, also, relies on an art style to help convey the vibe, much more so than the words alone. 

We’re up in the land of the ice and snow from the midnight sun with the blah blah blah. I’ve actually got Burn It Down on heavy, loud repeat right now, but, you get the idea: the frozen north, barren but mountainous and rugged. Rumors of strange things to the further north, from the last friendly fort, and strange creatures. You hex crawl north Miss Tessbacher, through 28 or so possible hexes, one to two hexes a day. Until you see, nestled in a valley of ice and snow, a rusted iron contraption, made of up rivets and pipes, draped with golden cables and wires. 900 feet high and 700 feet wide. Yup. We’re there kids, Wally World awaits! That is unmisfuckingstackably the place you want to go to. It cannot be recognized as anything other than a place of wonder. You. Have. Arrived. 

Let’s imagine a government research lab, say Black Mesa. You’ve got the scientists, the staff and receptionists, the janitors and food service people, some soldiers, a few, ahum, “men of vision” and so on. Now, lets take the whole place, complex and all, and transport it so fucking far back in to the past that time looses its meaning. But, those Men of Vision are on a mission. But, the working dudes? Hey man, they didn’t sign up for this shit. Thus you have some human foibles mixed in to an otherwise focused “mission.” That’s what’s going on here. Except, the people transported back are cyborgs from so far in the future they no longer know that humans WERE their ancestors and they don’t resemble the cyborgs you know and love from movies and Tv. They are more like a loose collection of wire, like a pile of cassette or VCR tape, on the floor, that can pull itself in to different forms. They can’t really do that, but, imagine the pool of wirre HAD given itself a vaguely (and I emphasize vaguely …) humanoid form. A little insane, on a missione, some occasional moments of relatability … all while they harvest people and animals for experiments. Some are hostile, some curious (and therefore probably hostile in a “vivisection” kind of way …) and some are drunk or apathetic or resigned to melancholy. In short, NOT a monolithic enemy.

We must now discuss the map. And art style. And formatting choice. And evocative writing. Because, they are all one and the same here. Or, perhaps, working towards the same end, intrinsically linked. 

There is an overview map, a big map showing the entire layout. And then that map is broken up in two four smaller “quadrant” maps, to help make things more manageable. But, the individual rooms? They EACH get their own map. Imagine a drawing of a room, in the center of a page. Scattered around it are small blocks of text with lines pointing to various parts of the map. If there’s a pit then there’s a small block of text describing it and then a line pointing to the pit on the map. You’re with me so far, right? Three, maybe four features per room.

And by “room” I mean “this part of the big ass complex weird and confusing complex.” There is SUBSTANTIAL verticality to this, with virtually every “room” having three of four vertical components separated by small “flat” sections. And it’s all this weird post-industrial/hyper-technology setting. 

With a black and white art style that that is a signature of Graphite Prime. I wouldn’t want to draw comparisons, but ,those of you unfamiliar may think of Scrap and the “less is more” ambiguity that the black & white styles of both artists convey. (It is gauche to compare one artists style to another? I feel like I ned to do SOMETHING to give the gentle readership some basis to visualize …) It leaves significant room for the imagination to fill in the gaps, while still inspiring that imagination to actually do so. And the the words are rather utilitarian, the complementary art, IN YOUR FUCKING FACE on every page, does wonders to fill the gap. This is what passes for one feature of one “room”: “Floor Hatch: Locked. Opening this hatch unleashes a swarm of hundreds of time-bombs. They are

about the size of small cherries and aim to fly down one’s throat” Complimenting this is the actual room art, showing the hatch in the floor and the space underneath. 

I might complain the the “always on” features of the rooms could be further front and center. There is a monster ref sheet, it could have gone there. Or on the big map, or quadrant map, or even on the “common features” map page. At best you get “is consistently lit by industrial lighting that creates a gold/rust colored glow. Otherwise, the Structure looks like it was crafted from Iron.” A little more in the “general inspiration” category would have done well. I don’t now. Oil? Something. 

Complementing the dungeon proper is the hex crawl, which can almost be run with the mini-descriptions on the hex crawl map, the expanded text later on almost not needed. Wanderers for the hex crawl and for the dungeon are both great, with good actionable things going on, from weird and bizarre to deadly. And, the dungeon isn’t just a killer, there are boons to be found throughtout, wandering adventure parties, a dryad, pixies needing to be freed, and a whole fuck ton of “loot” to get way with.

There’s a techno element to this adventure, but, it’s not really science fiction. I mean, not in the way most of these “lets put in some science shit” usually are. The creatures and environment is from so far in the future that it essentially almost never comes up in play. I mean, you can tell, immediately, this is tech shit, but this is not the relatable tech from Barrier Peaks. This is almost at the point of Tech As Magic … except it’s not quite there … there’s a bare recognition of relatability that keeps it meaningful, from going off the deep end of the magic pretext. 

I’d run THE FUCK out of this. Best.

This is $8 at DriveThru. The preview is elevent pages, with the last few being “rooms.” I’d recommend taking a look, both to get familiar with the art style and if this formatting style works for you. I think it works GREAT for this kind of “indescribable” environment. 


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Death Ship of the Roach Princess

Mon, 11/22/2021 - 12:11
By Matt Finch Frog God Games S&W Levels 1-3

A mysterious ship in the city’s harbor holds terrifying secrets … and the characters are trapped on board! This plane-shifting, roach-infested, puzzle-laden adventure offers fabulous riches, but also offer a fate worse than death.

This 34 page adventure uses fifteen pages to describe fifteen or so relatively complex locations on a ship that is also an interdimensional nexus. It plays with a couple of D&D concepts, and shows an understanding of the player motivation. It is also plagued by the Frogs house style which does absolutely nothing to help the understanding of the adventure or running of the game. At least they got the right cover on this one.

So, listening to my critics, I spent more than 30 minutes this morning picking out a new adventure to review. SOME readers seem to think that its my lack of research that leads me to the issues I have with quality. “What did you expect, Bryce?” is a common refrain. We shall see, in this mornings experiments, gentle readers! I dig in and passed Morg Borg after Troika adventure, with appealing descriptions and covers and previews that indicated they were probably the usual crap. Multiple Starry Knight, Filbar, Joseph Mohr, and more. Pamphlet dungeons, two page dungeons, four page dungeons. All passed by. I skipped Frog God dungeons. “This time it’s gonna be different!” I told myself. Then I spotted something that looked interesting, clicked on it … and immediately saw it was Frog God. I went back. Then, it struck me. It had Finch’s name on it! I went back. Yup. Matt Finch. Someone who knows what the fuck they are doing. Perhaps, gentle reader, he can overcome the apathy of the publisher to deliver something quality?

If you played the first adventure in the series then you See a Ship In The Harbour to investigate, or if not you hear from another sailor about a large crate of gold rowed over yesterday … and it’s assumed to want to loot it. You row over to the ship to find it essentially empty, except for a few notable items. First, there are a fuck ton of roaches on the ship, more than usual, by  lot. Not monster swarm territory, but, still, a FUCK TON. Second, There’s a bunch of dudes in the rowers hold whose hands are melted in to the oars. They saw you’re trapped here, just like they are. Seems like you’re in a Zeno’s Paradox situation if you try to leave, oh, and also, you’ve got about three days to escape the ship before you melt in also. Finally, that big pile of crates in the corner? It’s in the shape of a spiral making a portal to someplace else, and each one has some gold ingots in it. That’s the first six rooms “of the ship.”

Thus Finch turns on its head a trope of D&D. Two, actually, and he states this up front in his designers notes. You get the treasure FIRST, but you need to get out with the treasure, you need to escape. This pushes you in to exploration. And this is the second trope: the escape adventure. Generally this starts with the party being prisoners, etc, or some other hackneyed idea. This, though, turns that on its head. Rather than a punishment escape, as most of these adventure types are, this adventure is a reward escape: you’ve already got the gold, essentially. Your motivations are different and therefore the vibe is different. And … there’s the three day timer at the end hanging over you. (I have a hard time seeing that as an issue. Maybe its an explicit pushback against sleeping for spells after every encounter, for OSR, 5e, or Pathfinder?)

You then go through the spiral crates and find extradimensional spaces, with more spiral places to explore. These places you find tend to be a large cavern or mini-complex of rooms, generally with a couple of other spiral exits. You encounter roach monsters, cultists, and some sphere of annihilation-like traps while searching for the command words that will let you bring the ship back to reality … at least enough to escape with the gold.

It’s imaginative and interesting. The roach element could have been played up more in the rooms. As it stands there are a couple of roach swarm monsters and a note for the DM to emphasize the roaches in their description. More support could have been included for that statement. It feels like, otherwise, its just going to get lost the way so many other environmental issues get lost in a game. 

There’s also a bit of exposition dump in the adventure. The doomed oarsmen, up front, explaining things, is the first big dump. I get it, you need to explain the whole trapped/doomed fate thing, but it feels a bit much. And then I’m thinking of the “Memory roach brains” locale, with more exposition dump. Two very big dumps that, I believe, could have been spread out a bit more. I know WHY they are there: you’ve got to get the party headed towards their goals … or even know that there is a goal to head to, but they come across as exposition and/or monologue.

And then there’s the Frogs format. They never met a Wall Of Text that they didn’t love. With a small font. It feels like they are trying some techniques to get past this. There are a coupe of instances of bullet points, particularly when someone has information to relate. There’s also an attempt to divide the larger areas up in to smaller sections. Think a big cave with a general overview description that hints at other parts of the cave … like murals on the north wall or inky blackness on the west well … with those two areas both getting their own descriptions. This FEELS like an attempt to break the rooms up in to more manageable sections … while still working within the confirms of the selected format. That’s laudable. And it still doesn’t work very well. A stronger/any attempt to explain the overall “flow” of the adventure would have been helpful also. There are multiple command words that do different things found in different areas with different impacts. It’s not OVERLY complex, but its also not immediately intuitive … the way gibberish words can tend to be. A little extra help in this section would have been useful. 

So, Finch knows what he’s doing. It’s not just a hack and there’s shit to fuck with and, if run properly, a decently fucked up vibe. But I don’t think it supports the DM very well to do that, and you’ll need a fucking highlighter, again.

