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The Witch of Chimney Rock

Mon, 06/24/2024 - 11:11
Ancient Sage Games
Self Published
Levels 1-3

The village of Veknis has a problem – crops are dying and villagers are disappearing. Suspicions abound that the Witch of Chimney Rock is responsible for these misfortunes. Heroes are needed to discover the truth, venture into the primeval Forest of Legressia, and rid Veknis of the scourge plaguing the town, potentially uncovering a far more dangerous looming threat in the process!

This 67 page adventure, a conversion from 5e, presents a jumble of over-invested encounters that the party has no opportunity to overcome. In spite of a few interesting encounters, that near the definition of set pieces, the overall effect is one of wasted effort in a world in which everyone is simply misunderstood.

There are many things to complain about in this adventure, examples of bad design that may, in some cases, be the platonic example of what not to do. You show up in a village for hook reasons. Those hooks are the usual suspects: someone has hired you/asked you to look in to something. Ye olde quest board, active again! These hooks, and almost every one like them, are mere pretexts and show a lack of agency for the party. You don’t do something because you want to. You do something because you have been hired/sent to do something by someone else. This reminds me so much of the many pretexts in YA lit in particular: You are special, or, The progenitors came before. Seldom do we see someone who just overthrows the system because they want to. No, you were destined to do so. A hook in which the party ARE the progenitors, in which they forge their own destiny, would be much more preferable to these. (Insert the usual commentary bitching about hooks not being needed.) 

And then comes the village. 25 pages worth of village, I think? Lots and lots of people described. Lots and lots of businesses described. Events described. And almost none of it is meaningful to the adventure. Overly described NPCs are the word of the day, along with the needlessly described business description. There is nothing special here. THis is just a generic fantasy village. One of the events is a priest who gives his sacrificial hers to some yours fish and smoking them. I guess this shows he’s kind? But this is not a meaningful part of the adventure and, of course, take us WAYYYYYY too much space. 

And WAYYYYYYY too much space is a notable thing in this adventure. The core of the adventure is your journey through the mysterious forest on you way to the titular Chimney Rock to find the titular witch. You are presented with three paths through the forest that you can take to get there. Each one will have a handful of encounters, in a linear fashion. Choosing one means not choosing the other two, and thus not encountering the other two sets of encounters. We see here a lack of understanding of what kind of adventure this is. If this were a story adventure then we may not have a problem with a linear encounter set. It’s not my thing, but, for those types of adventures I think we can acknowledge that the linear set of encounters could work for them. On the other side of the spectrum may be an adventure with a forest map in which you wander around in a kind of free form manner, having encounters along the way to the rock. You might, I suppose, encounter ALL of the areas in the forest in an adventure like this. You, maybe not. 

And this, I think, leads to the discussion of how long an encounter should be. If the party could possibly encounter, say, thirty locations, then I would not expect each location to be a long one. I would expect them to be on the shorter side of things. As a designer we’re not investing a long word count on something that the party may not encounter. But, if we’re looking at a kind of linear set of encounters, with a plot type game, I might invest a little more heavily in the, say, five encounters the party will discover. (Needless to say, I should hope that in both cases they are done well, be it terse and evocative or formatted for use!) 

But, what if I write a page, or a page and half, for each of thirty or so encounters, most of which will probably not be encountered by the party? What then? My effort wasted, n things that will never see the light of day. And that’s what this adventure does. It doesn’t know if its a linear story adventure or a free form wander. Thus utr creates each path, with the encounters on each lasting a page or a page and half or more. Two third od which will never be seen. I would not, also, that they the writing for them is not particularly evocative or the encounters formatted well for use at the table. It’s hunting text and highlighter time!

This is not to say that the core of the encounters are all bad. There are more than a few of these which tend to the situations side of the spectrum rather than the brief encounter side. And situations are a MAGNIFICENT thing for an adventure. A hag in a hut, not immediately hostile, or a rickety bridge over a ravine, complete with goblins to make things harder. These are way overly described, and the formatting used works against comprehension it is so prevalent. But, also, there’s a druid going the same place you are … to turn himself in to a lich. You don’t know that. But, also you might end up with a little ally in the future, who never leaves his forest. “Yeah, I know a dude which might help. Also, do you have any trees left over from Arbor day? Don’t ask.” That’s a great little after the fact outcome. Or, an owlbear encounter in which he’s eating a dwarf, still alive. Wanna be TPK’d? Or wanna watch the dwarf die? Or, maybe, figure out how to lure it away? There are some pretty decent ideas in this, just WAY overly described for what they are. A ghost child you can district by playing with it’s toys with it. Great!

And looking ta that ghost child, the initial read-aloud ends with “The figure whispers, insistent, beckoning you to come and play…” Which is a pretty great example of telling instead of showing. 

The conversion here is obvious, with trade dress being 5e, skill checks galore, and the final treasure being  “43 cp, 78 sp, 121 gp.” Shitty conversion is shitty and it’s prevalent throughout.  Did I mention the milestone leveling?

Throw away the vast majority of the village, rework the forest encounters, trim a lot of words and rewrite to be more evocative and for the formatting to be less cluttered and actually help at the table, while doing a proper 1e/BX conversion. Then you could have a decent little woods adventure. IN which no one is to blame for anything and everyone is mind–controlled, undead, an insect/construct or so on. Even the bandits are revolutionaries. 

This is $8 at DriveThru. The preview is the first 29 pages. Enjoy page after page of village and maybe two ofthe generic wilderness encounters. But the haunted orphanage is there on preview page 22, as well as the druid/lich guy at the end. CHeck those out for an idea of how concept doesn’t quite meet the road.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Salt Shipment

Sat, 06/22/2024 - 11:11
By Matthew Evans
Mithgarthr Entertainment
Castles & Crusades
Levels 4-6

Charcuterie in Nefford may never be the same… A butcher was supposed to receive a large shipment of salt from the Dwarves of Kamoz Kamendom two weeks ago and has heard neither hide nor hair from them. He’s willing to pay for someone to find out what happend to his friend and business partner, Harbem Bottlebringer. The road wasn’t easy for the Dwarves, nor will it be for those seeking them…

This 44 page adventure describes a linear 40 hex wilderness journey with several side caves to explore. There are some situations and details here that are quite above average, showing some interesting non game centric thought behind them. But, also, It pads things out, is linear, maybe a little treasure light, and doesn’t revel in its situations quite enough for my tastes.

Strap on boys! The local butcher didn’t get his salt from Moria and wants you to go track em down and find out what happened! There’s only one road, so off you get, traveling 200 miles away to Moria to get your 500gp reward. I wonder just how much he paid for that salt, anyway? What is that, a forty day journey? I admire putting the place 200 miles away. Anyway, you walk down the road, with each hex having something in it. Sometimes it’s just a note about weather. Sometimes it’s a traveler. And sometimes it’s a monster ambush. That’s all the adventure is. Travel to a hex that you don’t have a choice entering or not, have the encounter, and then move to the next hex and repeat. Not exactly the height of player agency. But, let’s look at those hexes.

Hex 1, six miles or so at most from the city, is a cave by the road with smoke coming from it. Full of flinds and gnolls. Uh. I’d like to lodge a complaint with the local magistrate about the dereliction of the lord of the city of Nefford and its city fathers. Yeah, I’m being an ass, but, also, it’s less than six miles from a major city. Anyway, what I wanted to focus on was the description details here. “The smell of wet dog wafts out, mingled with the smoke which attracted the PCs to these caves.” We can see, in that first line of the first cave encapsulated both what I like and dislike. The smell of wet dog and smoke. Wafting out, as the initial description said. Great description. I think of a craggy hillside cave and smoke coming out of it, the smell of campfires and wet dog. I think it’s great. And then “which attracted the PCs to these caves.” And, of course, I loathe padding. And padding there is indeed in these hexes. Maybe a third or a little less is outright padding, with maybe a third more being less than tightly edited text that makes me frown and maybe a third representing some pretty decent descriptions. Hmmm, no, I take that back. In some cases we get some decently evocative text and in others we get a decently good situation description. Hex five has us meeting a human peddler, a woman, who tells of a cyclops lair nearby, with nothing to see in it, it’s dangerous. She’s anxious to leave. Inside the lair (more on it in a bit) the party finds the body of a beautiful woman, recently dead. “This is the body of Tara Featherlace, a beautiful brunette who was murdered by Teofil [that chick you met on the road]  with a leather awl after becoming the subject of her jealousy” That’s fun! I love it when the real world creeps in to an adventure. It’s a little abrupt, there’s not much going on here beyond what I just typed. It’s like finding a dude with a bloody dagger standing over someone dressed as a king. Uh. Ok. Now what? There are no complications here, no follow ups. You can track the chick down and punish her, I guess (which the adventure takes a paragraph to describe) but that’s all. More on this disconnection in a bit.

The inside of the cave, an old Cyclops lair, is a good example of wll that’s right, and wrong, with the world. Giant bronze door off its hinges. The dead chick on the floor. The main chamber, rather lage, has collapsed and is sunken in to the floor about twenty feet and is more cave like now. A decaying corpse of the cyclops and two pet bears, someone having already killed them. And, then, above the cave floor, an old doorway to the rest of the abandoned dwarven outpost the cyclops took over. A hidden area! I really like this. A lot. I like the abandoned outpost, being taken over by the cyclops. The fact he’s dead and decaying. The dead chick.That’s all great. The collapsed floor and “hidden” area. The world here is lived in. That comes through loud and clear. It adds to the specificity and gets the players thinking. 

And this is something that happens over and over and over again in this adventure. Yeah, there are ambushes by monsters. And maybe things are a little too exciting, hex to hex, for a 1e adventure. And  maybe they have a little too little treasure for my tastes. And the fucking encounters. For all of my love for that lived in feel, they are also SO abrupt at times. The text focuses on the wrong things, the mundanity, the  mechanics, what the party might do, padded out phrases. Instead it should be offering tantalizing hints of where the encounter could go. Teasing the DM to expand it further. The fucking actress you meet. The asshole elves that let you pass. There’s nothing more BEHIND those encounters.

And, more to the point, they seem entirely random. I mean that in a way that they don’t seem to be related to the plot of the adventure. Sure, a few of them are. You can find some dead dwarves, or maybe a living one, in a couple of the encounters. But, otherwise, these are almost disconnected from the adventure at hand, finding the dwarves. I guess you have to investigate every game and demihuman lair, to check to see if THEY were the ones who killed the dwarves, or if it was the ones in the next hex up. Or the hex after that. Or the hex after that. Don’t get me wrong here, it’s not necessary that every encounter lead to the inevitable conclusion. Randos gonna rando, after all. But, also, as isolated pinpoints there is something lacking here. Both in the ‘main’ adventure and in the scenarios. I can imagine a possible world in which the actress encounter, or the dead chick encounter, had a little more legs under it, building a bit. Perhaps adding some intrigue, for any definition of that word. But that’s not really to be found here.

Some interesting ideas in this, in places. And a touch of evocative writing here and there. And, also, it’s padded out quite a bit with both empty phrases and with meaningless detail when more evocative and loaded content could have been included. Treasure feels light as well. And, of course, the disconnected nature of the encounters is not quite where I’d like to see things. It’s a balancing act, between plot and non-plot, but for a world that is so lived in, it feels strangle disconnected from itself. But, also, it doesn’t earn my eternal hate.

And then there’s hex 31.08.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is nine pages and shows you several hexes. Very good preview.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs


Wed, 06/19/2024 - 11:17
By Luka Rejec WTF Studio OSR? Generic/Universal?

The snows are alive. A soft, cold spirit courses through them. Her lace threads the world; watching, drinking, listening, stroking, soothing, killing. Her touch is soft and icy. She is Winterwhite, the daughter of the Waterdrinker and the Northwind, and she is a terrible god. An avatar of ice and hunger, of visions and death.

This 114 page ‘sandbox’ is an empty shell. Devoid of almost anything useful to a DM, it is one idea that is not fleshed out in any meaningful way for play. All concept and no delivery. I am not the fuck amused.

Didn’t Luka write something that I liked? I think so? This thing though, has issues. While it advertises itself as a kind of sandbox, it might be more correct to say that it’s got some ideas that you can dump in to game. There is a small isolated valley in the mountains. A few generations back some settlers came there and found people already there, a rougher folk. They were attacked and driven back to a cave, where they made a sacrifice to the spirit of winter. As long as they do this continually then everything is ok. Recently, the ruler skipped a sacrifice. The setting starts in the fall, goes through winter, and then spring never comes … unless a sacrifice is offered. Winter will last a year. Dumped in to this are some factions. The aristos/rulers of the valley, the first settlers lurking in their hamlets, some werewolf like people with some undead at their call, and The Old Architects that are a kind of mythic people asleep and perhaps waking up. While the Baronials get a few more words, you now know just about as much as I do about these groups. There is really no description of them beyond that. There is a nice little table, for each, though that describes some portents and events that can happen as each faction waxes or wanes. These are nice little guidelines to show their power and drop in to a game. 

And drop in to a game you will. This is meant as the backdrop for a different game, I think. These are events and factions to interact with as you run your normal game in the valley, is what I get the sense of. As strict time records are being kept, winter approaches and things happen as a faction gans or loses power. This is the strongest part of the book. As, oh, eight to ten pages, it provides a good backdrop of things that could happen in the homebases. This kind of thing is great in a setting; as a guideline for making your world more interesting and providing some downtime activities that may lead to more.

A huge portion of the book is devoted to escaping the valley. A mechanism is described using a standard deck of cards, with each suit representing something, like mountains or rivers, and higher values representing more danger. Potentially. These are not actually encounters as much as they are ideas. For example “A stumbling man in a heavy parka and bespoke city shoes is making for the valley. His marten fur cap smells strongly of pomade. Despite the stubble on his cheeks, his curled moustaches still follow the last Eastern City fashions. He keeps mumbling about a hotel in Pey Holzey. His watch is a jewelled TPK Scheephouse with seven complications. “ Is someone you might meet. I’m not sure there is much to do there. Make an ally … during your minigame on the way out of the valley? Or, your ropes get frayed and you have disadvantage on all climbing checks until they are repaired. There is a lack of a situation in most of these encounters. I don’t see the adventure. 

The settlements and people are not described. The factions are not described. There are not really guidelines for adding some verve to things. This is barest of frameworks for a setting. The portents and events like things on the timelines are good, but the supplement could be JUST that and you would not lose anything for your game .. because there’s nothing else to this. 

And then we combine that with something like “They are the oppressed whose yearning for freedom and dignity has become a thing of twisted envy, hatred, despair, greed, longing, hunger, loathing, self-destruction mixed with unrequited love—the anti-eros, the thanatos that comes forth in this long dark” Uh huh. That’s inappropriate for anything other than a political pamphlet. And then, at the end, we have the ever popular eye rolling “narrate your ending” piece “A gruelling escape leaves the heroes scarred and hurt. What nightmares of Winterwhite plague your dreams? Why do you feel like something darker stirred beneath the ice? How do you cope with your trauma? Were there many you betrayed on the way? Why will nobody believe you, when you talk of ice ghouls?” I know, I know, this is personal taste. But, also, effort when in to those things, effort that could have been spent on developing the valley and providing more situations to occur within the setting. 

I am not amused. 

This is $13 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages. You get a chance to se ethe winter spirit table of waxes and wanes. A view of a card result would have been ice as well, although nothing is going to prepare you for the lack of a framing to have a game in.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Grandpappy Cromdar’s Whizbang Zoo!

Mon, 06/17/2024 - 11:11
By David Lewis Johnson
Self Published
Levels 1-5

Who is Grandpappy Cromdar? Grandpappy Cromdar is a battle hardened warrior, a seasoned monster rancher, a salty landlubber, a prancing princess, a slap-happy crazy old coot. Where decent, respectable fighting men might opt to establish a stronghold or build a trade empire, Grandpappy juked left and went with “Converting a dungeon in to a family friendly zoo”. He is me. He is you.

This 52 page adventure uses about eighteen pages to describe about a hundred rooms on three levels. Minimal descriptions, a zany premise, and ‘Cromdar is a pervert’ tone are off putting and better found in a Gamma World adventure. The map can’t save this one.

Hang in there man. Remember S3? Remember that wilderness level with observation overlooks and attached maintenance? That was great! So this could be great also! It’s not, but, that’s not the point. It COULD have been great! And thusly are Bryce’s dreams made.

Comdar was an adventurer. He retired and started a zoo in a dungeon and sells tickets. THe dungeon is. I guess, perfect for his zoo. Anyway, things are bad inside, with the creatures out of their cages and running amok. There’s no real hook beyond “go inside and have fun” so don’t start looking for one in an adventure with a sex swing and Asteroids game in it. 

The map is decent and shares similarities with the S3 Levels. You’ve got the main level, with some admin offices and empty cages as well as a wide open wilderness area with a lake. The level under that has more maintenances and such, with some under da sea detail. The level above is the “sky” with some offices, zipline platform, sex dirigible, the top of a volcano and so on. The traditional room/key dungeon areas can be a little linear in places, but, then again, a hallway is linear, and zoos funnel people in directions. I’m not mad at the map, or the ziplines and personal submarines that make exploration fun. 

But I am mad at the lack of overview text for the vistas. At certain points you get to stand on a platform and survey your surroundings. To look out and take in the majesty of the wilderness. There is no text to help the DM with that. A volcano, an airship, ziplines, a waterfall, and so on. Nothing of the sort here. Which means, as a DM, you left searching through the text looking at a lot of keys, flipping back and forth, trying to put one together during play. This is, obviously, from a lack of playtesting; it would be impossible to escape that without the issue having come up. 

The monsters here are all new, with not even an intellect devourer making an appearance. And they are a bizarre bunch. This contributes to the Gamma World vibe much more than to the D&D vibe, with them being intelligent and having chimeratic features. I love it when a new monsters description starts with “this is a strange and bizarre creature.” Yup, they all are man, they all are. 

The room descriptions are just about as basic as you can get and not be Vampire Queen. Basic, but with a few details, at least one of which will be “look at me ma! Aren’t I zany?!” The first Aid Station tells us that there is: “An examination table occupies the northeast corner of the this room. An emergency aid kit sites undisturbed on a counter next to a wash basin. Bags of syringe-filled biohazard bags have been stacked against the west wall.” The detail here, of the description, is quite basic. The table is NE. A wash basin, and so on. There’s nothing really evocative about it at all, just a basic factual description. Not good. The table and wash basin, fo example, serve no purpose, in terms of adventure, in the room. We could assume them , or not, and the adventure would go right along without an issue. We know that a bedroom has a bed in it. And this will be the norm in this adventure. A very minimal description is basic facts in it and nothing evocative, with something “wacky” in it. lIke a wall full of syringe bags. Or a sex swings. Or the monsters playing soccer with a head. 

Interactivity is almost nonexistent beyond stabbing things. Yes, you can zipline or use a submarine. We might, though, call these “using the stairs.” Beyond this very basic level of interactivity you will not find a lot to fuck around with. Go some place, have a wacky encounter with a deadly monster, and then go to the next place. You will not be encountering treasure in this adventure. 

Someone had an idea. They stated it for the OSR instead of Gamma World. But, even as a Gamma World adventure it would be lacking, with exploration elements minimal and interactivity close to non-existent. And, of course, adventures that try to be zany never work. In the future, I hope I die before I wake.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages and shows you nothing but the intro. Good luck with that. It needs to show actual encounter pages.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Black Blade of the Demon King

Sat, 06/15/2024 - 11:11
By Ahimsa Kerp, Wind Lothamer
Knight Owl Publishing
Levels 1-3 (Ouchies!)

Buried for 10000 years beneath a mountain of black obsidian, a sword of unfathomable power has just awakened. Now, in a desperate race against time and the elements you must try to reach it before its former master returns from his astral prison.

This 112 page adventure uses five pages to detail a dungeon with about nineteen rooms. I know that would normally mean I’m a poopy butt head in the review. And the dungeon IS a bit small. But this absolutely has a mythic feel to it, and the lead in to the dungeon helps with that. I’m not thrilled with many aspects of this adventure, but it also manages to deliver an interesting vibe.

This thing DRIPS atmosphere with every pore of its being. And that is how it manages a five page dungeon in a way that makes me not bitch about page count. When you get a town or a wilderness section to an adventure they usually are almost stand alone things. The town is a jumping off point and resupply base. The wilderness is a place to have wanderers to keep the party from tarrying. Maybe they both have a few things going just to keep things interesting, which is a nice touch when it happens in an adventure. This thing, however, is doing something rarer, but not unheard of; the town and wilderness are parts of the adventure proper. What happens in town helps build the theming and atmosphere of the adventure, as does the wilderness journey. It’s not that they are all driving the plot. Some of the encounters in town and the wilderness do, but, overall, they build on the tone and help immerse the party, and thus the players, in to the situation going on. And, thusly, once you get to the dungeon, proper, you are primed to accept the situation within with the context of what came before. This is not a new thing in adventure design, but doing it as well as it’s done here is not such a common thing.

So, you’ve got your +5 Bastard Sword that kills (save vs death) on a hit. This is a real deal thing of power. It’s the kind of thing that you wish the sword of kas was. And along with that comes a curse and an effect, after a certain number of people are killed then the demon king finds its way back to this plane of existence. Ouchies!  It’s sending out some dreams to people and they are migrating to the uttermost noth (3 hours of daylight a day!) and trying to find it … as it calls out to them. Booatloads of the people, daily. And thus we come to the town.

The town, sprung up serve these masses. A wretched cold place full of doomed adventurers, all being inexorably drawn and summoned to the place where the sword lies, yearning to be discovered and wielded. In to this we ass the church of law. This is LotFP, so absolute Law is as bad as chaos. They’d love to sacrifice you, and show up from time to time as randos, or foes. And then we’ve got four special NPC’s. A Paladin type, an anti-paladin type, and a rando. Butm, they are not set in stone. There are about five different options, included in the rear of the volume, to use for each one of these roles. Pick one out and insert them in. And they each are iconic. Really really well done NPC’s that can serve as a patron or a foe. And just weird. They range from your traditional fighter, with some theming to make them GREAT, or some really weirdo people. Very strong NPC’s. And a major part of the adventure is the parties encounters with them. In fact, you have five days to find the sword and after that there’s a chance each that that one of THEM find the sword. Or, you could be their hireling. Or they could be an enemy, one way or another. It’s a great little thing

Supplementing this as great rumors and encounters within the city proper. “Rollo the Thin is an adventurer who arrived three days ago. His party was attacked by a party of rival Blade Seekers upon leaving Støvring and only he survived. He is cut up to pieces and is dying in the Støvring Inn.” Nice one, that! Dying in the Inn. Prob the one the party is staying in. DId I mention the obsidian cliffs and the meteors? No? A giant, 20 feet tall (5hd. Nice!) attacks the town at one point. Or, maybe does, if the party is smart. Or a norseman insults them to a challenge … and both could result in the party gaining weird powers, perhaps by drinking a little giant blood? Fucking wonderful man! You get this sense of it being packed, and desperation, and its temporary nature. It’s great

And then the wilderness journey. Through the madman running a windmill. And on to some place to stay for the night. How about “This is a small hamlet, half-buried in snow. It is abandoned, filled with an eerie cold wind, but proves to be safe. If searched it has been largely picked clean but a large goat skull sitting in a circle of ash is found behind one of the Houses.” Abandoned. Eerie cold. Half buried. The ashes and goat skull thing. Yeah, no problem, let’s sleep here tonight …There’s this sense of dread. Building over time. Augmented by mini-game rules on the cold and corruption. It’s wearing you down. Finally you come out of a mountain to see obelisks in a rough circle, a tunnel leading down in the middle of them. The dungeon entrance. Again, everything that comes before places this in context and you feel the weight of the place. It’s earned. And the adventure does this so well. It’s not just a rando dungeon disconnected from its environment. 

The dungeon proper. It’s got a decent layout and, maybe only a handful of actual combat encounters. The encounters have a … I don’t know. I guess a funhousy feel to them? Or, somehow, mythic? But I think I’m overusing that word. It’s hard to describe. One room has a pool of water in it. A room of ceramic white tile in a pattern. And then, “The Nykkjen forms in 2 rounds in water, appearing as a white horse, and lashes out. “ So, a monster. But the form it selects is a fucking horse? Fuck yeah man! This is some early T&T shit! And, then too “If a piece of metal, like a needle or something iron, is thrown into the water the Nykkjen will cease to exist.” I mean, you see it too, right? Neither of those things is something that the modern deriguour of adventures is going to do. 

Treasure is lame. Except for the blade an quest items. Take that horsey room “4d6x20 gold, 3d6 precious gems, a pair of beautiful necklaces, and a magic helmet of water breathing, is a large goat skull with obsidian eyes and obsidian horns. It is cold and smells of the void.” We’re not winning me over with that. 

And the descriptions are generally not winning any time soon either. While the weight of the encounters is magnificent, this is done to the detriment of the descriptions. Again, for the horsey “This chamber features a large pool, about half the size of the room, surrounded by lovely ceramic tiles in cascading geometric patterns. The water is clear and shallow (about 1.5 meters deep at the center) and several gems, jewels, and coins glitter provocatively at its bottom” LARGE pool. Lovely is a conclusion. Clear and shallow is good, as is provocatively. But the overall effect is just not there. Or, for the first room “An icy, slippery hallway that leads down into the dungeon. An empty, howling wind fills the air” Empty howling wind is great. IN another room were told “Upon entering this barren stone chamber the characters will see, in the center of the room …” That’s pretty fucking terrible padding. Evocative writing, not padded out, and not including meaningless backstory (outside of the dungeon) is not the writers strongpoints.

Nor is, necessarily, the formatting of information. Again, a lack of focus. While things don’t necessarily run on TOO long, no one is doing anything to help you out here in the way of formatting things. It is the stickiness of the descriptions, here, that hold, not the ability to scan. Which is ok, but, also, not ok. You can’t count on that. 

I could, I think, go on and on about this. It’s fascinating. Much of it, in my journey, elicits a scowl. And yet it’s clear that the sum is greater than the parts. The wilderness and town, because of their more events driven nature, in particular suffers from some focus, and those descriptions in the dungeon are winning no awards. But man, it’s also a pretty sweet little fucking ride. And I have no idea how to rate it. This may be one of those super rare cases where it’s worth it to pull out your highlighter and jot notes. But, man, it’s riding the fucking edge. I could regert this, but, take your Best and fly off in to your owl sunset. 

This is $12 at DriveThu. The preview is six pages and crap, the first six, showing you nothing of the adventure. 


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Blue Alley

Wed, 06/12/2024 - 11:11
By Alan Patrick & M.T. Black
Self Published
Levels 1-4

Blue Alley lies hidden in the heart of Waterdeep. Built by a secretive wizard, it is a magic maze full of tricks, traps, strange monsters, and rich treasure. Countless adventurers have ventured inside to test their bravery and skill, yet few have returned. And now it is your turn…

This seventeen page adventure uses about seven pages to describe seventeen rooms in a Challenge dungeon. You already know what that means, I hope. 

What?! You don’t know what that means? It’s a genre of dungeon in which someone constructs a dungeon to challenge the party, or test them, or some such nonsense. You have to “prove yourself worthy” or some other related thing. They are lazy. A challenge dungeon and a funhouse dungeon are essentially the same thing, except the funhouse dungeon doesn’t try to layer eighteen layers of justification on top of the dungeon in order to explain why things are the way they are. But where a funhouse allows you to suspend disbelief, the explanations in a challenge dungeon just make one groan. It’s a desire to put challenge after challenge in front of the party, without any reasoning behind it, that sets a challenge dungeon apart. There is no ecosystem. There is no neutral ground. There is an adversary that designed something to fuck you over. It’s fucking lame. 

Our dungeon here is an alley in waterdeep. Just an alley. That’s the corridors. The doors represent entries in to buildings. The alley is windowless, the text tells us. And thus we see the laziness. What about the roofline? Or, the buildings around the rooms? I got a crowbar and fuck you if I’m going in through the door if I don’t have to. Those things will get you killed! I don’t mean to harp on this as a minor detail, but, handholds and windows and such, for any tower, would be something of import to note and a decent dungeon of, say, said tower, would have some roof detail and perhaps multiple points of entry and/or rewards for those players thinking outside the box. But not here. You are going to do what the designer told you to do and encounter their dungeon the way that they want you to.

Descriptions are … practically nonexistent?  Which is par for the course in a challenge dungeon. After all, you’re solving a puzzle not having an experience. So we get super functional but non-evocative descriptions like “In the center of this small 10 foot by 10 foot room is a crossbow mounted on a tripod. The string on the crossbow has long since snapped, leaving the single silver bolt unfired. Inscribed on the west wall are the words, “CAN DO” Also, you are over revealing in the text, with the snapped storing and maybe even the silver bolt. We save follow up detail for the players to discover as their character investigate. The back and forth between the players and the DM is one of the most important loops in any RPG. And a decent part of that is eliminated when you overreveal in read-aloud. Beyond that, the description has nothing evocative in it at all. You are not here for an experience. Or immersion. You are here to solve a puzzle. Make your INT check. 

Let’s look at a typical room. “a magic mouth opens at the top of stairs and says “Laughter is the best medicine. MAKE ME LAUGH!” Allow the characters to roleplay a bit, and if you deem their comments or antics humorous the magic mouth looses a stone-shaking uproarious laugh and intones a command word “ And thus we see the horrors. A magic mouth. A command word spoken by it. This is the product of someone who can’t think beyond “someone has to say a command word for something to happen!” 

Did I mention that many of the rooms start with “This area has the following features: “ No? I did now? How about the “fetch the silver key to open the silver door” type retrievals? No? I did now? 

Nothing to see here. Move along. Move along. And this is what you get when I work my way through the list of things I’ve not reviewed yet. Dear god, one day this will be over and I can go back to reviewing things that might be good. 

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages with no rooms shown. Not a good preview.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Barkeep on the Borderlands

Mon, 06/10/2024 - 11:11
By W. F. Smith
Prismatic Wasteland
Levels ... ?

The Keep once loomed on the margins of civilization. It is now the center of culture and commerce.

 Each year, the Keep celebrates the Raves of Chaos to commemorate the brave heroes who gave their lives to rid the nearby caves of vile monsters. Their sacrifice cleared the way for the Keep to expand to its current size and scale, the envy of all humankind. The Monarch drained the royal coffers to pay for a powerful antidote, but it never reached their lips. The caravaners say it must have gotten mixed up in the deliveries to the Keep’s many pubs. Despite their illness, the Monarch was able to muster the energy to order the execution of every caravaner, ale draper, ale tunner and ale taster in the Keep.

This sixty page presents twenty bars with the barest of framings for an adventure. The bars are magnificent, in a gonzo sort of way, with tropes galore and a decent homage to The Keep. But the thing is without enough direction to form an adventure with, in any but the barest of definitions of that word.

The Keep is now all grown up. The city is massive now and the lands civilized. You’ve got to think of this like a mashup of Ankh-Morpork with a healthy dose of all of the humanoids inhabiting it. It channels  that magical ren–faire vibe and humanoids vibe without going over the edge in forced happy land where everyone gets along that those settings do famously badly. Instead there is a healthy dose of cynicism here that colours everything. And the setting is pushed in to something akin to gonzo, but fantasy themed. No one is going to bat an eye at a tower with some long hair hanging out and a wheel spinning gold. Not fairy-tale, this is firmly rooted in fantasy. It’s just that everything is in this. 

First, a brief divergence in to character creation. I mention it only because it is mostly just character backgrounds on a table to roll on But very solid one. The Orphaned Heir starts with a mansion and a set of black leather armor. If you can’t do something with that, in a one-shot, then you don’t deserve to play D&D. “My parents are dead!” That’s a hilight, but most of them are quite solid as well. And that’s what you need for one shot backgrounds, something for a player to riff off of without telling them how to play their character.

The Cult of Chaos is now reformed, in to the Church of Chis, or, as the adventure states “Formerly the “Cult of Evil Chaos,” the Church has made efforts to rebrand, pivoting to a less overtly sinister image.” And therein we get a taste of the tone that is prevalent throughout. The adventurers that cleared the caves are called murderers, but, also, with regard to the goblins “But the Goblins rarely make the same mistake more than a few dozen times.” And, they are in fact up to evil. As is the cult. I mean church. The skewering goes both ways, as if the Lazy Lich finally realized that hippies ARE actually mean people. The museum keep is referred to as a repository of revisionist history, but the old woman who runs the candy and gingerbread themed dive bar in the woods IS up to some shit also. There are no good guys in this respun Keep setting, and that’s something I can get completely behind as a setting for an adventure.

The dude in charge has been poisoned. He’s going to die within days. The antidote has been misplaced … in a bar shipment someone thinks. And thus folks are looking for it. It’s moving around to different bars, according to a timeline and a series of unfortunate events. During this the annual Rave on the Borderlands is happening. A drunken festival, arranged by the Church of Chaos once a year, in which laws are relaxed. This comes with themed days, laid out like a typical Caves expedition in order of the humanoids, with Gnoll Caves day being having to defeat someone in a fight to get cooked meat, else it’s raw meat for you! It’s a cute mechanism to add some theming to the days in front of the party. It pushes things JUST far enough to maintain some semblance of order while still being strongly themed. Alongside this is an heir to throne looking for the antidote also (or creating his own) and some elections for parliament happening. And this is set inside the expanded keep, grown well past its walls, to encompass the old town, the forest that cant be cut down, the swamps now home to factories, and so on. Good sub-region theming. Zones in the dungeon, yeah?

The bars are the highlight here. Each has quite a short description that is then enhanced by a patrons table and some things that can happen there. Here’s the description for the first one, Granny’s Cottage: “Over the river and through the woods, there is a quaint dive bar. Its walls are gingerbread, and its windows are crystallized sugar. The crone that runs it is in constant good cheer. Pay no mind to the pitch-black smoke billowing from its chimney.” That’s a great description. Note the last line, which is evocative and leads you to a conclusion but doesn’t detail it. That’s exactly what a good description is made of. Your mind fills things in and it leaves the door open for a variety of outcomes. It’s quite short, but sets the scene well. As for granny, proper: “Granny appears as a beautiful maiden each day at sunrise. By noon, she appears as a plump matron. She is a wrinkled crone by sunset. Beginning each midnight, Granny’s skin grows green and her nose sprouts warts” That’s something you can work with as well. Something solid to use. One of the patrons is “A child who was lost in the woods until Granny found them. Now they can stay up as late as they want and eat lots of candy!” Again, short, evocative, and can lead to a variety of outcomes. A witch, or just a nice old lady? Either is possible. And so it goes, from themed drinks, to what is Granny doing, to the various events/situations within the bar. Who’s up to sample the Poison Applitini cocktail?

There are two sins with this adventure. The first is the events within the bars. They lack the driving force of an actual adventure. FOr example, iN grannys “The Woodcutter whittles on their cabin’s porch. Due to a curse, they cannot leave the woods until the Keep’s walls fall down.” WHich is nice, but it doesn’t lead to anything. It’s just a thing that happens. Something weird. Window dressing. And this is the same for almost everything in the events/situations/sidetrecks in the adventure. They are just a decent wandering monster table, meaning not really related to the adventure as a whole. 

And then there’s the adventure proper. You wander about, from bar to bar, looking for where the antidote is today, hoping to stumble across it. There’s not much to lead you to where you should be. Not in the bars. Not in the little events, or the mini-games like the election or goblin subterfuge. As much as I like “A giant spider offers to host a luncheon. Over tea, they lament that passersby keep chucking garbage into their web.” It doesn’t really lead you anywhere. You gotta have something here for the party to latch on to and follow up on and so. Otherwise it’s just a drunken bar crawl. 

And as a drunken bar crawl it’s fucking fantastic. Some of the best fantasy taverns around for window dressing. A great Dungeon Dozen for bars. Farce. Absurdity. But as an adventure? I think not.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages. It’s an assortment of rules (drinking) and the first pages of Granny’s. So, a decent preview, even if you don’t get to see the “Adventure” proper. 


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

A Plague of Rats

Sat, 06/08/2024 - 11:11
By GM Jeremy
TWK Live
Level 1

In the bustling port city of Vystaanzport, where ships arrive with goods from distant lands, a peculiar disturbance has emerged. Reports speak of rats swarming the docks, threatening the flow of trade and commerce. The city officials, desperate to maintain order, have put out a call for capable individuals to address the vermin infestation. Unbeknownst to the party, this seemingly routine task will be the first thread in a much larger tapestry woven by unseen hands.

This seventeen page adventure presents a seven room dungeon with a four encounters above ground, all related to killing rat swarms. And Giants rats. Ans a rat queen. It is closest in form jotting down notes on a piece of paper, with the expertise of a grade schooler.

It’s single column. There’s no real distinction between when read-aloud starts and when it stops. It just sort of all runs together, and one paragraph break suddenly turns in to DM text again. Not to mention the intro read-aloud text being Looooong, diverting players focus from paying attention. And it’s full of second person narrative, YOU step off the boat. YOU see a so and so. 

This is your first impressions of the adventure. The long read-aloud literally has you stepping off your boat on to the dock and seeing a sign on the tavern door advertising work. Well, after you “sense the urgency in the air.” Dude walks in after you, the harbourmaster, and tells you he’s got a rat problem on the docks and go fix it. This is, all, oh, a page of single column read-aloud to do all of this, all on monologue form. Then the adventure IMMEDIATELY shifts to DM text, with no change in font, or shading, or section heading. This is a portent of things to come. I’m trying not to be too hard on this, since there is a sense of … naivete on the part of the designer. They DID just type up their notes in a single column google doc and slap a nice cover on it. Or that’s how it seems anyway, and there’s something charming about that. But, also, this is not something you want to get mixed up in.

Ok, time to head to to docs! We get a little section that says encounters one through three on the docs is with one rat swarm, two rat swarms, and then two rat swarms. And then we get some read-aloud that is to be used for all three of these encounters. Including a dock worked stumbling backward in surprise. (I’d think I was GroundHog Day’ing if this happened to me in D&D …) There’s not other text here, just a short bit of read-aloud used for all three of the encounters, exactly the same. No DM text. And just that little “Encounter 1 – 1 rat swarm” note before the read aloud. So, yeah. 

You find a chewed sewer grate and go in. And thus starts the seven room sewer adventure. “Descending into the depths of the sewers, a rusty ladder leads down into a dimly lit tunnel. The air is thick with the stench of decay, and the sound of dripping water echoes off the damp walls.” The second sentence isn’t so bad. Maybe a little purple, but it’s heart is in the right place. And the first one is passive, putting the active clause second. Never a good idea. We’re not writing a novel here.  But, then, also, we get descriptions like “At the heart of the sewers lies a foul-smelling cesspit, its depths obscured by darkness and filth.” Maybe too many fantasy novels. Adventure writing is technical writing and has a different set of rules for how to present information. 

Anyway, inside the sewers you will not challenges except fighting rats. Rat swarms. Giants rats. A rat queen. And it looks very much like a 5e conversion, give you fight, like 2 giants rats,  five rats swarms and a rat queen in the final room. Oh, Oh! And you find a journal! It seems like it’s been forever since I’ve seen a crappy crappy journal included in an adventure that explains everything going on. Oh, those were the days … but, also, don’t put that sort of exposition in an adventure it’s better for it to come out through some natural gameplay. 

It’s interesting that this is an OSE adventure, with an OSE-like cover. That would imply the designer has seen a published adventure before writing this one. And, yet, almost everything in this would seem to imply that is NOT the case. The number of very, very basic mistakes here is quite surprising. More coherent than the Bloody Mage, and with no ill intent in their heart … but still not worth checking out, at all, in any way.

This is $1 at DriveThru.The preview is all seventeen pages. So, good on em, mate!


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

A Traveler’s Guide to the Echelon Forest

Wed, 06/05/2024 - 11:11
By David Lombardo

The Echelon Forest stretches a great distance, making it an awkward obstacle to bypass without crossing through it. Attempts to pave roadways through the woods have always met with failure, sometimes violently, so the crossing is usually reserved for small parties or individuals. It is a strange, isolated place. Alive in more ways than could be usually said for a forest. Within the woods time flows and weather changes at their own pace, and in their own ways. Although largely boreal, It is not restricted to a single clime’s plants and animals. Crossing need not be hazardous, the forest is not malicious, but it is also not entirely safe. Granting the forest its rightful respect is recommended to any who wish to cross quickly and unharmed

This 32 page adventure is not an adventure. An adventure has to have something happen. It is the D&D version of a walking simulator. 

I shall elaborate. I’m not a grumpy old man. I know, I know. But you’re wrong. I have an issue with expectations. I get excited and then am crushed by disappointment. That’s different than being a grumpy old man. My other hobbies tend to be full of old men. And they are grumpy. They hate everything new. They hate that the world has passed them by and that people seem to no longer jump to obey when they open their mouths and have dared to have other opinions. I think the kiddos are great. Life, and change, are a delight. I am, though, somewhat mystified at times. I get, for example, that some people don’t want to play a game and would rather have an experience instead. Engage in an activity, so to speak. It’s not for me and I will be happy to tell you a hundred reasons why I think it sucks shit, but I understand that they can exist and people can like it. And then it gets pushed to the logical extreme and I just am completely lost. I can no longer understand any appeal at all. “We’re all gonna sit here and stare at the blank wall, quietly and awake, for eight hours.” Uh. Ok. And thus we come to today’s adventure: a walking simulator. 

This is a generator for a forest adventure. You do a die drop to create the paths and then roll on some tables to determine which of the points in the booklet to populate where, with the  middle of the forest all being the Heart Tree. I’m going to ignore the die drop portion of this, since it’s just used to determine the map. After that you use the points in the booklet to populate the map. And this is the only reason I’m reviewing this, because there were points. It was not advertised as a generator but rather a way to organize the points provided. 

The first signs of trouble were in the introductory pages. “There are no combat encounters here, and no explicit challenges or puzzles. Just the forest, the strange things within, and the changing weather.” Yup. The designer just told us that there is no content in this adventure. And that checks out. A pair of eagles make their nest in the crook of a large tree. A bearcave,, 50% it’s empty. A lean-to, a simple structure constructed of local materials. Signs of a campfire inside but otherwise uninhabited. Those are three of the points you could encounter. And I’m not really cherry picking nor am I giving a summary of the encounter. Those ARE the descriptions of the encounters. That’s it. That’s all you get. There’s nothing else. No generator for whats there or anything like that. Oh, no, you get a generator for the season and the weather. Hot dry and full of life, says the summer generator. Great. 

As the designer told us, there are no challenges here. Or even any encounters, I would assert. Just an idea for something. No real descriptions. No evocative writing. No interactivity OF .ANY. KIND. Nothing. 

What, then, is an adventure? “an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity.” says the arch-heretic of joy, Websters. Unusual? Maybe? Exciting? That’s not this adventure. Is a walking simulator a game? It shares a medium with games. But, without challenge, is it? (WHich, I note, is the same question often asked of the story game people.)

There is no game here. Not even close. There are no challenges, explicitly. There is no evocative writing or anything to bring the unusual to life. There is barely the unusual, or, rather, barely the outline of the unusual. 

This is $5 at DriveThru. There is no preview. 



I also checked out Largshire. This is a village supplement with seventeen locations in about 31 pages. It is massively overwritten, although there is an attempt to include a plot element in each locales as well as a secret. It just came off a boring though. Your village supplement is in another castle, Mario.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Faces of Clay

Mon, 06/03/2024 - 11:11

By James S. Austin
Tacitus Publishing
Level 9

After a house fire tragically took the lives of a young family, their farm found itself left to the devices of the pasture’s fae inhabitants, a band of ruddy brownies. The capricious creatures quickly deduced that absent their human counterparts, the morning deliveries of cream would cease. After a heartfelt moment of loss, they realized that the cow penned in the barn afforded the answer to their problem. Making a new home in the barn’s hayloft, the brownies settled in and learned to utilize the farm’s clay golem. The creature now handles the manual chores and keeps out intruders while they enjoy their sudden good fortune, rubbing their swollen bellies.

This seventeen page adventure has one encounter. A new record in shovelware, I do believe! Yesirree! Seventeen pages! And one whole encounter in that! We’re lucky, I guess, it’s not forty.

There’s an abandoned farmhouse. It’s got a barn. There’s a paragraph of read-aloud that describes the farmhouse, and nothing more. There’s nothing that describes the fame, as a whole. There is, though, separate read-aloud for if you’re looking at the east or west side of the barn. So here’s that. I guess. I mean, it’s not really all that different and contributes nothing to the game. So.

What am I supposed to do here? What am I supposed to review? You fight one clay golem and, like, eight brownies. Maybe. If you don’t roleplay it out. That’s it. You go in to the barn and see a bunch of clay masks hanging from the ceiling. That’s a nice touch. And if you fight the brownies they could, at some point, let loose some chickens to run around at your feet. Yeah! That’s it.

You can roleplay your way out of this, making friends with the brownies. The golem only gets involved if you fight the brownies. Otherwise, you just listen to a WHOLE lots of read-aloud text, in italics of course.

I’m not fucking around here. There’s nothing in this. A level nine adventure with a clay golem. That’s it. “The first and second-floor ceilings are ribbed with arches to handle the heavier snowfalls during winter.” Woooa! The height of play, that little bit of description! TO keep the winter snowfall off the roof! I mean, it’s not winter, so.

I don’t know what to say here. The barn, outside and in, has over a page of read-aloud. None of which is very pertinent to the encounter. None of which is very evocative. The DM text tells us, like eight different times, that the brownies made/make the clay masks. What do you do here? How do you review this? “It sure does have a lots of skill checks to role play with those brownies!” You walk in, look at a mask scene, the brownies fuck with you, and maybe fight and maybe talk to them. That’s, what, two sentences in another adventure? Maybe three? What am I supposed to review? Every word written? “Well, I don’t know, maybe use the subjunctive clause here …”

One encounter. One. Maybe. Seventeen pages. The effort here is astounding. Theoden, King, what is man to do with such cruel fate? Courage Merry! Courage for our friends!

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $1.


Belvedere’s Books of Unusual Encounters

I also checked this out. It has 300 little encounter ideas. Each is about a paragraph long, so about two or three per page. The unusual part holds true. One of them has a religious procession chanting and ringing bells, with a ten year old boy being carried around who never ages. He’s a doppelganger who fund a good gig. Or the village where everyone ends every sentence with “Long live Duke Fluxion, long may his kind and benevolent rule guide and protect us all!” No sir, nothing unusual there. Slightly absurdist, or in some cases heightened reality, but not really over the top. I liked it enough to save it as a resource for my game.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Curse of the Swamp

Sat, 06/01/2024 - 11:11
1st Adventures
Levels 3-5

At the heart of the swamp lies the accursed tower, housing the dark artifact. Adventurers brave enough to journey into this cursed domain must confront the unholy alliance between the Sea Hag, the Wight, and the artifact itself. Their mission is to fight the encroaching darkness, unravel the artifact’s secrets, and free the land from its malevolent fate.

This thirty page adventure purports to be 1e, but is clearly solidly in the 5e era. Purple prose, long read-aloud, and a very combat oriented adventure without the horror one would like to see. Mechanistic, without the glee of D&D.

I like the artwork for the hag in the swamp on the cover. Very evocative!

And now, on to the problems!

It’s obvious that this is, at a minimum, using the 5e templates. And it’s loaded with skill checks. I’m not saying it’s a conversion, but, certainly, it’s borrowing heavily from 5e mechanics. And how much can you borrow before you are a 1e adventure in name only?

We’ve got hooks! Presented on a random table. *sigh* and none of them are anything to look at. The standard please help me stuff, very abstract, in about one sentence. Which is too bad. The core setup with an undead elf noble in a ruined tower in the swamp and a hag running around the swamp corrupting things and luring in people to feed the evil in the tower. Which, I think, leads to a good hook. If she’s got a radius then the next eclipse, or something, could widen that for a bit, threatening the town/village/whatever. I like that “tied to the land” thing better and it plays off off the two roles the two main baddies are supposed to have. I say supposed to, because the hag is hanging out in the tower also. Bleach! Another missed opportunity. 

Let’s see here, the synopsis says that the baddies will be “capturing the group of adventurers and throwing them into a nightmarish world of unimaginable dangers.” Well great. It’s one of THOSE adventures. And, I think I can imagine a great deal. 

The purple prose is not going to get much better. At one point a chick “turns towards you, revealing a countenance of beauty and an intense gaze that seems to transcend time.” Meh. This goes hand in hand with some DM advice that goes something like “The ambush is flawlessly executed, leaving the characters trapped and overwhelmed by the sheer force of the monsters. There is no chance of escape, and the adventurers will be captured and taken to The Lair of the Sea Hag, where they will confront the next stage of their perilous journey.”  Perilous text, am I right?! ?! WHyis no one laughing? Oh well. 

Also, that lair of the hag is a small hut in the swamp with no hag in it. You’re tied up with no gear. *sigh* I don’t even know what the point of this is. The opening scene is the ambush, on a coast road, where overwhelming forces capture you and stick you there for you to escape. It’s clearly fucking plot. And not the good plot, but the bad kind of play. No bueno.

Lots of read aloud here. Lots. Lengthy. WIth such phrases as “As you venture in to the atrium …” and “Suddenly, in the distance, you hear the desperate cry of a woman in distress!” I hate this shit. I want the woman crying distress, not the fucking read-aloud TELLING me she is crying in distress. At another point we’re told someone is undead. At another point the read-aloud tells us that the Wight lifts the mask to its face. Or that he lists a black skull mask to his face, a cursed artifact that emanates a palpable malevolence. Nope. Absolutely not. You’re telling people things. You want to SHOW people things.We want them to feel it, visceral. Not be told it.

Oh, and there’s several zombie encounters. At levels 3-5. Go figure. Five is an auto turn? And three is, what, a five or six? 

Nothing to see. Move along, move along. 

This is $7 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. Enjoy them hooks and that overwhelming ambush where they capture the party … for no reason.


Tanners Crossing

I also checked out Tanners Crossing, in an attempt to get my Wishlist down to zero. It has fifty bland places in a small village, that are described in a boring conversational style that is padded out, as well as a table or random travelers “Frank is looking for a wife”, thieves, wagon contents, and boring rumors. This was not the village supplement of my hopes and dreams.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Slithering River

Wed, 05/29/2024 - 11:11
Sebastian Grabne
Dawnfist Games

The adventure takes place in the Viper Vale Delta where a tribe of lizardmen have stolen the sacred Singing Stone from Lushwater Village. Villagers fear the wrath of the river god and urges anyone to recover the stone. Meanwhile, the lizardmen are fighting for their lives against a family of giant toads. How will the characters solve the issues along the Slithering River?

This eighteen page adventure presents a small temple with twelve rooms. Pedestrian but not offensive, I’m bored to tears by it. “Of course it was Bryce; it’s a generic/universal adventure!” Well fuck you Mr Hot Shot sane and stable reader … I thought this one was different. 

The lizardmen steal the Singing Stone from the village. The villagers want their stone back. It turns out that the lizardmen are using it to protect themselves from some giant frogs that have just moved in. (I guess lizardmen are pussies now.) They live in a ruined temple in the jungle. Some chick in town offers to guide you there. But, first, the giant albino croc in the swamps is sick and you need to help it. Or, another dude in the tavern wants you to kill it. Oh, and the towns mill has a ghost in it; Mayor Useless would like you to do something about that.

In this review I am going to do nothing but bitch about this adventure. 

The three miniquests included, with the croc and the mill, are perfunctory. You get one column of bullet points for each that outlines the adventure. For the mill, this amounts to the banshee inside asking the party to bring her the dude in town that jilted her in to suicide and then she kills him when they do and she goes away. And the mayor is ok with this. There are, I think, like six bullets that describe this, with no real detail of an adventure at all. I would hesitate to even call this an outline, more of just an idea. No real depth, or anything approaching that at all. Is the dude a bad person, a good person, there’s a complication? Nothing like that. The croc thing provides a boon if you save the croc; then the treehugger who hired you guides you through the swamp and you could avoid a random encounter or so on the way to the lizardman temple. But that’s really it; there’s no real information to run an adventure in either of the mini’s.

The adventure has its heart in the right place, in general, but falls down in most respects when it gets to the specifics. We note, for example, that the handful of NPC’s are being written in a rather terse format. Our treehugging tracker, for example is described as a happy go lucky tracker who knows the jungle well, with a quirk that there is life in everything, even rocks. Great quirk. And the happy go lucky part also. Perhaps not quite as effective as the “three keywords” descriptions that i revel in, but you can see that the designer kind of knows what to do here, even if they are fumbling a bit.

And the descriptions are trying also. “A stilted village that straddles the Slithering River, its halves connected by a swaying bridge. A symphony of bird calls and rushing water fills the air, while wood smoke fills the nostrils” That’s not a bad start. But, also, that’s ALL there is. There’s nothing really to solidify this village over any of the others. (Callback to that kilted lover, perhaps?) There’s an offhand mention of mosquitoes in the swamp, but that’s it. This is a far cry from the kind of evocative setting that really gives the DM something to work with as they ad-lib in things. 

And, once you reach the temple, we get descriptions that are things like “A large hall with exist in all directions” which both uses a boring word, large, and tells us what the map already tells us. Or “The room appears to be an old storage room.” Again, not really great. Appears to be is just padding and we should e working towards a description in which the players think “ah, an old storage room!” rather than outright telling them this. Another room has graffiti on the wall that says “I’ve solved it! You need different blood in each goblet!” Good job putting a clue elsewhere in the dungeon, but a little too on the nose. 

And it has fallen in to the trap of bullet point mania. ALL of the descriptions come in the form of bullet points. When everything is one thing then nothing stands point, if you get my meaning. Bullet points accentuate information, but shouldn’t really be the primary form of communication. Otherwise, how, again, do you know what to focus on?

The adventure is not as bad as most generical/universals, but that’s a long way from good. While the designer is on the right track in many areas, it still comes off as an effort with a lot problems.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. You can see the village, NPC’s, and mini-adventures that I spoke of. A page showing a couple of room keys would have been nice as well.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Jungle Tomb of the Mummy Bride

Mon, 05/27/2024 - 11:11
By Levi Combs
Planet X Games
Levels 5-7

Tales of the cursed pyramid and the sleeping tomb of the Mummy Bride have long been a traveler’s tale, passed along by wayward explorers and greedy plunderers alike. Deep within the verdant jungles of the south, amidst a Green Hell of impenetrable jungle, savage cannibals and ancient myth, lies the shattered remnants of a once-powerful civilization and the terrible gods who ruled over them. Rumors swirl of untold riches and un-plundered magic for those brave (or foolish!) enough to claim it. Will your players survive… and what will be left of them?

This 87 page adventure presents a three level jungle temple dungeon with about thirty rooms in about nineteen pages. Full of fun tropes, and leaning hard toward combat and looooong encounters.

To understand this adventure you need to understand Cannibalvision. This is the vibe, presented in a page description up front, of B movie exploitation tropes. Perhaps most readily accessible by that opening scene in the first Indiana Jones. The temple. The natives. The snake in the cockpit. “Nudity that would make a 1980’s National Geographic blush”, we are told. Or “When describing the jungle and its “lost in time” inhabitants, remember that everything in this ancient world is bigger than it should be and that goes double for the freakiness factor. Mosquitoes the size of a puppy or ridiculous swarms of giant leeches should be the norm.” There are some hits and misses in this advice. I get the vibe that the designer is trying for though, and it comes through pretty well, in total. You just have to overlook the hamfisted account of the quaint natives. And you, gentle reader, don’t go pulling your fucking holier than thou shit; you can get a vibe across without resorting to the worst of caricatures. That’s the job of the designer. 

The maps here are a bit simplistic. Just a some simple hallway lines ending in rooms without much complexity. The first level has about two thirds of the rooms with the other two being essentially perfunctory maps or just a couple of numbered encounters. A standard temple layout. Which does tend to be some of the worst dungeon map design. They tend to the simplistic.

The adventure does have some great vignettes though, referencing back to the tropes that we’re all familiar with, and done/written in an evocative manner. At one point you encounter a corpse/mummy. It is mumbling something … but can’t talk because its lips are sewn shut. Cutting them free causes him to continually mutter a slight prayer/saying. That great! It’s great imagery and somewhat scar, giving that push your luck mechanism that should always be a part of a dungeon. And the adventure does this sort of thing over and over again. Even better, there’s some design behind this. Pushing your luck here, by cutting open the mouth to hear the chant, allows you to use the prayer in another room to help bypass the danger there. That is EXACTLY what should happen. Or, in another case, a room full of statues, arms crossed in front of their chests. Triggering them causes their hands to uncover the chests, revealing holes, in which crawling hands flood out. Scarabs anyone? That’s a clear appeal to a trope and some great imagery as well.

And in many other ways the adventure falls down. Wanderers are perfunctory, with such descriptions as this one for a giant spider “ This variety of spider does not spin webs, but is very adept at jumping.” Sure. Bt also there’s no real energy to this, or the others. And while the adventure is magnificent in its specificity in some places, it also engages in the abstraction that frustrating to see “The ancient civilization that once prospered here was not completely eradicated. A savage, cannibalistic tribe of hunters remain nearby, offering up forbidden and bloody tribute to the evil gods within and echoing the decadent, terrible habits of their ancestors.” a tribe. An ancient civilization. Name names man! Give me some bloody tribute! Get in there and revel in it! And you don’t even have to use more words, just different words. The Jaffa hate the Shol’va! And it’s full of minor annoyances, such as presenting us with a step pyramid … without any indication of what you find when you climb the steps (the entrance is at the base.) I can’t imagine the playtest groups never climbed to the top.

But, the main crime here is one of verbosity. The entries are long. Three, or four to a page. A simple spear trap takes four paragraphs to describe. Four! Paragraph after paragraph of words for rooms. And much of it padded out with useless words or phrases or some backstory, and usually all of the above. Rooms APPEAR to be things. “Crouching about, gnawing on split, cracked bones and scuttling around on the floor looking for ragged scraps of flesh are 2d6 ghouls” is a great description of ghoul behaviour. But the description after it is backstory and the one before, of the room proper, full of abstractions and history. It makes it a serious pain to dig through.

I believe this, while for 5e, has its roots in DCC. And it shows. A good DCC adventure thrives on experiences and that is what this has. It’s just a chore to work with and frustrating in its inconsistencies.

This is $12 at DriveThru. The preview is ten pages. You get to see the first two rooms, which is good, and the abstracted nature of the wanderers and rumours, as well as the Cannibalvision advice.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Grey Citadel

Sat, 05/25/2024 - 11:11
By Nathan Douglas Paul
Frog God Games
Levels 4-5

In the city of Dun Eamon, demons roam the streets, criminals rule the night and an important local power figure has gone missing. Can your heroes unravel the clues that lead through every social element of the city–from the heights of the Grey Citadel to far below its streets and even into the hearts of its inhabitants? Or are some mysteries better left unsolved?

This one hundred page slop of garbage from the Frogs presents a four level dungeon in about forty pages with … sixty(?) rooms, as well as a short investigation, all in an overly described town/city. It’s a wordy wall of text that focuses on combat. 

Ohs Nos! A wizzo is missing! Looks like there’s a succubus hiding in the caves under the city. And a gang of thieves being controlled by her. And a anti-paladin kinda under her control. And a rival adventuring party. And chickula is a succubus so she’s got some simps. 

[I diverge: Looking at the succubus from a more nuanced perspective, there is an opportunity here for something more interesting. Thralls being played as yes men, eager to please, wanting to get laid, etc. I’m sure we’ve all met the type, either online or that dude you knew who is not around anymore cause he’s up some chicks ass. This could be mined for some really good play. It’s not gonna get anywhere near that here, but, it further solidifies my idea of a monster manual based on that kind of description, the themes of the monster and how to represent it. And no culture warring you fuckwits; I’m talking about the dudes without boundaries exhibiting unhealthy behaviors.] 

Have no fear, as soon as you step foot out of your inn you are summoned by the Lord Soliloquy, who gives you a column long read-aloud monologue describing several small things going on in the city and asking you to investigate. You wander around a massively over described city and have some timed events until you find your way in to the sewers, err, I mean caverns under the city. On level four you find Lilith and stab her. It? Whatever. 

I don’t know what to say here. It’s peak Frogs. Long read-aloud. You can drive to detroit and back before the DM finishes the read-alouds. You know all of those morons who bitch about the players being on their phones? It’s of shit like this. I’m not sitting through a fifteen minutes read-aloud. You get a couple of sentences. That’s it. 

Almost a page of text to describe the sawmill. Which has one dirty old man in it. Fuck me man, that’s a shot paragraph at best. And everything in this is like that. You get word after word and sentence after sentence of description about shit. “the corner of the area opposite the entrance are two bodies (an Ebon Union cutpurse who failed to make it back home safely one night, and a beggar who refused to inform for the Ebon Union” That’s one long section in the middle of a HUGLY long description describing a room. And then, of course, we get a detailed description of everything they carried, including the lint in their pockets. Look man, I appreciate some whimsy in shit like this, something to keep the mood a little light or add some mystery. But I don’t need a fucking victorian laundry list of the rotation of the bedlinens. For the last 23 years.

There’s little in the way of actual useful formatting to break up the text and make it usable. There are PAGES full of condensed stat blocks, for S&W, that take up, I don’t know, a fifth of a page for a stat block. In S&W? Uh huh. It’s all in a small font, in that fucked up font they use. It is Wall of text, absolutely it is.

I wonder, did anyone ever try to run this fucking adventure? Anyone at the Frogs I mean. From this booklet. Not the designer, they are too familiar with the adventure. But some rando. Did anyone ever try? Did they tell anyone that this entire thing is useless POS? It’s hard to read, hard to run, and, I think, not the most fulfilling. Unless you like hacks.

Rooms in the dungeon have names like “JUST A FUN GUY” I’m not an asshat. I enjoy some levity also. But, also, you’ve given up any opportunity to bring more context to the rooms you’re describing. To start things off with a framing that will cement everything that follows, leveraging it in to something else Instead, though, we get equipment porn. And tactics porn. Cause that’s all D&D is. Stabbing. Instead of evocative descriptions and interactivity we instead get “You are

free to come up with colorful curses such as “can eat only insects” or “can speak only in single syllables”. You fucking enjoy that. Enjoy the slop being shoveled down your throat without any thought as to what an adventure actually is and how it achieves it.

It seems clear to me that this is a conversion of a Pathfinder adventure. That’s the vibe. I don’t give a fuck how you play D&D. You wanna play Pathfinder, that’s fine. But I give a great many fucks about my basic D&D game. And this shit ain’t it. In any measure of an adventure.

This is $19 at DriveThru. Nineteen fucking dollars. For a PDF. Which might be ok, but its from the Frogs so you know your gonna get ripped off. They got the cover right, at least. The preview is six pages, the first six, showing you just a couple of overview pages. So, not really useful.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Night Land

Wed, 05/22/2024 - 11:11
By Vasili Kaliman
Singing Flame
Levels 2-3

Night Land is a realm where the sun has extinguished and its ashes lay strewn across a landscape. One after one, the stars in the universe are entering their ultimate stages of life, and existence is evaporating into memory. Night Land may take place far in the future, or even in the past. It is a dream-like realm existing without plot, which referees can weave to their will.

This 48 page digest pointcrawl uses about eighteen pages to describe about seventeen points in a trippy land. It is a pointless endeavor, with no meaning behind it. To it. Just someone with some ability to invent and describe weirdness, but absolutely no understanding of how to use it or what to do with it.

For those of you hoping for some WIlliam Hope Hodgeson, as I was, you shall not find it here. The sun has gone out here, as have most of the stars, and things are a little trippy, but otherwise there is no similarity beyond the name. It is not even to be found in the long list of Inspirations up front. Awake in the Night no more …

Ok, so, you’re awake in the Night Lands. No sun. Just a pale moon (whatever …) and most of the stars have gone out. You’ve been transported there, all Porky in Wakyland with dipping water birds and other weirdness. Then Dungeonmaster shows up to explain to the party what is going on. Errr, sorry, I mean Inspiratus the Gatekeeper, who crawls out of a pit, explains shit, and then jumps in a different pit. Bottomless, presumably. We’re not off to a great start here. And I’m serious about the Porky thing. Watch the toon but turn the sky greenish black.

I sound like an asshat here, but I’m sorely disappointed. With factions like Sunmourners, the Necro Divas and the Void Engineers you’ve got some great imagery just from the names. (Evidently, Mage the Ascension factions/houses make great factions …) The Sunmourners riding around on swine. The Necro DIvas have a ladder to heaven made out of blond human hair. How the fuck yuo make this shit up? Drugs man, lots of drugs. 

The druge continue through to the descriptions. “Within a clearing, an ASH GOLEM sits feasting on LACERATED HUMANS. Geothermal features such as geysers and hot MUD POOLS are nearby. Other ASH GOLEMS are soaking in one of the pools, chanting tender MELODIES to one another. Numerous SUN SPRITES are fluttering above them, enthralled” or “Only Necro Divas can perform magic here. Divine or arcane words spoken by other casters fall to the ground as vapor, hardening in forms reflecting the meaning. These solid forms can be taken out of the hamlet, after which the spell regresses back into an ethereal substance and activates as normal.” That’s some weird ass shit and some weird ass descriptions. Flash of radiant color sparkle within, great bubbles rise to the surface of things. The designer has a penchant for writing a terse little description and coming up with some bizarre ass shit. 

And then not knowing fuck all about what to do with it.

This comes in many different forms. Let us start with the very nature of a pointcrawl. If you try to stray from the path then the DM is told “The ashes might become too thick to wade through; terrifying beasts might be heard ahead to discourage them; they might reach an escarpment too steep to scale” IE: “I didn’t care to figure this out, just hand wave it.” Or, perhaps, the weird ass use of bolding. You can see it up above, in that ash golem description. MELODIES is bolded. Are they monsters? No. Something with more detail below this description? No. And the fucking thing does this all over the place. There’s one more sentence to that description. It ends with “a convergence point for UNEXPLAINED aerial wonders”   I’m pretty certain this refers to the table, taking up the rest of the page, of “Occurrences in the sky.” Since there’s nothing else I guess this is the same as UNEXPLAINED. What, exactly, was the point of this? And I’m not harping on a misused word, this shit happens all over the place.

Not to mention the misuse of randomness. Everything is a fucking table in this. Yeah, it’s great that the wanderers are doing something ala the wonder of Dave Bowman, but beyond that EVERYTHING that can happen is a table. Why? Why make the encounter at a location random? Will you be revisiting that location time and again and need something new to happen? No? Then why? Why not, instead, take one of those fucking ideas and expand on the six words you used to instead to provide a fully formed encounter. I find this so frustrating; the mediocre, or worse, encounters here are sometimes full of good ideas. But they have no room to breathe. And it all stems from this complete lack of understanding of randomness and the role it plays. If you want an encounter then write a fucking encounter. Why fuck around with making the Tome of Adventure Design instead look like Wackyland? Just write a fucking encounter man. Instead we get little fragments, not formed at all. 

But the major sin is the lack of cohesion. This is, I think, best exemplified by the point The Fog. “Nestled within a valley is a region thickly shrouded in BLUE FOG.While most travelers pass through without incident, many go missing each year, VANISHING without a trace. They emerge several days, months, or years later — without aging — and with no sense that time has elapsed.” You get a little table for people emerging from the fog, or for you entering the fog. That’s it. It’s just pomo, weird for the sake of being weird. It lacks any connection to anything. And, I would assert, almost every encounter in this pointcrawl follows in this fashion, even those among the factions. Nothing matters.

THings end with a visit to a garden party out of Alice and The Hatter, with a figure that has blackmail material on several notable figures. None to be found in this adventure. And never to be visited again. Just like the holy travelers who have found a new form of transportation … with no other words than those being written about it. 

There’s nothing here. It’s an empty void with a patina of colour. 

This is $8 at DriveThru. The preview is a one page DMS page. That’s worse than fucking useless as fucking preview.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Slyth Hive

Mon, 05/20/2024 - 11:11
By PrinceofNothing
The Merciless Merchants
Levels 14+

What once was, shall be again. The evil Pharnabazus, high priest of Shub-Niggurath, has ventured into Old Agoiah, and with the aid of evil sorcery, has re-awakened an ancient terror. The Slyth, a weapon race of the primordial Axototli civilization, has been reborn from the Wells of Lazarus at the hands of the Arch-Heretic. Reports of missing huntsmen, depopulated forests and sightings of eerie, primeval monstrosities begin to filter in from this decrepit backwater region.

This one hundred page adventure uses about fifty pages to describe a nine level dungeon with an ant/borg/Aliens vibe that is combined with “standard” D&D elements and tropes to produce a decent representation of a high-level AD&D adventure. It’s not a shitty high level adventure, and therefore worth having. Although I can’t imagine more than four groups in the history of D&D being able to play this.

High level adventures are a rare thing, and this makes me somewhat circumspect when reviewing some of the better ones … or ones that I think are better. They tend, I think, to all be puzzles of a strategic sort. The party is working against something. They have a huge amount of resources at their disposal, from spells to magic items to vast quantities of men and  materials they can bring to bear. To some  extent this is mirrored in the lower level game, where hit points and rations and spells and torches work against a wandering table. At a higher level though this can become a sort of strategic game. The story goes that the Tomb of Horrors was solved by a large number of orc minions. And, I’ve always thought that a small army of soldiers with peasant laborers with shovels could dig out many dungeons. Or, the party could flood it and work out the rest later. They are puzzles without a solution, ready for the party to engage in their fuckwittery … and deady traps for those facing them head on.

The arch-heretic Pharnabazus was seen arriving on black ships crewed by evil men and marching in to the wilderness, toward a high mountain, or, as th text tells us “Peasants fear Old Agoiah, the highest mountain of the place, and shudder beneath its brooding presence.” The Well of Lazarus awaits him deep within. (You can see here the appeal to the cultural consciousness to bring mor to the words than the actually written text. Allusions to LoTR, and other pop culture references help bring the correct vibe to the adventure for the players to relish in. I’m always excited to see things like this brining more to the written word than is actually on the page..) And yet this is not the adventure. It is only the pretext and finale, for to get there you must go through the Slyth Hive. He has used the well to awaken an ancient warrior race, held captive by an even ancienter race. Bringing them back, changing himself in the process, to eventually unleash. They are a cross between ants, The Aliens (plural) movie and the borg, adapting to the parties use of effects eventually and evolving to counter them. This is presented as a somewhat serious situation,  but not the end of the world, thankfully, as that trope is quite worn out. A toned down Death Frost Doom ending, if you will. 

The nature of the threat is brought home by the suggested start. Your group of mid-level pregens (Including The Kent, for those in the know) goes in and probably gets this asses kicked almost immediatly. Then the second squad goes in. Solomon the Magician (Human lvl 16 LN Mu) Archmage of Forces, Powers & Dominions. Sir Giselher (Human LG Paladin 14) Undefeated Paragon of Virtue (28 years old) Legendary Underworld figure. Peerless killer of giants, dragons, and men. Grandmaster f the Order of the Radiant Dawn. The Master of Summer. The Great Druid. There are no histories, the titles do everything and communicate everything you need to know about their past. A power trip to be sure, and exactly what this should be bringing.

There are nine levels here, only one of which we might call the typical dungeon map. Great caverns with some tunnels hanging off of them set up some massive set pieces, potentially, with some small exploration after. This appears a couple of times. And then a vertical map completely underwater … a sunken realm of the ancients. Another level or just rooms in solid stone, that the psionic inhabitants travel between … a key level to dealing a serious blow to the Slyth, turning off many of their defenses/gimps. Not just 100 wishes, but a site where you can help turn the tables on the larger scale. 

You’ll also find not just a nest of Aliens here, but also some potential friends. A rebel hive. A major drow patrol. Friendly cactus people. And a major druid that is being forced to do things. This isn’t a one-sided affair. Hard, to be sure, but  not just small combats. A large number of large scale potential combats but not just those. Not just traps of the usual variety, or puzzles to turn to your favor. Not just allies. This is a complex environment written in a more neutral way in which the party can turn things to their advantage if they can figure them out. All supported by some pretty decent writing that helps to bring the environment to life. The focus is on interactivity, both with the encounters and with the descriptions. Not rock star level descriptions, but very solid ones.

The editing can be sloppy at times, with keys and map symbols. This is all able to be worked out but is annoying. As is the use of roman numerals for the map keys. Blah. This is not the comprehension I was looking for. There is a FUCK TON of treasure here, enough, I suspect, to easily level. If you can get it out. That’s a lot of coin to haul out. Especially in a dungeon incursion like this one with hostels all around. The magic items are suitably good at times (a +4 spear, in particular, being exactly what I would expect for an epic item (+4) handled in a good way) and in many other places items of power are just booked. Talisman of Evil. Talisman of the Void. Bleech.) And the number of subsystems to keep track of is non-trivial. You’re going to need some stat sheets for the Slyth, at a minimum, and to have the adaptations thing handy, as well as manage the gimps/defenses/reactions. And that’s before you get to the many and varied abilities of the opposition force. There is a lot going on here and a little more in support of the beleaguered DM, during play, would be appreciated. Essentially EVERYTHING is going on, including psionics and etherealness. As one would expect from high level play.

I suspect that anyone playing this is going to get asses handed to them. There’s more to high level play than the stats on the page. The ability to use your character, outside of the box, is what is going to make a difference here. An experienced PLAYER. At high levels. And, even better, having grown in to their character through play instead of taking over one. I don’t think thats a critique of the adventure, just an observation of high levels and how people fit in to their characters over time. 

There is so much going on here that it is hard to get it all down. Nature attacks. Clones of people, controlled. The Slyth proper. Their fungus cousins. NPC’s good and evil. The underwater vertical level and disconnected rooms level. Psionics. Sunken cities of the ancients. Ancients that FEEL like ancients and their slave/warrior species that feels like one. A  lot going on, with just about everything weird from the books being fit in as well. And it all fits. And fits well. And in an epic manner. But, also, The only thing I’m morally opposed to is the Purple Worm gimp. This thing is truly epic, without having that forced appearance of being epic.

This is $15 at DriveThru. No preview? Tsk Tsk


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Valley of Flowers

Sat, 05/18/2024 - 11:11
Jedediah Berry, Andrew McAlpine
Phantom Mill Games

Wildendrem! Where quests unfurl like the petals of the blood-red poppy. Where monsters haunt the edges of the world—and the edges of the world draw ever nearer. Aerthur the Hornèd King is gone, but his shining vision lives on, borne by countless knights over a land in the grips of a sorcerous delirium. The sun has gone strange, and the roads are beset by phantoms and brigands. The once united provinces grow ever more isolated, ever more themselves Now the valiant and the foolhardy alike seek glory in regions riddled with sinister enchantments. Oaths sworn, oaths broken, treasures claimed and lost and claimed again— and so the whirligig of the seasons unveils its perilous mysteries. Wildendrem! Your golden age is ended. New adventures unfold in the light of a ragged sun.

This 150 page supplement is a campaign guide, regional supplement, and dungeons combining to form a slightly offbeat mythic environment for gaming. An idiosyncratic vibe with a MONSTROUS number of things going on, and a tone that is magnificent.

The very first table in the book, in the cover, is “What is the sun doing today” that you roll on each morning. “7 Maintaining a low, indecipherable chant.” This sets the tone for all that is come. A tone that is very hard to describe. It’s not like you can compare it to things well, such as “LotR except Sauron won” or something like that. A mashup of the Wizard of Oz, Arthurian myths, the movie Wizards … I don’t know what else? Maybe we start at the Arthurian thing, full on Pendragon mode. But, also, lets push things, in every direction, until we get to a place where knights could maybe joust on giant bees and, while it would be unusual, you also wouldn’t totally freak out. (Also, The bees are quite bureaucratic here, with lots of rules set down by Her Highness, and its likely you might get in trouble at some point.) The church is a little askew. The Faerie court could show up and it would not be all that out of place. The nobility is pushed to foppish excesses. In fact, everything is just pushed a little more. Not hyper-realism, but just a bit beyond that. Maybe the world of Quixote? It’s everything the default LotFP setting is, but, turned on its head and instead of being all evil and hopeless instead the sun is shining and everyone is optimistic. Not really, but let’s go with that as I continue to struggle with communicating the vibe.

“Aerthur is missing, and the sun has gone strange and monstrous. The steward Unther, a hollow suit of armor, makes oracular proclamations, mystifying the old king’s ministers. An intoxicating strangeness ripples over the land as knights of myriad orders, in the grips of  lunatic passions, undertake quests of dubious provenance. Meanwhile, the people of Wildendrem stray from the faith, seeking the forbidden mysteries of old.” That’s not a bad overview. Whimsical … but with a flavour of deadly that leans for to the frequency of the typical D&D world … and occasionally slips in to LotFP territory. Gone Fishin’ would not be out of place here. 

There is a writing and creativity here, creativity aligned with tone, that just fits perfectly. “Dark and musty, unfinished stone walls, creaking iron steps.[]. Roseate light spills through the cracks of the marble door at the bottom.” Now That’s a fucking description. And it’s just a fucking spiral staircase. Some throwaway place. Or, let’s talk about The Prayer Beast, found in the Graveyard of Idols in the Tower of the First Heresy, a place the Holy Church keeps things hidden: “A 10’ tall humanoid that crawls on knees and forearms. It is headless and blind, and covered with dozens of hands and mouths. Its hands make occult gestures while the mouths whisper prayers to different gods; sometimes one will shout an expression of futility and despair (“nothing triumphs over all, no one hears your prayers, we are alone, the sky is empty, empty”). The beast is confused, erratic, and in constant pain” Now that’s a fucking monsters description. It focuses on play, not some ecology bullshit. This is what the party will EXPERIENCE.

We’re getting, maybe, six distinct regions in the land, Each with nine or so different places of note. These are described in a short little paragraph, a couple of sentences, with three keywords for notable NPC’s (which I love, in theory, and wish were a little more thought out, in practice, in places in this) and a little section after that, again just a couple of sentences, for some quest ideas/things to do at this place/people. In addition we’re getting about five dungeons and maybe, of, ten r so other places that are more described than a single entry but less than a full blown dungeon. 

One notable place is an old monk abbey, recently abandoned. The monks having committed a drunken murder and summoned a drunken god … who is evolving in to a five-fold facet of themselves. With some knights present also who have sworn to drink all of thor special liquor known to exist in the land. A site/quest/adventure that could end with The Great Sobering or with The Forever Feast. 

There’s a strong social element to most of what goes on in these locations. It’s not your typical hack dungeon, although there are still things about to stab. I don’t know, a comparison to Castle Amber? That Abbey, for example as three or four pages (digest pages. SIGH) of factions, people, dunkkard rules and so on, before we reach the keys, 21 or so rooms. “ Five umbral imps (p. 32) put the finishing touches on a large, sumptuous meal .” in the kitchen, so, we stabbing or sucking up?

“Cardinals and archmystagogues may usually be recognized by their enormous, swollen head”. Literally, in this case.

A magnificent little regional setting. Strong on vibe, consistent, deadly, whimsical, or, perhaps, farcical? It’s not in any way silly. I would have no problem at all running something here. One of the more decent things since Scourge of the Demon Wolf. (Yes, I know the scope is different)

This is $15 at DriveThru. The preview is fourteen pages. It’s a good preview, showing a fine selection of things, focusing on some of the regional locations and few of the more in-depth location pages. And the art matches the vibe perfectly. 


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Carcassay – Titan Rat City

Mon, 05/13/2024 - 11:11
By Joseph R. Lewis
Dungeon Age Adventures

The ancient world of Harth withers beneath its dying sun…but it’s not dead yet. Welcome to the strange and dangerous city of Carcassay, huddled below the skeleton of a titan rat, sprawling above the ruins of countless dead civilizations. This is where folk come to find wealth, power, revenge, secrets, oblivion… and everything in between.

This 120 page supplement details the shops and people in a city built around a GIANT rat skeleton, as well as three “dungeons” under it. It’s full of quirky people and treasure and the like. It’s also almost certainly not an adventure, in spite of the three dungeons.

So, weirdo city. Kind of? We’ll get to that statement later. This presents a city with a few quarters, the lands outside of it in the immediate vicinity, some sewers, and a few dungeon/underground areas. Let’s call it eight or so places in the city and another twenty or so outside, with as many underground again, roughly. This is presented in the typical Dungeon Age format of triple column with underlines, bolds, and section call outs, which all works very well for a terse format that is easy to reference during play. I can’t say enough good things about it; Lewis knows his format and knows how to use it. We’re getting about three shops/buildings a page, using this format, with a few exceptions for some of the more weird ones … which generally means the more faction-oriented of the sites.Cross-references are pretty good here, with decent references to other sites to help a DM out during play.

Lewis has a knack for terse and evocative writing. A pawn show is described as “A small shop crowded with dusty shelves laden with old assorted wares. A large woman reclines in the corner, petting an old hound.” A hound that barks out but has not much bite. And a woman that is described as “Large, bob, monocle. Slow, deliberate, precise. Wants to get away from this city. Fears religion.” That’s great! We get a little physical and a little mannerism, along with some goals and fears of hers to help the DM add some additional colour to the running her. The descriptions, especially of the people, are totally oriented to helping the DM riff on them during play. You can really get in to them and run them in an ad hoc manner, filling in things as you need to, with guidance from the designer, as you deal with the parties machinations. I can’t say enough about it. Another example could be Miss Ophelia: “Miss Ophelia (20),

amateur rat-catcher. Small, babyface. Awkward, shy. Loves animals. Loves killing animals. She’s complicated. Paid by the shop owners to keep the street clean of vermin.” Loves animals, loves killing animals … she’s complicated. GREAT! I don’t know how the fuck dude comes up with this shit but its very high fucking quality and occasional GOLD, like Miss Ohpelia. 

And it gies on like this, entry after entry, with most also having some small task that the party could accomplish. Some entries refer to others, with things like “sure would be nice if someone burnet down his new rivals inn … “ or some such. People wanting things and, in some way, having something to bargain with that DOESN’T feel just like a job board with posted rewards in the town square. Hows about a flash of 6000 year old absinthee or a Ossuary of 4d6 tiny skilver 

So far I have described the thing as buildings, individual things that you could putt out for your own cities, or perhaps in pairs the like in some cases. A few of them are weird enough, or idiosyncratic enough to this setting, that it’s going to be hard to pull out. But that’s general not the case.

The city, proper, though … well, we need a little more, I think.

It does feel more like the individual buildings are disconnected. The overarching themes, and even major factions don’t really come through very well. There is a VERY short section in front of each city section, a short paragraph, describing it roughy, n terms of sights and smells and so on. But, also, there’s no real VIBE of major factions at play, or themes, or so on. Sure, you’ve got the Corpse Lords in one section, but, also, they feel more than a little static. In fact, it pretty much ALL feels static. Like, hey, here’s something you could do with this business/person that I just described. Does that make sense? It’a a list of businesses with things that could happen to that business (which is great) but it lacks the feel of a larger scope than perhaps an individual business. Even the ones which cross business boundaries, like burn down Franks inn, are little more than that statement. But the overall VIBE of the city just isn’t there. The scope, of the interactivity, feels small.And this would extend to the dungeon areas. They don’t really feel connected, the rooms in each I mean, to each other. Here’s some rooms and here’s some dudes in those rooms and oh yeah they want the thing that those dudes in room 23 have. The sense of viscerallity of people wants and fears doesn’t really come through on these things. 

“Blackest Heart (appears to be a preserved human heart, the bearer can sense the emotions of any creature they can see).” Oh man, that’s a good fucking item … and this thing is thick with them!

So, not an adventure, even, I would assert, in spite of the three dungeons included. And not really a city, in the sense of machinations held together by people. It is a lot more individual building based, or even group based,without those crossing in others. Perfect for stealing from though. I love the place! The density of city places to steal from is VERY high.

This is $10 at DriveThru.The preview is nineteen pages. More than enough to get a sense of the place. CHeck out actual page ten from the preview for the “overview” of each city quarter. 


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Sepulcher of the Sorceress-Queen

Sat, 05/11/2024 - 11:11
By Michael Stone & Alexander Macris
Levels 7-9

Over a thousand years ago, the Zaharan Sorcerer-Queen Semiramis reigned over a court notorious for its decadent arts and lavish opulence. The hidebound nobles of Zahar were troubled by the ascendance of the kingdom’s first female monarch. Semiramis was beset by over one hundred suitors, each one demanding that she marry him so that the kingdom might have a king. Many of these suitors were powerful spellcasters who wove enchantments upon her, but to no avail: The Sorceress-Queen wore the Ring of the Queen’s Heart, a legendary magic item gifted to her by the goddess Nasga that made her immune to her suitor’s charms. As beautiful and cruel as her goddess, Semiramis instead seduced her perfidious suitors into swearing eternal love to her – then had them slain. The Sorceress-Queen mummified and interred all one hundred suitors in her own majestic sepulcher, where they would serve her as loyally in death as they ought to have in life. Since then, the sepulcher of the sorceress-queen has lain hidden and undisturbed, its undead inhabitants slumbering in torpor until the prophesied time of the Awakening. But now a reckless warband of lizardmen has broken open the ancient tomb and disturbed evils not seen in centuries…

This 58 page adventure uses 34 pages to present a tomb, in the process of waking up, with about 67 rooms. This is, I think, the poster child for Decently-interesting-but-never-gonna-use-it cause-its-a-pain-in-the-ass. I am genuinely interested in knowing if anyone has run it COMPLETELY and how you handled it, both generally and specifically in terms or prep and game-play delays. As far as level 7-9 dungeon crawls, though, nice!

So, I’m paging through this for the first time. Title page padding, backer padding, blah blah blah, intro padding, long backstory padding, some rumor stuff, some pretext travel to the site stuff, blah blah blah, padding and nonsense. Then BLAMO! The map page hits you in the face. Lots of features on it. A note for dark alters, braziers, monoliths, sarcophaguses, walls that you can kool-aid-man through. And, a notation of “water/blood.” Heh. Nice. We’ve got some red bubbles noting undead monsters that can react to sound, lots of room features, lots of features. Sweet little map the likes of which you don’t usually see … and wish you did. 

The environment is nontrivial. There are, I think, nearly five pages of subsystems for the dungeon before we get to the room keys. Dark Alters – Destroy them and reduce the queens regen/magic resistance. But, also, summon a shadow each time. Weak walls to bust through. The impact of the sounds the party makes, including busting down doors and destroy alters and casting spells, and how that could awaken and/or summon monsters from nearby (up tp 150’ feet away … which is then suggested to be The Nearest Occupied Room within range, for simplicity purposes) And, then, how to put those creatures on the wanderers table. There are lizardmen in the tomb also, making an incursion, and they get reinforcements. And, also, they make attempts to clear dungeon rooms each day, with their own rolls and impacts on the dungeon. There are Doors, secret doors, sealed doors and blocked doors, all with different rules. And more. That’s a lot to keep track of. Enabling a rich and deep play experience, to be sure. 

The rooms are … deep. We get a read-aloud section to start with, generally. I’m not thrilled about them. Not quite the evocative writing style I prefer. More fact based.And this includes over-revealing in the read-aloud “the doors, which carry a relief depicting a stormy night on the sea,” and so on in the read-aloud. I think an over-reveal in the read-aloud is detrimental to the game. It sets expectations around what the DM will reveal to you and how and when you ask questions of the DM, beyond simply the Q/A cycle being the core loop of the game. And, sometimes they feel random. A room smelling of moldy paper, in the read-aloud?! Let’s investigate! There’s no reason for it, or any hint of paper in the room. 

I suspect the read-aloud is this way because there is no traditional DM text, or, at least, not generalized DM text. Each entry will have a section(s), if appropriate, called [Monster] or [Lore] or [Trap] or [Loot] or [Noise] or [Trick]. And in that section the treasure, or trap, or effect will be described. At length. You’re not getting away with less than a paragraph for each, sometimes more. It is not infrequent for a room to be a page long. Now, this is levels 7-9. There should be some shit going down in some of these rooms, involved shit. I’m not sure though that the selected format is really paying off for rooms this complex. There is very little formatting beyond these section headings; it turns back to paragraph form with a monster named bolded. It’s fucking DENSE man. And frankly the monsters are not done very well. “5 wights.” Well fuck me, that’s great. All undead look the same unless we personalize them … and, one section of those five pages of intro to the dungeon rules was about interacting with intelligent undead. GENERIC intelligent undead, it would seem. 

We’ve talked about some interactivity already. The doors. The sound situation. The alter thing, and other general dungeon features. As well as the lizardmen and them being potential allies. And maybe saying hello to some confused undead. And then there is specific room interactivity, IE: the keys stuff. Beyond looking at frescoes and traps we get … well, not much. Fighting dudes and looting and avoiding traps. It’s all pretty straightforward. There ARE some traps that may be a little more interactive than usual. Let’s say a pool  and if you add a drop of your blood then the monster doesn’t attack you. Or, wearing some holy garb form the tomb will give you bonuses on rolls or help avoid traps. Beyond that, man, there’s really not a whole lot. A stalactite next to a bridge being a roper? Ok. I guess.

So, great map, good concept, lots of always on things to do. But the creatures turn generic, and I think the room descriptions are uninspiring. I really want there to be more to this than there is. But, also, it’s a fucking tomb. As a tomb it’s great, because tomb adventures generally suck ass. And it does pull off a 7-9 adventure. It’s just a little … I don’t know, uninteresting? Both in the descriptions and the encounters? I need a little more in my life. 

This is $7.50 at DriveThru. The preview is ten pages. You can see the map and a few of the always on features, but none of the rooms. I would have preferred a room page be shown also.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Greydeep Marches

Wed, 05/08/2024 - 11:11
By Peter Schweighofer
Griffon Publishing Studio

Three hundred years ago adventurers from the Vilburg Kingdom forayed into the untamed border region and quickly drove away isolated, unorganized bands of humanoids. Many settled here under the watchful eye of the Sentinel Knights and have prospered in their enterprises. But dark powers left from a wicked empire 2,000 years earlier still lurk in dark forests, forlorn ruins, and subterranean labyrinths…and a growing threat in the Ostmaur Peaks to the east threatens to overrun the apparent peace and prosperity in the Greydeep Marches.

This 34 page regional guide has three adventures in it. It’s quite wordy, full of things that don’t matter, and has nothing interesting in it. I don’t understand what the value here is.

This is a regional setting. That can mean one of two things: either it’s a fluff piece with some mini-adventures or it’s a sandboxy area. I tend to avoid fluff and love sandboxy things, which leaves me in a pickle when it comes to those that pop up in my potential review list. This one turned out to be of the mostly fluff variety.

And what fluff it is! Oh, no, I mean, not in a good way. It’s long and boring and drawn out. What, a page I think, on the Hammer & Tun, a tavern. A page that regals the mighty oak beams and jovial atmosphere … without actually saying anything of use to run the adventure or, I would assert, even creating an evocative environment. WHich is interesting. It’s clear that the designer is trying to invoke an evocative atmosphere in the inn, but it’s so generic and so long-winded that I just didn’t care. It was completely ineffective in what it was trying to do. And this happens time and time again in the fluff portions of the adventure, the descriptions of the regions, the places and the people. It’s long-winded and boring, even through its clearly trying to evoke imagery. But, man, it’s all the same shit, time and time again in these things. It’s generic fantasy land with generic fantasy taverns. We’ve got monsters with an evil forced behind them making incursions from the mountains. Duke McDickhead is collecting artifacts and some Sentinel Knights run around bumbling. These are the divergences from typical fantasy world. And this is what twenty pages of overwrought text tells us … the description of the typical fantasy place without those brain spikes that make them memorable. 

This is supplemented by a wandering table that is mostly nonsense. A dude sitting in a tree warns you about the forest. Great. Bob is in the woods taking a leak. This doesn’t fulfill the purpose of a wandering table. The purpose of a wandering table is to make the party GO FORWARD and take Foy. Cause if you don’t then something is coming out to get you. So move your fucking asses. 

And this lack of understanding extends to many other places. There are three mini adventures in the supplement, and in one the reward you are offered from the villager is determined by rolling a d6. This is not the point of randomness in an adventure. Rather than a table, the space could have been used to really work that portion and come up with a couple of sentences to really bring it alive for the DM, and thus the party.

The adventures are unremarkable little things, with two being small six room complexes and one being just slightly longer. Inside you’re mostly going to find hacking. I must say, though, that there are times in which the writing really does get better. “Water drips down the moist walls of this dank cave into a small pool, eventually running out the cave entrance into the puddle beyond” That’s not too shabby. I like it, for evoking the imagery that a designer should be trying to imbue in to a place.  It’s terse, and really gives you a sense of the place. Now, I can quibble that the pool of water being outside the cave, really should have come before, but the overall effect is still there. Likewise there’s a monster description that goes “Something lurking in the far shadows breathes heavily, then emits a growling croak. A large toad – three feet tall with green on top and a speckled red underbelly” Lurking. Heavy breathing. Growling croak. Green and speckled. Not the greatest of all time but certainly far far better than is usually seen. 

And then we get a long backstory for a common pig that is the inciting event for the adventure. ARGGGGGG!!!!!!!!

The region setting is unremarkable and the mini dungeons not great. 

This is $7 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages. You should be able to get the gist of whats going on, in tone, with it, in the region.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs