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Updated: 4 days 17 hours ago

The Bishop’s Staff

Mon, 07/19/2021 - 11:11
By Michael de Vertueil Atlas Games Ars Magica

Your group will be drawn into a dangerous entanglement between the mundanes and the Church. They will find a missing wizard, prevent the destruction of innocents, and investigate a saintly visitation. Multiple mysteries await inside this complete adventure.

This 48 page adventure ises 21 pages to describe seven chapters/events in a mystery. It is an epic shit show the likes of which only 2002 could have produced. Bad D&D adventures can only DREAM, during most fevered opium fits, of being this bad.

Hey kids, wanna game tonight?! I’ve got this great adventure that involves the african slave trade with some some brutal slave punishments, and, fuck it, why not, I’ll throw some rape in also! Who’s up for a game?!

I’ve always loved Ars Magica. I mean, in concept. I’ve never been able to keep a game of it running. There’s always the issue of the knights and followers and power levels and what “adventure” looks like. It’s always seemed a little slow to me. But, in theory, Fascinating! Maybe if it was run more like a LotFP game?

Anyway, back to this shitshow. No, it’s not about the african slave trade I made that up. It’s about jewish wizards. They are moneylenders, of course. Oh, the main guy REALLY loves  money and is miserly. No physical attribute notes, so we don’t  know if he has a big nose. (Ok, I thought to myself, no fucking way they left that out, so I went back. Sure enough, the artwork that is presumably of him has him with a big nose.)  Ok ok, so, the edgelords at Atlas have an adventure his Jerish wizards, who are greedy moneylenders with big noses. Oh, and then there’s the pogrom of the jews in the adventure. I mean, that’s the word that the designers uses. And, to be fair, the action does involve a good riot with burning down jerish peoples homes and killing them, so … yeah, Jewish pogrom! Who’s up for a fun night of gaming?!! I don’t know, maybe I’m just old fashioned, but it I’m not too certain that The Jewish Pogrom playset for Fiasco would go over too well. Who the fuck greenlit this in 2002 and who the fuck greenlit putting it on DriveThru recently? “Well, kids, you see, it was 2002, and all the publishers were edgelords producing crap. And that’s why we have the OSR.”

This is a thing of its time, I guess. The darkest hours before the dawn.

But wait, there’s more!

It is roughly scene based, as was everything at the time. Scene one is a page ong, with another couple of pages of supporting information, about the characters getting an invite to come visit another covenant in another city. Yup, a whole fucking page on what to do if the party feels insulted, what the deliveryman tells them and so on. I weep. Scene 2, a crazy woman yells things at you as you enter the town where the covenant is. This shit is esoteric beyond belief, no three clue stuff here. Scene 3, you have dinner with the other covenant, their greedy big-nosed jewish leader wont give you anything decent to trade with you and a dude in the garden tells you one of their order is missing. FOR TWO FUCKING YEARS NOW. (There is significant crossover to my next rant, so be patient, please.) Scene 4, dude pays for you to stay the night … at the cheapest filthiest place in town … which he owns. On the way you see a hut burning and two kids running away … who are found dead. Let the Jewish scapegoating begin! Cene 5 is the next morning, the mob growing, going back to the compound where youre told that they wish The Missing Guy was here. Scene 6, in the one room basement of the local church, maybe finding the missing guy. Scene 7, assault on the Jewish wizards compound by the mob and/or he general Jewish pogrom in action and wrapping things up. A fun couple of nights of gaming! Oh, did I mention that you will get no help from the local authorities, unless you are heavy handed with the mob, in which case 30 knights show up. Yes, please, quantum those fucking knights in. 

The organization is a shit show also. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Call of Cthulhu is the banner bearer here; just throwing words down on a page with little regard to how they need to be used by a DM. This is worse. Lots of NPC’s a SIX FUCKING PAGE LONG stat block for th head of the order, who doesn’t do anything in the adventure. Background sections that overly verbose and bury any roleplaying notes or important information in MOUNTAINS of irrelevance. The same goes for the main text of the adventure (which, of course, starts with a piece of fiction. 2002, gotta have the fiction piece!) Just mountains of words, which will give you a hardon if you are in to historical accuracy with regard to minor jewish sects but are useless for running an adventure. Which of course means that the sideline action, with your knights and servants, is going nowhere productive since they typically gather information and the fucking information is impossible to find. 

The very first words of the adventure are: Good published adventures are meant to be played and to this end should provide prospective storyguides with all the elements they need to offer their players a challenging and fun time.” Hey! That’s great! It’s then followed with: “This particular adventure, however, is also meant to be a good read. Thereader will share some of the initial confusion, puzzlement and sense of mystery which would confront a group of players.” Ah, so, it’s written to be read, and not played, after all. 

This is $8 at DriveThru.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/345753/The-Bishops-Staff

Because it was on my Wishlist, that’s why. There’s a reason some of shit hasn’t made it off before now.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Sword in the Jungle Deep

Sat, 07/17/2021 - 11:11
By Francisco Duarte The Keep Studios DCC Level 0

South of the famed city of Caster’s Crossing lies a jungle rife with dreadful perils and savage predators, known by the locals as Erset La Tari. Adventurers crave the bounty of treasure and powerful artifacts said to be lost in the depths of this treacherous place; many have lost their lives trying to uncover them. Now a band of conscripted prisoners are forced to best the horrors lurking in this dark place. Will they be able survive and perhaps unearth the prodigious power said to be hidden in the depths of the jungle deep?

This sixteen page adventure details twelve encounters in a jungle. Without much of a jungle vibe. Linear is what you get with a DCC adventure, with fighting and traps and an obstacle or two thrown in. The read-aloud and DM is terrible. Surprise. Not Interesting.

You’re the Last Hope, condemned prisoners sent on a mission and if you succeed you gain your freedom. That’s the last bit of interesting this adventure will have. You walk down a jungle path to the end, having you’re linear encounters, with the exception of a small clearing where you could also go right or left to have a single encounter each. I don’t know what I’m complaining about this; it’s what DCC is. It does get a bit tiresome though. Especially when it’s vanilla.

And vanilla is mostly is. Stray off the path and get eaten by a dog/tiger thing. Fight some snakes. How can giant cobra snakes be boring? Read on! Fight some things. Fight some more things. Jump over a sludge stream. Maybe go down to the bottom of a sinkhole. Can you tell my heart is not in this? It’s just … boring. De rigueur. 

The read-aloud is LONG. Long paragraph long. And in the hated italics. If I accomplish one thing before I die (I just did a few life expectancy calculators, I have 40-43 more years; I clearly need to drink more) it will be to drive the hated italics from read-aloud in adventures. I know, it’s my own windmill to battle. Ok, so, Long read-aloud to bore the players to death. It’s in italics so it’s hard to read. And it uses second person. I fucking hate second person read-aloud. It’s just garbage. “As you walk along the path it gets narrower …” Is it really that hard to say that “The path gets narrower?” is that really that fucking difficult? Do people not realize the issue with second person in read-aloud? Is it not the obvious fucking sin that I think it is? “As you gaze in to the muck of the stream.” No. NO! I do not gaze, at anything, EVAR! I want to fucking make it through the adventure and “Don’t gaze at things” is like rule number three for adventurers.” It does NOT create an immersive environment. It does the exact opposite and breaks immersion. 

The DM text is long. REALLY long. Like, at least a column if not three quarters of a page in most cases. And it’s just simple paragraphs, with no bolding or underlining r highlights or anything to help parse whats going. Oh, there is a “TLDR” section, which is a nice touch, but it’s not really meaningful to running the adventure. “The stream blocks the way and kills anyone who touches it.” Great! Where are the stream details? Buried somewhere in the following page of text.. *sigh*

How does it get this way? I think the first encounter has an entire long paragraph of text that tells of the ecology of the place, how the canyon was formed by the running stream. That has no impact on the adventure. It’s the Ecology of the Piercer, embedded in an adventure. It’s fucking padded out in the most annoying ways. “Although most local fauna will try to avoid the party, the Shardian Grass Cobras that flourish here are another matter entirely.” That sentence says nothing. “Should the characters decide to inspect the surround- ings they will notice two interesting elements, previously …” That entire clause has nothing to do. It’s just padding, obfuscating the meat of what’s to come. 

Ok, I lied, there is a bright point. When the party emerges from the jungle in to the clearing the read-aloud DOES tell them what they see in clearing, ahead, and off to the right and left. This is a good example of what I like to call The Vista Overlook. When you can see a decent distance that encounter should tell you something of what you can see, to lure the party off track and provide assistance to the DM for the inevitable party question of “What do we see?” 

There’s just nothing here. It should be a steaming jungle vibe, but that isn’t communicated at all, either in the read-aloud or the DM text. I now, evocative writing is hard. I know. I empathize. But a jungle adventure should FEEL like a jungle adventure, and not just walking down a long hallway killing a snake.  In the end, I’m using this as a textbook to pull examples from for my book on how to NOT write something. Not, let’s go see if I can lower my expectancy a bit more …

This is $7 at DriveThru.The preview is seven pages, the first seven. Fortunately, the last page of the preview shows two encounters. Note the padded out text. The first real encounter, with the snakes, is one of the more evocative in the text. I think the read-aloud ruins it, as does the second person, but hip-deep brown grass under a blazing sun has something going for it. 

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/204502/Sword-in-the-Jungle-Deep?1892600

Because it was on my Wishlist, that’s why. Yes, I’m still working through my Wishlist. Because STUPID, that’s why.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Medusa and the Cursed Forest

Wed, 07/14/2021 - 11:11
By Addison Short Torchlight Press 5e Levels 10-11

Once a faithful young acolyte to a goddess of war, Acantha tended to her god’s temple diligently and without protest. One fateful evening a rival god appeared and wrought destruction on the temple. Rather than take pity on Acantha, her goddess cursed her with the powers she is now feared for: her petrifying gaze and the mass of writhing snakes that protrude from her head. Little known, however, is that the curse also bound her life to the broken temple; if she strays from it for too long, she grows weak and begins to die.In the millenia since she was cursed, her presence has imbued the surrounding forest with its own petrifying magic. Creatures that enter the depths of the forest risk being turned to stone by the latent magic and for each creature petrified, the forest grows further outward. Now, Acantha is known as the Lady of Sorrows.

This 34 page adventure details a petrified forest and with a ten room temple at the center containing an ancient medusa. It has some good ideas for putting the medusa in to the context of the larger game world, but really doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up, never going fully down any path. The results are a muddled mess that takes a great concept and comes off as generic.

This thing has four different elements to it, and doesn’t fully go down the path of any one of them, or, perhaps, use any one of them effectively, much less using all four effectively. You’ve got “the medusa in the larger context of the region”, “the medusa’s petrified forest”, “the temple of the medusa at the center of the forest” and “the medusa’s allies.” Each of these, individually, has some interesting ideas (well, except maybe the temple) but they are just surface level concepts, not going far enough and not working together.

What sucked me in to this product in the first place is the medusa in the larger context. Let’s think of this as THE medusa, and, in fact, this medusa’s origin is much like the mythical one, cursed by a god. The forest is a mythical place. This isn’t just a medusa that shows up as a random encounter, one of many, inside of a cave complex. This is HER place in the world. The people know about her. They know about the forest. It’s a thing for people. And, there;s notes on her actions in the wider world. Outlying farms getting visits from her, a kind of protection thing, which is either a racket or beneficial, depending on how youplay the medusa. Her showing up at some nobles party, all Sleeping Beauty style, to fuck with people. Longer plans, like her minions raiding a village to forcibly disasm the village. But it doesn’t do anything with any of this. It’s not a coherent narrative. Rather than picking one , or two, and going with it, instead it’s just a couple of sentences thrown at the DM. “Do what you want with this concept.” This is a SEVERELY missed opportunity. A mythical creature in a mythical place with plots? That would be GOLD, but it’s not handled well here at all, and given no life or room to grow. 

The forest. Petrified. Full of statues, etc. Slowly expanding as more and more animals and people get petrified. It’s cut off a village awhile ago and now they are isolated from the rest of the kingdom. All super good. Nice concept. Terribly handled. The forest has two things going on. First, if you kick up a dust cloud you get to save to turn to stone in a few days. Also, dust storms randomly swirl around at times, especially during encounters. There’s no way mentioned to cure the “flesh to stone” infection. During a dust squall it’s noted that a cloth over the face keeps you from having to make a save … but not during general travel? There’s an entire page devoted to the dust storms, inhaling the dist, etc, and these sorts of very basic are never mentioned. Further, it feels punitive to me. Much like heat and cold rules, it feels like torture to play in it. And, when you get to the temple, your “make a saving throw every day or the disease progresses” changes to “make a saving throw every turn.” Fuck me man. And then the encounters are … strange? Each takes about a column, for a VERY basic encounter in most cases. There are two tables, one of which I don’t think is ever used and has ten entries on it and “roll a d4” noted. Fuck if I know what this table is for. The other is athe “traveling through the forest” table with the encounters getting a column each. There are no set encounter locations in the forest, just wander the fuck around in it having these random encounters and making saving throws to not die untli you reach the somewhat random hex with the medusa’s temple in it. (Admitidadly, in the center of the zone, but the players don’t know that and don’t know how big the place is so they won’t know which hex is the center.) This is all pretty fucking terrible design. Again, nice concept, but “wander the death zone having random encounters” is not an adventure. What this needed was some fixed locations, with the NPC’s scattered about.

And NPC’s there are. A treant with no home forest to guard anymore because it was logged out. A hag with a bunch of orphan children. The invisible snake that likes silver tableware. Not bad. Maybe we can ever count a tribe of trolls that serve the medusa. But, as NPC’s, they are all just stuffed in to the ten room temple. Any subplots or interesting encounters will have to happen there, perhaps in the context of a fight. They have no room to breathe and nothing interesting going on within the context of the adventure (more on their role in the larger context later.) 

And the medusa’s tempe is boring as all fuck. The descriptions are essentially non-existent. Which, I guess, makes sense in a way, maybe? I mean, It’s not an exploratory location. You either talk to her or stab her. But I just can’t get over the lack of any meaningful detail. “An alter devoted to the god of war cracked down the middle.” Well, fuck, that’s certainly a great description for the fucking thing that started the entire ordeqal of medusa in the first place, isn’t it? And the cleaning closet is one of the ten rooms. What the fuck? Seriously? Along with the outhouse. With a bucket to put the excrement in to fertilize the garden. This is what you devote pages to in a ancient cursed medusa’s temple? And the creatures/allies just sit in their locations if you start stabbing her, I guess, since there’s no notes on this outcome. 

And now we must deal with the elephant. There is an attempt to make the various major NPC’s more well rounded. A ham-handed attempt that amounts to “DRAGON GOOD. PRINCESS BAD. HUR HUR HUR.” Let’s be clear, I really like a complex social environment, including the “monsters.” I think it offers much more rewarding play than just having everyone and everything attack outright when they see the party. But I’ve got my limits. The medusa has grown increasingly impatient with the greed and cruelty of the humanoid kingdoms over the millenia.” Uh huh. Says the chick you turns people to stone. Cue the South Park “It was coming right at me!” schtick. The treant advisor/friend whos forest was cut down by the human kingdom. The NE hag who doesn’t eat children and instead rescues orphans from the forest to raise them. Uh huh. Or hooks that involve rescuing the women children and elderty from a village that are in danger. Uh huh. There’s a passing attempt to create “were allied with the medusa” the medusa relationship to us is neutral” and “stabbing the medusa” hooks, but, in reality, this is just stabbing the medusa. Otherwise there’s not really an adventure here, it’s just a patron. Ph, oh! The stabbing the medusa hook? You’re hired by the Lord to go do it. And if you do he fucks you over by giving the worst hex in the petrified forest as your domain. This sort of ham-handed shit doesn’t fly. It doesn’t when the monsters are all psychos and it doesn’t when we turn the tables and make them the good guys and the humans all evil. And it oesn’t matter how many encounters there are like “flocks of birds turn to stone midair and rain down” there are. The inability to give the major NPC’s more than a single dimension, either direction, destroys the ability to create a lager game context for the party to enjoy and/or exploit. 

Discounting this ham-handedness though, the other parts of the adventure are extremely weak both as stand-along elements and in the way that they should be working together to create a larger context for adventuring. The surrounding area stuff is a throw-away. The wilderness has no depth. The NPC’s have no room to experience them. And the temple is a disaster of “Nothing going on but boring.”  But, in concept, each one of those is great! Yes, even the ham-handed shit. This are great ideas … that jts did NOT make it in to execution in any way shape or form beyond “I have a good idea …”

This is $7 at DriveThru. The preview is the entire thing which is GREAT. I would suggest taking a look at the forest few tables. They will general the general vibe of the product, as well as the missed potential.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/356517/Medusa-and-the-Cursed-Forest?1892600

This has been episode “A pernod at 7:30am sounds like a good idea to me” of Bryce reviews everything on his wishlist.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Griff’s Vale

Mon, 07/12/2021 - 11:11
By Greg Saunders Fire Ruby Designs Warlock! Beginners

The Vale is a wilderness on the fringes of the Kingdom where a number of factions,

from pilgrims to goblin clans, exist in an uneasy state of truce. Now someone has

shown up to claim a piece of its past, they’ll need adventurers to do it, and what they

will find risks upsetting the delicate balance.

This 76 digest page setting and adventure details a small valley, popular amongst pilgrims, with a lot of generalized hints of what could be going on and a brief ten page “heres something that could happen” adventure. It’s got a nice vibe, and the ideas of things that could be going on are good, but its far far too high level to be called an adventure and way too limited by the digest format to be a good setting.

It’s a valley. There’s a little town/village in it. There is a holy site nearby where pilgrims make their way to, and the people around here make some money off of them. There are goblin bands scattered about, really more like bands of humans bandits in the way they are handled. Protection rackets and opportunists. The town and locales around it have little quirks that make it feel alive and like a real place, and they all tend to be supplemented by a little tables of things that could be going on. Some Red Priests show up and want to go to the holy site for a pilgrimage. The locals are aghast at these heretics. Local priestess is looking for some compromise to keep the locals mollified and not hurt the pilgrim industry. That’s it. Or, “was that a man with the head of a fish that just disappeared into the water?” They are ideas, left open ended. And that’s ok, for something like this. I think they all could have been expanded upon just a bit more with some supporting information for each, to integrate better in to the valley, but, as a high level idea thing it’s fine. And there’s a sly little humor present throughout. One of the first tables is about weather. “Mud. Everywhere.” and “Snow, still snow. WIll it never end?” It does a good job of communicating a a great vibe with a few words. It reminds me a lot of the Dungeon Dozen in its ability to do that, and I don’t think there’s a higher compliment. 

Still, the digest format limits this greatly. As a supplement to run the valley it’s going to be very hard to find the information you’re looking for to add local color. This is going to have to be an almost memorization job for the potential DM. You’re going to need to keep almost everything in your head because there’s both enough local color, and its hard enough to reference in a seventy page digest, that’s its going to be hard to work in well otherwise. Digest, for these longer settings, just doesn’t work. You need more page space and better formatting than “a normal paragraph page style” … which this uses. I’m sure there are exceptions, but those are not the rule.

The adventure included is quite high level also. Frank wants you to go find some artifacts/ of his legendary dad (of the aforementioned holy site) for a ceremony. He sends you to some ruins. In the ruins are a goblin outlaw band, who will talk to you. They’ll let you in the crypt if you go kill the leader of another band, the main one in the area. That guy, if talked to, will send some of his dudes to drive off the first band … but only if you go poison the holy sites water with some laxatives, for the lols. The crypt you gain access to, one way or another, has one room. And the entire adventure is really not handled in a much more complex ay than I just put here. It’s VERY high level notes and not much more than that. As an introduction to the politics of the bands and the valley, supported by the rest of the book, it might be fine, but in terms of supporting the DM running the adventure … well, no. And, it’s full of padding like “With the threat of Izmirelda neutralized (by force, spider-handling, or Ardak’s own goblins), the player characters can get to the back chamber of the crypt, clearly meant for someone important.” That is both a long sentence and a completely empty one for adventure content, saying nothing useful.

I’m disappointed in this. While the various little tables and “hook/rumors” give the impression of a lot going on, there’s not really any support for the DM beyond this. It does a good job of setting up a potential situation, at a very high level, and I can truly see that this could be a great place to adventure and home base in. But the formatting just makes it unusable as a reference book for play and there’s just not enough TO those hooks to support the DM. The entire thing feels like specificity at the level of a hex crawl … which is good for a hex crawl and less good for a regional setting or actual adventure.

This is $14 at DriveThru. The preview is ten pages and can give you an overview of the writing style, even if it the generalize background stuff. A few more mixed pages would have been better.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/331841/Warlock-Griffs-Vale?1892600

Still reviewing everything on my Wishlist. I should be done about the end of the next Long Count, where I will op all of my great scientists. In fact, I think have a couple of more of these Warlock! things on it … if I can find one by a different author I might try it.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Stories from the Slough

Sat, 07/10/2021 - 11:11
By James Andrews & Kent Willmeth Dapper Rabbit Games OSR "Low to Mid Levels"

Welcome to the festering swamp. The odd bog. The Seeping Slough. A weird swamp hex-crawl adventure that will have players exploring a dangerous location that contains two dungeons, a village, several unique characters, monsters, and whimsical filth.

This eighty page hex crawl describes a nineteen hex swamp with two dungeons with about a dozen rooms each. A classic minimal hex crawl with a little weird and icky swamp thing going on, it lacks a more detailed summary as well as a motivation for exploring … as all hex crawls do. But, as a classic hex crawl in the same vein as Wilderlands … nicely done!

Hex crawls are their own thing and I’m not capable of reviewing them well … or that anyone else is either, their being so few examples of the genre. Their design is directly related to the way the DM and players will interact with things. Generally, this means that the appropriate level of detail for a hex crawl is quite a bit less than your typical adventure. Hexes tend to be zoomed out situations rather than encounters. You need enough (flavorful) information to present the situation that it will have the potential energy that will drive player action to interact with. The classic would be something like some weirdos have X and Y. By stringing the player actions together you get a kind of emergent play plot in a sandbox. This tends the tope version of sandbox … where the party may not have much motivation to explore beyond what they give their characters … perhaps a kind of gleeful desire to get ahead and poke at things with a stick. We’ll get to that in a bit.

You get nineteen hexes. Each is two miles wide. Each has a little table with six entries; if you append an hour searching the hex then the DM rolls on the table to see what you see. Monsters, situations, NPC’s. In addition, each hex has its own six entry wandering monster table. Each of the encounters and the wanderers gets about a paragraph to describe it, in a large font. This is supported by a “disease table”; the party rolls to catch a disease each night they stay in the swamp, a con check IIRC. Failing gives you a disease, twenty to roll from, and if it progresses too far then you get a mutation. The mutations are sometimes beneficial, sometimes harmful, and generall weird. Like you no longer have blood. Or your head falls off but you are still alive and can eat/drink/talk normally. So … weird … with a touch of the gonzo in it. That’s it. There’s a village in one hex and the two dungeons, one the lair of a witch and one the insides of a dead colossal creature. Now get out there and shake your asses and make it look good!

This suffers from the bane of all hex crawls … why? Why move from hex to hex? It is absolutely the case that it is up to the player to motivate their PC, but the DM, and thus designer, is not off the hook. There should be SOME pretext for moving about. If only “GOLD!” An inciting event, for example. But in this we only get, I think, a single throw-away sentence that the Witch could be the reason the reason for exploring the swamp. And without anything else it’s left solely up to the DM and players to solve this, the primary problem, with ALL hex crawls. 

Issue two with hex crawls is the nature of their encounters. You want situations more than static things. You’re looking to build connections between the various things going to drive the players, as the DM, and as the players to take advantage of and leverage. This is, I think, THE critical aspect of a good hex crawl. And this … well … in most cases it’s better just to keep travelling. 

There is a body hung up in a tree. It’s dead and you can loot it. There’s a big crocodile. You sleep under a giant flower, your blood turns yellow. A bunch of weeds with a wizards body at the bottom of it. Some of the encounters ARE linked to each otherl a body in a tree that some other dudes are looking for and their village welcomes you if you bring it home. And, there’s a little NPC mechanic where, when you meet the same NPC multiple times, their situation changes. One guy wants to kill the witch and the fourth/last time to run in to him he’s a zombie now … having met the witch and lost. So, you wander around through an Ed Greenwood museum and maybe get some loot. The number of encounters in which you can leverage towards achieving some other goal seem to be very small. And I don’t just mean intentional linkages, like the dead person in the tree and the grateful villagers. I mean Things Going On To Be leveraged. You want ongoing situations in one area and other situations and resources that the party, by way of wacky PC logic, will try to do something with. And that doesn’t seem to be very present here.

Individually, the encounters are interesting. Sure, I’d love to find a body with a glowing amulet under some reeds, or the lumberjacks who drink, wrestle and eat far too rare meat … (actually, bad example, you might be able to leverage those dudes … that’s a good place, but they NEED something, r rather, the adventure should probabally have them needing something.) Still, the locations are far too self-contained. Now, certainly, not everything needs to be linked, and there is a place in the world for statics, but you need a good mix and I just don’t think that this has it. 

Still, I’m fond of this. Housecats that won’t stay dead until you kill them 1d10-1 more times. “A half collapsed stone fountain depicting hunters chasing wolves, who in turn chase the same hunters. It trickles water slowly. Those who drink the water become youthful and healthy in the moonlight.” There’s a whimsy to the encounters, and they don’t feel like de rigeur D&D. I just … I don’t see them working together in order to be able to form a cohesive line for the party to follow, or force. Again, not in a plot way but in a emergent gameplay way. At least … I THINK that’s what hex crawls are about?

This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is broken. I can haz sadz.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/357751/Stories-from-the-Slough?1892600

BONUS FEATURE! – The Rad Hack

On my wishlist for a long, and you just know I LUV me some Gamma World! It’s got cute art and is … The Black Hack but with mutants and human supremacists. Meh. It’s not like Gamma World is the worlds most complex game, even 2e or 3e (Fuck you! I liked 3e! I think the chart worked better than it did in MSH!)  IF a certain GAVIN was listening he’d do an OSE but for Gamma World. That’s the main advantage of this: the simple and easy to reference rules. But, the charm of the setting is lost in the abridged rules, and, the cute art aint enough to get it back.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Book and The Spring

Wed, 07/07/2021 - 11:11
By Christopher Letzelter Anachronistes Press OSRIC Levels 4-7

PC’s get more than they bargained for when they undertake a quest to destroy a recently-captured tome of black magic. Standing in their way are an unforgiving desert, a cursed and ruined city, an ancient tomb, and a dried-up spring. Oh, and lots of unexpected foes and tricky situations, of course.

This 52 page adventure is a Real Deal lost city adventure, with over 350 rooms, primarily in two large multi-level dungeons. It is also, I think, nigh-unrunnable without devoting a couple of weeks, or months, of your life to it, illustrating just about every surface-level bad design decision possible. A major, major overhaul of this would turn it in to a classic of the genre.

The parties intro to this is much in the same format as G1; the armies of light have been going at it against the Evil Dudes and a group have returned with an evil artifact, a book that is indestructible. While everyone else is off waging war against the moat house and temple, the party is given the task of destroying the book, which the seers say can be done in a lost city out in the desert. 

A lost city with the tomb of an evil king (multi level dungeon) guarding by some good pilgrims, fending off incursions of an evil cult who are lairing in the palace of the evil wizard (multi-level dungeon) with some outbuildings to explore, an underground passage out StoneSky, and a couple of independent entities in the ruins, like a dragon and lamia … as well as the usual hangers on of vermin, undead, deserters and so on. The two major dungeons have over 150 rooms each, meaning we get about eight rooms per page … in an adventure that is pretty much, front to back, nothing but encounter keys with only a little front and back padding. It’s got some light Sumerian theming, which drew me to it in the first place. (Fun fact: in a con game, revealing you have a brand of Gilgamesh means you always get to play Gilgamesh!) 

In a world of mini-adventure and four-hour complete games, this is a complex adventure. This is more of an expedition, and a hard one at that, more akin to Gaxmoor or other products. You’re gonna need to bring everything with you and plan to stay for a few weeks, I suspect. Cause this place is FUCKING HARD. While the majority of the human factions are 1HD fighters (yeah! Great to see that!) there are a wide variety of 4 and 5hd monsters, numerous, along with hard traps and the like that are going to make multiple forays in to plays a necessity. And then, of course, the factions may hit you back while you camp. Or that dragon may come by for a snack. (Ok, dragonne, close enough.) Wanderers, while tending to be generic desert encounters, are checked twice a day and twice at night … which may give enough time for some recovery.  While I usually prefer my wanderers with a little more life in them, somehow the generic desert stuff like pit vipers, dust storms and nomads, seems to work well in this environment. I think it’s the slower/longer playstyle with established party camps that can lead to better emergent play opportunities. I understand shorter self-contained adventures are the norm these days, but this shows one of the strengths of a longer game … and, in contrast, what you need to do in a shorter game in order to help recreate that emergent vibe the longer ones help foster naturally.

This thing is a mess, from a layout and writing viewpoint.

Read-aloud can be a quarter of page long, and in italics, leading to both usability issues for the DM and “another droning room description” for the players. It can be sprinkled with overly dramatic language like “you feel tiny, helpless, and uneasy, as if someone or something is watching you.” … which commits the sin of telling instead of showing. Ideally you want to write a description that makes the players think they are tiny, helpless and uneasy, instead of telling them they are … and “you” is almost never appropriate in read-aloud because of this. It further dips in to simulationist territory with a lot of exact dimension and detail in the read-aloud, instead of leaving that for the party themselves to discover and thereby contributing to tearing down that key game element: the interactivity between players and DM as they explore and discover. “Two open portals beckon in the north edifice.” *eyeroll*

It engages in that favorite device of the hard adventure: gimping the players. No divination spells, creatures turn as two levels higher, and so on. The party has earned their abilities and they should be able to use them as such. Figure out another way or accept that for every divination spell cast to gain an edge there is a fireball not being cast. It also engages in something more natural. The heat causes issues for fighters in full armor. “This module will be that much more enjoyable for the players if you enforce these armor penalties.” Well … not in my experience. I get it. It’s trying for a naturalistic nerf and there’s a little simulationst thing going on here also. But, simulationism is only good in as much as it helps with the suspension of disbelief. And while I’m generally supportive of these more natural ways to nerf a party (the wizards tower is on top of a 1000’ high tree, fly if you can …) I don’t think I have ever seen heat or cold handled in an adventure in a way that is both not cumbersome and fun. It has always come across as punishment for playing the adventure. And in a level 4-7 adventure that is already quite hard? It just seems grueling, the party are no demi-god levels of powerful yet. Fuck, they might not even have fireball.

It does also engage in some other questionable design decisions, like a sepia snake sigil. Well done, there’s a cobra drawing on the wall so its not a throw away, I still raise my eyebrows at anything that seems like it’s trying to use the rules to create a in-game effect, rube goldberg style. (That’s a normal noun now, right? I mean, you don’t have to use it like a proper name? xerox VS Xerox?) And, of course, the required “you can’t open the door until you defeat the monster nonsense. I can think of one random monster encounter in the desert, with vultures, in which if you kill a vulture you are cursed. Just out of the blue. Step on a crack and break your mothers back. If you’re going to do this sort of thing then you need some hints or some way to telegraph it, or make it a conscious choice. LOTS of vultures around, you’re starving, and you know that they are sacred to Old Asshole the Very Active God of Punishing People Who Fuck With His Sacred Animals. Otherwise, this is just an arbitrary negative consequence … again, punished for playing the game.

DM text is long and confused as well. There’s a mix of in-line stats and stat blocks. While I’m not religious about either, I do find that the inline stats in this adventure just make things all the harder to scan. It could be the formatting selected and/or fonts and bolding, parens, etc. It seems to break over multiple lines, three or so, which causes you to lose what’s going on in the room. Then there’s the embedded history and backstory of the room. One room with gnolls, states “Their previous employers were more interested in building a temple stronghold and magical gain; this group is seeking a greater financial reward, and will fight heartily to keep the little bit they’ve plundered and stolen . One of the gnolls has just recently been grabbed and eaten by the inhab- itant of 12.” Well, ok, that adds nothing to the encounter at all. But that sort of thing does make digging through a simple gnoll encounter in to a pain in the ass to scan. And while treasure gets a good treatment, it tends to be ALL treasure that gets this. Even coins. Like CP and SP. “each gnoll has pouches or folds holding …” and “that is valued at …” and tons of other padding that does nothing for the comprehension of the adventure. Nothing positive that is. Ug, and we get LONG empty room descriptions. Simulationist again, above playability. “If anyone ventures past the entrance with a light they will see …” Uh huh. Just describe the fucking room man. This turns a nice and interesting little jaunt through the desert around the walls of the city, filled with sinkholes, in to a painful affair you have to fight through in order to run it. 

A disturbing number of encounters, the vast majority I’d say, do something like “they will have just spotted the characters” or they surprise the characters. Or they are waiting for the characters or something like that. And this leads to the bigger picture.

This place is too complex with no help for the DM to figure it out. There are NO summaries of what’s going oin in these place. Order of battle is mixed in to room descriptions tens of encounters away. “Frank will gather his friends in #21 if he hears sounds of battle in room 2 and will respond by …” ARRGGG!! This goes in room 2, or up front as a general reference! You can’t fucking run someonething like this. In these hundreds of rooms bases/lairs/dungeons, you need a summary of what’s going on, where things are, how things might go and so on. Given the amount of padding, figuring it out for yourself is going to take a hard core week with a highlight and a fresh notebook. 

And, frankly, I’m not going to fucking do that. I’m not going to buy an adventure and then burn an absurd amount of prep time in order to run it. Sure, big adventures DO need some prep time. But not this much man. I like the maps, clean and interesting. The adventuring environment is at least as interesting as most adventures and more so generally. But the usability and evocative writing here is just terrible. Yes, evocative writing is hard, I will give you that. 

Still, I’m so close to giving this No Regerts. A real deal lost city adventure, an expedition that feels titanic and varied. But fuck, it needs a COMPLETE overhaul in its writings and presentation. 

This is $9 at DriveThru. It’s sold in a weird way, with the encounters in one PDF and you have to buy a separate product to get the maps and wanderer tables, appendices, etc. SO you HAVE to have both of them to run this. And yet they are sold as two separate products. LAME! And, the preview doesn’t work. *sigh*

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/253075/The-Book-and-The-Spring–Encounters–Sourcebook?1892600

Blah blah blah blah reviewing everything on my wishlist as a pretext to not actually write the main book blah blah blah balh

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Valley of Karaccia

Mon, 07/05/2021 - 11:12
By Matthew Evans Mithgarthy Entertainment B/X Levels 1-2

Responding to a flier promising payment for kobold heads, the party gathers in the town of Brink. From there, they set out on an expedition to the Crimson Caverns, a known kobold lair. After proving their met- tle, the PCs will be hired by the Church of Erm to recover a needed artifact from Fallsbarrow.

This 24 page adventure features three dungeons with multiple levels and about seventy rooms. It’s got a clean three-column format, but is essentially minimally keyed with just a hint of a few extra words. It’s also going to be hard as all fuck for level one and two hobos.

Our action starts quickly. The column read-aloud details the party having a meal in an inn, getting taunted by a local worthy, and then traveling to a cave full of kobolds to stand outside it …  there being a reward for kobold heads. No real fucking about here and, I must say, my preferred way of starting a level one campaign. Short to no time in town and lets play some fucking D&D man! The additional of the taunting by the local bravo is a nice touch, even though he and his friends are found dead in the very first room. Nice detail AND a missed opportunity, all at the same time. 

The rooms here are essentially minimally keyed. “Bones from a few different creatures litter the floor beneath the drop here. Otherwise this area is empty.” or “Two ghouls sitting on the floor rise to attack.” That’s not much for a DM to go on. I get it, minimally keying is a thing and I would certainly prefer it to the text onslaught that most adventures seem to suffer from. It does allow for putting fifteen rooms on just two pages, with the extra text mostly being things like details like “ghouls paralyze creatures of less than an ogres size, make a save blah blah blah” … rules notes that offer little. However, it’s 2021. A little extra room description would go a long way. Something to create an evocative environment, or even a creature description. This can be done without a significant amount of extra text and in most cases can replace the notes on “make a save to not be paralyzed” and so on that pad out this adventures text.

A certain number of rooms do receive just a little bit more text. “The two statues in the north and south are made of green marble, and are of previous patriarchs of the church. The eastern statue is made of crystal and depicts the goddess Erm. All other niches contain sarcophagi.” So, fact based and not a lot to get the DMs juices going. 

The maps are mostly simple star and branching things. One of the systems does have a shaft with three level exits, which provides some decent variety. The first kobold dungeon has two levels, while the second dungeon has one level, then you go to the “shaft” caves to get an item and return and use the item to open up the second level. This is good. A little non-linear play and at least the fetching of the red key for the red door, or the statues missing gemstone eye in this case, is at a secondary location.

The homebase doesn’t overstay its welcome, only being a page long, but it really add nothing to the adventure … it could not be there at all and you’d not be missing anything. Well, anything except the level fourteen cleric in town who gives you the mission for the second dungeon. Eeek! Why doesn’t he go do it? I guess because he’s 60? And he offers raise deads for about 1500 gp at first level … that whole thing doesn’t make sense at all. He hook for the second dungeon is that his apprentice is cursed by an evil object and he wants you to go to the second dungeon to get something to cure her … with no real mention of the thing that cursed her in the first place … a sure miss since the players are sure to inquire and want to follow up on it. Still, level 14 … How about we put him in a cart and wheel him around and act as his bodyguards while he cures, turns, and stuff?

And I say that because the poser levels here are crazy. Decently sized groups of 2HD ghouls, a 5HD queen ghoul, a 6HD bone golem. That shaft dungeon? It’s main shaft is 100’ long and is full of 2HD vines that fuck up the party. I get it, OSR and all that, you can run away. But a star with branching off hallways doesn’t give a lot of tactical options. This just seems beyond what even Run Away offers.

There are other nits. If you bargain with the priest and roll less than an 8 on 2d6 then there will be no adventure for you. That’s a lot of fun. Some rooms say things like “the sounds of battle in the next room attract the monsters here.” … which should really be in the room with the sounds of battle, or noted on the map or something.

It’s basic, nothing wrong with that. When you combine this with minimal keying a little effort at evocative writing, well, maybe you’re in to that. I’m not. There’s a bright spot or to, like exploring down the long shaft full of vines. Ultimately, you have to ask yourself what sort of value you expect to get out of an adventure. Rooms with little more than a monster standing in it, with little to no descriptive text … Meh. I got better things to do with my life.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is thirteen pages. Pages six and seven show the kobold lair, so, from that you can get an idea of minimal keying and decide for yourself if its something you want in your life. So, good preview!

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/359427/RC1–The-Valley-of-Karaccia?1892600

This is episode Oh God How Long Can This Go On of Bryce reviews everything on his wishlist.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Tales of Highcliff Gard

Sat, 07/03/2021 - 11:05
By Simon Todd Monti-Dots Creation OSRIC Low Levels

The Tales of Highcliff Gard contains complete mapped building descriptions of the valley of Highcliff Gard, each with their own adventure hooks, characters and their histories and at least two full dungeon adventures. Whether you have bought The curse of Highcliff Gard or Necromancer’s Bane or not, The Tales of Highcliff Gard provides a rich resource for a campaign of your own making or an inspirational read for fantasy gamers of all systems. 

This 73 page thing is … I don’t really know what it is. I guess it’s supposed to be a regional guide for the village of Highcliff Gard and some small environs around it, where two other adventures are set. It has a small dungeon described and several event-like things that could happen in the area, as well as about ten locations fully described. In detail. Excruciating detail. It’s more a … I don’t know, maybe one of those little books that local county historical societies sometimes put out?

This was going to be the bonus feature for my last review, since I didn’t think it was an adventure. But once I opened it and saw the page count and saw “two full adventures included!” and about twenty pages devoted to encounters, about a fourth of the book, I decided to make it a main review. My bad. I’m not good at regional settings.

I like towns, and regional settings. I like the concept of local places for the party to get in to, to have little things sprinkled around during their downtimes that build up through emergent play between “the real adventures.” Recurring personalities and places; I think it adds an enormous amount to a game. I just don’t know how the fuck to review them.

I do know that there is a level of detail appropriate to a location, and its purpose. The full history of every rock is probably not appropriate. Nor is never mentioning the rocks in an adventure about rock people. As the region is zoomed further and further out the degree of detail should be less, and more targeted at what’s relevant. Which is not to say that you can’t mention the old quarry close to the town, if it has nothing going on, but maybe you don’t need to fully stat it out. Further, the emphasis on what is described and how it is described should probably be on things that could lead the DM to real play, either directly, as in an adventure, or indirectly in the case of a regional guide, serving as something for the DM to sprinkle in and use. If you’re going to write three paragraphs on the various quantities and varieties of trees in the local woods then that should probably either be directly related to something going on or have some potential for the DM to use it in an obvious way. Otherwise we enter the realm of the simulationist and anecdotal … hence my comparison to the local county historical societies booklet on the history of the Robinson household and their 2000 acre holding. (Church cookbooks and local historical society booklets: Fascinating!) 

“Tales of Highcliff Gard has entered the chat”

This is a small town, Highcliff Gard, as well as just a little bit of the region around it. Just a bit. It’s the setting around which two other adventures take place, The Cure of Harken Hall and Necromancers Bane, both of which I believe I have reviewed in the past. This place is a mess. And not from an adventuring standpoint, but from a purpose standpoint. It covers the wrong things and covers them in the wrong way. What we have here, for the locations described, is far far too much detail about the wrong things. One of the described locations is an inn. The innkeeper has a family. Here’s the description for one of his kids:

“Lavinia, known as Little Vi, is 13. She has spent her childhood having adventures of her own and getting herself into trouble. Arno remains both proud and perplexed by her and swears she is the reincarnation of Marduke. Arno has the burning desire to see his family linked with the nobility beyond association and plans to marry Lavinia off to one of the Harken sons. Lavinia is horrified by the idea and currently ‘hates’ her father. Her mother maintains a tough stance advising her to do as her father bids. Vi can often be found with the Harken daughter Leonora and they plan to adventure together when they are older.”

This is how you get to 73 pages. 

Or, perhaps, the description of a washroom? 

“6. THE WASH ROOM. Water is brought up using the attic pulley on the north side of the building (7.) then heated on a small stove. This room is humid and often filled with steam. Most linen is cleaned here in baths before being hung on lines in the court yard of the tavern. This also doubles as the washroom for the staff.”

Very nice. Irrelevant to anything going on, but very nice. The major locations, about of those described, take a lot of pages to describe, with descriptions of mundane bedrooms, common rooms and the like. After each there might be five or six adventure hooks like “Someone at the inn has been killed. The owner wants the party to find out who did it before his reputation is ruined.” Very, very general.The location descriptions, the people, etc, are generally very focused on the LOCATION as being the primary important (or person, etc) rather than how they might interact, or be interacted with, by the party and the potential energy of situations that might develop. The focus is on the wrong aspect.

In the rear is twenty pages of encounters. There’s a wandering monster section that is little more than a table, and a little section on how winter changes the place. Then there are a number of little adventure ideas, or sort little things. Like you are escorting a messenger and they get attacked by an overwhelming number of bandits … the party is expected to run away and then come back to find out they are soldiers from a neighboring kingdom. That’s the extent of it. Or some mob villagers picking on a gypsy to lynch them. Maybe a couple of hours of play from most of these. One is a tad longer and might take an entire evening; the sighting of the local “if you see her you die within a month” ghost of a weaver girl. Tracking down the why of her ghost and then fixing it. This is about two pages of a mix of high level content. Then there’s a little dungeon with twelve rooms. The first room takes about two pages to describe. A column or a page is not uncommon. This is unrunnable. 

Too much detail, covering the wrong things, that’s the best I can do to review something that is not an adventure. 

This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is the first six pages. While not perfect, you have to imagine the writing style on those pages is present throughout, for everything, at this level of detail. 

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/192985/The-Tales-of-Highcliff-Gard?1892600

This has been episode “No one really gives a fuck, Bryce” of Bryce revieweing everything on his wishlist.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Ominous Crypt of the Blood Moss

Wed, 06/30/2021 - 11:08

By Frederick Foulds

Oneiromantic Press

B/X

Levels 2-4

They say Ursodiol the Mad was the greatest mind to have ever breached the great Cosmic Void; that he looked beyond the myriad stars and the blackest depths of the hells into the swirling magical protoplasmic morass that is the beginning and end of everything. When they found his corpse, so hideously changed was it that it drove those who saw it to madness and despair. Fearful, they entombed him in the crypt of his forbears and sealed it tight. But little did they know that Ursodiol brought back something with him from his cosmic journey. And it is hungry…

This 51 page digest adventure features a ten room dungeon with a decent amount going on in each room, enough to justify its page count. It’s a pretty basic adventure, with elements of otherworldly horror, using a bullet point formatting that it mostly gets right. A lot going on ni each room for a basic adventure.

So, little village has an issue, people going amnesiac, crops withering, rocks beeling, and so on. This leads to a teen room family croyt, with some undead, animated statues, vermin, and an otherworldly plant-like creature with hints of The Thing. Poke about in the rooms, maybe get some undead pointers, and then hit the thing with acid and fire, hopefulling looting enough to make everything worthwhile.

This has an … interesting format. It starts off with a sentence or two, in italics, that gives some kind of overview of the room. This may, in fact, be the absolute weakest part of the adventure, in every room. It’s a little purple in places, and gives a kind of overview that doesn’t seem to be a room concept, and doesn’t seem to be aimed at the players, and doesn’t seem to be aimed at the DM. One of the first is “Grandly decorated, a statue of G’vane stands in silent judgement of those who approach, whether they are here to mourn or to gain passage to the Great Beyond.” And another “A small chamber of religious respite, where bodies were brought to be viewed before being entombed in the crypt proper.” The rest follow in this manner. So, kind of like a room concept? But the writing is closer to what I would expect (overly grand …) if I were expected it aimed at the players as read-aloud. But then it goes on to reveal too much. It doesn’t seem to really have any place in the room, providing nothing to either the player or the DM. 

What follows are a series of major section headings, noting large rooms features. Each of these then has a series of bolded words, followed by a few words in parens. So you move from the general to the more specific, making it easy for the DM to follow up on things. Very good in concept. In practice … there’s enough in the rooms that, combined with the digest format, the major headings run over from page to page. There’s A LOT to note. 

In the first decently sized room. About 30×30 with a statue in the middle, according to the map. Our major headings are “Atmospherics, Decor, White Marble Statue of G’vane, Iron Doors, Giant Rats, Stairs, Secret Door” And then a large stat block for the Giant Rats and a table of diseases. (Good adventure support! That’s one of the reasons the page count is higher than normal for an adventure this size.) Our second level bolding, for the Decor, is “Grand, Stone Owls, Lined with tapestries, Cracked Flagstone. Then, at the third level, the parens for these elements are “20’ high rib vaulted ceiling carved with painted oak leave, stand by each corner quietly staring, faded and mouldering, cover the floor.” It make more sense when you see it in action. 

There’s a LOT to look at and poke at and clean ovv and examine in each room. That’s good. A door covered in rust reveals a family emblem and motto, that is useful later. I don’t call each room a set piece, but they definitely take more time and are more indepth than the usual dungeon fare. 

The primary issue I have is the selected major and minor headings. I get sections for atmosphere, decor, and the major elements, but it seems like it could organized much better, and perhaps trimmed back a bit. In the example text, the status is the most obvious thing, and maybe the grand environment, and the iron doors. I might lead with those elements, or put them in some kind of summary paragh/sentence. There is SO much going on, in terms of details and things to examine, in these rooms that the selected format is close to be insufficient. (It could be that the printed book uses a two-page spread and is thus a bit easier to grok “at a glance.”)

The adventure, proper, is a pretty basic family crypt, with defleshing room, osuary, chapel, the family crypt, statues, and so on. There are a decent number of things to play with, secret compartments to find, walls/tapestries/doors covered with something to clean off, statues holding things to play with (books, balance, etc.) There’s a lot to do and a lot to explore. And then you add the blood moss in. It’s a kind of alien plant that animated skeletons and has its own pseudo-pod thing like attacks, and a some mental attacks as well. This gives it a kind of vibe like The Thing. These elements could have pushed more, the blood red tendrils covering everything, an the horror of the creatures, to help magnify those aspects of the adventures. It’s not really an after-through, but it could have been pushed more to make it more forward, since it IS a major element of the adventure.

I’m not sure about treasure it does seem a tad light. A thorough looting (which the spirits inside are going to take exception to) might get you a lot more, I think? It’ still seems a little light for a B/X game. I guess, maybe, as an evenings adventure that gets you 25% of the way to the next level? Meh, ok, that seems ok to me.

So, straightforward adventure in a tomb, that you could have its horror elements pushed more and using a decent format that perhaps needed a reworking of the selected keywords, and reordering, to help with the length of the rooms. A decent attempt!

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is eleven pages and does a good job of showing you the rooms and writing. Check it out!

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/319604/Ominous-Crypt-of-the-Blood-Moss?1892600

Episode blah blah blah of me reviewing everything on my wishlist. Yeah, yeah, those long expensive things you requested ages ago are finally going to show up.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Chewer of Fingers

Mon, 06/28/2021 - 11:11
By Glynn Seal MonkeyBlood Design S&W Level 3

The PCs are heading to Fetterstone because there is a 20 gold quid reward for the capture of an escaped criminal called ‘The Finger Chewer’. He absconded from Middlemoor Gaol five days ago and is believed to be hiding out in the surrounding oft-foggy marsh. The marsh is notoriously dangerous and even the lure of 20 gold quids isn’t enough to entice the locals into its fetid clutches.

This 32 page adventure uses eight pages to describe four encounters. It’s got those idiosyncratic setting details that help cement a locale in the mind of the players, but the lack of content, both by page count and “kill three dogs is the sum of the adventure”  is disheartening.

For $15 and 32 pages you get four encounters. First, you might help an old shew of a mean lady pull her cow out of the mud. Second, you visit the inn and maybe get arrested or get glared at by the local witchfinder. Third, you go to the prison on the hill and search the convicts cell, learning that he does indeed chew fingers and one guy saw the direction he left. Fourth, you follow a trail if fingers in to the swamp (which is handled in as many words as I just typed), find his dead body, and fight three rat-dogs. ChChing! Profit!

Yeah, that’s it. There’s an appendix showing a cave system map you could expand in to your own dungeon. There’s a description of local farms in the neighborhood, that will not ever be explored by the PC’s. There’s a description of a few other prisoners in the prison, that will probably not be used. There are some very nice maps for all the locations and wilderness settings. 

The maps list the location names on the map, along with t keys, and are nicely done. No complaints. It’s exactly how a map of this sort should be handled. 

The setting location is interesting. Gloombugs, rolling mists, sullen villagers you tell you to piss off while serving shitty food. A witchfinder up in your business. Exactly the kind of people you want to stab for breathing the same air you do. There’s a collection of weird laws (like … not helping someone unstick a pig stuck in mud …) that are cutely display on a handout, and a disturbing amount of references to turnips. It’s got that specificity that you need in order to hang your hat on.

It is also LONG. That opening scene with the fucking pig, cow, whatever, if four pages long, including the map. To deal with a grumpy old lady and stuck pig minigame or “getting enough weight behind it and stuffing enough ginger up its ass. 

I’m not the biggest fan of the format here, straight up paragragh text. It does use some highlighting and some decent whitespace to break things up, but, it is still essentially just long form paragraph use that you have to dig through. Three pages of digging through for that first encounter. 

I’d be interested in the setting, but the adventure? There’s just nothing to it. I DO like fucking around in town when I play, but there’s got to be adventure also. And talking to the locals DOES count, but, come on, one combat with three dogs for $15?

This is $15 at DriveThru. The preview is decent, showing you the writing to come. Go ahead and take a look at the long form text. Nicely specific.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/329417/Chewer-of-Fingers?1892600

BONUS FEATURE! – Encounters Fantasy Scenarios

Fuck me. Another oldy from 1990. Sixty pages of “tables” to help create an encounter using a tarot deck (*sigh*). It’s a dense wall of text. This is getting tossed on my “read on my deathbed while waiting to die” pile.

I’ll pay someone $10 to write a two page or longer review of this.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Carnage Amongst the Depraved

Sat, 06/26/2021 - 11:11
By John Josten Board Enterprises OSR/Legend Quest/die-20 Level 6

There are trolls, close to the city.  Why?  What are their plans?  And when will they choose to start acting directly against the humans and elves who live in the region?  Perhaps the best question might be will the party be able to do something about it?  In this adventure, that is the challenge – Can they find a way to beat the trolls, because simply facing them sword to sword is not going to work against soldiers this fierce.

This sixty page adventure uses fourteen pages to describe a 23 room hack of ogres and trolls. It’s MASSIVELY overwritten, with everything pebble having a backstory and justification for it being there. Fuck me, the 90’s were a bad time for adventures. 

Yes, the 90’s. This is some reprint of an adventure for a 90’s heartbreaker system. There seem to be a dozen or more adventures in it, so they kept at it. And continue to, it still seems to be alive today. Be it that 90’s style at the time or the same traits that lead to developing your own game system “that makes sense”, this thing shows all the hallmarks of over investiture. 

Sixty pages, of which only fourteen are actually the dungeon. That means a  lot of backstory, a lot of history, a lot of appendices, and a lot of telling the DM how the game should be played. We get to hear all about how to play dumb characters and creatures. Then the adventure proper shows up, a simple hack rescue. The first encounter is a page and a half, a lot take a column and a few empty rooms get only a paragraph or two. 

Everything … EVERYTHING gets a fucking backstory. Nothing can be simple. Everything has to be padded out. The opening room, a simple guardpost, gets EIGHT paragraphs. There’s a troll and ogre behind a cracked door. The troll is eating some mutton and the ogre is unconscious, having been beaten by the troll. Eight fucking paragrapghs to describe that. And how can this be? Is it the Kwisatz Haderach? No. Here’s just one of those eight paragraphs: “The trolls do not consider the dwarven fortress to be of any value and do not think of it as an entrance. This is not so much a room as an intersection of hallways. Many of the trolls like this assignment because they feel there is nothing to do but sit. The area is lit by a single torch set in a brace on the wall.” 

This is my life. Long italics read-aloud. Wall of text DM text full of meaningless backstory. “Strange and disgusting scents”, full of abstracted descriptions. Room descriptions that make you fight them just to understand how many creatures are in a room. All for a simple hack in a dungeon full of ogres and trolls. 

The opening recruitment section does have some bolded sections to help the DM when King Whoever’s agent is responding to the party’s questions. That’s good. It recognizes that the DM needs to be able to find and reference information quickly. The bolding calls attention to this, offsetting it when scanned, so you can find it quickly. And that care  is absolutely NOT taken in one other place during the actual adventure. 

It’s unrunnable. 

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is eight pages and only shows a few f the essays and background up front. Nothing of the encounters. Bad bad bad preview.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/354481/Carnage-Amongst-the-Depraved-aka-All-About-Big-Stupid-Monsters–World-Walkers-edition?1892600

This has been episode “It’s too cold this morning for a bike ride and the liquor stone dont open for another hour.” of Bryce reviews everything on his DriveThru wishlist.

BONUS FEATURE! – Building Adventures

This is about a hundred digest pages on how to write an adventure. It follows the basic plot-based 3-act structure that overwhelmingly dominates these days. As a basic introduction to that it’s not bad. The purpose of the villain in the opening act is to X. The purpose of the villain in the middle act is to Y. The purpose of the villain in the ending act is to Z. It covers the basic structure of an adventure, from introductions, beginning the adventure, and a VERY basic adventure outline structure, ensuring the budding writer includes those elements that we’ve all come to expect, like a background/introduction.

You might think of it as the 3-act structure focused on D&D play. As such it’s ok. Too wordy for what it is, and you could probably do better getting a really good 3-act book. Besides, after two thousand reviews the problems with adventure is not that they use a 3-act structure or that they fail to make the 3-acts compelling.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

For Coin & Blood Adventure Pack

Wed, 06/23/2021 - 11:11
By Diogo Nogueira, Elizabeth Chaipraditkul Gallant Knight Games For Coin & Blood

It seems that this is actually two separate adventures, totally distinct downloads, bundled under one product listing on DriveThru, with the teaser photo being the core Coin & Blood cover photo. 

The Hunted – Diogo Levels 2-3

This sixteen page digest thing is a description of an NPC hunting the party. That’s it. That’s the adventure. Oh, you get some ideas on how they do that. FUCKING LAME!

I was disappointed when I saw the two downloads thing, but then was upbeat when I saw Diogo’s name. He says, a couple of times, that his is an “unconventional” adventure. Yeah, no shit. Because it’s not an adventure.

You get a description of an NPC bounty hunter, a tale for why they might be hunting the party, one for sme tactics they use, a table of traps they mights use ot places they might attack the party, We are told to sprinkle the stuff in during the parties other adventures, a kind of expansion of their downtime. 

So, look, I’m not opposed to this. In fact, I think downtime shit can be one of the more memorable parts of a campaign, And I love sprinkling stuff in to a game ahead of time in order to make the world seem more real and lived in. I’m just opposed to everything about this.

We get a 2.5 page description of the NPC. Only a few sentences are the actual description and mannerisms, and they are fairly generic. Tall muscular woman with dark hair. That’s great. My imagination burns. I’m not fucking around, other than dark leather armor and a crimson cloak, that’s what two paragraphs gets you. The rest of the pags of her description are right out of a “let me tell you about my character” story. She has basilisk skin armor and it’s hard as metal and if you hit ger you make a save or take 1d3 damage and are at disadvantage net turn and she has a sin seeking dagger which ignores your armor and does 1d4 damage per round and she has a …. 

After this are a couple of tables. How she undermines you, who hired her to kill you, and some traps. “A former ally hired her who was hired by the powerful opposition …” “a demon who needs the parties souls but can’t take direct action against them …” the usual not very good stuff and controted reasons. Traps like “oil barrels open and spill contents on the party as they pass under a bridge” or “in a wizards lair she puts fake books on the walls.” Contorted stuff. If this is how Coin & Blood is played then I’m super not interested in it.

The “undermine the party” table is not too bad, but still has that implicit contorted game world shit where she does this instead of just poisoning them with cyanide, or something. She starts lies about the party, she sends messages from people the party has killed in the past, she fucks the parties home base inn, etc. A little too much “she uses her doppleganger cream” in them, and, still, the whole “just kill them” thing, ala Dr. Evil & Scott, but, whatever. Magical ren world.

Oh her and her former adventuring partner broke up because of an “emotional conversation.” Why, isn’t that generic? Nothing like that to liven things up and cement an NPC in your minds.

Not. Good.

Sickness, Elizabeth Chaipraditkul, No Level Range

This sixteen page thing is one of those skeezy abstracted adventures, mor forge-like story than an adventure. Guidelines? Toolkit? Or, maybe, “I had an idea and wrote down four ideas and then expanded it to sixteen pages but didn’t include anything to support the DM.” I am not amused.

Maybe you could have an adventure on the way through the city while looking for who framed you. Maybe the party should find out who cursed them and spend some time in the city doing so. Maybe there are guards at the house and maybe the party bribes them or something.

This, then, is a cardinal sin. If the job of an adventure is to support the DM, what if the adventures DOESN’T do that? What if I jotted down some notes on a notepad. Something like “Get hired by a cult that uses a theater as a base.” “Kidnap a guy from a naor for them.” “Get cured with an illness.” and “Evil baddie behind it all was at the manor all along!” That’s your adventure! Pay me!

Ok, ok, I’ll expand it some. How about I write A LOT of read-aloud in italics, so it’s hard to read? How about I support the DM with some ideas. Like, I could write that there are some guard patrols at the manor and the party could, like, ambush a ship captain to steal an invite to the house. I’m only half-assing this, so I’m not going to write much more than that, above. Oh, and one of the “acts” is for the party to go find out who cursed them. They should go do that. “They should go do that”, that’s enough support for the DM, right?

This “adventure” is devoid of content. Abstractions and generalizations. A lack of specificity. No actual support, AT ALL, for the DM. Just some ideas. Hey, maybe the party should find out who cursed them. You, the DM, should handle that. What the fuck? Seriously? 

Thanks to this adventure I do haze a skeezy new business plan to offer my readers. Find a newly released RPG. The hotness. Write an adventure for it. Maybe, I don’t know, have like four ideas and jot them down, expand them very generically, don’t try very hard. Slap a cover on it and release it for the game. Profit. Maybe do a second one, or just move on to the new Hotness. I expect 10% of your take. 

“The person he wants the characters to abduct is a young man by the name of …” Padded out enough for you? Jesus H fucking christ. It’s all conversational long paragraph form writing, impossible to follow or reference during play, impossible to find anything or key in on the interesting bits. This is the perfect example of an empty shovelware adventure. 

The entirety of “sneak in to the mansion” is handled with “Players could avoid the guard entirely—by watching the guard’s patrolling pattern the character could slip into the mansion without noticing.” like, seriously, what the fuck? No map or anything? It’s just a list of fucking ideas of things that the party could engage in with little to no support for them. Sandboxy? OSR. Plot based? Modern games. Opened AND plot based? Devoid of content. 

This is $5 at DriveThru. I’d be pretty fucking pissed if I got this for Christmas.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/334236/For-Coin–Blood-2e-Adventure-Pack?1892600

This has been episode “I knew there was a reason I skipped over shit on my wishlist!” of Bryce reviews everything on his DriveThru wishlist.

BONUS FEATURE! –  The Anatomy of an Adventure

It seems Senor MT Black is going to tell us how to write an adventure! Let’s see if it’s better than the DCC one. Or Vengers. Or any of a billion other ones …

Clocking in at 106 digest pages, this is less a book on how to write an adventure and more of a designers notes for some of Blacks adventures, that serve as anchor points for some lessons in marketing, player choice, and a few other concepts. I like designers notes, so, as a “this is how I do adventures” it’s not a bad read. Further, there is absolutely a place in life for people to get inspired and gain the confidence to do the thing they dread, and this could serve that purpose also. I mean, I listen to the Frutiness mix of Welcome to the Pleasuredome and get a brand, but, if you need to read about someone else doing what you want to do, good on you. Plus, his essay on meaningful plater choice is a good one, although not really covering much new ground. He does have a great bibliography in the back with only a few stinkers in it. A light read and covering a genre we could use more of: How I Do The Thing. The definitive guide is still missing on how to create an adventure. Well, until, you know what happens.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wide-eyed Terror

Mon, 06/21/2021 - 11:11
By Nick Baran Breaker Press Games DCC Level 1 (or a funnel 0)

A blood-curdling scream rings out, traveling in the autumn air. A door slams. The sound of something breaking branches tears through the brush and is followed by several sharp, unnatural barks. Then, near silence as the wind kicks up. The only thing heard for the next few moments is the rustling of the wind and blowing leaves.

This twenty page adventure features a very small farm being raided by a few cultists. It’s short, and laid out in a way that makes interesting play a little hard to occur. It does have some interesting DCC combat effects, and a decent NPC.

There are only a few encounter locations in this one. A farm house with a couple of rooms, a barn, an outhouse, and the small courtyard in between the three buildings. Each location has a creature in it, and thus the space to adventure in is confined. This exposes a certain contention between straight up combat and interesting exploratory elements. The locations have some interesting things in them. A disemboweled goat, graffiti in blood on the barn door, a dead farmer in the house living room, mom hiding her kids in the outhouse. This is the typical sort of thing that players would like to investigate. Take a closer look at the goat, or the graffiti, or talk to the mom, and so on. A pause, or break in the action to investigate/interact. Yet, the adventure is more of a combat focused one. Mutant dogs in that courtyard are most likely going to be the first thing encountered, and certainly any attempt to look at the barn or outhouse will elicit their response. From there, how could you not draw in the cultist in the barn or in the house? Ending in some kind of big melee, with the investigation a kind of afterthought. “Hmmm, wonder who it was we just slaughtered?” So, rather than a build up you get this pitched battle kind of thing.

But the adventure isn’t written like that. It’s written, one assumes from the investigatory details, that the party would be looking at these things. Why else include them? (Ok, if the adventure is a part of a larger campaign them you learn some things about the big bad, not present, behind the things.) Yet, it leaves THIS adventure as little more than a pitched battle.

This is further … undermined? By the combat details of the cultists. There are some great details here. The one in the kitchen uses a cast iron pan to scoop embers from the fire in to someones face. The ones in the hayloft throw down crates on the party. But … is this how things will happen? Not in a pitched battle scene. And that leaves the DM in a quandary. Do they stay in place and ignore noises for these little tactics notes, or do you do the right thing and have them come out?

Read-aloud can be extensive, and in italics, with weird bolding to it that doesn’t really go anywhere and isn’t elaborated on. His combines with weird “As you enter the room” sorts of direction in the read-aloud, never a good thing. The maps are small and cramped, maybe ? of a digest sized page, with lots of little details on the map. And you know, I just LUUUUV squinting while running an adventure. 

Mom, hiding in the outhouse, is in shock, but is a grim fighter to protect her kids. This is a good detail, and she could become a party follower. This is a great little thing and, just like the creature tactics, shows that the designer can bring at least a little spark to the adventure.

So, a short little encounter, that is mostly a fight. As a pause, or brief session, in the context of a larger game, I can see this working a bit. If this were just one encounter in a larger sanboxy/plot/regional setting then it could make sense. You’re learning about the villain to come and how evil they are. But, as a stand-alone adventure, or something to drop in to a game, its really laid out wrong. You need it to be a part of that larger context to work right. As a standalone product I don’t think it works. Shifting the format from the zine to make one of many in a larger adventure? Sure. Although you’ve still got the issues with read-aloud and irrelevant tactics. And at $7? Hmmm …. No.

This is $7 at DriveThru. The preview is just a few pages and shows you nothing of the actual encounters, which is not a good thing at all. You do get to see the mom NPC, but, alas, that format isn’t really used for the of the adventure.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/355113/WideEyed-Terror-Zine?1892600

This has been episode I forget what eight was for, of the Bryce reviews everything on his wishlist penance.

BONUS FEATURE! – The Dwarven Glory

An early adventure from the VERY earliest days of published adventure (1977), Precis Intermedia puts out this reprint of a 34 page classic. There are maps with about seven rooms per map, with most of the maps being linear corridors with rooms hanging off of them. 

The encounter text is longer than the minimalism of Vampire Queen, or even B2, but it’s not necessarily adding substantially more to the adventure. Not quite expanded minimalism, there’s more going on here than that, but closer to it than not. Generally the rooms get an environmental detail, like bones scattered on the floor or walls lined with picks and shovels. What follows then is a brief little encounter, generally, Goblins who might negotiate … unless dwarves are present, for example. We get the usal weirdness in older adventures, like an tavern in the dungeon run by a half–orc. It’s almost funhouse in its design, with encounters just thrown in, like an ogre who plays a lopsided chess game with the party. A typical room, although ont he short side, might be this one “Storeroom with 5 empty barrels and a small empty chest (fireball trap, 1-12 pts damage extending 3 feet in all directions).” 

The section with some ogre brothers, a troll, and minotaur is perhaps the most interesting, in terms of non-linear play, although it must be said that a decent number of the intelligent creatures are not immediately hostile … refreshing. 

I’m not sure this stands as anything other than curiosity for those interested in early days publications. Certainly, something like the T&T Bear adventures seem more playable. It’s just a tad too minimally expanded and random to make sense, although a few of the levels could certainly be nice as standalones. Hmmm, now I’m rethinkng this. It’ all over the place, with a good mix of mundane encounters and weird shit. Combined with the non-standard use of monsters and magic items … it does appeal to my sense of non-standard D&D.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Orbital Vampire Tower

Sat, 06/19/2021 - 11:11
By Joseph R. Lewis Dungeon Age Adventures Labyrinth Lord & 5e Level 3

The ancient world of Harth withers beneath its dying sun…but it’s not dead yet. High in the night sky, a vampire’s tower is torn apart by a rampaging angel. People and monsters are trapped. Magical treasure lies scattered everywhere. It’s all yours for the taking, if you can find a way out before the angel finds you. This adventure is a one-shot dungeon-delve into a wizard’s tower. In space. With vampires. This is an alien-survival-horror-movie of an adventure (or at least, you can choose to play it that way).

This 26 page adventure features a multi-level spacestation/tower with seventeen rooms. Well laid out, evocative writing, and a bunch of NPC’s make this an interesting and solid little dungeon. If you’re in to that sort of thing. Vampire spacestations in space, that is.

The designer, correctly, points out that this is just a wizards tower. A central staircase with a couple of rooms per floor. Only the “breech the walls and depresurize” thing comes in to play as a space mission, and that could be solved by, I don’t know, putting it underwater or in the swirling chaos void or something if the space thing turns you off. There’s an insane immortal angel on the loose in the tower, tearing shit up, and everyone in the tower lives in fear of it: the servants, staff, and vampire lord that rules the place. Everyone has essentially looked themselves in their rooms. The party gets teleported up when they use an known teleportation circle and find themselves faced trying to find a way out, since the return teleporter is broken. Thus this is a kind of escape the tower mission, as the party tries to get back home, grabbing loot along the way and trying not to get killed. This is how the adventure is for level 3’s, since there’s not a lot of roamers, the NPC’s are generally willing to talk to get ri f the threat of the angel, and so on. The designer notes level 5’s would be better for straight up combat, although, I think that’s only with the slightly modified vampires that inhabit the place.

This uses the standard Dungeon Age format, which is a good one. Each level starts with around a column, explaining what’s going on, who is here, what is here, and so on, a kind of summary. There’s a little read-aloud for each room, offset in a different color thats easy to read and clearly distinguishes itself as readlaoud. The read-aloud is short, only a few sentences, and contains some bolded words that are underlined. Those bolded words are then followed up in the DM text. So “A smeary trail of blood leads to the closed door.” would then have a section in the DM text, a list of bullet points, with one of them being the bolded word “trail.”

The DM text is, as noted, in bullet point form with each ullet starting with that bolded word. There will then be a a few words. Or a sentence, maybe two, that describes that thing and gives more detail. There may be other boxed text on the page to give more detail to a magic item, for example, or some such other “footnote” kind of information. 

What’s nice here, beyond the easy to use formatting, is that the designer recognizes the core feature of an RPG: the back and forth between player and DM. The read-aloud contains things, hints we might say, of things for the party to follow up on. Too much is never given away in the read-aloud, but, rather, held back for someone to investigate, allowing the party to learn as explore the rooms instead of spoon feeding them all the information int he read-aloud. 

The writing itself is pretty good, in terms of being evocative. That smeary blood trail from ealier. Scratched wall. Flickering red torches. Flimsy closet doors lie in battered pieces. Not the use of descriptive words, adjectives and adverbs to add color to what would otherwise be boring facts. This is what evocative writing should be doing. 

The chief, but not sole, component of the interactivity here are the NPC’s. Everyone is in fear of the insane immortal angel and generally willing to deal to have something done about it. Or, potentially deal, that is. They are still vampires. But, we’ve also got clueless newborn vampire clones, an evil chaos lord split in to three parts, and the staff and servants who are generally just trying to survive. Along the way we get the usual assortment of acid eating through bulkheads and airlock shenanigans, tapestries to walk through and 2-way mirrors to talk to the neighbors. Who, it must be said, will send a group of “cleaners” to the site if they think something is amis … always looking to expand their own resources. And, of course, by sending someone they bring a lifeboat … a potential means of escape. Thus the party has a large number of options at their disposal for dealing with the situation and escaping and grabbing loot. (Which, I note, seems to be on the low side in terms of money but there are a deccnt number of magic items. Mundane potions augmented by some interesting unique items.)

“An adult male corpse with soft bubbling red skin. Dead, partially exploded arm, leg, and belly. His face a rictus of pain.” Ouchies!

It’s advertised as a one-shot, and as such its pretty good. The “locked in their rooms” situation does make it a bit static, at least until the angel wakes up or the cleaners (or a rival treasure party) shows up. The “museum” nature that tends to led is decently mitigated by that, although the simple layout of the tower (it’s a tower with a central staircase and several doors on each landing” doesn’t give one a lot of cat and mouse room. I think this sort of thing is whats causing me some reservation in it. With the formatting and writing not an issue then the design of the adventure, proper, comes in to play. It’s not BAD< it just feels al little limiting, or maybe slow? Again, until the other agencies add some chaos to it. I think it probably works better in play, and this might take some play to see how well it actually works out.

But that’s just dithering. All of the elements are present, and the only thing at question is how much of the best it actually is, an 8, 9, or 10.

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is the entire thing. Check out that sweet sweet format! It’s not the only way to format things, but it does work well.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/358520/Orbital-Vampire-Tower-A-Dungeon-Age-Adventure-5e-and-OSR-versions?1892600

This has been episode <something> of Bryce reviews everything on his wishlist in order. 

BONUS FEATURE – Elegant Fantasy Dungeon Generator

This is a 21 page document full of tables to help inspire a dungeon. You roll on the tables and then riff on them to create something. I like these sorts of things when I am creating a dungeon to kind of give me a kick in the ass to get the creative juices flowing; you need someplace to start the imagination up. 

You roll for a general location, which has some features to help you, like a house location migt have servants, kitchen, ballroom, horrors, etc. Then a general mood table, “Elegant” also has Rich, Noble, and decadent as options, and sentence of tips on how to communicate that. Ornaments everywhere, heavy curtains, framed pictures. A table for origins, how it became a dungeon … so let’s say “an outpost during a war campaign” and it fell because of “something that dwelt there before” with its last denizens being soldiers who camped there for some time. The dungeon heart, the key room, is a tomb. Then you’ve got some layout guidelines/generation, and a lot of room features table.

It looks like it would work as well as any of the other “riff on” generators available, perhaps better since all the tables, except monsters, are here. I use a computer app IPP, Inspiration Pad Pro, to do these sorts of things. In my non-existent free time I may enter this in and see what pops up. AFTER the book is done. 

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Bleak Holdfast of the Heartless Queen

Wed, 06/16/2021 - 11:03
By Rob Alexander Medium Quality Products OSR Levels 3-4

High above the snow line there is a castle on a crag. It is an object of fear and hatred, because the Heartless Queen holds court there and she is pitiless in her anger and host to terrible friends. Between the Frost Wyrms, the Ice Harpies, and the Frozen Thing that Guards the Bridge, even getting in is difficult. Most locals stay as far away as they can, but between courage, pride, and burning vengeance there are always some willing to take a shot at it. And travellers from the soft, warm south might hear stories of the Queen’s fantastical treasures and be oblivious about the horrors that protect them.

This 64 page digest adventure uses about thirty pages to describe a three level point crawl dungeon of an icy despot with about seventy rooms. When its firing on all cylinders it does a great job with descriptions, but it lacks a cohesiveness that makes the entire dungeon feel like its one place. A little too disconnected, which is not helped by the selected layout choices. A lot of unrealized potential here.

Ice queen lives up on top of an ice hill in an ice castle. What ho! Time to do some stabbin and grabbin!

The designer has a remarkable ability at describing things, both NPC’s, rooms, objects, and situations. The lighting in the castle “dulls colours towards in the way an overexposed photograph doe.” Which is a great way of describing that certain lighting effect and your mind immediately conjures it up. A witch uses as a weapon the embalmed right hand of her disobedient son, sharpened to a claw. Ouchies! The ice queen proper is described as “Tall, incredibly pale, bleach-white hair. Has a bloody hole in her chest, slightly to the left, and she features this with her clothes and accessories (e.g. a silver ring around the hole). When she is animate, the seeps blood, at a modest rate. Again, she dresses so you see this.” You know, I always say, it doesn’t matter what fashion style you have as long as you HAVE a style. And she’s certainly got one.  How about a monster “It is a 9’ high spider-thing with six arched legs and a crude human- esque face that hangs below its rough-ovoid body like an old leather bag.” Sweet! That’s going to have some party members quaking in their boots! Or a magic item, a human skull decorated with electrum pieces, a MU can use it to summon the freezing ghost that whirl around them, stealing the heat of everyone in a 10’ radius for 1d6 damage a round for three rounds. Usable once a day, unless they kill someone, in which case they are sated for a week. Sweet!

This extends to little room situations, like an out of the way place with some graffiti, including “we are all seals” … which comes in to the adventure later. Or a Skeleton, frozen in ice, with s stake through its heart and some long incisors … with a gleaming speal behind it. Want that spear? Gotta thaw that body! That’s a perfect example f he delicious kind of temptation that a good adventure will offer a party. Everybody knows what the fuck is going to happen when you thaw that body … do you want to do it? 

When the adventure is hitting these notes it’s doing a great job. It just doesn’t do that enough. And the digest format, with its wide whitespaces, doesn’t help. Or the fact that it’s a pointcrawl. Let me elaborate.

There’s something going on here, and not in a good way. The entire thing feels somewhat disconnected from itself. Not that the rooms are too far off theme, but, rather, it just doesnt feel like the whole thing works together well. The abstracted pointcrawl map, working with a kind of monster-zoo of NPC’s all packed pretty tightly together on the same level, and the other various rooms of the castle, just don’t seem to jive together. The NPC’s, full of color and description and personality, are just kind of THERE, in their rooms, all essentially right next to each other. There’s not a lot of potential energy BETWEEN the rooms, even though some of the NPCs have motivations that would tend to lead the adventure that way. 

The pointcrawl nature helps lend to this air of disconnectedness, I think, r at least doesn’t help it any. Then, in digest format, you’ve got this kind of big expansive thing with lots of pages, but with the generous whitespace allowance you’ve got this kind of sparness in the words. It doesn’t feel much like a reference document and, with a lot of NPC’s and it not being rare for them to be on two pages, it doesn’t really feel like something easy to use. 

And the elements which ARE good, the NPC’s descriptions, the better rooms, and so on, they are somewhat buried by the rest. There’s A LOT of leadin padding, of the environs, how the castle works, and so on, that I just can’t see being used in play, it being dropped out of neglect by a DM because of its verbose and somewhat generic nature. Yes, the appendices are, essentially, up front and there is more room for expansive text in an appendix, but the rest of it is NOT, and it just gets lost.

The hooks are a good example, taking up a page and not saying anything at all other than the usual “kill the queen” or “loot the place” type of stuff. If it’s just boilerplate then why include it? It just gets in the way.

The severity of my standards come in play with something like this. This one walks the line, trying to reach Regert status. I’ll probably end up putting it there, it does have some decent NPC’s and situations and items in it, along with good descriptions. It just isn’t the whole package. Which I guess is why I made that category in the first place.

This is $4 at DriveThru.The preview is eleven pages and ives you a good look at things, jumping around to several sections. On page twelve you can see the somewhat generic encounters, trying to do more but not reaching it. And then on pages 47 & 50 some room descriptions. This gives you a good iea of the mixed nature of the rooms. How they do so many things right and yet still don’t quite reach a good level.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/353923/The-Bleak-Holdfast-of-the-Heartless-Queen?1892600

This has been episode I Lost Track of Bryce reviews everything on his wishlist.

BONUS FEATURE! — Vaults of Vaarn #2

Holy fuckballs, this thing is great! It’s a kind of city support supplement for a post-apoc-like city. It would fit in ok with Eberron, maybe Dark Sun, any f a number of sci-fi RPG’s and so on. It’s got a brief description of a water-poor city and then it starts in with faction description, about twenty of them, about one per page, supported by a few more minor factions. This makes GREAT environment to have an adventure in. They are flavorful, colorful, and full of potential energy without outright telegraphing where they should go. This is then supported by a FUCKTON of tables for creating noble houses, npc’s taverns, merchants, whatever … which reminds me a lot of the Ready Ref sheets. The entire flavort ofthe city is told through the factions and the tables and they work GREAT to do that. This place is ALIVE and boiling over with fun shit.

I would view this as a kind of companion piece. I might create a small neighborhood and some adventures and then use the stuff in this book to augment it on the fly as needed (the tables) and use the factions to hep help create some adventures. As a support product, it both serves to inspire and rest as the foundation f your game, as well as serving as a handy tableside tool to roll a quick NPC or some such to help come alive during play.

Great fucking book!

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/343612/Vaults-of-Vaarn-2?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Storm’s Impending Rage

Mon, 06/14/2021 - 11:11
By WR Beatty Rosethrone Publishing S&W Levels 1-3

Goblins are pillaging farmsteads; bandits are attacking caravans; and Baron Wrymslayer’s forces are already stretched too thin. A call to arms has been issued for the brave and the cunning to rid this upstart Baron’s lands of these villains and sons of darkness.

This is a 100 page adventure setting describing a small region, about eight miles on a side, with a keep being rebuilt and about a dozen adventuring sites and numerous machinations going on. This is The Real Deal, a D&D sandboxy setting that has enough going on to keep the party busy busy for months, and overarching plotlines that could lead to a kind of endgame siege of epic proportions … all without feeling forced. It also needs about two more pages and/or some summary notes to help the DM fit everything together. 

The key to a good sandbox is having a lot going on. This can mildly unrelated to each other, as in WIlderlands, or with stronger ties, such as the various Stater projects, or more directly related to some underlying plots, such as in Scourge of the Demon Wolf, or this. A local boy returns home after ten years, being a successful adventurer. After drinking, he’s challenged to clear out the old ruined keep, and he does so, setting himself up as the local worthy and repairing the place. The locals like him, though hes an ass, because he’s spending money freely to improve the place. The local rulers around him have various motives, with the high king not wanting chaos to ensure as the power politics among his lords change due to the new guy in town. And then there’s the dark cult, with plots within plots. Surrounding all of this eight mile on a side area are various dungeons, creatures foul and fair, and little problems to be solved. There must be, I don’t know, a dozen, sixteen, different major or medium things going in this area with a lot of smaller ones to round things out. It’s a lot, and it’s exactly what SHOULD be going on in a sandbox setting that is used as kind of home base for the party.

You show up, based off of eight or ten little hooks, none of which are throw aways. They contain they few xtra details required to bring them to life but don’t overstay their welcome and drone on for multiple paragraphs. They are supplemented by two to three pages of rumors, in voice as I like them to be, that provide even more fodder for the party to investigate. There might be a dozen different adventuring sites, more than half of which are quite extensive with twenty or more rooms/encounters in them. It all fits together and has a vibe somewhat reminiscent of Kramers works, although perhaps a little less LotR fantasy and slightly more B/X style, or maybe tonally, some of the better Castles & Crusades works, walking a line between mud-farmer fantasy and almost high fantasy. 

There’s os much going on here that I don’t really know where to start or how to relate it. Let’s take the cult of the old gods. They are led by one of the new wrothies adventuring buddies and close advisor, in secret. He’s organizing them to raid the keep and cause trouble Bandits, and goblinoids, in his hire keep the wilderness busy and keep the new guys troops to the keep protecting it, since they hit it when they venture too far from it. For the expeditionary force sent out didn’t come back and now troops are low … a perfect opportunity for our mercenary party to find some fun. He’s got bandits in a camp, goblins in a lair, all orking for him. He’s got followers, both his personally and agents of The Cult allied with him secretly, in plac ein the keep … decent number of them. He’s also got a necromancer down below creating an army of undead. One of his followers is accidentally a demon worshiper, being controlled y them. And, he doesn’t give a shit about any of it, only wanting to cause chaos so he can steal a minor artifact from the worthy while he’s otherwise mentally engaged with controlling the chaos. Then you’ve got a couple of agents of the high king, keeping an eye on things, at least on of which is quite ruthless, in order to keep the political situation with the surround lords calm. (This entire subplot doesn’t get in to enough detail though, it’s need another half to quarter page of support,) The quarry mining the stone for the repairs has issues. The logging camp has issues. The merchants have issues with caravan raids. There’s fairies in the woods, running a mini-tavern you have to shrink yourself to get in to (who know just about fucking everything and are a great source of information if you ply everyone with enough drinks.) There’s a giant looking for his missing brother. A basilisk (or two!) are wandering around. Griffens prowl the wilderness looking fo horsemeat. Ghosts and undead abound, and make sense how they are used. (A favorite is a ghostly mule, the remains of a mule train accident, who the local woodsmen shout “Go on home Lucy!” at, to get her to disappear again) A spider infested forest  … the local cemetery with recent graves, older graves/momuments, and still older tombs of the Northmen, ready to explore. It goes on and on and on and on. A reward for goblin ears? A few of the locals have cut off their own ears to try and claim it, the reward being so out of bounds with their own meager lifetime earnings. And it could all end with a chaotic siege of the keep, well supported with a couple of pages of notes.

There is so much going on here that you’re unable, i think, to hold it all together. And that’s where my major criticism comes in. There are a few minor issues, a few NPC’s are mentioned as being in the appendix, and are not. It looks like one map is missing. Certain things could be expanded upon just a little to support the DM in play, like the high king/local politics angle. And it’s missing a bit of “on the ground” support. I might make this a wild west  town, especially aroun dthe goblin ear reward, and this could, for example, be supported more through the text. Or, giving a strong feeling of just how tenuous and weak the local worthy is, how out of his league he is, and, in general, a  few more words on his, his actions, and his support or lack there of the party. But, the size is the major issue.

It’s too big to hold in your head. There’s too much going on with too many connections to effectively guide the party and provide that sort of riff-on follow up and the consequences of their actions. The rumors contain no cross-references to what they point to. When do things reach a point where the siege becomes the cult leaders go to? You can make this work, but its going to cause you to have to study this thing, extensively, for quite some time, to become as familiar with it as the designer no doubt it. Notes upon notes and page scribble upon scribble. This is where the few extra pages would come in, along with appropriate cross-references. You need that, provided by the designer or yourself, in order to run this in the way it deserves to be run. 

Beatty knows his shit. And, thisis, I think, the first true series of products in the oSR that could be used as a well supported campaign. Kramer got very close, but if you were to get ALL of the Rosethrone products, then, together, you’d have something akin to the OSR”s first full ine of well supported, and good, adventuring area, across several products. Sprinkling in the other adventures (locations well notes already by the designer) in to this, as a home bas/surround area to have those adventures in, you would have a great down-time environment that leads to more. Need to bury a hireling that died in another products, like Bonepickers tower? The graveyard is here … and has more than its fair share of secrets to explore. 

So, fan-fucking-tastic, but needing a lot of study to bring it to its full potential. I’m excited to run a Rosethrone campaign!

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is fourteen pages and gives you a good idea of the kind of writing to expect in it, and the kinds of encounters and the level of detail to rely upon.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/335320/The-Storms-Impending-Rage?1892600

This has been Episode five of “Bryce Reviews everything on his Wishlist, in order.”

Bonus Feature: A Broken Candle – A Kingdom and it’s Laws

Twenty digest pages with a lot of whitespaces that amounts to notes on a setting. “Here are some things that you could use.” It’s all loosely tied together and, I believe tries to inspire you to create a setting from it, rather than being a setting. A land thrown in to chaos trough strife, a number of factions, some archetypes of the locals on each side and the populace. If you were sitting in a bar and took thirty minutes with your friends to come up with a setting, everyone chiming in, then you’d have the level of detail that this offers. Far too generalized to be used without a lot of work.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Mike’s World – The Forsaken Wilderness Beyond

Sat, 06/12/2021 - 11:11
By Geoffrey McKinney Self Published B/X Levels ... 3-12? (Whatever X play is)

MIKE’S WORLD: THE FORSAKEN WILDERNESS BEYOND expands on the fantasy world first introduced in Gary Gygax’s dungeon module B2: THE KEEP ON THE BORDERLANDS. If you have ever wondered what perilous lands further surround the Keep, this is the book for you. MIKE’S WORLD includes 14 hand-drawn wilderness maps of war-torn lands with details of their monstrous denizens, ancient ruins, eldritch mysteries, and more. It is perfect for all levels of campaign play and for both complete novices as well as for those who have played for decades

This 32 page wilderness “square crawl” contains fourteen pages of pages with four or five encounters for each, expanding on the wilderness from module B2. An absolutely fantuckingtastic collection of encounters, about the right length and level of detail, imaginative, and with some occasional themes running between them. Totally unlike the rather drab Mike’d Dungeon, this may be Geoffrey’s best work, and is certainly one of the best things to come out of the OSR. It’s The Real Deal.

If the keep in B2 represents the edge of the borderlands then this wilderness map represents the borderlands proper. A wilderness full of weird and interesting things to explore, as well as being well stocked with monsters ready to eat your face. And, of course, it’s not all barren wilderness, there are those that were here before, elves, dwarves, gnomes and the like. Not necessarily allies of man but generally not ready to stab first and eat later, unlike a decent percentage of the humanoids.

The expert level game, the X in B/X, was never really expanded upon well, IMO, in adventure products. You got a lot of dungeons, and isle of Dread, which always seems too minimal to me. Maybe something like Tharizdun, with its wilderness travel? But I seem to recall that was on roads and paths … and they aint here. The road from the keep ends on the edge of the map at the FORMER keep that was on the borderlands … now in ruin for 20 years from a gnoll assault. Well now, that brings the borderlands home, doesn’t it? In a way that never felt like it in the keep, the forces of chaos can come calling at any time … and did. 

And that’s what this product does, over and over and over again. It makes you think “I could do this, and this and this and I could use this in this way …” The entries have just about the exact amount of details, describing interesting things, using its word budget wisely, not overstaying welcomes and in some cases leaving some hooks or threads to follow up on. Just off hand comments but enough to get he DM going. Almost every runs that knife edge between underexplaining and providing enough information for the DM to bring the situation to life.  And that’s GREAT!

Goblins climb among the mirkwood style dark forests, dwarf heads, skins and skeletons from a recent devastating war are displayed in the branches. Fuck! Yeah! A woman suspended in a cage on the top of a rocky hill. Weathertop meats the harpies, anyone? Every plains is filled with cactus, every stand of trees a mirkwood. Geoffrey hits time and time again with his encounters, four to five per page, with one page per map. 

The maps proper are interesting, with terrain features likes hills, ravines, rises and bluffs, rivers and the like. While they appear to be quickly drawn with pencil, they are clear and easy to read. The keys, proper, alphabet letters like A, B, C, and so on, do blend in a little, or rather, don’t call attention to themselves. I might have twisted Geoffrey’s “Mike” backstory a bit and put them in a read circle or something, to make them stand out a bit more as features.

The misses in the “adventure” are all generally related to the map and the nature of hex crawling, in general. As I mentioned, a little highlighting of the encounters on the map would have helped a bit. Related to this is visibility … how far can you see? Some guidelines in this area would have been helpful (is that in the Expert set?) I want to get the party moving towards things, and climbing a hill and looking around would cause me to fumble through the book looking through all the nearby encounters to see what the party can see. I always turn to the Fallout game and its ability to put something in the distance that you want to travel to. 

And, related to this, are the interconnections between the places. You meet a fair number of monsters and humanoids that will talk to you, or at least that you can question with fire and torture. A few notes on what they know is nearby, a likely question from the party, would have been in order. Even just a simple notation like “B, G, I, K”, meaning they know about those places, would be a help, I think, in running it. I think the adventure needs just one more page, laying out the overall situation and how everything works together, what they know, and … how the maps fit together. [Edit: it looks like Melan did at least the maps fitting together part.]

But, this doesn’t really detract from the creativity of the work. It’s fucking magnificent! Great situations, with a kind of … I don’t know, low fantasy vibe? Traditional fantasy? There’s some weirdness here, but it’s got a much more … folklore mashed up with the Hobbit mashed up with Clash of Titans vibe going on. I don’t really know how to describe it. Maybe the darker parts of the hobbit, the Mirkwood bits, combined with the more fantastic portion of LotR? It’s strongly “not the realm of man” fantasy, but not gonzo. It’s the fucking borderlands baby! 

This is easily one of the best, this year or any other, and is what the expert set should have included as an example of play.  I can’t recommend it enough! I want to totally redo the Keep, bringing it up to date, and run every campaign from now on there and in this environment! IE: i”m excited about this!

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is the entire thing. Check out the first maps keys on page 5 of the preview. Great, great encounters, terse writing, just  the right amount of detail for a hex crawl!

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/355388/Mikes-World-The-Forsaken-Wilderness-Beyond?1892600

This has been episode four of Bryce Reviews Everything on his Wishlist in Order.

Bonus Feature!

Random Social Interaction Hex Flower, by Goblin’s Henchman

Well, I AM buying/reviewing everything on my wishlist, but, it’s important to note, I don’t know shit about anything other than adventures, and I don’t know much about them. 

I’m fond of social connections between people in villages, and so on, where the party will interact with some group socially. I think that it makes the situations much more interesting, prone to actionable roleplay, and believable when the various people in a village have some kind of relationship with the other people. (Used in the loose term, like hating, coveting, etc. I’ve often though that mind maps were one good way to depict this, and this supplement seems to do something like that, so I put it on my list.

It looks like you put 4-7 NPC’s in the shaded hexes and roll 3d6 for each to see how they are related to each other. One roll indicates the direction, so, ultimately, who this NPC will have a relationship with, which could be open or secret. Another indicates if its NPC A or B who is the influencer, or both. IE: I love you, you have a crush on me, we both love each other. The third is taken as a modifier to the first two. You take all three dice and then arrange them to get a modifier like “a strong interaction, happened in the past, arcane influence, NPC is stronger than expected, or so on. Basically, doubles, straights, etc. Finally, you sum the first and second die and that gets you the type of relationship: love, family, admire, aids, owes, watches, dislike, etc. 10 entries. 

As a prep tool I think this is quite interesting. I would use it to create situations that I could then riff of off. I’ve always thought that a blank mind, a totally empty canvas, was the hardest to work from and that by giving the mind just a little bit to work with it will then go racing off to new heights. 

This is begging, I think for an online/electronic version. And, I’m not quite certain of the 2d6 nature chart, with love, admire, hate, etc. These sorts of things always make me think “is this the platonic version of this? Is admire a weak love relationship, for example, and could be replaced with something else more platonic to the humans condition? But, fuck it, that’s my nature. 

This is a great tool to prep situations to riff off of while designing dungeons/villages/social interactions … and would be even more useful if there was an online version.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Black Wyrm of Brandonsford

Mon, 06/07/2021 - 11:16
By Chance Dudinack Self Published B/X Levels 1-3

There’s a dragon in the woods. Those friendly dwarves were the first to go, the poor things. And now the beast has been killing and eating the people of Brandonsford. No-one wants to leave the town’s walls. With the humans out of the forest, fairies have taken over, and now the goblin king Hogboon seeks to claim the entire forest as his new kingdom.

This eighteen page adventure, featuring an ALMOST whimsical wilderness, is perfect. No, seriously. It’s good.

All I’m ever going to do, from now on, is review Chance Dudinack adventures. That’s it, the blog is over, until Chance writes another one I’m done. This adventure hits every mark I’ve ever wanted. Every page is loaded with good fun.

Every.

Single. 

Page.

Yeah, yeah, I’m predisposed to liking this. It’s got just a tad of whimsy in it. A dragon, dwarves, a barrow, a giants house, a faun grove, a witch. Even that cover art. What is it, watercolor? It’s actually good. (Oh, he’s famous. Duh.) This thing SCREAMS The Hobbit, y a mi me gusta El Hobbit. You’re gonna have to decide, after reading this review, if I unnaturally like this because it seemed tailor made for me to like it, or if its actually good. But, this sort of ALMOST whimsical setting, with some hard edges, combined with a kind of beer & pretzels element, at times, is exactly the sort of thing that I like to have fun with. And it’s well written, evocative, has things for the party to do, and is only eighteen fucking pages. Hey, you, with the face, encourage Chance to become more and pump out more of these. 

It looks like Chance has done some one-page dungeons. While the format is limiting, I think its positive aspects show up in this. The writing is tight, with a huge percentage of the words contributing to gameable things. Our local NPC’s in town, the shopkeeps, etc and hirelings the party is likely to run in to, get descriptions like “Gentle face, freckled, one red curl hangs out of her coif. Generally patient and well-meaning, but in combat her fight-or-flight kicks in. Usually fight, with lots of threats and screaming.” or “White beard, boney, uncomfortably friendly. Will do anything to keep new customers. Snaps at the mention of the Clumsy Fox. [ed: the other inn in town.])” Fucking perfect. Memorable but not over the top. The town reeve, troubled by the dragon “Portly, mutton chops, purple rings around the eyes, visibly stressed. Spends much of his day in silent, wide- eyed thought.” The shopkeeps are memorable and their quirks make sense. The hirelings are memorable and will add a lot of fun to the game. There are little subplots scattered about, that all generally lead, one way or another to the main dragon adventure, with diversions to the witch, the goblin king, the fey, or the like. It’s not really a “get the red key to open the red door” but more a trail of things to potentially follow up on, and there are alot of them. Not all adventurer things. The smith find cursed talismans on his door each morning from a fey haunting him. Turns out they are love letters and hes illiterate and their from the town alchemist, who has trouble expressing her love for him. Ha! And that eventually leads somewhere to do with the main adventure. Not in a “shes crazy” way, but in a way that makes sense. Everything makes fucking sense. In a fantasy world fll of fey and giants and a fucking dragon, everything makes sense. And that’s a VERY powerful thing. No easy “she crazy, he’s a cultist” throw away shit. Just a couple of words on the human condition that makes everything so much more relatable. No misery porn, just fucking immersion of a type that VERY seldom makes an appearance in games. It’s fucking perfect.

Those dwarf brothers? They found a fantastic treasure. And one was overcome by greed and killed the others to keep it for himself. And that transformed him to a dragon. Of course. OF COURSE that’s where dragons come from. That’s some fucking Dante shit right there. Wearing the ring of the goblin king makes you the goblin king. Duh. And makes you the target for a bunch of fey who want to be the goblin king. Adventure. Follow ups. Perfect.

I don’t know what to say. This thing is great. Boxed off text sections, bullets to highlight information and bolding to call attention to things, great use of whitespace, most major locations taking half or a third of a page to detail in an easy to read, scan, and understand format. A couple of dungeons present, including the barrow, with a more traditional explore element. Good wanderers, up to something. Treasure that is both book inspired (+1, +3 vs) with a little description, just a touch of backstory/context in a few words, more than a few of which have some kind of follow-on or hook that can be attached.

How about a dragon description? “The beast moves like a fat alligator, dragging its bloated belly along the ground with each lumbering step, but with the potential to strike in an instant. Strings of spittle hang from its teeth, thick with foul poison.” Fuck. Yeah. Dragon.

I want every adventure to be this good. To have great description. Relatable things. Good layout. Enabling fun without trying to FORCE fun. 

A couple of notes:

The barrow dungeon has a floating skull that laughs all the time. It would have been nice to put a note about laughing on the map, or up high in the adventure, instead of in the creature description, as a kind of hint/foreshadowing/atmosphere thing. The map for the barrow is a little crude, using simple 10’ square shaded boxes. It’s not bad. It does what it needs to do. But if the designer were looking for a way to beef up their skills in their free time then producing better maps would be it. Basic maps are all an adventure ever needs, but more advanced maps DO add something to an adventure. Creating maps is fucking hard. 

This adventure seems effortless. Effortless. That is a very hard thing to achieve. Most adventures seems forced, or strained. The text, the interactivity, the format, the design, you can tell that they were strained activities. But not this. It just Fucking Clicks in a way very few things in life do.

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is eight pages and shows you the town and wilderness and some of the “subplot”/breadcrumb stuff. You can get a great sense of the writing and design from the layout. Maybe one of the forest location pages would have been good to include also, to give a complete picture. 


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/327744/The-Black-Wyrm-of-Brandonsford?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Beneath the Giant’s Head

Sat, 06/05/2021 - 11:11
By Mark Tasaka Tasaka Games DCC Level 2

[Four paragraph leadin removed] Shortly after receiving the crown, King Edgarr fell ill; the smiths, who forged the crown, fell ill as well. The group of dwarves sent to explore the caverns never returned. An expedition of fighting-dwarves was sent to find the missing group. Only half of the expedition returned alive and gave accounts of metallic beings and strange monsters lurking in the caverns. The dwarves sealed the caverns off and buried the recovered metal deep within the earth. The King’s Advisors put a call out for adventurers and offered a reward of a thousand gold pieces to find and destroy the source of the evil that lurks in the caverns beneath the Giant’s Head.

This 52 page adventure details a small village with several sub-plots and a cavern with a spaceship in it, with around 43 rooms. It has the beginnings of some decent exploration elements but suffers from the density, and verbosity of information presented.

The adventure starts by presenting a home base village with several things going on. These are presented, initially, as mysteries. The farmers dog has been around forever, the baker woman makes unusually good honey buns, the innkeep wants to get married, a farmer has a reputation for interesting chickens, and so forth. These are sprinkled in to the location and NPC descriptions and correctly offers the party a loto f interesting gossip and mystery, or, perhaps, not quite mysteries, to sprinkle throughout their time in the village. Because of this, and the quirks of NPC’s, the place is more alive than most and offers a good home base for downtime things to happen. This is GREAT. A little mystery, some quirks to cement NPC’s, and nothing too outrageous, but enough to spice up both gear buying/sleeping and offering the party more if they go down that path. This is what a home base village should be. Not a generic “typical” village but something just below the surface to sprinkle in to the adventure as the party moves through the usual party of adventuring life in downtime. These mysteries are then followe dup on in little “events”, which are actually the mini-quests. Like the farmers chickens turn giant and attack, or rats in the bakers basement (ug!) or the innkeep marrying a party member and then moving away without a word. 

The separation between places/NPC’s (as a section) and then the subplot adventures is a good idea, allowing the DM to focus on the normal activities and making the subplots easy to find and run. But, as the page count to location ratio would indicate, it gets VERY long winded in its descriptions. Insertion casual conversational sentences and mundane trivia in with the more more specific, compounded by a lack of any real formatting to help call attention to the important bits. This is a variation of The Kitchen Problem. We all know what a kitchen looks like, you don’t need to describe it. You just need to tell us why this one is different, in an actual play sense.  I do want to emphasize that the constructed world here is both more interesting, with little specific details, and more well constructed than most. This we get a little village outside of the entrance to the dwarf kingdom, supporting it, in addition to the “home base” village. 

The actual dungeon is three areas/levels, two of caves and one of a spaceship. There are some better than the usual design elements going in to the exploration space. There are things to explore and mess with, and some terrain features and their ilk, like dropping through a hold in the ground in the next level, that just aren’t typically seen in adventures these days. These elements are KEY to bringing a full fledged exploration dungeon to life. They do tend to the more simplistic side of things, and there does seem to be more of an emphasis on combat, this being DCC, and its on the edge at times of being set pieces, but never really goes over the edge in to 4e territory. 

It is, however, long and mundane. The read-aloud for rooms is on the edge of being long and, more importantly, is not really interesting. It relies a lot of abstracted text and generic labels rather than the specificity seen in the village. The DM text is better in this regard, so we get little bits like splashes of water and bodies with insect and worm decay. 

It does suffer greatly from padding of the text with like like “the characters could open each stasis chamber with ease.” While alone this may not be a problem, this sort of writing, when added and added and added, sentence after sentence, if not direct to the DM. It’s not describing the situation, but rather the characters interactions with it. Writing is more effective for comprehension, and terseness, when these padded clauses are not included. The barracks, a room title tells us. And the description then goes on to tell us that this is where the kobolds sleep. Well, yes, that is the idea of the barracks. 

Rather than the great specificity of the village we get abstracted txt in the dungeon. The cleric, the tif, the warrior, describes the bodies found of the previous party, rather than names. The descriptions all come off as generic, the robots lacking anything interesting to bring them to life.

The adventure ends with some conclusions. I like it when an adventure does this. Little follow ups on what happens next to the area. The items presented, though, are mostly uninteresting and mundane. A married couple finally goes on vacation. What this needs is more things that he party will directly notice and potentially be impacted by, even in a trivial way, to show that their actions had impact.

So, some hints of good design in places but marred by not enough of it. And padding and generic text where there should be evocative text. Yes, that’s hard. 

This is free at DriveThru.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/354193/Beneath-the-Giants-Head?1892600

This is episode two of Bryce Reviews Everything in order on his DriveThru Wishlist. Maybe this won’t be as terrible as I thought it would be.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

A Giant Shield

Wed, 06/02/2021 - 11:11
By Andy Beard & Tracy Rann Sleeping Griffon Productions Battleaxes & Beasties Levels 1-2

You’ve been hired to escort and guard a wealthy merchant into the Black Yew forest to obtain some of the wood that the forest is famous for.  Should be a simple job. . . right?

This ten page adventure is a conversational list of “first this happens and then this happens”, abstracted, of an escort mission for a merchant. It has one nice thing: a shark with legs. It makes me feel like Papers & Paychecks. 

You escort a merchant down a river to get some wood from a forest. You then escort him back to make a delivery. Along the way you fight river monsters, deal with some fey, and get ambushed a few times by thieves. The excitement I convey is not found in the adventure. The highlight is something called a Lake Finn, a shark with two stumpy legs up front. I assume they can come out of the water? Its not stated as such. The monster description focuses just on attacks, with no description or anything, but the art that comes with it is pretty nice in a “tree octopus” kind of way. Don’t worry, while a shark with legs sounds gonzo, the rest of the adventure is depressingly mundane.

We get stock NPC’s, from the slightly greedy slightly rotund merchant to the haughty elves to the mischievous faeries. Worse, we get a generic adventure, abstracted.

It is written as a long two-column text file. The formatting present is, at best a carriage return to represent a paragraph break. It is, in this, this long long section of text blocks, that the adventures to be found. You follow it by reading, not referencing. One encounter after another follows in the text, with no formatting, other than a carriage return, to separate things. First this thing happens and then this thing happens. In about as many words you are told that there will be a lake encounter and two roll twice for random encounters on the river. This represents the journey from the town you’re hired in to the forest where you gather the wood you are escorting the merchant for. That’s it. That’s the basis of the adventure. “Roll for an encounter.” This is fucking dumb. This is not how you use random tables. If you’re going to write ap plot adventure then put in encounters. Randomness in encounters is (primarily) used as a timer in D&D. No timer? WRITE A GOOD FUCKING ENCOUNTER!!!! The entire adventure is like this, just rolls random encounters, or, a throw away sentence about an ambush or something. Everything is abstracted. How long does the travel take? Not mentioned. How much does the merchant pay the elves in the forest who demand gold? Not mentioned. You need to rout a group of rous in the forest, the elves say. How many? Not mentioned. ANYTHING at all, any detail at all about the rous? No. Just “You need to rout a group of rous.” It’s all abstracted, conversation style of text, with a linear plot. It’s just a lit of ideas, nothing more than that. Nothing is alive, nothing breathes. 

What if I wrote an adventure that only said “roll four times on the random encounter chart”, but took five pages to say that? That’s this adventure. Any potential impact of the plot lines, the devious NPC’s or entanglements, that the adventure wants to do with all of the ambushes, is hidden from the players while being overly described to the DM.  This is really just a stream of consciousness set of ideas, as if this review were an adventure.  And, and … the giant shield does not make an appearance in this adventure. It’s what you are gathering thee wood for, for delivery to someone else.

This is $5 at DriveThru and there is no preview, of course. 

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/357892/A-Giant-Shield?1892600

This is Episode 1 of “Bryce reviews everything on his DriveThru Wishlist, in order.” You were warned.

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