This is $11 at DriveThru. I enjoy the Frogs hubris. You might take a look at the last page of the six page preview to see if the formatting style fits your needs. It doesn’t mine; it feels like work.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Hamlet of Volage

Sat, 11/20/2021 - 12:11
By Joseph Bloch BRW Games Adventures Dark and Deep Levels 1-3

The peaceful hamlet of Volage is beset by evil. Nestled on the edge of the High Vale in the shadow of the great Sesve Forest, the farmers and artisans of this small community have reported inexplicable happenings; cattle suffering from strange murrains, mysterious fires that seemingly start from nothing, crops rotting in the fields before they can be harvested, and more besides. There are whispers of witchcraft about. You and your companions have heard of these troubles and journeyed thither to root out the cause of these evils an bring peace and plenty back to the sleepy village.

This sixteen page adventure has a good idea but features a village in which nothing happens. Oh, it’s SUPPOSED to be about a shadow war between two different coven of witches, but how the fuck the party arrives at this is beyond my comprehension. I do know, though, that the local lumber yard specializes in making ax handles. Joy. 

Consider the humble witchfinder. Arriving at a village, using harsh questioning techniques, maybe just burning all of the village women at the stake just to be sure. After this adventure I feel a certain understanding for how they came to that. I’m not excusing it, but, I believe I can now offer at least an explanation of how they got that point in their lives. And knowing is half the battle. COOOBRA!

The party of level ones (for, this is a level one adventure, as plainly stated in the text, in spite of it saying levels one to three on the cover) arrives at the village. You heard there was witchcraft here and you’re here to sort it out, being that kind of people, I guess. There’s no local lord to take care of it, so, I guess no one is paying their taxes. Seems like some enterprising and belligerent local worthy should look in to changing that situation. But, we’re not playing with the morality of the time, we’re playing with the bougie morality of the modern era. So, you’re here, says the intro, to stop dem witches!

Why? No one in the village is asking. No one outside the village is asking. Meh, whatever.

We then get a listing of some of the buildings in the village. Nineteen. The tavern, some farms, the lumberyard. At this point I want to say that absolutely none of these buildings have nothing going on. That’s wrong, but it’s also right. There’s a burned out farm with a ghost in it. He wants his barn to finish being built, seeing as it wasn’t completed before he died. And about half the houses have a witch in it. This is explained in a format something like “Frank, Marthy and their kids Mary and Sue. Mary and Sue are witches of the Broken Claw coven.” That’s what you get. Run the fucking adventure, chump! That’s what I mean by nothing actually going on. There’s a shine in the forest where one of the covens has rituals. You’re somehow supposed to find out that there’s a coven of witches in the village and find out that’s where they do things. But there is NOTHING in the fucking village to support this. 

Which, again, isn’t exactly true. There’s a rumor table. One of them says something about people going in to the forest at night to that old shrine. Another has Mary & Sue sneaking off to the forest at night sometimes to meet boys. Out of twenty rumors. That’s it. Oh, there are woodsmen in the village. You could question them, I guess, if there’s anything out in the woods. That’s kind of rando, and they don’t talk to outsiders, but, I guess you could do that But, not with the elves, strangely. The group of elves who visit are even more insular than the woodsmen. 

A minor complaint: the witch coven is led by a 4th level cleric and 6th level cleric. I guess that’s cool for level ones to combat? Along the same lines, fuck, everyone and their brother in this is weird. The elves are insular, but there’s a friendly centaur merchant? Everyone in the village has some kind of magic item or is, like Level four? What up with that? The drunk dude in the tavern is a level 4 barbarian with 35 HP! 

But, back to the main point of bitch: NOTHING. IS. GOING. ON.

You get a series of up front things. A family was killed six months ago. Some cattle and sheep were slaughtered. All of the cats in the village died one morning. Rats ate all the grain in a dudes silo. The miller got sick and took a month to recover. This is ALL the secret war, but, there is NOTHING to support ANY of this. Do the two fucking covens know each other exist? Who knows. I guess it’s implied they do? What do the individual members know? Those locations have NO details about the events that took place. Just the shit I already types is relayed again. “All my grain was eaten by rats,” How the fuck do you run something from that? There are no village personalities. No inciting events. No conspiracies. No plots. Absolutely NO potential energy.

This is not how you write one of these things. These things should be like a gas factory, with open vats and barrels of gas. Lit by candles. With cookfires everywhere. That’s what the fucking village should be like. You look at it and you say “Oh, yeah, thats not good …” And then the traveling demo team for the local fireworks manufacturer shows up. The Party. “Hello sir and/or madam, please allow us to demonstrate our MR SPARKY”

You want things going on. You want potential energy. You want relationships between the villagers, some related to the situation and some not. You want things going on. You want the villagers to be super tense and on edge. You want suspicion falling on the lumberjacks. You want the elves to a serious contender of suspicion, by the villagers and party. You wants the fucking to be up to things. You want the sites of the former action to have a clue or something about who was behind it. You want a good innocent victim witch burning while screaming curses. You want this place HOPPING with potential energy. You want the fucking Montagues and Capulets going at it in a cold war in the village while all of this is going on. Ok, so, maybe not all that. But you want a SITUATION. 

But what you get, here, are boring facts. There’s nothing to riff one. “Mary & Sue are witches.” Well, great. There’s NO Dm support at all in this adventure. “You should heighten paranoia and foreboding among the party,” GREAT! Yes, you should! But the adventure offers absolutely NO support for this beyond “make the players make random saving throws.” Ug! 

What we DO get is loads and loads and loads of useless information that, I suppose, is supposed to fire our imagination. Like the lumberyard specializes in ax handles and pieces of furniture. Uh … Or that the blacksmith spends most of their time shoeing horses and making nails. Or that Franks cattle barn is only open for lodging in the summer months since in the winter he keeps his cattle in there. This is TEXTBOOK example of How To Not Write. This might all be true. It might all be accurate. But it does NOTHING for the adventure. And, yet, the designer spent time writing those words INSTEAD of putting in the potential energy and situations that would have led to a good adventure. 

And don’t give me any of that Bryce only wants nonstop fireworks” shit. No, I don’t. I’m fucking useing hyperbole. But there has to be fucking SOMETHING going the fuck on in the fucking village so you can go get killed by those level 4/Level 6 clerics at the forest fucking shrine. 

We are, however, told, that “Most of the inhabitants are of Aeridian extraction with a bit of Zhul, most of the families originally hailing from Furyondor, and a few from Velhana and Perrengaard.” But, they all get along now. How nice! 

A hidden witch war in a village in trysts, love affairs, rivalries, shit simmering under the surface. That could have been good. Instead we get the winter farming rules of Frank the herder with “Mary & Sue are witches of the Cloven Claw.” 

Fun fact: I get Joseph Bloch and Joseph Mohr confused. They are the same person, in my head. They are not. Bloch at least knows what roleplaying is. Doesn’t support the DM at all, but, knows what roleplaying games ARE.

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages, one of which is fucking cover. How the fuck does that help me make a purchasing decision? Especially since I can already see in the product listing? The last page describes the woodsmen. It is, I think, some of the more useful information in the adventure. Which is not to say it IS useful, but at least there’s SOMETHING.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wild Men in Casimir’s Mill

Wed, 11/17/2021 - 12:22
By Ben Gibson Coldlight Press 5e/Pathfinder/OSR Levels 1-3

Bigfoot is coming out of the woods… The harvest season is come. It should be a time of sweat and singing and joy. But howls sound at night, and the old folks whisper about the Wild Ones, who chatter amidst the trees and dance on the roof at night. Rocks fly at merchants, and on nearby paths lie smashed and twisted household gods.The Wild Men have come to Casmir’s Mill, and each night they draw nearer.

This 22 page adventure presents an ongoing situation in the domain of a small manor lord. An investigation and exploration, feature a bunch of bigfoot monsters, it has enough elements of chaos to really bring the noise. Ben makes you work for it though, it being dense for the number of pages and written at a “game notes” level, for the most part.

This is a good example of an adventure situation with a lot going on. We’ve got a village that needs to bring their grain to the mill before it rots. But, the local “wild men” aka bigfoots are attacking people on the roads and generally harassing people. This just started. Mixed up in this we’ve got a negligent manor lord and The Old Region, a snake cult, being practiced in secret … with some human sacrifice and a summoning adding gas to the fire. Hired killers, mob justice and the ilk round out the potential energy. THis is the way things should be. You want the DMto have a lot of tools at their disposal. If the party hangs out at night, watching, you want them to see things. You want a feel that things are going on outside of the parties direct involvement, that the villagers, etc, have agency also. 

There’s a density here that folks familiar with this designer’s style will recognize. It’s written in such a way as to convey a kind of DMs notes, or designers notes, or something, about a situation. A general overview of what’s going on, with specifics mentioned, but all meant to be guidelines to help the DM react to the machinations of the players. It’s high level notes on how to run the situation rather than notes on how to run an individual encounter. Taken as a hole, you get DM guidance. 

That doesn’t tell yo ushit, does it? Basically, you’re going to have to read the adventure, memorize and/orr highlight it. For example, there’s the grain deliveries from the outlying villages that serve as one of the primary hooks. It’s only mentioned briefly, as well as the villagers generally not helping unless the party REALLY win them over. These are brief notes, maybe a sentence each. And, then, notes in the stable and local manor about getting horses … and the difficulty in doing so, in order to pull the grain carts. Having to get horses is never mentioned. The carts lack of horses isn’t mentioned. It’s only by recalling the stable entries that you can put 2 and 2 together. Or the ladies of the village, following the old ways in their snake cult. They are going to sacrifice some missing orphans. But, there’s not much at all about the cult or how they act, other than “on day blah they do they sacrifice and the giant snake shows up.” 

So … bad or good to do things this way?

Well … not great. Or, at least, not great the way this is implemented. As written, the adventure is mixing in the action with the keyed entries of the village, and in the free text descriptions of the countryside, etc. So, hunting for what potentially triggers mob justice is not going to the easiest thing … and is scattered throughout the text at that. This is the old Keyed Location issue. Somethings, a traditional room/key format is good. If you’re exploring, or some such, the format works fine. But, in a more free-flowing environment, the traditional room/key format doesn’t work. You need a way to organize the text in such a way that the natural flow of the adventure is leveraged. So, it’s not “this is what causes mob justice” (probably, anyway) but rather “”Everyone hates the party” or “After the widow rants about cats.” IE: the DM is scanning the text to find out what happens/how to support the shit that just went down, and the text needs to be organized to support that.

Let’s look, specifically, at one entry in the village. This isn’t a perfect example, since my assertion is that a decent amount of the issue comes from the free text general overviews, but, it’s going to have to do.

4. Mad Etta’s Hut: Rumored consort of devils and eater of babies, the sweet and slightly dotty “mad” Etta is hospitable and pleasant to anyone who shows up on her doorstep. Her modest little home smells strange from tinctures and potions she is always brewing for sale, and if she sees someone wearing flowers, she will invite them to stay with her as long as they want. She is chatty about everything except for the wild men; she has watched some of the wild men children and her home is protected by the adult wild men.”

As a DM, what can you do with this? Will you remember, when the inn/tavern, to drop hints about Etta and her baby eating? Will you run a random street encounter where the party see a dotting old woman? Or, tell the party of that strange house in the distance covered in flower garlands? How will you use the children & protection thing in the game? It’s a BUNCH of ideas. The ideas are decent to good. But they are not useful being located in the description of her home. You need something that leads the party TO her home. That street encounter. The rumors of baby eating. Given the lack of that support, explicitly, it is left as an exercise to the DM to remember to use this information, which means highlighters and notes.

And this does a middling job of that. There is a rather explicit box about “what is everyone in the village hates the party”, but, the mob justice, events, and so on, as essentially scattered through the keys. No real guidance on the cult, although, as a DM, I’m inspired .. if I could remember to do it. Bolding of key concepts is desperately needed. 

This is a fun idea. I like the nature of it. I like the scope of it. I like the way Ben sets up the situation and timeline and lets the cards fall. 

Ben has a style, by now, a house style, or writing adventures. And it kind of works. I mean, it works GREAT sometimes and less well in other situations. And in this case its working less well. Not terrible, but this is definitely a “needs highlighter and notes” adventure.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $2. The preview is six pages and the last three give you a great idea of what to expect.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Alabaster Alcazar of the Earth Genies

Mon, 11/15/2021 - 12:11
By Rob Couture Self Published OSR Level 13ish

Wherein our adventurers seek out the Topaz of Earthly Perfection reputed to be held within a mountainside palace.

This twenty page adventure describes a fifteen room palace wherein reside four earth genies, and an artifact, the topaz mentioned in the teaser. It has some boring descriptions, although it is trying, and suffers from High Level Adventure Syndrome, wherein super powerful creatures are left mostly to the DM to run without guidance.

There’s no adventure intro, or hook, or anything. It’s assumed that the party is here for the jewelso all we get is “here’s the palace”, which is totally fine & dandy. There is some VERY brief guidance on this being a hack, or caper, or social adventure. And by guidance, I mean that a sidebar says it can be played in any of those ways. Which is true; our genie buds, and in turn their pals, are smarties and like to talk and have reasons to receive guests at their palace. But, advice is generally not present in running the adventure as one of these type, except for a brief mention in each room that the NPC/monster may receive guests or “is suspicious of them.” That’s not really support. It is, for all real purposes, just a typical room/key dungeon but with no “immediately hostile” encounters … until the party start their murdering.

And this lack of support extends to two other areas that I think are critical, especially for high level adventures. First, no order of battle. The genies, fallen deva, dragon, mind flayer, drow, and other superty duperty smarties are sometimes noted as “calling for reinforcements”, but that’s the extent of the battle plan. I’m not a big fan of in-depth tactics, but, a little guidance for the DM to help them run the inevitable “plan goes to hell and fire rains down” situation is appreciated. 

It’s also the case that these folks don’t really get any advice in running them, in combat. Now, I’m not talking about detailed tactics. I hate detailed tactics. But, these are high level creatures with A LOT of powers. A few words of advice, up front, on some typical plans, would seem to be in order. It doesn’t have to be long but a few words of advice would seem to be in order, if only to get the full value out of the creatures who have such control over the earth. And, “will passwall away” is not really substantial. Again, not a lot needed, but SOMETHING. Demons, Devils, genie, all powerful creatures with a lot of spell-like abilities could use a few words in adventures when they come up.

The descriptions in this adventure are an issue. Well, not more than most adventures, but, the designer, here, actually tried. And failed. But, they tried, I’ll put in more effort than usual in describing them. 

This is a palace. We might think of it as an opulent, or perhaps elegant palace. Imagine walking in to one of those “palaces turned museum” in europe and then trying to write a description that communicates the opulence of what you experience. Hard, right? Right. The designer is trying, hard. They give a little read-aloud section in each room (and each room has its own page, sometimes two, keeping the page turning to a minimum.) Well, usually short read-aloud. Some rooms have three to four sentences (yeah!) and some have a lot more, approaching a quarter of a page. And, this is in an attempt to mention everything in the room in a way that will be evocative. 

Which generally fails. It’s quite hard to convey the feel of a room by using more detail. I get it. You want people to enter and be WOW’d! But, more doesn’t help with that. Less, is how you achieve that. You want to communicate impressions, first impressions, anyway, and then use the DM text to follow up on that to provide more detail. That’s not a universal rule, but, in an overstuffed environment, its probably good advice. 

Further, the read-aloud over describes. Again, I think this is in an attempt to really WOW the players and stun them with the environment. But, it also kills the back and forth between player and DM that is so essential in an RPG. You don’t really want to tell the party that there is a large (boring word!) gilded chandelier adorned with large (boring word!) crystal shards. Not in the read aloud. You want to leave the impression of opulence, maybe mention A chandelier, and then, in the DM text, note it. Especially if the feature is interactive or important to the room. The read-aloud noting that a fresco is of “a princely genie riding a winged serpent” is too much info. Maybe “A yellowish fresco” is more appropriate. 

Treasure is quite light for an adventure this high level. Magic items are all boring book things. “Rope of entanglement.” Great. Consider me awed. Well, there is an artifact, but, hey, more please?

It does a couple of nice things. It notes window locations up front, for non-front-door parties. It also puts a scale to things that is generally unusual. Almost everything in the adventure is BIG, seven to ten feet tall. And it puts levers and buttons and secret door mechanisms up high and does other things communicate the scale well. It’s not quite overwhelmingly, Id’ still say its done a little too subtly, but, again, it is trying more than most adventures. 

When buying this I thought it would either be great or a shitshow. Turns out it is neither. The designer tried, more than usual. The descriptions are a little boring and over described. It could use a little more guidance for the DM, and treasure is boring also. But, it’s also A LOT closer to being a high level adventure than most of the ones I see, with no gimping, and correctly noting the social element. One more page of advice and some tough editing off the descriptions and an overhaul of the treasure would turn this in to a decent high level adventure. 

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. The last page shows you room one, to give you an idea of the writing style and layout. It’s a good overview of what to expect. 


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Church of the Unknown God

Sat, 11/13/2021 - 12:11
By Marcus Lock Parts Per Million Worlds Without Number Levels 5-7

[No marketing blurb, anywhere, not even inside. I never thought I would  miss marketing so much!]

This 45 page adventure details a couple of levels in an abandoned church with about twenty locations. It’s a fucking boring hack-fest with norhing else going on. Until the end, when it is boring & confusing. 

So (don’t start sentences with ‘so’), the local innkeep hires you to go clear out a church from undead because it is bad for business. Or, some locals saw some undead near the church, could you pretty please go kill them? Oh, also, three people have disappeared lately. People might want that problem solved. These hooks telegraph what is to come: boring shit that makes no sense. Being hired is boring. It’s one of the laziest hooks possible. And by the innkeeper, who thinks the undead in the church are bad for business? Seriously? Is that the world we adventure in? I can, perhaps, forgive the “three people missing” thing, out of ignorance. But, a tight-knit community and three people go missing? That’s a fucking angry mob in the making to solve that problem. 

Oh, also, that church? The one that everyone is like “go kill the undead there?” Yeah, it’s 24 miles away. Like, who actually gives a fuck if its 24 miles away? Do you even know what is going on there? At this point it should be clear that other in the intro makes any sense. I guess it doesn’t need to. Hooks are not really needed anyway, and, we’re all here to play D&D tonight. But … man, it just puts a bee in my bonnet to see crap.

Ok, we’re at the church now. We’ve made it through a lot of interesting wandering monster encounters like “Small pack predator” or “large herd beast.” It is, at this point, that my addled memory kicks in. I remember hating something recently that did the same thing. Just a shitty copy/paste from a book with no localization. No DM support at all beyond “generic stat block.” It’s like you included “Put a monster in.” Whatever.

The church! The church is a shit show. Every room generally has two things in it. First, there will be some zombies. They will attack immediately. The text says so in every room. This is what this adventure is. It is ALL that this adventure is. You go in a room and some zombies attack you immediately. Is that D&D to you? Do you want to roleplay? DO you want to investigate things and poke at things? Not in this adventure. Not in this adventure buddy! You’ll go in a room, stab some shit, and then go in the next room to do it all over again. There’s nothing beyond this. Oh, wait, no, I forgot. In one room you can hear some splashing in the next room. Of the zombies waiting to attack you. That’s it.

Nearly every single room also says “Beyond that the room is empty.” Well no shit. That’s generally why room descriptions have an end. This is nothing but padding. It serves no purpose in the adventure. And, speaking of padding, the undead, EVERY undead, says the same thing. “They don’t need to eat or drink or breathe” and so on. Like, a copy/paste straight out of a book of monsters. It’s unbelievable to me. 

You find a 9” statue of a semi-clad woman at one point. There’s no further description or value to the statue.

In the crypt of the “mysterious lady”, who is mentioned several times in several rooms, we get the following description of her “Standing to one side is a sentient carcass.” That’s it. That’s your evocative writing for this adventure. Some description, huh?

And then, things change.

By this time you have made it though 20 rooms of generic zombie undead and a couple of “shades.” or “sentient carcasses.” Now, you go through a secret door and enter a modern office complex. With desks, chairs, monitors, keyboards, mice, and overhead lighting. I have NO fucking idea how this fits in. There’s no hint before. There’s no hint in the room descriptions. It’s just a set of modern office rooms connected to the basement of a crypt of a church. But it’s still got weirdly pseudo-fantasy undead? “Standing 10’ in front of the door is an armoured figure. If the party approaches it will draw its sword, ready its shield and prepare to attack.” Uh, so … ok. You can find some keycards to open a couple of doors, and some rad suits to protect you from radiation in a room. And a radioactive sword in the final room. No, I have no fucking idea. I have no fucking idea. There’s nothing to hint at what is going on. It’s just what it is.

So, shitty shitty adventure with little in the way of explanation. Little to no evocative writing. Monsters that attack immediately. A random office complex attached to the basement crypts of an abandoned church. And a lot of padding and copy/paste shit. 

Someone put some thought in to this. They made maps. They did layout. They made a semi-realistic church. But it’s nothing more than combat with descriptions that convey no sense of locations, or creatures. I’m at a loss. It’s like a very words warhammer minis game.

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview does not work.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Daughter of the Dead King

Wed, 11/10/2021 - 12:11
By Jesse Davenport & Matthew Neff The Strange Domain OSR Level 1?

Evil has descended on the sinking village of Myre. As deaths and disappearances increase, whispers of demon possession spread and townsfolk eye their neighbors with growing fear. At the heart of this nightmare is a mysterious young woman, desperate to dispatch this evil before it is too late. Will you be the saviors of Myre, or just more bodies lost in the bog?

This 36 page adventure is going for a creepy/spooky vibe as it describes a few NPC locations in town and a swamp and abandoned city. It’s abstracted content, for the most part, but it generally works … if you’re in to that sort of thing. I think it could use more structure and be longer.

This is a rough one to describe. It has content, and that content tends to the evocative side of the spectrum, but it’s structure is more story gamey … without going fully over that side of the game/not-game line. 

You’re on your way to town when you have an encounter with a spooky ghost lady, pointing to the town. It’s described well, in that it lends to a spooky vibe. Coming to the town you see a funeral procession being led by a young acolyte. Turns out its the high priestess … the same one that sent a letter to the baron asking for help, which got the party involved. Asking around town or talking to the acolyte gets you the same info: a demon haunts the village and someone is dying each night. Seems each night someone gets possessed and tries to kill the acolyte. She tells you its a demon and she can put it to rest if prayers are said in the old church in the city in the swamp. You could also learn that and old hermit, in a different swamp, has a spirit box that can put the demon to rest. There are a few NPC’s (miller, shopkeep, merchant, mayor, blacksmith, innkeep) but, it’s pretty likely that the players just talk to the acolyte, I suspect. 

You go through the swamp, having a number of random encounters, and then enter the lost city, which is also abstracted in to a couple of random encounters. 

These encounters probably make up the bulk of the adventure. It’s of the “roll x times and/or have six encounters and then you find the destination you were looking for” sort of mechanic. And this is, primarily, why I say that this leans heavily to the story game/plot side of the D&D adventure line. It’s not my favorite mechanic as I think it tends to remove the agency from the players. It’s more “ok, time to have an encounter” sort of thing, which gives the party little control. Environmental hazards and creepy non-dangerous things are heavily weighted on the table, so it’s not all combat. 

In the church in the city you find a bunch of dead people, 20, who attack only if you fuck with them, a fresh body on the alter, and a yawning portal behind it to the Upside Down. There you can (or have the acolyte) say some prayers, or use the hermits demon box, or just stab, the evil demon thing. Adventure over.

The demon thing is described as “Only a glimmer, like the shards of a shattered mirror, betray this near invisible death. Its voice is like acid in the ears.”Ok, so, creepy words, for sure. And, probably more than enough to run an evocative encounter. Most of the descriptions are like this, hinting rather than saying. I don’t hate the descriptions, but I do think they are getting close to that. Essentially, you can take “evocative” too far. This doesn’t do that, but it does get close enough that, combined with the abstracted travel, I start to raise my eyebrows. It never goes fully in to that territory though. 

It’s a pretty short adventure. 

An unusual amount of real estate is spent on the town. The NPC’s, rumors, and someone dying every night. It’s well supported, with a great little “how the villagers react to stress” table, as well as a paranoia mechanic for the villagers as the deaths increase. If they do. Like I said, one death a night and the path forward seems pretty clear to me: talk to the acolyte immediately and go to the church in the lost city in the swamp. It’s not that the village is bad, it’s actually very well supported, especially for an adventure brining the creepy vibe. It’s just not clear to me that it’s going to get much use. A nice snag though for another creepy village you’re running. Who’s not up for an impromptu wedding because of all the grief in the village? 

Items are good also. The hermit has some magic beans (bring on the folklore!) that when you plant them in a corpse grow a vine with weird fruit. That turn out to be healing items. That’s probably the most involved item, but, a broken silver dagger rumored to have slain a werewolf might give you a reason to visit the blacksmith,  and so on. There’s a non-traditional aspect to them that I dig a lot. 

So, creepy vibe. Nice advice to create creepy villagers when they are possessed. Nice village, if no reason to fuck around there. Abstracted randomness, misplaces, on the journey through the swamp and in to the city. (I’ve said this before and will not doubt harp on it in the future: why are you inserting randomness randomly? Just create some fucking encounters, fully fleshed out things, and insert them.) . The backstory is overwrought, takes up too much space, and is essentially irrelevant. 

Short and creepy. Maybe, 2 hours of content? It’s interesting, as a design type. It’s use of abstraction and weirdly descriptive/abstracted text to create a spooky vibe is interesting. Academically interesting. To me. It needs to be tightened up and expanded in to a full adventure.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is the full thing. Yeah! You CAN make an informed decision. I’d check it out, even if you are not interested. Check out the “Grim Tidings” table for the village, or the intro scene with the ghost lady, pages 11 and 13.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Haunting of the Inn

Mon, 11/08/2021 - 12:11

By Don MacVittie
Hellebarde Games
C&C, OSRIC, 5e
Levels 4-8

When all you want is a drink at the inn, perhaps a warm bed for the night, of course it has been taken over by unspeakable horrors! If you’re going to get an ale and a room, you’ll have to brave the stench coming from the front door, and figure out what went wrong.

This twelve page adventure uses three pages to describe 24 rooms in an inn. It wants to be body horror. It is, though, just a monster zoo with the usual issues. Inn of Lost Heroes it ain’t. 

I’m in the mood for something new & delightful! Let’s see …  Multiple Mauseritter adventures. Darkmaster adventure. Morg Borg adventure. Surrealist RPG written by an AI … Halloween adventure it is! While I’m not the biggest fan of holiday adventures, halloween gets a special hall pass cause SPOOKY.

What we have here, though, is an absolute fucking mess of an adventure. 

It WANTS to be spooky. It WANTS to be atmospheric. It WANTS to be body horror. But it doesn’t do anything to facilitate any of that beyond the basic aspects of “oh, look, a gibbering mouther!”

The first issue is the town itself. There isn’t one. There’s no real hook, or town, or anything. And that’s ok, not every adventure needs a town or a town element. But what there is are little bits of the town, scattered throughout, in the various “marketing blurbs.”  The DriveThru description is quoted above. The front cover description has the staff & patrons turned in to horrifying monsters … and the locals only caring that all the ale comes form the inn, so, you know … could you please? The first page has different teaser line from the town, and a little bit of “shutters baning and miasma smells coming out of the front door” thing. Then the first real page of the adventure has a fog rolling out of the doors and more rotting meat miasma. There’s a further line deep in about what everyone in town knows. The BACK cover blurb has the constable saying things like people that go in don’t come out. Get it? It’s all scattered, not in one place, no way to reference it in a meaningful way during play. So, there kind of IS a town element, but no way to get anything out of it. 

And the map. Ug, the map. There is only one set of doors, I guess, in to the inn. And no windows on the first floor, even though the text references there are some? But the second floor is showing explicitly? And no real interior doors on the first floor? Just walls? The map here is “color” and I’m guessing comes from some app. Better to have an actual functional map, in black & white or even hand drawn, than a color map with features … that you can’t make or use.

Let’s see, inside the inn you get to make, if you are playing non-5e, a Save vs magic EVERY TURN or turn in to a monster. You need to miss two to complete the transformation. EVERY TURN. A save vs magic. Fuck me man! Clearly, someone doesn’t play old school and this is just a bad conversion attempt. 

And then the atmosphere. Or lack thereof. We get one line, one sentence, that says “Be atmospheric. The rhythmic chopping coming from the kitchen, the squeak of rats from the nursery, the claws scraping wood coming from the common room” That’s it. A well written adventure would have supported the DM in this regard. Noted this in each room, or in the previous room. Stuck in atmospheric details in the various rooms. Summarized them on a chart. SOMETHING. Nope. One line telling you to do it. Well, no shit. 

And then there’s the body horror. Or lack thereof. The people in the inn are supposed to have been turned in to horrible monsters. Grey Ooze, Cubes, gibbering mouther, zombies, and some other stuff. Mostly bestial and/or abominations. But you don’t actually get anything to support the body horror aspect. “Frank was turned in to a gibbering mouther” is about as much as you get. No description at all. Nothing to support the horror. What happens, then, is thar the entire place just feels like am monster zoo. Go in a room. Fight monster. Go in another room. Fight a different weird monster. 

And the rooms, proper, don’t get any support either. There’s no horror, or destruction in them. There are hardly any descriptions. An occasional “this room is destroyed” comment, but that’s it. Nothing to support the horror, or body horror. 

But what there is has a lot of … backstory! “Servant Bunkroom: This is where the servants normally sleep. They were all working hard when the trouble started, but three ran back into here when all the chaos broke out. As they ran, they transformed into Zombies.” So, that could be shortened to “Servant Bunkroom: 3 Zombies.” Everything else is padding. Instead of padding it could be a description of the zombies, or of the room, or SOMETHING to support the actual play of the adventure. And room after room after room does this. A boring description full of backstory not supporting the horror elements of the game. 

You  can’t just say that there’s a gibbering mouther in a room and call that horror. You can’t just say “create a spooky vibe.” Of course you should be doing these things. It’s the job of the designer to help the DM pull it off. 

This is $2 at DriveThru. There is no preview.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Eye of the Storm

Sat, 11/06/2021 - 11:11
By Joseph Mohr Old School Role Playing OSRIC Levels 3-5

The sleepy little coastal village of Sea Mist has a problem. A ship bringing important goods to the village is overdue. A major storm hit the coast earlier in the week and the village elders wonder weather the ship wrecked on the dangerous rocks nearby. But something far more sinister has occurred.

This eighteen page adventure uses five single-column pages to describe twenty rooms in a wrecked ship. It is lacking anything interesting. It has no joy. It is misery.

An isolated village of a hundred people are waiting on a ship to arrive. It is overdue. Could you go a couple of miles up the coast to find it, pretty please? Why are you in an isolated village? Who knows. Why do you do this? Because that’s D&D tonight. Why haven’t the COASTAL villagers gone two miles up the coast to see? Who knows. Well, no, actually, I do know. Because the designer is lazy.

It’s like there’s no effort at all anymore. A Dyson map. Some public domain art, Single column text done in Word or Google Docs. Monsters? Some mermen, a water spider and a sea lion. Challenges? None, other than combat. Role playing? None. Interactivity? None. The wonder and joy of D&D? None. 

A ship. The top level/deck is empty, but for some subtle signs of combat and a spider. The second level has more signs of combat, a sea lion, and some prisoners who tell you it was … MERMEN! The lower level has twelve mermen, who almost certainly all show up in a pitched battle, leaving the rest of the lower level nothing but a “what loot do we find?” interrogation of the DM. B O R I N G. 

Also, no storm in this. No eye of the storm. Nothing.

“Cargo Doors – When cargo was brought aboard it was dropped through these grated doors
to be brought below. These doors appear to have been forced open by someone as one of
the doors hangs downward.”

That’s a room description. Here’s another:

“A single water spider has decided to make a nest in this cabin. This is the rarer sea water
variety. Although the spider enjoys proximity to water it still needs air to live. It uses this
space as it’s home now but hunts down below on the second level.”

Expanded minimalism. They both say almost nothing at all. The spider entry, for sure, says nothing, while the cargo doors has the signs of being forced. Which, of course, os abstracted text. Don’t say signs of being forced. Describe what the fucking things look like.

But, that would take effort. And effort, clearly, was not involved in this. I dub thee “Rip off” with the honour of receiving the coveted Bryce “You get a 1 out of 10” award,.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $3. 


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Child Thieves

Wed, 11/03/2021 - 11:11
By R.J. Thompson Appendix N Entertainment OSE Levels 3-5

Several years ago a piper happened along the poorest district of the city during the midst of the plague of rats and with his magic flute rid the people of the rats. Every year since the rats have come again, and so has the piper. In recent years the price of his services has risen, but the money of the poor has not. This year they could not pay. The angered piper left the district, cursing its residents. The next morning the people woke and found the beds of their children empty. Large rat-like tracks were found in the district leading from the homes of the missing children to the storm drains. With so little to offer for the return of their children, will the people find anyone to attempt a rescue?

This 27 page adventures uses nine pages to describe two levels of a sewer system with 22 rooms. It’s heavily rat themed, in terms of monsters. Lots of rats, giant rats, and were-rats. Surprise! It’s a daily non-offensive thing, doing nothing really interesting or overly bad. I guess it’s boring? Sure. It’s boring. 

Oh, the jaded reviewer, pity him! Dwelling in his pile of shit. Eating his pile of shit. Seeing the same thing time and again. Oh, why can’t his icy heart appreciate the thing for what it is, now, in this moment, and not make the comparisons to all of the joys of the part, president, and possible futures to come? Because I don’t want to run a boring game, that’s why.

There is a joy to D&D. In it’s best moments a mirthful glee to the situations the party find themselves in. The world is straight man to the characters, but you need to give the party something to work with. You need someone asking who’s on first base. That’s the adventure. And an adventure without those opportunities gives us less room to create that unbridled glee that is D&D. 

So, rats in a sewer. A million billion adventures written about rats in the sewer. And, here’s another Rats In The Sewer adventure. Of course, there’s wererats involved. No doubt there is some portion of my literary education that is missing, that which will make all D&D designers obsessions with wererats make sense. So, the towns kids are missing and the tracks lead to the sewers. The same sewers that, yearly, a horde of rats come out of. *sigh*, ok, let’s go down in to the sewer. Why is there a sewer? Who knows. Is there any “sewer” like things in the swerve, like grates to the above? No. There’s some water 3’ deep. 

And a lot of rats. A LOT of rats. Like, encounters with 50 of them. And then giant rats swarming out of holes in the walls. And the required wererats, who never alert anyone else and just wait in the rooms to die. There is, in the back, an art piece I thought was cool. It had a sewer place and some wererats in combat and one of them was holding a revolved at the ready! Cool! Then I saw I misread the art piece and it wasn’t a revolver. *SADZ*

Map has some water on it. Map has some loops. It’s not a bad map for what it is. I mean, it’s not good either. One room mentions a pile of dung sticking out of the water, and that’s not on the map, so, you don’t get major room features like that. Or, only rarely do you get them. 

There’s a water valve puzzle, because all sewers have those. Like, I don’t know, twelve possible combinations? Including them drying out a room that you already have to be standing in in order to get the treasure in that room. So, leave someone behind in that room while you go elsewhere to work the vales. There’s no real indication of what the valves do, other than going back to look at all the rooms to see what happens after each time you make a change. This seems tedious to me? Like something I would handwave. 

I don’t know. At one point a trap drops a bunch of staves on the floor, which has a sticks to snakes spell on it. I can’t stand this kind of rube goldberg type traps. Just fucking drop some god damn viers on the party. Like a carboard box full of them. Why the shit with the staves and “the floor has the spell on it?” 

I’m just bored. Bored of going in to room after room and fighting rats. What’s in this room¿ Oh, more rats. Nice. Said no one ever. Maybe two thousand copper coins also? 

There’s a kind of D&D drudgery here. An ennui, as an adventurer, that makes you wonder why you are doing it all. I mean, yeah, saving kids. That’s a reason, right? I mean, the parents didn’t even try to save them, so, youknow, if they don’t give a shit … And, you know, infant mortality rate in towns was pretty high already. I guess we’re going down in to the sewers, again, because we want to hang out with our friends tonight and play D&D. But, really, what’s the difference? Sitting home alone. Playing boring D&D with friends. Same thing.

No, I’m not a member of the cult of the new. And no, I’m not overly attracted to gonzo. And no, I’m not a jaded reviewer. I just have absolutely no interest in things like this. Things that all fight Fight FIGHT. Yeah, there’s a time and place for combat, Mr 4e, but it’s not all the fucking time. There need to be evocative places of wonder to explore. And the descriptions of the sewers don’t bring the filth required to qualify as a place of wonder. Or even a place of Mild Interest. There is essentially no interactivity, other than the valve puzzle and talking to a giant turtle. The designer has also “Made the adventure replayable” by giving you five different locations the children could be. Seriously? Who the fuck does that? Replay an adventure like this? 

It does, to its credit, do an ok job with mundane treasure. Holden bracelets with opals, a silver tiara, a gold pendant in the shape of an oak leaf. Note that is my threshold. It takes almost nothing to impress me and yet here we are. Again. “Silver tiara” gets a nod from me. It also has some little rule about rumors, where a 13 WIS, and a divine background, lets you know which “cult” rumors are false/true, etc, and something similar for INT. Pretty common sense stuff ,but nice to see it called out. 

So, it’s an adventure. I guess you could run it. If you had nothing better to do with your life. Like watch the paint peel or take up coke or shitty Italian aperitifs. Want an adventure? Here’s one. God, nothing about this would make me come back again to a DM who ran a session like this. Is this really how people play D&D?

Gavin’s OSE has now ARRIVED; the market is flooded.

This is $5 at DriveThru. Two ratings, both five stars. The preview is six pages. Only the last one is any good, showing you the first five rooms. Oh, and the fourth one has that rumor shit on it, if you want to see that mini-rule.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Infected Village

Mon, 11/01/2021 - 11:19
By Marcus Lock Parts Per Million Worlds Without Number/OSR Levels 5-6

No movement, No sound, barely a wisp of air. The village appears empty, with no sign of struggle, no violent death, in fact, no sign of the villagers at all. All there appears to be is an empty space as if the people were teleported away and, in their absence, in the time they have been gone, strange shapes seem to have almost sprung out of the ground. Growing upwards getting bigger, the shapes are familiar, but the size is wrong. Mushrooms just don’t grow that big. 6’, 8’, some as big as trees, almost blocking out the sun. Multi-colored and grouped together around the village. The strong earthy smell of growth is almost overpowering. There is a mist filtering through the tree-sized mushrooms…

This thirty page digest adventure features 15 “locations”, using six pages to do so. It makes me question all of the life choices I’ve made to bring me to this point in my journey. 

Look, I’m a happy go lucky kind of guy. Live and let live, Bryce always says. You see that hill over there? That very next one? Right behind it is a shining city under blue skies. We merely need to stretch our legs and walk the distance and we’ll be there! Rage, my cynic friends! Rage against the dying of the light! 

A magnificent adventure today! Look at that cover! How could there not be a shining city under it?! Blue skies await! 

Look at that product description! Joy! Oh, no … wait, it’s not joy. Hmmm, it’s pretty much telegraphing what is going on. I mean, the villagers turned in to mushrooms, right? That’s obvious to everyone? It’s not just me? So … it’s going to be obvious to the players just as soon as they step in to the village … or even see it from a distance? “No signs of life in the village, no dogs or fires or anything, but there are clusters of 6-footish tall mushrooms scattered around in clusters.” 

What follows is a study in tedium.

Essentially, there are no encounters in this adventure and there’s nothing to do. I’m not counting fighting. There’s plenty of fighting. The DM text does say “role-playing within a village environment”, but, I don’t think we’re using a common language at least as far as it applies to the term roleplaying. I’m cool with other play styles. I mean, I don’t want fuck-all to do with them, but, hey, if you like them then engage all you want. But I despair over is the loss of meaning. “I like to play D&D” means nothing any more. It could mean literally anything. And this adventure is NOT my definition of D&D.

Basically, you walk in the village and get attacked. You fight some mushroom people. You can look around in some buildings, but, they are all empty, with minimal descriptions. “Roberts family, 4 children.” a great many of them say with a generic description above them all of a dusty building not lived in for quite some time. There’s no specificity. And it wouldn’t matter if there were because there’s nothing going on in the village. Some giant mushrooms to look at. “Giant mushrooms.” is about all the description you get for them and there’s no interactivity. Get attacked by some mushroom people. Yeah! Find a hole in the ground. Great. There is absolutely NO interactivity in the village. No mystery to solve. Nothing to find. Nothing to explore. And then the “dungeon” starts with it’s eight-ish rooms. Again, no interactivity. You can go right or left. If you go right you find guard mushrooms and the hive mind aggros all mushrooms to your location. If you go left you find mushrooms that attack you and the hive mind aggros all mushrooms to your location. Each location is essentially just a description saying “There are X mushroom people of type Y at this location.” with a long stat block then mixed in and a note at the end reminding the DM to agro all of the mushroom people. 

There is no treasure.

The hook is that the rumors are that the village is empty. Or a merchant hires you because no caravans have come. And the village is at a cross-roads. But no one has explored it all. Cross-roads is not out of the way. But weeks of dust, and un-looted general store implies that it is. Giant trees spore you once you get close. Maybe. Or maybe they don’t? They take weeks to develop. The text says hey are not developed. And then it says they spore the party. None of this shit makes any sense.

Wandering monsters contains such evocative entries as “small pack animal” and “herd beast.” 

This is D&D. This is what a large number of people think D&D is. Because it IS that to those people. Just like Critical Role. That IS the definition of D&D for a great many people. The majority, now, I assume. Or D&D is “the DM is telling a story through the adventures” bullshit. Or D&D is mini’s combat and combat-as-sport. But this isn’t D&D. You might have fun doing one of those things. I’m genuinely glad you do. But, at some point, we must agree on the meaning of the word “egg.” If you offer me poached eggs and serve me dried maggots for breakfast then I think it’s fair to assert that I have a right to be disappointed. 

I find adventures like this so perplexing. How do you put something like this together, with the obvious quality in layout and art, and NOT know what a D&D adventure is? Surely you’ve seen them before? But I guess not? I mean, otherwise, why would something like this exist? Do people care so little for what they attach their names to? I mean, I’m an asshat and too much of a perfectionist, having attached my name to nothing, but this is the other side of the spectrum. 

I weep. 

Day after day. Week after week. People who don’t care. On a good day I’ll tell myself that they just don’t know what they don’t know. I don’t understand how they don’t know it, but, it’s clear they don’t. Why else then? 

Because there is no shining city just over the next hill. All the clouds are grey. It’s just people. People muddling through life. Doing the best they can. Which is substandard 99% of time. And no one really gives a shit, one way or another. There is no hope for a brighter tomorrow.

And yet, we must imagine that Sisyphus is happy. 

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is the entire thing. So, at least there’s that.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Tomb of the Alchemist

Sat, 10/30/2021 - 11:11
By Michael H. Stone Self Published OSE Levels 2-4

After long years lying undisturbed and forgotten, the tomb of Hashur, master alchemist of sargon, has recently been opened when an earthquake ripped apart a rock formation in the Montem Downs. When the adventuring party “The Bold Blades” went to investigate, they were wholly unprepared to face an ancient mummy infused with immense power by magical potions and poisons. Murdering the bold blades in a confused rage, Hashur awakens to find the ancient kingdom sacked and its once great cities ruined. Realizing the awakening might not come to pass for him and his wife and followers if local authorities learn of his unearthed crypt, he hatches a plan. Slaving away in his laboratory, he brews a terrible plague of undeath which he plans to unleash on the borderlands.  In mere weeks, a tide of decay and infection will sweep the borderlands clean of the contemptible servants of Law…

This twenty page adventure uses nine pages to describe an eleven room tomb with a mummy dude and his undead friends running around in it. I fucking hate it? I don’t know why though. It’s trying to do the right things? I find the text confusing, and I find the mmap confusing, and I find the text … verbose? No, not verbose. Not the way I usually use that word. It’s like one of those old B series “learning adventure”, maybe? Like, any idea has to have a paragraph on how to run it. Maybe that’s it.

Ok, so, I’m in hour two of a thirteen hour conference and I’m drinking a $45 bottle of gin that’s only 375ml. And I fucking hate gin. I don’t know. Whatever. I just know that I HATE this adventure. Unreasonably so. And, in my own defense, I hated it before I started drinking today. 

And, now, I’m pissed off from work. Grrrrrr… sorry dude. Fucking piece of shit small minded mindsets. No, I’m NOT checking with others before I work with their staff on personal growth projects. I can go to lunch with anyone I want to any time I want to. Fuck it. That’s my staff are better. 

So, you’ve got this undead mummy dude. Long dead sorcerer priest mummy alchemist guy, woken up by some recent tomb raiders and some kind of earthquake thing. Whatever. My takeaway is that alchemists are the new go to for evil bad guys. I chalk this up to an anti-science attitude prevalent in society today. Alchemists seem to be the go to baddie. Whatever. Existence precedes essence, stab whoever you want. Shit. Except there actually are gods. And there’s an god of evil. Fuck. What the fuck does THAT mean? Oh, yeah, so, there are some skeletons with mutations. Mostly save or die shit. Anytime you meet them you roll on a table to see what Save or Die abilities they have

Speaking of save or die … How about an animated statue with AC3 with a save or die ability? The various baddie mutations that amount to save or die? The save or die abilities of, seemingly, over half the creatures in the adventure? This seems a bit much for levels 2-4. In a mostly linear map. 

Let me, now, explain how D&D works. 

Blah blah blah blah Combat As Sport blah blah blah blah Combat As War. So, look, levels 2-4. That’s what the fucking cover says. How many Save or Die effects and/or creatures are ok in that environment? How many are ok in a LINEAR environment? Traditional exploratory dungeons allow for other areas to explore. You can go around shit, or go to other places. Linear/modern/lair/shit dungeons, though, rely on balancing. It’s ok to be linear because the designer has carefully crafted the place to make sure y ou don’t get fucked up. Unless they don’t. Unless you are a B/X level 2 character in a world of fucking Save or Die. 

The read-aloud overexplains. The sectary (desk) has an open written journal on it. *sigh* What about people LOOKING at the fucking desk to determine what is on it? Whatever. The entrance to the dungeon has a living statue, AC3, save or die effect. Linear entrance. Also, you need to pull its tail to make the secret door open. How the fuck does that work? I smash it to pieces and THEN I pull it tail to open the door to the dungeon?


Room seven is the main entrance. I think. I’m not actually sure if you can go in that way. It looks like room one is the entrance. Except seven says it is. The map is unclear. Is the tunnel blocked? Who knows. Who cares? The Death pit and a trapdoor in to it? I don’t even know how that works. This points to a basic, basic aspect of adventure design: you have to be able to understand what the fuck is going on. 

Again, I apologize that half my gin bottle is now gone. You don’t deserve this. But … I do …

The main bad guy appears in room 2. Probably. There’s probably a let down there as you explore the rest of the tomb. Pretty Boy Lareth was, at least, in the last room. I guess I don’t know what you do after this. I mean, you stabbed the bad guy. What do you do now? I guess you wander around and stab more shit? Whatever. How about the room full of ghouls? 13 ghouls? Sure. Whatever. That will work out ok. 

Wait when was I bitching about the read-aloud over-explaining? About the urns being empty? I shall elucidate. Or go in to more detail. Or whatever. When you over explain you break one of the core mechanics of D&D, exploratory or plot based. The back and forth between player and DM is at the heart of these types of games. The DM describes something, the players investigate with actions and follow up question, the DM provides further info, and thus the circle of life continues. By over-explaining in the read-aloud you are removing the back and forth. WHy do this? Why remove what is a core foundation of all RPG’s? 

Oh, what the fuck else. Did I complain about the map? Did I complain that the room descriptions are obtuse? Did I complain that one room was 1.5 pages long? Did I complain that the rooms are OVERLY formatted (that’s twice now that I recall this problem popping up in adventures.) Everything is explained. It takes a paragraph to say what the zombie is wearing. And one to tell us about the easily spotted secret door. And one to tell us that a zombie used to be the leader of a band of adventurers. And one to tell us that the room has ten zombies in it. And then a read-aloud paragraph. And then a stat block paragraph. I don’t want to be an ass here, but, this is too much for what the room is. It’s not that the room has too many elements, but that the individual elements tend to get way too much attention. 

Ok, this is a shitty review. I apologize. I’m going to sleep it off now.

This is $4 at DriveThru. Preview is five pages. The last page gives yo ua brief sample of what to expect. 


I actually had to go back and edit this review. Fucking gin.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Barrow of the Elf King

Wed, 10/27/2021 - 11:12
Nate Treme Highland Paranormal Society The Vanilla Game Level 1

And if joy were not on the earth,
There were an end of change birth,
And Earth and Heaven and Hell would die,
And in some gloomy barrow lie
Folded like a frozen fly
-WB Yeats, The Wanderings of Oisin

This sixteen page digest adventure features a ten room barrow. Of an elf king. I know, surprising, given the title, right?  It knows how to create an atmosphere and brings a certain OD&D charm to the table with its encounters. I will never complaining about small level one adventures, but, the challenge for a designer like this is moving away from the ten room level one dungeon in to something with room to breathe and the context to bring the larger area to life.

There are, I think, two major hurdles for most designers to overcome. In the Brycian model of adventure design we have Ease of Use, Evocative Writing and Interactivity … with hidden pillar four being “Design.” Ease of Use is not particularly difficult, once you know you need to do it. It’s mostly just following some guidelines. Interactivity that is formulaic can provide least middling results, enough that the adventure is not just one note anyway. The ability to throw away all of the tropes of all of the adventures ever seen and bring new life to things is an important skill. The imagining of a scene, and what it would really be like, getting past all of the imagination having been beaten out of you by life. The Evocative Writing then communicates this to the DM and the DM to players, painting a picture in their head, creating a mood and atmosphere. It allows the DMs imagination, and the players, to be leveraged in to something much greater than what was on the page, the negative space in the imagination being filled in by the players/DM’s own brains. This adventure hits on all three notes, successfully in all cases with some occasional bits that verge on brilliance. 

The dungeon is small. Ten rooms, which includes the exit which is not an actual room, at least not in my taxonomy. So, nine spaces to adventure in. It keeps the text to one room per page, one digest page, with relatively large margins a decent sized font, and generally some room left over at the bottom. (At least enough for my most petty of enemies t o make an appearance: the explicit mention of where each exit is in the room.) This allows the DM to scan the room quickly, picking up what the important features are. It’s generally written with the most important features appearing first/high up in the description, allowing the DM to narrate as they go through the room. It’s very tightly edited. There’s none of the usual if/then shit, or room backgrounds, or conversational styling to get in the way of the DM actually using the text to run the room. At most we get an occasional aside in the room that provides context within the bounds of ACTUAL PLAY. A room with three skeletons at a table playing dice tells us, in the middle of the description, “An ancient enchantment bound them here to protect the tomb but the magic has eroded with time and they are terribly bored.” The terribly bored part enhances the rooms play especially roleplay, which this room is bound to have. The “ancient enchantment” stuff can even fit in to that. It fits in perfectly with the next sentence “They’ll halfheartedly ask intruders to leave and end every conversation with “Ok, time for you to go” or “It’s getting late” while gesturing towards the entrance.” It builds. (and, good use of italics to offset while maintaining readability). Importantly, this is one aside in what is otherwise ¾ of a page of text, maybe, seven sentences total. The ratio of directly actionable data to tertiary aside is absolutely spot on … AND The tertiary background is relevant to the actual play of the room rather than just useless trivia. Good job. There’s an OD&D vibe here, not just in type of encounter but in mechanics as well. The text focuses on the play rather than the mechanics of play, with a sparseness of attention to it, letting the focus remain in the FANTASTIC rather than the mundanity of getting there. Oh, for a world in which the monster ref sheet page of the Ready Ref sheets were the norm!

Interactivity is … subtle. While there’s an obvious role play element to the skeletons, there are at least two other role play opportunities as well within the tomb. In the tomb! Tomb dungeons can be boring, but here we have something other than undead combat and traps. You can talk to a goblin, or with The Oldest Spider in the Forest … and perhaps strike a bargain with her. Want to see in the dark and walk on walls? The spider has a deal for you … and that deal is delicious! Literally, of course, but figuratively as well, causing the player to ask themselves what they will do for power. And, the ability of a minor entity, the oldest giant spider in the forest, to do that? Great! (More The Oldest later.) 

This sort of thing extends to the magic items.  Canopic jars full of brains and heart … who’s up for a light snack? Or, the living wooden sword of the elf lord … planted to grow in to a tree. Rewards for returning said gobo to her boggy home? The gift of a toad steed. Or skulls attached to the wall with thin silver wires. There are things to do!

The writing here is generally strong, and it supports itself by leveraging a kind of older folklore element, something pre-Tolkein and before the advent of every description becoming meaninglessly abstracted and generic. This is bleeding in to the general vibe of the dungeon and the atmosphere it creates even from the very first encounter. There’s a mound of dirt in the forest. There are three stone slabs on top, all the same shape, one that a single man can lift, one that three men together could lift, and one that it takes two men to lift. Stacking them, in order, creates the portal in to the barrow. Note this doing three separate things. FIrst, there’s interactivity. Second, there’s the appeal to the entrance to the mythic underworld … you have to do SOMETHING to gain entrance to it. Finally, the appeal to The Old Ways. This feels different. It feels like you’re in some older tale, a peddler or soldier matching wits with the supernatural. And it does this over and over and over again. The talk spider. The dicing skeletons. A dead elf lord on a dias, arms crossed, holding a black iron arrow in each one. Wearing white wooden armor and a crown of twisted branches growing green leaves. Note the evocation of the fey elf, closet to the wood elf king from the Hobbit. Fey. Iron. Bramble Crown. This all FEELS right, down in your bones. 

We get “A narrow stone brick tunnel is lined with small alcoves, two on each side. Each contains a skull, covered in ornamental markings in blue ink, with green gemstones “ A brick tunnel, with all the imagery that holds. Niches, and not just skull but inked skulls. And not just inked skulls but blue-inked skulls. These are simple, decently described, not overly verbose, evocative. And leveraging ideas to bring more than the simple words would indicate. Maybe could use some work in this area to get to super stardom description levels, but the trend is absolutely SOLIDLY on the correct side of the spectrum. 

A small lair dungeon for level one adventurers completed successfully. Good Job! You’ve done the most basic thing a designer can do. There’s a weaker room here or there (the exit room, the canopic jar room) and perhaps the writing could be even better. But, solid solid effort. For what it is. A basic level one lair dungeon. Yeah, that’s right fuckers, I’m complaining about that. Look, I like level one adventures. There are a decent number of them. Maybe fewer lair dungeons, since those tend to come from a genre not known for producing strong efforts. But, I assert, the level one lair dungeon is nothing but training wheels. There is no larger context of the world around the location. There are only ten rooms. The challenge is to continue this effort. To include the larger context. To have a dungeon  that larger design elements come in to play. One in which the players can stretch their legs, with all of the design challenges that come with that. The lair dungeon, that is but a single bite of a single donut. I want to see something more fully realized, with context and size. That’s where the designer needs to go next to stretch themself, both creatively and logistically. That is what will put Nate down in the annals of RPGdom. 

This is Pay What You Want at itch.io, with a suggested price of $7.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Demon Driven to the Maw

Thu, 10/21/2021 - 12:52

Emergency Thursday Post!
Emergency Thursday Post!

By Brad Kerr Swordlords Publishing Cairn

SOMETHING IS WEIRD ABOUT THIS PARTY IN 16TH CENTURY SCOTLAND. A famous thief stole a magical jewel and hid inside a castle where a party is taking place. Enter the party, find the jewel, escape with your life.



This sixteen page adventure details a nice party in a manor with about seventeen rooms … before things go to hell. It is everything an adventure like this (social/investigation) should be. Brad Kerr knows how to add flavour to a bit of scenery without bogging you down in useless crap. I want to have millions and millions of this adventures babies. I repeat …



Our pretext for this evenings adventure is “The thief Jougal stole the famed Sky Marble from the king’s bedside. It’s the talk of the town. A drunkard at the tavern swears he saw Jougal headed towards Firnhirst castle in Edburg, a forlorn neighboring hamlet. Following the drunkard’s tip, you find a full blown party at Firnhirst Castle. Two smiling servants hold the door and beckon you to enter…” Not bad, eh? Short. Its the talk of the town. A drunkard tells you. A full blown party. You could either use that text as read-aloud or roleplay it out; there’s enough there to get the gist of what’s going and add enough, as a DM, to fit it in to the game smoothly. My only complaint is the last line. Yes, that’s my only complaint IN THE ENTIRE ADVENTURE. As read-aloud that telegraphs to me, the player, to be on guard for More Than Meets The Eye. As the DM, it very successfully communicates the vibe of the adventure, but, perhaps, could inspire a bit more subtly. It’s almost a perfect set up.

So, fellow asshats on this journey we call life, SPOILERS. Yes, that’s right, I’m announcing spoilers. Don’t read further. I mean go right ahead and buy the thing so you can run it. You bought it? Ok, let’s talk …

OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG! Cool, right? Ok, so, the local Baobhan Sith (deer-hooved vampires, with a delightful little art piece successfully conveying their nature. FUCK! Where’s my GURPS Vampires book when I need it?!) have come up from hell to throw a party for the Devil. And he’s shown up! Let’s see, they mostly look female, their skin is removable, sometimes swap identities for their own fun, and like to seduce weak-willed mortals and then slice their chests open to feed on their blood! (So, an older folklore vampire, not a D&D vampire.) And that’s what’s going on tonight. They’ve taken over the manor and are throwing a party for the local villagers. Shortly after the party arrive the doors get chained shut (windows are arrow slit windows, this being a former ‘working’ manor) At some point (in 4d4+1 turns) they are going to set the place on fire to burn it down and start their black mass feast. Inside is the thief, along with a host of locals and mostly disguised hell folks. Search around for the thief, talk to some folks, get creeped out by things, and then ABSOLUTE CHAOS starts. This is what SHOULD happen in an adventure like this. Oh, and as the vampire/sith are running around, after the fires have started, they are killing people, etc … they are yelling “Hail Satan!” Because everyone reading this INSTANTLY recognizes that is EXACTLY what SHOULD happen in this situation. I can’t think of anything else in life, ever, feeling more right than that. 

Excellent use of bullets points to highlight important information, but not an overuse of them. SOmethinglike “During the fire phase these things will happen” or some such. Offset boxes are used, along with selective building, to highlight important bits of reference data. NPC’s are generally found on one page. Maybe two sentences each, a general one and a “Wants.” Lum, a giant from the underworld, sad that her date ditched her. Wants a good time, a hot meal, and basic human kindness. Noice! I can run Lum. It’s quick, terse, and choked FULL of relatable human behaviour that I know how to run and is ACTIONABLE during the game. Hele, the Morning Star. Literally Satan. Doesn’t care about all this blood and sacrifice stuff as much as everything thinks he does, bu, a party’s a party. Fuck Yes! 

Supplementing this are a table full of random villagers at the party, along with another with some of their small talk, as well as a small table for the vampire sith. Both of these are ACTIONABLE. Their tables are focused on their interactions. It is GAMEABLE DATA. 

Likewise the locations in the manor. They are all handled on, like three pages. Because the designer recognizes that this is NOT an exploratory adventure. What happens in THIS adventure is the party wanders around from room to room interacting with people, mostly.  The descriptions are generally focused on that. Again, generally interactive, with an NPC or something interesting, like a locked door (which no doubt the party will fixate on) or some such. 

There are little mechanics for redcaps, an increasing number over time, following you … waiting until their are enough of them to overpower you. Sweet! And a great table on “What atrocity is happening in this room?” after the fire/black mass/slaughter begins.  What happens when you go to hell? The adventure gives you advice! 

EVERYTHING here is SPOT on. It is exactly the correct amount of information. It is EXACTLY flavourful enough. It is formatted perfectly to do what it needs to do. It’s not following rules, for formatting, but flowing naturally, relying on evocative tersity to convey what it needs to.

You can run this. You instinctively know HOW to run this. The adventure supports you in running it. It is full of GLEE, or, perhaps, POTENTIAL glee. 

It is all I have ever wanted in a D&D game. WHich means it is all I have ever wanted in life.

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview shows the entire thing. Because Brad is a classy guy. Try page 6, the NPC’s for a great example of flavour, tersity, and gameability. Absolute wonder in sixteen digest pages.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Deadly Mine of Pantanga

Wed, 10/20/2021 - 11:11
By Tim Shorts GM Games OSE Levels “I won’t bother with how many and what levels the party should be.”

I call this a found adventure. There are no hooks and motivations. The party is traveling and they find a cave. Adventurers love caves. Can you ever recall a time when an adventuring party didn’t enter a cave? I’ve decorated the cave with bones. They love that. Wish the party good luck, then smile.

This sixteen page digest adventure uses around nine pages to describe eleven rooms. It’s small, low on treasure, and feels more disconnected that I think it should. While the writing, and encounters, are decent, it feels a bit empty, like there’s no point to adventuring here.

The writing here is decent. It’s focused and provides a moderately evocative description of the various scenes encountered. The very first encounter, the entrance, is reenforced (sp) by thick wooden beams, with a cracked crossbeam, bones scattered around the entrance, and a handful of barrels that smell of sour ale, one cracked open and covered in big black flies. This is the best example in the adventure of a good description of a scene. It’s short, and yet does a great job painting a vivid picture of the scene before you. It’s not really read-aloud, and what I’m quoting isn’t an actual quote; it’s got a bit of DM commentary scattered through it. But it could ALMOST be read-aloud, and does what it needs to do: give the DM an image of what’s going down, inspiring them to then give that picture to the players. There are occasional smells listed, or lighting notes, in the descriptions all of which work to let the imagination of the DM and players fill in the rest. It’s not overly rigid, not all rooms mention lighting or smells, which goes a long way to helping it be terse and focused. Which, of course, in turn then helps the DM quickly scan the room and run it for the players. It’s just enough, allowing the DM to then riff on things and leveraging their abilities for the game. 

Treasure is quite light, but the magic items in particular get a decent enough description. What does that mean? A potion is in a silver vial. Not just a bottle. A vial. Not just a vial, a silver vial. That’s one extra word, silver, and using “vial” instead of “bottle”, but the effect is substantially better than “a potion of ESP.” Likewise a magic ring that is platinum with an onyx band. These little touches really ramp up the nature of the items. This is exactly the sort of thing I’m referring to but encouraging designers to go just a little beyond what they expect. There’s an abstracted genericism inherent in the word potion, at least as in how we use it in D&D for a treasure description. By just working the editing magic just a little bit more you give the imagination something solid to hold on to, just as with a good room description. Non-traditional items are present as well, like Dead Mans Fingers, a mushrooms that grows to look like … dead mans fingers! Putting on in your mouth delays poison/death for 1d6 days, as it slowly dissolves. It’s a nice item. A good description analogy, a good effect (not immediate) and the added time delay factor. Folk remedies at its finest folks! But, yeah, the treasure is otherwise light for an OPR game. We’re looking at about 4000 in loot, for an adventure that has a deadlier than average trolland several 3HD monsters. Yes, it’s a side-trek sort of thing, just a spot on the road to poke in to. But … why? And I’m not talking hook. I’m talking Compelling …

The cave complex is small, about 60×90 in total. This makes many of the encoutnters feel like they are on top of each other. There’s an occasional note of a sound or smell coming from a particular direction, but the guidance here is not strong, nor is creature reaction, for a complex that is so small. It FEELS larger, or perhaps I mean more complex, than a typical lair dungeon, but it also doesn’t feel fully formed. It’s occupying some middle ground of not a lair dungeon but also not a traditional site-based location. I’m not sure there are a lot of these out there. A dyson map in a sinkhole comes to mind. So, no unifying concept, like with a lair dungeon, slightly larger than a lair dungeon, a variety of encounters in the location as one might find a site-based dungeon, but substantially smaller and shorter than one of those would imply.

And somehow this is all throwing me off of wanting to run this. If this were one zone of a larger complex, perhaps with a little more space in it, I think I would be more interested in it. It’s also got a few rooms that are crystal themed that come off pretty flat … a killer in a dungeon this small. They don’t FEEL like crystal rooms. It could be that I’m TOTALLY over the idea of just throwing in a couple of living crystal statues and saying “crystals in a room” being a good room concept. Or it could be that those are the weakest rooms in the dungeon and it’s no amount of leaping troll or “three pillar sized colonies of yellow mold” is going to save it from that. But man, it gets close … that leaping troll is a good one. And while the yellow mold room is a good anchoring concept, there’s no real reason to hang around.

The adventure explicitly has no hook. And that’s ok. But, there also doesn’t seem to be any reason to adventure here. Poke around. Find some things. Find a TERRIBLE thing in the yellow mold and just get the fuck out. It all feels so … unsatisfying. Isn’t there some german or french word that? When you anticipate something are are not really disappointed, but unsatisfied?

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. You get to see the first rooms, which is representative of the writing. Good preview.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Beneath Bernhold

Mon, 10/18/2021 - 11:11
By Louis Kahn Starry Knight Press OSRIC Levels 8-10

Hidden in a wooded vale lie the remains of Bernhold Keep. Beneath this ancient fastness dwell the spirits of its original inhabitants, betrayers who turned away from the Light and embraced Chaos in a climactic battle that rent this land asunder. Cursed to everlasting unlife, they wait below, ready to claim the lives of all those foolish enough to venture into their demesne. Are you brave enough to delve Beneath Bernhold?

This 54 page digest adventure uses 24 pages to describe a dungeon with fourteen rooms. Yes, as that page count would suggest, it’s padded to fuck and back with conversational writing, background data, and myriad other issues. The text is hiding a mostly linear dungeon with traps and undead. *sigh*

Your level 8-10 party is hired by some sage for 4000gp to go explore some ruins. Why you’re doing this at level ten I don’t know. I guess you’re suckers. On the way you meet a wandering monster table that takes multiple lines for each entry because each entry starts with what is essentially “it comes out from behind a tree and attacks.” Oh, and the treasure? The DM is left to determine appropriate treasure for the party.

This hints at the major issue of the adventure (beyond dungeon design choices) : the padding. Meaningless padding. It feels like every sentence, every phrase, every room is padded out. Every little thing needs the DMs hand held. “If the players search then they find …” we are told. This is the classic quantum padding I’ve referenced so many times in the past. An if/then statement that should be reworded to just explicitly state what is going on. Or “The treasure found is as follows …” This is just pure padding, having no use at all in making the adventure clearer. “If the players are not carrying illumination …” the adventure tells us, then they can’t see. Well no fucking shit. That IS how fucking D&D works, isn’t it? Or, rather, how LIGHT works? If there’s no light you can’t see? “If the players don’t breathe then they die of suffocation” is, thankfully left out of the room description for each room. 

The adventure goes on and on in this conversations style. Room backgrounds and histories that have no purpose in the adventure. “Lord Bob had a sliding floor trap placed to foil prisoner escapes.” You can’t even argue that this might, in some way, cause the DM to put in some extra feature or be able to answer some player inquiry, like “this room used to be a kitchen” sort of thing might be, in some possible, arguable. On and on and on it goes, every sentence in a conversation style. 

This leads to, of course, a wall of text issue where all of the text runs together and the DM can’t actually use the adventure for its main purpose: as a reference tool to run the adventure. This is, of course, one of the main conceits of this blog. The Adventure is a reference tool for the DM running it. The DM uses it to run the adventure, and thus it must be formatted, and the writing put down on the page, in such a way that facilitates the DM running it. Spending minutes reading a room description, and fumbling through it during play in order to pull out the details you need to run the room, is not a reference tool. It’s something to be read, perhaps. The greatest sin an adventure can make.

And the gimping. *sigh*. Undead cannot be turned. No commune spells work. A trap “cannot be detected as a trap because it is not one.” You put a fucking needle inside of a mouth in which you put your hand in to. Sure, it may be a door lock, pricking you to get blood so the fucking door will open, but, that CANT be detected as a trap? Seriously? 

I don’t know what else to say. Sticking your monsters in the second paragraph, or deeper, so the DM will overlook them? “Oh, uh, wait, sorry, there’s actually eight skeletons in this rooms glowing with unholy fire.” 

The text, padded as it is, is devoid of actual descriptions of things. Just plain jane words with few adjectives and adverbs, much less evocative ones. 

It makes my heart yearn for what it was meant to be. Not the garbage thats in front of me, but what the vision was. The art is there, you can see it on the cover, and on a few pieces inside. It was clearly an act of effort to do layout. To use the formatting that was used. And yet the editing is not there, in any way shape or form. And then, the actual DESIGN of the adventure? The traps and encounters and how they work together? No. This kind of product just hurts my soul and makes me wonder why I do this shit. To be reminded, every day, or the meaningless of it all? And yet, we must imagine Sisyphus as happy …

“If the players don’t remember when you described the green mist going through the fireplace then remind them so that the adventure can continue. 


I thought, maybe, that Starry Knight had improved. Maybe I’ll try again next year.

This is $6.50 at DriveThru. There is no real preview. 


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs